Episode One, Part One
A Prelude to Chaos
by Jared Ornstead
To say that Oberon and Titania did not get along would be rather like saying that Belldandy tends to be polite or that planets tend to be fairly heavy. The two would infrequently reconcile, but then things tended to blow up before very long. Hera and Zeus, for example, were the very spirit of domestic bliss when compared to Oberon and Titania.
Oberon *did* tend to keep tabs on things, and was therefore interested when all the dimensional comings-and-goings of his latest scheme to obtain a mortal paramour failed to rouse his estranged wife from her Citadel. With Ravenshart out of the action, he had to use other spies, but that was something he had in number.
The report from Shadoweye was something that Oberon found *very* intriguing.
The faerie had been around for a very long time, but there were things far older than they were. One was a fellow named Puck who had briefly been within Oberon's service for the chance to sow a little mischief. This brief service had lasted about seven hundred mortal years, and had ended when Puck had decided that Oberon was more interested in causing chaos than mischief. To Puck, aka Robin Goodfellow, there was a considerable amount of difference between mischief and chaos.
Titania had spent some time with Puck recently, and apparently had learned of Alternate Universes from that mischievous being.
Up until this revelation, Oberon and Titania had played only with Three Worlds, though they knew of others. The Faerie Realm was their home, the Mortal Realm a lower energy world where inherent faerie abilities were great powers, Makai- a land of demons and dark beings (though they'd gotten rather placid of late and weren't nearly as much fun as they'd used to be).
Other mortal planes got Oberon to thinking, and he started looking at the possibilities therein. Magical energies got his attention, and he noted that his chosen paramour existed on one of those other planes. He cast his mind's eye on these other realities and found amusement.
Here, the one known as Ranma was a powerful mage, and married to a Asgardian!
Here, another version of Ranma walked worlds with ease and had powerful allies.
Here, in a universe with a faster time rate, yet another Ranma had married a girl named Akane Tendo and fathered a child named Ranko. Now it was the *daughter* who adventured (mainly because her home life was such a *hell* that just about any excuse to get away was welcomed) and crossed planar boundaries.
Oberon's gaze was stopped as a black cat crossed his path. "Puck."
"Nowadays it's Toltiir," acknowledged the currently feline Elder. "Don't go any further, old friend. Some of these realities have guardians, and many would not hesitate to strike you down."
Oberon considered as the image of the Elder faded. He had forces aplenty. He would concentrate on *his* Realm, for now, but sending a highly placed UnSeelie Lord in to stir things up (and possibly net him one of those more interesting Ranmas) seemed well within his current abilities.
Oberon smirked. Why, he might even start a collection.
In the local California park a young man in exercise shorts ran laps around the lake. It had been raining heavily lately, and he was splashed with mud all over his bare feet. Which he felt was all the better, as pulling feet out of sucking mud to retain a running pace was all that much more exercise.
It wasn't that he was all that fanatical, though he could be when required. It's just that he had an overpowering mind and an intense curiosity about the limits of his own body, and a sometimes desire to expand them. Something about the health of the body and of the mind being linked. He couldn't explain it, he just knew that it worked. If he kept his body satisfied, then his mind had more power.
However, it was a very peculiar desire for the age. And it drew some very unusual attention. Three fairies consulted in the bushes.
The first yawned, being newly awakened. "Huh? Wow." She tugged the sleeve of her sleeping sister. "Look, Flora. Look at that mortal."
The second faerie awoke as the third served both her sisters tea, being a much earlier riser. The second smacked her mouth a few times, sounding of morning breath. "What is it? Oh!" Her eyes snapped wide, sleep forgotten. "Yes, I see him, Fauna. Quite a specimen, isn't he? Reminds me of the old days, when we had a prince creeping behind every bush."
The first hmphed. "He's not a prince, at least he doesn't look like one anyway. It's so hard to tell since they gave up royal families. But anyway, look at the way he's moving."
The third abandoned her domestic task. "I say, isn't that combat practice?"
The first nodded. "On such a peaceful world too. We aren't due to need another hero until the present empires fall, and that's a little while away yet."
"It seems such a pity to let a good hero go to waste like that." The third sighed, going back to her chores, munching on a very large sandwich with all sorts of meat, lettuce, tomatoes, and such things piled between slabs of bread.
The young man, oblivious to this conversation, began running atop a rough wall made of logs. It was low and uneven, made up of trunks of many varied lengths, for children to climb over and practice balance. He ran across it, not without trouble though, having to cut his speed by quite a bit.
The second faerie sipped her tea ruthlessly, refusing to care. "Oh, what does it matter anyway? They all carry iron these days. It's not like we could do anything." She secretly sniffed. "It's been *ages* since we got a good transportation or shapeshift in. I've almost forgotten how to turn a man into a toad."
The first was gleaming. "Oh *no* he doesn't!" She sang. The other two peered over her shoulder and marveled.
"Look at that. No shoes even, and he's heading toward a faerie circle!"
This was too good a chance to miss. The three swiftly consulted. "I vote we make a toad out of him."
"Waste of a good hero."
"Shall we have him bring down an evil overlord?"
"This world hasn't got anything else these days. It would just get replaced by another. Whoever heard of bureaucracy, anyway? Stuff and nonsense!"
"Whatever it is, we'd best do it fast! We won't get an opportunity like this again for decades!"
"Old fashioned, but good. Just give him whatever's on his mind? We haven't time to approach him properly."
"Agreed." The other two chorused, not having the slightest qualm about letting anything happen so long as it was more interesting than making tea, waiting for a new era of dragons and things.
The youth was just finishing up his morning run, his body protesting beautifully. He was satisfied, thinking that it was nothing like Ranma's conditioning, but who could compete with anime?
That was when his foot crossed the circle of toadstools and sank into the mud. A flash of light and he vanished. A sparkling rainbow of energies rippled and faded over the toadstools, leaving the faerie circle unexpectedly empty.
"You really shouldn't have done that."
The three faeries whirled around from their chores to see a minuscule woman standing behind them, dressed in an elegant little white gown with faerie sprinkles glimmering all over. While the first three faeries were rather dumpy and a little plain, this new one was perfectly proportioned and indeed, if she were five feet taller and had hidden her wings, might pass for a very attractive mortal.
Which was one of her favorite pastimes.
"Mistress Titania!" Flora whispered, quickly executing a curtsy. "We were not expecting you, Your Majesty." The other two dipped into curtsies as well, each one showing varying degrees of astonishment and guilt.
"Who was that mortal?" Titania played with the tip of her pearl wand. "I can only say that the guardians of the dimensions he disrupted were not pleased."
The three faeries all looked guiltily to the ground, then to each other, fidgeting.
Titania did not need to raise her voice. Ever.
Merryweather, the third faerie, bobbed a curtsy and whispered something too low to be heard.
"What was that?" The Queen of the Fae demanded.
"What?" Having to repeat herself was almost unheard of for the Queen of Faerie and she was actually becoming quite interested. It had been an appallingly dull few centuries and anything anyone was *this* anxious to hide had to be interesting.
"We don't know, Highness." Merryweather repeated, playing with her fingertips without looking up.
Titania blinked for several seconds. "You don't know." She repeated. "You granted a dimension spanning wish without even knowing the name of the mortal who was to receive it?"
That was daring. More daring than even *she'd* normally consider. Without knowing the recipient's name beforehand, a wish could not be undone if things didn't turn out the way you liked.
"Why, pray tell, did you do that?"
Flora gulped heavily. "Um, well... it'd been so long since we'd seen a hero, you see, and..." She broke off when she saw Titania smiling. Unless she was trying to charm someone, Titania did not have a nice smile. It was always pretty, unfailing polite, and unmistakably fiendish.
"Oh, really? A hero, you say? How interesting. Tell me more about him, and why you chose to send him across so many dimensions."
"We didn't know he would travel through the dimensions, Highness." Fauna pled, trying to better their predicament.
"How could you not?" Titania resumed playing with both tips of her wand, then froze as a thought struck her. She blinked again. Oh, my. Things *were* getting interesting weren't they? "Please do not tell me that you granted an OPEN wish?"
"As Your Majesty wishes." Flora bobbed a very relieved curtsy, thankful to have gotten out of that.
"Oh, my." Titania remained frozen in place, blinking in surprise. A wish to an unnamed mortal and *no one* involved knew the terms? This could be as interesting as the last war between the Seelie and Unseelie courts. She smiled again.
