Episode One, Part Two
Marshaling of Sides
by Jared Ornstead
The air rippled and a Prince of the Fae stepped forward, noting behind him the fading trail of magical energies of the spell which had carried him thither. Oberon's directive, to gather a truly impressive harem for the King of the UnSeelie, was to be implemented. However, Oberon had also commanded that it be done with style.
Apparently the latest meeting between Queen Titania and the king hadn't gone all that well. Names had been called, insults exchanged, and the royal architects were now rebuilding a wing of the Castle Fae. Replacing those mountains would be a little more difficult.
Shuras wasn't familiar with the series, or he would have related being at the Faerie Court with the King and Queen both present to being stuck in a Dragonball Z episode. Sooner or later, the fight would start and woe to anything caught in the blast radius.
So the dark elf mage wasn't terribly unhappy with being assigned to an entirely different dimension. Just the lack of work required to restore people and things to their true forms would have made him much more pleasant about this task.
Pleasant for someone who considers ritual dissection and feeding live enemies to hordes of monster spiders elegant pastimes was not likely to be anything anyone else would use the term for.
Scanning around the street, he garbed himself via illusion in a casual suit and sport jacket, complete with a set of shades, then slid one hand into a pocket and went walking down the street turning his thoughts over the matter of how to go about this directive with an appropriate style and flair suitable to his instructions.
Stopping by a magazine stand, one which happened to have biographies of the recent warriors of this world, gave him the seeds of an idea.
Jared was nose-deep in a softcover tome and showed no signs of coming up for air anytime soon. Akane, noting his fascination with something, came in close enough herself to discover what it was.
"Skysaber, The Role Playing Game." She read, puzzled and bemused.
The redhead nodded without looking up from his reading.
Akane seemed to feel bolstered by this, sliding down to sit next to him. "Who'd have thought, huh? I mean, here you are interested in your own fan material!"
He looked up with the grin of feeding on ambrosia. "Actually, I'm not interested in the game for that. What *really* bugs me is that everybody I've met so far knows more about me and what I can do than I do myself. So I'm brushing up. The game company hasn't published any of the sourcebooks yet, but the basic rules are *alot* of help." He gave her a wry grin. "And the amusing part of this is that, due to being their lead star, I get to have an extremely high ability cap."
"I've never played any of those. You'll have to tell me what that means." Akane asked politely, wearing one of her trademark Ranma Charming grins.
Jared got a little edgy at that. Akane's cute grins, while very cute, *did* tend to herald disaster, at least for certain pigtailed martial artists, and he was uncertain how far the blast radius extended on things like that. Well, he was a noncombatant anyway, so it shouldn't matter. He spread open his book and flopped on his belly. "Okay, this is one of those games that's not all that hot on detail. I don't much like their system, but I understand the basic rules. It's not unlike the Sailor Moon role playing game."
"But Sailor Moon and the Scouts are real people." Akane objected.
He looked at her.
"What?" The youngest Tendo asked.
Jared struggled a bit and looked oddly introspective. "This is so weird. Okay, role-playing in general. It is a game style where all the action takes place in your own imagination. You use people that don't exist as a way of interacting with whatever scenarios the person running the world can come up with. Those can be as simple or as complex as he can think to conjure up. But since nothing involved actually exists, there have to be ways of deciding fairly whether this thing or that is even possible, especially since you may well be playing characters whose powers are far beyond the normal. Okay so far?"
Akane nodded, totally clueless but being agreeable because it was what the girls at school said to do in this kind of situation. "That makes sense, I guess. So what does this have to do with what you are so excited about?"
Jared turned back to his book. "All game systems use rules to describe what is possible and what is not. The ones based on a series *also* tend to give you the main characters' stats as described by those rules so you can understand what the values really mean."
He flipped open to the page with a full color illustration of his anime self. "You see? A list of powers and abilities." He tapped the page in triumph. "Now I can figure out what I am known to do, or at least gain an idea of the direction *they* think my stats should be derived. For example, see here? I've been listed as having a healing touch. This is good, as I did not know that."
Akane blinked at that. "Well, sure. I mean you use that all the time." She replied, at first confused, then brightening, confident that she'd gotten the concept at last. "Oh! I see what you mean. You haven't seen that part of the series yet, have you?"
He nodded. "Got it, and given how uncomfortable they are to watch I may never have the knowledge you guys do. Role playing games, on the other agile digit, attempt to lay down facts like how strong and fast I'm supposed to be without the in between material that's causing me so much shame and embarrassment watching the series."
The short haired Tendo double blinked. "But I don't think you have anything to be embarrassed about. I think the series makes you look Really Awesome! Hey!" She smiled, rising up from the floor. "C'mon, we can go watch some together! There's this *really* cool episode where you infiltrate some Galactic Police agency and get sent along with their top agents to..."
Jared found himself being dragged along to the living room.
The three faeries munched popcorn from little buckets while watching the boy who'd gotten their wish subjected to a good thirty minutes of his show, trying not to feel dreadfully embarrassed at first while the opening credits showed him showering as part of the running blend of scenes leading up to that day's part of the whole story.
He did, in fact, sing in the bath.
