A new chapter. Hopefully, there will be multiple updates from me in the next week or so, as I've got one for Spiritual Mage lined up as well. Hope you enjoy this one!

Chapter 10:Welcome Home, Stranger.

Two figures trudged through the rain, walking through the centre of the Neriman market district. None of the other pedestrians paid them any mind, even as the younger of the two glared irritably at the older. "I still don't understand why we're going to this place, rather than home," he grumbled.

The older, a red haired woman with her hair tied back in a ponytail, shook her head. "I told you, it's important that we go to the Tendo place first. Don't worry, you'll figure out why after we get there."

"I wish you'd stop saying that," the boy grumbled, flicking his pigtail irritably to get rid of some of the water that was stuck in it. "Usually means it's going to hurt."

The redhead chuckled. "Maybe your brain," she conceded, "But we're still goin."

The boy nodded, simply looking around as the two walked and deciding that he could argue whether it was worth it after he saw whatever he was supposed to see. Fortunately, the place he was being lead to seemed to be close to the Saotome home, so it wasn't like he was going to have to go far. For a moment, he thought about what he was going to do when he actually got there. His training trip was, for all intents and purposes, over, and he'd be free to do whatever he liked, then. Of course, he'd have to go to school, his mom would insist on that, but maybe he could...

He was jolted out of his train of thought when he heard his Sensei knocking on a door, realizing that they had entered a large, walled front yard and were standing on the doorstep of a really old, fancy looking house. As he took that in, the front door opened and a brown haired girl appeared. "Hello," she said, before she seemed to take the two of them in fully and a radiant smile blossomed over her face. "Saffron-san?"

Ranma wondered why his teacher wasn't saying anything in response, before he realized that the girl's eyes were locked straight onto him. "Um, I'm Ranma Saotome," he said, and seeing her downcast expression, added lamely, "Sorry."

"I'm Saffron," his teacher said a moment later. She seemed to pause unnaturally for a moment, before continuing with "Do I know you?"

"No, I'm sorry," the brown haired girl said, her face seeming to flicker between several expressions too quickly to follow before it settled on a polite smile.

She was about to speak again, when another voice came from deeper into the house. "Hey, sis, who is it?" a girl with short, blue-black hair tied out of her face by a sweatband asked,

Her question was quickly answered as another girl followed her out of the living room, and immediately yelled "Ran-chan!" Nearly bowling both sisters over in her rush to tightly hug her old friend.

"Urk... Ucchan..." the pigtailed martial artist choked out, "Not so tight!"

Ukyo immediately released her grip, but didn't look very apologetic. "Well, that's what you get for not contacting any of us for two years."

"It's kinda hard to send a letter from a Chinese jungle." Ranma defended himself, somewhat weakly, only to get a very irritated sniff in response.

"This argument is really interesting," the blue-black haired girl interjected, before Ukyo could retort, "But maybe we should let Ranma and his friend inside? It can't be all that comfortable dripping rain out on the porch."

"Oh, yeah, you're right, Akane." Ukyo said, backing off and letting the two martial artists in, where they quickly swapped their shoes for a couple of spare sets of house slippers. "And this is Saffron-sensei. The person who's been teaching Ranma, and who taught me all those holds you hate so much."

"Oh, nice to meet you," Akane said, bowing shortly, to which Saffron responded with a short bow of her own before the group headed for the living room. Noticing that Kasumi had been unusually silent since the introductions had been completed, her younger sister hung back and caught her. "Is something wrong?" She asked, worriedly.

"No, nothing," Kasumi replied, shaking her head.

Akane gave her a dubious look, but decided not to push it, following the others into the living room, where her parents sat, working on some of the Dojo's paperwork.

"Ah, Ranma, you're here!" Soun said, bolting up from his seat and smiling happily. "I'm glad to see that your training trip has been completed. I'm glad to meet you, my boy!"

"Um, yeah," Ranma responded, bowing slightly. "Nice to meet you too, Mr. Tendo?" He trailed off, not sure if the name Saffron had mentioned on the way was the right one to use.

