NOTE: This story was bumped up to M rating for a reason. There is some material in this chapter and the one that will follow it that may disturb some readers. You have been warned.
That said, I hope you can continue to enjoy my meager writing. I understand that, due to the nature of the story, I can only appeal to a very small niche audience. And so to everyone who has come this far with me, despite my lack of updates, poor writing technique, and characters unfamiliar to them, you have my heartfelt thanks. I hope my portrayal of the characters within that you do know meets your expectations. If my choices have offended or disappointed you in anyway, then I am sorry, but the story is as it is; many of the major plot points were all planned out before the first chapter was posted, and I won't abandon my plans unless necessary.
As always, if you find any mistakes, please let me know and I will try to fix them at the next available opportunity.
Ranma clenched her fists as she locked eyes with Shampoo. Both girls watched each other warily, their eyes straining to see the smallest twitch of muscle, the most minute of openings, the most infinitesimal of weaknesses; to any bystanders, it would have seemed as if the two teenagers were having naught but a staring contest, but to the expert observer, it was already a fierce engagement between two battle hardened warriors. Their auras clashed - Ranma's almost invisible embers of chi with Shampoo's raging bonfire - poking, prodding the other. Phantom feints and counters were traded as the two stood with a stillness that not even a statue could ever hope to attain.
Though Shampoo had no idea who Ranma was, or what exactly she was capable of, she had observed her opponent closely on their way to the park, and was able to infer a skill level far higher than she'd assumed at first. Ranma, for her part, had done the same, and quickly noticed some discrepancies with her own Shampoo; this one was slightly stronger, perhaps even more skilled – probably because she spent less time chasing after Ranma, and more time training (or trying to kill Ryouga). In the end, the same thoughts had echoed in each of their heads upon approaching the park.
This girl is strong.
She knows she can win.
I will not underestimate her.
In the distance, Cologne watched with wide eyes.
'Such a strange sight, this. To think that my Shampoo would be held in deadlock for so long at this stage by one so diminutive. At first I had thought this would simply be to teach an impudent upstart their place.' She narrowed her eyes. 'What is that girl?'
A weak breeze carried some leaves through the air between them. When they were gone, there was finally a movement on Ranma's side. The red haired girl's arm flickered for an instant, but Shampoo ignored the invitation and the two remained locked in their phantom clash.
Ranma narrowed her eyes.
'If I get hit once, it's over. On the other hand, with this body I can hit her as hard and as much as I want and I still won't be able to hurt her. Then…'
Her fingers twitched.
Shampoo moved. She flew at Ranma in a blur, but the first punch missed. She drove the other girl back with a palm-thrust, then another punch, and a kick, but all missed as the red-head danced around each of her strikes. This continued for almost ten seconds until suddenly, Shampoo halted her assault and Ranma halted her retreat and both assumed defensive postures. The Chinese girl narrowed her eyes as she surveyed her opponent once more.
'No counter?' She thought in her native tongue with a frown. 'She isn't even trying to counter. She's putting everything into avoiding my attacks. Do I really have her cornered that badly?'
Somehow, that didn't seem right.
"What's wrong?" Ranma asked with an innocent look. "Scared?"
"Shampoo just being careful not to break weakling in one hit."
Ranma's eye ticked, but Shampoo took advantage of the other girl's annoyance and moved before she could retort. She leapt at the other girl, her hand shooting for the redhead's neck with a savage burst of speed.
Ranma stepped to the side and gyrated, taking hold of Shampoo's arm with one hand and her shoulder with the other, then fell away from her opponent, adding the pull of her own weight to the strength of Shampoo's lunge, and released her, sending the teen flying straight into the grass. Shampoo braced herself with her other hand centimeters before her face hit the ground, and she winced at the pain that shoot up through her arm.
She quickly flipped away from Ranma, who was already back on her feet and staring at her from two meters away as if nothing had happened.
Shampoo stood up and frowned as she surveyed the girl again.
"Almost got me th-"
Shampoo interrupted her taunt by springing at the red-head once more with a knife hand aimed at her stomach. Ranma stepped to the side once more, turning her body as she did so. The strike missed her by mere millimeters even as she moved to grab the other girl's extended arm once more, but Shampoo pulled away from her as she flew by and Ranma noticed a smirk on the girl's face.
Ranma winced as a sudden pain shot through her stomach. She jumped away, gritting her teeth while Shampoo turned to face her.
'Her battle aura…' She narrowed her eyes. Even though Shampoo's hand hadn't touched her, her battle aura had grazed her.
"Japanese girl like talking big. Makes her feel big, yes?" Shampoo snorted. "But you so weak you hurt just from Shampoo punching near you."
Ranma simply stared back at her with cold indifference.
"Can't even hurt Shampoo. Can only hope Shampoo hurt self."
"Sounds like you're scared to attack," The redhead snorted.
Shampoo blurred into motion once more with a lunge and a flying kick– and then stopped dead in the air, eyes wide.
Ranma winced. Her fist was buried in the other girl's stomach. Instead of dancing or falling away, she'd narrowly avoided the attack while simultaneously bracing herself and moving towards Shampoo in a simple straight punch, plunging her fist at the other girl's stomach. The resulting blow hit her target dead on. The majority of the force from the collision transferred into the ground, but at the same time sent pain throughout her extended arm and legs.
She immediately followed up on the opening it created, spinning and throwing the stunned girl into the grass. She took a step back rather than continue on; after all, it was ostensibly a sparring session, not an all-out beat-down. As long as it remained such, there would be no kiss of death afterwards… or so she hoped.
As Shampoo climbed to her feet, Ranma chuckled.
The purple haired girl looked upon her with anger and embarrassment, but also a newfound respect. Ranma wasn't holding her breath for a compliment, though.
"Shampoo come for real this time."
Her opponent charged at her with fists flying. Ranma once again put everything she had into avoiding the other girl's relentless assault, but Shampoo was moving much faster than before, and each strike came within a hair's breadth of making contact. Ranma's muscles began to burn and sweat began to pour down her body as she forced herself to move faster than she had any right to with the body she had.
'I can't keep this up,' She realized, jumping away from Shampoo. She could feel her muscles tearing and the searing pain it sent shooting throughout her, but the other girl hounded her, and before she even knew what was going on she felt Shampoo's hands on her and she was flying through the air and on the ground. The grass cushioned her fall somewhat, but it still hurt a lot. She stared up in a daze, and it took her a moment to realize she was looking up at the sky. She grit her teeth and clumsily tried to prop herself up on one arm, but the mere movement caused a wave of vertigo to overtake her and she simply fell back down.
As the world swirled above her, lights flashing in her eyes, Ranma fought to even remain conscious, let alone lucid. The only thing that kept her aware was a spark of indignation, the righteous fury that came from having been robbed of something most dear. Raw emotion surged throughout her very being as her chi took on a strange heaviness unlike she'd ever experienced before. She grit her teeth as the world came into focus, and emotion gave way to thought.
'I refuse to accept this! This isn't me! I am stronger than this!'
And suddenly her chi exploded into being. Energy surged into her from deep within, and with a loud kiai she flew up off of the ground at Shampoo so quickly that anyone watching would have seen afterimages as light itself struggled to keep pace with her. Shampoo's surprise almost stopped her from reacting, but she brought up a guard as Ranma slammed into her with a swarm of punches, but a number of them got through.
The girl let out a yell of her own as she compensated by deflecting each individual punch with a speed that mirrored Ranma's own. The pig-tailed martial artist suddenly dropped down to a crouch and sent a storm of kicks up at her opponent, but Shampoo jumped over them, swinging her foot down at Ranma's head in a forward somersault. Ranma tilted her body further down to avoid the swinging kick as Shampoo sailed over her, then immediately leapt into the air at her opponent straight from that position, spinning into a powerful reverse roundhouse.
Shampoo, having spun upside down after missing her kick, and thus now facing Ranma, brought both knees to bear and blocked the kick, then reached up to grab Ranma's leg, but it was pulled back before she could grasp it. They traded a number of blows in the air - most of which were blocked - righting their respective orientations all the while, and both continued even after touching the ground. Finally Shampoo managed to land a clean uppercut to Ranma's chin, but the redhead mitigated the damage by jumping into a backflip on impact, using the opportunity to kick Shampoo in return. Shampoo blocked her foot with both arms, but the sheer force of the flip-kick – assisted by Shampoo's own uppercut – was enough to send her sailing up into the air regardless.
Ranma finished her flip and landed clean on both feet, then rubbed her chin, and smirked.
She was back.
Bolstered on by that realization, she let out another loud kiai and summoned her battle aura, a wreathing flame of chi that towered over her.
"Mouko Takabisha!" She cried out, unleashing a massive blast of chi straight towards Shampoo's destination.
Shampoo's eyes widened and, unable to change her own trajectory, she called up her own battle aura and braced herself for impact, bringing her limbs to bear. With a kiai of her own, she absorbed the brunt of the blast, and she was not surprised to see Ranma screaming through the air at her right behind it. The pig-tailed fighter followed up with a merciless assault of punches and kicks, but the Joketsuzoku warrior weathered it all, absorbing every blow with her arms and legs. Finally the opportunity for a counter arrived, but as she moved to strike, Ranma suddenly changed forms and landed a clean blow on her now exposed stomach, sending her flying away even faster.
The Joketsuzoku girl sailed through the air and rolled backwards across the ground several times before pushing off the ground into the air and flipping so she landed on her feet. She coughed a few times, and her breaths were short, but she managed to maintain her posture. On seeing Ranma, she blinked.
The redhead was lying face down in the grass, unmoving.
Quickly deciding that the other girl had no reason to deceive her with such a tactic, she ran over to her side. Cologne and Ryouga were also there in an instant, and Shampoo glanced up at the wizened crone.
"What wrong, great-grandmother?"
Cologne narrowed her eyes as she stared down at Ranma's still form.
"She used up far more energy than she should have," She said. "She's unconscious. She'll be in quite a bit of pain when she wakes up, however. She forced more out of those flimsy muscles than should even be possible."
Ryouga shook his head.
"It's the other way around…" He growled. "Just that little bit shouldn't have even made him break a sweat. He really did lose everything…"
Though he'd mumbled the last bit, Cologne heard it clearly and looked over at him.
"He? What are you talking about, boy?"
"Ranma," Ryouga said with a sigh. "I… guess you guys wouldn't know, but he's Jusenkyo cursed."
Cologne raised an eyebrow.
"Is that right?"
They all turned to look down at the redhead on hearing her pained groans.
"What the hell… hit me…"
"You did, boy." Cologne snapped. "You're lucky you didn't tear yourself apart. Or that Shampoo didn't, for that matter. It's a miracle that you haven't shattered every bone in your body."
Ranma's only response was to whimper some more.
"Shampoo, go get the needles. And some hot water, for that matter." she said. "This poor fool is going to need some real work if he is to survive."
Shampoo looked down at the redhead for a moment, then nodded at her great grandmother and took off towards the ramen cart. Colognge, meanwhile, surveyed the girl's back.
"Hot water… won't work…" Ranma gasped.
Cologne raised an eyebrow.
"Oh? And why's that?"
"Locked?" Cologne frowned as she narrowed her eyes and scanned Ranma's meridians, and her eyes widened in shock on what she saw. "Boy, this curse isn't locked. It's damaged beyond repair! Just what happened to you?"
Ranma whimpered again. Cologne sighed.
"I can see you're going to be a big help." The old crone grumbled. She tapped a few spots on the girl's lower back, then looked over at Ryouga, who was just staring down at Ranma dumbly. "Boy, if you want to help, give him a massage."
"So I can get to work on the more important part." She said.
Ryouga frowned, but knelt down and started to knead Ranma's back.
"Umm… like this?"
Cologne watched him for a moment, then nodded.
"That should be fine," She said, then narrowed her eyes and began to study Ranma's meridians in closer detail. 'Now… let's see how far reaching this damage really is…'
Ranma groaned as she blinked her eyes open. Her entire body ached as if she'd been run over by a steamroller, and she could not quite remember why.
The familiar voice of the old crone caused her to snap her head in its direction, but she immediately regretted the movement and let out a soft cry of pain.
"W-what… what happened to me?" She murmured, still trying to get her bearings. She was lying face up on a blanket, and she could see that it was night, but there was a fire nearby giving off light and warmth. She could smell strong incense in the air, and she had the distinct impression that Cologne was sitting next to the fire. They were still in the park; she could see the same tree that they had sat under to watch the eclipse overhead.
"Like I said earlier; you did, boy."
Ranma blinked, confused. Cologne had just called her a boy? Was it his old ghoul? Had the past few days been some terrible martial-arts coma induced dream?
"You fought well for someone so out of shape." The crone continued. "Better than should be possible, actually."
And then it all came back to her. The moments before she'd lost consciousness – her 'spar' with Shampoo.
"Ugh… uhh…" Ranma closed her eyes as she struggled to make a cohesive thought amidst all of her pain.
She blinked when the little old woman walked over to her side and held a steaming cup up to her mouth.
The pig-tailed teen scrunched her nose up at the stench of whatever was in it.
"What… is that?"
"It's tea." The old woman snapped. "Now open your mouth and drink it."
The red-head winced, but opened her mouth and allowed the tiny old woman to pour it in. She fought hard not to gag at the taste, instead swallowing it all.
"Good." Cologne returned to her place by the fire and sat down, leaving Ranma to stare up at the night sky through the tree branches overhead. "I might have… something of an explanation for why you were able to fight so well."
Ranma didn't bother looking at her that time.
"Yeah?" She muttered.
"The magic from your curse," Cologne began. "Specifically, the raw magic energy that powered it, has merged with your chi."
Ranma blinked. That didn't sound good at all.
"Jusenkyo is powerful magic," The ancient woman began. "Chaos magic, at that. There's no telling what will happen, and as far as I know, no precedent to speak of."
"So then," she said, "I was using… magic energy there?" She asked.
Cologne turned to look at her, watching quietly.
"Not quite," she said. "It's true that the magic from the curse has mixed with your chi, but… rather than actually channel the magical energy itself… it is as if you somehow warped reality, that you would be stronger than you were."
Ranma simply lay there, staring straight up in confusion.
"I… warped reality?"
Cologne shook her head.
"I can't know for certain what caused it. What I do know is that your entire body has changed," she said. "You have more muscle than you did, and far more chi than you did when you entered that fight."
Ranma blinked and tried to look down at herself for a moment, then winced and let her head drop again.
"Don't move," The old woman snapped. "You're still healing. I can't quite tell you how long it will take, but for now, don't move."
"Great…" She murmured. "Just how long am I gonna be stuck here?"
"I just said I don't know, you little brat," The old woman snapped.
Ranma sighed. If she couldn't move, then it would probably be best to just get some sleep.
"There is something you can tell me, however."
The teen looked at the old woman best she could without turning her head.
"You have never even met Shampoo before." The woman began. "Yet you know her fighting style well enough to anticipate every punch, every kick. Every feint."
The teen winced.
"Who are you? Who do you work for? Depending on whether or not I like your answer, I may just consider you an… obstacle."
There it was.
Ranma sighed and closed her eyes.
"I'm… Ranma Saotome, heir to the Musabetsu Kakutou Ryuu," She said. "And you might want to sit down, because this is gonna be a long story."
"We've got to do something!"
