Ranma ½ is the property and invention of Rumiko Takahashi. The following story is not produced for any monetary or personal gain.

Keep in mind the journey is almost always more interesting than the destination.

Journey

Part One: Back to the Real World

Chapter 1

Ranma gracefully somersaulted over his opponent, landed lightly on the huge pack and waited. The boy whose pack he was balancing on immediately turned around to face the direction he had seen his hated foe go in. Of course being who he was he actually turned to face a random direction. Not that this mattered considering where his enemy actually was. "Ranma you coward! How dare you run out on a fight like that. Come back and face me like a man."

"C'mon P-chan, not that I don't appreciate you entertaining me or nothin' but why're after me this time?" Ryouga, realizing he had been made a fool of yet again, threw off his pack in a single smooth motion, hoping to catch his foe by surprise. His pack flew in a straight line for 30 feet before impacting and demolishing a brick wall. Looking intently at the devastation for any sign of movement, he at first did not notice the person slightly behind him shaking his head and tsking to himself. "Miss Kragowa is not going to be happy about that. That's the third time this month she's had to fix her wall."

"Ranma how dare you treat Akane that way. Don't you know how much time she spent making that meal for you?" Ryouga screamed while swinging his umbrella with one hand and throwing his bandanas in his other.

"Hey I can't help it if I had to defend myself against that sludge she tried to feed me! I mean after it ate the table it started to lunge at me. A chi blast was all that saved my life!" Ranma loudly declaimed while easily dodging the bandanas and umbrella while occasionally guiding the closer blows away with a delicate tap.

"Prepare to die!" Ryouga was unaware that during the combat he had been carefully led. When Ranma stepped aside the umbrella continued forward to demolish the public fountain he had been standing in front of. The destroyed fountain began to spray everyone within five feet with cold water.

"Bwee...Bwee!" screamed an enraged Ryouga in his new piglet form.

"Man, maybe that plan wasn't such a great idea," stated a disgusted Ranma-chan from her position next to the piglet as it tried to gnaw on her foot. "It would have been better to simply beat you silly, at least then I'd be dry."

"Ranma! Are you picking on P-chan again? What did I tell you about picking on my pet before, you pervert!" Ranma-chan shivered as he heard the voice behind him. No, it couldn't be. She'd just raced across Nerima to escape Akane and her cooking. It just wasn't natural. "If you leave P-chan alone and try the new recipe I have for you I may not mallet you. Yet." The last part was delivered in a whisper that Ranma-chan didn't think she was supposed to hear.

"I am sooo out of here," she stated while giving 'P-chan' a kick that sent him across the park. She saw an enraged Akane start running towards him, a huge mallet in her hand. Just as she was about to tear off sprinting into the distance she was engulfed in a splash of light.

To the others watching, it appeared that Ranma-chan was covered in a descending cylinder of pure white light. The beam then dwindled to a thin beam and disappeared.

Akane was left staring in bewilderment at the place Ranma-chan last was. "Ranma?" she said in a small voice.

"What pervert girl do with Airen?" asked a well built blue haired girl.

"Shampoo? What happened? If this is one of your magic tricks..." Akane's voice trailed off. Shampoo and her great great great (etc) grandmother had been known to use magic to try to entrap Ranma but these attempts had usually been limited to drugs and potions. She'd never done anything as spectacular as what she'd just seen. This combined with the fact that Shampoo appeared just as confused as she herself was encouraged her consider that Shampoo may be innocent. This time at least.

"Talk to pervert girl later. Shampoo go to great Grandmother now."

"Wait a minute! I am not letting you out of my sight if you might know something about that...thing."

Shampoo just shrugged her shoulders. If the violent pervert girl wanted to follow her around she didn't care. She had more important things to consider. Her husband had just vanished in a flash of light and it was her duty as an Amazon to find him and drag him back to her village. He simply didn't realize how lucky he was to have her as wife, but he would learn. As soon as great Grandmother found him.

Forgotten, a small black piglet wandered dazedly from the park making small 'bweeing' noises. If anyone had been able to understand they would have heard it muttering about training journeys and vengeance.

Chapter 2

To Ranma-chan the world was lost in a glare of whiteness, then there came a sensation of falling. This was a very familiar feeling and she flexed her chi in the way she had learned to do in the past to minimize the damage and pain she would feel on impact. She had much experience at this.

When the impact came she heard rocks shatter and a choking cloud of dust arise around her. By the amount of force she estimated that she had fallen about 250 feet. Well within her tolerances.

Ranma-chan lay in the center of the crater she had created and let her senses inform her of her surroundings. She estimated about twenty-one people surrounded her by the sound of breathing and the light patter of leather shoes against cobblestone. Ten more people had bows that she could pinpoint from the creaking of the drawn strings. Hmm, possibly hostile. She made a note to pay attention the sound of high velocity objects in the air and gently expanded her battle aura to help minimize possible damage and aid in the sensing of missiles.

The sound of bows actually relieved her. If the people around her used arrows, pellets, darts shuriken, bandanas, spatulas or other sub-sonic missile systems she was very confident she could catch, parry or avoid them. If they used these types of weapons chances were they wouldn't use guns or similar tools. Ranma-chan had theorized that the Chestnut Fist combined with certain chi manipulated would allow her to deal with higher technology but had yet figured a way to train that didn't involve crippling injury at the first failure.

Believing she had gotten a grasp of the current situation, as much as she could without seeing it, she slowly sat up and looked around at the room through the subsiding dust. Around her was an open courtyard. There were indeed twenty-one people surrounding her on the ground, most wore something that looked like guardsmen's uniforms over some sort of chainmail.

The uniform was a red overcoat with some sort of black vicious looking lizard thing that appeared to be glaring at the watcher. One wore ornate robes that looked like they may have been appropriate on priests. The robes were red and gold, embroidered with bizarre looking symbols. Looking up where her senses informed her the archers were, she noted they too were dressed in the same type of uniforms the guards wore.

Still moving slowly, she stood up, being sure to subtly gather a few shards of rock in her hands.

The mage was confused. He was expecting something much more impressive. Before him stood a young red-headed girl barely more than four feet tall. According to the spell description he was supposed to have summoned the demon or godling, also known as the Lost One. The prophecies he had researched and wrangled from the oracles spoke that in order to guarantee victory in the upcoming war such a demon was required to be bound and sacrificed. The mage carefully examined the summoning circle. Hmm, intact though the area where the...girl...stood had somehow become badly damaged, he knew that part was not important. It was expected that the bound demon would destroy the area it stood. It was the rest of the circle that would confine said demon.

"Are you the infernal being known as the Lost One?" The girl gave him a confused look and answered in some foreign gibberish. This was not a good start, demons all had the gift of tongues, if this one did not understand then something had gone awry. Giving it some thought the mage regretfully came to a decision. Rooting in the pouch he had at his side he brought out the amulet he used while meeting with foreign diplomats for the King. Pulling a simple gold disk with the stylized ibis head from the pouch he threw it into the circle at the girl. She gave him an odd look and cautiously bent down to pick it up.

"Are you the infernal being known as the Lost One?" the mage repeated his question. This time the girl's head jerked around in surprise.

Ranma-chan had picked up the amulet when the she heard the fellow in the robes speak. This time she understood what he said. "Nah, sorry. I think you must be looking for Ryouga. I was just talking to him," Ranma-chan asked in a hopeful voice. "How about you send me back and I'll tell him you want to see him?"

The man shook his head regretfully, "I'm sorry too, but if you are not the Lost One we cannot allow you to go back to your home plane and warn him." With a look of regret he turned, walking away while signaling with his hand.

Ranma-chan sighed, so much for the easy way to get back home, from the way the guy had talked it was doubtful she was on Earth. Perhaps she had eaten Akane's cooking and was hallucinating, then again why take the chance.

There were several twanging sounds as arrows stood vibrating where the red-headed girl once was. A moment later and much louder twanging sounds signaled the destruction of the bows courtesy of carefully aimed shards of rock.

The guards surrounding the circle jerked their swords from their scabbards as they finally realized that things were not going as they had planned. They frantically looked about trying to find the target that was no longer safely contained in the circle. The mage turned back toward the circle to identify the source of the unexpected sounds.

This was when the horrible noises began. Guards started to scream only to have their voices cut off mid-yell. The mage could see little of the proceeding but what he could made him begin muttering the beginnings of the guardian trigger spell he had not ever expected to use. The sound of metal shattering could be heard from within the large clump of guards, and people were being jettisoned up in the air twenty feet to fall only to the ground unmoving. Occasionally the red-haired girl could be seen jumping from the head, shoulder, sometimes the actual blades of the guardsmen before leaping back within the pack of guardsmen. Then the bodies would start flying again. In less than a minute all twenty-one guards were unconscious, the mage simply assumed they were dead. Truly he had vastly underestimated the power of this demon.

Once the swordsmen were dealt with the red-haired girl slowed enough that she could easily be seen again. With deliberate slowness Ranma-chan walked towards the still chanting mage. "You will send me home. Now."

His voice rising in triumph the mage completed his spell. An eerie blue fog enveloped the area around him, seeming to distort the distances of the courtyard. A shimmering square plane of energy sprang into being on each side of the mage until he was enclosed in a cube of force.

Ranma-chan had backed up, nonplussed at the unexpected events taking place before her. After a second, seeing that nothing else was happening she approached to cube, gathered up several pebbles and flicked them with surprising force at the shimmering wall. Ranma-chan was not very surprised when they bounced off to no effect.

The mage was feeling much more confident. He had stymied the demon-girl, and with his safety he would be able to initiate other counter measures. "You may as well admit defeat gracefully and die with dignity. This area was built with demon containment in mind. This wall around me is impenetrable."

Ranma-chan walked up to the glittering wall. With the test of the pebbles she believed it was safe to touch, which she gingerly did. She felt an incredibly smooth surface, no discernable temperature, and completely unyielding. Beginning with light punches she gradually built up force to her most powerful. Not seeing any effect she added significant amount of chi to her blows causing loud percussive shockwaves to resound through the courtyard. Still no effect, except for stinging knuckles.

She was about to continue testing the barrier when her danger sense noticed the robed man smile and look over her shoulder. She then heard a light whistling sound and felt an object broach her chi field. Cocking her head to the side she felt an arrow fly through the space where it had been. Quickly reaching behind her, she plucked a second arrow from the air. Just as she grabbed the arrow, the first arrow hit the barrier Ranma-chan had been standing in front of. Ranma-chan was caught totally by surprise as the impacting arrow blew up in front of her, sending her flying 40 feet across the courtyard. Ranma-chan's reflexes kicked in quickly enough to turn it into a controlled somersault, but once she landed on her feet she staggered and collapsed on her butt.

The mage had been watching this with great delight. When the creature had showed its determination to get through the barrier he had some passing doubts. Few magic defenses had no weaknesses, and although as far as he knew his were perfect, it was a very powerful demon. Demons didn't cast magic in its traditional form, so while a normal mage of sufficient power may have been able to get through the walls of force with some type of dispel or negate magic, demons shouldn't be capable of this, but...it had looked very determined.

The mage's deliberation was interrupted by said demon shaking itself out of its stunned daze, and after a determined look in his direction that spoke of much future pain, it blurred, running at incredible speed over to the balcony, jumping up the thirty feet to where the arrows had come from and disappearing inside. A few screams later the figure reappeared carrying a quiver of arrows, and a bow. While running by the unconscious swordsmen she grabbed up a sword with an odd bluish hue to it.

Ranma-chan was really beginning to worry. This place was one unpleasant surprise after another. Cubes of force, exploding arrows, and who knew what was next. It seemed less and less likely that he would be able to compel the old man into sending her home, and she was becoming less willing to trust him even if it was offered. She would try a few more attempted before she admitted that she had to find another solution. But first things first. During the brief combat with the swordsmen she had concentrated on destroying their weapons, much as she usually tried to destroy Mousse's. This had worked on most of the guardsmen but a surprising few had swords that just would not snap. She actually took some minor cuts from these swords before she adapted her style to this new danger. However, it was time to see how these weapons work on that cube thing.

Ranma-chan walked toward the mage, stopping at the barrier. Noticing that the man was mumbling something to himself, she picked up her pace. This guy seemed to have almost as many tricks as the old goul. Grasping the sword and channeling chi through it as Kunou did, she combined it with the Chestnut Fist, the sword becoming nothing more than an invisible blur. As the blade began to chime in a high pitched wail she abruptly stopped. Ranma-chan growled in frustration, the sword had merely slid off the barrier with no other effect. Ranma-chan tossed the sword aside. Tools were for the weak, a true martial artist needed nothing more than his body, mind, and spirit.

Ranma-chan jogged about forty feet away from the cube, turned and in a smooth motion notched drew and fired an arrow at the cube. Knowing the lack of effect this would have from the time the other arrow hit the side of the cube, she fired arrow after arrow at the cube to form one long explosion. Once again she paused to think then, hissing in between her teeth in frustration at her lack of speed, she threw the bow aside and used his Chestnut Fist to throw all the arrows that were left in the quiver, forcing one huge explosion from the remaining arrows.

Although severely shaken from the continuous explosions, the mage persevered in his spell. The Demon used tools. He had never heard of a demon that did that before. He had been taught, and learned this from past years of summoning experience that demons just didn't do that. Clearing his mind he forced himself to complete the spell despite his distraction. He had the tiger by the tail and to let go would mean a quick death. As he completed the words of the spell, he dared looked up to see the demon-girl smile as if she had had a brilliant idea. Holding her hands together a brilliant sphere of light began to form between them. The sphere quickly grew larger and then suddenly came barreling towards the cube walls. No ...not at the cube walls, the ground under the cube. Eyes Widening, panic struck just before the light hit. The cube only had five faces.

Ranma-chan was very pleased with herself, she was a master at analyzing a technique, picking it apart and finding a counter. She may have overdone it a bit though. She had put far too much energy in the chi blast and there was a huge pit that the five faced cube was presently hovering over. There was also no sign of the robed guy. Damn, she didn't mean to kill him, even if he probably deserved it, besides he may have been the only way home. Shit.

She was so wrapped up in her contemplation that she didn't fell a slight quiver in the ground. However, when the pillars surrounding the courtyard crumbled, revealing the huge stone golem-like creatures within, it did catch her attention.

Seeming to be statues of rough human shape, they swung there limbs into motion with a certain glacial inevitability. They were slow lumbering creatures, twenty feet tall and they were moving towards her. Ranma-chan had no doubts he could defeat them, but there was little point. It was obviously the old man's last spell, and he was already dead. (Shit.) She was tired, and hurt and this stupid battle was against one silly spell after another. No challenge of skill, just brute force and stamina.

If she knew Ryouga's Breaking Point she might relish a battle against rock monsters. Of course the same reason she hadn't bothered to learn the Breaking Point was why she saw this whole battle as disappointing. The Breaking Point was a crutch. A neat trick whose whole purpose was to allow Ryouga's fights to last long enough for some skill to be displayed. Of course she never expected to be attacked by a rock, which made Ranma-chan rethink the value of learning it. She did after all know the training method.

Anyway it was time to leave. She had a whole world she had to search to find a way home. With those final thoughts she leaped over the courtyard wall, over the rooftop of what appeared to be some sort of large mansion, and into the streets of a large city.

Of the courtyard she left behind there wasn't much remaining intact. The cube still hovered over the pit, most of the trees were either blown over by explosions, or cut through by Ranma-chan's own version of the Kunou sword strike, which while ineffective against the cube seemed to work well against everything else. The stone walls of the courtyard likewise bore long deep troughs, further evidence of the effectiveness of Ranma-chan's borrowed sword.

Eight minutes after she left a shimmering light bloomed in the empty space inside the cube and the form of an old man appeared to unravel from within his cloak, jerked in the air for a second and started to gently float down. As he descended he looked around at the devastation. Then he noticed the stone golems were wandering aimlessly around the courtyard occasionally eliciting a groan or scream, sometimes only a death rattle, as the unconscious men on the ground were stepped on by several tons of stone golem.

"What am I going to tell the Emperor?" were his thoughts before beginning the monotonous task of rounding up the stone golems.

On another plane of existence a being of power looked upon his scrying pool, then up into the eyes of another being of great power and nigh infinite knowledge. "That is a human? I always considered them so weak before. I am pleased that you informed me of her arrival. With a little bit of training she has the potential to be a very effective tool."

"They prefer being called Champions or something with favorable shadings. Considering the danger this being is going to put through on our behalf, we can at least be polite."

"Sure Thoth. Whatever," he grunted.

"Remember, Ammit is not always to be believed, he most likely has his own agenda aside from the goals of his alliance."