Once the actual story part of the tape had started he didn't feel so bad, as it was an action adventure episode and the scantily clad girls hanging about didn't seem to be immediately set on doing more than flirting. Which was good.
The faeries giggled together, twittering in amusement as Akane delighted in bringing the boy's attention to this or that heroic action.
"He really *doesn't* have a clue, does he?" Fauna sighed contentedly. "Mortals are such delightfully contrary creatures. I could watch them do things like this for ages."
"He doesn't seem *much* more hopeless than the average mortal." Flora tried to put a reasonable spin on it. "They do confuse me so. How ever do they propagate their own species? It certainly isn't because of their great ability to perceive a potential partner's willingness."
"Well, *this* is interesting!" Merryweather chirped out from where she'd been doing a liberal amount of mind reading.
The two other faeries floated over. "Oh? Do tell."
"Yes, what have you found?"
Merryweather used blue sparkles to highlight parts of the mortals minds that made it obvious, to anyone with any experience, what the humans were feeling. She started with Akane. "This girl is obviously in love with him from what she's seen him do in his TV show and manga books." The blue fairy observed.
The other two nodded, a trifle bored at anything so ridiculously obvious being pointed out.
Merryweather switched her attention over to Jared. "But look at this. *He's* seen the TV show *she* appears in as well, and he dislikes her intensely for what he's seen her do in *that* series!"
"Dislikes her?" Fauna flittered back in deliberation, glancing over at the mortals in concern. "But why is he being so nice to her?"
Flora's eyes were now quite wide. While the pink fairy considered her secret thoughts, Merryweather went over and answered Fauna's question by probing further and highlighting parts of the data revealed.
"You can see right here. He doesn't think it's honorable to mistreat her. At least not based on a passel of things she hasn't even done yet, and so his guard is up and he's not willing to trust her, but he's treating her with basic kindness til he has a better reason not to."
"I guess that *is* something a hero would do, isn't it?" Fauna admitted.
Flora practically exploded with glee. "We have GOT to see this one though! It has to have been more than a millennium since we've had a love/hate relationship on *top* of so many mortals..."
All three faeries stilled like wild animals sensing a greater predator nearby. After a brief moment the feeling passed and the whole trio voiced one word.
Fauna looked in desperate fright to the other two.
"One of his servants, dear." Flora attempted to soothe. "That unpleasant prince, Shuras."
"Too much like an Unseelie for *my* tastes." Merryweather, apt to disapprove of secretive Fae in general and dark elves in particular, added.
There was a little known fact that the Faerie realms had a natural order all their own, and just like in ordinary nature, the smaller animals had an almost precognitive sense about when the *big* predators were lurking. They couldn't always hide, but the forest did tend to get unnaturally still when something large was about.
Being naturally small yet quite old meant these three were unnaturally good at hiding. It was an inescapable skill, you couldn't get there without it. Though size in this case was more a convenient way of referring to power. Titania could easily be as tiny as they, but counted as one of the largest Fae about. Only Oberon was nearly her equal. Well, that and some unexplained things that acted without reason or purpose all that much, so were generally avoided or ignored.
Flora was all for getting huffy. "Well, isn't that like him. *WE* spend several thousand years off in the hinterlands and the moment something *interesting* comes up..."
"He's not here for that." Fauna whispered, brushing off a terrified Merryweather, who had become fairly clingy. The green fairy had been checking up on their gossip ring, probably the lowest use ever for such a staggering amount of magic, but the priorities of the Fae were like that. In a few minutes she had the whole story and relayed it to her friends. To sum it up, Oberon was feeling a little randy and decided that dimensional hopping was a great new thing to collect concubines. So he'd sent out highly-powered servants to do all of the work for him.
"You mean he's going to mess up everything we've done here," ~no matter how unintentionally~ "just for another in that endless string of trysts of his?" Flora was not amused. "I protest!"
The three faeries nodded, then huddled.
"How do we best go about it?"
"...can't oppose him directly..."
"We *do* have that hero handy."
The three faeries separated and performed a unified nod, then rushed over to the comic books.
"Now how are we going to go about doing this?"
Sailor Pluto had finally figured part of this out. She'd summoned this abnormally quick-witted girl here to help her take care of a few things. But before they'd gotten that far the girl had managed to get herself bonded to the blank template Pluto had created to temporarily put a stop to certain disastrous changes. The reason they'd called Fiona in the first place was to guide the construct until Sailor Pluto could eliminate the tangle.
Then she'd accidentally blended her assistant into her creation.
It turns out that the average of a keen mind and a blank one wasn't high on the maturity scale.
Well, the 'construct of Fate' created was clearly no longer simply disposable, not bonded with the girl's essence like that. There would be a chance she could separate them later, but that would have to be done *after* the present problems were dealt with.
Susan really *did* need that gap in reality patched before it grew any larger. It was just that now the quick wits of the girl were part of the patch she'd been planning on using, and she didn't have another of either patch or girl.
Sailor Pluto tweaked a few lines of destiny. It looked as if the girl would have to be employed as she was. Some swift damage control to restore a little of her original personality, then into the flow with her.