Usagi was pacing around her room, panic written all over her face. On her bed, her time-displaced daughter, also named Usagi, sat, watching her. Luna was laying curled up on her desk, beside an unfinished report.
"Well that much is obvious, but what?" Chibi-Usa asked. Luna-P was slowly orbiting around her head. "I mean, they really seem to have made up their minds on this."
"Yeah, well, we've got to change their minds somehow," Usagi said, turning around to pace in the other direction. "Come on, think of something! I can't abandon Juuban now, not with these new enemies popping up!"
"These new enemies aren't limited to Juuban," she pointed out. "Ami-chan said that she detected those dimensional gates all over the world, didn't she? And these Yami people are definitely everywhere,"
Usagi turned to look at her in surprise.
"Oh my gosh! You're right!" She stopped walking and her jaw dropped. "But how are we supposed to take care of enemies all around the world?!"
"We can't." She said.
"Well, we have to do something," She muttered.
"We can take care of those nearest us, but that's about it." the pink haired teen said with a shake of her head. "Short of dropping out of society and completely dedicating our lives to hunting these things, and even then we couldn't be everywhere at once."
Usagi frowned and looked at her.
"But…" She shook her head and sighed. "You're right… but still, knowing that there are monsters out there… doing terrible things to people…" She shuddered and hugged herself. "It makes my skin crawl. I can't… just ignore it, you know? When someone else suffers… I feel their pain."
Her daughter nodded.
"And that's why you're Sailor Moon."
"As much as I hate fighting… I could never just sit by and watch." She shook her head. "First thing's first, though. We need to figure out how we're staying here in Juuban."
Chibi-Usa looked up at the ceiling as she considered that.
"Hey, wait a second!" Usagi said, turning to look at her. "You hypnotize people, right?"
Chibi-Usa grimaced and lowered her eyes.
"Uhm, well, yeah, but…"
"So, that's perfect! We can just do it again!"
"We could… but the more we use Luna-P on a single person, the higher the risk for permanent brain damage." She said.
"What? Permanent brain damage!?" She growled and stomped over to her daughter and grabbed her by the shirt, then shook her. "You've been using such a dangerous thing on them!?"
"They're safe for now, geez!" The other girl snapped. "I'm just saying we shouldn't go doing it for every little thing!" Chibi-Usa pushed her mother off of her and growled, dusting herself off. "Jeez. Overreacting, like always…"
"Hey, you said brain damage! I don't need my parents drooling in bed all day!" Usagi retorted.
"Bah!" Chibi-Usa grabbed a nearby pillow and whapped her with it.
Usagi cringed back from her sudden attack, while reaching for a pillow of her own.
"You brat! Take this!"
Luna opened one eye to glance at the two, then closed it back and groaned.
"This paper is never getting done…" She grumbled as the two teens savagely attacked one another with fluffy pillows.
Ten'ou Haruka sat alone on an indigo loveseat in the living room of the condo she shared with her girlfriend. She was wearing the same clothes she'd worn out that day, though her blazer was draped across the back of the sofa. Aside from the laptop on the couch beside her, the large aquarium that took up the entire western wall was the only source of light in the room, bathing the room in dim teal hues. Michiru was sound asleep in their bedroom, but she had too much on her mind to go to bed just yet.
In the wall to her right was a large window, through which she could see the lively city lights below. In the distance she could see Tokyo Tower, brightly lit up. Thanks to the increased number of high rises around it, it could no longer perform its task as primary broadcasting tower for the area – a task the Tokyo Sky Tree now fulfilled, but it still had the feel of a monument.
She sighed as she watched cars speed across the expressway below. How she would've liked to be driving down there with them, without a care in the world.
'This Yami group is troublesome.' A frown creased her face as she crossed her right leg over the other and leaned back into the sofa. She grabbed the laptop, brought it over to her lap and stared down at it. On it an Internet browser was opened to the Japanese version of Google. 'What am I even supposed to look for? Something suspicious?'
She let out a snort. It was ludicrous to think that a criminal organization as ubiquitous as Yami supposedly was would be sloppy enough to leave hints that a mere seventeen year old could use to track them down. No, to get to these people, she was going to have to put her ear to the ground and listen hard. Thanks to the shift altering history, she no longer had any idea if she could trust any of the contacts involved with criminal elements that she'd made in the past… or any of her contacts at all, really.
Yami on the other hand could already be well aware of the identities of the Senshi for all she knew.
'Hmm. I could ask that Shirahama fellow what he knows,' She thought. 'Or perhaps the girl… Kushinada? She seemed fairly confident in her knowledge. She may know more than she let on…'
She stared down at her computer and rapped her fingers against the flat space below the keyboard.
'Okay. I may not be able to find out anything specifically about Yami, but I can do some research on criminal organizations in general. Figure out how they think, what sort of playbook they'd be using…'
She nodded to herself and her hands moved, fingers dancing on the keys.
Yusuke lay haphazardly on his side, a trail of drool hanging out of his mouth. Aside from the animal print boxers he was wearing (he'd lost his polkadots at the hospital), a thin sheet of cotton was all that protected him from the cold morning air. A single ray of sunlight penetrated the lone window in his tiny room – and shone down directly on his face. The slight warmth was enough to wake him from his slumber, and as he blinked his eyes open, it took him a moment to adjust to being conscious. As the tail end of his dream faded out of his mind, he took a moment to remember exactly why he was in this unfamiliar room to begin with, then sighed as it all came back to him.
'Such bullshit,' He thought, sitting up. Since he hadn't bothered even looking for keys to the apartment the day he left, he'd had to pick the lock to get back in. Of course, he'd have lost his keys to the hospital anyway with the way Kurama took him out, so it was probably for the better that he hadn't.
He glanced down at the digital clock that had woken him up the previous day; strangely it hadn't gone off this morning. It was only 7:46. Normally this would have meant he'd have lost some early morning customers for his ramen cart, but he didn't own one in this world. Before then, it'd have meant he was late for school, but that didn't really matter either.
He glanced at the briefcase he'd spotted the first morning he'd woken up there.
'I guess that's actually mine, then…' He frowned. The only clothes in this dump were school uniforms; he'd thrown the nasty clothing he'd stolen from the thug in the garbage. They'd stank of the thug's sweat and dirt even when he'd put them on, and now the stench clung to him and his apartment. Only the sneakers he'd kept, since they were better suited to his lifestyle than dress shoes. 'I'm gonna have to air this place out and go take a bath…' He thought with a sigh. At least his old apartment had had its own shower. Now he'd have to use a public bath, which was going to cost money, a resource he currently had almost none of.
He scooted over a bit towards a leather wallet lying on the floor, and emptied it. There were a few bills, but it was mostly coinage.
'Cheap bastard.' He grunted and dropped the wallet, sitting back and looking it over. 'I'm gonna need some income, here… this is enough for a few days' worth of ramen and a couple of baths.'
He frowned. Just how was he going to make money? He didn't own a ramen booth, and he had no reputation as a spirit detective.
"Hmm… Hmm…" He lay back and spread his arms out while staring at the ceiling. 'Underground fights might be an option… actually, that's perfect… I can work on recovering my strength while making some money. Win win. but that alone might not be enough…' He frowned and sat up. 'Maybe I can do some spirit detective work…'
'Yeah… perfect. First thing's first, though…'
Yusuke walked away from a 7-Eleven with a pork bun in hand. Fresh from the public baths and wearing a school uniform that fit better than the thug's getup, he was much more comfortable than the previous day. The skies were mostly clear, but the crisp morning air was cold, and the streets of Juuban were crowded thanks to the morning rush.
'Man, I could really use some hair grease,' He thought in annoyance as he ran a hand through his hair. His usual style was impossible without something to make it stick, and it just sort of sat on his head like a dirty mop. 'It'll have to wait, though… first thing's first. I need to find an underground ring…' He looked around as he took a bite out of his snack. Before him was a one way street paved in cobblestone, and the area was dominated by tall apartment buildings and small stores. 'If this were my old hood, I'd know right where to go, but this place…' He sighed in annoyance. 'Hmm… wonder how Keiko and the others are doing… I'll have to find out once I've got some cash. They could be anywhere.'
The teen stuck his free hand in a pocket as he turned right and started walking.
'Time to explore I guess.'
He passed several stores, including a vegetable vendor, a 100 yen store, a flower store, and finally a hand bag store before reaching a crosswalk. The people waiting for the light glanced at him as he stopped beside them, eating his bun.
"Shouldn't you be in school, young man?" Asked a green haired woman in business casual with a frown.
He glanced at her and raised an eyebrow.
"Who asked you?" He snorted, turning away. "Mind your own damn business."
The woman narrowed her eyes.
"It is my business, quite literally, when a young man wearing the uniform for the school for which I am disciplinarian is out here instead of in class at this time of day." She said.
He frowned and looked over at her.
"I'd be wearing something less stupid, but hey, it's all I've got." He said with a shrug, before turning away.
"What's your name, young man?"
"Shinnosuke Abe," He snorted as the light turned green.
She narrowed her eyes.
"Very funny." She said.
Yusuke blinked and turned to see Kurama and Hiei walking up behind him, and raised an eyebrow in surprise. Kurama was once again using his human form illusion, though he wore modern casual clothing, while Hiei was dressed the same as always.
"There you are!" Kurama said, stopping behind him with something of a stern frown. "Thinking you can skip school on my watch? Think again!" He turned to look at the woman and bowed slightly. "I'm sorry for the trouble this boy has caused you, m'am. He's something of a troublemaker you see. I'll make sure he gets to class, though." The red haired teen then grabbed Yusuke by the arm and started dragging him away. "Come on, you."
Setsuna blinked as she watched them walk away. She noticed that the short, oddly dressed black-haired man was staring at her. The moment she looked at him, however, he turned and followed after the other two. She frowned; the two newcomers had had a strange quality to them, something she couldn't quite put her finger on.
'Hmm… That effeminate red-haired man sounded very familiar… Ah, well.' She turned around to walk across the street, only to notice the light was red again. "Oh, damn it."
"So what's up?" Yusuke asked. Kurama and Hiei had led him down the street to another corner, away from the meddling disciplinarian, before they started walking in a more casual manner.
"Well, we've more information to share," Kurama said. "For one, Reikai doesn't even seem to exist in this world."
Yusuke stared at them.
"Reikai… doesn't exist?"
"There seems to be something else in its place. Have you heard of Asgard?"
"What, is that some kind of western thing?"
"More or less. Anyway, this Asgard performs the same function as Reikai, but in a different manner. But King Emma and Koenma are nowhere to be found. If they're there, then they play a minor part," He said. "From what I've been able to gather, there seem to be numerous gods working under a single, powerful god, but not much is known about him or her. Similarly, the power structure of Makai has changed as well," He said.
"It wasn't completely replaced, though?"
The kitsune shook his head.
"Makai itself is the same, I believe. But, who is in charge has changed."
"I'm guessing this isn't good news." He said.
"You'd be right." He sighed. "The current demon king, Demise, is a powerful being full of hatred for humans and gods alike. The youkai of this world haven't been brainwashed or anything like that, most of them are enthusiastically following this powerful demon's philosophy. He's no simple youkai either, a more apt term would be jashin."
Yusuke narrowed his eyes in confusion.
"Wait a minute, if Reikai doesn't exist and Emma is nowhere to be found, who sealed Makai up?"
"We're not sure, but it was probably in order to contain Demise."
Yusuke nodded. That made sense.
"Hmm. Well, for once, I have something to share with you guys too," The spirit detective said as they started to cross a road. "You know how history was changed? It didn't just happen randomly. Our world was… merged together with others, or something, and the history of the current world is like a mixture of ours and theirs."
Kurama and Hiei both turned to look at him.
"Really?" Kurama asked. "Interesting. But how do you know this?"
"I met some other people who are in the same situation," He said. "And things from their worlds are here as well."
"That Ranma girl?" He asked.
Yusuke raised an eyebrow and looked over at him.
"Yeah, how'd you know?"
The fire demon huffed.
"It's none of your business." He said.
"Have you been stalking me?" He asked.
"Of course." Hiei snorted. "I needed to make sure you didn't get yourself killed. Those thugs didn't stop attacking you for no reason, you know."
"You saved my life?"
Hiei remained silent.
"You aren't welcome," The diminutive youkai spat. "Don't ever expect me to do anything like that again. I'll kill you myself if you lose to such weaklings."
Yusuke rolled his eyes.
"Yeah, yeah, whatever. Anyways," He stopped walking. "We've got more to worry about than our usual brand of trouble."
All three froze, and turned to look for the sound of the voice. A young girl in a school uniform, about Yusuke's age, was running down the street, screaming her head off. No one in the nearby vicinity seemed to be paying her any attention at all.
"Please! Somebody help me!"
As the three wondered exactly what it was that she was screaming about, a dark shape flew past, trailing after her. It was a large… winged… creature unlike any that Yusuke had seen before; it had large, leathery bat-like wing-hands, and webbed-feet attached directly to its torso. Its body was gray and slimy, and a strange, skull-like mask with huge teeth covered up its face.
"What the hell is that thing?" Yusuke asked. "It doesn't have any youki…"
"I don't think that's particularly important." Kurama said as he gave chase.
"Yeah," Yusuke agreed as he and Hiei followed after.
"Waaah!" The girl cried out again, as she glanced back at the creature. "Get back! Stay away from me you ugly monster!"
The creature roared and spat a black blob of goo at her. It hit her dead on and she screamed as she tumbled, head over heels, before sticking to the middle of the street. The goo held strong against her struggles to escape.
"Hey ugly!" Yusuke cried out. "Pick on someone your own size!"
The creature turned to face Yusuke and the others as he pointed a finger at it, bracing his arm with his other hand.
A burst of blue energy exploded forth from his extended finger and his hand flew back from the recoil. The blue energy sphere slammed into the creature's face, knocking its head back as if a sledgehammer had been thrown at it. The creature's white, skull-like face cracked and it shrieked in pain, but not much else happened.
"Tch…" Yusuke scowled.
"Not quite top form, hmm?" Kurama asked with a chuckle as he retrieved a rose from within his shirt.
"Ahh, shaddap," Yusuke snapped.
"Heh. Rose Whip!" Kurama swung his arm and the rose transformed into a long green whip with large thorns. "Rose Whiplash!"
All three of them froze at the sound of a familiar voice, and turned to see a teal haired woman wearing a black kimono and hakama standing atop an oar that was flying through the air straight towards them.
"Don't kill it, you idiots!"
Yusuke and Kurama shared a glance, before turning to look at the woman in black.
"Botan?" Yusuke called out as she neared. "Botan!"
The woman shot him a confused look as she shot by him on her oar.
"Stay back!" She called out, unsheathing a katana.
"She has a sword," He said.
"We'd noticed." Hiei retorted.
"Yaaah!" Botan cried out as she flew by the monster, slicing through its body.
The creature shrieked out in pain as a spray of blood flew forth, coating nearby pavement and buildings in a fresh coat of red. Yusuke, Kurama, and Hiei all stared as pedestrians and cars around them were all splashed… and yet did not seem to mind, and only continued to go on, minding their own business.
"What the hell…" Yusuke muttered. "They can't see it?"
"It would appear so," Kurama said. "That isn't too unusual for certain supernatural phenomena, you should know that."