"We didn't *know* that he would wish to travel through the dimensions." Fauna pled. "Most mortals wish for gold, jewels or for something like that. How were we to know that he would decide to travel off somewhere?"
Titania felt her ancient, yet smoothly attractive, face nearly crack into a genuine smile. These three really had no idea what they'd done! Oh, it would cause all sorts of trouble but what interesting thing wouldn't? This was entertainment fit for *decades* if not centuries even if the mortal was boring! Just seeing the punishment decided upon by the thousand or more dimensional guardians who'd had their universes threatened.
The concept of what would be should the mortal prove interesting...
If the mortal was an interesting sort this could be a whole new sport that would stretch on for millennia at the very least. She would have to find Oberon and rub his nose in it.
Titania feigned a sigh. "The worst has happened." She lied as only a member of a royal court can, hiding her glee. Mischief occurred to her and she wondered if she could drag Puck in on an aspect or two on this. At the very least she could get the ball started.
She raised both her head and her wand.
"And because it is those of the Fae that caused it to occur, it is up to us to help solve it." ~Or make it worse.~ "There is much cleaning up to be done." ~Rather the opposite, of course.~ "From the reports of the dimensional guardians over a thousand different dimensions were disrupted because of the mortal's traveling Gateways."
"Wow, try saying THAT five times fast." Flora giggled. Somehow she knew that they weren't going to get punished for this, at least not by Titania.
"Saying what five times fast?" Merryweather asked distractedly, coming out of her funk.
"Different dimensions disrupted."
"That isn't all that hard a tongue twister." Fauna remarked, "And it doesn't contain any humor either, Flora. So I don't see why you're laughing. After all, it isn't as though you could interrupt a normal conversation with it. Those words don't occur very often."
"Only when you are very likely to be in trouble." Titania regained control of the conversation with an icy glance, having spent this time summoning her favorite scrying mirror, which she turned back to. "As I was saying, most of the disruptions were trivial. A bit of snow here or there where it was not supposed to be, a pool of water in a desert or a dry patch on the sea floor. Most of these are self-correcting. But I can tell of at least three dimensions that will have more long-term..." ~Results!~ "Ahem, problems."
"THREE?" All three faeries cried out, aghast.
Dimensional distortions occurred occasionally. Usually they could be taken care of by a trivial manipulation or by finding the right alien to invade and wipe out all trace of the affected civilization.
One couldn't have inaccurate time lines running about. Well, it happened all the time, actually. Just few people were allowed to be aware of it. Those sort of things were considered to be a privilege and it got messy if too many were allowed to get involved in them.
Messy suited Titania just perfectly right then.
She stroked the rim of her mirror. "First you must find this errant mortal. Then he must be returned. The Guardians of each gateway must be appeased that we are doing all we can."
"That would be a good tongue twister." Flora remarked.
"What is?" Merryweather asked.
"No it isn't." Fauna argued.
"Yes it is. Gateway's Guardians five times."
"No it isn't. A good tongue twister has to have at least five words that sound the same and start with the same letter."
"For some reason, I'm not surprised that this problem started because you three granted a wish." Titania murmured, expecting them not to hear, or at least to pretend to not have heard, which was more likely among the Fae.
From her assistant, whom she'd discretely contacted on the side, Titania had learned that despite the way they behaved, these three were some of the oldest and, in their own way, wisest faeries who lived in the vast Courts of Faerie.
And among the most innocent as well, strangely enough.
~All probably due to the fact that they'd never *attended* Court.~ The Queen groused inwardly to herself.
If it would have helped, she would have threatened and browbeat them at how dangerous and important their mistake was, except she knew that they already knew, and that this was their way of coping and helping to solve this problem.
~Several points against them all.~
And yet, here the Queen thought. If they could be but trusted to continue in the happy, bumbling way that had *started* this wonderful mess, things might become more interesting all on their own.
~Hmm, set them tasks and see what happens.~
"Ahem!" She went on. " I believe that since you are the instigators of this, that it shall be your task to select a suitable hero or heroine to go and fetch him."
Flora, Fauna and Merryweather stared, eyes wide. "OUR task, Your Majesty?"
Titania nodded, pleased and already counting their misadventures and failed attempts. "Yes. You are at fault. For the glory of the Fae you shall fix it.
"The Guardians need *OUR* help?" Flora managed finally.
"Yes." The Queen of the Fae repeated herself- AGAIN. ~My, what an unusual century this was becoming.~ "The realms of Faerie have helped seek out heroes many times throughout the eons. And for all your arguing, you three have some of the best instincts when it comes to choosing heroes and heroines."
Being a Queen, lying came easily to her. She really didn't care if they were good or not.
No, that must be corrected. She did care. She preferred if they were bumbling imbeciles. But couldn't be bothered to determine if they were true experts. She could not have replaced them on any account even if they were competent. The situation was already in motion.
"Not that we've been able to do any of that for centuries anyway." Fauna grumped. "There just isn't any use for heroes and heroines in this world, and all the young people are too interested in playing games to be in noble training. That young man we wish-granted was the first one we've seen in *ages* that had the potential to become a hero." The faerie remarked bitterly, revealing that they did know something of the proper selection.
The Queen gave an imperceptible shrug. "Well, this Earth is wide, and the three of you will need to find a person to bring him back. A girl." ~To start with. Smother the smile, mustn't let them suspect.~
Three sets of eyes glimmered in interest. It had been a *long* time since their expertise had been needed.
"For what?" Fauna asked eagerly. "We'll need to know if we're to find the right person."
Titania glanced at the mirror, reading the strange symbols easily. "According to a certain dimension's Guardian, their history was disrupted by the mortal's passing. They have a hiccup in their past, basically a gap in the cloth of Fate leading up to a person who doesn't exist, and never has. They will need a girl to help them as they fill that empty role. Send them one. She needs to be young, adaptable, and all those things a normal heroine needs."
"A HEROINE!" They cried out, aghast.
"But Majesty!" Merryweather protested. "In this day and age? That's impossible! They've *always* been scarcer than good heroes and finding one when so *few* people care about *anything* but themselves?"
~Drat! They DID know a thing or two about hero selecting. Hmm, one could only ask that they were at the least hopelessly out-of-date.~ The slightest frown coursed the brow of the pale Faerie Queen as she thought about this.
Fauna frowned, tapping a finger thoughtfully. "There is that sport we saw watching that strange picture box in that other mortal's house. Remember? I believe they called it fencing. I'm sure that if we began with that..."
~Oh, Good. Incompetence at last.~
"Still, a girl... who practices with swords... We cannot go near the Cold Iron remember?" Flora whimpered, most of her cheerfulness gone.
"Most objects are no longer created out of total Cold Iron." Fauna reproved. "And in any case, we managed to wish-grant the first mortal remember? HE did not wear Cold Iron. We will just catch the girl when she too doesn't."
"Is there anything else for us to do, Majesty?" Merryweather asked, turning to Titania, who had been listening.
Titania tapped her palm with her wand, thinking.
The Queen spoke. "Yes, I'm afraid the Unseelie know of this. A dimensional Guardian reports that because of this disruption, at the end of a crucial battle, a major arch-villain of our kind vanished instead of being vaporized. That problem will have to wait until she reappears, but as the first dimension reporting problems and this other one are currently within close quantum orbit of each other, there is a very good chance that the villain will appear in the dimension of your young girl as well." Titania glanced at her mirror one more time. "Find the girl, send her off. Then find a way to let her defeat the villain."
She disappeared suddenly.
"Well, I guess we have something to occupy our time other than sleeping and drinking tea." Flora said, smiling as she stretched her fingers, "Not as good as changing princes into toads, but I must say it's nice to be important again."
"You know, I think I know of the *perfect* girl for this." Fauna said thoughtfully.
"Here's something that might make your job easier." Titania said, suddenly appearing out of absolutely nowhere (which was pretty much the accepted mode of travel among the Fae). "The dimension the wish placed the male mortal in is the same one in which the girl is needed. When she is finished there, you may return them both to their homes." The tiny queen vanished, leaving the three faeries alone in the deserted, muddy area.
"You know, we have here the combination for a fairy tale!" Flora said excitedly, "A relatively handsome mortal..."
"Relatively? I would say something else entirely!" Merryweather said.