Possibly the easiest thing about this all was that since she was to be plugging a blank hole in Fate, the entire universe would react to Fiona as if she'd always been there. The greatest conflict here would be that the girl was now the living embodiment of a fate Pluto didn't want to happen, rather than an advisor who could limit its impact.
Once the hybrid girl had accepted that destiny it would be difficult to restrict her, but Sailor Pluto didn't see any *other* options floating around handily.
Starting over wasn't an option. Corrupting the heroine sent her was Pluto's fault. She wouldn't get another, and couldn't use any from her own universe as they had destinies there already.
She wasn't about to use the boy.
Fiona would require a close protector during this, the poor girl being a veritable golem of dimensional energies at this point, but would have a part of her personality restored and perhaps enough of those wits would remain she would hopefully get the job done right.
Trying was Sailor Pluto's only option.
Susan settled into the long task. Once she was done she could plug the girl into that empty slot in their history as she'd first intended, hopefully without confusing the girl too badly. There would be conflicts, but with her wits the girl could manage them without strain to this reality.
Nabiki trotted downstairs, comic still in hand, and found Jared taking a short nap on the porch. She nudged him.
Jared woke up, rubbing his face. "Oy, it was a recurring dream where I missed a whole year of math class."
"You did. That was first season." Nabiki replied, smirk in place.
He recovered and thought about it. "Oh, you're right. I did. Pity, I even liked that teacher." The redhead sat up more fully. "So what's up?"
She pressed the magazine into his view. "What's this?"
Jared studied it for only a brief moment. "Looks to me like Ranma 1/2 manga, the series you guys were in, why?"
"And this?" Another was pressed into his view.
"Sailor Moon. Say, where did you get this?"
"They were dropped in my room, care to explain that?" Nabiki's hands found their ways to her hips.
"It would appear that my fantastical, cosmic powers have done it specifically to reward you for being so kind to me." He replied sarcastically.
Nabiki's lips fought her smirk from turning into a smile, then she lost it and broke up laughing. As she wiped a tear away she replied. "Okay, so that was a little ridiculous to ask. Sure, it *had* to be you, no one else could have done it. All I wanted to know was *why* you did it." She thumbed through the Sailor Moon manga. "Because it's not every day that you learn the secret identities of your local superheroines."
He hadn't intended that jibe as anything other than an obvious and witty way of saying 'I didn't do it.' But apparently that required something along the lines of not having done it being a something you could take for granted, and what SHE took for granted went the other way.
Still, there was a problem here to be solved.
Jared sat up. "I *do* hope you realize that the information you've gained could very easily cause the deaths of all those Sailors, and their friends, and by extension your family, you, and your entire world?"
Nabiki rolled her eyes. "Get real, Skysaber. They've already *dealt* with the threat they stood against. Maybe now they need a little publicity to come out of hiding."
"Which threat?" He asked her sternly, with a very level gaze. "Do you mean Queen Beryl, the Doom Tree Series, or perhaps you mean the Dark Moon family, or Nephrinia? Or maybe that lady in one of the later series who was going to engulf the universe in the total silence of death?"
Nabiki had grown VERY still.
He cocked his head and shook it sadly at her. "What, you forget that some of these anime are ongoing? I hope for your sake that you haven't called anyone as yet, because if you *sell* that information then it goes public, which means their enemies can get it, which means those cute little girls can be destroyed one by one, in ambush, and then all you helpless little victims have nothing to stand between you and a world -destroying power that can take someone of Ranma's level and easily transform him into a pathetic wimp via energy drain. If they didn't just squish him like a bug without batting an eyelash. Those kind of threats don't take resistance from mere humans with much grace."
Nabiki had gone bone white.
He slid the Sailor Moon manga out from Nabiki's nerveless grasp and slid it into his Standard Light Urban Survival Pack, in one of the more secure areas. With that completed, he leaned back. "Okay, how many people did you tell?"
Nabiki shook herself out of her trance, venturing a wane smile. "No one as yet. I got curious and wanted to know why you'd showed *me*. I figured there had to be a reason and so I came to ask."
Jared examined her features for falsehood, then gave it up. If Nabiki was lying he was not the sort of person who could pick it up. He swept up his book. "Not everything is so we can pad our pockets, Nabiki."
She was relaxing again, so he *hoped* that meant the Sailor Scouts' secret was still, as yet, unrevealed. Time would tell. Actually, if she wasn't paranoid at this point then *she* at least felt the secret was safe. He relaxed.
Nabiki leaned in to read the cover of the book he was perusing, brushing a stray lock of hair out of her face. "So why are you studying a game based on you?" She asked.
He shrugged. "It's all information. THIS, for example, is very useful."
Nabiki produced a rice cracker and munched as she read over his shoulder. "I see. Well, they've got the contents of your Superspy Survival Kit, but what does this 'Item of Power, level 4' mean anyway?"
He grinned, turning back pages. "Anything you don't know, you look up. Back here under Character Creation it lists Items of Power. You see?"
Nabiki picked up the book and read. "An Item of Power is any object that either directly enhances the player or serves as a tool or weapon... Hmm..." Her cheeks moved, reducing rice cracker, until she found the end. "Aha! For example, the bag of tricks Skysaber calls his Superspy Survival Kit is composed of at least sixty different items, many of which are individually named, from a watch and laser pistol to parasols and bubble gum. And while each of these alone has only limited power, he seems to be able to produce any object or tool fitted to his need. This combines to provide a great advantage to the character."