"I appreciate your concern, but this is hardly my first taste of intrigue, Ammit asked for my aid and thanks to your counsel I have the perfect...champion. Of all our pantheon you know I appreciate martial skill."

"Be wary not to alienate your champion, you are both honorable, but he...er she is also very compassionate. You can be very strict in following what you believe, give her some flexibility. When she is done with your favor I will need her in good health for a serious mission."

"How serious can it be if you wish to send a human?"

"I need a human for the same reasons as you, they are almost impossible to detect by deities and Intellegences. It therefore means we need as powerful a human as we can find. This one is as powerful as I've yet seen. I've come across weaker Godlings."

"And her mission?"

"Say nothing to the others but I believe I've detected the Old Ones stirring."

After a moment of silence, "Well I suppose you can't get more serious than that."

Chapter 3

Ranma stood by the doorway of the tavern, absently keeping an eye on the patrons within. The weeks since his arrival had not been particularly happy ones. Growing up on the road with his father had been lonely. The only friends he had as a child had been Uchan, and Ryouga (sorta). Both had been too short for an attention starved young boy. The last year he had stayed at the Tendos had been hectic, weird, dangerous, weird, active, and weird but Ranma considered it almost Heaven. He had friends that stayed around for more than a few days, powerful martial artists wandered in and taught him new styles and techniques (although he doubted that's what they had in mind), many girls vied for his attention (he didn't know what to do with them, but the attention was very nice), and he'd been reunited with many old friends from the past (who would have thunk Uchan was a girl?). Then suddenly he had nothing. Not even that honorless piece of filth he called his Pop. It was almost as bad as those times he'd been stuck in his girl form.

Worse this city he was in, maybe this whole world, sucked. Oh sure they had lots of guys throwing magic around...but little else. He'd looked around at some training centers, watched hidden as the elite guards practice their art and had come to a conclusion. They were pathetic. Even Akane or Kunou would seem to be a fighting god to these people. They all used weapons...poorly. Oh sure they could give each other a challenge but even the mediocre clods back home in the Kendo club were better than the best he'd seen so far.

He had doubled his training regime, working harder than he ever had in the past. New katas, imagining new techniques for situations he'd probably never be in. Ranma Saotome would not get soft, or let his advancement in the Art suffer just because he was stuck in a world that had no concept of real martial arts. No way.

He had the time. Employment as a bouncer was easy work. A pressure point here, a glare there and instant peace. During most of the evening when he worked he was imaging different techniques he could practice either later that night or in the morning. The tavern was also a good place to get information. They apparently had no idea how good his hearing was and he had already learned of an underground movement, as well as a few other juicy tidbits of information. Apparently the city was the Capital the Tarldet Plains, a city called Arcadia which in turn was a province of a larger country called the Western Empire, the rather corrupt remains of an expansionist empire. The city he was in stank of decadence, there were no controls on drugs, meaning that a good portion of the population spent most of their time in a drug induced haze. Heck, a few of the bar's patrons were staring in a stupor at the empty air in front of them. Many times a city guardsman had come into the bar to create trouble, only to be slipped several gold and given a few drinks. From what he had heard this was likely the most harmless of the corruption around him. Listening to events on a larger scale there were rumors that the Emperor had been considering taking up the conqueror's mantle again, but was waiting for the right moment. Whatever. Politics didn't interest him. Getting home did.

This led to his interest in magic. It got him here it should be able to get him home. Unfortunately he had achieved a bit of notoriety in the mage circles, so directly requesting help was out of the question. He had learned a bit about the different types of magic available in the world he now inhabited. He had also learned of the places such magic could be found. Since the Western Empire seemed hostile to him, he figured he might more easily gain aid elsewhere.

Looking around he noted that his target had just seated himself at his usual table, and decided to put into play the plan he had come up with earlier. He was no Nabiki but it seemed straightforward enough.

Ranma casually walked over to the mature gentleman who had just sat down at a table in the corner. The importance, or at least wealth, of this individual was displayed by the hulking brute of a man that stood alertly behind him in a guard position. "Greetings. May I have a seat?" Ranma paid close attention to politeness. The last two people he had approached had been so offended by his blunt approach they had immediately left and not come back. This fellow was the last one he knew of who fit his needs.

"I really don't have time for chitchat right now. I'm getting my caravan ready for travel in two days and I really need to hurry. Besides it looks like you're needed for your job," he said with a slight hint of amused condescension. As he had been speaking the man's attention had been drawn to the scene of one of the tavern's drunker patrons raising his mug over his head in preparation of smashing in the back of the head of one of his fellow patrons.

"Don't worry on my account. I have plenty of time to talk to you." As Ranma calmly stated this, he flicked his wrist behind him, sending a spoon flying across the room to imbed itself through both sides of the metal tankard. Incidentally soaking the hostile tavern drinker who still had the drink raised above him. Shocked at his sudden shower he took a look at his tankard, the spoon through it, and the bouncer's back and wisely decided to leave well enough alone. He wasn't drunk enough to mess with a magic user, even one hard up enough to be working as a bouncer.

"Ah, perhaps I can make a little time for you," stated the gentleman with considerably more respect in his voice. His bodyguard, however, was looking on with much more hostility and wariness than he had demonstrated before. Ranma didn't care, it wasn't his problem.

"I have been thinking of leaving this town, but I don't know much about the area. You have a caravan ready to leave for...er...was it Timiro or the Eastern Territory?"

"Ha, it's Timiro my friend. Still want to go? The rates for passengers are 100 gold. Or do you have something else in mind."

"Er, well," Ranma fumbled, his concentration slightly thrown by his own verbal slip. "Something else. Heh, heh...er... I heard you have a need for guards, for your caravan. I'm interested in that position, until we reach one of the larger cities of...er...Timiro." Ranma had his hand positioned nervously on the back of his neck and was sweating bullets. Give him the clarity and focus of battle. Talking was for people like Nabika. Heck even Pops negotiated okay...for a lying honorless bastard.

"If you can handle a sword anywhere near as well as you can a spoon we'll be happy to have you on our journey. I will of course need to speak with the tavern keeper, but as long as he's been satisfied with your services you will be a welcome addition. The wages are 5 gold per week, food and lodging, what little there is while on the road are included. Agreed?"

"Sword...yeah, of course got a sword, I mean, am good with a sword," Ranma said chuckling nervously. He hated lying, he'd have to get a sword tonight. Ranma quickly got up and backed away toward his position at the door.

"I'll see you in two days at first light by the Eastern gate, ask for the merchant Grayson. Goodnight."

The brutish man scowled as Ranma left the table. "I don't trust him. He's too good to be true. And that bumbling shy boy routine is also too convenient. I think it might just be a clever mask to put us off our guard. Someone might suspect who we really are and he could be their response."

"You might be correct in your suspicions. We'll take precautions. The first one being that barmaid draping herself over our reluctant bouncer. Call her over, she may have something useful."

When the barmaid arrived the merchant ordered a drink and a light meal. While chatting and flirting in a light hearted manner, Grayson politely mentioned that she had something on her shoulder and kindly plucked a long black hair that had been laying there. A moment later he wrapped up the conversation and asked to talk to the tavern keep.

Later that night Grayson and the large man retired to their room. Bringing out a shallow silver bowl, he filled it with water. Gazing into the bowl, he chanted a few phrases while burning the hair retrieved earlier that night. After some moments the surface of the water shimmered and an image formed of a black clothed girl with several strands of red hair poking from a black cowl and mask. The two men looked at each other in confusion. Something was not right. Their look of confusion was replaced with one of intense interest soon after.

Ranma-chan hopped from rooftop to rooftop. She kept a careful eye towards the skies, several weeks earlier she had been surprised to see one of the mages of a guard patrol take to the air and fly above his earthbound cohorts. It's the things you didn't know that usually got you Ranma-chan had found. She merely regarded it as a healthy learning experience. It didn't really worry her. Herb flew...sortta, as did Tarou and Saffron. Mid-air combat was a Saotome specialty. It just wasn't usually quite that high.

When she reached his target, she only hesitated long enough to quickly scan the grounds for anything new. She had been here in male form earlier and knew the layout and probable guard location already. She leaped up to an outside window twenty feet up and while holding onto the bricks with her fingers and toes, used her other hand the remove the inner window frame from the outer window frame. The only sound heard was a short sharp snapping sound. Still holding the window she leaped inside, replacing the window loosely behind her. Looking around she noted with approval that she was in a well-furnished office. With a small smile of satisfaction and a shake of her head she tsked as she saw the large metal safe in the wall. There were a few squiggles engraved on the metal but the owner seemed a little overconfident. Well she wasn't here to rob the owner's safe, she had other plans.

Walking forward on silent feet she quickly opened the door. Complacency was replaced by surprise as she saw a guardsman coming down the corridor with a drawn flaming sword. Upon seeing a figure opening the door the guard pointed his sword at it and barked out a word. Instantly a large fireball shot forth, screaming down upon her. Her aura had had just started to turn blue when the fireball hit her crossed arms.

The guard was just congratulating himself on an easy victory when the smoke cleared. Standing with her legs braced, arms crossed, and a very visible blue battle aura was a very pissed off looking redhead. Her clothes were scorched with holes burned through in several places, but except for this and various black smudges on the skin she looked overly healthy for his tastes. The last thing the guard saw was a lithe form blurring toward him and an icy coldness when the aura touched him.

It's very hard to maintain the icy calm necessary for the Dragon Ascending Defeat and still be angry, but Ranma-chan was. She wasn't angry at the guard…much, mostly she was mad at herself. She kept telling herself to be careful, expect the unexpected, and then casually strolled into a completely unexpected situation. She fingered the hilt of her new sword and wondered if every bozo she'd meet in this world would be casting fireballs at her. She might as well have stayed on Mount Pheonix.

Walking down the corridor she halted as she heard the patter of many feet coming her way. She wouldn't be surprised this time. Indeed, Ranma-chan wasn't surprised when fifteen guardsmen came around the corner. She had knocked eight of them unconscious before most could even ready their weapons. When one the people in the rear held up a necklace, pointed at her and she found herself firmly affixed to the ground…that did surprise her. Before she had readjusted her tactics to suit her stationary position one guard scraped his sword on her forearm giving her a nasty cut. Unfortunately for him a moment later he joined his fellows in sleep.

Ranma-chan looked at her feet, looked at her one remaining opponent, and thought quickly. Pulling out the sword (which burst into flame upon leaving the scabbard) she brought the blade down with great force on the ground next to her right foot. Her gasp of delight as she found her foot free (albeit, with a chunk of the floor attached to her feet) turned into a groan of dismay as she found the sword now firmly attached to the ground. Meanwhile the remaining guard had fearfully backed away and was pointing with an innocuous ring he wore on his hand. Guessing what might be coming her way she readied her aura and her arms blurred in a circular pattern before her. Sure enough out of the ring sprang a sphere of fire bearing straight at her. Upon reaching her aura and moving hands the fireball seemed to instantly be shredded and a huge horizontal wind tunnel formed in front of her.

Ranma-chan, although feeling a huge force upon her, still had one foot stuck to the floor. The difficult part wasn't bracing herself against the wind, it was balancing on one foot to prevent it being reattached to the ground. When the wind died down she noted that her adversary was no longer before her. She also noted the wall and a good portion of the ceiling was no longer before her as well. Upon looking around her she saw only the few that had been stuck to the floor or blown into the magic effect were still with her.

Grunting in satisfaction she used a conveniently place body to keep her free foot from touching the magically enhanced floor, while another borrowed sword freed her other foot. Jumping out of the area she continued down the newly renovated corridor and through the hole in the wall. Beyond the wall lay a hole in the floor through which she passed with a sprightly jump.

Finally got here, Ranma-chan muttered to herself as she looked around. Surrounding her were the most pathetic group of people she had ever laid eyes on. Dressed in rags, those that were dressed, about fifty people stood in cages.

"Please, help us," cried out one of the braver souls.

Ranma-chan nodded began to shatter the locks of the cages with chi enhanced blows as she walked down the aisle. The people gathered behind as she moved until she came to the end of the cages.

Turning to face the released captives she drew in a breath and gathered her courage for a speech she had already said several times in the last few weeks. "Who among you are familiar with the streets of this city?" Upon finding a volunteer, Ranma-chan pulled out a map with directions written on it. "This is a map to a location in the city where you can find temporary hiding and shelter. The people here should also be able to smuggle you out of the city, or even the country if you feel it's necessary. There should be several carriages in the next room, set them up and ride to this location. I suggest you use as few as possible to avoid attention."

"Thank you, but why are you helping us?" asked the same brave woman who had first asked for help.

"It's a martial artist's duty to help those weaker than himself. Besides slavery is just plain evil." The woman looked puzzled, as if this didn't explain anything and seemed to be mouthing the words 'martial artist' or maybe 'artist of war' as if she had never heard of such a thing.

At that moment Ranma-chan felt the floor pieces come loose from her feet, and she gratefully stepped off of them. She did not consider high heels very manly even if she was otherwise short in girl form. The crowd around her seemed more startled at her suddenly shrinking several inches than her spectacular arrival.

"Does she seem shorter to you?" a whisper was heard.

"Hey! Who're calling short," Ranma-chan cried out indignantly.

"Now don't bother the powerful sorceress. It's obviously that time of month," a second whisper was heard.

"Hey! Who're calling a girl?" only a confused silence met this remark.

Not being sure exactly what they were talking about, she used this distraction to galvanize the crowd into moving. This rescue was a lot noisier than she had expected and she knew the night watchmen and city guards would need to be distracted away from these people's rendezvous.

Once the people were underway she headed back upstairs to pick up the flaming sword from the rubble and continued on to the office she had originally snuck into. Upon reaching it she paused for a moment and then said to herself, "Why not? If you can't steal from slavers, who can you steal from?"

She gathered her chi and sent her fist smashing into the safe.

When she regained consciousness she found herself firmly imbedded in the wall opposite the safe. There wasn't much left of the room except kindling. Note to self: strange engraved squiggles on safe=pain. From past experience with unconsciousness she estimated she had lost only a few minutes. Prying herself out of the Ranma-chan shaped hole she collapsed and dragged herself on hands and knees to the now open safe. Damned if she had suffered through all that for nothing, she grabbed the few pieces of jewelry, gems and coins and tucked them into subspace.

This momentary breather was enough for Ranma-chan to get her second wind back. This was fortunate, because after that explosion nothing short of blowing up a guard post would be enough of a distraction. She'd have to keep moving in order to maintain the guard's attention yet avoid any unknown magical traps.

It was going to be a very long night.

The two men looked down at the bowl, then sideways at each other, then down at the bowl again.

Finally the huge man spoke, "Okay I'll grant you it's pretty unlikely he ...er she, was a Western Empire spy."

"If that was our bouncer he seems to be marginally competent enough to be one of our guards."

After another moment of silence, the pair broke into hearty laughter.

An exhausted Ranma-chan dragged herself to the tavern the just before dawn. Just before she was about to enter she noticed a group of six disreputable appearing fellows standing before her and the door. "Oh what now!" she sighed in a tired voice.

"We think you've been stealing. You don't have permission from the guild to steal. You can either give us everything you took tonight and forty percent of all future hauls or we'll take it anyway and place you in a world of hurt," grumbled the apparent leader of the group.

After a moment of silence Ranma-chan stated in a conversational tone of voice, "You know the difference between Nabiki and you?" At their puzzled glances she continued, "I don't hit girls, and you ain't anywhere near being my sister-in-law."

The next morning a half dozen paralyzed thugs were found standing in a fierce intimidating manner outside the tavern.

Chapter 4

Later that day a still tired Ranma forced himself awake and trudged through streets of the city. When he had first tried to find this shop he had needed to ask for directions repeatedly. He still didn't read the language (the amulet wasn't that powerful) but he usually remembered how to get to places when he'd been there before. Eventually he stopped before a small unobtrusive shop. It had only a small picture of an open eye on the sign overhanging the door.

It had taken quite a bit of asking around to find this place. Apparently even in a world disgustingly full of magic the city was chock full of quacks and loons. This was supposed to be one of the finest shops where items of a magical nature could be found. Soon after he had arrived he had stopped by here to see what was available. In a way he was disappointed, no sign of anything that could get him home was apparent. On the other hand there were some really amazing things that were available. Even if most were useless to him, he still examined the more common and dangerous items. You never know when these things might be used on you by some misguided soul. He could just imagine Cologne drooling over the things he had seen.

