The Time Gates. They stood as a lone monolith in the black of night, neither here or there. The ancient artifact of a bygone era stood as a sentinel in between moments; the last, final safeguard to stand by if all else were to fail.
And it had.
Everything that could go wrong, did, and the Silver Millennium died in an orgy of fire, corruption and chaos. That single, glorious union of peace and prosperity had been wiped out in a matter of days, leaving a final flicker of hope to hide amongst the ticks of a clock. It was here that that the last surviving member of Queen Isis Serenity's court waited. She was the keeper of the dead, the very guardian of time itself. The Silver Millennium had fallen. Now the only thing to remain was the execution of her duty- to ensure the rise of that golden age once more.
It was a lonely post to stand watch over. Ten thousand years stood between her and the completion of her mission, and while she had been gifted with near immortality, her sanity was another matter entirely. To keep it, she slept, awakening only long enough to ensure the nominal direction of the timeline before returning to her dreamless slumber. Occasionally, history would require an adjustment to which she would invariably awaken to apply either a subtle hand or brute force in order to achieve the necessary outcome before returning to sleep for another five hundred years or so. It was now that time again.
The Last Princess of Pluto stirred.
Cascade noun \(ˌ)kas-ˈkād\
2. something arranged or occurring in a series or in a succession of stages so that each stage derives from or acts upon the product of the preceding.
In a way, Ranma almost felt sorry for the old dojo, if not a little guilty. Most of the tatami mats at his feet were a complete loss; featuring burns, rips, slices, gouges and the other numerous hallmarks denoting the destructive activities that had taken place on them less than forty-eight hours ago. The pigtailed boy's eyes wandered across the devastation, noting that the east wall now sported a semi circular breach into the courtyard beyond. The shaft of light that shown on him now was courtesy of the newly installed skylight that Happosai had been forcibly ejected through after draining the last of the Nyaniichuan.
The martial artist shook his head wearily and gripped the bamboo broom in hand tighter as he endeavored to collected another broken... Ranma paused, unsure as to what the composite of splintered wood and shattered glass may have once been, but ended up sweeping it into a pile regardless. Was the disaster that befell the wedding intended for one Akane Tendo and himself his fault? No. That particular effort belonged solely to the middle Tendo just to his right, wandering the space while tallying the damages on a calculator. She too looked up at the crude skylight and frowned before punching another figure into the calculator.
"I'm estimating twenty thousand, not including labor," Nabiki commented after another series of calculations. The martial artist stopped sweeping and sent a bland look in her direction.
"You know you're half the reason this all went south, right?" The sister's eye arched, and he was only allowed to continue for a moment before being cut off. "If you hadn't invited all those people-"
"'All of those people', as you put it, didn't include martial artists," Nabiki returned indifferently, earning a scowl from Ranma. "I merely invited everybody else."
"So use all the money you collected from the gifts!" He snapped, and the teen merely sighed.
"Ranma, Ranma, Ranma," She tisked with mock sympathy, pocketing the calculator as she moved across the room to inspect a crater blasted into the baseboards. "Do you honestly think weddings pay for themselves? That your tux and wedding dress were knit by magical faeries during the night for your use?"
The pigtailed boy opened his mouth in rebuttal, then closed it for lack of a sufficient rejoinder. While there was still some questions as to how much had gone to pay off the wedding expenses and how much the girl had pocketed, Nabiki was right. Not as if the Tendos and my old man are swimmin' in cash, Ranma mentally rolled his eyes, then sighed. He could do the labor portion of the job. God knows I got practice doin' that, a portion of his psyche quipped as he tackled the dilemma while in turn granting the middle Tendo her due. Materials, however, were another matter entirely and he said so aloud.
"So no money to pay repairs and crap?"
"Not nearly enough," The Tendo turned away from her detailed inspection of one of the tatami mats, then smiled. It was a the smile Ranma would expect from an alligator and he treated the girl before him as such. "Fortunately for us, you are quite the marketable commodity."
Betting pools. Photos. More handkerchiefs. If I'm lucky, the pigtailed boy winced while all to readily realizing the precarious situation he was in. Think, think, think, was the mantra drumming through his brain now and his mouth blurted the answer before there was time to filter the response. "I'll pay for it!"
Nabiki simply sniffed, cocking her head with amused curiosity. "Really, Saotome. You and what inheritance?"
"Don't worry about that," Ranma returned hastily, leaning fully into the ill-advised strategy now. "I'll fix what I can and get you the money for the rest."
"If you say so," Nabiki still look upon the martial artist with a healthy amount of skepticism, while the tone of her voice made it clear that she didn't believe a word of it. "But don't keep me waiting. While I may not practice myself, this dojo is the home to my mother's shrine. I doubt any of us will look kindly on its... disrepair."
Ranma fought the flinch that threatened to wrack his face from the Tendo's emotionless words and cold stare. It melted into indifference moments later and she walked passed him and out through the dojo's proper door. The martial artist waited for another full minute before loosing the breath that he had held while shaking his head to himself. She was right, of course. It was all a last minute gambit of desperation and needless to say the martial artist had no idea where he would get the money. Waitressing at either Ucchan's or the Neko Han Ten was out. They simply didn't pay enough and after this particular disaster, it would create more fallout than he was willing to deal with at the moment. Shit-storm waiting to happen is more like it, he added mentally, crossing any employment venture with either off his list.
The pigtailed boy shook his head and propped the broom against the wall to survey the destruction without really seeing any of it. Instead, he focused on the need to acquire funds and the consequences of failing to do so. Ranma took to the entrance himself with the need to catch a breath of fresh air and clear his head. Much as it rankled against him to go along with Nabiki's plans, he wasn't about to contest the importance of the shrine. Still, it would take money he didn't have. Any job he could think of- even one that didn't involve another fiancée -wouldn't bring in the money fast enough. Wouldn't be in this situation if-
"Oh, dear," Ranma's head snapped up from his introspection to find none other than his mother walking from the house to the courtyard, inspecting the damage as she drew closer. A mild look of concern crossed her face as her gaze flicked from what lay beyond the entrance to the circular hole in the dojo wall. "I must admit, it didn't look so disheveled yesterday..."
"Hey, Mom," Ranma simply nodded with a complete lack of enthusiasm before addressing her missive. "Surprised it's still standin' personally."
The Saotome matriarch joined her son just beyond the dojo's threshold, continuing to study its damage while contemplating her son's involvement in the affair. After a moment, she simply sighed, looking at her son. "He has created a mess, hasn't he?"
Ranma blinked with slight surprise that his mother had even broached the issue of his father's inadequacies and thus decided to step lightly around the topic instead of engaging in his usual banter. "I can fix some of it, but its still gonna cost an arm and a leg to get it back to the way it was."
Nodoka peered inside the entrance and instantly regretted the act upon seeing the internal devastation wrought upon the dojo in full. After another full minute surveying the damage while Ranma looked on, she removed herself from the doorway, shaking her head. "We'll... we must do the honorable thing, I suppose."
"Honorable don't even begin to describe what-!" Her son was on his way to working up a full head of steam when she bid him gentle silence with a finger.
"Yes, son, I realize the situation has been... Manipulated to a degree by Miss Tendo," Nodoka chose her words carefully as Ranma simmered, but held his tongue as she continued. "The fact remains, however, that there would be nothing to manipulate were it not for Genma's indiscretions."
"I guess that's the polite way ta put it," Ranma grumbled, readily agreeing with his mother's synopsis of the situation. At least until he heard her next words.
"As well your own."
Ranma blinked. "Wha...?"
Nodoka's face picked up the slightest edge of a mischievous smile. "As my manly son, it is certainly your responsibility to either make proper mistresses of the other women seeking your attention or make your position clear. While a large portion of their presence can certainly be attributed to dear Genma, you yourself have let the problem linger for entirely too long."
The pigtailed teen stared at his mother, barely comprehending her words. After his brain had circumnavigated the portion concerning mistresses, he shook his emphatically at the rest. "Yeah, that's great in theory and all, but then what about the next fiancée? And the one after that? Ya haven't been around enough to know that the fat ol' Panda just ain't gonna stop. He sure as hell hasn't for the last decade and change."
"I... I'm working on that," She admitted, and the smile faded into resolute acceptance. Part of Ranma's heart winced to watch it simply evaporate from her face, while another part of him silently cursed his directness. It wasn't the way he had wanted it to come out, but the last forty eight hours had been nothing but one huge- "Be that as it may, this," She gestured to the dojo. "Is still our responsibility. Until my Genma is able to bear the weight upon his shoulders once more, I ask that it fall to my manly son."
Ranma stared at his mother and she turned her gaze downwards with the soft request. Sure, he could have refused her in theory, but she was his mother and after ten years gone from his life... He turned a light hearted smirk upon her instead. "Feh, was gonna do that anyway. No idea where I'm gonna get the money for some of the repairs, though..."
Nodoka's visage returned to him with a gentle, almost humorous smile. "I seem to recall many a times where I was forced to part with trinkets in order to make ends meet while your father was away."
"Which only makes me want to serve him up an extra helpin' next time we spar," Ranma snorted, turning back to the dojo. "Too bad I ain't got no trinkets to... Sell?"