Yusuke shook his head.
"I know, but… you'd think they'd feel being covered in ick on some level…" He muttered. They turned to look at the creature, which was disintegrating. "Hey… that's…"
"A human spirit," Kurama said with a frown. "So that was a poltergeist of some sort, then?"
Botan slowed to a stop above the squirming girl in the street, and hopped off of her oar as the three males approached.
"I have a feeling that this Botan doesn't know us." Kurama muttered as they neared.
"She's definitely different, that's for sure…" He mumbled as the ponytailed girl knelt down to inspect the girl on the ground, who was looking up at her. As they neared, Yusuke and the others noticed a metal chain sprouting from the center of the girl's chest.
"Y-you killed that thing in one hit!" The girl cried out, awestruck, as she looked up at her savior.
"Yeah, well, I was moving pretty fast," Botan said. "Anyway, are you ready to move on?"
The girl stared at her in confusion.
"Huh? Move on? What are you talking about?"
"To the afterlife." The pony-tailed woman explained. She held up her katana.
The girl screamed.
"Nooo! Please don't kill me! I'm too young to die! I haven't done anything to you!"
"You're already dead." She said ominously. The girl screamed louder and cringed away and she sighed. "I swear, some people…"
Both the screaming girl and Botan turned to face Kurama.
"What do you want?" Botan asked. "I'm busy here."
"Um… would I be correct in assuming that you're a shinigami?" He asked.
She rolled her eyes.
"Well gee, what clued you in, genius? Was it the clothing or the way I just purified that Hollow?"
The girl on the ground blinked up at her in confusion.
"You…you're a shinigami?" She asked.
"Yeah, that's right," Botan said, turning to look down at her in annoyance. "And you're a wandering spirit. It's my job to send you to the afterlife before you become consumed with regret and turn into one of those monsters that just tried to eat you. So hold still, m'kay?"
The girl frowned.
"You're not making any sense! Just what's going on?!"
"Uh-huh, that's nice," Botan said, pressing the bottom of her blade's hilt to the girl's head.
"Wait a min-"
The girl was interrupted as her body abruptly flared up with light. She transformed into a small glowing sphere and they all craned their heads up to watch as it flew up into the sky and disappeared.
"Well, that was rude." Kurama said with a frown.
"Ehhh, who gives a shit," Botan snorted. "I'm not much for explaining the whole death crap. Let someone else handle it."
"Isn't that your job?" Yusuke asked with a frown.
"Shut up, kid." She snapped. "Because of the mess caused by those idiot Winchester brothers, we've been absolutely swamped. I just managed to get transferred back to Japan, and I am not gonna have some punk kid telling me how to do my job."
"I like this one more." He said. "She's less pratty."
Botan looked the three of them over with a frown.
"And just what is a kitsune, a… what are you, some kind of hybrid? Ah, who cares. Two youkai and a spiritually endowed human brat hanging out together?" She frowned. "If you cause trouble, you're not gonna like the consequences."
"What, you'll fight us?"
"You two I can kill. The boy I'll have to frame for murder or something."
"I'd like to see you try."
She narrowed her eyes at him.
"Now, now," Kurama said, holding his hands up in a placating gesture. "We're not here to cause trouble, miss. We're just… a little lost, is all."
She raised an eyebrow.
"Yes," The redhead said. "Could you help us out?"
"I'm not some kind of directory or whatever. There's a train station right up that way, go get a map."
"Ah, that's not what I meant," Kurama said. "We're wondering if you could tell us more about the creature you… what was it you said, purified?"
"The hollow? Why… what, you've never seen one before?"
Kurama and Yusuke shook their heads.
"We've seen similar beings, but they were all youkai," The redhead said. "That thing was… more like a cursed human soul, am I right?"
"Just what are they teaching in demon school these days?"
"Murder and banditry." Hiei said flatly.
"Oh, right." The teal-haired girl sighed. "Whatever. You wanna know about hollows? Fine. Buy me lunch and I'll tell you whatever you wanna know."
Yusuke raised an eyebrow.
She sheathed her weapon.
"Yeah, sure. It's part of the job."
The retired spirit detective rolled his eyes, while Kurama chuckled.
"Us buying you lunch is part of the job?"
"Damn straight," she said, crossing her arms.
Yusuke pulled his pockets out, showing off only lint and fuzz.
"I'm broke," He said. "Either of you got spare change? Maybe we can buy her a gumball or something."
Hiei only snorted, and Kurama sighed.
"I suppose I can cover this." He said.
"So let me get this straight," Yusuke asked. They were sitting at a table in a nearby McDonalds. "Human spirits that remain on Earth for too long… lose their hearts and turn into those things, which then devour other spirits."
Botan nodded, taking a bite of an over-stuffed burger. She'd merged her spirit with some kind of eerie human-like shell that looked like her but was wearing a high school uniform. She swallowed the burger and wiped some sauce off of her mouth onto her sleeve.
"Give the kid a gold star," she chimed, before taking another massive bite. "Mm, mm. Thish ish so damb good. Why don't we habe one of deeshe plashes in Sheireitei…?"
Kurama watched her sloppy eating methods with a mixture of amusement and disgust.
"And only a Zanpakuto – a weapon given to Shinigami such as yourself – can purify them and send them to the afterlife." The kitsune prodded. "Normal attacks, from reiki, youki, or some other magical means, actually destroy the soul, which causes, and I quote, 'some sort of imbalance'…"
"And looksh bad on my record if it habbens in my territory," She said. "Sho don't do it." She swallowed the food in her mouth and moaned in pleasure before taking another bite. "I neeb do comb herr more obten!"
Yusuke raised an eyebrow.
"And just what are we supposed to do if you aren't around and it's eating some spirit?"
"Jubt leb me handle ib," She said before swallowing. "When I purify a hollow, I purify all the souls it's eaten as well. All's well that ends well, right?"
Yusuke scowled as she continued eating.
"How can you say that?" He demanded. "You're totally fine with some souls rotting in a monster's belly 'cuz you're too slow to save them?"
She glared at him.
"Shut the hell up punk," She snapped. "You think I'm lazy or something? I rarely get breaks like this these days. Between your idiot youkai friends attacking and gobbling down whatever humans they please and bonafide demons, I've been putting in overtime." She finished the burger in one more bite, which she swallowed immediately, and licked her fingers before picking up a second, larger burger.
Just then, a j-pop song started playing, the source being a vibrating object somewhere in her shirt. She groaned in annoyance before reaching into it to pull out a cell phone and looked down at the screen.
"Great, more work," She growled, putting the phone away. She stood up and started eating the burger as she ran out of the restaurant, grabbing her oar, which was leaning against the wall beside the entrance. "Stay out of trouble!" She called back, before disappearing out the doors.
They watched her go, then returned their gazes to one another.
"Must be another one," Yusuke said with a frown. "Well, great. Something else to worry about." He sighed and rose from his seat. "Well, I need to figure out how to make money around here. You guys seen any good street fights around here?"
"I'm afraid I didn't look for anything like that. Hiei might know," Kurama said. "I have met a few individuals looking for strong arms, though."
"Anything that involves taking out rogue youkai?"
"There are some individuals willing to pay for that sort of work," He said. "I've heard that the local police station has freelance work for demon hunters. Things their mundane officers can't handle."
Yusuke raised an eyebrow.
"Sounds good." He commented. "I'll look into it. Anyone specific to ask for?"
"An Inspector Kiyohara."
"Alright. Anything you wanna add, Hiei?"
"What I found, you're not ready for at the moment. Go take out some weaklings and toughen up first," He said, grabbing a soda on the table and slurping from it noisily.
Yusuke rolled his eyes.
"Fine, whatever." As he turned to leave, Kurama held up a hand.
"Ah, wait, Yusuke," He said. "There was something you were going to say earlier, right? Something about how we're in some kind of… mixed universe?"
He quickly sat back down.
"Right, okay, so. Have you heard of those Sailor girls?"
"They're supposed to be the most effective demon hunters in the country. A team of at least eight, though some say nine, maybe more. One for each planet save Earth, which is substituted by a Senshi for Earth's moon for some reason. No one has seen the Senshi for Saturn, however."
"Yeah them," Yusuke said. "Anyway, you heard about that kaiju attack from yesterday? I saw them take it out, with the help of some other chick," He said.
"The aforementioned Ranma?" Kurama asked.
Yusuke nodded quickly.
"Yeah yeah. And anyway, she, those girls, and some other guys, are all from worlds where there isn't even a Makai," He said.
They both stared at him.
"No Makai?" Kurama asked. "That's… interesting…" He murmured. He folded his hands together and put his elbows on the table. "So where do Youkai reside in their worlds?"
"I donno," Yusuke shrugged. "One of 'em even said there weren't anyyoukai in his world."
"A world with no youkai? Unbelievable."
"Hey, I don't doubt him," He said. "The kid seemed serious enough. Anyway, it seems they all had enemies of their own or something, and some of them also exist in this world," He said. "Like, this Yami group, supposedly a secret society of master martial artists who do all kinds of shady stuff, like assassinations and what have you."
Kurama narrowed his eyes.
"I've heard whispers of such an organization…"
"Sounds interesting." Hiei said.
"I haven't run into any of 'em yet, so… can't really say what they're capable of, but that guy seemed to think it was a big deal."
"If they're just a bunch of humans, then we've nothing to worry about."
Yusuke rolled his eyes.
"Sensui was human too, you know. And did you forget that so was I until that stupid… atavism thing?"
Hiei considered that.
"Sensui was one of a kind. But I do see your point."
"Regardless, it is no concern of ours," The stature-challenged demon said. "The only thing I'm worried about is the new king of Makai. We may need to kill him, if he's intent on causing us trouble."
"May?" He rolled his eyes. "Of course we're going to kill him. Anyways, I said I'd help them if they helped us."
"That sounds fair enough. Perhaps you can put us in contact with them?" He asked. "I would like to learn more about these new players… on both sides."
"Don't expect anything from me. I couldn't care less about their help."
"I figured," Yusuke said. "Anyway, I uh, well they gave me some phone numbers, but I don't have em on me… stop by my place later and I'll give em to you. One last thing, before I forget. Have you guys… found out anything about the others? Like say… How's Kuwabara doing? Any chance we can get his help on this?"
Hiei snorted, while Kurama chuckled.
"What would we need that monkey around for?" The black-and-white haired demon demanded. "His brand of stupid would render us less effective."
Yusuke stared at them.
"So did you find him?"
"We did," He said. "He's not in Tokyo at the moment, though, so he won't be of much use to us right away. We haven't even made contact, so we're not quite sure if he's unchanged or not, yet."
"Where is he?" The teen asked.
"An academy near Saitama," Kurama said. "Called Mahora Gakuen."
"An academy? Like… private? Paid tuition?"
Kurama nodded, and Yusuke blinked. He wasn't sure if he wanted to scowl or laugh.
"So that joker's in some prissy upstate school while I'm stuck in that closet with a window?"
Kurama chuckled again.
"I didn't think you'd like that." He said.
Yusuke shook his head.
"Whatever." He said. "What about… Keiko?"
Kurama sighed and shook his head.
"Nothing so far," He said. "If she… even exists in this world, she doesn't live in or have family near Tokyo."
"…Alright then," He said. "Well, the sooner we straighten out this mess, the sooner we get things back to normal anyway."
Both Hiei and Kurama watched as he stood up and started walking away.
"Later," He called back.
"Yes, later." Kurama said with a nod.
Yusuke walked along the sidewalk, glancing up from the map in his hands to the sides of the buildings he passed. The train station had been where Botan'd said, and he now had a map of the district (and the entire ward), and a small pencil. On the map several landmarks had already been marked in pencil.
The traffic – both on sidewalks and in the streets - had thinned out a little now that most people were actually at school or work, but he still had to look up a few times to avoid other oncoming pedestrians.
"Let's see… I'm on Roppongi Street…" He looked down at the map, then frowned, scratching his head. "It should be around here somewhere, shouldn't it?" He grumbled, stopping. He turned to look at the building beside him and blinked.
The Azabu Police Station sat before him. An image of Pipo-kun, the mascot for the Tokyo Metropolitan Police, could be seen right on the front of the building.
"Oh." He folded the map and shoved it and the pencil into his pocket, then looked around for the appropriate entrance, and walked over and opened the door, stepping inside.
He looked around for a moment; he was in what looked like the lobby for a typical office. Several people situated at the front desk looked up at him, all of them in uniform. Yusuke chuckled nervously as they all stared at him, and he suddenly realized that he'd stepped into a police station during school hours in a school uniform of his own volition.
"Uhh," He began. "Is there an Inspector Kiyohara here?" He asked.
"Inspector?" The man at the desk nearest him began. "The only Kiyohara here is-"
"Ahah, sorry, I'll take it from here, thank you, Urabe-kun."
They both turned to see a pink haired woman in uniform standing up behind the main desk and walking around it towards Yusuke with a nervous laugh. Yusuke blinked as she pushed him out the door and followed him out. He looked up at her and blinked again.
"My apologies. I'm not actually an Inspector. It's just a code word." She looked him up and down with a frown. "Demon hunter or no, you should be in school right now." The woman said with a frown.
"Look, I'm past the graduating age, alright? I got no obligation."
"I see." She scrutinized him closely, putting a hand on her hips. "So, you've fought youkai before?"
"Yeah sure. Look, I just need work lady. If I can bust some heads in the process, all the better."
She shrugged, then retrieved a small card from her pocket and handed it to him.
"Here," She said. "My name is Kiyohara Hikari."
He accepted it and blinked. It was a business card.
"Oh, uh," He bowed slightly and scratched his head nervously. "Urameshi Yusuke. I uh, don't exactly have one of my own… eheheh."
She bowed back.
"Nice to meet you, Urameshi-san. And it's quite alright, I work with your sort often. Don't worry about the formalities." She turned and started walking for an alleyway beside the building. "Come right this way please."
Yusuke watched her go, and breathed a sigh of relief.
"Whew." He glanced down at the card, then shrugged and followed her into the alleyway. As he shoved the card into his pocket, she said,
"Only people with high proficiency in Reiki, Chi, or Mana manipulation can read the print on that card." She said. "You're a Reiki user, correct?"
"That's right," He said. "And so are you."
The very next instant, she turned around, her fist flying at his face with incredible speed.
Yusuke stopped walking.
"Hm. Nice punch." He said.
She'd stopped millimeters short of his face.
"Did I pass your test?"
She smiled pleasantly.
"You could tell that I wasn't really going to hit you?"
"I did something like that once," He said. "But the results were a little different."
She raised an eyebrow.
"Yeah," He said with a chuckle. "Anyways, is that it?"
She shook her head.
"There is one more thing." She said. "I need to know how well you can throw a punch."
He nodded, then looked around the alleyway, expecting to see a target or punching bag hidden away somewhere.
"Okay. So what do I hit?"
"Me." She said.
She only stared at him mutely, waiting.
"Uh… okay… well, here goes."
Yusuke closed his eyes and focused on his Reiki.
'Hmm…' He frowned. 'It's a little bit more than yesterday… but still a long ways to go.'
His eyes flashed open and he moved in a blur. She caught his fist well before it was anywhere near her face.