"Yeah, like ugly!" Fauna said caustically.
"You mean cute!"
"Well, we know what *your* tastes are like. After all, YOU chose that Galen for Ella's Prince Charming."
"It was my turn!" Merryweather protested. "And anyway, *you* got to choose the prince that woke Princess Aurora. *I* would have chosen that darling one with those deep blue eyes."
"Would you two listen to me?" Flora demanded, "What we have here is a beautiful chance for a fairy tale. We have two heroes, or at least a heroine and a hero, both of which will be beautiful..."
"But what if the girl isn't?" Merryweather asked.
"If you ask me the boy isn't already so bye-bye to THAT idea." Fauna muttered.
"Well, nobody asked *you*!"
"Would you two listen?" Flora snapped. "AND we have a missing arch villain wandering around the place."
"But we also have two Guardians waiting for us." Merryweather pointed out, "Come on, I know the most perfect girl for this! And even if she isn't beautiful, we can make sure she turns out to be at least conveniently attractive when she enters the dimension."
"At last! A new fairy tale!" Flora said as the three faeries slowly vanished.
"Do you think Titania and the others would mind though? I mean, we're not precisely sharing." Fauna said, uncertain at the last.
"We've got happiness in mind. And happiness is always good." Merryweather pointed out.
"I guess you're right."
All three fairies vanished.
~Oh, this is *perfect!*~ Titania thought, from her present disguise as a bush. ~I have GOT to rub Oberon's nose in this!~
She vanished away herself.
The muddy area around the pond was empty once more. A cold wind blew slowly, scattering a shower of leaves over the faerie circle. All that was left were several footprints left to dry in the mud, and as the gray sky slowly released the drizzle that had been threatening all morning, even those marks were demolished.
The red haired young man appeared mid-step on the front door of the Tendo dojo. He stopped, looking around himself, recognition dawning. "Oh no. Not this!" Quickly he scanned the place more thoroughly.
Yup, looked like it.
The young man shrugged.
In his mind he tapped upon a vast reserve of adaptability. This could be a dream, or real, but reality had always seemed less than the last word on real to him. Either way, adopt the parameters and begin to play the game.
Besides, he had control of his dreams that bordered on the absolute. He could stop time, reverse it, change fundamental laws... it had been awhile since he'd had anything that could classify as a nightmare. If this was a hallucination he was planning on enjoying it.
Either way, no good railing against it. He might as well have some fun.
Okay, Ranmaverse. That meant martial arts. He'd studied some but anything earthly would be unable to cope here. Swiftly he ran through the exercise of will that would alter reality to suit his whims. Adding abilities and powers that would allow him to get along comfortably here.
Odd. He hadn't been trying anything extreme. He focused again and threw more certainty into it. This *would* happen, he would not allow it to be otherwise.
Still nothing, except he got slightly dizzy.
The young man's brow furrowed. When was the last time he'd failed at this? Never. He could remember wrestling carnivorous witch dreams to the ground from his earliest childhood. Very, very strange. It was like the power to alter things just wasn't there to be used, which ruled out hallucination immediately.
So this was either real, or a very, *very* weird dream.
The young man tried to float. The last time he *couldn't* fly in a dream was so far lost in the mists of time that it might as well be never.
That had something to it, he rose about an inch, but the effort was completely out of proportion to what he was used to. He relaxed and settled back to the ground, clutching the gate for support and struggling not to throw up from pain and nausea. Well, it was bound to happen, wasn't it? Too much power, not enough perception. Some of the rules had changed. Whatever this was it wasn't a normal dream.
He looked at the sign beside the door, finding that he could understand it. Suddenly grateful that he'd consistently bought dubs (it would be odd always looking at people's feet to read what they were saying) he cleaned the mud off his feet and slipped on a pair of canvas shoes. Altering the universe was a problem to be tackled later, like when he really needed it. He knocked on the front door. Nabiki answered.
The young man opened his mouth to say "Nabiki Tendo, I presume?" But never got that far. The young lady STARED at him and then started to laugh.
"I'm sorry, you look just like that guy on TV. Jared Ornstead on Skysaber."
Jared rocked back on his heels.
In shock he mumbled out. "Um, since when did I become a TV show?"
Nabiki sobered instantly. "You've never *heard* of it? It's the most popular animated sitcom in Japan. Don't tell me you've never read about it or seen the merchandise."
She laughed again. "Oh! That shocked expression! It's *right* off of the series! C'mon in, I have to introduce you to everybody. They're not going to believe this!"
Hesitating, somewhat fearful, the young man followed the young lady into the house, remembering to kick off his shoes at the entrance. Nabiki stopped him just outside the parlor, having him wait just outside by the veranda while she stepped into where the family was eating.
"Hey gang," she sang. "You're not going to *believe* who just showed up."
"Who is it, Nabiki?" Kasumi's voice asked.
"Man, I hope it's not Kuno again." Ranma groused.
"Nothing so ordinary, Ranma." Nabiki crowed.
"Is it Ryoga?" Akane asked hopefully. "Has he found his way back yet?"
"Ja-red." Nabiki singsonged, in *exactly* the same way his brother did when calling him downstairs. Jared poked his head around the veranda screen doubtfully.
The assembled residents stared at him, then broke up laughing.
"Oh, man! He looks just *like* that guy!" Ranma rolled off his pillow, laughing too hard for balance.
Akane clutched her gut, weeping tears. "Hahahaha, he's, haha, even got the, hahahaha, facial expressions!"
Genma and Soun were clutching each other, unable to speak or do anything but laugh.
"Oh my." Kasumi was smiling merrily. "He DOES look like him, doesn't he?"
Jared stepped into the room, looking askance at the occupants.
Even Kasumi began giggling.
Jared threw a despairing look at the heavens. Seeing this the household rolled, unable to speak or even hear themselves over their merriment. With a resigned smile the redhead sat down and waited for his hosts to recover. However, everything he did seemed to draw points and gales of laughter, from a smirk of the lips to a shake of his head. Eventually he excused himself and went out to sit on the veranda.
His good humor was intact but his eyes were a little wild.
Kasumi, by far the noblest and most self-controlled of the Tendos, soon brought him out a cup of tea. She placed it beside him, her eyes merry and bright.
"Here you go."
He politely waved it away. "Thanks Kasumi, but I don't drink tea. It's..."
"...Against your religion." She finished for him. "This is spiced apple cider, no alcohol. You really *are* like that animated character." Her eyes suddenly flew wide. She put a hand to her cheek. "You... you know my name?"
His face fell into his hands. "This *can't* be happening! Yes, Kasumi. You are a bright angel and one of the most brilliant examples of endearing love ever to grace the Earth."
Akane leaned out onto the veranda. "Wow! You not only have the character you have the lines too! Where was that from? I don't remember which episode."
The rest of the family appeared around him. Soun Tendo spoke. "Well, it *could* have been from that part with Rebecca." The others regarded him like the idiot he was. So he put his hand behind his head and laughed in embarrassment. "No, I guess he never said that to Rebecca, did he?"
Genma spoke across folded arms. "Could it have been Jane, I wonder?"
Jared did a double-take. "Who?"
Everyone, Kasumi included, was rolling on their backs in the grass after that comment. Their laughter was almost painful when the redhead shamefacedly recalled that there *was* a girl named Jane he'd been friends with for several years, and people kept accusing them of being love interests.
He didn't know why he kept forgetting that.
Attention refocused on Jared when the laughter had died down. "So where *did* that line come from?" Nabiki pressed him. "It's not from the Shelley series, and you certainly never said that to Lisa or Paula. Could it be from the Amy special?"
The redhead blinked up at them. "You *know* about all that? Look, I just made it up. And how can you *possibly* know about all of my friends?"
The household suddenly regarded him in amazement. "You mean you honestly don't know?" Nabiki asked, somewhat in awe. "Here, let me show you something." The family took him inside and sat him down before the television set. Nabiki went to a cabinet and pulled out one of a whole line of tapes with similar sleeves. She showed it to him.
"Have you ever seen this before?"
Jared accepted the proffered video tape. It had a standard cardboard jacket, very real in his hands, emblazoned with the name 'Skysaber' in dashing, colored letters. In all it looked exactly like all the anime he'd ever bought, except that it was his face and name cartooned on the front.
And on the back a summary of that time he'd worked in the local library.