He was reassured a moment later, as Mr. Tendo smiled broadly. He was about to open his mouth, when a tap on the leg from his still sitting wife drew his attention to her rather stony expression. "Um, yes," he said, clearing his throat nervously. "How about I call your parents over, and we can talk about a few things."

Ranma nodded, still confused. "Yeah, it'll be good to see Mom and Dad again." Mr. Tendo returned his nod, rapidly proceeding out of the room and to the telephone in the front hallway.

As he left, Mrs. Tendo spoke. "Would you like to sit down? Have a cup of tea?"

"Yes, please." Ranma decided, sinking to the floor and settling on one of the cushions at the table's edge. To his relief, Ukyo sat next to him, and Saffron took a position on the other side. Mrs. Tendo picked up the teapot in the middle of the table, rested a hand against it and grimaced before standing and heading into the kitchen. "Okay, what's going on here?" He asked, quietly, as the older woman left earshot.

His Sensei just shook her head, and he couldn't tell exactly what emotion made up her expression, so he turned to his oldest friend. "Apparently Genma made more than one Marriage promise for you," She said, her previous expression of joy at seeing him replaced with a mild glare at the tabletop. "He and Mr. Tendo made a promise that their two schools of "Anything Goes Martial Arts" would be joined through the marriage of their children. Mrs. Tendo... didn't take it well, since she hadn't been told about it, so they decided that there would be a meeting of the two houses to figure out what to do when you came back."

"Oh," Ranma said, and then turned to Saffron. "And you thought it would be a good idea to let me find this out when I showed up because..."

The redhead smirked. "If you can't take a little surprise like this, you're not that good at anything goes, are ya?"

Ranma grimaced. Sometimes his teacher's thought processes gave him a headache. Sometimes, he just wanted to kill her in her sleep. He hadn't decided which of those two situations this was, yet.

His pondering of that very important question was interrupted when a nervous throat clearing came from behind him, and he turned along with the others to see the brown haired girl who had welcomed them to the house fidgeting with her fingers. "Excuse me," she started, "Forgive me if I'm being rude, but I thought Saffron-san was male?"

Ranma's teacher winced, reaching up to fidget with her ponytail, but the boy himself just smiled. "Well, she is, about half the time," He responded, ignoring the warning look he was getting. At the brown haired girl's confused expression, he continued, "Sensei's got a shape shifting curse, based on water temperature."

"A... a curse?" The girl asked, sounding dubious.

"Yeah, Ran-chan's telling the truth, Kasumi." Ukyo agreed. "I saw it a few times while I was traveling with them."

Saffron nodded, before rubbing her forehead. "I'll show you when your mother gets back with the tea, if ya want."

"Yes, that would be interesting," Kasumi responded, her face conveying doubt, curiosity, and... relief? Ranma was about to ask about that, when Mr. Tendo returned to the living room.

"Ranma, your parents are on their way," he announced, before taking his seat and throwing a nervous glance over at the kitchen door. Saffron chuckled, but Ranma wasn't sure why.

HR.

The small group conversed for a few minutes after that, interrupted when Mrs. Tendo arrived, and Saffron used some of the hot water she brought to return to male form. The people in the room who hadn't seen the transformation before proceeded to ask questions for the next ten minutes, until there was a knock on the door.

Mrs. Tendo excused herself to get it, leaving the room and returning a moment later with Genma and Nodoka Saotome. Ranma immediately stood, only to be hugged tightly by his mother. "It's good to see you again, Ranma-chan!" She said, happily, followed by a nod and grunt from her husband. Ranma laughed, somewhat embarrassed as his mother pulled away, looking him over. "You've certainly grown up to be quite the martial artist," she continued, beaming proudly.

"Um, thanks, Mom," the boy said, nervously batting at his pigtail with his left hand.

"No-chan, you're embarrassing the boy," Genma exclaimed.

Nodoka looked somewhat irritable. "I'm greeting my son after not seeing him for two years, husband." Genma looked like he wanted to say something, but refrained, moving to join Soun at the table, her following.