"It don't look that way when you make me look like a snail." He complained. 'You know, there's something awfully familiar about these tests…' He scrunched up his brow as he tried to remember exactly what they reminded him of, and then it hit him; they were reminiscent of Genkai's disciple tournament. "Say… do you know anyone named Genkai?"
"Master Genkai?" She raised an eyebrow. "You know her?"
"She's your master?"
The woman nodded.
The mirth slowly drained from his face.
"Ah, yeah?" He nodded. No matter how the timeline changed, Genkai's time was up. "That's cool. She was a pretty classy gal. Tough as nails, too."
She nodded, but then tilted her head.
"How did you know her?" The woman asked, frowning. "I wasn't aware she had any other students."
"Err… I met her while hunting down some youkai when I first started out."
She nodded slowly, seeming to accept his answer.
'Hey, wait a second… if this lady was her disciple, then that means… she underwent that Spirit Wave Orb training?' Yusuke found himself re-appraising the woman, and wondering how she'd fare in a real fight.
"Alright, well," She said. "You passed the third test. Just out of curiosity, how did you hear about me?"
"Huh? Uh, well…" He trailed off. "…A friend told me about you."
"What was this friend's name?"
"Shuuichi Minamono." He said. "Why?"
"I don't know anyone by that name." She said.
"Well, he sure knows about you."
"I don't exactly go out of my way to make what I do public information." She said. "I find that gets you more enemies than allies." She sighed. "Well. He sent you here for work, so I'm assuming he has no ill will towards me. Still, I'll have to investigate this."
"Knock yourself out." He folded his arms behind his head. "So what's the deal? You think there's a youkai behind some kinda crime?"
"People have been disappearing all over Tokyo," She said. "The rate of missing persons reports has tripled since the start of the year."
"Well, that's definitely not normal, but that's not all, is it?"
She shook her head.
"The youkai population in this city has also exploded," She said. "The gate to Makai is weakening, which allows more of their kind to escape through it."
"So? That sounds more like a general increase in youkai attacks," He said. "Not one case."
She shook her head.
"That is also a factor, but it alone doesn't completely account for this kind of increase. I've found something rather disturbing that does, however." She said.
He turned his head slightly, but kept his eyes on her.
"I'm not gonna like this next part, am I?"
She shook her head.
"A number of Youkai have taken control of several meat-packing plants."
He closed his eyes.
"Completely taken over." He clarified. "Not just one or two of them infiltrating the ranks, but everyone is a youkai."
"The plant, or rather, chain of plants, were bought up by a corporation that I and some associates have suspected is controlled by Youkai for some time. Most of the previous employees of each plant were replaced over the course of a week." She said. "After disappearing themselves."
"And no one thought it was suspicious?"
She shook her head.
"They have hands in the government. Investigations have actually distanced the owners of the plants from the disappearances."
He clenched his fists.
"So these monsters are kidnapping people en masse," He began, "And you think they're serving up human at some fancy youkai restaurant?"
"That's one way to put it. With the sudden rise in youkai population, there would be an increased demand for human flesh. As for how… they could be distributing it via disguised street vendors for all we know."
Yusuke shuddered. The very idea seemed… violating.
Come one, come all! Fresh human! Get it while it's raw!
"So when do we take them out?"
"Tomorrow night." She said. "You'll be working with myself and two others on this particular job. If you have any friends that you know are qualified for this sort of work, then feel free to bring them along, just know that you're going to have to split the reward."
"I'll keep that in mind. You trust my judgment, then?"
"If they die, it's on you."
"I wouldn't worry about that."
"Very well. That is all," She said, before walking away.
"Eh? That it?"
She glanced back at him and nodded.
"Be at this exact spot tomorrow, midnight. We'll begin the operation then."
"Wait a minute, wait a minute. I need to know this is worth my time," He snapped. "Just how much are you paying for this anyway?"
"Five thousand yen."
Yusuke face planted.
He growled and jumped back up to his feet.
"You cheap bitch! Try fifty!"
Her eyebrow twitched.
"…Ten thousand yen. No more than that."
"Just what kind of idiot do you take me for?" He growled.
She raised an eyebrow.
"You would do this, even if I didn't pay you." She said. "The anger you showed me just now was real. Why should I bother when it's unnecessary?"
His jaw dropped.
"You're taking advantage of me?!"
"I am." She said, turning around. "Don't forget. Tomorrow at midnight, this alleyway. If you're late I'll dock your pay."
He growled and clenched a fist.
"You bitch…" He growled.
"A word of advice," She said, glancing at him with a smile. "Don't wear your emotions so openly when negotiating your salary."
He watched her walk away with narrowed eyes.
Ranma opened her eyes with a yawn as she stretched her arms overhead. Light from the bright sun filtered through the branches of the tree overhead, which swayed in the gentle morning breeze. There was a thin blanket covering her up, but it was somehow much warmer and more comfortable than its size would have seemed to suggest.
"Oh, finally awake are you?"
Cologne's voice caught her attention rather quickly, and she interrupted her stretching to look up at the woman, who was still sitting beside her.
"Looks like it," Ranma yawned, blinking her eyes open. She reached up and rubbed at them for a bit, before sitting up. She winced a bit and grit her teeth.
"Careful, you're still recovering from yesterday." The woman said. "The worst of it seems to be miraculously over, though."
The pigtailed teen blinked and looked down at her.
The old woman shrugged.
"You're healing at a rate I wouldn't have thought possible." she said. "Even for a martial artist of your caliber. I can only assume it's the effect of Jusenkyo's magic. Otherwise you'd be bedridden for at least a month, maybe two, while your muscles and chi pathways heal, if not crippled for life, or simply dead."
That last bit quickly sobered the sleepy teen, who continued stretching, but slowly, and carefully avoiding any movements that caused pain.
"That was quite the tale last night." Cologne continued. "To think that history itself could have been rewritten…" She murmured, retrieving her pipe from some unseen space.
"So you believe me?" Ranma asked. She'd been careful to avoid mentioning that she was technically Shampoo's husband in her summary of the past year and a half or so, instead saying that they'd been 'rivals who always managed to tie one another', but that particular detail did not seem to be at the forefront of the elder's concerns.
"I didn't say that. Though… I must admit, for the past few days, it has felt as if something were well and truly… wrong, with the world." The old woman sighed as she lit the pipe with her chi as she had the previous day. "There's no way to know for sure. You could be under the effects of some spell, or simply be lying."
"Then how do you explain my Jusenkyo curse?" Ranma demanded.
The old woman hmm'd for a bit as she considered it.
"I can't," She said. "But there's no reason to believe that your story is the only possible way a Jusenkyo curse could have ended up the way yours has."
"Well, will you at least let me go, then?" She asked.
"Hmm, yes." The old woman nodded. "You should be fine for now."
Ranma nodded and stood up gingerly, wincing as she did so.
"Then I should get home," she said. "At least, the place where I'm living now… Man, I bet they're gonna go nuts. Though, I'm not sure where…"
"Hmm." The old woman tossed Ranma's cellphone and wallet at her, and she caught it, surprised. "I already took out payment for my services."
The woman snorted.
"Acupuncture? Reconstructing your chi meridians? What exactly did you think I was doing all day and night yesterday, child?"
"Getting high off of incense," Ranma muttered.
She got a weak tap on her leg from the woman's cane for her troubles, but the pain was enough to buckle her knees.
"I'll accompany you," The old woman said. "I can explain to your… servants that I found you wandering about late last night and let you stay at my place."
Ranma blinked. It was very awkward hearing them referred to as her servants… but, they were.
"Alright, well… that's better than nothing… still, I'm not exactly sure how to get home from here. I kind of forgot how I got here…" She mumbled. "Hmm… we're close to the school, though, so maybe I can just call them to come get me…" She looked down at her cellphone. "Let's see… that Mitsukoshi guy's number is right here…"
She found it quickly and dialed the number. She didn't have to wait more than four seconds for the owner of the phone to pick up.
She winced and held the phone away from her ear.
"Young Miss! Is that you? Are you alright? Where are you!?"
She steeled herself as the man blabbered on, and cleared her throat, then brought it back to her mouth.
"Oh, Mikkon! It was terrible! This giant monster appeared out of nowhere! It was so big and scary and disgusting and I just got so scared!" She gushed. "I just ran and ran and ran as fast as I could, and before I knew it I was totally lost! If it hadn't been for this nice old lady who let me sleep in her house, I woulda had to sleep on a bench somewhere!"
There was silence on the other end, and she continued.
"I woulda called but… I left my phone at the park and normally I just use speed dial, so… I… I had no idea what numbers to dial…" She sniffled, "But this morning she helped me retrace my steps back to where I was before the monster attacked, and my phone and wallet were still there!"
"I… I see," The man said finally. She could tell that he was starting to calm down. "So, you're safe now? You're alright?"
"I'm fine now," she said. "I heard those sailor girls killed the monster, so I figured it was safe here… and it is gone…"
"Yes, it was all over the news. Still is, actually." The man said, sighing. "But to think you were even near that thing… I have well and truly failed in my duties…" He trailed off and there was a short pause before he said anything. "Well, where are you? I'll come get you right now."
"Uh, I'm… at a park near the school… Granny Cologne is here with me…"
"The old woman who helped you?"
"Yes," She said, glancing down at the wizened old crone, who was staring up at her with something bordering on amusement.
"Okay… I think I know what park you mean. Stay there! I'll be there right away!" He said.
He hung up, and she blinked, then sighed.
"Well, that went a lot better than I thought it would." she said.
Cologne gave her a mischievous smirk.
"For one who claims to be a man, you fall easily into the role of a lost little girl."
Ranma grit her teeth.
"Hey, I've had practice…" she grumbled.
Chibi-Usa yawned and stretched her arms over her head as her teacher left the class room. After that she leaned back in her chair and tapped her fingers on the desk, every pore of her being emanating boredom. She blinked and looked up when Haruka turned around to look back at her. Though she was neatly groomed, clean, and had a soft hint of perfume, the blonde had bags under her eyes, and a listless look on her face.
"Wow, you look like crap."
"I was up all night." The blonde said with a frown. "Still no sign of Ranma. Did you hear anything about her being out?"
Usagi shook her head.
"No," She said. "Why, you worried?"
"A little, yes. She mentioned she had some problems, but that they hadn't shown up. Yet."
The pink haired teen set her elbows on her desk and leaned forward. The desk in front of her was conspicuously empty.
"Well, we've got a problem of our own," She said. "My grandparents want to send me and Odango to some private academy near Saitama."
Haruka's frown worsened, and she reached up to rub her head.
"One after another…" She grumbled. "And there's no way you could… change their minds?"
Chibi-Usa shook her head.
"I could… but there's a chance they could sustain permanent brain damage." She explained.
"Well, this is a pretty big thing," Haruka said with a frown. She looked around, then leaned closer to the other teen. "From what I've seen, the inners work as a unit with her as the central focus. Without her, they won't be able to take out the more powerful enemies. Like yesterday. Even Michiru and I couldn't do any real appreciable damage to that thing. It took both of you to destroy it." She said. "And what's worse, two of them are healing from broken bones - one of whom is currently unable to walk."
"I know," Chibi-Usa said with a frown. "But I can't see a way around it. Their minds are set."
"Well, we've got to do something about it."
"Yeah, but what?" Usagi asked, sitting back.
Haruka shook her head.
"I don't know, just make sure you do something." She said. "We can't afford to lose you two right now."
She turned back around as the next teacher entered the room, and Chibi-Usa leaned back in her own chair.
Ryouga watched as people walked along the crowded streets from a bench on the side of the road. Next to him was Cologne's ramen stall, which Mousse and Shampoo were operating. All night and morning, he'd been beating Ranma's story around in his head, and honestly, most of it made sense. The reason why Nerima was so different – let alone literally every other place he went – was because history had been changed, and the present day reflected those changes. Or rather, according to Ranma's story, it'd been merged with those of others. And if Ranma could go from being a martial artist to an heiress, just how much of his own life was the same?
Hell, the fact that he was married to Shampoo (at least, by her people's backwards laws) went a great deal towards telling him how different things were for him. Were his parents even alive? Did he actually have bona-fide siblings now? What about Shirokuro?
And if the dojo was gone, where were the Tendos? And Akari, for that matter?
He sighed and sank down into the bench. Thanks to his sense of direction, it was a hopeless endeavor for him to try and find these things out on his own. He was going to have to somehow get Ranma to help him out, and afterwards, they were going to have to figure out how the hell it could be fixed. And on that, he had no idea where to even begin. Perhaps the first order of business was finding out if his house was in the same place.
Suddenly, he heard the screeching of tires and looked up to see a large truck swerving out of the street. The truck slowed down, but not enough to keep it from slamming into the fire hydrant on the corner.
Instantly he was on his feet, umbrella in hand and fanned out in front of him. He knelt down just as the hydrant's blast of water hit his umbrella, and started moving away, out of the water's path. When he was sure he was clear of it, he peeked over his umbrella to check, then lowered it.
'That was close,' He thought, frowning. He watched as the truck driver started yelling at some frail old lady that had stepped out into the street into his path, but the old woman continued walking, entirely heedless of his yelling and the accident she'd caused. People began to gather around, their attention caught by the spectacle. If he had been hit by water, they'd all have noticed. Well, maybe except for the old lady.
And with the way his curse had been acting up for the past few days, that was to be avoided at all costs.
Mitsukoshi was kneeling down on his knees and bowing his head to the grass before Cologne. They were still in the park; the man had parked the limousine on the side of the road and ran out as soon as he'd spotted them. After his initial reaction of a powerful bear hug for the young miss, he'd begun lavishing his thanks on Cologne.
"You have done us a great service, elder." The man said. "The Fujibayashi family owes you its deepest gratitude. There is no way we could ever hope to repay you."
"Oh, I'm sure I'll think of something!" The old woman said with a jovial cackle. "Stand, stand! You honor a simple old woman far too much!"
The butler/chauffer did as he was told, but once he was on his feet he couldn't help bowing to her once again.
"I thank you from the bottom of my heart, sincerely."
"Well, you are quite welcome then, young man." She said. "She was quite the treat, though. She had some interesting stories to share!"
"Is that right?" The man asked, as he finally allowed himself to stand. He was smiling earnestly. "I'm glad." He turned to face Ranma. "Young miss, are you ready to go home?" He asked, turning to face Ranma. "I'm sure you'd like to get cleaned up, after yesterday's ordeal…"
"Er, yes." Ranma said with a nod.
"Well then," Cologne said, "I'll be around if you need me again, young lady."
Ranma nodded and smiled.
"I'll be sure to visit, old g- granny!" She said with a winning smile.
And with that, the man led her back to the waiting limousine. He opened the door for her and she climbed in, suddenly aware that she didn't smell as pleasantly as the car itself. Maybe it was a good idea to get cleaned up.
"So," the man began as he climbed into the driver's seat. "Have you talked to your parents yet?"
"Uh… my parents?"
"Yes, your parents!" He said in a chiding voice. "Do you have any idea how worried everyone was about you?!"
"Uh… I'm sorry?" she murmured. "I… I um…"
The man sighed. He pressed a button on the dash and the car's engine came to life, barely audible.
"What's important is that you're fine," He said. "I already let them know that you were alright, but I'm sure they'd like to hear from you directly."
She held up her phone and looked at it.