All the color fled from his face. He looked up to see everyone watching him. "So I'm an animated series?"
Akane regarded him in shock. "Wow. So you really don't know about it? Say, what's your real name anyway?"
He sighed. "My name, insofar as I can recall, is Jared Ornstead. Though on the internet I go by Skysaber. My mother's maiden name is..."
"...And your shoe size is nine." They all chorused, interrupting and quoting his sarcastic rebuke to stuffy bank tellers from memory.
He shivered uncontrollably. "Don't *DO* that!"
Nabiki leaned into him. "What is your name, really?"
Jared blinked back at her.
The young man composed himself. "Nabiki, I can offer you two possibilities. One, I am totally bonkers and just *think* I am who I say I am. Or Two, I really *am* who I say I am. Either way the only answer I have to give you is the same. My name is Jared, and I know this may sound crazy, but I remember YOU guys as the animated series."
Ranma leaned back, smiling. "No way. Who'd want to make a series out of us?"
Jared turned to regard him. "What, aren't you cursed that when you get hit with cold water you turn into a girl?"
Ranma's jaw dropped and his eyes bugged out. "What! How...how?"
The redhead turned to Nabiki. "And you take pictures of him asleep or when he's changing and sell them to the highest bidder, which just happens to be Kuno?"
Nabiki's eyes flew wide and she hid behind her arms.
Jared shook his head. "Look, I know Genma turns into a panda. I know Akane never tastes her own cooking until she's already poisoned every person she can catch with it..."
Kasumi had delicately put her hand over his mouth. "I don't think we need to hear any more, Jared."
He looked up at her, nodding. "Yeah. I guess I never realized before. It's all the *crummy* stuff that people think is funny, isn't it?"
She sat beside him, blushing. "Not always. For instance there is the way you dance in the bathroom."
The redhead recoiled. "You know about *that!*"
Nabiki laughed behind her hand. "Yeah, funny how you always hold the towel over exactly the right places. Well, *almost* always."
Jared blushed furiously, turning naturally rosy cheeks a deep red. Well, he'd seen *them* in the tub. He guessed it was only fair...
He bowed his head. "Yeah, well at least I have my girlfriends *sequentially*" He said, intending that as a dig against Ranma.
"Except Shelley and Rebecca." They all chorused.
The redhead winced. "Don't remind me."
Ranma was leaning against a pillow. "Man, I wish I knew how you got chicks. And why are you so afraid of them, anyhow? I mean, half those girls... Sheesh. *I'd* have figured out what to do from some of the places *you've* been in."
Jared looked at him.
"Can I just say I prefer wedding rings? And you're one to talk, Ranma. You've got girls like *anyone* would envy!"
Ranma blinked. "Huh? Whaddya mean?"
"The names Ukyo, Shampoo and Kaori mean anything? You're surrounded by women that any man could DROOL over! Not to mention all the attractive ones lying around the sidelines."
Nabiki tapped the redhead on the shoulder. "Who are you talking about? I know Shampoo, but those other two?"
Jared blinked at her. "Huh?" Then grew suspicious. "Say, what part of the series are we in, anyway? Has Happosai shown up? What about Kodachi? Have we had the martial arts takeout race?"
They looked at him uncomprehending. Genma and Soun showed shock at the first name, the others...
Jared's head sank into his hands, groaning. "Great. I get flung into an animated cartoon and all the stuff I could use to establish my identity hasn't happened yet. Look, on the first day Ranma got here he was a girl, right? Carried in by his dad who was a panda?"
"Okay then. Girl Ranma was carried over the panda's... left shoulder. Akane was relieved there wouldn't be an arranged marriage and took Ranma into the dojo for a little sparring practice? Ranma defeated her with ease? Then later *she* walked in on *him* in the bath and thought he was a pervert and hasn't forgiven him since? Even though *she* was the daughter elected to marry him?"
They nodded, a bit stunned.
Jared refocused himself, pleading. "Okay then. Look, um, it wouldn't be fun for you if I started spouting off about all the things *I've* seen. Can we just strike a deal and not mention any of the things in *my* series?"
If silence was consent he got a round of firm agreement, but it was more likely they were just too shocked to react.
Nabiki cocked her head. "You're going to hear about them eventually, you know."
The redhead considered this. Most popular series? Man, would he ever! If it was anything like TV back home then only the most reclusive wouldn't recognize him on sight! He'd probably run into people wearing Skysaber T-shirts and able to quote half his dialog from memory.
Jared's face had gone somewhat pale.
"This is not good."
Seeing his distress Kasumi moved to make it better. "There now, being famous is nothing to be ashamed of. I'm sure there are many ways that you can make it work for you. I'm sure Nabiki would be glad to help you."
"But at what price?" He asked. Then Jared allowed himself to be soothed.
Nabiki was regarding him. "Say, Jared. Have you got a place to stay?"
He indicated the negative.
"Oh, well then you can stay in one of our guest rooms." Kasumi offered before Nabiki could try charging rates. Which was good, as Jared didn't have a yen on him.
Nabiki seemed to sense this. "Hey Jared, haven't you got *any* money?"
He cocked an eyebrow at her.
"Right." She concluded. "Well, as your agent perhaps I could arrange a small loan..."
Both eyebrows fired.
"I think we can do a sixty-forty split." Nabiki offered.
Suddenly the shock of his acclimation crested his resistance and the redhead laughed, clutching his gut and doubling over. "Oh, Nabiki. How *typical!* Hahahahaha! Oh, man! Hehehehehe!" A grunt, then more laughter. "Nabiki, I'm willing to *consider* you... hahahaha... only because I... ohohoho... know of your talents. But... hehe, Don't try to... hehehe... use them on... haha... me."
Nabiki couldn't make up her mind to smile at him or scowl.
"Say Jared." Kasumi asked gently. "Isn't that the Standard Light Urban Survival Pack you're wearing?"
The redhead rolled back up from where he'd been laughing, touching a hand to his waist pouch. "Huh? How do you know...? Oh. I should have realized. Yes, this is it. Why?"
"May I see it?" She asked gently.
He handed it over in utter trust and without a word. Kasumi opened the zippered pouch and removed the wallet, then proceeded to count out several thousand yen. "I needed some money for shopping. Would you like to come along?"
Jared accepted the wallet and waist pouch's return. He strapped one on and looked into the other. Hmm, American dollars. On a hunch he focused for a second. Yup, the bills were now Japanese yen.
He'd have to learn more about this.
Real or dream was immaterial, it was just important to learn the rules.
Akane was looking at him in awe. "The Standard Light Urban Survival Pack? Cool! Does this mean you're carrying the Nerd Toy?"
They knew all the pets names for all his stuff? Sheesh! Well, it was only to be expected, he surmised. He knew what her underwear looked like. You could probably learn anything from anime.
Jared took out the laser pointer, thumbing the knob. With a vicious electric hiss a beam of pure energy shot forth from the pen, elongating into three feet of pure green lethal energy.
He nearly dropped it in shock. This was *not* how he remembered his laser pointer!
Ranma leaned back casually. "Yup. He's got it."
Jared released his pressure on the firing knob and the green energy blade vanished. "Sure, Kasumi, I'd love to go."
The sorceress braced herself, closing her eyes and lifting her arm to shield her face against the descending blow of the enchanted sword she knew would end her life.
The lady waited.
Finally, the noises registered. The sounds were not the clashings of her faerie castle being destroyed around her as they had been only moments ago. They were instead mechanical, mortal, and human in nature; the cacophony of one of those worlds where technology had been discovered and run amok.
The sorceress warily dropped her arm, looking beyond the torn sleeve of her gown at the side of a brick building. Checking around herself she discovered she was indeed on a mortal world, one with the Fae power so dormant as to be nonexistent in most people.
And one utterly, and completely vulnerable to her style of influence.
After leaning against the building for long moments, the depleted sorceress regained her breath and pushed herself to a standing position. By this time an officer of the law had poked his head into the alley to observe her. Almost idly the faerie ensnared his mind.
She sat down upon a barrel head, smoothing her torn skirts. "Now," she gave her new servant commands. "Tell me of your world, and how I might gain power in it."
"I found him!" Merryweather called, sitting beside a toadstool with a completely incongruous video monitor implanted in its side.
"Where?" Flora and Fauna appeared over her shoulders, hovering on their tiny wings.
"He's only just warped in." Merryweather pointed out on the screen.
