Disclaimer: as always I don't own these fics and worlds, I'm just borrowing them to have a bit of fun. Please don't sue, I'm poor.
Nanoha Takamachi gave her wife's hand a squeeze as they sat on the park's bench, watching Vivio play with some other girls her age. The youngster seemed to be having a wonderful time as she ran madcap with the others in a game of tag. Nearby, Nanoha and Fate could see other couples watching their own children, or simply walking along. There was a sense of peace pervading the park, and indeed, most of the world.
"Coming here was a good idea," said Fate.
"Oh, yes," agreed Nanoha, exchanging a polite smile and nod with one of the passing couples. "Mejale is a beautiful planet."
In the aftermath of the Battle of the Rift, the Time-Space Administration Bureau and the Dimensional Republic of Bradeson had buried the proverbial hatchet, bringing their two-year war to a close. But in it's wake had come a great deal of politics. Both the TSAB and the Bradesons were maintaining contact with various spacefaring civilizations who had come to their aid at the Rift, paying court and engaging in diplomacy. The hot war had gone cold, but for the moment at least it showed no signs of blowing open again.
The Nirvana's Captain had requested aid from both the Bureau and the Bradesons to deal with the mysterious 'Harvesters' that threatened their homeworlds of Tarak and Mejale. Both groups had sent task forces, and the Harvesters had been utterly crushed by their combined might. Tarak and Mejale were not magical societies, but they were otherwise quite advanced, and diplomats had followed closely behind the gunboats. Unspoken, but still clear, was that if either dimensional power tried to force the issue, their newfound peace would quickly shatter, so it was the velvet glove that Bradeson extended and not the iron fist.
The Bureau's protective stance and general soft touch on things had appealed to Mejale, while the more militant nature of the Republic had appealed to Tarak, and perhaps inevitably, each greater power was in favour with a different planetary one. Nanoha, though not a student of politics, felt that the Bureau had the better end of that deal. She smiled as the sound of children laughing drifted over her, and she and Fate beamed at their adopted daughter as she played with the others.
Yes, starting their year's sabbatical by visiting this world was a good idea in many ways. The people were interesting and friendly, the world itself beautiful, and the technology very interesting. For a few years, elements of the TSAB's bureaucracy had been subtly trying to pry Nanoha and Fate apart. The Bureau always needed more mages, and always looked ahead with hope and fear for their next generation. Two women together, though legal and mostly socially acceptable, was less practical, in their minds, when both women were powerful mages – apart, with appropriate males, they could produce strong mages for the next generation.
Mejale, being a world peopled entirely by women, had a way around human nature's normal restrictions. The local doctors were polite and supportive, and would be able to help.
And if that didn't shut up the bureaucrats, nothing would.
Vivio Takamachi laughed as she chased after the other girls. She was 'it' – though no-one had yet been able to tell her precisely what 'it' actually was – and thus it was her turn to chase. Chase she did, though the other girls had an undeniable home-park-advantage. She was quick, however, and Fate-Mama had taught her how to pick the swiftest path quickly.
It was only a little odd to be somewhere with mostly just girls, so far as she was concerned. It was a bit like visiting Auntie Hayate, only none of the animals here could talk. And even if they could, she doubted any of them would be as smart as Zafira. But none of the girls here could fly, and they weren't fast enough to stay away from her for long. Even when she tripped – like -oof- now – she could always scramble back to her feet. Grass washed out. Getting back up when you fell was the important thing to do, Nanoha-Mama had taught her that well.
She liked this place. The food was good, and the people were friendly, and nobody looked down their noses at her mamas when they thought that they wouldn't see, or made those weird tsking noises. Vivio liked that. Uncle Yuuno and Uncle Chrono were fun, but she was happy with her mamas. She got to see Yuuno plenty, and even when she couldn't, like now- he was somewhere called Seyruun digging for something called a Claire Bible – he was only a call away. And he would always have candy or presents for her when she did see him. Uncles were great.
Cousins were fun too – she'd played with Uncle Chrono's children lots, and they were fun. Lots more fun than Uncle Chrono, who was always so serious if there were lots of grown-ups around.
Sisters... well, she wasn't sure what having little sisters would be like, but her mamas wanted to give her some. And they thought it was important. So she'd be brave for her mamas.
The wind howled around him, blowing snow gouging at him like claws even through the heavy robe he had thrown over his usual garments. As he staggered against the blowing wind, Genma Saotome gritted his teeth, one gloveless hand wiping condensation from his eyeglasses.
This is horribly unfair, he thought, squinting into the howling blast. Not twenty minutes ago it was clear. This entire 'magical world' is just messed up.