"Young Mistress, if ever something like this happens again, I want you to get in contact with the police," He said. "We'd put out a missing person's report for you last night, and they would have been able to help you get home much sooner."
"Err… yeah… I'm sorry, I was just… out of my mind…" She murmured. When he failed to respond, she started going through the numbers in her phone's directory. Mikkon was the first, with some names she was unfamiliar with after. The katakana for Papa and Mama were ninth and tenth on the list. 'Huh, you'd think they'd be first,' She thought. 'I've got no idea how to talk to these people, though. Am I supposed to act like normal, or are they more traditional?'
She glanced up at Mitsukoshi.
"Hey… Mikkon," she began tentatively.
He glanced at her in the rearview mirror.
"Yes, young miss?"
"Remember that… story I told everyone, about being a martial artist or something?" She asked.
"Who could forget? It was very well crafted," He said. "You were a superb actor, I might add."
"Uh, right. Let's say… I was that person I told you about," she said. "And he needed to know how I normally address my mother. What would you tell him?"
He gave her a confused look in the mirror.
"You address your parents with utmost respect." He said. "What are you worried about? Call them."
She looked down at her phone again and nodded, before pressing the number for Teriha's mother and held it up to her ear.
The phone rang for a minute, before finally it was picked up, and she immediately heard a woman's voice.
"Terihan? Is that you?"
Ranma cleared her throat.
"A-ah, er… Hello… mother…"
The other end went silent. Ranma dared not speak another word as she gauged the woman's reaction.
"Mother? What happened to mama?" The woman murmured.
Ranma sent a glare at the driver, who was busy watching the road.
"Terihan, are you alright!? Please tell me you're alright!"
"I'm fine… mama." Ranma said with a sigh as she prepared to have this conversation yet again.
Ranma sighed in relief as she stood up out of the limo. Her parents' phone calls were done, and she'd learned a little about each of them. Falling into the role of Teriha was becoming a bit easier, now that she knew how people expected her to act, but it was still tiresome.
"Kajiwara-san has readied your bath," Mitsukoshi called to her from the driver seat. "Don't worry about school; we'd already called in that you won't be showing up today, but don't think you're getting out of it tomorrow!"
Ranma pulled on her eyelid and stuck her tongue out at him as he drove away. When he was gone, she turned to face the manor. The day was free from the clutches of school, but there was still much learning to be done. Just who was Fujibayashi Teriha? Did she have enemies of her own lurking in the shadows?
And where the hell were Saotomes Genma and Nodoka in this world? Or any of the Tendos for that matter?
She started walking towards the manor with a heavy sigh. Her usual methods wouldn't be of any help, and she had no idea where to start, but she was determined, and for Saotome Ranma, that was all it took.
Kenichi sighed as he opened his bento. He was really starting to miss Miu's homemade lunches. It was always a real treat to eat something prepared by her skilled and wondrous hands. He could taste the love and dedication she made each one with, and the dishes she could make despite the dojo's limited budget were always amazing. His mother's weren't bad, and she made hers with love as well, but… it was just… so very different. Kenichi looked up when the door to his classroom opened, and saw none other than Nanjo Kisara standing there.
"…not going to lose to someone who lives in Saitama," The girl finished muttering as she entered the class. She reached up and adjusted her glasses before noticing Kenichi staring right at her, then blushed. "Oh! Ken-kun!" She called out, before walking over to his side. In her hands looked to be a small postcard of some sort.
"A-ah, er… hello Kisara-san." He said with a friendly smile.
"Um, hi." She said, her face turning red. "I was wondering if, you, er… that is, we…"She blushed a deeper shade of red, then shook her head. "Ahem! I was wondering if you'd like to go to this concert to see Zwei Wing! With me! On Thursday!"
Kenichi blinked as she squinted her eyes shut and proffered the postcard to him with both hands while lowering her head. Her face remained cherry-red, and he noticed she was trembling a bit.
'Uh oh…' He smiled nervously. "Um, err… well…" He scratched his head. "Thursday, you say? I was planning to do something else then…" He said. 'I'm sorry Kisara-san, but training takes priority over everything. And I still have to find out where everyone else is,'
Her eyes and mouth opened, first an expression of surprise, then horror, and finally disappointment.
"O-oh… I-is that so?" She asked. "Aha, ahaha… I see…" She wilted, settling into a devastated posture.
"Er… but… I might be able to make time…" He said. 'Damn me and my compassion!'
She looked up at him, hope shining in her eyes.
Her entire body lit up at that and she smiled.
"Okay then! Well, I'll just leave this with you, and you can let me know later!" She said, leaving the postcard on his desk. "Bye now!"
And with that she turned and ran out of the classroom at top speed.
Kenichi blinked, then looked down at the postcard with a sigh.
'Huh?' He looked down at it and realized that it was actually a ticket with a picture of the singers on it. 'Ugh… what have I gotten myself into?' As he took a closer look, he noticed that there were three girls; one with aquamarine hair wearing a similarly colored dress and holding a violin, while the other two had red and blue hair, and wore similar dresses that complimented their hair colors, each one with a mirrored decorative wing on the skirt. 'Eh? "Special concert… Violinist Kaiou Michiru joins Kazanari Tsubasa and Amou Kanade on stage?"' He frowned. He could have sworn that teal haired girl looked familiar…
'Wait a second… isn't she one of those girls from yesterday?' He thought with a frown while scratching his head. 'Huh. She's famous?' He sighed and sank into his chair. 'Oh well. Now I just have to figure out some way of telling Kisara-san I can't go after all without looking like a total jerk…'
Ami sighed as she stared at the internet browser on her Mercury computer. With the program she'd written that allowed it to emulate the operating systems of other machines, she could run virtually anything on it, and more efficiently than on other computers at that.
'Well, I've corrected no less than seventeen Wikipedia articles. I need to figure out something else to do now…' She sat up in her bed and stretched her arms over her head with a small moan as the kinks went away. Though her room came with a television, it was off, and the curtains on her window were closed. Various monitors beside her bed gave numerical readouts, all of which told her she was just fine. Two empty chairs were beside her bed, and there was a sofa beneath the window, beside which there was an end table with several get well cards and a vase with various flowers.
Her eyes lingered on the flowers for a moment, before she returned her attention back to the device in her lap.
'As convenient as it is, so many of its users are too lazy to bother with proper research… even simple fact checking sometimes…' She shook her head. 'Hmm… if only there was a wiki for the changes that have been made to this world…' She chuckled at the thought… then blinked. 'Wait a minute… there might not be a wiki on this world… but… perhaps there are more logs I can browse…'
She quickly killed the browser and looked over the data presented to her by the default screen. There was blinking text indicating data pending her review.
'That's right, I haven't even gone over the data I recorded on Ranma, or that kaiju… Hmm…'
A few keystrokes later she was staring at a full profile of Ranma Saotome, complete with a rotating model.
'Hmm… slightly overweight, she seems to have suffered some stunted growth due to poor nutrition during her growth spurts. Interesting… hmm? Several anomalies detected…' She raised an eyebrow in confusion as she stared over the information. 'Unusually high levels of testosterone? A degenerated spell matrix?' She read the details with a creased brow. A few more keystrokes and a strange aura appeared overlaying the model. 'This spell… some sort of… water based enchantment? It's badly damaged…' She narrowed her eyes. 'Wait… I've seen this before!'
A few keystrokes later and Ranma's profile vanished, replaced by a page with an image of a particular house in Nerima and some text.
'I knew it. These two are related…' She hummed to herself as she looked over the details that her scans of the magic phenomenon in Nerima had picked up. 'The enchantment on Ranma was somehow tampered with… And it continues to destabilize even now… Based on the rate of degradation, it happened concurrently with the shift.' She frowned. 'Likely whatever enchantment was on her was destroyed by the shift. If she was at this Tendo Dojo when it happened… then… yes, that's why there was so much raw mana over there. The shift destroyed the spell on her, and then she was moved to wherever she woke up. It would have happened all at once.'
Satisfied, she sat back and stared down at her computer with a nod. Then, a thought occurred to her, and it was not a pleasant one.
'But… just what kind of powerful Chaos magic is Ranma dealing with here?'
Two twin-tail wearing girls walked into the hospital room, one of hair hot pink and one of tresses golden blonde, each in a school uniform of their own. Ami looked up, and her eyes widened on seeing them. Chibi-Usa had a small vase with two water-lilies in it, while Usagi had a small hand basket with an orange and a sandwich inside of plastic wrap inside.
"Usagi-chan! Chibi-Usa-chan!" She said with a smile.
"Ami-chan!" Usagi rushed over to her friend's side and hovered over her. "I was so worried about the surgery and your leg and I was scared you'd be trapped in a wheelchair forever and then you wouldn't be able to swim and you'd be really sad and then I'd be sad and… how are you! Are you okay? Is your leg okay?"
Ami laughed as Chibi-Usa walked over to join them.
"I'm going to be fine, Usagi-chan," She said. "I won't be able to walk on my own for a few months, but I'll heal. I told you this yesterday."
"Oh? So are you going to be using a wheelchair then?" The blonde asked.
The bluenette nodded.
"And crutches, eventually." She said. "Still, I'll be fine. Don't worry. I can do without swimming for a few months. I'm sorry that I won't be able to help you all fight, though."
Usagi sighed in relief.
"What's important is that you heal." She said.
"See, dummy? I told you she'd be okay." Chibi-Usa said.
Usagi growled at her daughter.
"I'm not the dummy, dummy!"
Chibi-Usa rolled her eyes.
"You don't talk to your mother like that, brat!" The blonde snapped.
"You're not my mom yet!" The pinkette retorted.
"You're both dummies," She said. "Lovable, adorable dummies. Don't ever change."
Both Usagis blushed at her statement.
"Hey… she's not adorable," The pinkette said.
"Pfft, I'm more adorable than you." Usagi cleared her throat. "Anyways! We brought you some wellness gifts!" She said, holding up the basket.
Ami smiled and accepted the small vase as Chibi-Usa handed it to her. She lifted one of the flowers up and smelled it.
"Thank you. They're very lovely."
"Ahem," Usagi pulled the sandwich out of the basket. "This I made myself." She said with a measure of pride.
Ami stared at the sandwich warily.
"Ah? Is… that so…"
"Don't worry, it's just a peanut butter sandwich," Chibi-Usa explained. "There's nothing in it that can kill you. I watched her make it."
Usagi turned to glare at her daughter while Ami giggled, visibly relieved.
"I'm sure it will be tasty," The Senshi of Mercury said, smiling. "Thank you both so much." She held the vase back out to Chibi-Usa. "Could you put that with the other one?" She asked, pointing at the table by the sofa.
As Chibi-Usa went to go do just that, Usagi glanced around at all of the machines.
"So what do all these numbers mean anyway?" The blonde asked, pointing at one of the monitors.
"Hmm? Well, that one is my heart-rate," Ami said. "And that one right there is blood pressure… temperature…"
"Why isn't your TV on?" Chibi-Usa asked from across the room.
"I was busy." Ami said, holding up the Mercury Computer.
"Aren't you supposed to be relaxing?" Usagi demanded with a frown.
"I am relaxed," Ami said with a smile. "Speaking of which, how is everyone else? I haven't heard much."
"Oh," Usagi blinked. "Well, Mako-chan is doing better. They let her go home last night, but she took the day off from school, so we were going to visit her next. Michiru also went home last night, they said she should just take it easy for a bit and she'll be totally fine."
"I'd thought as much."
"What about you? How are you feeling?" Chibi-Usa asked as she returned. Both she and Usagi sat down in the chairs beside the bed.
"Well, my leg itches a bit, but it doesn't hurt quite so much as it did yesterday." She said. "How were your days at school? Uneventful, I hope?"
Usagi and Usagi shared a troubled look.
"Our days were fine. We have a problem, though." Chibi-Usa said. "Her parents want to send us to some school near Saitama."
"Saitama?" She asked. "That's… a bit of a commute, isn't it?"
"Boarding school." Usagi said with a sigh.
Comprehension dawned on the laid up girl's face.
And then again.
"Yeah." Both Usagis said.
"Well, we've got to do something about that." Ami said with a frown.
"Tell me about it." They said again.
"Stop doing that," Usagi said, frowning at her daughter.
"You stop," The pinkette countered.
"Do either of you have any ideas?" Ami asked, looking between the two. They each turned to face her again.
"Well, no." Usagi said. "We've tried convincing them but they're decided."
"And I want to avoid altering their minds again." Chibi-Usa said with a wince.
"I see. Well, we could convince them that you're vital to the Senshi's operations," She said. "We'd just have to prove it to them."
"You think that'll work?" Usagi asked. "They seemed pretty dead set on it."
"Yeah, they mentioned that they've been planning it for a while now, but yesterday's making them do it sooner." Chibi-Usa chimed in.
"I see." Ami looked down at her lap, her eyes losing focus. "It makes sense. They've been living in this world a lot longer than we have; it's likely our magic is the only reason you're not already at that boarding school."
Usagi blinked, and both of them looked down at her in confusion.
"As I said yesterday, our magic protected us on a superficial level. Our lives appear to be for the most part, the same as before the shift, unlike say, Ranma, or that Urameshi fellow."
"Ah…" Usagi blinked.
"But now, the incongruities of our previous lives are clashing with the status quo of this world…" she trailed off as she glanced up at their uncomprehending faces, seeing that she'd lost both of them. "Well, it's just a hypothesis, really. Anyway, do you have any ideas on how we could convince your parents that you're vital to the Senshis' operations?"
Usagi simply stared at her as she drew a blank.
"We're their mascots," Chibi-Usa said with a roll of her eyes.
Ami giggled at that.
"True, but I don't think that's quite enough to convince your grandparents."
"No way…" Usagi murmured in agreement.
"…You could always tell them." Ami said.
"No," Usagi said. "That's not an option. I won't have them worry about me every time I have to defend the city."
One glance at the blonde told Ami she would not budge on her position.
"As you wish." She said with a nod.
Usagi bit her lip, but eventually let out a snigger.
"Oh, just look at us. Super heroines and heirs to awesome magical powers as well as a kingdom that spanned the entire solar system and our biggest problem right now is my parents want to send me to boarding school." She burst out laughing, which both Chibi-Usa and Ami joined in on.
After they calmed down, Chibi-Usa looked down at the Mercury Computer.
"So, what were you working on there, Ami-chan?"
"I was just looking over the data recorded from Ranma and the creature we fought yesterday." She explained, glancing down at it. Ranma's profile was still on display.
"Oh? Can I see it?" She asked.
Ami looked over at her.
"Well, certainly, but… can you read it?"
"Sure, we have these all over where I come from," Chibi-Usa said, reaching down and picking it up. "Or well, I should say this is an older model…"
"Oh. Of course."
"What's it say?" Usagi asked. "Is her favorite color on there?"
"It can't tell something like that just by scanning her." She said.
"Favorite color appears to be red," Chibi-Usa announced. "Further analysis required."
Ami stared at her, dumbfounded.
"What? Where does it say that?"
Chibi-Usa looked up at her with a mischievous grin.
Ami shook her head as the other girls giggled at her.
"Though really, I'd have to guess red," The pink haired teen said, looking back down at the display. "…What's this about chaos magic?"
Ami shook her head.