When he went inside the first thing that struck him (as it had on his previous visit) was the size of the room. The room seemed to stretch on for about eighty feet yet still maintained a cozy feel to it. Considering how small the cottage-like building was on the outside, this by itself was a testimony to the effectiveness of the owners talents. The next thing he noticed was the owner leaning on a staff some ten feet away. He was looking directly at Ranma, and he had the disconcerting sensation that regardless of when he arrived the owner would always be in that same position ready to serve him or any other customer. He somehow didn't feel real.

"Greetings, my son. I am pleased to see you once again," the old man spoke in a creaking voice.

"Hi, Gramps. Do you have that thing I ordered?' Ranma asked cheerily. He actually sorta liked the old man. He could be his normal irreverent self and the old man only seemed amused. He hated being polite, it was so…unnatural.

"Yes, and a very interesting request it was. You seem to have an interest in defective goods. Two pairs of magical restraints, indestructible and enchanted so that even the most accomplished wizard cannot spell himself free, or metamorph into another shape and free himself in that manner. Unfortunately the locking mechanism is defective on both sets making them useless as shackles. Ha, ha such irony. And all you wanted was the chains removed. I would have given them to you for almost nothing if it weren't for that. Indestructible chains are very hard to get rid of."

"Yeah, whatever, you got my watch, and that was supposed the cover the manacles and gloves."

"Heh, the other defective item. I wish all my customers wanted my failures. Well the claws of the 'Gryphon Claws' may not work, but they are indestructible, I guess I could have sold it to some Man-of-Arms as gauntlets…but that 'watch' of yours was very interesting."

"Yep and it's worth a cool 1000 yen too (about $10). Anyway I recently 'found' some stuff and I thought I might actually want to buy that speed ring you showed me last time."

"Ah, the 'Ring of Fleetness'. Well that's a good 30000 gold. Are you sure you have those kind of funds?"

"I think so," he said nervously as he brought the jewelry, gold and gems from subspace and handed it to the old man.

The little man took the items, giving a low whistle. "I'm no pawnshop boy. If these are stolen goods I won't take them," he stated in a serious tone.

"No really, the people I took them from were breaking the law," it was only after he had said this that he recalled that slavery was legal in the Western Empire.

"Well…okay, but only because I can tell by your aura that you're telling the truth. I am an honest business man, and wish to remain so." Ranma let out a sigh of relief, he never thought having a mouth that was faster than his brain would be a good thing. "What you have here it easily worth 50000 gold. If you think you can get more you can go to a jeweler and I won't think any less of you."

"No, I'm going on a journey tomorrow and I need what time I have to wrap some things up, I accept your offer. Hey, is that cloak new?"

"Yes it just came in three days ago."

"It's not something silly like that 'Pit Cloak' you showed me, is it?"

"Well some people have found 'Pit Cloaks' to be useful, but no, this is a 'Cloak of Guises'. The old man immediately went into salesman mode. "It can turn into several full sets of clothing at will. Almost anything you can imagine. If you were a woman you could have any style of dress you wanted at anytime. The perfect gift for a girlfriend or spy. I hear they're also illegal in certain countries. Fortunately not much is illegal in our lovely Western Empire," the shopkeeper chuckled. "The only drawback these have is the garments are all the same basic colors and material. For instance, this particular cloak is silk and has a blue exterior with a red inner lining. This means it can transform into any combination of clothing but it must always be some shade of blue or red. Oh, and it will always be silk."

"Hey...yeah it could work! Um...how sturdy is it," Ranma started excitedly.

"Well it's not indestructible like those other things, but it's not too shabby. Unless specifically targeted it's very unlikely to be destroyed. Minor damage will regenerate over time." He chuckled as he thought of something. "Ha, if you're so worried about it being destroyed, the next time you're caught in a fireball, command it to change into a kerchief and hide under your decorative manacles. Ha, ha, ha." The old man was so caught up in his joke he started wheezing. He abruptly stopped laughing when he noticed Ranma nodding silently to himself. "That was a joke son. If you have a fireball coming after you I think you got other things to worry about than your new clothes."

"Yeah...very funny," Ranma muttered with a distant look in his eyes. "I'll take it. How much?"

"Well, for you I'll make it 20000 gold, after all you've taken some useless trash off my hands. What do you need this stuff for anyway."

"Well the manacle are for a curse, the gloves are for a training technique I want to eventually try, the ring is for emergencies, but I don't expect to use it that often." He would be a poor martial artist if he came to depend on a stupid magic ring to win battles for him. Then again considering how weird this world was a ring that doubled your speed could come in handy if things got really hairy. "The cloak is just to avoid embarrassing situations." Like being in a dress while in male form, very bad.

The old man sighed, "If you didn't want to tell me just say so."

"Oh by the way, I got a sword the other night. It bursts into flame and throws fireballs an' stuff, but I...er...forgot the magic word."

"I'm sure you did. I recognize the sword type, it's fairly common. Just point and say 'Acba' and instant fireball. Just 'remember' it only works three times a day," the old man winked at him. "Oh that reminds me 'Acba' is a fairly common magical trigger, be careful what you touch when you say it. Hmm...it's also the trigger for your ring so you may want to wear it around your neck or something if you plan on throwing fireballs and don't want to go into overdrive. Remember the ring also only works three times a day."

Chapter 5

Ranma met up the caravan the next day without mishap, finding Grayson just inside the East Gate. Grayson greeted him warmly enough though he kept glancing with an odd expression at his sword. He also learned that the large man he assumed was the bodyguard was named Kahil. Kahil wore a look of wary respect and most of his previous hostility seemed to be muted. Of course Ranma noticed none of this and lazily roamed around the milling horses until he was given directions. Once Grayson drew him away from the noise of the caravan he was given his instructions.

"We need a scout to travel ahead of the caravan and warn the main group of possible dangers. You seem a young man in excellent shape so I doubt you'll have any problem running back and forth, from point back to the main group. At night I of course expect you to scout the perimeter, and then you can get a nice nights rest while the others guards take turns keeping watch." Grayson spoke with his back turned towards Ranma, braced for some expression of outrage. He was not expecting what came next.

"Cool. Sounds reasonable. Is that it?" Ranma said in cheerful manner, simply happy to moving out of the dreary city.

Grayson began coughing into his sleeve and kept his back turned. "Yes, that's it. If there's nothing else you want to discuss, I need to get these lazy camel herders moving."

"There is one thing," Grayson winced expecting some form of protest. "When do we eat?"

Grayson broke into another fit of coughing. "Well there's some food prepared over by the cart, you can snack on that this morning. The normal schedule will be breakfast at dawn, a short stop for lunch and dinner soon after the evening camp. Enjoy."

Soon after Ranma went to the food, Kahil wandered over. "Well?"

"He didn't protest at all. I think I almost cracked a rib laughing. By the way did you see the sword?"

"Yes. It seemed he is the one that gave us such an adventure. Think he's a metamorphed dragon?"

"Could be, they're more common than people think among the more advanced races of dragons. I hear they find people amusing to be around. I don't understand his easy display of abilities though, a dragon would be more subtle, besides they're generally not known for any martial skills in their human form. Brute force is their forte when magic fails. I'd almost think he was a warrior monk, but he's much better than any I've seen before. When we get back to Timiro we can send some feelers out to a local Monastery and maybe consult a Summoner or two, in case he's a demon."

"That's doubtful. He showed a strong moral code. Though little common sense."

"True but on the off chance he's a demon or a slumming godling, a Summoner could tell us. Despite appearances he really can't be human. I checked his aura again this morning, he's wearing enough magic to make a lordling green with envy but he still appears a human male of high skill. I'd say changeling for the sex change thing except they are supposed to be extinct, and what lore I know says they have very weak constitutions. The boy's as strong as an ox."

"Hmm...that's not the only thing he shares with an ox. Look at him eat. Better send someone to get extra rations," Grayson stated staring as the pig-tailed boys hands blurred on the path from food to mouth.

The caravan was delayed a few hours. Apparently the caravan master had underestimated the supplies needed for his passengers. Several of the wealthier passengers sniffed at this amateurish mistake. Ranma didn't care except some of the female passengers kept wandering over wanting to talk to him. This combined with their 'accidental' touching had him nervous enough to leap at shadows. He was exceedingly anxious to leave by the time the horses started down the road.

Not to mention that his clothes itched. The cloak that was presently supplying his wardrobe was irritating him something terrible. It wasn't quite physical, the silk was of fine quality and very smooth. No, it was a tingling sensation whenever he flexed his chi in any way. Being the martial artist he was, this meant he was in almost a constant state of distress. The bracers he wore (defective manacles really, but they looked enough like bracers to pass them off as such) also itched, but he was able to ignore this as a lesser discomfort.

It was several weeks into his new routine when he came to an abrupt realization of what this might mean. He was several miles ahead of the caravan running around as per his normal daily routine. The trail was a wide rocky path that wound in a snaking pattern between two mountain ranges. He took out the ring he carried in subspace to check his theory. He wasn't having much luck with his test until he became frustrated and commanded his cloak to become a bandana wrapped under one of his bracers. With the general distraction gone he was able to sense a slight sensation coming from the interaction between his battle aura and the ring.

He smiled. The sensation wasn't a curse after all. If he could perfect this talent he would give Shampoo a surprise the next time she tried to slip him a potion. As a side thought it crossed his mind that it might also come in handy fighting magic users. He did after all seem to be in a world that couldn't take a piss without a spell to help out. Of course in order to do this he would need to be able to tune out the magic he wore, it was really playing havoc on his battle senses.

As if to underscore this thought, he heard a voice behind him. "I was going to warn you of bandits, but it appears you've already encountered them."

Ranma looked behind him to see a rather well built female with short black hair, wearing a plain brown robe, tied with a thick robe sash. She pointed behind her with her spear. This also happened to be behind Ranma. At this point it suddenly penetrated his brain that he was wearing only his boxer shorts and T-shirt. Sweating bullets he immediately started babbling. "I can explain...honest...it's like...I mean...well..."

The woman interrupted him, "I'm sure you have excellent reasons for being as you are, never the less there is a furious warlock and his pet Elemental behind us. I think we should probably leave. Now."

Ranma immediately regained control of his tongue, beautiful women he couldn't deal with, but fighting was his life. It was like breathing. "Well I guess I'll just wait here for it. There's a caravan a few miles back I'm guarding, so it's kinda my job. Er...you bein' a girl and all, perhaps you might wanna head over that way while I handle it."

The woman's eyes went wide as she attempted to process the insult. Did the warlock have something against women? That might explain his violent reaction to her when it was obvious she had nothing of value. "Why that evil scum...I'll show him he can't treat a woman like that!"

This only served to confuse Ranma, it was like they were having two different conversations. He was distracted from attempting to get the woman to leave again by whistling sound. Leaping over to the woman he lifted her in his arms and jumped away just as a huge boulder smashed down where they had been. Looking back at where the boulder had come from he momentarily froze in surprise.

"Man I really, really need to learn that Breaking Point thing," he whispered to himself.

Seemingly pulling itself out of the earth was a rock creature. Not just any rock creature, a really large humanoid shaped one. Ranma estimated that it would be about fifty feet once it stood up. Shaking himself from his surprised stupor he bounded over to a large ridge and deposited the woman there. He then leapt toward the monster. He didn't usually pull out the big guns so early in the fight but he believed that only his more powerful attacks would even dent this creature.

By now the creature had pulled itself out of the ground, the earth seemingly sealing itself up after the monster's exit. Ranma began shooting his Fierce Tiger Domineering at the creature while closing the distance. The projectiles were doing damage, but even a five foot crater in the things hide seemed insignificant. When he had closed most of the distance it pointed its arm toward him and a huge shower of large rock shards flew towards him. He was able to dodge most of them, and the few he couldn't he gathered in his arms in a manner similar to how he fought Ryouga's technique. Fortunately the creature was fairly slow, he could dodge the rocks and it looked far too clumsy to physically touch him.

At this point he sensed a dangerous tingling from the ground beneath him. Remembering the adhesion spell he had encountered earlier he leaped away as far as he could. This turned out to be fortunate as the whole area behind him had become a seething mass of lava. "Shit, time to get serious."

Working his way behind the creature with quick leaps he made a final large jump onto the things back. Satisfied the creature couldn't reach him he let loose with a powerful chi charged Chestnut Fist. Having created a crater in the things back as wide and deep as he could reach he was feeling pleased with himself when he felt his chest and legs enveloped in unyielding rock. Looking up he realized in horror that what was once the creature's back was now its front. This was disastrous, the thing was stronger that Ryougo and with his arms trapped at his sides he had no leverage. He might be able to summon a chi blast, but enveloped as he was it would hurt him more than the monster.

Fortunately the thing decided against squeezing him into a paste. It gestured with its other arm creating a large chasm in front of it. Raising its hand it seemed about to throw Ranma down into it when it was distracted from behind. Ranma heard a small tink and a scrape, from his scenic view fifty feet in the air he saw the woman strike the creature's calf with her spear. To his eyes it didn't seem to do must damage, but she had a visible battle aura and from the way the thing reacted it must have hurt. It continued its attempt to throw Ranma but with its timing disrupted, he missed the crevasse and hit the ground.

It was a stunning fall but Ranma was used to similar impacts. With a small wince he staggered to his feet and prepared his next attack. Shouting to the woman to leave, he began a spiral around the stationary beast. It had no chi battle aura but it tingled in the field of his battle aura and he hoped that the magic or whatever made up the beast would prove an adequate substitute. He was fortunate that the next few attacked were clear misses. Once the creature gestured over him, but whatever the purpose of this it seemed to be ineffective. When he reached the center and completed the move he was fearful it would have no effect. A moment later he was gratified to see the whirlwind of the Heavenly Dragon Ascension form. It seemed to actually have much greater energy than usual, seemingly to glow and sparkle as large shards of rubble were ripped from the creature.

Usually Ranma left his foes flying helplessly in the air until they landed, but considering the large scale of the thing that seemed unwise. Firing repeated chi blasts at the rock creature as rapidly as he could manage, he waited for it to come down. When the whirlwind abated so the weight of the thing could no longer be supported it fell several hundred feet to land with a crushing impact. When it finally stirred and stood up he was dismayed to see to creature seemed mostly unhurt. The craters that had covered it were smoothed over and the only sign it had been in combat was that its stature was half its former size.

Ranma was exhausted. He had given this thing all he had and it was still coming on. He didn't have enough energy for a chi blast or Heavenly Dragon Ascension. Well he was still faster than the monster, he could only try. Besides what better way for a martial artist to go than protecting the helpless.

Just as he was about to close once more with the creature he felt a hand on his shoulder. He was about to tell the woman to find shelter when he realized it wasn't the girl standing behind him.

Behind him stood Grayson, Ranma looked around for the other but he appeared to be alone. "Allow me. I have a certain rapport with elementals." He paused before speaking loud, "Peace my Brother, we do not wish to harm you." He paused for a moment as if listening to something. Ranma heard nothing but the sound of rocks grinding together. "Hmm...I see. If you continue this conflict not only will you have to deal with this human which has hurt you so much but I will have to intervene and oppose you as well. I do not wish this." Pausing to listen he nodded. "So my fellow warlock keeps you bound long past the terms of your agreement. This is not right, he must be punished for treating his brethren in such a manner." Standing in silence he considered things for a moment before continuing. "The commands the traitor gave you do not include a time limit. Give us a day to deal with the warlock. If we succeed you will feel your bonds to this plane cease. If we do not you must of course continue with your instructions. Oh, before you go, please restore that human to its original state, we may need it to free you."

Ranma was puzzled by this last part until he examined the landscape closer. About fifty feet away was what appeared to be a statue of the woman he had met earlier. Mouth open in shock he was running toward her when the granite surface of her skin began to glow and slowly took on a pinkish cast. When the glow disappeared she collapsed on the ground. When he looked back towards the creature it's head was already sinking into the ground. He also noticed Grayson walking towards him.

"Well you impressed that one. It called you quite the pest."

"Is she going to be all right?"

"She should be fine. The stone transformation is only fatal if the body is smashed while in that state. It's actually very difficult to manage. From what our friend had to say, he tried that on you a couple times, but gave up once he found your resistance to direct magic to be significant."

"Eh? Direct magic."

"You know sleep spells, paralysis, transformation, spells that affect you directly as opposed to indirect effects such as Fireballs, Lightning, River of Lava, or Chasm," he said nodding toward the slowly cooling magma and chasm.

Ranma congratulated himself again on getting the bracers and made a note to find out what kind of offensive spells people and rock thingies had available. "So why were you so buddy buddy with that thing?"

"I am a warlock, we are linked to the four elements, and more relevant in this case, to elementals. We consider them kin to us, and they treat us in a similar fashion. That poor fellow has been bound by a rogue warlock who has used his bond to coerce the elemental into servitude."