Nodoka watched her son lapse into deep thought curiously. "An idea, son?"
"I... ah... maybe," Ranma replied haltingly as a train of thought formed and boarded in time with the rapid blinking of his eyes. As a matter of fact, he did have stuff to sell. Lots of stuff. Probably not enough to make up the difference, but it was a damn sight better than zero. He returned his attention to his mother. "I got something to look into. S'kay if I tell ya about it later?"
"Of course, Ranma-kun," She nodded amiably, turning back toward the house. "I have laundry to wash. Do let me know how it turns out."
Ranma's head bobbed in agreement and he watched her return to the house, then ducked back into the disheveled dojo once she had disappeared from sight. The martial artist took a quick look around and plopped down on one of the undamaged tatami at the center of the devastation, producing a worn green bag from empty space. He dumped the bag unceremoniously to the ground in front of him and began to sift through the contents on piece at a time. The first item he specifically targeted, pulling an engraved gold bracelet from the stash of exotic goods. That's gotta be worth something, he decided, turning it at an angle to look at the ornament while remembering just what had resided in the three vacant cavities along its circumference. Anybody else might have assumed they had once housed expensive jewels, though Ranma wasn't anybody else and knew better. He set the treasure aside with a slight twitch as to the adventure that particular item had spawned and began picking through the pile anew.
English Dish Set of Despair, the martial artist grimaced, carefully edging several plates and matching pair of tea cups off to the side... Well to the side and opposite of the bracelet. Can't exactly sell those, I guess. Ranma gave the bone china another uncertain look before continuing to rummage through the pile of artifacts. Cursed Spatula... Pass. Butterfly brocade? Ranma mulled over exactly who he would sell the rainbow brick of ink to before simply setting it to the side with a shrug. Next came the weapons, and he sifted through a trio of daggers, a bundle of hair pin spikes... A hatchet? Ranma blinked, testing its balance in hand before setting with the other weapons while acknowledging that half the arsenal he had picked up off of Mousse anyway. Ranma's attention was just turning to the accompaniment of kunai when another glint of gold caught his eye. The teen dug past a folded Japanese fan and picked the oblong disk from the its brethren. Wonderful, Ranma thought blandly as he turned the makeup compact around in hand. While the gold and silver inlaid surface promised to be valuable, the magical compact within wasn't exactly something he could simply schluff off on some poor sap. Last thing I need is for some old guy's store to get sucked in, he chuckled before giving it casual toss, sending it rolling over to join the dish set of despair.
The thought and the chuckle it incited lasted only another moment before reality set in. He wouldn't be able to sell even a fraction of the pile in front of him. Some schmuck will get a hold of it and I'd probably see it back on my doorstep in about a week, the martial artist rolled his eyes, tossing one of Mousse's requisitioned kunai in hand as he chewed on the matter. He paused as an unlikely idea came to mind. Maybe find out where all this crap came from in the first place and give it back?
The blade continued to absently roll between his fingertips as he considered the new idea. Maybe they would even give him a reward for his troubles too? Ranma's eyebrow rose involuntarily with idea, and he slowly began to pack the trinkets back into the cloth sack. Some of the items would be easy. The compact, for example, he could get back to the old man in the mansion. Stay away from that damn clone mirror and I'll be fine, he frowned mentally, moving on to the other treasures. The English dish set, on the other hand. Who the hell knows where that came from? The pigtailed boy's gaze traced the floral pattern around the plating's edge, speckled occasionally by pink and blue flowers. Akane had acquired the set and its rumored ability to improve even the worst cooking for a challenge about six months back.
Instead, it managed to magically animate the saucy noodle creation in a flash of purple light, where upon it set to terrorizing the neighborhood.
Good training, though, Ranma quipped internally, setting the dishes into the bag with the other collected articles. Still, the problem remained. Maybe the library? He puzzled as he tied the bag up and gave it a flip through the air. The fabric snapped and it quite literally disappeared as if little more than a magician's trick. The pigtailed teen thought on the matter another moment before coming to a final decision. Bereft of options, the library was the necessary evil; that evil being marginally more acceptable than involving anybody he knew in this particular dilemma. Really, how hard could it be to find information on a dish set that randomly turned food plated atop it into ravenous creatures?
After all, that sort of stuff seemed to find him just fine.
As Ranma Saotome would find out four and a half hours later, obtaining information on demonic cookware wasn't such an easy task after all. First there was the librarian, who looked at him as if he had grown a second head upon describing what he was look for. Once he had learned to screen the words 'demonic' and 'cursed' from his vocabulary, he was then directed to a section on dining and several titles that had absolutely nothing to do with the dinnerware of the occult in any way, shape or form. The martial artist did manage to find a title referencing the history of British cookware and being his only lead, checked it out.
So much for higher education, he groused, walking down the streets of Nerima, book in hand and contemplating plan 'B'. Obvious an ordinary library wouldn't cut it for such a task, which meant he need... An extra-ordinary library? Ranma puzzled over the logic, wondering just what form an extra-ordinary library would take and where he would find one. His memories flashed back to the closest example; That being an old monastery in some backwater during the early days of his training. He couldn't remember when or where, but it featured prominently in his memories; Nor had it been the only one, now that he thought about it. The training mission had been quite literally sprinkled with such stops, normally for only as long as it took for him to master a technique and move on.
Or as long as it took the old man to scam them out of whatever it was he was after. Ranma groused sarcastically. Still, it was the precedence he need to apply that solution to this particular problem. The martial artist studied the book in hand. A Buddhist monastery didn't quite seem appropriate for an cursed set of English dinnerware, so maybe a church?
Ranma shrugged. Why the hell not?
Like the book that he had checked out from the Library, Churches were apparently as hard to come by as dissertations on cursed English dinnerware. He knew of exactly one in the Nerima suburb, and like the lady at the library, the nun he met didn't quite comprehend how dishes and demons fit coherently in the same sentence. He settled for showing her the plate in question and received a clueless look for his troubles. Ranma thanked her and was on his way, setting out to broaden his search as the sun slowly began to sink toward the horizon. The next hour and a half netted the pigtailed teen three more churches, mainly through rooftop hopping and homing in on the rare cross poking out from the skyline. None of them provided any significant headway in the safe disposal of the cursed dish set and one even thought he was trying to donate it to them.
Whatever, Ranma shook his head as he meandered aimlessly down a surface street, trying to determine his next course of action. Actual real churches were becoming a pain in the ass to find and it was getting fairly late. The martial artist glanced at the dull orange sky with a minor frown, wondering why he couldn't just break the dishes and get it-
Ranma stopped short with the revelation.
Can't be that easy. He mused, retrieving an example from the ki fold he concealed them within. A small tea cup now resided in his hands and he gave it an experimental toss into the air; its meager weight settling back into his open grasp a moment later. Ranma smiled and gave it another toss, purposely failing to intercept it as gravity reclaimed its mass.
"Oops." He chuckled as fell to the ground and- bounced. Once. twice. Each bounce produce an attention grabbing 'tink!' until it tumbled to a stop near his feet. Ranma's smile turned to a frown. A few pedestrians watched his antics as he recovered the artifact, but Ranma paid little attention now that his focus was solidly riveted upon destroying the fine porcelain in hand. The martial artist looked around and found a back alley, and walked into it. The grin returned as he reared back and threw the tea cup at all but humanly impossible velocities into a wall fifteen meters down range.
Porcelain shrieked and shattered in to fragments, prompting Ranma to reach back for another dish in victory... at least until the individual shards hit the ground, bounced around randomly to collect into an whole and intact cup in spite of the small crater he had inflicted upon the alleyway wall. The Saotome's teeth ground together in frustration. He walked over to the cup, picked it back up and began to ply physical pressure. After a full minute within his white knuckled grip, the martial artist relented; glaring at what was apparently not only a cursed tea cup, but a nigh indestructible cursed tea cup as well.
"What's all the racket out- Oh!" Ranma turned to find a man peering out from one of the alleyway side doors, studying him through a pair of frosted spectacles. "What can I do for you, son?"
The pigtailed teen connected the dots through his appearance immediately, not believing his good fortune. Black slacks and coat, white collar. His nearly balding appearance was little more than a foot note after that. "You a priest?"
"Of course, son," The man replied kindly, stepping fully out into the alley to produce an informal bow. "Risen Savior's Baptist Church, Pastor Andrew at your service."
We'll see about that, Ranma thought doubtfully but returned the greeting, bringing the cup up to be studied. "Ranma. Don't suppose ya know what this is, do ya?"
"Aside from a tea cup, I assume?" The priest cocked his head and adjusted his spectacles. He took the cup in hand and held it aloft to catch the evening's last rays of sunlight. "Thirteenth century British porcelain. Fine craftsmanship. The maker's mark is-" Pastor Andrew's gaze snapped from the minuscule swirling mark with horns back to Ranma, skewering him with new found intensity. "Where did you get this-Ranma, was it?"
"Somebody I know stumbled across it," The teen advised with new found hope. The priest guy obviously knew something. "You recognize it don't ya?"