"So, Ranma-chan, how was your trip through China?" The Auburn haired woman asked, accepting a cup of tea she was offered with a nod. Ranma began to explain, starting with the swim from Hiroshima to the Busan region of South Korea. Everyone listened, most of them being a bit shocked at some of what he described, though Genma seemed curiously intent, wishing to know, in detail, about all of the training grounds he'd visited.

"Dad," the pigtailed boy interrupted, "How about I tell you about them later?"

"I suppose so," Genma grumbled, leaning back slightly as Ranma continued.

"After that fight at the place with the poles, we headed straight back to Tokyo," the young martial artist finished. "Sensei said the training trip was over, and then I got this whole engagement thing sprung on me."

"Yes..." Mr. Tendo cleared his throat nervously. "The Joining of the Schools."

"I'm already engaged to Ucchan, aren't I?" Ranma replied, looking confused.

"The Tendo agreement supersedes..." Genma started, before he was interrupted by a loud whistle from a rather unexpected source. Everyone turned to Saffron, who looked around somewhat nervously before speaking.

"Ranma, Akane and Ukyo've been training in the Tendo School, why don'tcha go out to the Dojo and have a little spar while we hash out this whole engagement thing?"

Ranma frowned. "This is pretty important, I don't think leaving myself out of the decision of who I marry is a very good idea."

"You're right," Saffron nodded. "But I've got a feeling a bunch of people here have their own opinions on this, and we're going to get into a screamin' match if we don't settle it between ourselves first." He smiled. "Basically, we're going to figure out a compromise we can deal with, then if you don't like it, you've just got one opponent to fight."

Ranma looked dubious. He didn't exactly have anything against Mr. or Mrs. Tendo, and wanted to believe his Mother had his best interests in mind, but sometimes someone else's idea of your best interests differed dramatically from your own. Looking at his Sensei, he asked, "So what's your stake in all this?"

"I don't want my only student to go insane while trying to figure out multiple conflicting obligations," the ponytailed man responded. "My base stance is going to be ta leave you alone and let you guys figure it out, but there are some honor promises or something involved here, so..." He shrugged.

"You guys up for a spar?" Ranma asked curiously, turning to Akane and Ukyo. His old friend nodded eagerly, and the youngest Tendo followed her as she stood, all three leaving the room.

"Kasumi-chan, why don't you go and watch them?" Mrs. Tendo suggested, gently. Kasumi got the message, and quickly, though reluctantly, left.

The five remaining occupants of the room sat for a few moments, not saying anything, before Genma spoke. "I don't see what there is to talk about," He grumbled. "Soun tells me that you chose a Tendo, correct?"

Saffron winced. As subtle openers went, that one failed on all levels. For a second, he felt the urge to heatedly deny the 'accusation,' but held it back. "Yes, I think Akane and I were getting closer before I got sent here." Genma was nodding self-assuredly, when he was cut off by the younger man continuing his statement. "No thanks to our fathers and their idea of match making, which was to push the two teenagers who were constantly tearing strips off each other together as much as possible, so they could learn to get along. Did I mention it took over two years, she almost died, and by getting together I mean we weren't insulting each other as often?"

Genma's mouth snapped closed, and a second later, Nodoka spoke. "You mentioned that your father and Mr. Tendo were encouraging..." she seemed to be having a hard time figuring out how to say what she was about to, but finally decided on something, and continued. "They wanted you and Akane to marry. What position did I take about this?"

Saffron winced. "You gotta understand, Mom got kinda... off after me 'n the old man vanished for over a decade," he started, and noting that Nodoka was beginning to fidget, continued, "She thought that all the engagements proved that I was very manly, and thought that honor would be satisfied if I took Akane as my bride and, uh... had the others as mistresses."

"Well, Nodoka, you certainly became a lot more... open," Mrs. Tendo said, somewhat stunned.

"I would never..." Nodoka started, mortified.

"And that's sorta the point," Saffron cut her off. "You wouldn't do that, and who I almost got together with doesn't really mean much for Ranma."

"I don't understand," Nodoka admitted, confused, though Genma seemed to be thinking.