"You mean it wasn't evil."

"Evil is irrelevant, an Elemental's thought processes are not those of a human. They consider human, and most other beings insignificant. They won't actively try to kill you unless ordered, but it may happen anyway if you don't get out of their way. The only exception is warlocks. Fortunately they are content on their own plane and only leave it when summoned."

"So the bad guy is this warlock, right?"

"Yes, he is the 'bad' guy. I told the Elemental we would deal with him. Of course until we do our caravan isn't going anywhere."

"Don't worry, you take the girl back to the others and I'll get the warlock guy." He was about to head off into the mountains when he felt Grayson's hand on his shoulder.

"Do you have any idea where he is?"

"Er...no?"

"Well fortunately the Elemental mentioned his whereabouts. By the way what happened to your clothes?"

Following Grayson's directions Ranma hiked for a ways, until looking upwards he saw a rather imposing structure entirely composed of crystal jutting out from high up on a cliff-face. Sighing in resignation Ranma began his climb. An hour later he reached the odd fortress and leaped from the cliff to one of the structures openings. Looking around he noted he was in a large open room with a huge bed next to the wall. The cleanliness of the room made it unclear if this was where the warlock slept. He was still examining the room when a brushing noise caught his attention. In the adjacent room a brush was scrubbing the floor around a recessed tub as if wielded by a disembodied hand. Seeing the cleaning utensil was not hostile Ranma carefully backed out of the room. Hmm...I bet Kasumi could use one of those. Pushing his musings to the back of his mind he carefully concentrated, hoping to sense the warlock aura. After several minutes of this he was able to discern the sensation of what he believed was the warlock. Opening his eyes and getting his bearings he proceeded through the corridors always bearing towards the aura he had sensed earlier.

The whole building seemed full of animated cleaning utensils merrily brushing, scrubbing or polishing. Every few feet had some new cleaning tool doing its work. Obviously the guy had a real cleanliness fixation. Ranma ignored this, he had seen weirder things. He couldn't think of them offhand but he was sure this was true. What really distracted him was the interference that various miscellaneous enchantments apparently caused with his battle aura. The whole place stank of it. He expected it of the brushes and stuff, but the walls themselves distracted him. The only way he was able to keep his 'lock' on the person's position was reducing the interference to a minimum.

Ranma finally came to the room where the aura was located. With only a second's hesitation he burst through the door. About thirty feet away a robed middle-aged man looked up from the mortar and pestle he'd been using to mix some ingredients with a shocked expression etched on his face. The shock was almost instantly replaced by indignation and the strangest battle Ranma had yet fought begun.

The man yelled something in a garbled tongue, pointing at Ranma. Seeing this Ranma leaped towards the warlock before he could cast something unpleasant. He was only halfway there when he was struck in the face with a feather duster. As he fell to the ground from his leap it was joined by several brushes and some kind of buffing rag. Hacking and choking he noted that the warlock was in the midst of casting some sort of spell. Panicking he grabbed a brush from the mob around him and threw it with significant force towards the chanting mage, eliciting a yowl of pain and a curse. Several seconds later the chanting began again.

This continued for some time. Ranma using his Chestnut Fist to keep the mob of cleaning tools at bay while occasionally throwing one to keep the magic user from completing his spells. He could only move slowly towards the mage while the mage in turn backed away to keep a constant distance from him. Once he tried to leap through the whirling of brushes but was immediately forcibly knocked to the ground. Seeing how this stalemate could probably continue indefinitely (or until he got tired enough that the mage got a spell off) he shot off a weak Fierce Tiger Domineering which was enough to push its way through the mob of brushes and knock the mage back into the wall. Unfortunately while shouting the name of the attack one of the brushes shoved itself forcibly into his mouth and almost down his throat. Choking and gagging he ignored the brushes still flying around, beating him to concentrate on removing the foreign object from his orifice. Almost turning blue from the effort, he was finally successful and staggered as quickly as he could over to the warlock's body. Grabbing him in a fireman carry he limped over to the closest window, and while still being beaten by the cleaning crew, jumped out of it.

Ranma knew he could survive a fall from this height without permanent injury but doubted the same was true with the warlock (besides which, the brushes followed him out of the window). Drawing his stolen sword, which immediately burst into flame, he spun it beneath him while adjusting his aura appropriately. The resulting wind funnel was just enough to reduce his fall to merely tooth-rattling. It also had the added benefit of blowing away the irritating cleaning products.

Okay I changed my mind, there is no way I'm getting Kasumi a set of those things, a disgruntled Ranma thought.

After a few pressure points to insure his guest didn't regain consciousness at an inconvenient time, Ranma headed back towards the caravan.

"You brought him back with you?" Grayson asked in a puzzled tone.

"Of course, you didn't think I'd kill him, did you?"

"No, no, of course not, it's just that now we have to convince him to let loose those he has bound. If he had of course 'accidentally' died all the entities he had placed in servitude would have naturally been freed. Warlocks are notoriously stubborn you know," he said, apparently oblivious to any irony, while Kahil chuckled quietly to himself, while nodding in agreement.

"Don't worry. I think I know a way to convince him."

"Say, did you just take a bath, something smells lemony fresh?"

"Don't be ridiculous, you obviously don't have the guts to kill me. Why should I get rid of any chance to free myself? You must believe me a fool," stated the warlock known as Stabula, his voice dripping with contempt.

"I think you'll agree," said Ranma having just come inside the tent carrying a bucket.

"Yes of course I will. When unicorns fly, boy. You were just fortunate, when you burst into my study dressed in your underwear, surprise was the only thing preventing me from crushing you."

Grayson and Kahil, looked sideways at Ranma, whose face was red, and sweating bullets. "I can explain it all! I swear! It was all part of my master plan to...to take him by surprise and get a tactical advantage...yeah that's it! Really!" Grayson and Kahil gave a noncommittal grunt. Stabula's was outright skeptical.

"Anyway...do as we say or I splatter you with...this," Ranma said while pulling out a glob of mud from the bucket.

"C'mon lad. Do you really expect a pathetic threat like that to...to" Grayson's statement of disbelief trailed off as he recognized the look of horror on Stabula's face.

"Now I've seen everything. An Earth Warlock with a terror of mud. How did you find out, my boy?"

"My martial arts training makes me incredibly observant," Ranma just stated with a wise, inscrutable look on his face. The effect was ruined by a floating mop slamming into the back of his head. Ranma's hands were a blur as he grabbed the mop and stuffed it into subspace, while cautiously looking around.

"What was that," asked a confused Grayson.

"What was what? Oh...that! Probably just someone's idea of a practical joke. Heh, heh," Ranma chuckled nervously.

Chapter 6

Ranma was, as usual, several miles ahead of the caravan. It was several days since they had resolved the warlock issue. The warlock in question was under guard with the caravan's main body. Apparently there was some kind of guild for warlocks where his crimes would be reviewed. Grayson seemed unconcerned with his banditry, however he found his abuse of Elementals intolerable. Ranma could relate to that, sorta, but it was hard to get emotional over a pile of rocks that had been well on its way to flattening him. As far as he could learn from Grayson the only regrets the Elemental had in regards to its past actions was that it had failed to finish off 'that pest'. Ranma wasn't positive but it just might have been referring to him.

He had almost trained himself to ignore the interference caused by the cloak. He wasn't sure he trusted his newly focused concentration in combat, but thought he would soon. The reason he was out a little further than normal was he had found his patience failing with rock creatures lately. There were far too many in this world for his comfort. It may have been ideal for Ryouga, him be'in rock headed an all, but Ranma found it disconcerting being so woefully unprepared.

He also was frustrated at the lack of perceptible progress in his personal training. Without other skilled opponents to test out the effectiveness of the techniques he had invented he had no idea how effective they were. Sure they weren't the incredible destructive maneuvers he had learned from Cologne, but he was fairly proud of the throws, attacks, and defensive moves he had come up with on his own. It looked like he might never find out if they were as good as he thought they were. He really wished Ryouga were here to spar with. Sure he always beat the Lost Boy but it was always a good workout. What was the point in being the best martial artist in the world if he was also the only one. He also missed the okinomiyaki Uchan always made, and the friendly conversation, Akane and her hammer, the verbal sparring, heck he even missed Nabiki…well not much, just a little.

He shook himself, if he kept obsessing about home he would get as depressed as Ryouga, it was time to concentrate on the training he could do. To aid his initial concentration with the perception he was attempting to achieve he had banished all distractions, even his bracers had been placed in subspace. The only distraction left was the odd faint fluttering sensation he had come to associate with having animated cleaning utensils using his subspace storage. It had been very disconcerting at first but he had to put the damn things somewhere. The warlock hadn't been able to call them off, apparently after freeing his 'brothers' he couldn't change the last command he'd issued. So every once in a while a new brush or something would attack him. He got no sympathy from Grayson or the other's, all they did was laugh as he was chased around the camp, until he managed to force the tool away.

He was standing next to a large boulder meditating, and trying to feel how it was connected to him, when he heard footsteps behind him. Knowing who it was before he turned around, he desperately rooted around in subspace for his cloak. Spinning around, he mentally commanded his cloak to form his normal clothing. He was taken by surprise when the thing in his hand started to whip around and repeatedly smack him about the head and shoulders.

A giggling sound confirmed his fears. "Sensei, is this another of your new training methods?" Sighing at yet another humiliation Ranma calmed his mind and put the brush he'd grabbed for back into subspace.

"No. I was just brushing some of the dust off. What do you want?" Ever since the battle the girl he'd met before had been following him around like a lost puppy. He was sort of flattered but it did lead to awkward situations. She didn't seem to mind but it usually embarrassed the heck out of him. She was apparently a member of some kind of Warrior Monk order. Her martial arts weren't anywhere near up to his standards but they were the best he'd seen so far.

"I've been practicing those forms you showed me, and I think I'm ready for something new."

"Hmm...show me. And remember I want to see some real Battle Aura control this time," he grunted.

He nodded in appreciation as he watched her gently glowing form. She was the first person with any chi control he had seen since he gotten to...wherever he was. It was crude and relatively weak but it was there. She said she was one of the best in her order but it was obvious she'd been overwhelmed when she'd seen him in combat. That was to be expected. He was Ranma Saotome after all. When she had recovered she had begged him to teach her. Usually he hated fighting, or even teaching girls but she was so far behind in the martial arts that it would be some time before they would be up to sparring. For now it was chi control, physical exercise, and katas. Eventually she would be able to be able to channel chi while doing exercises and katas, she would find her speed and strength increasing rapidly thereafter as the chi flows optimized the body's development. He was actually rather proud of her progress so far. Not that he expected anything else. With him teaching there really was no chance of anything but success.

After she finished her form he nodded in approval and demonstrated her next exercise. He ignored the fact he was in his boxers. He hoped she thought it was some weird teacher thing. When he was done they chatted for a while and she asked what he had been doing. Giving up the inscrutable teacher act he excitedly began explaining about the Breaking Point and his plans to master it. He admitted that he didn't have the traditional setup, but if he could learn the Chestnut Fist using water and fish he figured he could learn the Breaking Point without a large boulder repeatedly smashing into him.

"Are you sure sensei?" she asked in a doubt filled voice.

"Of course I am. No problem, I think I'm close too. I almost could see something the last time I tried. Er...before you came by."

"Could I stay and watch?'

"I suppose so, just stand back. When the technique works the rocks should explode."

"That sounds very dangerous. Are you sure about this?"

"Sure I'm sure, what could go wrong. I mean the whole technique's point is to toughen the body. Sortta like a stone skin technique. I mean really how often do you get attacked by stone monsters..." Ranma trailed off as he mentally tallied the numerous rock creatures he'd met so far. "Anyway the technique only works on rock, metals, and other really solid stuff."

"If you say so."

After making sure Jess had moved to a safe distance, Ranma began his concentration again. Reaching out he was able to sense his surrounding much clearer than previously, but nothing that looked like a Breaking Point. Still after some time had passed he noticed on the peripheral of his senses a faint network of lines. As he focused on this new phenomenon he saw with sudden clarity how there was a lattice of something, maybe energy, maybe chi connecting everything he sensed. It was pretty but he wasn't sure what good it did. In a sudden moment of inspiration he noted that there were nodes where lines connected. Maybe that's it, no one ever said what the points look like, maybe that's it.

With this thought he brought his finger forward towards the rock to touch one of the radiating areas. Nothing. Hmm, probably needs to focus chi into the point as well. Ryouga sure made it look easy. Reaching out again he focused his energy through his finger into the nexus. He sensed the start of some sort of reaction and inwardly began to cheer. Yes! I did...

For Jess it had the feelings some car wreck victims have experienced. A huge disaster you could see clearly as it unfolded before you, but were helpless to alter. Ranma began to glow as he reached towards the boulder and then he was engulfed in a huge explosion. Even from fifty feet away she was pelted with stinging shards. Ignoring this she ran toward the epicenter, where the dust was rapidly dissipating, crying out Ranma's name.

She found him laying unconscious in the bloody, tattered remains of his clothes. Small shards and slivers of stone were imbedded in his skin. She frantically checked his vital signs, and breathed a small sigh when she saw he was breathing and no body parts were missing. Not being a stranger to wounds and healing she began to pluck the shards from her teachers skin. Knowing this would cause additional bleeding she planned to remove the projectiles from a small area at a time, clean it, then stop the bleeding and bind the wounds. She had clothe in her pouch and the caravan would come by within the hour.

Her heart almost stopped when Ranma's body shrunk and grew breasts when she poured water on the first patch of wounds. Stifling a yelp of surprise she continued to clean and bind the wounds. Ranma would explain later, if she had to drag it out of him/her kicking and screaming. By the time she had finished Ranma was just regaining consciousness.

"Agh...what happened. I feel like I was blown up by the old pervert," Ranma-chan muttered groggily.

"Shh. Lay still. Your technique was just a little too effective," she softly said, trying to keep Ranma-chan still.

Looking down at herself, she moaned. "Damn it's going to take days to heal this."

"You're not upset?" asked a very surprised Jess.

"Nah, just a training accident. I guess that's why you're supposed to get pummeled by boulders for a while before you actually use the technique. Shit."

"Doesn't this hurt though?" Jess asked. She was skeptical, those wounds had looked fairly serious.

"Oh you bet it does. But 'the path of a true martial artist is difficult. Only real men can succeed against such trials'," he said quoting his father's favorite phrase. "Besides I know some chi healing techniques," Ranma-chan stated, quoting her father.

"About that 'real man' thing..." she stated pointing at Ranma-chan's breasts.

"Shit. How'd that happen? Ah, never mind, can you get be some hot water before the caravan gets here?"

"Hot water?"

"Yeah, I want to change back before anyone else finds out. I don't like to advertise about the curse. I'll explain while you heat the water."

Groaning in pain she sat up, ignoring Jess's protests, and started poking herself at pressure points meant to ease the pain.

"There's actually not much to it. There's a valley where there are over a hundred springs...or there was at least. Each spring had an animal or person drown in it. Any time after that, if someone falls into the spring they take the shape of what drowned in it before. I fall into spring of drowned young girl. Very tragic story," Ranma-chan spat. "Now when splashed with cold water I change into a girl. Hot water reverses the curse until next time."

"But you get splashed all the time. The others in the caravan joke about it all the time. Why haven't we noticed this before?"

"Well, before we set out I bought these." Ranma-chan pulled out the bracers from subspace. She also made sure to grab her cloak. "They lock my form in whatever I happen to be in. They're really cool. Is that water hot ready yet?"

"Sure. Here." She watched in fascination as Ranma-chan poured the hot water from the small pot and transformed into a man again. Looking nervously around, he quickly put the bracers on again. It was fortunate he did so for at that moment a light rain began.

"I'm not sure, but I think the curse also includes me being a cold water magnet," Ranma stated grumpily.

Several hours later he still looked pretty awful, but no longer in danger of falling over and dying. Ranma lay back down. It looked like he would have to put off completing the Breaking Point Training until he found a nice quiet spot to pummel himself with rocks. He doubted he would have survived at all if he hadn't been toughening himself all along by letting Akane hit him. Of course if he could survive her cooking he doubted anything less than divine intervention could kill him.

There had been a priest among the passengers who had been pleased to offer his healing ability for a fine guardsman unfortunate enough to get caught in a rockslide. He had a lousy bedside manner though.

"It's a good thing you didn't die, isn't it?" the priest chatted merrily.

Ranma gave him a disgusted look. "Yeah, it sure is. Would have ruined my whole day," he said sarcastically.