"Indeed I do, Son." The priest in question nodded, beckoning Ranma to follow into the side door as he continued. "Duchess Selene Montague the Third commissioned an entire set of fine dinnerware in the late thirteenth century to celebrate her betrothed's return from the Crusades. It was to be a celebration to end all celebrations."
The martial artist nodded as he followed the man through a dimly lit hallway and through an empty kitchen. It reminded him he should have been back at the dojo eating by now, so he hurried the story along. "I hear a 'but' coming."
"But her fiance never made it home," Pastor Andrew nodded as they cleared the kitchen and moved through another hall. The melodic sounds of a choir drifted through the confined space. "Killed by highwaymen and brigands on the journey back North. The news reached his intended even as she sat at the dinner table, awaiting him."
"This ain't gonna end well, is it?" Ranma observed matter-of-factly. The priest shook his head as they came up to another door. He slid it aside.
"Unfortunately, no." Andrew confirmed, stepping through the threshold into a new room whose sole illumination came from dozens of candles setting atop an alter to illuminate a cross. A woman prayed in the flicking light at the alter. "Sister Hiroko?"
The woman stiffened with her name as if surprised, then turned with a curious look. "Father?"
"Please fetch some wards and holy water." The priest asked kindly, to which the twenty something Japanese woman retrieved herself to height and rushed off past the pair with a concerned expression. Pastor Andrew turned back to Ranma. "Duchess Montague ordered the everybody out of the dining room upon hearing the news. The first servant brave enough to enter an hour later found that her mistress had slashed her own throat with a steak knife, spraying her blood across every one of the fifteen specially commissioned pieces."
"And now it gets all pissed off when you try and eat off of it," Ranma shook his head with near incredulity. "Just great."
The man paused with realization, turning back to Ranma with sudden concern. "You didn't actually...?"
"We killed it," Ranma shrugged, anticipating the next question. "Little thing gave the neighborhood a pretty good scare before we put it down, though."
"Whew," Pastor Andrew breathed a sigh of relief as he set the cup on the alter before the heavy wood cross overlooking the room. "One less thing to worry about then."
The young church member returned with several slips of paper in hand and uchimizu full of water a moment later, setting them both on the alter next to the tea cup before stepping back. The priest smiled kindly at her. "Thank you very much. This will be your first exorcism, correct Sister Hiroko?"
The woman's eyes widened but she nodded. "Yes Pastor."
He turned to Ranma, already knowing the answer to the question he was asking. "And you, son?"
"Second or third." Ranma shrugged nonchalantly. Pastor Andrew blinked. "Fourth, if you count if you count that crap with the incense."
"I...see." The priest arched an eye brow while revising his estimation of the young man before him. Pastor Andrew simply resolved the oddity with a nod and returned his attention to the tea cup. He began to affix the ofuda slips to it, four total. "The spirit of the discontent woman still taints this teacup, and all of the dinnerware she cursed. We shall begin its extraction from this piece."
"Sister Hiroko, please bathe the artifact in holy water while I pray," The man ordered. His female counterpart nodded and acquired the ladle from the uchimizu, filling it with water. Pastor Andrew turned back to his guest. "Ranma, you'll... um..."
"Kick its ass if it gets out of line." Ranma finished for the priest who considered the course of action curiously before simply shrugging.
"Hopefully it will not come to that." The Pastor reaffirmed, then turned back to the altar. "Sister Hiroko, if you please?"
The woman nodded and upturned the ladle over the tea cup, drizzling it with holy water. The porcelain piece seemed to vibrate on the alter, as if alive and suddenly bathed in scalding water. Pastor Andrew took that as his cue.
"Holy Father who art thou in Heaven, we beseech thee to release this tormented soul from her mortal chains!" The priest raised his hands skyward, switching to Latin as he chanted the prayer. Ranma lost all ability to track his words, but the intent was clear enough. "We ask you and the Lord Jesus Christ to help this spirit divest herself of the animosity she holds for the outside world! To sway her from her path of torment of destruction!"
The alter-bound tea cup began to tremble violently, rattling against the wood surface as if on the verge of shattering. Hiroko splashed it again with another round of holy water while mumbling her own prayer and the floral scrolling trim below the cup's gilded golden rim began to glow an ominous red.
"Baneful spirit of the past, we demand you come out from this tea cup in the name of Jesus Christ!" Pastor Andrew continued and Ranma's eyebrow rose as the cup seemed to respond to the demand, rattling across the alter violently now. "Come out! The power of the One Most High commandeth thee to depart from this inanimate vessel and return to the path of eternal salvation!"
A shock wave of power shifted the air of the room, blowing the candles around the alter and wall mounted cross out, but the tea cup was now glowing with more than enough malcontent energy to fill the room with an evil red glow. That was when the tea cup slowly began to lift off of the surface of the later. Ranma blinked and reflexively began to pull on his ki while Pastor Andrew's hands bunched into a fist, his prayers continuing with fevered intensity. The church sister splashed the cup yet again and this time it hissed with steam on impact.
"I rebuke thee, pernicious spirit! Return to the path of salvation! Return to the path of peace!" The pastor continued as the cup rose a full meter above the alter. It flared with power that smoldered off of it like burning red flames. "Your days of terror are at an end! The High Lord commands thee to stand down! Jesus Christ commands thee to be at rest!"
A scream ripped through the air and suddenly she was there standing on the alter writhing in agony as a spirit overlaid around the teacup itself. Ranma stumbled back as who could only assume was Duchess Selene Montague the Third physically manifest. She was in full ball dress as he had seen Kodachi wear far too many times before, and by all accounts had once been a blond beauty herself. Neither Pastor Andrew or Sister Hiroko appeared to notice, and the teacup within the spirit's astral chest began to rotate around slowly as it trembled midair.
"You shall do the Lord our God's bidding!" The priest continued his mantra, oblivious to the screaming that clawed at Ranma's ears. "Abandon your ways! Seek forgiveness! Take in hand your eternal reward!"
Hiroko splashed the cup again and the spirit doubled over in agony as the water hit. The teacups' handle had turned a full three hundred and sixty degrees now, and Pastor Andrew pulled at the cross hanging from his neck to be thrust out at the teacup itself. "In the name of the Father! The Son! And the Holy Spirit! I command you to be gone from this vessel!"
The spirit screamed anew and the teacup flared blindingly. When Ranma's vision cleared, the spirit of the Duchess had vanished and the tea cup's glow had died down into an anemic flicker, wards burning away. It's once white porcelain surface was now being eaten away by black carbon before his very eyes until completely consumed seconds later. The final bits of aura guttered and the cindered remains of the artifact dropped suddenly back to the altar, shattering instantly.
All three stared at the altar warily for a moment before simultaneously loosing their own separate sighs of relief. Pastor Andrew wiped the sweat from his brow then reached over to steady Hiroko's shaking hand, helping her return the ladle back to the uchimizu. "A fine performance, Sister."
"Th-Thank you, Pastor."
"Thank you for your prayers, brothers and sisters." Ranma turned to find the hallway behind them with half a dozen church members, all invariably clutching their own crosses and sweating, "And you, of course, Ranma."
Ranma turned back to the smiling priest who was now tucking his own cross back into his black vest. "Your diligence has removed a dangerous artifact from the world."
Ranma smiled for the first time since the exorcism had begun. "Glad to get it off my hands, personally."
"Indeed." The priest smiled in kind. "Fourteen more dishes remain in the set. Should you come across any of their brethren, please do not hesitate to contact us."
Much to Pastor Andrew's surprise, the teen's smile widened. "Funny you should mention that..."
"And we're so very sorry about the holy water," A thirty year old woman woman in black apologized profusely as she led a slightly damp red headed female teen out the front door of the church. The air was cooler now and the only light in the sky now was being generated by the city itself. It was also a reminder that the red head was long overdue for dinner, though the nice church people had been more than happy to feed her once the fifteenth and final dish had been cleansed. As such, Ranma simply shrugged the accident off like the daily occurrence it was.
"Was bound to happen," She dismissed the incident with little fanfare. "If it hadn't, I'd start to get worried."
"And I'm sure Pastor Andrew wouldn't mind taking a look at, um, that when he's more rested?" The brunette nun held a concerned looking, motioning to the curvy female that Ranma had become before their eyes with the accidental application of cold water.
The offer gave the martial artist a moment of mental pause before reality set back in, causing her to chuckle. "Nah, not gonna waste his time. Just thank him for takin' care of the plates."
"It is us who should be thanking you, but if you insist," The woman bowed. She gave the teen girl another studied look and looked as if she was about to say something more, but simply smiled instead. "Feel free to visit us any time."
"Might just take you up on that-"
"Get out of the way!"
The brunette's head snapped up and Ranma twisted around toward the source of the commotion. What had been a relatively empty street mere seconds ago was now a marathon of fleeing people. A compact automobile tumbled behind them, fortunately lacking in initial velocity to catch up to those fleeing the scene. The martial artist winced as it came to a stop in front of a store, scraping a postbox from its foundation before finally stopping. Behind it, an inhuman shadow lengthened in the street light, advancing slowly. It was joined by another, then a third, and adrenaline began to flow in the teen's veins.
"Might want to get back into the Church, Lisa-san. This could get-" An unnatural mechanical 'click' drew Ranma's attention back to the sister, who had drawn a gun from her robe and inserted a clip. Ranma cocked his head, now slightly taken back. "A gun?"