She lowered the book. "I don't get it."
Jared sighed tolerantly. "This is why the game provides examples, so you can get a sense of how the scales of power are related. In a similar system I once read, Sailor Moon carries a disguise pen that lets her pass herself off as just about anything and be believed. That's a level one item. Someone blew up a universe-eating monster and reincarnated several million people with one that was level six. Frankly, I think mine would be lower except they say that it can produce practically limitless amounts of cash."
Bits of cracker went flying and Nabiki stared at the rulebook, then back at the pouch Jared wore at his side.
The redhead reclaimed his book, not even noticing, hugging it to his chest and giggling, kicking his feet. Then he relaxed and said. "So you can see why I'm excited to read this. I finally get to learn the rules! ANYONE who knows the rules will be a better player!"
He spent a little while giggling in joy, then popped up to his feet. "I can't *wait* to try out some of the things they list here that I can supposedly do. Even though it *says* that I'm not very accurate doing transformations I think I could get it right with time."
Jared noticed Nabiki was choking and gave her the Heimlich.
"You okay?" The redheaded male put a hand on her shoulder after the cracker had been dislodged.
Nabiki nodded furiously, excusing herself.
He was just considering offering to try out if he did, in fact, have healing powers when he heard the doorbell and almost simultaneously fell under the awesome power of a mega super glomp.
"Nihau! Skysaber to buy Shampoo lots of new dresses for to impress Ranma, yes?"
A hand emerged from the hole in the floor underneath the Amazon. "Anything, just... air!" The hand found something soft blocking his way out. "Ack!"
"Dinner's ready!" Kasumi's voice came from inside.
Sailor Pluto made her corrections as best she could and dropped the young girl into the timestream at an appropriate moment, triggering her to come to wakefulness at landing. She was to be dropped at the Cherry Hill Shrine, where she could be cared for and any defects in her redesign compensated for, and could remain close to the Scouts.
For some odd reason she felt the urge to cross her fingers. But, being the Scout of Time, felt above the action.
It was below her dignity.
Fiona barely avoided dancing on the lawn of the Cherry Hill shrine as she saw it all come into phase around her. She was here!
And she was a PRINCESS!
Quivering with the force of her suppressed excitement, Fiona struck what she felt was a princess-like pose and attempted to waft across the lawn. She was charm. She was beauty. She was...
Tripping upon the ends of her own hair, the girl went down flailing her arms, tumbling all the way down the shrine steps.
Pluto's face fell into her hands.
Jared was in a private hell.
Considering how crowded the country was that was pretty hard to do.
This was Japan, he supposed he should have connected that with Japanese cooking. He'd had plenty of warning when they'd bought squid at the market. Still, he hadn't the least bit of doubt that Kasumi was one of the best cooks in the world, without peer considering the conditions she operated in.
And he couldn't eat the food.
Not for lack of trying. He wasn't a finicky eater by choice, but a monochromatic diet when he was growing up had left its mark, and all the willpower or good intentions in the world wouldn't stop him from gagging at certain foods.
Which happened to be just about everything the Japanese traditionally ate.
Seafood of any kind was something he had a problem with. With vegetables he required a long acclimation to decide, case by case, they were okay. Anything that was live, most things if raw... Even the flavored sauces they put on rice were... *shudder!* So he let his undefended bowl get emptied by Genma and excused himself from the table.
Food thieves could be useful sometimes.
Skysaber wandered out into the yard, sighing. Part of that monochrome diet had conditioned him against hunger. One or two days without food wasn't anything serious to him, it would only slow him down. Heck, he hardly *noticed* them! He didn't *get* hungry, only tired. And as he wasn't the guy with all the fiancees around here that probably meant there wouldn't be a need for him to move fast anytime soon anyway.
Which would give him some time to find an alternate source of food.
Suddenly a smell reached out and grabbed his nostrils, yanking his head in the direction of the outside wall around the compound. Without thought his legs began to follow it, leading him around a corner where a table stood ready, with Sasuke beside it, standing in his regular ninja attire with a cloth over one arm and imitating a waiter.
Kodachi sat at the table wearing an elaborate gown.
"Behold, my fine prince! A feast fit for your distinguished pallet!" She swept the cover off and revealed what his nose had already confirmed. Hamburgers, onion rings, and a tall milkshake topped off with cream.
Jared's body tried to move forward on its own but his mind kept his feet pinned to the ground as he asked politely. "Will you be joining me, then?"
Kodachi blinked and looked demurely to the side, closing her eyes. "Sasuke?"
She spoke one word and the little ninja swept away the entire feast, replacing it with a fresh set of plates, new tableware, and a different serving platter full of similar food.
Probably not drugged this time, either.
Just in case, Jared had slipped his hand into the Standard Light Urban Survival Pack, mentally summoning a poison detector he'd read about just a few minutes ago. What he found was a ring, and he slipped than on a finger, hoping he knew how to use it. But when he removed the hand wearing the ring Kodachi winced visibly.
"You will find no poison in this food, kind sir." She spoke softly.