"I'm not really sure, I was just getting to that part," she said. "But, a few days ago, we made a trip to Nerima…" She blinked. "Actually, that would be the day you came back, wouldn't it?"
Usagi looked up.
"The day she showed herself to everyone," She amended. "She'd gotten back the previous night, remember?"
"Ah, right, anyway, I took scans there, and found a large amount of raw magical energy. Rei mentioned she could sense it, remember?"
Usagi's eyes widened slightly as she recalled the trip.
"Yes, yes, that's right," she said, nodding. "But what does Ranma have to do with that?"
"The magic energy was from a spell that was badly damaged by the shift. The spell in question was some kind of enchantment on Ranma." She explained.
Usagi took a moment to process that, then nodded.
"And… what kind of spell was it?"
Ami shook her head.
"I have no idea, but it was chaos magic."
"Chaos magic? Are you sure?"
"That's what it says here," Chibi-Usa said. She moved through the file a bit, typing a few commands in. "Raw chaos magic at that. Completely unpredictable stuff."
"I'd just seen that when you two came in here, but it has me concerned."
Usagi narrowed her eyes.
"You think she may have had something to do with the… shift after all?"
Ami turned away to consider it for a moment, then looked over at Usagi again.
"She may be connected, but that's inconsistent with the point of origin for the spatial schisms."
Usagi tilted her head.
"Somewhere… near Kyoto, right?"
"We have to consider the possibility that whatever enemies she has are behind this whole affair. It's indeed possible that a powerful Chaos Sorcerer or something similar is behind this whole ordeal."
Usagi leaned back in her chair.
"That's right, she didn't mention any of her enemies… she said she gets into fights, but…"
Ami shook her head.
"She did mention her enemies. In the park, remember?"
Usagi raised her brow.
"Oh yeah! What was it… phoenixes? Dragons? And then she said something about… perverts…?"
Chibi-Usa handed the Mercury Computer back to its owner.
"She didn't show up to school today," The pinkette said, crossing her arms. "Seem suspicious?"
Ami looked down at her computer.
"We don't know yet, but let's try and get in contact with her anyway. Either of you mind calling her?"
Ranma sat on the pink loveseat in "her" room, a pile of diaries beside her. She was wearing a snug, red T-shirt and black shorts over another borrowed pair of boxers. She put the last diary down on top of the others and yawned, stretching her arms above her head.
This Teriha girl was actually pretty smart, from what she'd read, but seemed to get off on making people think she was a ditz and then playing them for fools – something she could get behind. Most of the entries from the earlier years were about silly day to day things you'd expect from a kid, but as the years went on, the girl had gotten a bit more observant and opinionated, but she had always delighted in tormenting Mikkon, who had been her minder for at least ten years. She'd assumed the guy was in his twenties, but apparently he was a very young looking thirty something.
Ranma sighed as she crossed her arms. The last entry – dated five days ago - indicated that Teriha had been considering that she might have a crush on the guy, but she wasn't sure. It was exactly the sort of wishy-washy girly thing that made her sick to her stomach.
But worse, as she'd gotten to know the girl known as Fujibayashi Teriha, it felt more and more like she'd stolen this girl's life away, like her entrance into this world had erased a different human being from existence. Of course, this world hadn't existed prior to four days ago, but she still couldn't shake that feeling. It was eerie.
"Ugh." She stood up and started stretching more parts of her body. The soreness from that morning was all but gone, and a total survey of her body told her that she was now maybe half as strong as she'd been when they'd left China for the Tendos' place. It wasn't even close to what she'd had just five days ago, or even during her "spar" with Shampoo, but she was already among the top tier of the world's martial artists (discounting the Musk and literal monsters like Taro) perhaps even better than Akane had been. And all because of Jusenkyo's magic.
She walked over to the tall mirror on "her" desk and looked herself over. She lifted up her shirt, revealing toned abs – a stark difference from the flab that she'd been able to grab between two fingers. She flexed her left bicep and watched with satisfaction as the muscle went rigid. With a nod she turned around and made her way to one of the windows and looked outside. It was about 3 o'clock, but the sun was already moving towards the horizon.
'If I could just do that again enough times, I might get back what I had…' She thought, opening the window. 'But if Cologne's not around to fix me up when I do, it might kill me.'
She opened it, put a foot over the windowsill and tested her balance.
'Ah, well, it's not like I know how to make it happen anyways.'
Her phone started ringing.
She sighed and stepped back in then walked over to her desk and looked down at the caller ID. She blinked, not recognizing the name, then suddenly recalled the previous day; it was one of those Senshi girls. She quickly picked it up and pushed talk, then brought it to her ear.
"Um, hello… Ranma?" It was the blonde one, with the funny hairdo.
"Yep," She said. "What's up? You guys need me to punch something?"
"Oh, uh… not now, no… We were just wondering why you weren't in school today."
"Well… stuff happened…" She mumbled, looking around. "Where do I even start…"
"Are you alright?"
Ranma chuckled. The other girl sounded genuinely concerned. She walked over to her extravagant bed and plopped down on it.
"I'm fine. Look, are you sitting? It's a bit of a story."
"Oh? Um… okay. Hold on a second…"
Ranma could hear her and someone else talking in the background. After a few seconds, she returned with,
"Do you mind if I put you on speaker? There are others here." She said.
A second later, two more voices chimed in.
She tried, but failed to remember the names of the owners of each voice.
"Um, hey yourselves," she said. "You guys ready?"
"Okay. So yesterday, right after we split up, I ran into an old friend of mine, by the name of Ryouga…"
"…and I just got finished reading my… I mean, reading Teriha's diaries when you called me."
The three girls stared down at Usagi's phone. Both Usagis had moved their chairs closer to Ami's bed, and the phone was in her lap, on top of the Mercury Computer.
"I… see." Ami said. "Well… you were certainly busy."
"Ayep. Never a dull moment for Saotome Ranma!"
"Hm." Ami frowned. "Ranma, that curse you mentioned… Can you tell us more about it?"
They waited as the other girl considered it.
"Er… well…" She said with a sigh. "Look, it's… a personal thing, okay? I'll tell you when I'm ready."
The three girls shared looks at that.
"It's not anything that can hurt you, is it?"Ami asked.
"Not any more than it already has," The redhead said with a sigh. "Uh, sorry, but… you're the one with the broken leg, right? Are you doin' any better?"
"Well, my leg is still broken," she said. "It'll heal properly thanks to the surgery, but… I'm out of action for the time being."
"Ah… sucks. Well… is that all?"
The three girls shared a glance.
"Uhm, yes, I think so. Unless you two have anything to add…" Ami prompted, looking between the two Usagis.
They shook their heads.
"Alright, then I'll catch ya later!"
And then the line went dead.
"Well, that answers several questions," Chibi-Usa said, sitting up. "The chaos magic is some kind of curse that she's too embarrassed to tell us about… a curse that was powerful enough to leave lingering magical energy even after being destroyed by changes to history."
"And she was out of school because she was recovering from a near death encounter with martial arts." Ami heaved a deep breath and picked up her computer, then opened it up, revealing Ranma's profile once more. "What an odd girl."
"She seems friendly enough," She said, leaning back in her chair. "I'm doubting more and more that she's someone we should be afraid of."
"Agreed," Ami said.
Yusuke looked around as he walked, hands in his pockets. The sun was setting on the horizon, and the sky was mostly orange and pink. He could tell he was getting closer to "his" apartment by the way the quality of the homes and apartments had declined. Most of them were two story buildings that tried to fit as many singles as possible, and poorly kept. There was paint peeling off of walls that had been adorned with hastily done graffiti, weeds growing in the dead or dying grass, as well as the cracked asphalt parking lots, and the streets themselves weren't much better off. He was sure that some of the old, dilapidated cars parked along the roadside didn't even work.
It was all in stark contrast to the rest of the district, which was all fancy high rise apartment complexes and corporate towers, clean roads and honest men and women wandering the streets. He could still hear the distant sounds of their cars and the occasional train.
Yusuke passed a kid riding a bike as he crossed the street at a crosswalk. There were more areas with cracks in the asphalt than without.
'Definitely getting close,' He thought. As he passed one house in particular, he glanced down, noticing some green spray paint on the pavement. His eyes quickly caught sight of the grass in the yard he was standing next to, and he quickly realized that the lawn, which was full of dead grass, had been sprayed with green paint. He shook his head and continued on, walking over a storm drain at the end of an alleyway.
Yusuke slowed to a stop on hearing a distant feminine whimper. He looked around for the source of the sound with a frown, then took a few steps backwards and looked into the alleyway. The sounds were definitely coming from in there.
The retired spirit detective pulled his hands out of his pockets as he entered the alleyway. Deeper in, he could see that it intersected with another alleyway. Slowly, he made his way further into the passage, and he could hear heavy panting. The whining was continuing, and it sounded even more pitiful than before.
As he neared, he heard an agitated man's voice.
"Shut up, you stupid bitch! What if someone hears?!"
The whimpers got louder as he got closer, and Yusuke was beginning to form a picture in his mind as he neared the corner.
'Hmm… maybe I should leave them…'
He turned around and started to walk away, but froze when the whimpers turned into choked sobs. There was a loud slap.
The sobs rose sharply for an instant, but quieted down. Yusuke narrowed his eyes and turned back around.
'Oh hell no.'
He turned and ran towards the intersection. A moment later he came upon the sight of young man, holding a pink-haired girl in a familiar high school uniform up against the dirty brick wall. The man's pants were down to his knees, and the girl's pink panties were lying on the filth-covered ground. Tears streamed down the girl's pained face as the man held one of her legs up with one hand and covered her mouth with the other.
"You get the hell off of her!" Yusuke roared as he charged.
The man turned to see him with a look of shock.
"What the fuck?"
The very next second, Yusuke's right knuckle connected with his face, tearing him away from his victim. The girl screamed as she fell to the ground, and the man flew several feet before landing on his butt, blood streaming from his nose.
"Oww! You mother fucker! What the fuck is wrong with you!?"
Yusuke looked at the man like he was crazy.
"Wrong with me? You're here raping this girl and you're seriously going to ask me that?"
"Rape… you fucking moron! I paid for this!"
Yusuke stared at him in confusion, then glanced down at the girl with a frown. He didn't get a chance to say anything, though, as two men suddenly ran into the alley. One of them wore a muscle shirt and jeans, while the other wore a leather jacket over a school uniform. Both wore leather boots and had numerous tattoos and piercings, and the one in the uniform was smoking a cigarette. They immediately spotted Yusuke.
"What's going on here?" One of them asked. "Who the hell are you?"
"This asshole came in here and punched me in the face!" The man on the ground shouted. "I didn't pay for this shit!"
Yusuke scowled and pointed at the pink haired girl. She was still crying, but now also had a look of horror on her face.
"You assholes selling this girl?" He demanded.
The two men glared at him.
"Who wants to know?"
Yusuke cracked his knuckles with narrowed eyes.
"The man who runs this town."
They both stared at him for a moment, before breaking out into laughing fits.
"You must be some kind of idiot," The one with the jacket said. He reached into his coat pocket and retrieved a knife.
"No! Please! Don't kill him!" The girl on the ground cried out. "He was just trying to help!"
"And if you'd stop fucking crying he wouldn't have barged in!" The man on the ground roared. "You assholes need to train your sluts better! I want my fucking money back!"
"No refunds," The man with the knife said. "Are we gonna have ta punish you again, Misaki? Or are you gonna shut up and show this nice gentleman a good time?" He tossed the knife from one hand to the other. "Dependin' on your answer, I might be generous and let hero boy here go without a new breathin' hole in his neck."
The girl, Misaki, stopped crying almost immediately.
"I'll, I'll do it, just let him go!"
The man with the knife chuckled.
"Right answer." He turned to Yusuke. "Looks like you get a lucky break, kid."
Yusuke stared at the girl on the ground. She looked absolutely miserable, and was fighting hard not to cry.
And then suddenly he remembered seeing this same girl being kicked around by a group of men not unlike the one before him.
Are we gonna have to punish you again?
Yusuke's eyes hardened.
"Yeah, lucky me."
He ran towards the man with the knife, slamming his fist into the man's face. He followed up with an uppercut and a knee to the crotch. The man dropped his weapon and clutched his groin with a pained expression on his face, but Yusuke followed up on his brutal assault, grabbing his head and slamming it into the same knee repeatedly. The man cried out in pain the first two times, but fell silent after that, and Yusuke dropped him to the ground.
"You son of a bitch!"
Yusuke turned in time to receive a fist straight to the mouth. His head snapped back, but he instinctively moved to avoid the follow up and countered with a punch of his own. The other man caught his fist and pulled him in for another punch, but Yusuke moved his head to the side to avoid it and instead used the momentum to head-butt his foe in the nose, knocking the man senseless. He pulled back a fist and slammed it into the man's neck, then kneed him in the chest, and took a step back. His opponent wobbled on his feet, unsteady, giving Yusuke ample time to pull his fist back and deliver a devastating haymaker. As the thug flew into the side of a building, he turned to snarl at the man on the ground, who was looking at him in absolute terror.
"Ah… Aiiieeee!" The man quickly climbed to his feet and scrambled to get the hell away from him, and Yusuke snorted.
Sitting speechless against the wall, Misaki stared up at him in awe. He glanced at her, then walked over and kicked her panties over to her.
"Get dressed." He said, walking away.
When he turned out of the alleyway and onto the sidewalk, he folded his arms behind his head.
'That wasn't even a workout,' He thought, a little disappointed, as he rubbed his mouth. The man's punch had made him cut his mouth on his teeth, but other than that he was fine.
It was then that the pink haired girl, now dressed, ran out of the alleyway after him.
"You idiot! What the hell are you trying to do!?"
He turned to face her as she fell in behind him.
"You're welcome." He said. "But that's the weirdest thanks anyone's ever given me before."
"You don't know who you're dealing with! These people will kill you!"
"Good. Let them come," He said. "Life was getting boring anyway."
She ran over to stand in front of him and glared at him.
"What the hell is wrong with you? I'm serious!" she shouted.
He stopped and glared right back.
"Look," He said. "I know you're serious and all, but I heard what sounded like someone getting raped. Are you saying I should have ignored that?"
She stared at him for a moment, surprised, but then nodded quickly.
"Of course! You had no idea what you were dealing with! And it wasn't rape!"
"I don't know, if you ask me, a prostitute who is doin' a job she hates, that's rape." He said as he started walking again.
"I don't hate what I do." She said quietly.
He blinked and stopped again, then turned to look at her.
"You didn't exactly look happy to me." He said.
She lowered her head and laughed. It was a bitter laugh, tinged with anger and shame.
"That's the part that I hate." She said. "I love it. I can't get enough of it. And that… makes me sick."
He folded his arms behind his head. This was gonna be a complicated one, wasn't it.
She laughed again, but refused to look up and meet his eyes.
"Don't you feel stupid?"
"All the time," He said. "Look, I'm not book smart or anything, you know? But I do know when I see something that's wrong, and I'm not the type of guy that can just ignore that kind of shit. It's gotten me killed before, and I wouldn't be surprised if it did again."
She looked up at him in confusion, but he continued.
"Now are you gonna just sit here and mope, or will you actually tell me what the hell's going on?" He turned around and continued walking. "For starters, how did you even get involved with those losers?"
She started walking after him.