"Well, we'll put a stop to *that*" Flora waved her wand, agitating up a good cloud of sparkles. Then she shot them out in a beam toward the monitor.
The beam rebounded and transformed her into a toad.
"Oh my goodness!" Fauna cried.
"What could have happened?" Merryweather asked, turning away from the screen and using her own wand to restore Flora.
Flora sighed, straightening her dress. "I should have realized. He hasn't fulfilled his wish yet. And without the power to undo that, which we don't seem to have, we're not going to be able to keep him from gaining whatever it is he wished for."
"What *did* he wish for? I don't seem to recall." Fauna put one hand to the side of her chin in thought.
"I don't seem to remember, either." Merryweather groaned.
"I'm sure it will come to us in time." Flora quipped. "But for now, how are we going to stop him until we can get him back home?"
"Don't you have that backwards?"
"Shouldn't it be 'how are we going to get him back home so we can stop him?'"
"Maybe you're right."
"Come. We've got to get that heroine moving. She looks like she'll be our only chance, now that direct intervention is out of the question." Flora vanished.
The other two followed, appearing in the rain, concealing themselves in some bushes behind a bus stop.
In a plane of mists and soft light, a young woman with long hair stirred her head from lying on the ground to see a figure in a familiar uniform approaching. The young woman's eyes widened as they found recognition.
"Please do not be afraid." The tall, green haired woman said as she strode through the mists toward the awakening young lady. "As you have said, I am Susan, Sailor Pluto, and Guardian of the Key of Time."
The young lady spent several long moments deliberating that.
"I know this might be rather an obvious thing to ask." The young lady finally said, rising slowly to her hands and knees. "But where am I?"
Then Fiona shook her head and tried to clear it. "No, come to think of it, that's really a dumb question. Obviously I'm somewhere in the mists of time, near the Gate of Time which *you* guard." She shook her head again and brought herself unsteadily to stand. "All I really want to know right now is: Why am I here? I mean, I know that I was tired. But I rarely ever fall asleep on the bus, let alone the bus stop! And to be perfectly honest, if I was dreaming this I don't think I'd need to go to the bathroom quite this badly."
Susan smiled then, "But you aren't asleep, Fiona, nor are you dreaming. You have been called by Destiny." And a few Faeries, but Susan wouldn't mention that. She rarely ever did go into those kind of details. "You have been transported from your world to ours in order to fulfill a great need we have for one such as you."
Fiona stared at her for a long moment. "You need high school students so bad you're importing them?"
Susan was unruffled. "Our timeline has been disrupted. As the Guardian of the Key of Time it is my responsibility to repair the damage. You were chosen because of your qualifications, among them your age, yes." The Sailor took a step back into the mists. "Come, follow me, and I shall explain."
The girl followed after the Sailor, mystified, unable even to *think* of what to think when faced with something as strange as this occurring. Especially on a Monday morning.
Jared had what he casually considered to be his 'hind brain.' Named whimsically enough when he'd read that dinosaurs usually had two brains, one in the usual place and one at the hind end of their spine. This was because their bodies were so huge that the nerve impulses took so long to reach the hind set of limbs that they'd be even more clumsy and ungainly without one.
Jared was neither clumsy nor ungainly. In fact running across poles was only one stunt he'd done in a normal universe. By any non-anime standard he was almost unnaturally dexterous. But his feet seemed to have a mind of their own. It wasn't that they disobeyed him, but they remembered stuff. It was freaky. Several times he had been stuck in a strange town with no local maps and no one to guide him and been able to find his way about flawlessly anyway.
He could retrace near any path he'd followed and could get to nearly anyplace he'd ever been. In fact there had been that one time, first day in a new town, he'd just dropped off his luggage at a new place before being dragged off to do something else. The other person had driven him, dropped him off, and left him without a word how to get back to his place, no one to direct him, and only his feet to take him there.
He'd gone beeline back to his apartment.
Jared supposed that made him a reverse Ryoga. He'd been lost fewer times than Ryoga had found his way. And that's why he needed no greater proof of anything being real than the fact that his feet were mapping the territory he was now on. They weren't following any trails, nor were they reporting to him any nearby trails they'd followed. This was new turf.
But at least after today he'd be able to find the market from the Tendo place.
As he and Kasumi approached the market they were drawing interested stares from the passers by and shopkeepers. He grew severely uncomfortable when several people just stopped what they were doing to stare at him until he'd passed out of sight.
"Ah, Kasumi? Could we maybe do something about my appearance? I appear to be instantly recognizable."
She looked sideways at him but did not seem displeased. "Well, the clothes you wear *are* very distinctive, Jared. Do you have anything besides shorts?"
Well, the pair he was wearing *was* a little distinctive, wasn't it? They were blue with an elastic waist, and due to some manufacturing error the drawstring was quite long, hanging down to just below his knees.
He'd found the day after he'd bought them that the knotted loop at the end of the drawstring tended to bounce off his knees as he walked. Somehow he'd adjusted his gait so that with every step the knot would bounce forward off the knee, never really falling back and alternating between one leg and the other as he took each step.
Come to think of it, it was every bit as noticeable as Ranma's walking on fences. But he liked the feeling.
He slipped the loop over his left thumb to stop its bouncing and reached into his waist pouch, pulling out his favorite pair of shades.
Kasumi sighed. "Now you're even *more* distinctive, Jared."
He shrugged, realizing she was absolutely right. But lacking a suitable disguise he was stuck between the choices of uselessly pretending not to be him or flaunting it. "Okay, Kasumi. I guess I'll just get noticed then. Should I go home?"
She shook her head, smiling. "No. After all, I have a great deal to get, and your mother trained good pack animals."
He mock-scowled at her. "That's *my* line." But it was true. A shopping cart could carry more than him, but not by much. He and his brothers could empty a car full of groceries (groceries for a *large* and hungry family) in a single trip. It didn't even require all of them usually.
Kasumi just beamed. "Oh, well. Stay close by, will you? I have a lot to get today and I may need more now that you'll be living with us." She turned on an angelic grin. "And to quote you, 'I've no idea how they get it to me, but I've never come to the end of my expense account yet, and supplies for my support group are as approved an item as I can think of.'"
Hearing Kasumi quoting *him* was enough to trip several of his weird circuits. Even if he couldn't recall what situation she'd been quoting, just hearing her get *his* cadence right was downright eerie.
Whispers began in the marketplace.
The faerie sorceress walked into an internationally renowned dressmaker's shop, dropping stacks of this ridiculous paper money it was so easy to conjure, and demanding to be served.
~A world of money indeed. Loyalty, land and honor all available for a price?~ It seemed intriguing.
Well, she would see. The faerie simply dropped a stack of bills upon the desk of the flustered serving girl waiting in the place where a guard or page ought to be, and demanded a level of service that would've gotten her thrown out of any royal clothier's where they didn't know her on sight.
Instead, the matron of the shop was summoned and personally began showing the sorceress the styles of the age. Intrigued to find her information correct thus far, the faerie asked what the ladies of power wore and was shown to a private side chamber where women were brought out to model the season's styles for her.
They began with what they called business suits.
Business suits, the sorceress concluded after seeing her first, were attire fit only for servants. They were livery for servants without masters, and as dreary and without luster or grace as it was possible for garments to be, without a proper ruler to decree their style and give them color or direction.
It was a silly way to run a world.
Aspiring to be a slightly higher rank of servant amongst hordes of others had never been one of this sorceress' wishes. She ordered the livery taken away and demanded to see their gowns, and when those uninspiring rags failed to please her she began to dictate to them her wishes.
She was a daughter of Morgan le Fae. Her mother had raised her to be a queen and a queen she would be. How lucky for her to be snatched from disaster and come upon a world of servants, ruled by chief servants, only waiting for an appropriate ruler to appear. It needed only for her to take over the reins of as much of their world as she pleased. From what the policeman had said there were not even any true kings to seduce.
Perhaps that was for the best. She could never understand what her mother had gotten out of it anyway.
Besides, if the officer who was now her servant had said the truth, then anything could be had for money here anyway. Faerie gold was easy to conjure but could not withstand the touch of iron. These silly papers could be conjured by the warehouse full in any denomination desired, without that weakness.
Infinite wealth in a world where anything could be had for a price? A silly world indeed.