"A Berretta PX4 nine millimeter auto with blessed silver hollow points, to be specific," The woman advised, then chambered the first round with a loud 'clack' and movement that spoke of long practice. She smiled briefly at the redhead before her. "One must always be ready to protect the flock, Saotome-san."
It was hard logic to disagree with, even if the legalities of even owning such a firearm in Japan were questionable. Questionable or not, Ranma wasn't going to complain as long as it helped stop whatever it was turning the street into shambles and began to descend the church steps, followed by the nun and her black nine millimeter. Another metallic crunch echoed from further up the block and this time the terrified squeal of a little girl reached their ears, coming into sight just as the pair reached the sidewalk. The green haired child- no more than two or three years of age -stopped in the intersection and began hunt for a place to hide from whatever was chasing her. Her red eyes caught sight of the pair and she changed course, making a beeline directly for them.
Behind her, a trio of pinkish female creatures rounded the corner, skidding to a halt to briefly ascertain what direction their prey had ran off to. The girl was acquired within seconds and they renewed their chase.
That was their first and last mistake.
Ranma Saotome glanced back to her compatriot, drawing upon her ki for battle as she did. "You ready for this?"
The woman nodded, flipping the safety of her pistol off. "Give unto Ceasar what is Ceasar's."
"I'm takin' that as a yes," Ranma smiled and turned back to demons. There was no chance the girl would make it to the Church grounds before being overrun. Correcting that would be their first order of business. "Then let's do it. Moko Takabisha!"
The blue sphere that ripped away from the redhead's outstretched hand shocked Sister Lisa for a split second before her training kicked back in. The nine millimeter in her own hand leveled off on the right most combatant and she took a calming breath, then squeezed the trigger just as Ranma's attack hit its target. The pistol bucked in her grasp, staggering her youma and rending it with an impact wound far larger than would ordinarily be associated with the caliber in question. The redhead's youma, on the other hand, simply disappeared with a thundering detonation of pressurize ki, devastating an entire lane of the street and sending the next demon in close proximity tumbling away.
The pistol cracked once more, then followed with a third shot that continued to inflict staggeringly disproportionate wounds upon the freakish female demon. It now featured a heavily cratered chest from the first two rounds, while the third was high and right of center mass, turning the beasts' shoulder joint and arm into little more than dangling meat. Dark ichor leaked from all three wounds, but it still shambled forward. The church sister shook her head and took careful aim this time.
"May God have mercy on your black, black soul," Her gaze narrowed and sighted its head. She squeezed the trigger and its cranium exploded in a cloud of globulous chunks and black mist.
The tiny girl reached their sidewalk and all but plowed in Ranma, wrapping her arms tight around her legs, sobbing the entire time. The redhead stared down at the girl without a clue, then glanced to the older woman, who watched with a concerned countenance. She knelt down to the girl's level patting her head gently.
"It's alright now, little one," She insisted, trying to brush a lock of green hair aside to reveal the girl's bruised face. The child cringed and buried herself deeper into Ranma's legs. The brunette was about to try again when a hissing shriek sounded. Lisa's head snapped up.
A mangled car down the street shifted five meters sideways and the final youma crawled from beneath the wreckage, scrambling up with a shriek and tearing forward on all fours for them. The sister's nine millimeter flashed up and she took a shot. The demon lunged left and the concrete took the bullet in its place. She squeezed off another shot, but it was moving impossibly fast now and fifteen meters evaporated by the time the second silver bullet left the barrel.
The round punched through the creatures left lung, expanding the moment it hit demonic tissue then utterly annihilating itself as the purified bullet contacted the cursed medium. Like the previous round, the hole it created was massive, but the physics were still in the youma's favor. The shot was fatal, but wouldn't see that outcome for another thirty five seconds. The creature was lunging now, however, leaping into the air the with claws outstretch to-
A razor thin slice appeared in the youma across its lower torso, and the vicious expression it held suddenly morphed into one of surprise. Then it fell apart. The upper torso tumbled past the woman's position like a sack of rice, evaporating into ash as it did. The waist and legs fell short, rolling to a stop near the redhead who's left arm was swept outward, her hand ridged as if she had just chopped at the air.
The sister ensured the youma's component parts were inert by giving the disintegrating pieces a light kick before safing her weapon, looking at the young teen with a measure of restrained awe. The green haired child still clung to her like a lifeline. She swung her gaze back to the street in ruin to ensure no further demons remained. Aside from several mangled cars and a massive crater in the middle of the street, nothing remained of the demons save the corpse at their feet and even that was fading fast; its remains evaporating into the night.
Finding the same thing for herself, Ranma's gaze dropped back to the girl wrapped around her legs with same confusion as before. "Um, hey kiddo?"
The clenching around her knees slackened a fraction and a pair of scared red eyes peaked upward and into her own blue ones. The terror dancing in them made the martial artist want to kill the creatures again, somehow. They weren't going to get any deader, so she focused on the girl. "Uh, you're okay, right?"
The grip around her tightened but the eyes remained steadfastly locked to hers. It gave Ranma a chance to study her in detail, red eyes and emerald green hair aside. Her initial assumption had to be correct. The girl wrapped around her now couldn't have been two or three, tops. Whatever she had worn into the run-in with the demons had once been something silk; a lighter green top and black pant legs now either stained or ripped. The left side of her hair was tied up in a cute bun with rest to hang free, though both were now disheveled mess.
"It would appear that you made a friend, Saotome-san," The brown haired sister smiled at the pair and proceeded to tuck the pistol behind her black habit along her waist. The sound of police sirens echoed faintly in the night.
"Guess so?" Ranma stared at the girl, who was apparently just content to latch on to her. The martial artist looked over to his partner with an unsure look. "What do I, um...?"
"Just let her cling," The woman advised helpfully. "It's been traumatic and Lord only knows where her parents are at the moment. She's found a safe haven in your company, so we should probably keep it that way until we find her mother and father."
"Ah, I think I can do that," Ranma nodded agreeably, then looked back down. "Right kiddo?"
The little girl blinked up at him.
They stared at one another until Ranma shrugged and scruffed the girl's hair, then reached down and picked her up. The vice around her legs immediately released in favor a pair of tiny arms clamping around the back of her neck. Sister Lisa let a demure giggle slip, then turned back to the street which was now strobing blue and red. A police car rounded the corner, quickly followed by a second and third. Their progress was slowed further by the debris and shell shocked pedestrians milling about. Ranma gave them a passing glance, then returned her attention to the girl in her arms.
"What's your name, anyway?" Silence greeted the question, but fear no longer danced in her facial expression, so the martial artist counted the lack of response as a win nonetheless. "Listen, the police are comin' along and they're gonna find your Mom and Dad, alright?"
The girl only responded with more clinging, but Ranma hadn't really expected words in the first place. Instead, he watched the police as they deployed, questioning those closest and working outward. it only took a moment for one of the officers to find his way over to the church.
"Officer," Sister Lisa bowed, as the uniformed trooper approached. She received a brief nod in return as he retrieved a pen and pad of paper. "How can we help you?"
"By telling us what managed to tear up the street back there," The police man began, glancing over his shoulder. "Some sort of explosion? A wreck?"
Ranma watched warily as the woman's face took on a concerned, if clueless expression. "I was under the impression something supernatural had occurred."
Not a lie, the martial artist noted while realizing just what the woman had in mind. It wasn't actually a bad idea by her estimation, either. Nerima was used to this crap. These guys? The twitch on the officers cheek told him everything he needed to know about this particular encounter. Notes were scribbled, and he turned to the redhead.
"How about you, girl?" The officer continued. "Got reports of gunfire."
"Oh my, are we safe?" Lisa emoted and it was all Ranma could do not to outright stare at her performance, especially since she was the one with the gun tucked in the small of her back.
"We're securing the scene," The officer assured her, then turned back to Ranma. "Anything unusual? Supernatural, you said?"
Ranma fixed her best 'clueless girl cruising for treats' mask and went to work herself. "There was a big explosion down the street! Over there!" She pointed to the zone of crumpled cars, then motioned to the girl she was holding to further divert his attention. "We found the little girl here all alone. She'll probably need your help fining her parents."
"She got caught in that?" The policeman frowned, especially now that he was focused on the green haired child's pathetic looking state. "Alright, we've got an ambulance on the way. Can I trouble you to hang onto her until the paramedics get here?"
"I think so." Ranma looked at the girl in her arms. "Sound good to you?"
The grip around her neck tightened, all but assuring her of the answer. The officer smiled at the redhead and gave Sister Lisa a deferential nod. "I'll have my partner get your details in a moment. If I can ask your patience while we secure the scene?"
"Of course, officer," Sister Lisa bowed pleasantly. The policeman smiled at the child, who in turn buried her head in Ranma's shoulder. With that, he was off to stalk another witness. The pair watched after him for a moment, then Lisa turned her attention to the hiding girl. "Don't worry, child. We'll find your parents, yet."
Her answer was to cling tighter to the redhead.