"My dad… they work for my dad."
Yusuke narrowed his eyes.
"Your dad put you up to this shit?"
"He's… part of a bigger organization," She said. "All I know is that I'm a source of income for him. For them."
"Wait a minute…" He said, glancing at her. "You're a half-demon, aren't you?"
Her eyes widened in visible surprise at his question.
"Your dad, he's some kind of demon, isn't he?" He pressed, getting a better look at her. Now that he was actually looking for it, he could see that she had demonic energy.
"You… you know about us?" She stopped walking again. "What… who are you?"
"I'm just a guy. Retired demon hunter, I guess." He said. "Relax, I'm not gonna kill you."
She deflated with visible relief and followed after him again.
"Then why did you help me, if you knew I was…"
"Humans, demons, youkai, it doesn't matter to me," He said. "If I see someone in trouble they didn't earn, I help 'em out."
She stared at him for a bit, then shook her head.
"You're crazy. Most of my kind eat yours for dinner."
"You're half-human, aren't you? So they're technically both your kind." He stopped before a familiar dilapidated two story apartment building and looked up. "Well, here we are. Home, sweet home."
She looked up at it.
"You live in this dump?"
"Yep. Ain't it great?"
She shook her head.
"What am I doing here?" She muttered.
"You're telling me what the hell is going on and why you're working as a prostitute?" He said, raising his eyebrow. "Misaki, right?"
"Yeah… Hasebe Misaki."
"Urameshi Yusuke. So, Misaki," He said, crossing his arms. "Why are you doing a job you don't want to do?"
She walked over and leaned on the corner of the building.
"Because I don't have a choice? If I don't, they'll…" Suddenly her eyes lit up and she gasped. "You!" She shouted, pointing at him. "You're that guy!"
"Took you that long?"
She stared at him in slack jawed shock and he continued on.
"Anyways, as you can see, I can take a beating or two." He said. His expression took a darker turn, though. "Still, I think I know what happens if you disobey your old man."
She lowered her arm and looked down at the ground.
"My father is an incubus," She explained. "He doesn't understand why I don't… want my job. He thinks I'm just being… rebellious."
Yusuke stared at her.
"Well. That is… a thing."
"Okay, I mean, he's a sleazebag and all, but have you even tried talking to him?"
She nodded again.
"Like I said, he thinks I'm just being rebellious. And he leaves… discipline to the underlings, since he has other responsibilities."
He shook his head. After a moment, the whole situation sank in, and a solution – at least a temporary one – popped into his head.
"You don't have anywhere to go, do you?"
She looked up at him and blinked.
"You don't have a place to stay other than with those assholes," He said, putting a hand on his hip. "Am I right?"
She stared at him.
"I'm not staying with you, Yusuke."
"You'd rather go back to those assholes?" He asked.
She shook her head.
"I'm not going to inconvenience you just because my dad's a jerk!"
He raised his brow, letting his incredulity show. Kids this deep in the underworld always had a skewed sense of these things, and she looked to be a year or two younger than him.
"Your dad's a jerk?" He repeated. "Holy shit is that the understatement of the year!"
She sighed, then stood up off of the building and dusted herself off.
"Yusuke, you're a nice guy, really, but I can't do this to you. Look, this whole conversation was a mistake," she said as she started walking away. "Just… stop trying to be a hero, alright? Lay low or something, please. I'll deal with this on my own."
He opened his mouth and took a step towards her.
"I don't want to be responsible for you getting hurt again, alright?!" She shouted. "So just… leave me alone!"
And with that she took off running, leaving him standing before his dilapidated apartment complex. Yusuke watched her run away, then sighed and looked down at the ground with narrowed eyes. Her pride was making her act stupid, but at least she'd given him a clue.
Kenichi sighed as he trudged along the sidewalk, his hands on each strap of his backpack. The day had been largely uneventful. Niijima hadn't even bothered showing up to school, so he'd gotten to sit next to Miu again, and while Kisara had nagged him for a bit in the morning, begging him to get back into their game, he hadn't seen her since lunch. He was half sure she was planning to wait until Thusday to even contact him again so that it'd be harder for him to refuse going without looking like a total jerk, and it wasn't like he could go find her since he had no idea where she lived or even where her class was at the school for that matter.
He had gone to the garden club after class – which he'd had to switch into with the help of the class rep (whose name he hadn't known) – just to end up working with people he'd never met before. They were nice enough, but for his only haven in school to have lost the other two usual members was another reminder that this place - this world – was one in which he didn't belong.
'Elder dead… everyone else missing… and the only reason I know I'm not crazy is because Chikage remembers the things that I do.' He sighed. 'When did my life get so odd?'
He stopped before the familiar two story house that his family called home. It still felt odd, coming back to this place after school instead of the dojo, but there was nothing else he could do. He sighed, made his way to the door and opened it.
"I'm home," He called out half-heartedly.
"Welcome back! How was your day?" His mother's voice came back from the kitchen, where he could hear her working on the family's evening meal. The family television could also be heard, what sounded like a news report filtering in from the other room.
"It was fine." He responded, taking his shoes off and putting on a pair of slippers.
"Good," she called back.
He made his way to the stairs, and then his room. Honoka was sitting at his desk, his computer screen on some kind of game. She glanced back at him.
"Oh," She murmured. "Big brother."
"Hey, Honoka." He said with a soft smile.
She stared at him for a bit, then looked back at the computer.
"You really aren't the big brother I know…" she said.
He sighed and walked over to her.
"That's true, I'm not the Kenichi you know," he admitted. "But I'm still Kenichi, and you're still my sister."
She looked up at him with a frown.
"The Kenichi I know woulda been yelling at me for being on his computer," She mumbled. "If you're not him, then where did he go?"
Kenichi froze as he stared down at her. He honestly had no idea how to answer her question.
'According to what those girls told us yesterday… this world didn't even exist before a few days ago, since it was created when a whole bunch of universes fused together.' He frowned at that and looked away from Honoka. He didn't want to tell her that the Kenichi she knew likely never existed in the first place, especially since he didn't know whether or not that was true. He wasn't an expert on any of this… ridiculous meta-physical stuff, though a quick glance around the room identified a few books that might be able to help him out in that regard.
"I… don't know," he said, returning his gaze to her. "What kind of person… was your brother?"
She looked up and stared into his eyes, then looked away and blushed, pursing her lips.
"Well… he was kind and sweet… in his own way…" She mumbled the last part.
He chuckled. From what he'd seen at school, the him from this world was lazy and irresponsible.
"I'm not going to be offended if you say something bad." He said. "It's not exactly me, after all."
She shook her head.
"I mean it," she said. "He… always looked out for me when we were kids." She looked up at him. "A lot of people think badly of him, saying he's a coward and a recluse, but that was because they didn't know him! They didn't know him… like I did."
"Well, I might not be him, but that sounds like what I had with my Honoka. Though I can't deny the part about being a coward…" he said sheepishly. Even after a year of practicing martial arts, muscular looking delinquents still frightened him. He'd read something about it in a psychology book; something about ingrained responses…
"Well, well, you might be a coward, but you still try to do the right thing," She said with a frown. "That's got to count for something, right? Right?"
"I'd like to think so…"
"He did too," she said. "He knew that he couldn't fight off bullies in real life, so he joined a group on the internet that helped other people deal with their problems by giving out advice." She said. "You…" she shook her head. "He's a bit of a net-celebrity."
"I am? I mean, he was?"
She nodded and pointed to the large poster of the bishounen character on his wall.
"That's your netgame character," she said. "You've got fans who even make things like that for you."
He blinked and turned to look at the poster. It looked like it had been done by a professional. He had been confused why it was there before, since he didn't recognize the character.
"That… that's… my character?" He murmured.
He stared at it for a bit, then frowned and turned to look at her.
"Wait, wait a second. You know the password to my computer?"
"Ryozanpaku. It's the name of your group."
He stared down at her.
She tilted her head.
"Wait, weren't you blabbering on about a Ryozanpaku Dojo before…?"
"That was the name of the dojo my masters were in," He said, staring down at the computer with a frown.
He chuckled and reached over to tousle her hair.
"Well, anyway, I can't replace the brother you know, but I'm still Shirahama Kenichi. I'll try to live up to your expectations as a brother, alright?"
Her face turned cherry red at his touch.
"A, ah, yeah, okay!" She quickly stood up. "Um… I just remembered I had to go do something. See you!"
She made a mad dash for the door and was out of his room in seconds. He stared for a bit, then shrugged, and sat down at his desk, dropping his book bag down to the ground. Now that he knew how to get in his computer, he could start looking for clues about his friends in earnest. There was homework, but given the circumstances, he didn't at all feel inclined to do it. He closed the game that Honoka had been playing and suddenly found himself trying to decipher all of the icons on his desktop.
'What the… what is all of this software!?' He grit his teeth. There was so much internet slang in the filenames that his eyes were starting to hurt.
He moved over to open what he thought might be an internet browser when an instant message window popped up on the screen.
konakona: hey! where have you been!?
He stared back at it and winced. He had no idea who this person was, or how to respond.
konakona: you dropped off of the face of the planet for four whole days! what happened?
'Oh boy…' He wracked his brain for something – anything – but drew a blank.
konakona: are you ignoring me? did i make you mad or something
strongest_in_history: no! no im just… uh
He stared at "his" screen name with half-lidded incredulity.
'Heh… yeah, sounds like something I'd come up with…'
strongest_in_history: um, how long have we known each other
His response came just over ten seconds later.
konakona: four years now?
He stared at the screen. This was it. This person was going to tell him everything he needed to know about this world's version of himself.
strongest_in_history: im going to tell you a story that sounds bizarre, but I want you to humor me, okay?
He stared at the screen as he considered how to start his story. He began typing, then deleted it all, and this repeated itself for about a minute before finally he began typing in earnest.
strongest_in_history: Let's say that I woke up four days ago, and noticed that something was very wrong with the world. Some people I knew had disappeared, replaced by some I'd never met before, and the ones that I did know acted totally different…
Ranma climbed in through the window to her room, drying her sweat off with a towel. She'd done her evening kata on the mansion's roof; it was full of empty space and the uneven terrain had been perfect for testing her balance. She had been able to push herself to her newfound limits and see just what she was capable of now, and she liked the improvements very much. It wasn't quite as good as she'd assumed, but it was still far better than not being able to clear a three foot fence.
'Now that I think about it…' She narrowed her eyes as she looked down at her knee. The scabs from her having scraped her knee on that first day were still there. She reached down and rubbed it, and that sent a jolt of pain up her leg. 'That's weird… shouldn't this have healed too?'
She narrowed her eyes at that, but couldn't come up with a reason why a simple scrape was still healing when her torn muscles had recovered overnight.
She shrugged and made her way over to her bed and dropped down on it, glancing at "her" alarm clock. It was 5:22 pm. If they stayed true to form, the maids would come get her in an half an hour for dinner, and she would take a bath afterwards. She'd probably train some more after that; after all, there was no guarantee that whatever had happened the day before would happen again, and only constant practice would keep her in top form.
Well, having some actual fights would help a lot more, but still, the idea was the same.
'Hmm…' She glanced over at her cellphone, which was still lying on her bed from the conversation with the Senshi girls. 'There's one thing I haven't tried yet…'
She picked up the phone and went through the directory, then selected the ninth number on the list and held it up to her ear. It rang for a moment, before,
"Teriha? What is it? I'm awfully busy."
"Papa," Ranma began, leaning her head on her shoulder. "I had a quick question… something that's been bothering me a lot recently," She said.
"Oh? Well, if it's been on your mind for a while, then I'll try my best to help." The man said cheerfully. "But please make it quick."
"Okay," She said. "Well… I was wondering… have you heard of anyone named Saotome Genma?"
The man's breath caught in his throat. Ranma waited expectantly for an answer, but there was only silence.
"Where did you hear that name?" He demanded. He sounded… addled – disturbed, even.
"I… I uh, well… I was reading about someone named Genma on the internet," She said. "A martial arts master or something?"
"No." The man said quickly. "I don't know anyone by that name. I'm sorry, they need me over here. I'll call you back, alright?"
And then the line went dead. She stared down at it and blinked a few times, then set her phone down and looked up at the canopy of her bed.
'So what now?'
She'd found out everything she could about Teriha and her family, as well as Fuji Corporation. It was a company started by Fujibayashi Mitsugu's father (Teriha's grandfather). Mitsugu, once the CEO, was now on the board of directors, and her mother, Manami, was a software engineer. The company itself was an international, multi-trillion-yen conglomerate that put out all kinds of electronic devices from televisions to personal computers and even video game consoles, had its own music label, and even produced high budget movies in both Japan and America, and owned numerous smaller companies.
A glance around the room had told her that every electronic device she owned had the Fuji brand on it.
The day was nearing its end, and yet she'd only taken the first step in getting her bearings in this crazy world. She still had no idea where her real parents were, where the Tendos were, how to return things to normal, or who was even behind it all. And tomorrow she was going to have to go back to school before dealing with the things that really mattered again. She didn't really have to since she could run away, but having access to all of this money was a lot more convenient than being a vagabond – at least until she had an idea where to even go. Wasting six or so hours a day was a steep price to pay, but she didn't have much else choice.
There was a knock on the door to her room.
"Young Miss," Came the voice of a maid. "You have a phone call."
She raised an eyebrow and looked down at her cell phone.
"Who is it?" She called back.
'What? Why didn't he call me on the cell?'
"Please come to your father's study." The maid said before walking away.
Ranma stared down at her cell phone. After a moment, she hopped off of the bed and walked over to the door. She'd mapped the place out during her Umisenken training earlier, so she knew where the study was.
Moments later she entered the room. It was as elegant and refined as the rest of the mansion, with hand-carved bookcases lined with all manner of books, from treatises on business and management to programming manuals and even some manga and novels. European-style oil paintings adorned the walls, like in the foyer, and a chandelier – not quite as fancy as the others in the mansion, but still far more elegant than anything in the Tendo home - hung from the ceiling, lighting up the room. It had a hardwood floor, on top of which a soft Persian rug lay, dead center.
On that was Fujibayashi Mitsugu's desk – also hand-carved; mahogany wood, like her own, with a dark green felt-cover on top, and a matching chair with a soft cushion in the same color. Next to a computer monitor (Fuji brand, of course) there were some books and pens, and most notably a telephone (also Fuji); the maid from earlier was standing beside the desk with its handset held to her ear.
"She's here." The woman said. "Yes, sir. Understood." She smiled and offered the phone to Ranma, who blinked and walked over to her. The pig-tailed teen accepted the phone and watched as the woman silently walked out of the room, closing the door behind her.
Ranma narrowed her eyes. The woman had moved with poise that none of the other maids had, and despite wearing normal dress shoes, hadn't made a sound against the hardwood floor. It suddenly struck her that she hadn't noticed that woman before, when surveying the manor under the cloak of the Umisenken.
She held the phone up to her ear.
"How did you really hear about Genma?" The man asked. "He's not exactly a public figure."
"I already told you, I read it on the internet," She said.
"Impossible." The man snapped. "Saotome is a recluse. There's no way you could have read about him on the internet."
"Then… you do know him?"
The man on the other end sighed.
"Tell me the truth. Where did you hear his name?"