Conquest by purchase. She could buy herself a large kingdom and then suit it to her tastes. Something where there was a great deal of land available all at once, so she could arrange for something in a few weeks, as opposed to waiting tedious years for the mortals to make up their minds.
She would have to find out if there truly were governments for sale, as the officer had said. That ought to speed up the process by quite a bit. How much easier that would be than to enchant them all one by one. And if they were reluctant for some reason, they were merely peasants, a few calamities should convince them otherwise.
Speaking of calamities brought to mind those who always sought to prevent them. It ought to be interesting to see what sort of heroes lurked here. Her mother had always found destroying knights to be an intriguing way to pass the centuries. But then, there were no Knights of the Round here. In fact, scrupulous morals were not much of an issue at all from what she'd seen. Girls parading their lack of virtue over paintings hung from buildings in order to sell a brand of bottled drink? It was a world of dry tinder and she the only match.
As the dressmakers fitted her for her new gowns the sorceress wondered which of the nations were available for sale and how she might go about buying one.
After a meaningless amount of time walking Susan stopped. As Fiona caught up, the air before them coalesced into a mirror-like surface, showing a glowing, blue ball that the girl easily recognized as Earth.
"This is my universe." Sailor Pluto said. "And this is where the problem has come to plague us. Several hours ago, a wish was granted to a young mortal of your world. In your dimension, there is a cartoon known as Sailor Moon. Do you know of it?"
"Know of it?" Fiona laughed, though the sound was more bewildered than not. "I'm a major fan of it! I've watched every single cartoon they have in English."
Susan nodded, "That will make understanding far more easy. You have heard of the Moon Kingdom? And the Negaverse Wars that forced Queen Serenity to use the Silver Imperial Crystal, sending all her children to the future... our present now?"
"Of course. It was the subplot and secret of the whole first season."
"That may be the last 'season' you will be familiar with. The wish has placed the young man from your world into a position to disrupt the flow of time. Our Sailors are still weak and forgetful from having faced Queen Beryl. It is a vulnerable time for them. By himself this boy would be of little concern and easily neutralized, but there are other factors that he now serves as a balance against."
"And your point is?" Fiona continued to dream wistfully of bathrooms.
Susan turned an inscrutable gaze on her young guest. "There is an evil factor that has gained contact with our world at the same time as the young man from yours. The balance of Fates places him against them. I cannot remove him to send him back to your world without first untangling that web."
"So I'm supposed to take this evil force out so that you can get rid of the guy, am I right?" Fiona displayed her sharp wits.
Pluto looked inscrutable, thinking inwardly that that was not at all a bad idea. If she shifted her own plots around a bit that would be an ideal plan.
"I'll take that as a yes." Fiona glowered at the inscrutable expression, trying not to be obviously rubbing her legs together.
Pluto turned her back to face the mirror showing the Earth. "That was not the only reason for our calling you. The boy's entry caused damage to our world beyond his mere presence and the attention of this evil power. The very fabric of our history has been torn, including, among other things less severe, critical damage done to the past of the Moon Kingdom."
Pluto turned to regard her young companion. "As the young mortal entered our dimension, the entire Silver Millennium was altered. It is a disturbance that I will need your help to correct."
Susan went on to instruct. "Our Silver Millennium bears almost no resemblance to what it was. The alterations have swept our past and will shortly impact our present. As a precaution and a measure to prevent our original history from being swept aside, it is my intention to use the majority of my skills to buffer against the onrushing change. I am also going to be taking advantage of certain changes to work against the others, keeping them in check until our original history can be restored. To do this, I am going to introduce a divergence of my own, that I am hoping will act with some alterations against the others to hold them all at bay."
Susan didn't usually explain in *any* detail and thought she was giving her young charge quite a treat. Fiona was trying hard not to imagine her eyeballs turning yellow. Fiona was certain this was dramatic and all that, but the long speeches were becoming *very* uncomfortable. Her fantasies had never included her squeezing her legs together to avoid an accident while the long introductions were going on.
Susan continued. "You no doubt have knowledge of the fated destiny that binds Serena and Darien together, a Prince of Earth to wed the future Queen of the Moon. Now our disturbed past is spawning a companion fate, one with an odd sense of balance that *might* have belonged, and yet truly does not. This ripple in reality has set in motion a destiny where a princess of the moon must marry the future King of Earth. So, that those destinies not be tangled and draw forth unseen consequences, I will create within this disturbed fate a second Princess of the Moon."
Susan waved her staff dramatically and called forth a door from the mists. A pink one whose frame was set with dozens of silvery moon crescents. "You will serve as advisor to..."
"Thank God!" Fiona saw a door with a half moon on the front and dove through faster than thought.
Susan found she was speaking to air and there was a rather large surge of light from beyond the doorway. Her thought of having the door open dramatically to reveal a construct of Fate that would last for the duration of the present emergency suddenly grew wings and flew out her ear. Her mouth opened and closed a few times.
The door opened again a moment later and Fiona stepped out in a long white gown. "Magic Toilets? I can't even figure out what happened, but at least I don't have to go anymore." She looked down and took hold of the skirt of her gown. "Hey! I look like I'm dressed for a ball in the Moon Kingdom!" She pirouetted and spun, coming to a stop before Sailor Pluto.
"Okay, I'm ready to listen now."
Susan blinked at her several times without saying anything.
The universe sweatdropped.
Jared was humming a slavery dirge when they finally got to the Tendo home. He was loaded under packs and bags until he looked like a pack animal in truth. Yet still he somehow managed to navigate the doors and squeeze in.
The crowd that had followed them home from the market dispersed.
Jared had found the whole expedition odd. Okay, so he could ordinarily carry alot of stuff. But *nothing* like Kasumi had loaded him down with. Bulk was not a problem, he could deal with it. He'd carried a rolled-up 8'x12' Persian carpet over one shoulder through a practical maze of tight doors, sharp turns, and narrow steps before. But half the bags here were of canned goods and staples, bags that weighed *alot* and would normally cut through his fingers if he tried to carry them too far.
The weight hadn't been a problem, not at all. And his unnatural dexterity had done the rest.
Kasumi guided him into the kitchen and began unpacking him. He'd lost his shoes at the door (even burdened as he was it wasn't a problem to obey house rules) and assisted Kasumi by rapidly untangling himself, laying down his load on available counter space.
"Thank you, Jared. That was very sweet of you."
Okay, relieved from civic service for the evening. He could deal with that. He removed from one bag a book he'd insisted they'd buy and went out to sit on the grass and enjoy the lack of sun. He lay back opening his book and soon saw the clouds and branches were not the only things blocking out the light.
The Kuno female scion smiled down at him from the tree above him. "Well, I can see poor Sasuke was right. You really *are* the very image of that character. Tell me, can you laugh?"
"Mad Scientist, Villain, or plain?"
The gymnast nodded, sweeping him up into the tree alongside her with her ribbon. "That was answer enough, my fine one. Tell me, are you all that you are said to be?"
He shifted uncomfortably. "That depends on what I am said to be. But it seems likely that parts of it, at least, are exaggerated."
She released him. "Well, then. A modest superstar. I am thrilled that you sought me out to make my acquaintance. We'll meet again." Kodachi leaped away laughing.
Yup, she was loony.
But it was a happy loony. Jared had hung out with far crazier people. He went and grabbed his book and went inside. Maybe the videos could tell him something.
With trembling hand and hesitation bordering on phobia Sailor Pluto handed Fiona a transformation pen. "In order to put pause on the tangling of Fate you shall stand as the of Protector of Earth, though remember you have no duties. This is to put a patch on the reweaving of destinies only."
"Gee, I though Darien already had that role." Fiona took the pen gladly and began to run her fingers over it, turning it over and examining it adoringly.
"No, that was not to be his role. Darien was a Prince of Earth, yes. But in spite of that being his origin he was destined to become the consort and protector of the New Queen Serenity."
"Oh. How do you make these things work? Just hold it over your head and shout, Earth..."
Susan removed her hand from the young lady's mouth. "We'll go over that when it comes time." ~Which it never will, so don't worry.~ "Now, this is very important, in our original timeline, Earth was just another adjunct to the Moon Kingdom. What is rapidly forming is a history where there was an alliance of civilized worlds, each with its own rulers under the united reign of Queen Serenity. While not a *bad* thing this is not what time was meant to have been. And so we must act to prevent it. What I need you to do is..."
"Why must we prevent it?"