"Well I could always have asked my patron for HIS Intervention. Or if that had failed I'm sure Master Grayson would have been happy to hire a priest or mage to raise you," he stated nonchalantly.

Ranma sent the tea he'd been drinking spewing across the tent staring incredulously at the mad man in front of him. The priest misinterpreting his look continued, "Of course he would have. It's frightfully expensive of course but this has been the most uneventful caravan trip I've ever been on. Don't think we haven't noticed the unconscious Ogres and Orcs we've seen by the trailside. I doubt they just decided to take a nap on their own. Now I don't know why such a nice powerful mage like you decided he wanted to protect a caravan, but we all appreciate the thought. In fact if you tell me what mage guild you belong to I'll be happy to write a letter of recommendation to them. I'm sure Grayson would do the same," the priest added helpfully.

The last the priest heard from Ranma as he left his freshly healed patient was some muttering, "Great now I DO have to worry about divine intervention."

"Ranma, what are your plans when we get back to civilization? Do you have a place to stay?" Grayson asked one evening after dinner. Ranma was off to the side of the camp with Jess. She was doing katas, while he watched and corrected her occasionally. It was several weeks into the journey and they had already passed a few of the smaller towns near the border of Timiro.

"Well, I talked to Jess and she says the Monastery in the area would be happy to put me up. She's going to vouch for me. I ain't gonna be dead weight either. I can teach some of the more advanced maneuvers and katas to them. Maybe the basics of chi manipulation. I mean they got they one trick with focusing their aura through their spear but if they can do that I don't see any reason they can't learn…"

"Ahem! That's very nice Ranma. I had a little more in mind. Like long term goals."

"Well...I guess I can tell you. I've known you for a while and you seem to be an okay kinda guy an' all." Ranma paused to gather his thoughts.

"I think I'm from another world or something. I was sparin' with a friend of mine when I suddenly appeared inside this circle. The guy went on about if I was the 'Lost One'. He's the guy I was I was sparin' with...I think."

"You think you were sparing with the 'Lost One'?"

"Yeah, he must have been talking about Ryouga, he has a really bad sense of direction. Anyway I says I'm not but if he'll send me back I'll tell Ryouga that he want to talk with him. He says he can't let me warn him and tells everybody to attack me."

"Everybody?"

"Yeah there were some guards. Anyway I take care of everyone of course but I accidentally toast the old guy who summoned me so I leave."

"How many were there?"

"Um...twenty one plus the archers."

"Mercenaries?"

"I don't think so, they were wearin' red uniforms with lizards on them. I figured they might be town guards but the guys patrolling the streets wore different uniforms. The guys on the street were still lookin' for me so I decided to go someplace that had a good reputation for magic know-how but not hunting me."

"Hmm...sounds like a wise decision. Those uniforms sound like those worn by the emperor's elite guard."

"Ha, no wonder!"

"What?"

"One of my teacher's was always saying how some Chinese Emperor was always in terror of her martial arts techniques. I figure if that Emperor had guards that pathetic it would explain why he was always cowering in terror."

"Um, makes sense, I suppose," Grayson looked as if wasn't following the logic.

"Anyway, the reason I'm telling you this is I was wondering where I can find someone who could get me back home."

"Well it sounds like you were grabbed by a Summoner, so finding a Summoner would make sense if you wanted to get back."

"What's a Summoner?"

"A mage that specializes in ritual magic like circles and to a lesser degree wards. They are best known for summoning and controlling Demons through certain circles. Thus their name."

"Hey! I'm not sure I want to talk to some guys that summons demons for a living!"

"Oh, don't worry they are perfectly sane...well most of them. You can also contact the mage guild. They're always happy to learn about new dimensions. The Mind Mage Guild...well I don't see how they could help you...unless you live on the Astral Plane. Ha, Ha," Ranma was not enamored by Grayson's sense of humor and was rapidly losing patience.

"Alright already! Which one has the best chance?" Ranma asked in an exasperated voice.

"Why, I told you, the Summoner's."

"But I don't wanna go to Hell!"

"But they specialize crossing to other planes. I'm sure they know how to go to other places besides Hell. I'll tell you what, I have some connections with the palace Alchemist. I'll ask him about it. Even if he doesn't know he'll probably know who does. Okay?"

"Uh, thanks. What's an alchemist?"

Grayson sighed, "Didn't they have any magic where you came from?"

"Of course we did," Ranma answered indignantly. "It was just mostly curse magic, a few magic swords, mirrors, but mostly potions. Lots of potions," Ranma theorized he'd had a good portion of these tried on him.

"Alchemists are very adept magic users, usually masters of at least three different schools of magic. They also specialize in creating magic items and constructs. Like the ones you wear."

"Hey! How'd you know what I'm wearing?"

"To anyone who can sense magic you radiate like a bonfire on a cold winter's night. You had significant amounts the first time I met you. Since then it just became more noticeable with the things you wear. Maybe it that chi aura you keep mentioning."

Hmm, I could try masking my aura, Ranma thought. But if I do that I'm almost blind to danger. Well at least I know there's a problem now. "What about warlocks?"

"Not very useful unless you wish to visit the Elemental plane of Fire, Earth, Air, or Water. Sorry."

"Hey, the priest said he can raise the dead. Does he know any other useful magic?"

"He can channel many magics from his patron God, or Pantheon. Unfortunately you need the location of your home plane. For that knowledge you would need to communicate with the God directly."

"You can do that?"

"No. If a God wants to talk with you he will appear before you or summon you. It's very uncommon. Usually very unpleasant too."

"Not nice guys, eh?"

"Gods deal with very large issues. If they want to talk to you you've either done something very bad, or they want you to do something of planetary or Cosmic importance. Being a Cosmic errand boy usually pays poorly and has a lousy benefits package. Everything I've heard says that if you think you've come out ahead, you didn't read the fine print."

Wow, Nabiki would make a really good deity, Ranma thought with a shiver.

"Of course the Gods of Darkness are worse, but even Gods of Light can be pretty callous."

"I guess I'll leave the priests to themselves if I can help it." Or maybe it would be like dealing with Happossai. Nah I can't imagine anything that bad, unless there's a pervert God. Ugh. "Anyway, the Monastery is close to the city so after I'm done teaching I'll pop over there and look around. It might even be fun without the guards after me."

"Well thanks for the advice. I gotta go show Jess some more katas. She needs to know more if she's going to help teach."

Chapter 7

A rather well dressed man waited in a large, dimly lit room. The room was dominated by a large table in the center. Above the table a softly glowing sphere hung without support. This light was enough to illuminate the table but the corners of the room remained shadowed. At the table he sat as was arranged several piles of document he seemed to be perusing. Despite this an observer would easily note he seemed to be waiting for something else, only giving cursory attention to what lay before him.

A flash of light came from the corner, briefly seeming to trace out a circle before dimming. The man knew he was no longer alone. "Greetings, my King. It's been too long."

"It has. Good to see you again. What are you going by these days and who is your guest?"

"People know me by 'Grayson'. Really, don't you read the reports I send? Why do I bother?" Grayson sighed obviously teasing.

"Ah, here it is! I know I should have read it before you arrived," returned the man in good humor, after playfully shuffling the documents. "Seriously, who is our guest?"

"I have the pleasure to introduce the Master of our local Monastary, Master Reteife. Master Reteife, this is my liege and friend, King Monfrey."

"I am honored to meet you my liege," Master Reteife quietly said.

"I am pleased to meet you. I hear you have been 'blessed' with a most unusual guest yourself."

"Yes, I discover more things than I ever knew of the world before. Some though, I suppose I could have lived without."

"So tell us a bit about him. I hear he stirred up quite a nest of bees over in the Western Empire."

"He is...powerful. Our order focuses our spirit or as our guest says 'chi'. By this we enhance our blows in some small manner. Our guest, Ranma, focuses an immense amount of 'chi' to accomplish things I believe many a magic user would be hard pressed to duplicate."

"So his powers are merely skills? I heard he was human, but if he isn't using magic..."

"Oh he's quite human, and while mere may not describe his abilities, yes they are learnable skills. Chi is not magic. Magic as you know is the excess energy from living creatures. Mages can collect, store and use this for various spells. Think of chi as magic energy that has been processed and turned into spiritual energy. Already my brothers and I have learned the simpler channeling, our sister Jess is even further along."

"What makes him so formidable? From what I hear nothing he does can't be done by some type of magician or another."

"It not actually what he does, but how quickly he does it. Never have I seen such speed. Even mages using that speed spell..."

"Fleet Feet," supplied Grayson.

"Yes, that one. Even they can't come near his speed. A mage may toss off a fireball once about every eight seconds. Ranma can do ten chi blasts in that time, while avoiding attacks. I don't even think I've seen him put his full energy in one yet."

"Still a mage can, in fact usually does, use talismans to store spells for quicker casting, and he usually has defensive spells as well."

"I mentioned his dodging before. He's...very hard to hit. Also very durable, not only does the 'battle aura' he emit reduce damage, but through a lifetime of channeling and exercises he has shaped his body into a very durable weapon. Heh, heh...in fact right now he's probably training by being slammed by a few 5 ton boulders he had a few brothers set up in some kind of swing. It looks very painful, but the mere fact that he survives such training is a testament to his present durability."

Monfrey was silent a moment, "If he's truly that dangerous..."

The monk quickly interjected, "I wouldn't be afraid. He's powerful, but certainly not invincible. If he got out of hand a carefully coordinated attack, using large amounts of magic of course, could stop him. Besides he has a good heart. Considering his incredible arrogance and freely moving tongue, it's probably all that's kept someone from killing him already," the monk finished with a dry chuckle.

"Irritating?" the King asked with the beginning of amusement.

"Oh very, very irritating. But he means well. During every lesson he'll go over what he considers the duty of a martial artist."

"What sort of duties are these?" Grayson asked curiously.

"It's odd, some of it seems to come straight from those Paladins you people rave about. Helping those weaker than yourself, don't bully those who can't defend themselves, risking their lives at the drop of the copper. It's actually very appealing. You'd be quite the hero if you followed it."

"Did you read the report I sent on his activities in the Western Empire?" Grayson asked the King.

"Yes. It seemed that he does indeed have a strict moral code. A good thing I suppose."

"If he was only one of the many martial artists in his world then it would need a strong code to survive."

"From what he's said there were quite a few people of skill where he lived. Of course in his next sentence he always mentions that he was the best," the monk said with a smile.

"Have you been able to help with his desire to go home?"

"No. We have no lore of that type. He would do better consulting a Summoner."

"I told him that too," mentioned Grayson. "I don't see why he's so reluctant. I mean most of them are sane."

"Hmm. Thank you for your support in this matter Master Reteife. You may go back to Monastery. Just step through that circle there. No, the other one," with a flash the monk was gone.

"Well, Grayson, do you agree with the good monk? Is our friend harmless?"

"I think harmless is an overstatement, but I generally agree. So does Kahil, and if you can't trust a Mind Mage in judging someone's character who can you trust?"

"Well...Kahil is one of the best."

"With his code of honor he would be a very impressive ally to his friends. I think we should encourage good relations with him. If I could get access to the Royal Summoner it would help him and make a favorable impression"

"The Royal Summoner? You mean Old 'Zar. Ye gods man! I thought you wanted his friendship. The man's a certified loon. He's only Royal Summoner because he's too dangerous to let out in public," the King exclaimed in a shocked tone.

"Well he's none too stable I'll give you. He is the best in the kingdom, if he can't help in a question dealing with other planes, I don't think anyone can."

"All right. I give you permission to ask for his aid. Convincing him is your problem. Talking to him gives me headaches, and if it isn't an emergency he ignores me anyway," the King stated in disgust.

"You're just mad because he made a pass at your daughter," Grayson said smugly.

"He's not allowed anywhere near my daughter! He's a pervert and a dirty old man," shouted the King.

"Yes, but he's a very useful pervert. And mostly harmless," pointed out Grayson.

Ranma was just limping back to the bathing area. He was grateful that the Monastery he was staying at wasn't so dedicated to poverty that it didn't have hot water. Of course this world didn't have much in the way of technology but with all the magic flying around he wasn't overly surprised when he saw how common hot water was. Most of the larger cities even had running water and a working sewer system.

The structure only had one hot water tub so Ranma shouldn't have been surprised when he walked in on a woman who was quite naked. Stuttering apologies, with his eyes closed, he quickly backed away and closed the door behind him. Once outside, he breathed a sigh and leaned against the door for support.

Jess was right, the woman inside thought while stifling a giggle, he is cute when he's like that.

Ranma was about to head back to his room, when he noticed Grayson approaching him.

"I'm glad I found you. Have you had any luck finding a way home?"

"Well, no. I went to the mage's guild but they just laughed at me. I don't think they believed me. I challenged one of the obnoxious jerks to fight, but they just kept laughing. I was tempted to chi blast them, but it wouldn't have been right picking on weakling like that," Ranma stated with more than a hint of resentment.

"Just as well, in their own guild they have very adequate defenses. Most mages are in their middle or late twenties before they're even out of apprenticeship. They probably believed you were too young to be taken seriously. I have some contacts inside that guild, we'll see if we can get a private interview with one of the more open minded members."

"Hey thanks! That would be great!"

"No guarantees but we'll see. Anyway since you're temporarily at a dead end perhaps you would be interested in a lead I've managed to uncover?"

"Sure! I mean, it's nice and all here, but it's kind of weird too. The guys hang on every word, and there's this one guy who follows me around with a big book, writing down everything I say. It's creepin' me out bigtime. I mean I can't really blame them. After all I am the best they'll ever see, but all this talkin is not really my thing."

"Didn't you mention that you eventually wanted to become a teacher of your arts?"

"Yeah, but not for years. And they really pay attention to what I say. I guess I'm just used to bein' ignored when I explain stuff."

"From what I hear, you're doing amazing things, advancing their skills. It's only to be expected."

"Yeah, whatever," Ranma replied morosely.

"Anyway I've managed to get permission from the king to talk to the Royal Summoner. He's the most knowledgeable person in the Kingdom, maybe the continent, when it comes to other planes. Well among humans anyway."

"Are there a lot of non-humans around?" Ranma asked, curiosity aroused.

"Yes quite a few. You probably haven't seen too many yet since we just came from the Western Empire. Well, at least non-humans who aren't slaves. They tend to be very humancentric, although elves and dwarves are accepted in most cities. Unless you're one of their allied Cyclops you better stay out of there unless you want to end up part of their Arena bloodsports. We're not perfect here, but non-humans are tolerated and have the normal legal rights."

"On the way here I saw lots of big Neanderthal type guys. Strong, but lousy fighters. Arcadia also seemed to have a few as slaves and arena fighters."

"Those were most likely Ogres. They are very violent when in the wild. We have had serious problems at the borders involving them. Still they are not a real problem as long as they stay disorganized."

"I also saw a really short, stocky guy in the marketplace the other day. I've seen a lot of those kind of people, mostly here but even in the Western Empire."

"Probably a dwarf. One of the ancient races, along with elves and dragons. The route we used from the Western Empire to here passed through the Old Kingdom. It's not much today but used to be a very powerful dwarven kingdom, before the Elf-Dwarf War. Now it just has some minor dwarven kingdoms, a few kobold tribes, and of course the Ogres and Trolls. It acts as a buffer zone between Timiro and the Western Empire," Grayson lectured.

"Hey, can I fight some dragons?" Ranma ignored most of the speech, focusing in on the interesting parts.

"That would be a bad idea. The young hatchlings are mostly harmless, the older ones might be a bit more than even you could comfortably swallow. Besides, as long as they obey the laws of the kingdom they are protected like any other citizen."

"So...there aren't any ravaging monsters to beat up?" Ranma asked hopefully.

"If I hear about any you'll be the first to know," Grayson said while repeating a calming mantra in his mind. "Getting back to the point. I made an appointment with the Royal Summoner for tomorrow. Are you interested?"

"He's not one of the insane ones you were talking about before, is he?" Ranma asked warily.

Grayson started to walk away at a rapid pace seeming not to hear him.

"Hey, wait a minute, I'm not sure I want to talk to him if he's some sorta freak," Ranma exclaimed, getting ready to follow the retreating form. Unfortunately, at that moment the door he had been leaning against opened unexpectedly, removing his sole support. Ranma fell backwards, grabbing hold of anything that might stop his fall. A sense of dread filled him when he noticed his were full of a towel…and something yielding.

He instantly dropped the towel, falling the rest of the way to the ground. A second later the towel fluttered down on top of him. With his eyes closed he blindly grabbing the towel and held it up to where the girl last was while babbling apologies.

With a shrug the woman took the towel and walked down the hall toward her cell. "He is soo cute when he does that," she muttered to herself.