He'd been traveling the Magical World for a few months now, seeking a legendary master reputed to know over a thousand secret techniques – Nagi Springfield. He hadn't caught the entire story back in Tokyo before setting off – officially, the Magical World Did Not Exist, and so people seldom spoke of it openly. It was Japan's 'hole card' in the changing world order – a magically fluent power with several ties to them, one willing to exchange knowledge for privacy. It wasn't common knowledge, and Genma himself had only heard of it from some of the people his ungrateful son associated with – the boy had shamefully allowed himself to become shackled to the military, for all his claims of independence.
Fortunately, a few of Ranma's compatriots were wise enough to see past the folly of the boy's rejection of his father's wisdom. One such had told Genma about the Magical World, and from there, he'd set off, in search of a cure. Jusenkyo was rumored to still be unstable since being flooded three years ago; and a dangerous place to travel in any event – China was not reacting well to the changing world, and strife was widespread. Not the sort of thing a respectable martial artist like himself wanted anything to do with.
So, he'd come to the Magical World thanks to a little careful sneaking. The Umi Sen Ken was his truest masterpiece, and it had stood him in good stead. Once within the Magical World, he had begun to travel, making his way in his usual fashion. Rumor had it that Springfield was estranged from his own son – a commonality between them that would likely serve him well in drawing out this master and learning from him. And even if the Thousand Master was only a mage, well, Ranma had learned to manipulate magic with ki, or so Soun had relayed from his daughters, and he'd taught the boy everything he knew. Surely he could puzzle it out as well. Once he'd learned some choice secret techniques, he'd be able to sort his ungrateful boy out.
The only problem was, he was becoming increasingly certain that this land was literally trying to kill him.
Genma took shelter for a moment in the lee of a standing stone. Even in a spot where the wind wasn't actively blowing snow, it was most of the way to knee deep, and still bitterly cold. He pulled a small cloth from a pocket, cleaned his glasses, then squinted into the storm. Beyond a few dozen yards, everything was a whitewash. But it seemed a bit darker in one direction, as if something else was there, casting a shadow.
Genma wasn't sure where he was or what he would find. But, he thought as he pulled the cloak more tightly about himself, if he didn't find shelter soon, this weather would be his death.
For a brief moment he wished he'd managed to puzzle out Ranma's fire-making trick – a little melted snow and he'd have a thick fur coat of his own, one proof against the weather. But his ungrateful son had refused to share that secret. And after all he'd done for the boy!
Taking a deep breath, Genma plunged back into the blowing snow, gritting his teeth as the shrieking wind gouged and clawed at him with renewed fury. The dark blur might be trees or mountain or just about anything. But it was better than staying out in this to freeze.
The manor was a massive edifice of black stone, the corners of her roof guarded by the carved shapes of gargoyles that Genma could just barely make out against the storm. It formed a lee in the howling blast, and he shook snow from his cloak as he skirted the edge of its towering walls. He could see a few windows along the wall, set into the stone and, looking in, shuttered with some heavy material. He recognized it from his time in Magical World cities, as well as the runes etched into it. He was yet to devise a way to get through shutters like those – even Yama Sen Ken vacuum blades couldn't mark them – and all trying would do is set off an alarm. Given that this was the only shelter he'd seen in hours and he dearly did not wish to anger a potential host, he'd not try to break in.
Halfway around the manor, and back into the storm's fury, he found a door adorned with a massive, imposing iron knocker in the shape of a demonic face, ring through its teeth. He breathed a silent prayer that someone within would hear it over the wind.
There was a long, bad minute where nothing responded, then he heard a heavy clank, like a bar being drawn, and the door opened inward. He all but dove through that opening, and behind him the doors closed with a low, heavy boom. He turned as a bar clanked home, saw black iron settle into its holders as a tall, slight figure pushed it into place.
She turned, and he took a brief moment to look his hostess/rescuer over. She looked gaijin, shoulder-length blonde hair pulled back into a pair of braids, framing a heart-shaped face dominated by striking round eyes of royal purple. A wide, winning smile split it, showing plenty of gleaming white teeth. She was perhaps an inch taller than he was, slim but not gaunt, skin gaijin pale but with a healthy glow and a faint dusting of freckles that he could see. Simple, comfortable looking robes of midnight blue clothed her, hinting at curves without flaunting them.
He bowed slightly. "Thank you, ma'am, for allowing me into your home." To be polite cost him little at the moment. He lacked Ranma's refined ability to sense things with his ki – another secret the ungrateful boy had refused to share – but his own rudimentary senses told him that his hostess was a mage, her aura thick with power.
She smiled, and it was a brilliant smile, showing a mouth full of perfect, gleaming white teeth. "Well, ah couldn't just leave you out there, t'weather ain't fit for man nor beast tonight." A pause, as she gave him another look. "What brings you out here t' this corner of t' Magical World?"