The redhead wanted to sigh, but did not. It would be bad form. Thinking quickly, he removed the ring quite obviously and put it back in his pouch, sitting down. "I have to thank you for thinking of me, Miss Kuno. How did you know?"
He served her up one burger and himself took the other, waiting politely for her to bite, which she did. She chewed delicately and swallowed. "You are always saying 'this will be good training for if I am ever faced with squid.' And there are two schools of thought on that. One, is that you are dying to try squid, and this is your humorous way of anticipating it. And the one I correctly divined was that you do not like those things being served to you at the times you say that, so obviously you cannot be anticipating squid with any degree of pleasure. Holding it up as an example of those things you most hate."
Jared swallowed, pausing with the tremendously delicious burger in one hand and ready to gleefully spoon milkshake with the other. He nodded with some respect. "I thank you. That was quite perceptive of you."
Food was fuel, but the intaking of that fuel could be quite pleasurable. Pleasure was something he'd never much minded. He might not ever get hungry, but he avoided getting anorexic and dying by training until he *liked* eating.
It made him forget to do it less.
Well, sometimes. Other times he would get busy and go for days without a meal and only discover this when he was nearly fainting. So he tried to be good about enjoying eating and letting himself be enthusiastic about meals so he wouldn't forget them quite as often.
It was no fun, staring at your hand wondering why it was shaking, only to recall that you had no memory of consuming food that week.
Kodachi and he ate a mostly quiet meal together. He without much to say and she thinking deep thoughts. At the conclusion, thanking her for the meal, he went to go back inside the Tendo compound...
...only to run into Kasumi in the front door, looking crushed.
It almost took him a minute to figure it out. When he did he felt terrible. Suddenly ashamed, the redhead bowed. "Kasumi... I... I apologize. I cannot think of what to say. You cooked what *had* to be a wonderful meal, and I went and did something stupid and offensive without even thinking about the effort you went through. I am sorry."
On impulse he dropped to one knee before her, head toward the ground. "For my behavior I apologize."
Kasumi made no answer for a second, then he could hear her take a deep breath. "That's okay, Jared. You could have told me, though."
He raised a smile to her. "If I had two brain cells to rub together I surely would have. But my mind, I'm afraid, was on other things. In my preoccupation I did not make the connection and so led to this. I am sorry. May I help with the dishes?"
Her eyes closed in a happy smile. "If you wouldn't mind, but I'll need a minute to clear them. You could come in to help me wash in a few minutes."
He nodded, rising to his feet. Kasumi turned and went back into the house while Jared again wandered around inside the yard.
Inside the kitchen, Kasumi took the master shopping list and wrote "NO SQUID!" over the top and double underlined it, then slid it back into the drawer where she kept it.
"Are you alright?"
Fiona opened her eyes to find herself sitting before a girl with long black hair dressed in the robes of a Shinto Priestess.
"Rae?" She whispered in shock, rubbing her head. Falling down the shrine steps seemed to have shaken something loose.
The shrine maiden frowned, then smiled. "Why yes, that's my name. Do I know you?"
The girl jumped as she heard her name and turned around to see a young man running towards her. He was tall, older than her sixteen odd years, and had dark brown hair that fell over his eyes.
"You know her, Chad?" Rae asked.
"Of course!" Chad grinned. "You ought to remember me, right Fiona?" He asked, helping her to her feet, then staring her up and down and grinning. "Wow! You look really good dressed like that. I almost thought you were one of Rae's friends! What are you doing in Japan anyway?" He asked curiously. "I thought you and Karl were going to Europe this year. Did Karl argue with you again?"
Chad frowned then, his stance becoming slightly dangerous, "My God! He did, didn't he?" He snarled, "Just say the word, Fiona and I'll..."
It was at this point that Fiona decided to take the classical way out of a situation she did not understand and that, if she tried to fumble through, might end up making a far more dangerous mess out of. It was better to take the cowardly way out and wait till she knew more about everything. She allowed herself to waver slightly on her feet and pretended to collapse.
Chad jumped to catch her before she was even halfway down. "Fiona?"
"Oh shut up, Chad! It's obvious that she's come a long way, and she's tired." Rae snapped, "Come on, she can use my room to recuperate."
"No, my room is closer." Chad protested. "We can take her there."
"As if I'd let a pervert like YOU take an innocent young girl to your room!" Rae stung in reply. "It'd be like letting Grandpa into a girl's gym locker!"
"THAT'S DISGUSTING RAE!" Chad shouted back at her, for the first time since his arrival, disrespectful to the young priestess. "She's my YOUNGER SISTER!"
~Um. Well, that's *one* question answered.~ Fiona thought.
Outside, Jared had begun searching for that poison sensor again, wondering what else he had in there that he didn't quite know how to use. With that in mind he went about searching through the Standard Light Urban Survival Pack's unplunged depths. It took him no time at all to conclude that it was more than a little bit special in and of itself. For one thing, there was the fact that touching a certain tab caused the whole pouch to change appearance, suitable to just about any disguise. More than that was the minor detail that the pouch held more than it possibly could.