"I didn't really, either," Saffron confessed. "I only started figurin' it out when we went to Jusenkyo, and Ranma didn't get cursed."

"Wait, you tried to curse my son?" Nodoka asked, her eyes narrowing dangerously.

Saffron raised his hands defensively. "Hey, it wasn't my idea!" he shot back, deciding that, since all of the events on it had already been fulfilled or screwed up, he could show them the list he'd been given by Skuld. Pulling it out, he handed it to the alternate version of his mother, his finger resting on the third to last entry.

She read, and then her eyebrows rose. "Who are the "Chinese Amazons?"

"Long story," Saffron muttered, "but they aren't likely to show up."

"But I thought that everything on the list was supposed to happen?" Genma asked.

"Yeah, but the Chinese Amazon thing sorta needed the curse for Ranma not to just end up married and living in the village, and that's if he even did what I did the first time." Saffron responded.

"So, why didn't Ranma gain your curse, and what does this have to do with Nodoka's supposedly strange beliefs about manliness?" Mrs. Tendo asked, deciding to get the conversation somewhat back on track.

Saffron paused for a moment, trying to think of the right way to present things, and rather thankful that he was about to blatantly steal from Cologne's side of a conversation he'd engaged in before waking up in the pit again. "someone I used to know had a few theories about the springs. She thought that the curses they gave might not be based off of bad luck or footing," he started.

"She thought that each curse might be meant to try and teach its victim something, or to show something about them that might be hidden, otherwise. Some people, like the chosen guides, can pretty much dance around the pools all day and not worry about getting tossed in, while others will end up in the spring that's right for them even if they have ancient martial arts grand masters trying to rig it so they don't get cursed."

"So you're saying that this... Jusenkyo made you turn into a woman in order to teach you something?" Nodoka asked, uncertain.

"Yeah, pretty much," Saffron nodded. "When I first showed up in Nerima, I was... I think Akane called me a 'Macho Jerk.' Curse took me down a peg or two," he scratched his head, embarrassed, "And I really needed that at the time. Also got me ta start thinkin' stuff through by myself rather than listening to the old man all the time... No offense, Genma."

"None taken," the bald martial artist replied, though he did so through a slight grimace. "What you're saying is that since Ranma didn't get cursed, he didn't need to learn the same things as you did, and isn't the same person." He then sighed. "Which means that just hitching him to Akane and hoping for the best isn't going to work."

Saffron nodded.

"So, what do we do about this?" Mrs. Tendo asked. "Unfortunately, my husband and Saotome-san had a contract registered regarding the joining of the schools, and are both still rather adamant about it."

"Good question," Saffron muttered sourly. "Have you told them about Kaori Daikoku yet?"

Genma looked confused for a moment, before recognition dawned, and his face paled. "Who, exactly, is Kaori Daikoku?" Nodoka asked, dangerously.

HR.

Elder Ku Lon stifled a sneeze as she and the other members of the Amazon council sat observing a short, pudgy man in an old Chinese military uniform standing before them. "Few fell victim to the springs this year, honored elders. I believe that the last of those blasted training ground lists with Jusenkyo as an option have finally circulated and been discarded," the man reported.

Cologne nodded. She honestly didn't know what one of the previous elders had been thinking when they had willingly told a traveling writer about the legend of the springs, thus drawing thrill seeking fools and prospective martial artists by the dozens to a place they shouldn't be entering. "Were any of the victims of interest?"

The guide nodded. "The victims weren't, really. A young Musk boy who was out hunting and blundered into the spring of drowned boar, and an American 'adventurer' who left with a dog curse several months ago, however two guests arrived who did not get cursed while there. One of them was a Japanese man who was already afflicted with the curse of the drowned girl spring, and didn't want a cure. The other was his student. The cursed one asked me not to give his student warning of the springs, and claimed that he was told to bring him there by some form of seer."

Elder Leu Fa snorted. "Don't tell me we've got another group who are attempting to use the cursed springs for power?" She asked. The Musk were enough of a pain to deal with, and they really didn't need more.