If there was a single defining trait that set Nabiki Tendo apart from her sisters, it was money, or rather the pursuit of said monetary wealth by whatever means necessary. Before the arrival of the Saotomes, those means were by and large mundane in nature. Small time betting pools, minor loans and a bit of extortion here and there never hurt anybody.
That trivial detail aside, the Ice Queen's financial outlook improved considerably with the arrival of Ranma Saotome, aqua transsexual martial arts heir. At least that was the technical name Nabiki had assigned to the boy's condition who was also her sister's fiancé. Within the first six months of his arrival, he had turned the betting pools on their ear with impossible odds against unbelievable opponents. That, and his female body was simply hot in every way that mattered. Nabiki Tendo certainly didn't swing that way, but she was utterly realistic and knew a marketable commodity when she saw it, and did so with fervor. Pictures. Embroidered Handkerchiefs. Cosplay. Ranma was simply a money making machine.
The very same aspects that made Ranma such a revenue generator also tended to attract the crazies by the boat load and that tended to create property damage, the latest bout being the dojo.
The jock can't even attend his own wedding without destroying something, she snorted with mild humor as she rounded the banister and took the first step down the stairs to the first floor. Sure, she had played a part with inviting the rest of the school, but the martial arts carnage that followed? She could wash her hands of that. Actually, that was all Daddy's doing, she shook her head at how badly the entire water incident had been handled.
For her part, it was supposed to be an in and out operation. Get Ranma hitched to her baby sister, collect the gift money from all the guests she had invited, repay the wedding expenses and take the rest for profit. But Daddy just had to get his insurance policy, the mercenary rolled her eyes at the thought and the resulting melee it had incited. It was also why she was here, now, approaching the guest room and one Ranma Saotome therein. Of course, that part hadn't been his fault either, but she couldn't exactly extort money from her own father.
At least not so obviously, Nabiki smirked. But that left only one person to pay for damages and it sure as hell wasn't coming out of her pocket. She slid the door to the guestroom open. It would be coming out... of... his?
Nabiki Tendo arched a skeptical eyebrow with the sight that greeted her. Having a live-in aqua transsexual martial artist had gone a long way to jading the sister toward the unexpected; likewise taking a club to what was considered acceptable and unacceptable gender role models and outright beating the notion with said club. For example, finding her soon to be brother-in-law alone in the guestroom twirling a lacy bra on one finger and flipping through a book with the other might have conjured a somewhat negative connotation in any other household.
Here- Nabiki's little sister notwithstanding -it was a curiosity. And the potential to make yet more money. Being thus jaded, she plied her intellect to determining why the Saotome would be handling the bra in the first place while reading through a book if not for the sheer pleasure of handling the bra itself.
She doubted that very much.
Research? The Ice Queen forwarded the only hypothesis available as she stepped into the guestroom. Ranma looked up. Bra research? Nabiki pressed the unlikely notion, but fixed a predatory grin for the pigtailed boy regardless.
"Ranma, Ranma, Ranma... What are you doing?" Nabiki asked in a tone that plainly advertised amusement with her find. The martial artist looked from her to the bra, which immediately stopped twirling on his finger and disappeared behind his back an instant later.
"Ah... It's not what it looks like." The mercenary's eyebrows raised to clearly indicate her disbelief. After a moment of silent scrutiny, the martial artist broke. He motioned to the books. "Okay, it's research."
And I can't wait to hear this, she chortled internally while continuing to pin him with the doubtful look. "Really now. And what kind of research could this possibly be?"
Ranma frowned. Nabiki sent a cool smile back. Ranma muttered something. The middle Tendo pressed her question. "What was that?"
Now the black haired teen looked about like he was ready to swallow a bug, but replied. "Bra research."
Nabiki's smile slipped a fraction. She hadn't actually expected to right, but that didn't mean she wasn't going to have fun with the new information. "You realize what would happen if my sister came in and found out you were researching bras?"
"That's why the door was closed." The look on Ranma's face clearly advertised he had considered the fact. Nabiki merely chuckled.
"And when has that ever stopped her, Saotome?"
"Eh... Good point." Ranma conceded, now crestfallen. He appeared to think on the matter, then closed both books he had been studying, stacking them to be relocated.
"What's so interesting about this bra?" Nabiki queried, allowing a small measure of her curiosity to slip through.
"Cursed." Ranma replied, standing up.
"Cursed?" Nabiki repeated, to which the martial artist simply nodded. "How so?"
Her soon to be brother in law winced and the mercenary instantly knew she was going to enjoy the explanation. "Let's just say it makes people uncontrollably grabby and leave it at that."
"Wait, don't tell me," Nabiki's cool smile broke out into a full on grin. "Happosai, right?"
"Happosai." Ranma loosed a defeated sigh and bent down to collect the books, one titled, 'Bra's Throughout History' and the other labeled 'Five Hundred Glorious Years: The Brassiere'. Ranma pulled the books from the futon he had been using as a base of operations and returned his attention to Nabiki.
She was gone.
Ranma stumbled back with more than slight alarm as the space she had just occupied was now occupied by somebody else- Somebody he hadn't seen in nearly two weeks now. She was also somebody he had hoped never to see again.
"Ah, you're... ah..." Were the only things to by bypass the traffic jam of coherent thought now fighting for prevalence in Ranma's brain. While output was strained at the moment, the teen's input was functioning nominally and found the Duchess Selene Montague the Third standing in the doorway. Ranma scrubbed his eyes clear- the fact that they had been clear before no longer relevant -but she was still there.
It was a gentle smile to match the cool blue aura floating around her person. The malevolence associated with her last manifestation was replaced by calm, giving Ranma the distinct impression that regardless of their last encounter, this version wasn't going to be an adversarial one... Adversarial in the way that sent large cursed dish plates to behead innocent church members and martial artists alike. Still, it left him bereft of a clear conversational path, so he settled for the only thing that came to mind.
The blond beauty inclined her head respectfully in response. Her lips moved and the air seemed to vibrate with her voice. "They are coming now."
Ranma blinked as that particular bit of information lanced through the tangle of questions to create a single, all important one. After all, he imagined spirits didn't just pop in to impart useless trivia. If only, Ranma grumbled internally based on his past experience, but composed the more pressing question. "Who's coming?"
"Please take good care of her," The Duchess ignored the question; her form beginning to brighten.
"Come on, a hint at least?" Ranma stepped forward to stop her, only to watch as her body washed out with light until he literally had to turn away from its intensity.
"And thank you... For everything."
The light pulsed into a nova, and Ranma shielded his vision with an arm. Even that left him blinking and when the world returned, Nabiki Tendo was back where she had been expected in the first place. The mercenary stared at him in a way that indicated she was aware something was amiss.
"Ranma, you still in there?"
Her question all but confirmed it, and the martial artist glanced around to see if any other details had fallen to the wayside. After a quick study of the room, Ranma turned a serious look on the middle Tendo. "Don't suppose you saw a blond woman, ball room dress and all ghost-like?"
Much as she was inclined to poke fun at the pigtailed teen, he was serious. A lot tended to ride on the times he was serious, and she tabled the witty banter for another time in favor of a simple shake of the head. "Can't say that I did."
"Of course not," Ranma frowned and flipped the books in hand, causing them to disappear outright. He stepped past Nabiki and out of the room, prompting her to follow. "Kasumi still watchin' her soaps?"
"What's going on, Saotome?"
"We're expectin' company." Ranma advised her and poked his head into the living room where Kasumi was indeed watching her soap opera. The eldest Tendo sister noticed him immediately and sent an easy smile in his direction.
"What can I do for you Ranma-kun?"
"I think we're gonna have company in a few minutes." The teen reiterated the message that he himself had been given. Kasumi let a silent 'oh' slip as her reply, while Nabiki tackled the more salient details; those concerning ghosts.
"The dojo can't take much more of your kind of company, Saotome," Ranma turned to find the mercenary's face alight with something close to real concern in spite of the mask she wore. The martial artist shook his head even as Kasumi collected herself off the couch to prepare for arrivals.
"Not that kind of company," He reassured, then cocked his head. "At least I don't think it is."
"The ghost told you so,"
"The Duchess," Ranma corrected absently, earning an eyebrow arched anew from Nabiki and even causing the eldest Tendo a double take.
"Oh my, a Duchess? Here?" She realized with new found concern that their household wasn't nearly up to snuff to even consider a visit from near royalty.
"So a duchess ghost told you that we would be receiving visitors in the near future." Nabiki favored Ranma with a dry look. Ranma simply nodded. "And she told you all of this in the very same room that you and I were just in, except that you're the only one to see her?"
Nabiki's eyes widened as the sound reverberated from the front door. It was Ranma's turn to return the cool smile. "Sounds about right."
Nabiki's gaze narrowed dangerously on Ranma as she fought to retake the offensive. "You still owe me for the dojo, Saotome."
Ranma's folded his arms, clearly enjoying the superior positioning he now held. The door was knocked upon again. "You want to answer that or should I?"
It was perhaps the only time the Ranma had ever seen the Ice Queens cheek twitch. It was a nearly imperceptible thing but it was there, instantly superseded in that fraction of a second by an intensification of her already present glare. She held it until the door was knocked upon a third time, then simply turned her back and stalked into the living room and out of sight.