There were items in there he rarely carried just out of space concerns. There were also a number of devices he couldn't readily identify. Two of the most curious he mentally marked for further inspection. One was an elaborate ornament. It looked like a jeweled headband but the one true watch reported it as a synaptic teacher. Which, if it did anything like he thought it would, opened up *vast* possibilities.
The other was a perfectly ordinary seeming cellphone.
Considering the special powers of the nerd toy he found it highly curious that he would carry such a thing, but the in-watch catalog of items only revealed name, not function. The cellphone's name was Cell Slicer, which could mean any number of things, and it might even do most of them. He'd have to investigate later, but right now it was important to get a good overview before delving too far into specifics.
And part of that overview was the mystery of why his dream powers had mostly failed. They should have either worked completely, like if this really was a dream, or not worked at all, proving that this was reality.
One way or the other it was academic. He was here. He was bound by the rules of the scenario until that scenario was over.
But the puzzle intrigued him.
He trotted inside to help with the dishes.
Kodachi wandered by the way and climbed into her family's limo, so un-often used that they'd had to hire a driver and a trio of mechanics to get it moving and out of mothballs for this occasion.
And yet somehow it had seemed appropriate.
~What a stunning concept! He'd actually been willing to eat with me, provided the meal was not drugged. I wonder why I'd not come to that conclusion before?~
Kodachi began to wonder if she could even enjoy the challenge of not cheating at her gymnastics matches. Though if she did how would she then break the change in policy to her team?
Sitting on the girl's head, Fauna was generating an almost imperceptible cloud of sparkles as she altered thought processes, rewired nerves, and eliminated baggage the girl would not need, such as her preoccupation with black flowers.
Flora popped out of nothing, addressing her sister. "What are you doing here? We've almost gotten our surprise ready. Then we find you're not there with us to join in the fun."
"I saw this noblewoman hanging around the house, and couldn't help myself." Fauna replied, still messing with Kodachi's thoughts. "What kind of hero do *you* know that doesn't fight for some higher cause? I just wanted one ready in case that peasant family he's staying with proves to be trouble."
"True..." Flora agreed, then saw an errant thought pass by in the girl's mind that she couldn't help but correct, and soon she was delving in, making her own changes.
"Hey you two!" Merryweather popped out of the air. "I was about to let it go and get the whole thing started, but I can't handle the whole thing alone!"
"Maybe you should see this." Fauna pointed out, still deeply involved in making alterations. Suddenly Kodachi discovered that she held a deep and abiding love for music. Odd that she'd never known this before...
The third fairy floated over. "Hey, what are you doing? Is that a princess?"
All three fae looked up at each other for a brief moment.
"Not yet." Flora and Fauna chorused, liberally mucking about with the girl's mind.
Merryweather floated over to join them. "When are we going to finish the other?"
"In a moment, dear. First we'd like to complete a little meddling here."
Looking in his rear view mirror, the new driver of the Kuno family limo noted a tiny halo of pink, blue and green sparkles around the crown of Kodachi's head, but the look of serene nobility she held was enough for him to hold his peace. So far this was turning out to be a better job than he'd expected. If the young lady wanted to glow from having a meet with her boyfriend... Well, that was okay.
He wondered if he could get that guy's autograph, though. The Real Skysaber? Nah, had to be a trick. A good actor, though. He wondered who was behind the hoax.
"You know... that was *refreshing!*" Flora twirled.
Fauna adjusted her hair, and nodded eagerly. "I must say, it was! A do-it-yourself princess kit! You know, I've never made my own before. The whole concept just seems *invigorating!*"
"There had to be SOME way to address the shortage." Flora said primly. "And now that the *other* thing is underway..."
The two paused and noted the absence of Merryweather.
They floated over to discover her busy doing things to the timestream. "What are you doing, Merryweather?"
The blue faerie concluded her busy little manipulations and eased off a near frenzy of manipulative fidgeting. She shook herself lightly and rainbowed a little cloud of dust - predominantly blue, of course. "Oh? Me? Well, I checked out this princess of ours but she lives in this weird old house..."
"A prisoner?" The other two chorused, pleasantly surprised.
"If so, they didn't have a decent tower, and she *certainly* didn't wash dishes or sweep floors." The blue faerie disapproved.
"Oh dear." Fauna put a hand to her cheek. "What an awful arrangement!"
"No wicked stepmothers?" Flora tried to find a good edge to it.
"No. And no dragons, curses, old trolls, witches, ghosts... or... or ANYTHING!"
"Oh dear." Both faeries disapproved.
"So anyway," Merryweather waved her wand carefully and formed a little chalk board, only she got one of the angles not quite right and ended up getting her wand stuck in it. She pulled and pulled, her wand not quite coming free and bending the whole frame like weak rubber, finally the other two helped her tug and she got it pulled free, though they landed in a little heap and an untidy pile.
They quickly sorted themselves out.
Straightening her skirt properly first, the third faerie floated primly over to her chalkboard, the other two drifting to seats on a thimble and a roll of thread (they were all presently hiding in Kasumi's sewing basket).
Merryweather waved her wand and the chalkboard acquired a chalk scene of the Kuno estate. "You see? Just a weird sort of house with crazy angles. Not even a spouse-killing man with a blue beard would live in such a place."