"I do not believe so, Honored Elders," the guide replied. "He seemed not to want to do what he was doing. As you know, however, the springs do not take well to one entering and trying to use them for a specific purpose. The boy left uncursed, and his master apparently took another swim in the Nyannichuan."

Cologne tapped her chin in thought. "That is quite an interesting incident," she conceded. "Can you tell me anything else?"

"The man seemed to know of the Amazons and Musk, reacting badly to the suggestion that he was using the ancient Musk methods of obtaining a bride. Both seemed to be very skilled martial artists, as well. The name he signed on the register was also strange, Saffron Reynolds, and I couldn't find any Nyannichuan victims with that name in previous records," the guide explained, providing as much information as he could.

The council chamber got slightly louder all of a sudden, as sixteen elders whispered between themselves. The name could easily be a coincidence, and almost had to be, given the fact that Saffron was still currently in his child state and would likely stay that way for a while yet. Still, this visitor possessed quite a lot of knowledge, and an unrecorded curse, if he hadn't just been lying and obtained the drowned girl curse when falling into the spring during his most recent visit.

"Thank you for this information, Guide." Cologne spoke, after several minutes of quiet discussion. "Please tell the warriors to help you get your provisions and payment prepared, and return to the pools."

"Yes, Honored Elder." The guide said, bowing and turning to leave the room.

HR.

Ranma had to admit, he was impressed. Individually, Akane and Ukyo were pretty good, though not on his level, and the spars they had had proved it, as he dodged them relatively easily, sending exploratory jabs into openings when he saw them. After about five minutes of sparring each, they had stood down, and nodded to him, before Ukyo asked if he was willing to fight them two on one.

Not seeing any reason why he shouldn't, he'd agreed, and found an interesting surprise. Two opponents obviously made the fight harder, simply due to having more attacks to dodge from more angles, but Akane and Ukyo were more than that. When they fought as a team, they nearly effortlessly covered each other's weak points, and the pigtailed martial artist found himself pushed.

For instance, at the moment, Akane was launching a strong offensive, while Ukyo stood off to the side, throwing a wooden practice knife every time he tried to take advantage of one of the blue-black haired girl's larger openings to deliver a decisive finish. When he managed to move to the side, forcing Akane into Ukyo's line of sight, the support attacks stopped, but a moment later Akane simply rolled away, rather than following through on the punch she was telegraphing, and he received a combat spatula to the side of the head.

He rolled with the blow, the opposite direction Akane had gone, and noticed an opening in Ukyo's guard which he abruptly capitalized on, his leg shooting out to tag her knee, though he was sure not to put enough force into the blow to break anything. Caught off guard, Ukyo stumbled, stepping back. "Okay, sugar, I think that's enough for now," She said, slinging her battle spatula across her back.

Ranma nodded. "You two are pretty good," he complimented. "You train together a lot?"

"Pretty often," Akane confirmed, climbing to her feet.

"Cool, never really thought about a two person style before," he commented. "Still, ain't it a bit of a disadvantage when you're forced to fight alone?"

"We're working on that," Ukyo admitted, as Kasumi approached from the side of the room.

"You are quite good, Ranma-san," she offered, while looking the three over for injuries. "According to Nabiki, no one at school can keep up with Akane and Ukyo-chan for that long."

The pigtailed martial artist laughed, scratching the back of his neck. "Uh, thanks," he said, nervously. "Who's Nabiki?"

"My older sister," Akane explained. "She's probably out somewhere finding something to take pictures of."

"She could be looking for the lost boy again," Ukyo offered, smiling slyly.

"Honestly," Akane huffed. "I hope not, I thought she gave up after identifying one of the pictures he took for her as an Egyptian pyramid?"

"Just giving possibilities," Ukyo said, shrugging.

"Do you think the parents have finally decided what they're going to try and do about the engagement thing?" Akane asked, looking nervously at the walkway that connected the Dojo to the main building.

Ranma and Ukyo winced. "Not sure," the former admitted. "Mom's pretty obsessed with the whole family honor thing, and Dad seemed really determined to have the Tendo arrangement go through, but I've never really thought about Marrying anyone."