It was several minutes before Ranma noticed that the girl was gone. Sighing he shook his head, and stumbled into the bathing chamber. He just had to remember that this world wasn't filled with Violent Tomboys. He wasn't sure if this was a good thing or not.

Walking through the city to meet Grayson, Ranma was lost in thoughts of home. He was starting to really miss it. He wasn't as used to extended trips as he once was, and was thinking of Nerima more and more. He was respected here but didn't have any friends except maybe Jess. He was completely lost in thought when he heard a familiar cry.

"Where in the world am I now!"

Ranma stopped, not even breathing, before tearing off in the direction of the voice. He always joked about Ryouga's ability to get lost, but if he was actually here it meant 'pig boy' was weirder than he thought. He leaped to nearest rooftops, glancing warily around. The last time he was up here he was given a stern warning by some flying mage wearing a guard's uniform about respecting other people's roofs. Seeing the way was clear he leaped from rooftop to rooftop toward the voice.

Finally reaching the source of the voice he looked down to see a familiar bandana clad boy, looking around the streets in a bewildered fashion. Leaping down he came up behind and gave him a big hug. "Howya doin' Ryouga. Am I glad to see you. It's been months. Is everyone OK. How's Mom? Is Akane alright, that Tomboy didn't do anything stupid did she?" Ranma babbled on, oblivious to a large aura developing around the other boy!"

"Ranma, how dare you hug me! Bad enough you trick me while you're a girl, but now when we're both guys? Prepare to die!" Letting loose with a huge chi blast he threw Ranma off him. Ranma's finely tuned danger sense had belatedly kicked in, allowing him to avoid the chi blast. While flipping out of the way Ranma noted in horror that it had blown by him and demolished a large portion of a strangely familiar looking mansion.

"Hey watch where you're throwing those things! You might hurt someone!" Ranma shouted with the beginnings of anger. Here he was lost in another dimension for months and all pig boy could think about was fighting. Besides, he didn't want to be thrown out of the city or nothin'.

Ryouga was lost in a fit of rage, he would dispense justice on his rival and then Akane...er Akiri would be his. So absorbed was he that he didn't notice that Ranma was standing in front of an attractive, well dressed girl, who was surrounded by hard eyed men in armor who could be mistaken for nothing else but bodyguards. Ranma noticed though, and he noticed with something verging on panic that if he dodged, there would be little chance of the people behind him surviving. Calling on his reserves he pumped up his battle aura and started a return chi blast. He would be too late to counter Ryouga's chi blast, but should be able to end this fight before anyone was injured.

Ranma's pumped up aura was able to lessen the damage enough that Ranma was still standing afterwards. Long skid marks on the cobblestones spoke of the force he had absorbed while being pushed back. Still Ranma hurt, really hurt. Smoke rose from his clothes, and black smudges covered his face where bruises didn't. Ranma idly thought, still in analytical mode, Ryouga must have been doing some very intensive training, that was much larger than his usual, almost as large as his 'Perfect' Depression Blast. Despite his training in the Breaking Point Ranma had a difficult time keeping focused. Through a monumental effort of will he was able to keep the chi he had been gathering from dissipating and loosed it towards Ryouga. Or rather the trough of water next to Ryouga. The bursting trough splattered water on everyone in the area including the two cursed boys. Instant P-chan.

Ranma looked behind him to find he had been pushed directly in front of the girl by the blast. She was wet and more bedraggled than when he last saw her and had a wild, confused look in her eyes. "Are you alright?" he asked hurriedly. At her hesitant nod he ran forward picked up P-chan and leaped to a nearby rooftop. Time to leave before guards arrived. This wasn't Nerima and he didn't want to explain what was happening. Heck, he didn't know what was happening.

Jumping down to a narrow alleyway he collapsed against the wall and started berating Ryouga. "What were you thinking! Didn't you see that girl behind me. She might have been killed. You could have become a murderer today P-Chan. This is serious this time," Ryouga was subdued, Ranma for once had a point.

"Here I am lost in another dimension and the first thing you do is attack me. I have a half a mind to give you to the guards." Ryouga shook his head frantically. "Well then you're going to sit there quietly and listen, and do as I say. This time you screwed up big time pig boy, and one way or another you're going to pay," Ryouga nodded sadly.

Ranma recapped the last couple of months, ending with how he had been on the way to talk to a powerful mage when he had run into Ryouga. "Here's the deal. I have a cure for your curse," Ryouga's attention was instantly riveted on Ranma. "I'll give it to you under the following conditions. First no more sneaking into Akane's bed, it's just wrong. I know you got a sense of honor in there somewhere, and once I give you this cure you won't have any excuse. If you accept this deal I'll consider my promise not to tell Akane void, and inform her of the truth of P-chan the first time I see you try it. I don't mind," well I do mind, but no one needs to know that, "If you shout your love to the world and try to woo Akane an stuff, but no sneaky stuff, OK pig boy," said Ranma watching for Ryouga's answering nod.

"Alright then, second no more random fights. I mean I really enjoy our fights, but it's just too dangerous. At our power level innocent people can too easily get hurt or killed. If you ever want to fight me, pick a time and a place and I'll even lead you to it so you don't miss it. OK?" he again waited for an answering nod.

"Finally, I don't know how you got here but if you did, you're eventually going back. And if I have anything to say about it, I'm going with you. I'm going to stick to you like glue until we're both home," Ryouga seemed to think about his for a moment and then nod.

"Okay then let's go find some hot water, since you made a spectacle of yourself I gotta hide you. So I'll put you in subspace for a few minutes." Saying this he stuffed the pig into subspace, commanded his robe into more presentable, less blackened shape and walked out of the alley to find hot water. He had the odd feeling he was forgetting about something.

Stepping out of the alley he went to a small café a few minutes away. Asking for a mug of tea he paid for both the mug and tea and went to find a nearby alley. Slipping inside he quickly grabbed a twitching P-chan and poured the liquid onto him. In the place of a piglet stood a dazed looking Ryouga, his hair in disarray and smelling lemony fresh.

"Ranma what kind of perverted Hell did you put me in?" shouted the lost boy.

Oblivious to Ryouga's distress Ranma shushed him. "Quiet, you got people looking for you. Put your clothes on and these Bracers. They're what locks the curse. While you're wearing them you can't be changed," after a moment Ranma added, "By any means."

Ryouga shrugged, he was more interested in the cure for his curse than deciphering what Ranma was saying. He was also trying to think of anything except the strange and humiliating last few minutes. Once he was dressed, he walked off, assuming Ranma was following. After a moment he turned around to give Ranma a piece of his mind when he noticed something. He appeared to be in some dessert, around him were high sweeping dunes. There were no building or people in sight. There was also no Ranma.

"Where in the world am I now?" a despairing Ryouga Hibiki shouted. "Ranma this is all your fault!" followed a moment later.

Ranma saw Ryouga disappear around the corner and gave chase. When he reached the area he had last seen Ryouga he looked frantically around. After an hour of furious effort he finally admitted defeat. Despite his best effort Ryouga had gotten lost without bringing Ranma along for the ride. What a loser.

Chapter 8

Ranma finally got to the Palace slightly worse for wear. At the gate he was challenged by the guard. "State your name and business," an obviously bored guard droned.

"I am Ranma Saotome of the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts. I'm here to see Grayson about meeting with the Royal Summoner."

"Ranma...Ranma...Ranma. Hmm...how do you spell that?" the guard asked, obviously not finding the name under his scheduled appointments.

"Oh well it's...uh...I guess I don't know how to spell it in your language," ended a puzzled Ranma.

"Ooookay, let's try Grayson. Don't see anything for him either. Oh wait a minute, here he is. Well we got a slight problem here. You were supposed to be here an hour ago. Sorry I can't let you in. You're going to have to get a new appointment." With a sound of finality he snapped the book shut and went over to talk to the next person in line.

"But…but…" sputtered a frustrated Ranma. After being ignored he gave up and walked away. He didn't go far, slipping around the Palace wall he jumped twenty feet into the air to the top of the wall and down to the other side. Or that was the plan.

At the apex of his leap, just as he was landing, a series of squiggles engraved on the wall glowed at his approach. An earsplitting shriek filled the air filled the air with a sound that could be compared to the cry of the damned. Immediately thereafter another flash filled the air and the top of the wall was engulfed in a blazing inferno. Ranma gave a startled squawk but was too close to avoid the flames and had no time to adjust his aura. He landed squarely in the middle of the glowing mass. Giving a sharp cry of agony he immediately leaped forward, attempting to minimize the excruciating contact. He landed on the other side, weak from the pain and staggered over to lean on a tree for support.

Due to the Phoenix Pill he actually was uninjured from the heat, unfortunately the effects of the Cat Tongue pressure point made contact with heat just as painful as if he were affected. And by the way that little encounter hurt he guessed a normal man would be ashes at this moment. Taking control of his still screaming nerves, he adjusted his cloak again and stumbled further from the wall. That shriek was an alarm, which meant the area would soon be filled with guards.

After a few minutes he had recovered sufficiently that the people he passed were no longer giving the 'drunk' disgusted looks. His sense of hearing was muted, an aftereffect of the loud piercing siren he had just encountered. Guards were running around but since they didn't seem to be noticing him, he ignored them. He had to find that Royal Summoner guy.

He was about to ask one of the people he was passing in the Courtyard for directions when he saw the girl. She was faced away from him, berating one of her bodyguards. This would be good, he could make sure the girl was okay after the earlier close call and ask about the Summoner at the same time. He patted himself on the back for being an efficient person, and went to speak with her.

"Excuse me miss," he started. He didn't get far, the girl turned around, saw him and jumped towards him wrapping her arms around him. Ranma responded with his usual eloquence.

"Uh...well...er...ah...hi?" he said with his arms waving randomly around.

"I am so grateful! You saved my life! You must meet my father, so he can reward you!" she squealed. The guards behind her glowered, but made no move to interfere.

"I'd love to...really...yeah, to meet your father. But I have an appointment right now and I really can't be late. Gotta go...bye," he stuttered as he fruitlessly tried to disentangle his limbs. The girl had a look in her eyes that was oddly familiar. He didn't know what it was, but every other time he'd seen it the next thing he knew he was engaged to someone.

"Oh an errand, how cute. I'll come with you and afterward you can see my father."

"That would be...fine...I suppose. Er...you're not lookin' to get engaged or something are you," Ranma asked with trepidation.

"Oooee, this is so romantic, my savior asking for my hand in marriage! Well I'll have to ask father, but I'm sure he'll give us his blessing," the girl said with a vacant smile on her face, already making plans for the upcoming wedding.

"No! That's not what I meant…I mean I already got a fiancée. Can't we just be friends," Ranma babbled grasping at straws.

"Don't you like me?" she asked with tears in her eyes and a quivering lip.

"I don't even know your name. I'm sure you're a very nice girl, but we just met," he cried out in desperation.

"Oh, that's okay, now that we're engaged you can take me on dates. We'll have so much fun! By the way my name is Cindra. What's yours?"

"Ranma Saotome. Pleased to meet yeah," Ranma responded with a shell-shocked whisper. I am so dead when the others find out about, Ranma thought with dread. The amount of pain he was in for would truly be legendary. It was a good thing he had completed his Breaking Point training, he might even survive. Maybe.

"So where are you going," Cindra asked.

"The Royal Summoner," Ranma replied his mind still disengaged from his mouth.

"Ugh. What a creep! Well I guess I can't go with you. Daddy told me never to go near him. As if he had to say anything. I'll take you to the base of the tower and wait outside. Then we can go and make our engagement official"

"I can't wait," Ranma deadpanned.

Cindra and her guards led him around the sides of the palace to the back where a large tower sat. It seemed to sit a good distance away from the main grounds. The rocks that it was constructed from gave it a reddish hue, and the way the sun reflected off portions of the surface gave it a wet bloody texture.

"I be waiting," Cindra stated blowing him a kiss.

"Be right back," Ranma said practically running into the ominous structure. Given a choice between battling demons and confronting fiancées Ranma would always go for the demon. At least in a physical conflict there was a chance he might win.

Opening the oversized front door he rushed inside. Seeing no women in sight he slowed down and took a look around. The first floor seemed to empty except for a stairway going up. Shrugging he started his trek. It was after about five minutes of rapid ascension before Ranma noticed that something wasn't quite right. At the rate he was climbing he should have been at the top already. The next time he passed a window he looked out. About twenty feet beneath him was Cindra starring up toward him. When she saw him she wave enthusiastically at him. After waving back he continued. The next time he passes a window he again looked out. Cindra again waved at him from twenty feet off.

Nodding to himself he ducked back inside. He expanded his aura and continued upward, this time concentrating on the area around him. Sure enough about a minute later he felt a tingling sensation he had associated with active magic coming from a ten foot section of the stair in front of him. Lightly leaping over the area he continued onward. The stairs were still unnaturally long, but this time he didn't find a window with Cindra outside. After quite a few spirals he saw a found a placard on the wall with writing neatly stenciled onto it. Ranma was about to ignore it when the unintelligible words seemed to flex and suddenly became comprehensible to him. 'Beware of Elemental, turn back now' written in a smaller letters beneath were, 'If you wish to continue, please write your next of kin in the space provided. Thank you.' A long stylish quill pen seemed to rise out of the placard waiting for use.

Ranma grunted in disgust and continued on. This was the whole point of his Breaking Point training. No more running from rock monsters for him. Any Rock Monsters, Elementals, or other statuary that attacked him was going to get a short but unpleasant surprise. Ranma cracked his knuckles in anticipation.

He was running up the stairs a grin on his face when he stopped in shock. "Uh oh," was all he managed to get out before he had to dodge madly around the narrow stairwell in an attempt to avoid a humanoid shaped ball of fire. After a few minutes of this Ranma had had enough. That thing hurt! Jumping over it he raced upward, keeping barely ahead of it.

While running he altered his aura making it as cold as he could. Not only was it essential for his plan, but it allowed him to mostly ignore the heat of the thing close at his back. Ranma hadn't been sure his spur of the moment plan would work. He was pretty sure the technique had not been designed with a spiral staircase in mind, but hey, a spiral is a spiral is a spiral. He had almost given up hope of it succeeded when he felt a change in the airflow that told him the technique had not only succeeded but it was time for the final trigger. Bracing himself for the pain, he stopped suddenly, leaped backward through the flaming entity and lashed out with an icy fist.

The change in pressure was instantaneous, a howling wind tore through the corridors rapidly picking up force. The air seemed to be glowing as he noticed the chi charged vortex seeming to feed off his opponent's energy. As with the Earth Elemental he had used the technique on before it seemed to be feeding off a source other than the opponent's battle aura. It almost seemed to grasp the enemy's inner magical nature and turn it against itself. Perhaps whoever had designed the technique had more than mundane enemies in mind when he created it, was a fleeting thought before other things occupied his attention.

Before when he'd used this indoors he had been firmly 'attached' to the floor. Unfortunately although he was not the focus of vortex he was being drawn up in it's wake. Ranma was plucked helplessly off his feet and thrown up the stairwell. In this way he got a fair view of the damage being done to the Fire Elemental as he was bounced off various surfaces on the way up. After a few minutes of this, he heard a crashing sound as the creature broke through the doorway at the top, triggering some sort of explosive defensive magic as it flew through the opening. Ranma following immediately through the air behind the creature, didn't feel anything at the door and assumed that monster had triggered all the defenses. Good monster, he thought as he was thrown to the ground just past the door.

Ranma slowly picked himself off the ground. He felt remarkably sound. "At least I got something out of that Breaking Point training. Fire Elemental! Bah!" he said disgustedly. It has never even occurred to him that he could be facing something other than an Earth Elemental. Brushing himself off, he looked up.

There was no sign of the fire creature. That didn't surprise him, what surprised him was the older looking man, with thinning grey hair standing in front of him, looking at him in an irritated manner. It worried him that he hadn't sensed him. Taking stock of himself for a moment he noticed that although he didn't feel physically weak his battle aura was about half the size it should be. That was probably why he didn't sense the fellow, he was far enough away that his reduced chi senses couldn't detect him, and his hearing was still recovering.

"By now you may have noticed that no magic is usable except mine. I hope you have an excellent reason for breaking in here. If you don't, I doubt that anyone will miss just one more thief," the old man said with a smirk.

Ranma wasn't too worried, sure with chi capabilities were damped a bit but they were far from the crippled state the man obviously expected. "I have a friend waiting for me outside. I'm sure Cindra'll have someone look for me if I take too long. Besides I think you're expecting me. Grayson set an appointment up for me to meet the Royal Summoner. Er...you are the Royal Summoner right?" Ranma asked, suddenly unsure.