She got a round of agreement. Murderers with crazy secrets and blue beards were far more ordinary than this sort of ramshackle hut. Who would ever build such a thing? (Faeries were frequently very western in building tastes, if they could be likened to any human culture at all.)
"Well, I couldn't do anything about it *directly*, so I had a wicked old lady who was in the area get a compulsion to go over there and whisper three nights to the head of the household that he was doomed to become a swine if he didn't get the crimson scales from the breast of a fire breathing dragon who lives in the north and wash them three times with the oil drawn from the single flower that grows on the banks of a river of strange powers banked in a valley of mist, then link them into a belt which he was to wear in battle against a great hill ogre and bring back its head to sprinkle its blood on his step."
Her audience nodded. It seemed perfectly straightforward.
The chalkboard was now cumbered with full-color representations of dragons, ogres and misty valleys, crowding out the original chalk rendition of the Kuno house. Merryweather clicked her wand shorter. "I got a promise from the local land spirits they'd redo the house if he did that." She waved the wand and got a full image of a willowy and many towered western castle with blue roofs.
Flora indicated the chalkboard. "But are you sure all those things are there? What if... I mean there aren't many *other* magical things about. What if we don't have a convenient hill ogre or something?"
"I already thought of that!" The third faerie said gleefully. "There's this place named Jusenkyo. All it took was a *little* reprogramming with the basic spells (the poor thing had been abandoned so long), and I've got it pumping out monsters galore! I already went up there and kicked the Guide into the right spring. We've already got our Dragon! Then I ran into this *beautiful* boy who was practically an ogre already and nailed him to a hill nearby so he can't wander around so much! It's a *perfect* plan!"
"Wonderful, dear!" The other two chorused, clapping their hands.
The Guide puffed and sent out a cloud of steam. Fire was no problem, but hot water got too hot! It turned back to steam before it could touch his flesh!
Ryoga turned about. Wasn't this hill familiar somehow? He was sure he'd went this way three times today. Oh well, that looked like a nice cave he could camp out in...
Nodoka wandered the streets of Nerima, her steps turning her once more back to that respectable house on the hill.
Now why did she have this recurring compulsion to tell the owner that he was a pig?
Jared sat meditatively out in the yard while Kasumi remained inside attempting to contain the catastrophe of Ranma, the Tendos and Amazons in the same house by preparing to serve desert.
Ignoring the ruckus indoors and bringing himself firmly into focus, Jared activated the flight power he had always enjoyed in his dreams, throwing all of his considerable dream might into it. There was a moment of extreme resistance, then he floated obediently up off the ground, as if chains had suddenly released him. It was now as easy as he'd always remembered it being, as natural as breathing.
Of course, that initial resistance had blacked him out from immense pain. When he came to he began unclenching his mental muscles and opening his eyes. He was floating cross-legged over the lawn, and Cologne there was looking right at him.
"Interesting. I find it most unusual that a cartoon character would have such a power. Especially a technological hero. Where did you learn your spells, boy?"
Jared cocked an eyebrow, explanations forming. "Ahhh. I understand. You see, I have no explanation of how I got here. I'd been thinking it was a dream, but if it *was* a dream I should have power to do or change anything in it. And I haven't been able to do that. Even trying hurts like few things except a breakup. So my main question was why my ability to change my dreams had worked here at all. Maybe magic *would* be a plausible reason. It does work here, after all."
Cologne pointed her staff at his floating. "You did *that* merely by wishing to? You must have great aptitude, boy. My tribe has numbered one or two powerful sorceresses, and neither of them could fly as casually as you do now."
The redhead landed. It was an act, really. Jared could feel the flight power still active within him, but he could pretend to be affected by gravity. The flight power would lapse when his attention did, but he could tell that it would not be nearly so painful nor difficult to restart it again.
"A good point great-grandmother..." He shoved his fist in his mouth. Eyes wide he bowed in apology. "Sorry, I presume too much. I'm just used to hearing Shampoo call you that. I know your given name, but that hardly seems more appropriate. Forgive me. Could we retain this magic stuff as a secret between us? And, perhaps, could you teach me more of it?"
She chuckled. "No, I'm afraid my spells would be of little use to you. If you can fly through an act of will then you'd be better off discovering your powers on your own. Though I do think we can keep your secret."
Jared blinked, rising again by reflex. "We?"
Cologne twirled her staff, using the end to poke Sasuke out from hiding. "I'd spend some time developing warding spells or danger senses. Because this little ninja here could have caused you alot of trouble."
"Well, err, ah..." Sasuke said. Cologne rapped him to the noggin, then whipped off the ninja's mask to give him a quick shampoo and rinse.
"He'll not bother you now, but think about what I said, sonny-boy. And you owe me one."
"Of course." Sasuke shampooed concerning him? Talk about blinding the Kunos! They relied on the little ninja for all sorts of spying. He owed Cologne a big one for making that threat go away.
Cologne hopped back inside.
Jared landed just as the focus of dessert finally lost some appeal and the household erupted onto the porch from the force of Akane disagreeing with someone. Jared landed awkwardly, slipped and waved his arms wildly before he fell into the koi pond.
Several guests and household members were laughing as the 'international superspy adventurer' pulled his sopping self out of the pond.