Ukyo nodded. "I always thought it would happen someday, just..."

"Not today?" Kasumi offered.

Ukyo nodded again.

"Fine," Akane said. "Then let's go in. We gave them half an hour, if they haven't figured it out by now, then maybe it's time for that yelling your Sensei talked about."

Both Ranma and Ukyo chuckled, the three proceeding to the House, while Kasumi looked on, nervously.

HR.

Several minutes later, the young martial artists, along with Kasumi, were all sitting on one side of the low dining table while the parents and Saffron sat on the other. "I really wish Nabiki were here," Mr. Tendo said.

"We can inform her later, dear." Mrs. Tendo returned, before clearing her throat. "We've decided that the Tendo contract's more concrete nature is balanced rather well against the fact that the Kuonji dowry was already taken," she said, throwing a glare at Genma, who looked somewhat sheepish. "As such, we've worked out a compromise. There will be no wedding until Ranma has graduated from high school, at least."

"Ranma can marry any of the Tendo daughters," Soun started, "and if he and Akane, Nabiki or Kasumi decide to wed, then Genma and Nodoka have agreed to adopt Ukyo, and add her to the Saotome family in that way."

"But..." Ukyo started, but was quieted, for the moment, as Saffron spoke up.

"I don't really agree with what your Dad said," he explained, but the main reason he wanted you to go with Genma was because he wanted to make sure you were taken care of and thought he couldn't handle it."

Nodoka spoke, this time. "Ranma can marry you, Ukyo, if the two of you want it. In that case, he must agree to work together with the named Heir of the Tendo school of Anything Goes martial arts in order to create a merged style, and help teach it. Also, if the Tendo heir wants it, the agreement can be attempted during the next generation."

"If none of you chose to marry, then Ukyo will be adopted by the Saotome family, and Ranma will help out with the merged school," Soun said, though his distaste with this option was almost palpable.

"So, who's the Heir of the Tendo School?" Ranma asked, looking curiously between Akane, Ukyo and Kasumi.

"That's me," Akane said, returning his look. He thought about that. He didn't really know Akane, but her martial skill was pretty good, and he hadn't immediately gotten off on the wrong foot with her, or anything.

"Are you willing to work with me on the school if this falls through?"

Akane studied him for a moment, apparently making an assessment of her own. Eventually, she nodded.

"I suppose it's all right," Ukyo said, uncertainly. She could still marry Ran-chan, and it wouldn't get Akane or her family in trouble.

Nodoka nodded. "Hopefully, if any other... surprises... come up, we will be able to deal with them as well, correct Husband?"

"Yes, dear." Genma sighed. He'd just recently gotten out of the doghouse over some of the more... questionable decisions he'd made during Ranma's early training, and apparently the Daikoku mess, which in all fairness he'd forgotten almost completely, was landing him back there again.

"Good, then we can go home." Nodoka stood, taking a moment to bow to Soun and his wife. "I would like to get Ranma settled into the house before it gets too late."

The elder Tendos nodded, as Genma stood, followed by Ranma. As he rose, his Sensei did as well, walking to the door with him. "Are you coming back to our place, Sensei?" Ranma asked, the term seeming somewhat odd in his mouth.

"Nah," Saffron shrugged, effecting indifference, though Ranma could tell that something was bothering him. "Not sure what I'm going to do, but I might be leaving pretty soon."

"Where are you going?" The pigtailed martial artist asked, surprised.

"I said might," Saffron rebuked, gently. "I'm really not sure, but I'm done training you, so..."

"I see..." Ranma said, standing still for a moment. Abruptly, he bowed deeply, in the respectful fashion he'd only seen drawn in history books a few times. "I thank you for all you have done to train me, Sensei," he said, as formally as he could.

Saffron shuffled uncomfortably. "Quit that," he muttered, drawing the younger boy back up. "Just don't go slackin' off."

"Yes, Sensei," Ranma replied, before turning to follow his parents, who were standing near the door waiting for him.