Susan smiled evenly. "Well, among other things, if this change is allowed to proceed unchecked you will eventually be married to the King of Earth. So..."
"Is he cute?"
Susan blinked again. "Is who what?"
Fiona looked up from her examination of her transformation rod. "This king guy, is he cute?"
"He doesn't exist yet." Sailor Pluto answered honestly.
"Then how am I supposed to marry him?"
The green-haired Sailor spent several moments unbending that. With relief, she sighed. "Don't worry. You won't have to. Now..."
"'Cause I could never marry him if he wasn't cute."
Susan just smiled mysteriously to let the other person think what she wanted, but inwardly decided that maybe her interpersonal skills needed some work. Being alone for long stretches of guardianship hadn't been supposed to impact them *too* badly. But when it came to there being a complete inability for her to converse with another human maybe she'd been alone too long.
"And had a nice car." Fiona related. "'Cause if he didn't have one then how could he take me out to the movies on dates?"
Sailor Pluto continued smiling, her left eye twitching almost unnoticeably. "That is not supposed to matter, you know. We are working to prevent..."
"Would he have a big house?"
Sailor Pluto blinked and tried *not* to sweatdrop, failing ever so lightly. "I'm sorry, why do all the possessions of this nonexistent person trouble you so much?"
"Would *you* marry him if he was poor? What if he couldn't even afford to give you dresses or chocolate?" The girl stared up at the green haired Sailor.
Susan blinked in rapidfire staccato, then smiled weakly. "It's not my job to marry him. I have to work against him even showing up."
Fiona turned up large, soulful eyes. "But what if it was?"
"Excuse me?" Sailor Pluto froze into immobility. ~Wasn't there something about having some control over time that was to prevent being caught off-guard like this?~
Fiona sighed. "Suppose I couldn't, and *you* had to. Would you marry this king if he was poor?"
"He's going to be a king." Susan finally replied. "He could have any house, as large or small, as he wanted, and own the nicest car there ever was..."
Fiona frowned. "If you have *too* nice a car then you can't ever park it 'cause other people would ding it up." She intoned wisely.
~Were all people this hard to deal with?~
"Fiona, if this person comes into being he would be the King of Earth. He could use the continent of Africa for a parking lot if he wanted."
The young lady was shaking her head. "Nope. Africa isn't close to anything. Who'd want to walk that far?"
Pluto was going insane.
Ranma-chan came in from practicing to find Jared in front of the tube, a stack of Skysaber videos around him. He was looking slightly sick.
Ranma-chan was drying her hair. "Hey, what's up? I thought you didn't *want* to know that stuff?"
Jared turned a green face to look at her. "And I was right. You'd think from this that I'd never spent a normal day! And *some* of that stuff! Gah! Okay, I've had alot of friends, and most of them were girls. I guess that makes them technically girlfriends. But this has every single one of them trying to seduce me!"
Nabiki leaned in. "Ranma, could you come out here please?"
Ranma left. Behind him, Jared was putting away the stack of tapes with a look of disgust. Nabiki grabbed her confederate and dragged him away to the far corner of the lawn.
"Ranma, I think this guy really *is* the genuine article. You've seen how he reacted to his tapes? Well, for scientific purposes, I made a pass at him. He didn't even *notice!* I always thought it was a bit far fetched that a guy that good looking could be so innocent about girls and still so good at all the romantic stuff. I mean, doesn't that seem odd to you? That he could be so good about the game yet indifferent, even oblivious, to victory?"
Ranma wasn't an expert on these things, but it was always easier to observe from the outside, and anime (and sitcoms, for that matter) tended to grind your face in details like that.
"Yeah, Nabiki, it's really strange." Ranma-chan agreed, thinking how odd it was that anyone could miss anything so obvious.
From within a light fixture the three faeries looked on.
"Well, we've followed him. Now what do we do?" Merryweather remarked.
"He wasn't hard to find, dearie. It seems that more than half his belongings were enchanted by that little wish of ours. We'd have to be a great deal more out of practice than we are not to find so many items of Faerie."
"How'd he get an everfull purse?"
Flora tapped her wand agitatedly against her chin at Merryweather's question. She peered more closely at the belongings of the young man they were tracking. "Oh, my goodness! Do you see what he's done with it?"
"What is it, Flora?"
"A VERY solid multi-part enchantment. You'd think Oberon himself had done this one, and so very complicated too! I'm more the type to grant enchanted armor, myself. But I have to admit that in a modern society this enchanted gear would be more useful."
Fauna flew up to look over her shoulder.
"What does it do?"
"Hush, dear. Best if he finds out and we just watch him go about it."
Back in the house, Jared had abandoned for the moment his attempt to study the official materials and figured something out on his own. It was not random that his waist pouch and laser pointer both had powers. It seemed that both were items he was rarely without, and as such had undergone some sort of anime transformation.
Made sense in a way. Normal life didn't make for great anime. Not unless that normal life was swiftly shattered by aliens, magic, mecha or battlesuits.
That was why he was presently involved in examining his watch. Even more than his pouch or nerd toy this was something he'd always had with him. It was the One True Watch, so named because half his brothers had bought identical ones and they had mock arguments as to which was better. It was sleek, black and digital, and normal enough in appearance that you didn't at first realize that it had more computing power than NASA did during the space administration. It simultaneously tracked time in all zones of the world, had multiple, programmable alarms, acted as a stopwatch, a timer, kept track of telephone numbers...
...He even had it remembering people's birthdays.
It was *quite* a watch, and right now he was trying to figure it out. If anything, this deserved a place in what he was beginning to think of as his 'Superspy Survival Kit.' The interface had altered somewhat during the transition. But so far he hadn't found anything interesting.
Kasumi came in. "Ah, Jared, there you are. I was wondering if you would call the Cat Cafe for me. I promised to invite Shampoo and Cologne over the next time we were having sweet buns, and Akane is on the phone right now."
The redhead cocked his head at her curiously. "Then how do I call them?"
Kasumi reacted with surprise that an explanation was even required. "Use the nerd toy."
Jared took out the object and looked at it. On a hunch he squeezed its middle. Two arms snapped out, unfolding like a Swiss army knife, one to speak in, one to listen from. His watch face began blinking. On impulse he typed the number Kasumi gave him into the watch's control panel.
Through the nerd toy he began to hear ringing.
Made sense. He'd grown up a nerd and nerds *liked* their toys to have more than one function. That the watch and nerd toy were somehow a linked set seemed somewhat obvious when he thought about it. Someone answered on the other end.
"Cat Cafe, what you order?"
"Shampoo?" He asked. "Yes, this is... uh, this is Skysaber. I'm over at the Tendo home right now. Kasumi just asked me to call."
"You stupid crank-caller." The voice on the other end said. "No such person as Skysaber. Why you try and fool Shampoo?"
He sighed. "Shampoo, it truly doesn't matter. Kasumi says they're having sweet buns tonight and asked that I call and invite you and your great grandmother. Would you care to come?"
There was silence on the other end for awhile. "Okay, great grandmother say we come. But if you lie to Shampoo..."
Jared got one of those weird whims that got him into so much trouble. Almost unable to help himself he slipped into a flawless copy of her accent and cried out into the phone. "Aiyah! Shampoo no believe Skysaber? Skysaber kill!"
You could *hear* the blinking on the other end.
Shampoo's voice came again. "Oooh, you IS Skysaber! Shampoo send order right away!"
"Skysaber no ask you send order, Cat-Girl! Skysaber ask you come be guest, eat sweet buns with Violent Girl and Too-Too-Nice-Girl and Nasty Extortionist Girl and Shampoo's Airen! Be nice nice and bring great grandmother, okay?"
Several silent moments, then...
"Why anime star stay at Tendos?"
"Is contract. Strange person come to Nerima, has something to do with Ranma, yes? Skysaber have no...uhm, what word? Skysaber not know why, just come. Arrive at Tendos'. Maybe find out why here later."
"You sure you Skysaber? You not nasty, violent maniac come to hurt Airen?"
Rather than deal with the unspoken threat Jared handed the nerd toy over to Kasumi. She held it to her ear and began speaking to Shampoo while he collapsed, laughing, into the background.
"Yes, Shampoo?" She smiled, as if the glow could be seen through the phone. "Yes, I'm afraid that *was* Jared. He's being very sweet letting me use the nerd toy to call you. You know how protective he is of it. Yes, that's right. We'll expect you in half an hour then. Goodbye."