She frowned. Was Genma an even bigger sleazebag here than in the real world or something? Had he robbed the man at some point, or somehow offended him?
"I… I was rereading my diaries," she began. "And… at one point, I'd overheard you talking about him. I wrote his name down because it sounded important, but I forgot to ask you about him."
The man growled.
"How many times have I told you not to eavesdrop on my business conversations?!" He demanded. "Teriha, there are some things you don't need to know!"
She frowned, holding the phone away from her ear. When she was sure he was done, she brought it back to head.
"As a kid, maybe, but I'm not a little kid anymore." She said.
The man on the other end sighed audibly.
"No. I suppose you aren't." He said. "Still, it's rude to eavesdrop. If there's something you need to know regarding the family, I'll tell you."
"Okay, then," she said, narrowing her eyes, though the effect was lost. "Who is Saotome Genma?"
There was another long pause on the other end as the man considered just how he'd answer her question. It was obvious from the way he was handling her that it was a fairly important issue, and she was beginning to wonder just what her father had done to the man.
"He's part of an organization that has long been a benefactor to Fujibayashi Corporation," The man began. "He is indeed a powerful martial artist. One of the most powerful in the world."
She blinked. Genma was strong, but one of the strongest in the world? Maybe the man just didn't have anything else to compare him to.
"The strongest in the world, eh?" She murmured.
"That's not what I said, though it wouldn't be wrong."
"What did you mean then?"
"I'm sorry." The man said. "That's all I'll say on the matter."
She puckered her lips. So there were some things he was outright unwilling to tell her? Well, there were still some things she could ask.
"Alright then…" She said. "Does he have any kids? A son, maybe?"
"No." He said forcefully.
Though she was slightly taken aback by that, she pressed on.
"…His wife is dead."
Ranma's heart skipped a beat.
"His… his wife is… dead?"
Her mouth went dry at the thought, but there was still something she had to know.
"Ah… what… what was her name?"
"His wife's name?" The man sounded confused. "Why would you… well… hmm…" He considered it for a bit, then sighed. "Her name was Nodoka."
Ranma closed her eyes.
"I, I see."
"Is there anything else?"
"No, s-sorry to bother you." She said, her voice shaky.
"Teriha? Are you alright?" He asked, concern melting through his stern demeanor.
"Huh? Oh, uh…" she cleared her throat. "Yeah… Um, I'm just sorry I bothered you with something so silly like this, okay? I'm sure you're busy."
"Well…" He trailed off. "I'm sorry I got so upset, dear, but you really need to not eavesdrop on my conversations when I'm around, okay?"
"Okay. Um, I'll talk to you later."
"…Alright. I love you."
"Um, yeah, I uh, love you too."
He chuckled at that.
And then the line went dead. She hung the phone up and took a step back from it.
In this world, Saotome Nodoka was dead. At least, according to Fujibayashi Mitsugu anyway. She wasn't sure if she could take his word at face value, given all of the cloak and dagger stuff he'd just pulled, but she had a feeling he was telling the truth.
Feeling something strange, she looked down at her hands.
They were shaking.
She growled defiantly and clenched them into fists. Despite that, they still shook.
'All the more reason to fix this screwed up world,' She thought with narrowed eyes as she turned and walked out of the study. 'Now to figure out who that woman is…'
strongest_in_history: and that's it.
Kenichi sat back and heaved a heavy sigh as he stared down at his computer. Halfway through he had lost a bit of confidence in the idea, and was sure this person was thinking him insane by now, but once he'd started, he couldn't stop. He'd given them a brief summary of events, without really going into detail on how his life had been before the change, since the important part was that he was not this universe's Kenichi. Now he just needed to see how they reacted.
konakona: sounds like a good premise
konakona: you gonna make this into a manga or something?
strongest_in_history: maybe, but for now, could you just humor me and pretend like everything I just said is true and actually applies to me?
He narrowed his eyes as a thought suddenly struck him.
strongest_in_history: I'm trying to gauge how the main character's friends would react.
konakona: wow you're serious about this
konakona: do you have an artist locked down? It's Nikita isn't it?
konakona: the guy who did character art for you before right?
Kenichi glanced over at the poster.
strongest_in_history: I haven't told anyone else about it yet
strongest_in_history: so, yeah, just pretend the stuff I said is true. What do you tell me?
konakona: I don't see how that's relevant to the story
konakona: shouldn't the character's reaction depend on their relationship
He sighed audibly.
konakona: if they were boyfriend and girlfriend then my reaction might be relevant
konakona: are they?
Kenichi stared at the screen in utter silence.
"I can't believe you're already home from the hospital," Usagi said. "It's a broken bone, right? Isn't it serious? You didn't need surgery or anything?"
She and all of the other Inner Senshi save Ami were at Makoto's place, all five of them with their legs beneath the round kotatsu in the middle of her room. The room was small, but had a television set on a stand with a dvd player and some movies, and a window that had thin pink drapes. There was a basket of fruit that her visitors had brought on the center of the table, and open textbooks and homework sheets lay before each of the girls, though Chibi-Usa and Rei's were both different. Both Luna and Artemis were curled up beside their respective owners.
"Two," She said. "And it can get worse, but a fractured rib alone isn't too bad. And no, they just took an x-ray, gave me some pain medication and sent me on my way. I can't do anything strenuous, but I should be just fine in what, five or six weeks?"
"Huh…" Usagi said,
"So have you figured out what to do about that whole boarding school thing?" Rei asked. She was laying back on the floor, propped up on an elbow, and reached into a bag of chips beside her and popped one in her mouth.
Usagi sighed and deflated, falling face first into her textbook.
"No!" She cried. "The only thing that seems like it'll work is Ami-chan's idea."
Minako looked over at her.
"Since we don't want to tell them we're Sailor Senshi, she said we should prove that we're at least essential to the Sailor Senshi's efforts." Chibi-Usa said while scribbling some answers on her worksheet.
"Oh?" Makoto asked. Her gaze drifted upwards as she considered it. "Hmm…"
"Essential to the Sailor Senshi's efforts?" Her snickering turned into full out laughter.
Usagi growled and turned her head to glare at the other teen.
"We are essential to the Sailor Senshi's efforts!" She snapped.
Rei's laughter decreased a bit.
"Well, I guess you do help out," she began. "No enemy has failed to be distracted by the leader of our team tripping over her own feet!"
Usagi blushed and grit her teeth, sitting up.
"Rei-chan, you're so mean!"
"She has a point," Luna said. "It is very distracting."
"Regardless… we should be focused on the issue at hand." Artemis said. "There's no way we can let Usagi leave Juuban. Not now, when there's so many things going wrong."
"Indeed. What if another creature like the one that attacked yesterday appears?" Luna prompted. "The rest of you were able to damage it incrementally, but only Sailor Moon has the power to destroy such a creature outright."
Usagi smirked at Rei, who ignored her in favor of giving her textbook a solemn frown.
"That is true," The miko said. "And that was a very… dark creature. I could sense its aura… it seemed as if an incarnation of hatred itself."
Usagi's mirth died as the other girl's words registered.
"I did a fire reading last night, to try and discern the creature's origins… and the fire exploded and nearly ignited me and the room. I had to put it out."
The girls all shared concerned looks at that.
"What do you think that means?" Minako asked.
Rei shook her head.
"Whatever is behind that thing's appearance doesn't like being spied on."
They all sat there in thoughtful silence as they considered the significance of such a reaction.
"It must have powerful spiritual or magical abilities if it can counteract your prescience." Luna said after a moment. "I have a feeling that creature's appearance wasn't as random as the youkai we have supposedly encountered in the past, or Ami-chan would have mentioned it."
"Indeed. All the more reason we need to keep Sailor Moon here, in case another one should be sent." Artemis said.
"Yes, we know I need to stay here," Usagi grumbled. "What we don't know is how we convince my parents of that."
"We'll be graduating from middle school in a few months," Makoto pointed out. "Maybe you could convince them to let you stay until then?"
"We don't know for a fact if Usagi is graduating," Rei said.
"That's true…" Makoto said with a sigh.
"I'm right here you know!"
"Oh, maybe she can say that switching to a new school at this point would make it harder to graduate?" Minako said, looking around the table and ignoring Usagi's vocal protests. "She'd have to adapt and all, and she won't have Ami-chan around to help her out."
"That's worth a shot." Luna said. "If it works, then at the very least it'll buy us time to think of a more permanent solution."
"Indeed." Artemis said.
They all sat in thoughtful silence for a moment, until finally Rei spoke up.
"I can't think of anything else short of having the Senshi telling them flat out that we need her," Rei said. "It would be easy for me or Ami-chan, given our talents, but for Usagi it's hard to say why without revealing who she is."
Usagi pouted, but didn't refute her statement.
"Then we'll go with the graduation thing for now," Luna said. "If all else fails though, we'll just have to use Chibi-Usa's hypnosis trick. Sailor Moon leaving Juuban is simply unacceptable."
They all nodded at that, except for Usagi, who bit her lip but said nothing, and Chibi-Usa, who was still scribbling away at her worksheet.
"Anyway, I also did some fire readings on the other people we met." Rei said. "I couldn't see anything suspicious, or that indicated they were anything other than what they said… except for Ranma."
They all turned to look at her.
"What did you see?" Makoto asked.
Rei hesitated, then shook her head.
"When I did her reading, I saw both her and a man. He was similar to her, and I thought at first that maybe he was a brother or something… yet there was this distinct impression that they were the same person."
The room's occupants blinked as one at that announcement.
"I'm not sure. We'll have to ask her about it."
Minako looked over at her.
"What did he look like? Was he a hottie?"
The miko rolled her eyes.
"I wasn't exactly focused on that, you know. But I guess you could say he was good looking."
"Have you made any progress on figuring out who was behind the changes to history?" Luna asked.
Rei shook her head and sat up.
"It's the same every time; I see a stadium packed full of people, rather than a single individual, and I can't make out any of their faces." she said. "I don't know what to make of it."
"What kind of stadium?" She asked.
"Baseball," Rei said. "I'm not sure how to interpret that, either."
Minako tilted her head.
"You think maybe the person who's behind all of this thinks of it as some sort of game?"
"I sure hope not," She said. "You can't go messing with history for kicks. Or merging worlds together or whatever it is they did, for that matter."
They all sounded their agreement, and then Luna spoke up.
"Well, that's all we can do about that for now," She said. "We should focus on the things we can handle right now – like homework."
They all returned their focus to their respective textbooks. Usagi groaned almost immediately.
"Man… I wish Ami-chan was here… She'd know the answers to these questions…"
"Annnnd… done." Chibi-Usa set her pencil down, then sat back. "Are you guys still working on yours?"
The other girls all looked at her in surprise.
"What? You're finished!?" Usagi demanded, looking down at Chibi-Usa's homework. "With math?!"
"Yeah?" The pink haired teen said, raising an eyebrow. "It was easy-peasy. They teach this stuff in primary school where I'm from." She said with a yawn.
Rei chuckled and sneered at the blonde.
"Oh? Maybe you can ask your daughter for help, then."
Usagi shamelessly turned to look at said daughter with a pleading face.
"Please help me figure this out, oh, wonderful smart child of mine!"
Chibi-Usa raised an eyebrow at that.
Usagi scooted over and put her head on the older girl's shoulder.
"Did I mention you're also kind and gracious and very loving of your mother?"
Chibi-Usa considered it for another moment, then shrugged and looked over at the other girl's textbook and assignment.
"Sure, why not? I didn't understand any of it until middle school, but still… piece of cake!"
"Oh! Thank you! Thankyouthankyouthankyou!"
"Yeah yeah," The other girl said, pushing her away. "You know you're gonna owe me for this, right?"
"I promise to eat your favorite foods when I'm pregnant with you," Usagi said. "Deal?"
Makoto watched as the two haggled, and leaned in to Minako.
"Do you really think it's safe to ask for her help?" She whispered.
Minako's answer was a shake of the head.
Haruka yawned as she opened the door to her shared condo and stepped inside. She quickly noticed Michiru, wearing only a simple sundress and sitting on their indigo sofa and working on a laptop as she herself had the night before.
"Welcome home, dear," The aquamarine-trussed teen said without glancing at her. "How was your day?"
"Draining," Haruka said with a heavy sigh as she closed the door behind her. "And shouldn't you be resting right now?"
Her question earned her a snicker from her lover.
"I'm not going to stay in bed all day," She said. "I feel perfectly fine. Besides, you're the one who should be resting, little miss all-nighter. And as for how my day went, I've been following up on all the notes you took last night. Thank you for asking."
"Uh, yes… I was about to get to that…"
"Why was your phone was off?" Michiru asked suddenly.
The blonde sighed.
"Well, I had a lot on my mind what with these new enemiesand everything that's happened all of a sudden. I wasn't really in the mood to take any calls."
"I see." Michiru looked down at the laptop. "Well, in other news, I find that I'm suddenly expected to perform at a concert with a pop duet that I've never heard of before this Thursday. The 'final' rehearsal was supposed to be tomorrow, but my agent got them to postpone it to Wednesday because of my injury."
She glanced up at the blonde.
"Funnily enough, they're signed under Fuji."
Haruka did a double take.
Michiru nodded as the blonde stepped out of her shoes and kicked them until they were neatly positioned on the side of the genkan next to a pair of sneakers and Michiru's own shoes, then put on some slippers and started walking towards their dining table, where she set her book bag down.
"Fuji has a record label? Since when? I thought they only made cameras and related equipment."
"That was a different company, back in our world. This one has a different history."
Haruka rolled her eyes at the other teen as she opened her bag and started rummaging through it.
"Great. What's next, Nintendo makes H-games?"
"No, but they're a subsidiary of Fuji now. Speaking of which, they're your sponsors. So you may want to look into them a bit."
Haruka gave her a blank stare.
"You don't say." She returned her gaze to the bag, and frowned as she failed to find what she was looking for. "Huh... have you seen my day planner?"
"As a matter of fact, I have. And I noticed you've got a race scheduled tonight."
Haruka slowly turned around and gave her a deadpan stare.
The aquamarine haired teen giggled.
"It's with an American named Dominic Toretto, in the underground circuit."
Haruka raised an eyebrow.
"An American, eh? Hmm… should be fun, if nothing else."
"You're supposed to be there in thirty minutes."
The Senshi of Uranus gave her a mute stare.
"Please tell me you are joking."
Michiru reached down to the seat beside her and held up the day planner in question with a playful shake of her head, and the blonde walked over to it and scanned it over quickly. Sure enough – in her own handwriting no less – the details were listed, just as Michiru had said.
She immediately turned around and ran for the door.
"I'll be back in a few hours!" She called out, opening it and slamming it behind her.
Michiru giggled and set the day planner down, then went back to typing at the computer.
The door suddenly slammed back open and Haruka stepped back in, fumbling to put her sneakers on. After a moment of failure, she kicked her slippers off and then tried again, this time with more success.
"Hey babe, where is-"
"Drift King's Mountain."
"Okay, thanks," The blonde called back as she quickly stepped back out the door and slammed it shut once more.
A few seconds later the door opened again and the blonde's head popped back in.
"I sent you a text with directions, dear. You really should leave your phone on."
Haruka blinked, then sighed.
"Yeah, alright. See you later!"
And then the door shut once more, and Michiru chuckled as she shook her head and returned to her work.