Well... honesty probably won't hurt me that much. "Following rumors. I'm trying to find the one known as the Thousand Master."
His hostess nodded, an expression of sudden understanding. "Ah've heard the rumors about Springfield comin' this way, too. Ain't put much stock in 'em myself, but it's a worthy enough quest." A pause. "What's your name, stranger?"
Another brief pause. While Genma was fairly sure there were no active warrants out for him just now, he hesitated to just tell the woman who he was. And yet, what could it hurt? Even in the real world, his fame was not widespread. In the Magical World, where his home was thought of in tones of pity as much as anything else – save for some few who wondered just how... militantly... the rest of the world would respond to learning of the Magical World's existence and deliberate non-action during the Bradeson invasion – what were the odds that he was known? No-one in the towns he'd traveled so far had known him.
"Genma Saotome, Master of the Anything Goes school of Indiscriminate Grappling." He wasn't, technically, a master – While Ranma had defeated Happosia, he himself had not, and neither of them had granted him mastery – but such trivial technicalities as that wouldn't matter here, he was sure.
The woman froze. "Saotome?" she asked, enunciating with great care.
He blinked, nodded fractionally.
"Any relation tah Ranma Saotome?" Her voice was thick with emotion, hope and fear and joy, laced with something else that Genma could not quantify.
Well, it's not as if the ungrateful boy hasn't been making friends with honorless mages for the last few years... Carefully neutral, Genma answered, "My son."
The blonde loosed an ear-tearing squeal of girlish glee, then quickly choked it back. "Well ah never. Ah have been a poor hostess. Mah name is Kendra Zendor, Mister Saotome." She extended him a hand.
Guessing as he recovered from the piercing squeal, Genma took the hand and gently kissed the back of it. "It is an honor, miss Zendor." Her reaction is a positive one... "Might I ask how you know of my son? Our world is not generally well thought of here..."
She smiled. "Ah know better than t' take what t' news tells me as holy writ, Mister Saotome. Ah been doin' some readin' of mah own." She turned, walked into a parlor just off the small entry hall. Flagstones of some dark stone peppered with specs of silver replaced the plain ones of the entry, and one wall was dominated by a large fireplace, complete with merrily roaring fire. Trying not to look too obvious about it, the Martial Artist headed there, noting in passing the woven rugs adding a splash of colour to the room, and the western style chairs and couch. A second wall, he noted, was taken up almost entirely by bookshelves, which made sense for a mage. They did like their books and lore and such.
Next to the fireplace was a freestanding cabinet of some sort that reminded Genma vaguely of a large family shrine, but whose double doors were closed. Zendor, giggling, twisted one handle and threw open the left-hand door. In the half of the cabinet thus revealed, Genma saw what seemed, indeed, to be a shrine.
A shrine dedicated to his son.
Dozens of pictures of Ranma were plastered into the cabinet, held in place by means ranging from novelty pins in the shapes of birds and hearts to stickers and tape. Magazine clippings, newsprint – he recognized one of the pictures from the 'one year later' report on the Battle of Tokyo, a group shot of the various magical girl and martial artist defenders, though cropped almost raggedly through Ryoga on Ranma's right and Akane on his left in odd contrast to the clean-cropped edges of the other pictures – tournament photos, several candid shots, and what looked like a number of the cheesecake photos Nabiki used to take and sell. Both his proper, manly form and his shameful cursed form featured in almost equal amounts.
Genma Saotome had made his way through life equally by skill at martial arts and skill as a con man/thief. He was seldom taken aback. This... shrine... took him very aback indeed.
"He's a lil' bit famous, an' ah am very much an admirer." Genma blinked back his surprise, smoothed his expression to impassiveness once more. How do I want to play this? "Ah've heard so much about him, an' he is just so handsome. An' fer all it's a curse, she makes a beautiful girl."
Genma twitched. That he did not expect. "Jusenkyo is certainly... adept at making attractive versions of whatever it changes." Kamis knew, he'd had to outrun more than a few she-bears bent on... interesting things over the years. One woman in his life was trouble enough.
Zendor gave him a dazzling smile. "Ah think there's more to it than that. He's quality, he is."
"Well yes," said Genma, a small ember of pride in his son warming. "I taught him everything he knows, of course."
The blonde looked almost shy for a moment. "Could you tell me some more about him?"
"Why not?" said Genma, smiling and settling on the couch. He had plenty of tales from his son's youth, and if he told a few, well, he'd almost certainly get something to eat out of it. As if reading his mind, Kendra opened a small cabinet next to the couch and pulled out a bottle of something honey-coloured. The martial artist's smile widened as she poured them each a glass, and he picked one of the funnier tales of his son's training to begin.