"Ah, the sweet Cindra. Such a sweet young flower. How tragic that her father disapproves of our relationship. The things I could teach such an innocent. Still there are many others almost as sweet who may yet be educated," the old man almost seemed in a trance, a small bit of drool started to dribble out of his mouth.

Ah, great, Ranma thought. I must be like a perverted freak magnet. I just can't seem to avoid them. At least this one's not grabbing my chest, he shuddered.

"Hello? Hello! Excuse me! Grayson made an appointment for me?" he almost shouted trying to grab the old man's attention away from his fantasies.

"Grayson...well I do recall something of that nature. Too bad you're late. Maybe next year, I have a lot of demons to summon and only a limited amount of time. Sorry. Go away," he said dismissing Ranma with a wave of his hand.

"But...but Grayson said you could help me!" exclaimed Ranma desperately.

"I'm sure I could. Grayson went into some detail about your problem. I do know a way to find your home plane, but I don't care to. You have nothing I want, and what you ask is no insignificant thing. Again, go away," the old man stated coldly.

"What if...what if I got you a date," Ranma cringed inwardly. He really, really didn't want to do this. Where were the demons when you needed them?

The old man's entire demeanor underwent an incredible metamorphosis. Instantly he was warn and chatty. "Come in my dear man. Call me Balthazar...no make that 'Zar for short. Let's talk business." With his arm draped companionably over Ranma's shoulders he led them away from the splintered doorway toward a cozy little den. There was tea on the table and two overstuffed chairs opposite the hearth.

Ranma sat in the chair but something on the edge of his senses kept him from relaxing. His battle aura was muted and his chi senses dimmed but there was something very dangerous in the room with him. Craning his neck he searched for the source of his discontent. His eyes settling on one of the room's darkened corners.

'Zar noted his stare and smiled. "I see you sense my pet. You are a very capable mage. Very impressive. I'll introduce you. Come out Phebe!" called the Summoner. A huge demonic wolf melted into visibility while stepping out of the shadows. Five feet at the shoulders, smoke poured out of the nostrils when the creature breathed and a baleful crimson light glinted in its eyes. It looked hungrily at Ranma and acidic drool dripped from six inch canines.

Oddly enough now that he could fully sense the entity he relaxed more. He hadn't been kidding when he stated he would rather deal with demons than fiancées. Keeping aware of the position of the demon, but otherwise ignoring it, he turned his attention to 'Zar.

Zar nodded in approval of his attitude. "Now about this 'date', tell me about her," he commanded.

"Fine. I happen to have a picture of my sister. She'll go out with you in return for the way home," Ranma stated with a grimace of distaste as he took out one of Nabiki's pictures of his girl-type from subspace. "No funny stuff, just a nice normal date, and then the way home. OK?"

"Sister, aye? She's a real beauty. A red head too. Well a date sounds fair. It will be the Palace Ball. They prefer me to stay on the grounds anyway. Makes them nervous when they don't know where I am. Heh, heh. Have her here by sunset, we shall go to the Ball. Come here at noon tomorrow and I'll see what can be done regarding your problem," his face took on a dreamy cast as he started thinking about later that night.

Ranma took this as his cue to leave and got up. Looking around he spotted a window and headed towards it. Peering out, he saw a grim landscape, with rivers of dimly glowing lava. A thick choking smoke hung over the ground and the very air seemed to have a dim red glow. Quickly pulling his head back, he looked around for another window. He didn't want to meet Cindra on the way out, but didn't want to have to go through Hell to do it.

He saw another window closer to the still shattered door and went over to it. It seemed to be the Palace grounds. He didn't see Cindra or her guards so hopefully they were on the other side. Cindra might call the Palace guards if her 'fiancée' didn't eventually show up, but right then he didn't really care. He had a bad taste in his mouth and had the feeling the day was going to get worse before it got better. If it got better. Stepping out the window he dropped two hundred feet to the ground, wincing slightly as his feet made contact. He had some things to do before sunset.

Chapter 9

Ranma-chan found it simple to get inside the Palace gates later that evening. Upon telling the guard that she was there for a date with the Royal Summoner she was quickly let in. The guard was heard to be muttering over the 'poor girl' and 'fates worse than death'. This did nothing to improve Ranma-chan's mood.

For the moment she wore a simple dress. She had no idea of what these people thought regarding fashion. Earlier in the day she had wandered around the city and the dress shops and tailors but been too embarrassed to ask about any of the clothes. It was then that she had developed her plan. That was the reason she had come to the Palace early. The plan was simple, find an attractive, well dressed girl, copy her dress and live happily ever after. Nothing could possibly go wrong.

A slight chill in the made her shiver slightly as this last thought occupied her, but she ignored it. She'd been having those chills ever since she was cursed, they probably didn't mean anything.

She wandered over to the area the Ball was to be held and looked around. Most of the preparations had been made already, so few people were actually there except for the few servants setting out the last of the food. Ranma-chan's stomach growled loudly as it reminded her that she hadn't eaten since breakfast. She hadn't eaten as much as she usually did back with the Tendo's. The monks ate a ridiculously small amount and she almost felt guilty eating as much as she did. She supposed that their food intake would increase as their chi training progressed. A large appetite seemed to be an acceptable price for martial arts mastery.

"You there! Girl! Get away from that food! It's not for the likes of you." Ranma-chan turned as she heard a familiar voice. Sure enough behind her was Cindra, looking very displeased. It was only at that moment Ranma-chan noticed the carrot sticks she had in her had. Looking guilty she shoved her hands behind her.

"Why, hello Cindra. Fancy meeting you here. How ya doin'?" she said with a nervous smile. Cindra didn't know about her curse but she still felt mildly uncomfortable in the presence of her wanna be fiancee. She somehow expected a mallet blow that never landed.

"How dare you address me so familiarly, peasant. I saw you eating from that plate. That's food reserved for tonight's Ball. I'll not have a dowdy peasant like you ruin it due to your gluttonous hunger." The irate girl exclaimed.

Ranma-chan was quite surprised, this girl was nothing like the sweet, if overly forward girl she had met earlier that afternoon. Considering how much magic there was around she supposed it was possible that she had been possessed, or drugged, or had a spell cast on her.

"Hey Cindra maybe you should see a magician. I think someone might have cast a spell on you. You're acting a lot more unpleasant than usual." Her helpful suggestion was not taken in the spirit it was proposed in. Cindra's face became red, and a very unladylike grimace spread across her face as rage consumed rational thought. "You're definitely not looking right. You should see a doctor or something, you never know when you might be possessed by some evil oni or something."

"Guards, grab that dirty little peasant. She has the food behind her back. That should be enough to have you in a cell until after the Ball." Ranma-chan quickly flicked the carrots away, sending them across the room to embed themselves into the wall.

"Hey, I don't have nothing. Keep your goons to yourself. Boy you sure got unpleasant all of a sudden," she held her hands out in front of her to display her innocent. The four guards hesitated in their approach, looking in askance towards Cindra.

"Don't be idiots. She obviously hid them in her dress. We'll just search and then stick her in a cell," screamed a furious Cindra.

"You guys are not feelin' me up. Keep your hands to yourself." Ranam-chan easily sidestepped the guards lurch towards her helping them forward with a subtle nudge with her elbow and knee. The guards continued onward, falling headlong into one of the huge tables with food on it. Soon culinary masterpieces were flying everywhere. Ranma-chan happily grabbed the food flying towards her. Waste not want not was her motto. Besides those carrot sticks just made her hungrier. The people surrounding her were not as skilled in avoidance, the guards and Cindra were covered in dips, chips and vegetables.

Munching happily on her new-found lunch, she looked over at Cindra. "Hey it's too bad about your dress. It looked really pretty. Hey, can I borrow that celery, it doesn't look like your using it," Ranma-chan stated hopefully as he grabbed a celery stalk that had been lodged in her dress, held in place by the numerous pools of sauces dripping from her.

Ranma-chan left the screaming girl while chewing on her snack. She really felt sorry for the girl. She couldn't be blamed for being upset. If Ranma-chan had a bunch of incompetent bozos guarding her like that she'd be pretty angry too. Yeah, those guards really did a number on Cindra's dress. It was really too bad, Ranma-chan didn't know anything about fashion, but even she could tell that it had been a really fabulous dress. The perfect kind for a Ball.

Ranma-chan walked unhappily back towards the Ballroom. Attached to her arm was the limpet of a man known as the Royal Summoner. From his mouth poured syrupy sweet lines of what she guessed was poetry. Ranma-chan just tried to tune him out. After her experiences with Kunou she had it down to a fine art. It was because of this that she didn't notice when she was being introduced at the entrance.

"This is my date for the evening. The beautiful Ranko Saotome. This is the hostess of the party, the beautiful princess Cindra. You look really...interesting my dear. Ah, I'm afraid I must leave. I see your father coming this and you know how upset he gets when he witnesses our shared affections." As he left, dragging Ranma-chan he didn't pay attention to the glazed look in Cindra's eyes, the set grimace of her mouth, or the twitch that she seemed to suddenly develop on her face.

"She had my dress. The little tramp had my dress on. She will pay..." Cindra muttered as her father walked up to her.

"Cindra, I love you very much, but you really must pay more attention to the guests. That's the fourth one in a row you've ignored as they arrived," Monfrey stated from his position adjacent to his daughter in the greeting line as he examined her dress for a moment. "By the way what happened to your gown? At first I that those dark splotches were part of the dresses' design, but now that I look closer, and see it next to the gown that pretty little red-head is wearing, it's fairly obvious something stained it." He received only a blank faced response, which was soon replaced with an expression barely repressed rage. "Hmm...I'll have your sister greet the guests. Why don't you change, maybe lie down and rest for a few minutes. You don't look well," her father continued in a concerned voice.

Ranma-chan would have been having fun, if it wasn't for a few niggling details. The first was 'Zar, he was just really irritating. It was almost as bad as going on a date with Kunou. Her mind shied away from this, but it was true. The constant attention, the bad poetry, the groping. If the guy pulled out a bokken she was out of there, trip home or no. It was spooky. The second was the embarrassment factor, 'Zar loved to dance, which meant she was dragged out on the floor to make a spectacle of herself. She learned the steps quickly, meaning her clumsiness was short-lived, but still. She was a guy, prancing around in a dress, especially opposite some Happossai wanna be was the stuff nightmares were made of. Third, she'd finally found a cure for her curse (or a reasonable facsimile) but here she was in a dress again. Truly the gods must have it in for her. The most irritating thing of the night was that the other guests kept splashing her with hot and cold liquids. Tea, wine, beer, brandy, mulled cider, you name and she'd been hit. If it weren't for the magical nature of her gown she would have long ago looked as bad as Cindra had earlier in the evening.

Near the middle of the evening 'Zar decided that a walk in the Royal garden would be just the type of romantic interlude she would enjoy before they went back to dancing. Ranma-chan just grunted. As long as he didn't try anything funny she was just along for the ride.

The garden was dimly lit with glowing spheres of energy. 'Zar babbled on about the different plants and how the lighting could be increased to daylight intensity or dimmed further for a romantic tryst. The unpleasant date had Ranma-chan on edge all evening, so when she felt a high velocity object fly towards her she practically wept with relief. She didn't of course, really bein' a guy an all. But almost.

Plucking a dart from the air she shrugged out of 'Zar's embrace to leap into the shrubbery. One shriek of pain later she was back at 'Zar's side lifting a large man dressed in black leather armor by the collar. The man had no visible wound but was unconscious.

"My, you are a healthy young girl. I see you know the same mystic arts as your brother," examining the man Ranma-chan was holding. "He appeared to be an assassin. I'll have one of my pets watch him. I'll talk to the King and have the guards fetch him for questioning when I see him at the Ball. He really dislikes assassins in the Palace."

Ranma-chan shrugged, the excitement had only lasted a moment before she had realized she was fighting one of the pathetic human fighters that seemed to be the norm on this world. She had almost wished it had been one of those shapeshifted dragons she kept hearing about. Ranma-chan couldn't think of a reason why one would attack her, but mindless violence never stopped her enemies in the past.

She tossed the would-be killer onto the ground and watched in interest as she felt the tingling associated with magic and a large wolf-type demon appear next to the man. Seeing the demon showed no violent inclination, she sighed and followed 'Zar back into the Ballroom. So much for the fun part of the evening.

Ranma-chan was being swept around the floor, and not particularly enjoying it. She was counting down the time to the end of the party, but it was approaching with excruciating slowness. It was in this frame of mind she felt someone behind her, seemingly bent on collision. Grabbing a firm hold of 'Zar she swung him around to take the brunt of the impact, he was the lead man so to speak. There was a thud of bodies colliding, and then 'Zar exclaiming over Angels leaping into his arms. Looking down she saw two intertwined bodies on the ground, Cindra and 'Zar.

'Zar seemed pleased, Cindra less so. Ranma-chan was about to help Cindra off the ground when her danger sense she had developed over ten years of training told her something bad was about to happen. Looking around she noticed a man dressed as a servant throwing something that looked like an amulet. She immediately grabbed two random object from subspace and threw one at the servant and one at the amulet. The mop slammed into the servant with great force, sending the servant flying back ten feet. While the dazed man struggled to his feet a pair of guards, who had just noticed that something odd was happening, approached him.

These events were lost on Ranma-chan. Her other throw, some sort of short handled broom, twitched in midair, causing the amulet to merely stop short of her instead of being knocked completely away. What caught Ranma-chan's attention was that the amulet had started glowing brightly. Her chi senses also informed her a large source of magic was pointed her way. Before she could react to this information a shimmering cube sprang up around her and the couple on the floor. A feeling of foreboding flooded through her as she recognized the wall of force she had encountered when she first arrived. A shimmering in the air above the amulet told her the item had not finished its work. The light increased in diameter until it seemed a small circular hole of about ten inches hang in the air. A moment later dozens of small humanoid insectile creatures poured out of it. They were each about a foot and a half tall covered in spiky chitin and fangs. As they appeared they immediately leaped to attack the human. Ranma-chan's hands were a blur as she smashed them from the air, smacking them back into the sides of the cube's walls.

'Zar's voice could be heard droning behind her, "Ah the Lasae demon, a small, though vicious demon. Wouldn't seem to be a problem normally, our red-haired friend seemed well equipped to deal with them. Unfortunately that seems to be a gate into Hell. I would guess it that it opened directly into a large nest of these fellows, considering that more keep coming through as fast as Ranko deals with them.

"Can't you wave your hands and cast a spell or something, I can't keep this up," Ranma-chan complained. It seemed the only competent magicians were those attacking her.

"I'm a Summoner, I draw circles and summon demons. I don't wave my hands. If we were in my lab dealing with a nuisance like this would be simple, out here on the dance floor it is not. I could call my pets but I actually think they couldn't do any better than what you're doing. The King's mages should be here soon, they should easily be able to dispel these walls. Of course the demons will still be a problem unless I can get back to my lab."

"I'm not sure we have a few minutes," after a moments thought during which constant crunching sounds came from her fist crushing the oncoming demons. "Okay, what's underneath us?"

"Well I can't say for certain but I would guess it would be the sewers."

"Ugh. Fine. If I can get us down there can we make our way to your tower?"

"Why yes, we can. I am quite familiar with the sewers."

"Kind of like a home away from home," sneered Cindra. She had stayed silent until then, frozen in horror, but had broken out of her fright enough to think and react without breaking into a mindless screaming fit.

"Yes," stated 'Zar oblivious to Cindra's disdain.

"Okay, get ready," Ranma-chan warned before letting loose with the Breaking Point underneath them. She made certain to aim the rubble toward the portal in the hope that the rocks might temporarily block the entrance.

When the dust from the explosion cleared, Ranma-chan saw that although the small rift in space was covered, already the rocks were moving, giving evidence of activity beneath them. At her feet was a deep hole that opened up into some sort of cave like system. Without wasting further effort talking she picked up her two companions, one under each arms, and leaped down into the hole.

Several minutes later they were running down the tunnels, ankle deep in water of questionable quality, with a chittering pack of demons on their heels. 'Zar seemed true to his word, unerringly leading them through the twisting ways and branching corridors. Once they entered a large cavern that had some large hungry looking reptiles in them. The creatures slowly started to move after them, but were soon left behind. Soon after this loud roars of pain and anger could be heard and the chittering seemed to get fainter for a short time.

Every few hundred feet 'Zar would pause and smear a small amount of his blood on the walls while muttering a few words. When Ranma-chan asked about he got a panting lecture on how the distance of the gate from his tower made amplification and focus necessary to pinpoint his circle's effects. Ranma-chan didn't understand much of it. It was a mage thing.