Ranma waited another second before releasing the pent up breath he held. Sure, he'd be paying for it later, but a victory was a victory. It also allowed him to turn his attention to their visitors, and he walked down the hall to the front door, feeling nothing overtly threatening has he reached to open it.
He almost wish he hadn't. Two police officers stood beyond the threshold, patiently awaiting his appearance. He was assured of this fact by the next words out of the taller one's mouth, which was a formality really. "Saotome. Have a moment?"
He could theoretically say 'no' to Nermia's finest, but part of the reason they didn't show up for half the craziness that happened in the prefecture was that there was an understanding. The dojo helped maintain order, even if the police turned a somewhat blind eye to the fact that some of the incidents happened because of it.
"Hanata-san," Ranma acknowledged his presence and invited both men in while wondering just what was about to blindside him this time.
"This is Officer Ito from Shibuya." The taller officer began as the followed Ranma deeper into the house. "There was an incident out there a couple of weeks back we hear you might be aware of?"
"Eh..." Ranma's mouth suddenly dried as he recalled the incident in question with vivid detail. "Maybe?"
Officer Hanata laughed aloud. "Come off of it, Saotome. Nobody forgets that redhead."
Ranma slumped, fully exposed by the man's humorous jab. "Okay, yeah. I was there."
"Told you so," Hanata nudged Ito with his elbow as they entered the living room where Kasumi was already waiting with tea and rice crackers. Ito muttered something about being crazy and impossible while taking the cup of tea the Eldest Tendo offered. His counterpart ignored the denials and plied Saotome with questions instead with a more serious demeanor. "We need the real scoop on what happened that night."
"Sure, why not." The martial artist replied, leaning up against the wall as both Tendo sisters watched the meeting from the couch. "Was walkin' around and saw a bunch of people run past. Getting chased by these three demons near as I could tell."
"The little girl we took into custody was involved, correct?" Officer Ito interjected, to which Ranma nodded.
"Yep." Ranma confirmed matter-of-factly. "They were going to get her, so I stepped in."
"You mean your sister stepped in." Ito corrected and Ranma simply cast a helpless look to the other officer, who barely stifled his own chuckle.
"Just tell it in your own words," Hanata offered. Ranma merely sighed.
"Yeah, so I stepped in and took them out."
"How?" Ito pressed once more and this time Hanata intervened.
"With martial arts bullshit you wouldn't believe," His counterpart advised and took over the conversation, returning to the teen. "Right?"
"That's about it," Ranma finished thankfully. There was little else to add, unless he wanted to volunteer Sister Lisa and her demon slaying gun. That seemed like a bad idea, so he kept his mouth shut.
"Alright. We need some specifics about that night," The Neriman police officer continued. "Shibuya PD has been having incidents, and they need to know if they're related to this one."
"How so?" Ranma asked, now curious as to where all this was going.
"Did it look like these youma things just went after anybody or were they hunting the girl specifically?" Ito asked, and Ranma reviewed the battle in his mind's eye.
"They could have turned anywhere at that intersection," Ranma decided upon recalling their first contact with the creatures. "People runnin' all over the place that night. Granted, she could have just been the slowest, but she was already pretty scraped up. Looked like she had been running for a while." Officer Ito frowned with the news and even Hanata looked somewhat concerned. All the tension was starting to put Ranma on edge. "What's going on?"
"We believe that she may have been specifically targeted that night." Officer Ito replied gravely. "Worse, she is still being targeted."
The martial artists jaw set with the new revelation. The direction of their conversation was starting to become quite clear now. "She's hurt?"
"So far, no." The shorter officer replied. "The same can't be said for the people who took her into protective custody."
"You're sure you got all those demons that night?" Officer Hanata questioned. Ranma simply nodded.
"Dammit." Ito cursed, then looked up at the silent females. "Eh, excuse me."
"Oh, we're quite enjoying this," Nabiki quipped. Her older sister merely nodded, watching the meeting as intently as the soap opera it had interrupted.
Officer Ito gave them a strange look before returning to the matter at hand. "We've had a number of injuries. One death. The reports are similar: Either demons or people dressed up like demons appear to be tracking this girl. Pink, ugly, vaguely female in appearance."
"That's them," Ranma confirmed, attempting to glean all the information he could concerning the fallout this particular incident held for him. "What about her parents?"
"Nothing," Ito responded solemnly. "She doesn't talk as it is and we would have something in the medical databases by now. A birth. Medical checkup. Hell, even dental is a miss."
"Which brings us to our visit." Officer Hanata advised, and Ranma could all but feel the other shoe drop. "Shibuya PD is having a hard time keeping her safe. We know she's being targeted, but by who and what is still up in the air."
"We're a bit far from Juuban to be seeing regular demon sightings," Ito added, to which Hanata nodded.
"Until we can find her parents, we need protective custody for this girl and we need it now." The taller officer continued. "And by protective custody, we mean protection against magical crap."
Ranma waited with anticipatory dread. Here it comes...
"Magical crap like the sort you already protected her from." Hanata continued, letting the statement hang while waiting for a reaction.
"Wait a minute." The reaction didn't come from the direction he was expecting, and instead turned to the younger of the sisters present. "You want to put this girl into protective custody... With Saotome?"
"Yeah, not sure if that's such-"
Ranma began, only to be cut off by Nabiki as she produced a derisive laugh. "You realize that's like feeding chum to a shark with his life?
"Now Nabiki-chan, Ranma's kept us quite safe," Kasumi volunteered helpfully, overriding them younger sister and martial artist all in one swoop. She began ticking off examples on her finger. "There was the boy that turned into a flying bull-yeti-octopus, that giant Phoenix, the Lucky God Martial Artists... Oh, and remember little Plum?"
"How can I forget?" Ranma mumbled darkly while Nabiki simply stared at her sister.
"There is also the fact that she was quite taken with you, according to the report I read." Officer Hanata added, attempting to hedge their odds that the teen would accept the offer he was about to make.
The black haired teen frowned, remembering that quite clearly. On any other day, it would have just been another martial arts incident to be filed and categorized amongst them myriad of other battles and challenges he received regularly. That night had been tougher, only because the girl in question threw an unholy fit upon being separated from his- then her -person. She bawled all the way to the ambulance and hadn't stopped even after the doors were closed and it drove off.
It drove a spike of guilt straight through Ranma's core that night, but there wasn't anything he could do. The girl had parents and a home. What was he going to do that night, take her himself? And now, against all odds, it was looking like he almost should have in the first place.
"We're barely making ends meet now, Saotome." Nabiki whispered not so subtly upon seeing her future brother in-law waver. "How the hell are you going to take care of a kid when you can't even contribute to the dojo, let alone keep it from getting destroyed? Not even counting the fact that you would have to somehow balance your crazy life, a kid and school..."
Ranma blinked at her, almost stunned by the amount of passion the middle Tendo was expressing.
"...On top of demonic stalkers?" She continued, all but oblivious to Ranma's staring. "This is a very bad idea. For all of us."
"Only until we can find her parents," Officer Hanata appended calmly, retaking the teen's attention. "We're simply seeking a more hardened environment with which to protect the child until we can dig up some information on her."
"A monthly stipend would be allocated to your expenses," The Shibuya Officer added. "It would help to offset any expenses you and your sister would accrue in caring for the child. We can likewise make any arrangements you would need for schooling. Hours, Tutors. Location. You name it."
"Ranma isn't even age of majority yet," Nabiki countered, folding her arms with what she thought was a winning hand "This would have to go through his father or mother."
Officer Hanata turned on Nabiki with a very serious look that instantly chilled her to the bone. "Miss Tendo, do you really think involving Mister Saotome in this is such a wise idea?"
"Because I can assure you that we would have some very pointed questions for him. Questions we have seen fit to overlook for the time being." The officer continued and Nabiki's mouth sat open, but silent. "And once we start to ask those questions, we would have to interview Mister Tendo as well; especially concerning a certain panty thief regularly frequenting this area."
Her mouth snapped shut.
"What I am trying to say is simple, Miss Tendo," His gaze upon her took was hard as stone now, and she dared not move. "Butt. Out."
"Please, sister," Kasumi, placed a restraining hand on her sister's arm in spite of her prenaturally calm expression. "Let the kind officers conduct their business."
Nabiki looked like she was about ready to protest until Ranma cast a sidelong glance back at her. "Nabiki, shut up."
Her eyes bulged, but she did so much to his surprise.
"Ahem," Ranma cleared his throat and turned back to the officers now that they had mutually convinced the middle sister to stopped digging their graves. "About that...?"
"I see no reason to discuss it any further," Officer Hanata's expression turn cordial on the spot as he waved the concern away physically with his hand. "And we would like to make it clear that your acceptance won't affect that. We do, however, need somebody capable of protecting this girl."
"As we mentioned, she's somehow managed thus far, but her luck can't hold indefinitely." Ito added solemnly. "We've already had casualties. I may be nuts, But I'm thinking Officer Hanata is correct. Best we hand this off to somebody who deals with this regularly; at least until we can find her parents."