HR.

The view of Nerima was very familiar, as the ponytailed man who currently called himself Saffron leaned back against the shingles of the Tendo Dojo's roof. Granted, they dug into different parts of his back and legs, as he'd grown a bit since he'd last sat where he currently was, taking in the barely visible stars and the soft light of the district below them.

He'd asked Mr. Tendo if he could borrow one of the spare bedrooms for the night, and he'd quickly agreed, though after only a few minutes in his old room, the martial artist had become restless, following a well remembered routine and leaping out of the open window, flipping backwards onto the roof.

"Figured you'd show up," he remarked, as a shadow fell over him even in the dim starlight. The owner of said shadow, a young girl with dark hair and a hammer slung over her shoulder, slumped down on the shingles next to him, pulling her feet up to her chest and enjoying the view. "Pretty, huh?" He asked, casually.

She nodded.

"Akane used to ask me if I were obsessed or something, coming up here all the time. Once she accused me of trying to peep on someone across the street, or somethin'." No response. He sighed. "So, you here to tell me how much I screwed up, again?"

"No," she said, quietly.

"Huh?" He asked, stupidly. "Look, even I know it. I couldn't get him cursed since I didn't raise him right, so I thought taking him to the Amazons was too dangerous, and I know the Amazons are the only ones who'll get him the techniques he needs, which he might not be able to learn anyways, since I..."

"It doesn't matter," she interrupted him.

"It what?" He asked, turning his attention away from the horizon and towards her directly.

"It doesn't matter," she responded, and then, seeing that he was about to ask for clarification, she continued. "Some things happened back home over the past couple of years, so I wasn't able to check things as much as I'd have liked to. When I took quick, long-term looks, everything looked about right, so I left it to run." He nodded, trying to at least look like he understood what was going on.

"All of the projections I was able to come up with said that the cursing should have gone as planned, but as you pointed out, your younger self just isn't really meant for the spring of the drowned girl any more. The projections shouldn't have even been capable of showing things on track, by this point."

"So... your future seeing stuff's broken?" Saffron asked, mostly guessing.

"Somehow, Yggdrasil's direct timestream interpretation software's not working the way it should. It's only showing a single timeline, one which we've heavily diverged from by now." Skuld snorted. "If I'd have actually been paying attention, I would have realized that I could occasionally catch glimpses of Genma in the predictions."

"So... what now?" Saffron asked.

"I... don't know," Skuld responded. "This was all meant to be a cleanup operation after a temporal incursion; I'm not normally supposed to alter the future this much!"

"Well, given how much has changed, their ain't much I can predict anymore, either," Saffron responded. "Guess this means I'm not goin' home any time soon."

Skuld shook her head. "Any interference you cause is still outside of the demonic and godly realms," she explained. "Good or bad, what you do here is your right and responsibility."

"And you want me ta try and make sure it's good, right?" Saffron chuckled. "Typical."

"I'm sorry," Skuld said, and the ponytailed man realized that throughout this entire conversation, she'd sounded nervous, rather than her usual kind of bratty self-assuredness. "I'm asking my older sister Urd to take a look at the timestream interface. She's one of the best administrators Yggdrasil's got, even if she is a drunk. I just need you here to make sure that nothing really horrible happens... I'm not sure how long it'll take."

"Don't worry about it," Saffron shrugged. "I've waited a decade, I can wait a little longer."

"Thank you," Skuld said, before standing and leaping off of the edge of the roof.

"You're welcome," Saffron muttered, before slumping back to stare up at the stars, his eyes slowly closing. He was home in at least one way. He could wait a little longer to get home in the other.

END.

Well, there we go, folks. Through at least one restructuring of the entire future plot and a good deal of flying blind, what someone who I may or may not have imagined has called the "Training Trip" arc is finished. No, the story as a whole is not, as now we get to see the results of a radically different group of people on Nerima, and yes, even though the Amazons seem similar right now, they will be different... I think.

Don't you love my level of certainty?

Hope you enjoyed! If you did, or if you hated it, please inform me in a review!