She handed the nerd toy back, the arms were already retracting into pen shape. The redhead rolled up and accepted it, slipping it back in his pouch.
"Ah, Kasumi?" He asked, stopping her from getting up immediately. "Where did I get all this fancy stuff? It's not the sort of thing you normally find on an actor, artist, or whatever else I've been this week."
She blinked. "Oh, that's right. You didn't get them until later, when you became an international superspy adventurer. If you'll excuse me, dinner is nearly ready and it needs my attention."
She got up and left.
Jared leaned back. Superspy? Why did that send shuddering chills down his spine? The whimsical label for the abilities his stuff had gained came back to haunt him. Why did it seem like everything he thought or did somebody was always viewing in the past tense and wondering why it was taking him so long to catch up?
He'd never had the inclination toward espionage anyway. He would watch the tapes and learn more but it was frankly painful. All those little details that you never really wanted anyone to know about being plastered all over the screen and dwelt on.
Good for laughs, but when it was your life being plastered it was as painful as a gut wound. Less traumatic to learn everything by running smack into it and getting a few bumps from the experience.
Nabiki and Ranma were leaning in the door and had been staring at him.
Jared leaned back to regard the ceiling. "Why do I feel like I'm not in control of this situation?"
With a trepidacious hand, he reached out and picked up his book again.
The phone rang.
Soun emerged from his newspaper and indicated that he should get it.
Jared lifted the telephone handset, in his distress forgetting himself momentarily and answering it in his usual mode of 'discourage telemarketers'.
"Mouse fat, follicle and goose creature?" He said in the same tone of voice as a secretary answering for a business.
The person on the other end spent minutes laughing until Skysaber finally hung up on him. Soun had disappeared behind his paper and was trying hard not to break out roaring in obvious, absurd glee himself.
The phone rang again.
Soun sobered himself completely for just long enough to indicate again that the young man should get it.
Jared answered with the next set of random words to pop into his mind.
"Demented lunatics dot com."
The newspaper shook with concealed laughter.
Jared tolerantly reflected that this was going to be a long evening.
Flora tapped her wand in great agitation, pacing back and forth thinking. "We have *got* to cause that boy trouble somehow. But how? If things go undisturbed as they are..."
"He might have a happy ending?" Merryweather queried.
"Now what would be so bad about that?" Fauna inquired, emerging from the depths of one of Nabiki's open manga.
Flora didn't calm down in the slightest. "THAT doesn't concern me so. It's the *irregularity* of the whole arrangement that troubles me! Here he's got himself a whole collection of magical Fae items when we usually only give them out one at a time, and haven't given them for centuries at any rate. THEN there's the fact that there's not one, decent, limiting factor involved. No using it only til midnight, or by the light of the moon, or within the bounds of a forest, or even disappearing with sunlight!" Flora hopped and came to a disgruntled seat on the shade of a desk lamp. "I tell you we've not given out such a store of special items since the last dragon war mistake when the same prince had to fight the dragons, rescue a princess from a hill of glass *and* cure his father's rheumatism! It's unnatural."
"Rheumatism?" Fauna blinked.
"It was only a third rate curse." Merryweather explained.
Flora wondered briefly what the other two were talking about.
"So are you objecting that he *has* those things or that he doesn't appear to have any use for them?" Fauna ventured to ask the older faerie.
Flora's wand began to fountain sparks as her eyes came alight with excitement. She quickly floated to a bouncing little drop and ushered in her two friends. "Oh! That gives me an idea!"
"Are you saying we should give him rheumatism?" Merryweather doubted.
"I don't think it would work." Fauna hesitated. "If he has any control over..."
"No, no, no. It was the *purpose* that gave me an idea." Flora enthused, finally getting what she felt was a good course of action. She resumed pacing, but it served merely to emphasize her words. "It should be plain that this boy wanted to become some kind of hero. I don't see why we didn't see that at first, after all, he *is* qualified. And what else could all that practice have been about? No, we only have to see that he gets to be properly heroic doing something and then we can turn him into a toad and leave him in a pond somewhere. It will be the end of our problems!"
"No happy ending?" Fauna gently objected.
"It can be happy," Flora conceded. "It just won't be ever after, is all. We'll let him slay the dragon or marry the princess or whatever and *then* zap him."
"I don't like that plan." Merryweather began to get huffy.
"Oh dear," Fauna looked back and forth between the two, knowing they would never compromise. And she *so* wanted a happy ending herself, too. She risked her own reply to Flora. "No, I don't think that would work. For one thing we haven't got any dragons or princesses handy."
"There's at least one, the Moon Princess."
"But she's spoken for. It's a Destined Romance. We're supposed to be good faeries. We can't interfere with one of those." Merryweather felt her objections were gaining some headway.
"Oh." Flora deflated.
Fauna used her wand and pulled out a manga that had no right to be in this universe. Stepping onto the pages, she indicated a few frames. "How about we put him in this story?" She asked of her fellows.
"Does it have any princesses in it?" Merryweather floated over to see for herself.
Flora floated over herself, reading a few pages that they used sparkles to turn. "Interesting. I see potential for the characters, but I'm not sure that this Herb person qualifies as a dragon."
"How does it end?" Merryweather poked in.
Fauna looked around. "Well, I'm not sure there's an *official* ending..."
"You can't have a story without an ending!" The blue faerie protested, floating up into the air in her agitation.
Fauna appeared anxious. "Well, I don't know that there ever was a finish written by the author. But this is at least one of the more *influential* of the endings proposed by her court."
She pulled out of space a printed out copy of The Bitter End by Zen. The three faeries perused it. After Fauna had waved her wand and transformed it to manga format for easier reading, that is.
"Not very happy, is it?" Merryweather concluded at the end of it.
Even Flora was shaking her head. "No, we'd have to be Unseelie to do that one. Besides, this story is more about street brawling than any *true* quests. Haven't you got anything where the world is at stake?"
Fauna pulled out another manga that had no right to be there. They flipped through it for some long minutes. "It has promise." Flora finally concluded. "And the power levels are about right. We wouldn't want all of that equipment of his to go to waste, though, and it doesn't seem to fit right for some reason. I would *like* to involve him in this. But perhaps we should think of something else as well."
Sighing mournfully, Merryweather backed up against an untidy stack of Nabiki's recently-read and not yet replaced manga. Her tiny weight brought the stack down on her.
Both other faeries flitted over and used their wands to unbury her. When they lifted off the last book Merryweather's eyes were round and she sparkled to the other two faeries. "I have an idea!" She offered excitedly.
"What is it?" Her friends both chorused.
Merryweather's expression grew cunning. "Okay, but if you agree to it then you have to agree to a happy ending."
"We'll see." Flora primly refused to surrender.
"Perhaps if we agree not to cause him hurt ourselves." Fauna tried to act as go between. Though it meant that they could cause all sorts of trouble and still lead him to some of the worst messes they could find, there still *might* be a happy ending.
All the faeries had figured that out automatically. Both others peeked out of their fortresses of crossed arms and closed eyes, judging the other's reaction.
"Agreed." Both replied at the same time.
Merryweather then hopped up on the stack of books that had fallen on her, highlighting with her wand the title on an upright volume 'Skysaber.'
"See? It's the *perfect* story!"
The trio spent only moments perusing, even Flora emerged glowing. "You know, I think you're right!"
The door opened and the three instantly vanished in diminutive clouds of short-lived sparkles. Nabiki entered her room, caught note of the disarray, and went to straighten her fallen manga collection.
In moments she was lifting out the few that didn't belong. "Ranma 1/2? Sailor Moon? Hmm, interesting." Fitting a rice cracker between her teeth she sat down and began to read.
To be continued...
The Oberon for this piece is one who has a great deal of power and experience, yet is bored beyond belief and so likes to savor each victory and make each kill last a long time.
In other words he isn't used to working hard at anything, and isn't in any hurry to win in any case. He feels he has infinite opportunities to try without ever being in any kind of real danger.
Other words: Cocky, overconfident, yet remaining brilliant and powerful. Also his status in the Unseelie Court is a great secret, as he passes himself off in the opposing Seelie court as Titiana's sortuv rascally second in command. The getting out of this secret would hurt him more than any other thing a mortal could do.
It would also ensure said mortal's demise.