Ranma Saotome was truly at a loss. They actually expected him to take over the guardianship of some kid he had only met once before. Protecting her, that was one thing. But actually caring for her? Sure it was a martial artists duty to protect those who couldn't do so for themselves and the little girl certainly fell into that category, but... Ranma shook his head. "Look guys, I'm all good with the protecting angle. Not sure I could take care of a kid if my life depended on it though."
"I could give you pointers," Kasumi inserted helpfully. Nabiki glared at her some more. "I all but raised Akane and Nabiki. Doctor Tofu would be happy to help as well."
Which is all fine, except for Mister Tendo, my old man and mom, Ranma had already determined the primary obstacles as if he were engaging in a martial arts challenge. Throw in Akane and the fiancées, Ranma added to his growing list of headaches. As if the wedding and the dojo hadn't been enough. Now he had to deal with demons, ghosts nobody else could see, little girls- Ranma stumbled on the last thought, suddenly making a connection in the warning provided to him by the Duchess.
"She's here right now, isn't she?" Ranma's focus narrowed sharply on the officers. Hanata merely nodded.
"In a van on the street." He answered plainly. "If you agreed to this, we wanted her in your protection as quickly as possible."
"Dammit." The teen mumbled. Still, there was one thing Ranma just couldn't shove to the side. There was a plate, it had his name on it and it was damn full at the moment. "And there's nobody else?"
"Maybe there is," Officer Ito offered. "Even those magical girl types. But are we going to find them before statistics catch up to her? Will she bond with that person as effectively as she did you? Those are the questions we can't answer."
All eyes were on him now. The officers simply waited. Kasumi watched without commitment and Nabiki was staring a hole the size of Kensai through him, but remained silent. The martial artist almost wanted to do it just to spite her, but it was a petty reason dwarfed by a singular, all important one.
"I'm probably gonna regret this," Ranma shook her head. "Let's do it before this gets any more complicated."
"I'll be right back," Ito nodded and excused himself from the room. Officer Hanata took up the discussion in his place.
"Officially, you'll be the guardian," The man continued, explaining the details. "As of this moment, your majority is no longer an issue in this matter. Ito's getting the girl and the paperwork as we speak. If you can get a name out of her- or any detail -for that matter, it would certainly go a long ways in finding her parents."
"The sooner the better," Ranma shook his head, feeling some of what Nabiki longed to express but without the luxury of just casting the girl aside. "Will do what I can though."
"That's all we ask. The precinct tries to keep track of things going on around the ward and I think I have at least a handle on your situation," The police officer nodded with a measure of sympathy. "We'll try and smooth things out as much as possible on our end; even in regards to 'Ranko'."
"Gee, thanks." The teen rolled his eyes, eliciting a chuckle from the man.
"Keep her safe and report any incidents to me." Hanata continued, handing Ranma a business card. "If it happens outside my jurisdiction, give them the cute redhead crap and refer them to us."
"Don't... No! Don't be difficult!"
A childish scream punctuated the demand, and the door closed from the front of the house. More screaming echoed back through the hall and to their position, causing Hanata to wince. "She's got a foul temper when she puts her mind to it."
"And you're just now telling us this?" Nabiki finally found the courage to voice her opinion on the matter and the officer simply shrugged.
"If we're right, it's not something you will have to worry about." He stated, largely ignoring the middle Tendo in deference to awaiting the child's arrival. Seconds later she did. Officer held her out away from his body as the little green haired girl thrashed in his hands, screaming like a banshee. He might as well have been holding a mini tempest, but he maintained a firm grip and allowed the child to struggle to no avail.
"Ahhhg, she's in a mood again, Hanata!" Ito complained and was about to ask for help when the thrashing stopped, as if cut off like a switch. The complete cessation of activity almost cause the officer to drop her in surprise. "Eh?"
The girl's eyes were open wide now, their red orbs focused solidly on Ranma. Officer Hanata smiled slightly. "Do me a favor and let her loose, Ito."
The Shibuya officer did so and she was off in a tumbling run the moment her feet touched the ground, plowing into Ranma's knees and wrapping around them much the same way she had done so nearly two weeks ago. She continued to look up at the martial artist staring down in wonder at her, this time added a new component to their meeting.
Officer Ito's eyes widened a measure. "That's got to be the first word I've hear her speak aside from that horrific yell of hers."
"Oh, she's precious!" Kasumi cooed, kneeling down to the girls level who in turn looked entirely too cute in the blue jean overalls and pink shirt she wore The child took stock of the adult and shuffled away while maintaining her tight hold on Ranma. The eldest Tendo smiled at her antics. "And shy, too!"
Even Nabiki was finding it hard to hold on to her mood, but managed the frown like the professional she was. Cute child or no, she had already noted a disturbing discrepancy concerning the girl. Now wasn't the time however. For now, she would watch as Ranma lifted the child up, who in turn happily accepted his embrace.
"Good to see you again, kiddo." The green haired girl smiled and snaked her little arms around his neck once more, causing everybody save the middle Tendo sister to smile. Ranma chuckled at his own thoughts. "Gonna have to find you a better name than that, though. Got any suggestions?"
A silent stare greeted the question, but like their last encounter, Ranma hadn't expected an answer anyway. Hanata merely chuckled, as did Ito, who also took the opportunity to drop of manila folder of modest thickness on the lamp stand closest to his person. "Here's the paperwork. Fill it out and give it back to Hanata. You and the little banshee are his problem from here on out."
Ranma bounced the kid as if he knew what he was doing. Nabiki watched, knowing full well that he didn't and what that child represented to the stability of the family. She frowned from the privacy of her own thoughts. It didn't take a genius to realize what was going to happen when everybody else came home, so she sat back, relaxed and waited for the fireworks to begin.
"And I said take her back, boy!" Genma once again tried to intrude into his son's physical space, only to receive a kick to the gut for his trouble as Ranma balanced the toddler in hand and applied his foot to the task of fending off his parent.
"She's not a radio, ya fat ol' Panda!" The pigtailed boy removed his foot from his father's stomach with a sucking sound; balancing on one leg while the other remained hanging, all but promised another application for whichever parent wandered too close. "'Cide's it's only until they find her parents!"
The little girl cradled in his arms giggled at the balding martial artist's wheezing. Kasumi smiled at her while her own father took up the Elder Saotome's case. "But son! We barely have room to spare as it is! Surely the police can-"
"I asked that too and it ain't happenin'," Ranma shook his head and set the girl down just in his father decided to escalate the issue. The child reluctantly disengaged from her clinging and took up her post around his legs. Ranma nudged her to the right to clear the path in front of him should he need it. "I sure as hell ain't gonna let her become youma bait."
"Your mother will take care of her." Soun folded his arms with all the finality of a monarch handing down his decree.
"Yes, boy!" Genma managed a lungful of air and used it to aid his oldest friend's argument. "Give her to your mother and be done with it!"
"Forgot the part about the demons already, old man?" Genma stilled, his next salvo stalling on his tongue. "They're goin' through police to get to her. Whatdya think they'll do to mom?"
"Then what about my daughters?" Soun suddenly raged, his aura contorting into that of a demonic figurehead. The two year old squealed in terror, hiding behind Ranma. For the first time Nabiki could remember, the technique had completely the opposite effect.
"What the hell do you think you're doing, scaring her like that?" The room temperature dropped ten degrees in that moment as Ranma stared Soun down, moving to shield his charge. Soun blinked. The demon head looked down at the pigtailed teen curiously. Both found Ranma projecting an icy glare back at them, not the cowering boy they expected.
"Father, how could you!" The admonishment from Kasumi finished the job Ranma had started and the demon head faulted and swirled out of existence as the eldest daughter berated her father directly. Soun suddenly looked quite guilty and sheepish.
"Ma! Ma! Ma!" The plaintive cry sounded from behind Ranma as the girl tugged at Ranma's blue silk shirt. The martial artist sent one last glare at Soun before kneeling down to address the girl.
"Don't let the nasty old man scare you, kiddo!" Ranma brushed a messy lock of green hair aside but the attention did little to calm the child.
"I'm not a nasty-"
"Hush, Father!" Kasumi put her foot down and the Tendo patriarch was suddenly sitting down, twiddling his thumbs.
"Ma! Ma! Ma! Ma!" The girl continued to cry. Ranma picked her up as seemed to be the established custom so far, but the girl continued her unsettled behavior.
"I think she wants her mother," Nabiki commented in a bored tone, prompting Ranma to look from the child to Nabiki and back.
"Don't suppose you want to tell us who she is, do ya?" Ranma's question caused her a moment of pause as her red eyes stared into his blue, but the moment quickly passed and the crying renewed.
"Maybe I can try holding her," Kasumi offered and Ranma nodded, willing to try anything to get the girl to calm down. Ranma attempted to transfer her over, but she stubbornly clung to her host. Kasumi frowned. "Or perhaps not."
"Oh for God's sake, people. Even I can see this one." Akane huffed, finally no longer content to sit in the background. Everybody watched as she sat up off the couch and marched directly into the kitchen. Water ran for less than five seconds and the youngest Tendo was back, glass of water in hand. She held it out to Ranma impatiently. "Well? Go on."
Ranma looked at the glass of water and shrugged, taking it. Internally, he sighed. Externally, he put on a show for the agitated girl. "Want to see something neat?"