Kendra Zendor had listened to Genma Saotome for hours. The big panda – she'd been unable to resist testing the curse with a Conjure Water spell the once – was, a small, attempting-to-be-objective part of her mind insisted, not a terribly good storyteller. But she didn't mind. He was telling her about Ranma. That was all she needed.
Oh, Saotome wasn't unknown in the Magical World, but what knowledge there was of him was outdated, secondhand, and horribly biased. The mundanes were thought of mostly with pity, as though they could never live full, proper lives. There was also, after the Battle of Tokyo two years ago, a subtle, but growing, undercurrent of fear. Mundanes were a violent, vengeful lot, and without magic had become very creative indeed in finding ways to inflict death and destruction on others. The Magical World had considered isolation to be its best protection, and even if they hadn't been in the middle of a major crisis of their own, dealing with Avernicus, it was doubtful that any serious help would have been given.
When Earth won the war and gained new, potent magical allies, it was something of a game changer. Most of the Magical World wanted to stay hidden. They feared what the mundanes might try if they found out that the Magical World was here, and did nothing. They saw news of corporate villains, political shenanigans, and religious intolerance and thought that the mundanes were still trapped in the dark ages. Kendra knew better. She saw strength, perseverance, creativity, and heroes. A bootlegged news report of the Battle of Tokyo had shown her Ranma, and it had been love at first sight. She had devoured any information she could find on the martial artist, and she knew, knew that the aquatransexual was destined to be hers.
To speak with his father... it could only be destiny. It was also a bit odd – Saotome the elder almost seemed to hold his son in disfavor, and he seemed to regard Ranma's Jusenkyo curse as a horrid thing. His face had gotten very, very blank when she'd declared it a blessing, for it brought out the full measure of possible love to the younger martial artist. Perhaps it was inevitable – the martial arts seemed to be a conservative discipline, so it stood to reason that a master like Genma would also be conservative. And perhaps it also stood to reason that he held his son in disfavor, for the youth was not so short-sighted as to concentrate only on the martial arts.
That, as much as anything else, was why she was so enamored with Ranma. He built bridges between mages and mundanes. He refused to accept limits. He challenged traditions; sought new paths, and didn't stop until he found them. A man after her own heart.
As she sipped at hot cocoa, the magess abruptly realized that the sound of the storm – clearly audible even through the stone and wards of the manor – had faded. Genma seemed to notice at the same time; perhaps from seeing her start. They moved to the window, saw the beginnings of a crystal clear night. "I went on for longer than I expected," said Genma. He looked over the manor's grounds from the window. "A beautiful sight."
It was; a carpet of snow turning an admittedly plain courtyard into a crystal wonderland. "That it is."
"Still, I do not think I would enjoy trying to travel in that."
"Even yoah bear form would have trouble."
"Annoyingly enough, a fur coat doesn't keep one anywhere near as warm as you'd think. I don't suppose I could impinge on your hospitality a little longer? Enough to spend the night." A pause. "This couch would be more than fine."
Genma gave his hostess an aside look as he waited for her to answer his question. He wasn't quite sure what to make of her, all in all. His first impression was hero worship; a girl who'd lived a sheltered life and didn't really know what to do with the world. He was well aware that his son cut an impressive, larger-than-life figure – perhaps she'd just latched onto that. It would fit with the naivete she seemed to exhibit. But there was something more there – something that had caused him to censor what he said – she did not seem to react nicely to his disfavor of the ungrateful boy. And as he very much did not want to get thrown out into waist deep snowdrifts, he was making a point of not aggravating her.
So he was downplaying his son's failings and treading carefully. He didn't want to get thrown out, nor did he want to pick a fight with a sorceress in her own sanctum. He made himself breath as he waited for her answer. It wouldn't do to appear too... anxious.
"Mah hospitality does have a price, suh," she said slowly, a shrewd expression painting her face. "Ah would have to charge foah a night's stay."
"How much?" He'd acquired a bit of local currency in his usual fashion shortly after arriving in this world, and he still had a little. He was also feeling a little hurt. He'd spent hours telling this woman stories, and that wasn't enough? Ingratitude was just far too common among young people these days...
"A hundred pieces of gold."
Genma blanched. "I don't have that much," he answered honestly.
"A shame," she said. Then, after a moment's thoughtful silence, she continued,"Ah have heard it said tha' you sometimes pay a bill w' an offer of yoah son's hand."
The martial artist thought for a long moment. He had done just that in the past, though it had been quite some time. He'd never honestly meant it – he took his agreement with Tendo seriously; any other oaths were simple matters of convenience. And it wasn't like some sheltered girl in the middle of nowhere in the magical world would ever actually act on such a thing...
Pointedly ignoring the small voice in his head that whispered this is a very bad idea, he stuck out his hand. "Agreed."