"Hey," Jared entered a confident stance. "I make no claim to be perfect..."
"...I only claim to try." They all chorused, finishing his phrase for him.
His head dropped into his palms. "Oh, why do I even bother to open my mouth?"
"To put your foot in?" Nabiki teased, cocking her head at him smugly.
The redhead sat down, lifted his foot, and inserted it into his oral cavity. Taking it out again, he smacking his lips thoughtfully, then said. "No, I'd remember if I did that more often."
"That's not very becoming, Jared." Kasumi reproved the action.
"I'm not concerned right now with impressing people, Kasumi. It seems a hopeless cause." He replied, though inwardly adjusting his standard of behavior upwards slightly in response.
"You know, you really *are* good looking, Jared." Akane pressed, probing what she knew would be his response.
"That's because I take... Mascutone!" Jared posed as if on a game show or commercial and highlighting a bottle of product. What surprised him most was when said bottle materialized in his hands and he found he was holding an actual product called 'Mascutone.'
"See, he *does too* do it!" Akane turned and reproved Ranma, who'd thought that bit of the series was too ridiculous to be real.
Behind them, Jared popped a couple of pills from the bottle in curiosity. Then, seeing her acquisitive glance, tossed the rest to Nabiki, who hurried off to the phone.
The sorceress was displeased.
There was hardy anything here worth conquering!
Really, these peasants, servants the lot of them, they were without any kind of moral tendencies. There wasn't anything that *wasn't* for sale!
Which made everything cheap... even worthless.
Loyalty, honor, love... These weren't for sale. They'd never HAD them! Gone were the noble romances, towering strong in spite of great opposition and heartache, true to their loves and goals. Instead they were rutting like animals with anything that caught their eye, leaving when their attention wandered, and cheapening themselves to where they were so jaded they'd engage in acts an Unseelie would find disquieting in order to spark a flagging thrill.
That was not love.
One could not feed the fires of passion with manure. But apparently here they'd all forgotten that. Even Oberon was more choosy in his mates than this. And saying the King of Unseelie was cleaner in his sexual habits than *anyone* was paramount to saying that the rotting filth of the Bog of Eternal Stench smelled fresh and pleasant.
Honor, she had to laugh at the concept. Here she, a sorceress of an ancient and evil line, was pristine as new driven snow in contrast, and complaining about the wretchedness of those around her! To what depths would they NOT sink? Here, they'd inflicted lawyers, police and stiflingly huge codes and ill-bred regulations upon themselves because they could basically assume that no man, woman nor child would keep their word!
The Sorceress had been known to break hers, but she'd have been shocked to have *anyone* assume she'd never had any intention of keeping it!
These... these... were creatures! They were goblins! Their loyalty no longer than their attention spans! (which were small, to say the least.) With their bellies full they'd be placid enough to follow ANYONE! They'd murder each other or sell their children for this filthy paper money... If she were to summon Smedley here all he'd have to do is build a warren and he'd feel right at home.
Morgan's daughter scowled at an apartment building perched atop a subway tunnel. No, Smedley would *not* have to build a warren, they had them here already.
Frankly even goblins measured up well in that against these degenerates. Goblins would keep their minds to task because higher Unseelie had a tendency to kill them if their attentions wandered.
The sorceress was stunned. The list was endless. It went on and on. Suddenly she knew how some of the Knights of the Round must feel, fighting to uphold integrity and valor amidst those attempting to tear them down. This was this biggest challenge in a world!
Well, she was no Knight of the Round, she was a wicked sorceress. But she'd still need something done if she wanted anything worth her time to rule.
She set out to buy her kingdom, having chosen what she wanted.
They all sat around the Tendo dining room table wielding bowls of flavored ice.
"So, child." Cologne addressed Jared. "Have you got any family back at home?"
He shrugged. "A mom, some brothers, and a creature who'd like to call himself my dad. Nothing special."
Genma earned a dark look from his offspring. "Yah, I kinda know the feeling." Ranma groaned.
"Nah, Genma's an honest bastard. While he's a coward and a cheat and a boldfaced liar, utterly dishonorable and so stupid as to make a lump of coal look bright, also a thief and glutton who'd sell his own soul for a grain of rice, he has his redeeming qualities."
The household held still a moment.
"Such as?" Nabiki inquired.
"He might actually intend some good to come from his short-sighted schemes." Jared replied, smirking. Then he scowled. "Mine, on the other hand, is an almost textbook sociopath. He was an (expletive deleted) who actually got his kicks out of hurting others. It was his food, his drug, and his reason for being, and he was smooth enough that the first few times he'd always get away with it."
Mass blinking resulted.
"So you *do* actually say 'expletive deleted'." Kasumi said, surprised.
"Yah," Nabiki leaned on her elbow, smirking. "I always thought it was something they stuck in there for character, you know."
Akane was chuckling. "You know, it sounds more funny when he says it in person. That way you *know* they're not deleting anything to put the words in, that he *does* say expletive deleted, instead of a swear word."
Jared hung his head in his hands, muttering. "This place..."
Three faeries stood watching, the one in blue holding a stopwatch covering most of her lap, and the other two counting down the seconds on it.
"Five, four, three, two..."