He didn't wait for a reply and slowly turned the water over on his head. His form melted instantly into that of a curvy teenage girl as the water drizzled through his hair. The child's eyes lit up.
Her grip tightened once more and the tears disappeared instantaneously. Ranma snorted in mild amusement. "Huh. Go figure."
Even Akane hadn't been expecting such a drastic turnabout, all but forcing the suspiscion from her lips. "Are you sure you haven't seen this little girl before?"
"Congratulations, Saotome." The middle Tendo rolled her eyes. "Looks like you can be the father and the mother."
"Oh, that's very convenient." Kasumi smiled at the realization and Nabiki snorted.
"Yeah, real funny," The redhead retorted, but preoccupied his attention by bouncing the child in her arm. Genma Saotome, on the other hand, sneered at the sight.
"You look like a girl, Boy!" He challenged, hoping for a more negative reaction. His own insult caught up to him and he smiled. "I guess that makes you a momma's boy!"
The occupants of the living room simply stared at him.
"That was awful, Saotome-kun," Soun shook his head, causing Genma to shrug at the failed attempt at humor while his son turned daughter glared at him. Soun took the opening it provided to press his case. "Regardless, if there are demons after this poor child, it would be reckless to endanger my poor, defenseless daughters as well."
"Hey!" Akane sputtered with the unintended slight. "I can take care of myself, you know?"
"Of course you can, dear," Soun dismissed her claim outright and continued to press his argument. Akane simmered in his verbal wake. "Kasumi and Nabiki-chan, however..."
"Look, yeah, I get the message," Ranma shook his head, tired of the denials. "I'll be out by tomorrow."
Soun's eyes suddenly widened. Genma choked. That had not been the primary goal of their argument at all. Out and separating him from Akane would leave him to the mercy of the other fiancées, and both parents already had more than enough examples of what would happen if that opportunity arose.
"Um, let's not be hasty about this, boy!"
"Indeed, son! We're just trying to say-!"
"Morons." Akane mumbled, to which Ranma could only nod his agreement.
"It's not that we-" Soun tried to renew his argument, only to have Nabiki step in.
"I think he should stay." The Ice Queen interrupted conversationally, causing Ranma's head to pivot on her in disbelief. Nabiki affected a thoroughly bored look. "Big Sis is right. How is this any different than what we've already seen? Fiancees, rivals and demons, oh my."
The last part advertise the unimpressed nature of the threats that had faced the dojo in the past, but Ranma scrutinized the girl regardless. Even Kasumi turned a curious glance at the girl who had all but tried to outright block the girl from staying only an hour before. That didn't stop the two pronged assault from happening once more as Genma tagged back in.
"Boy, I'm your father." He stated imperiously. "Until you're old enough, I'll be-"
"Oh, the friendly officer said that wouldn't be a problem." Kasumi stated, causing Genma pause. He opened his mouth to continue and the eldest Tendo overrode immediately. "And he mentioned something about some questions for you and Father."
Genma's mouth remained open. Soun shivered, but filled the silence in Genma's stead with his own tepid question. "What sort of questions?"
"I believe they would have some questions concerning grandfather Happosai," The daughter mentioned innocently as she collected a pair of cups off the living room table. Soun suddenly paled.
"And they seem ta think Panda face there has a past," Ranma smirked, noting the sudden stiffening of his father's frame. "I wouldn't go rockin' the boat if I were you, old man."
"You... It's... That's..." Genma fought to bring a decisive argument to bare. After several attempts, he deferred to the one he wouldn't have even thought of using less than six months ago. "We'll discuss this with your mother."
"Bravery in the face of danger." Nabiki chuckled softly to herself, then turned to Ranma. "Keep her out of my room or there will be hell to pay, Saotome."
With that warning, the middle Tendo apparently tired of the scene and departed, leaving the entire debacle to those left behind. Nor was she the only one. A tired little yawn erupted from the green head of hair resting on Ranma's shoulders. Kasumi smiled gently at the little green haired girl nuzzling Ranma's shoulder. "I think it is time for a nap."
Ranma noted the child's state with agreement, tossing a frosty look back at the parents as he followed the eldest Tendo up on her suggestion. She then turned around to Akane. "C'mon, Akane-chan. Wanna help? I sure as hell don't know what to do."
The request took the fiancée by surprise and she bobbed her head. With that, three females departed the room, leaving two thoroughly defeated males to ponder their next course of action. Ranma, Akane and Kasumi occupied the guestroom in short order, while the martial artist herself set to slowly untangling the tiny limbs from her person. The little girl woke up ever so briefly; just enough to confirm Ranma was still in her presence before producing another cute yawn and fading back to sleep.
Kasumi was straightening up Ranma's futon for the girl and happened upon something paper in its folds. She pulled it out, her eyes falling upon a gold-flecked envelope sealed by impressed red wax. The envelope itself bore only one word: Ranma's name in precise calligraphy.
"For you?" The eldest sister studied it for a moment before trading the redhead for the child. Ranma took the letter and stared, as did Akane over her shoulder. After flipping it over and studying the wax imprinted crest, Ranma shrugged and tore the letter open. Her blue eyes flicked across the fine paper's contents and the inked message quickly.
"There is much to discuss concerning her. Please meet me on the roof Mihuzo bank at midnight. Please come alone."
"Give me a freakin' break."
Akane fished it out of her hands for her own perusal even as the redhead aired her missive aloud. Kasumi read it over her shoulder with her own measure of surprise. "It would appear as if your little friend here is quite popular."
Ranma glanced down to the open envelope and its breached red seal in dismay, then back down to the girl whose snoring came out in cute burbles. First demons. Then police. And ghosts. Now mystery guests with the ability to enter the house without signs of entry.
The martial artist sighed. "Yeah. Don't I know it."
Ranma Saotome, heir to the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts waited patiently, sitting atop a silent air conditioning unit while awaiting the letter's mysterious author. The night was clear and moonless, giving anybody out this late the opportunity to take in the night sky; or rather as much of it as the ambient city lights would allow.
It was a stark contrast to much of his upbringing on the road, where the night was clear as crystal and the nearest civilization couldn't be reached for days on end. Out there, thousands of stars hung in the sky, not just the score or so bright enough to be noticed beyond the glare of the city.
The black haired teen's eyes traced the dim outline of Orion, relatively unsure which he liked better. Certainly there was the modern conveniences of the city, but for the last two years it had proven the bane of his existence. On the other hand, life on the road was simpler and he doubted that half the problems that plagued him in Nerima would follow him out into the ass end of some outback. He had grown up without the trappings that were associated with civilization anyway. Move from place to place, learn new techniques…
…And be alone.
Like my old man, Ranma grumbled mentally. Not simply that, but forever running from his problems. Most of them had been caused by his father running, and it looked like Nerima was going to be the place where they stood their ground. Where I stand my ground, the teen shook his head with thought. The old man would bail the moment the going got tough.
A slight smirk developed on the edge of his mouth. Maybe another mention of the police would do just that. Would serve him right for all the—
The summer night's air shifted. It was a small thing and could have easily been written off as a change in the wind's direction, save for the sudden ki that accompanied the atmospheric displacement. Not enough ki for an attack, but it served to alert the martial artist that someone had just literally appeared behind him. He drew on his own reservoir and turned to face his visitor.
She was 168 cm and somewhere in the vicinity of twenty years old. The woman stood in a relaxed manner that did nothing to ease Ranma's guard as he soaked in the details of her black fuku and white top, complete with jeweled bow. She held a silver staff in her hand, notched like a key and terminating in a heart that surrounded a crystal red orb. The potential for a weapon wasn't what set him on edge, however. It was her appearance. Red eyes. Cascading emerald hair. Sharp facial features that looked entirely too familiar. The pair studied one another and after a moment, the woman favored him with an enigmatic smile.
"Ranma Saotome, I presume?"
Author's Notes- On a roll, eh? The idea was so much fun that I actually wrote the prologue and ch1 in one straight shot. Expect ch2 to take a bit longer since I'm trying to get back to my regular fic cycle. As for time frames, I'll start dropping plot that should help you triangulate where in SM canon we are. Ranma canon should be obvious by now.
English Dishes of Despair; Don't even bother looking for it, or the events surrounding it. Purely my creation, but hopefully silly enough to be right at home in Ranma canon. That, and the cursed bra. No, there wasn't one. Trust me.
Rehash; Regulars will note that the opening of this chapters was actually recycled from crapspace. The fic it was going to be paired with crapped out, but the intro was still imminently usable, so it lives. Again.
Uchimizu; The traditional wooden bucket of water used to splash water across a for either ceremonial purposes or simply to cool down sidewalks on a hot day.
Exorsisms; Counting a cat bell, cursed doll, Kasumi's demon.
Nermia PD; I realize I'm taking great liberties with the police here. If i take an even half heartedly serious stab at their organization, one has to wonder why they aren't hauling people in left and right. Like other notable fics, i'm assuming a 'police your own' policy. Taken further, if they have that sort of leeway, I don't think its a stretch to give them a tad more concerning things like unofficial custody of little troublemakers like chibi-Setsuna :)
Special Thanks: Calamity Cordite, as well as the regulars from ch1.