Cindra held up fairly well but when she finally did fall behind Ranma-chan swept her into a fireman carry. As long as she was going as slow as 'Zar she could probably carry Cindra's weight all day. Cindra gave a weak protest but fell silent as she listened to the demon's noises echoing through the caves.

After an indeterminate time, they came to an oversized steel door at the end of the corridor. 'Zar fumbled with the keys slightly before finally sliding the correct key into the lock. Slamming the door behind them they ran up the stairs. When they reached ground floor of the tower 'Zar spoke a sharp command and the fiery creature Ranma-chan fought earlier appeared before them, paused for a moment then headed down the stairs. The sound of metal, slowly being shredded, could be heard.

They again started to run up the stairs, when they came to the teleporting steps that had so confused Ranma-chan earlier, the summoner spoke a word. Ranma-chan seemed to blink, she must have, because they were in a large room with a vaulted ceiling. On the ground all around them were circles of all sizes. They all had odd designs and pictures drawn within them. Ranma-chan gathered herself to step out of the circle she had arrived in.

"Stop," 'Zar's voice loudly commanded. "Do not leave the circle. This room is warded against all manner of intrusion. Wait here. I will bring amulets which will temporarily safeguard you against my defenses," saying this he hurried towards a cabinet on the far side of the wall. Muttering something unintelligible the doors glowed slightly and he opened them. Waking back he threw two amulets towards his companions.

"Place them around your necks and hurry to the seventh circle from the left. No! Your other left! Wait for me, I need to activate several circles, then I'll be right there." Walking to three other circles in the room he muttered arcane words that seemed to briefly hang in the air. Although the circles looked the same a sudden familiar sensation told Ranma-chan that those circles were now very active. Nodding to himself he walked briskly towards the others.

This turned into a running gait as a loud thud was and the sound of numerous talons scratching against stone came from a corridor facing the room. Panting slightly the Summoner began an incantation.

Meanwhile, from the corridor a wave of lasae poured into the room. Upon entering a good half of them burst into flames, exploded or just keeled over, but those that survived swept forward like lemmings. Ranma-chan again took up her position in front of the others and regular staccato crunching sounds could be heard.

Ranma-chan was seriously getting concerned about demons sneaking around her to attack her companions when 'Zar's voice rose to a shout and the incantation seemingly ended. For a moment nothing appeared to have changed. This illusion was quickly dispelled when the crack of displaced air was heard. Throughout the whole chamber starting from those closest and working quickly to those farther, the little demons vanished. Within seconds the last had been expelled.

"There we go. Now that wasn't so bad, was it? How about a kiss for a reward," 'Zar received only a cold glare from Cindra.

Ranma-chan was still dressed in her gown. Even the magical fabric seemed somewhat bedraggled, and numerous bloody cuts and scratches covered her arms. "So that still counts as a date, right?" Ranma-chan inquired.

Chapter 10

King Monfrey sat in the dimly lit room with his head in his hands. Things hadn't gone very well the last few days. Personal and City level crisis had apparently decided this would be a good time to come to a head. A young guard with a Captain's insignia sat across from him.

"Alright, Captain Inrio. Let's go over this again," the King said tiredly, reaching for the cup of spiced wine.

"Well, I wasn't there personally but the guards on the scene described two young males involved in an arcane duel in the middle of the city. Reports vary but it appeared an unidentified young mage in a red silk shirt was attacked by another unknown young male mage wearing a huge backpack, and swinging an enchanted umbrella. The red mage avoided the other's first attack. Unfortunately the Mage's Guild was hit. No one was killed, but several people had to be dug from the wreckage and taken to a healer." The young Captain took a huge sheath of papers from the floor beside him. "I almost forgot. These are complaints and damage claims from the Guild."

"Sometime during the battle the Princess showed up," the guard paused and shook his head in disbelief, "Instead of diving for cover she apparently stayed to watch the conflict. We have reports that the red mage shielded the Princess from the blast, and then ended the fight by transforming his opponent into a pig. He then grabbed his foe and jumped on top of a nearby building."

"Yes I've heard that much from my daughter," the king said absently. He had heard that much and more. His daughter would not stop going on about the handsome young mage and how he had asked for her hand in marriage. From what her guards had said privately it sounded more like she had railroaded the young man into 'proposing'. Still, she really needed to settle down, a husband and a few children would calm her. He really needed some peace of mind. He had put her off, but perhaps he should relent and let her have the boy. It wasn't like she was the heir, indulging her a little wouldn't impact the Kingdom. "Continue," the Monfrey commanded.

"Well that's all I have on the altercation, Your Majesty," the guard replied apologetically.

"That's all right. I already know who the red clad 'mage' was. I am satisfied with his innocence. The umbrella wielding fiend who almost killed my daughter is another story. I want the Kingdom outposts and garrisons alerted to his description. Put a bounty of 100,000 gold on his head, that should stir things up a bit. Hmm, also talk to the mage guild and put them on an indefinite commission. I want them to keep scrying for him until he's found. A Royal Commission should also quiet them down a bit." Pausing to gather his thoughts the King nodded. "Alright, next disaster."

The guard gave a wan smile in appreciation of the royal wit and continued, "Although we thought at first they were connected, it appeared that there were actually two separate unrelated assassination attempts. The first was an attempt with a poison dart, this was foiled by the victim herself, a girl named Ranko Saotome. She apparently captured the assassin as well with the aid of the Royal Summoner." Seeing the frown on the King's face the guard hurried on in his narrative. "This was the Western Empire's Thieves Guild. They seem to have connections with the Thieves Guild in our own kingdom and when a contract was put on her for unauthorized theft, it seems their 'brother' guild was happy to oblige when Miss Saotome was finally found."

"This is unacceptable. The Thieves Guild is far too bold. Do they honestly think I'll ignore an assassination attempt in the middle of the Palace." Shaking his head in irritation, "I want the Thieves Guild chastised. Start investigating their activities, crack down on what leads you can find. Hrmph, they're called the Underworld for a reason, they must be taught to stay under their rocks."

The guard coughed delicately, "This could cause repercussions. The Thieves Guild is not without power."

"I think they'll go into hiding for a while. Or at least the wiser elements of it will. Most likely only the more foolish of the Guild will be captured. Such as those who sent a contract assassin into my Palace. Ease off after about three months." A dangerous glint entered his eyes. "If they take offense to this we'll just have to scour them from the face of the Earth. I am King of this country, and I dislike even the darker elements of my Country working with our potential conquerors," the King ended with a growl. His eyes refocused on the young guard, "There's more, I believe."

"Well, the last is probably the worst. Another assassin, we guess he was hired by the Western Empire directly, attacked near the end of the Ball. Disguised as a servant he threw a multiple stage trap amulet at the same Ranko Saotome that was attacked earlier."

"She seemed to have quite a lot of attention focused on her for such a pretty little thing."

"Yes. I haven't been able to find anything about her. Well except that she was the date for the Royal Summoner," he quickly continued when the King growled. "For all we know she was a Succubus Balthazar summoned to the Ball." The guard chuckled at his own jest.

"I know a little of 'Ranko' as well. Leave it be," Monfrey said with a slight nod. "Continue with your report."

"The first stage was the Impervious Walls of Force. Whoever designed the trap had a huge amount of energy, the spell involved five faces. As you know the base spell is very costly and calls forth only one face. Only a Kingdom or Mage Guild has those kind of resources. The Royal Summoner, The Princess and Ranko were caught within the trap. The Second stage was also very impressive. An actual portal to Hell was opened into a large nest of lasae. The Summoner was somehow able to burrow through the floor, creating a hole to escape through the sewers to his Tower."

"How did you know they had gone to the tower?"

"We didn't really, Sire. One of the guards did notice an animated mop floating towards the Tower so we sent a patrol in that direction and found the Princess waiting for us."

"A mop?"

"Yes, Sire. We never really found out about it, but it could be related to the incident."

"Never mind. Probably just a case of someone's domestic spell getting out of hand," after a moment's pause he continued. "I understand the demons were finally destroyed or sent back to their own plane. Were there any other injuries?"

"The second assassin died of 'mysterious' circumstances. Another reason to believe it was a professional job from the Western Empire. The imperial assassins are well known for that type of cover-up. Other than him I think there were no casualties. We still have patrols out, just in case. These specific type of demons are supposed to be particularly vicious."

"Thank you for your time. You may go. Oh, and keep me updated," nodding in dismissal, the King's eyes went back to the pile of paper in front of him. Sometimes it didn't pay to get up in the morning.

Ranma waited anxiously in the circle, sitting cross-legged across from 'Zar. Apparently that Ball and the aftermath did indeed count as date, since the Summoner had agreed to track down Ranma's home plane. Now Ranma watched the old man kneel in the circle with a brush, paint, and big multicolored candles.

"Are you almost done yet?" Ranma asked impatiently.

"If you don't stop asking me that, I'll send you on the demon express to the darkest corner of Hades I can find. I need concentration to finish this circle. So shut up! Why couldn't Ranko come, she was so much more pleasant to be with. To hug. To kiss," the old man sighed.

"Hey! Leave me...er...her out of your perverted fantasies, old man." To keep himself occupied Ranma began finger strike exercises for pressure point attacks. Though as he thought of it, maybe he could combine it with the Breaking Point. Lost in thought he didn't notice the ripping sounds his hands made in the air as they danced in the air.

"Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! Just shut up! Do not move! Don't make any sound! Just stop it!" 'Zar screamed in frustration.

Ranma stopped, looking at the old man in a puzzled fashion. What he'd heard about Summoners was really on target. They really had no self control. Sighing in resignation he stifled the urge to ask 'Zar when he would be finished and meditated on centering himself, and chi control exercises.

'Zar nodded to himself. He had finally gotten through to the infuriating punk. Finally with some peace and quiet he bent to the task of painting the correct symbols in the circle, muttering words of power under his breath. He had just finished putting the final touches on the circle when he noticed a bright red glow coming from behind him. Whirling around to confront the threat he noticed that Ranma was the only one there. Of course he was glowing an intense shade of red and hovering gently an few inches off the ground.

'Zar started cursing under his breath. "Damn mages, just because they don't need major preparation for magic they think they're so superior. Ha! Let's see them try to summon and control a Greater Demon and we'll see how far their pathetic tricks get them!" Still ranting he knelt carefully beside Ranma and while leaning close bellowed, "Wake up Ranma, my boy, it's time to go home!"

Shocked from his trance Ranma collapsed to the ground, clumsily scrambling away from the Summoner while trying to gather his wits. "What are you trying to do? I could have blasted you by accident or something," Ranma berated the old man. Probably should have done it anyway, no one would miss the old freak, Ranma thought, heart still racing from an adrenaline rush.

"I'm sure you have more control than that," the old man smiled benignly. Ranma looked suspiciously at him, that look didn't work when Happossai used it either. "Anyway, I have finished the circle. If you'll get back into the circle I'll start the ritual."

Ranma stepped back into the circle while 'Zar began chanting. A blue glow began to surround the large circle opposite them. Gradually the outline of a huge creature began to appear. As it faded into view, Ranma began to appreciate how hideous the creature actually was. It had a huge lizard-like head, the mane and front half and claws of a lion, the rear half of the creature seemed mostly that of a hippopotamus with the exception of a long thick lizard tail. From head to tail, it was 28 feet, completely dwarfing the circle it stood inside.

'Zar looked shocked, Ranma would have been amused by this except when your resident demon summoner looks surprised at what he caught it bodes very ill indeed. "My Lord Ammit. How very unexpected, I apologize for disturbing you. I was attempting to contact a demon from Hades, I really did not mean to contact a God of your stature. Let me..."

'Zar would have continued to babble and grovel further if the beast had not interrupted. "I know. I have an ally in Hades. I am here on his behalf. I have a use for the human next to you. He will come with me," a deep growling voice echoed in the human's mind.

"Wait a minute. I came here to get home. I ain't going to follow the first ugly scaly thing you summon. Who knows where I'll end up," Ranma protested. That creature was the biggest thing he'd seen since his trip to that water of life place, but he wasn't about to stand still while some goofy dragon monster dragged him to heaven (or hell) knew where.

"Silence mortal, you have no choice. Let it be known that your life will be expended in the most useful way possible, and be satisfied," the creature continued, disregarding Ranma's protests.

Seeing he was being ignored Ranma energized a chi blast to full power and threw it at the creature. The energy hit the creature in the face prompting a response, "Ow. You impudent wretch! You shall suffer many torments for that indignity." Ranma, slightly unnerved that his largest chi blast had been mostly ignored, prepared for the battle of his life. He was still caught completely by surprise when he found his feet leave the ground and himself floating without any support in midair. Whatever was affecting him was not magic, Ranma sensed nothing that he usually felt involving magical energies. Leaving the theories for later, Ranma flailed wildly for a moment before giving up trying to move and just started shooting chi blasts at the thing as fast as possible.

"Ow. Ow. Ow. Stop it, you insect. Ow. Ow. Enough! I need you in one piece for now but you will feel the torments of Hades." At this Ranma felt a huge force bearing down on his mind, breaking through barriers he had never even realized were there. Immediately his body was filled with mind numbing agony. Ranma was stunned for a moment by this completely unexpected attack before he rallied, attempting to ignore the pain through his focusing techniques. Although it was mostly worthless in reducing the pain, it was sufficient to allow him to gather his concentration and act in spite of it. Gathering his chi he renewed his bombardment on the creature.

"That should keep the mortal busy. As for you Summoner, I suggest you leave. I might come to the conclusion you were in my way and you would need to die. I only need him alive. Eh? Ow. Damn you human gnat," the deity raved. While the human hadn't a hope of defeating him, those rapid fire chi attacks hurt more than any mortal attack had a right to. Roaring in outrage the deity lunged out of the circle toward the helplessly floating human. The circle, which was meant to hold demons, did nothing to slow the god. However the room's defenses would not be ignored. Magic flickered into existence around the god, the deity roaring in pain as powerful wards bent their destructive energy towards the creature. 'Zar, knowing the futility of facing even a minor deity unprepared, had slipped out of the room when Ammit had threatened him.

Soon the initial ward's effects were shrugged off and the creature lunged again toward the hovering mortal. Ranma was almost grateful for this. Without any leverage all he could use was pure chi attacks, which at least seemed to marginally hurt the beast. Unfortunately he couldn't keep it up, throwing a barrage of chi bolts was not only tiring but plainly not going to win this battle. When the monster hit Ranma, he easily absorbed the merely physical blow and, using the momentum of the strike, began his next attack. Orienting himself so he struck the wall feet first, he leaped over the creature to the wall behind it and repeated the maneuver. He did this ten times, each rebound faster and more powerful, glowing brighter with concentrated chi.

Ammit swung his head back and forth quickly, trying to follow the annoying mortal, but was not having any success. Giving up on physical attacks he was about to initiate a psionic strike, similar to the first two that seemed to have devastated the human when he heard the cry 'Meteor Kick' and felt a huge hammer blow strike his back. Writhing in a failed attempt to escape the incredible force that stuck him he turned to again face his foe.

Ranma grinned at the success of his attack. His confident smile dimmed slightly when he saw the deity shake its head and stand up almost unscathed. With his chi reserved at their lowest point since he had entered this realm, he knew he would be need to face the creature in hand to hand until he had enough energy to try a Dragon Ascension variant. Teeth gritted in determination he jumped closer to the creature.

Now that the human had stopped leaping around Ammit tried to strike the man with his huge claws. He soon learned that this was not effective. The gnat was too agile and quick, he would strike with those blurring fists that felt like he was being bombarded with pins and leap away before Ammit could strike. On the few occasions he did hit the mortal, it simply flowed with the blow taking very little apparent damage. The embarrassment was unbearable, this mortal was thwarting his Godly will. While mostly unhurt the humiliation was too much. Psionics were too kind for this human. Soon the mortal would see his full glory and power. Drawing on all the magic within him, Ammit invoked his deific powers.

Ranma was already seeing the Ammit's power. This thing would not go down. He thought he just might have enough barely enough chi to pull a Dragon Ascension but he wasn't sure. He was still dodging and contemplating tactics when the creature paused and started glowing crimson. Without further warning Ranma saw a flash of light and a incredible beam of energy surge towards him. Eyes wide with shock he attempted to dodge, but the crimson light almost seemed to move with him. He was engulfed in raging flames a moment later. Crying out in surprise and pain Ranma was knocked back into, and through the stone wall. While he struggled to get up he was struck again. Now battered and burned he staggered back, desperate to get away he used the Breaking Point to escape through the floor.

He was about to use the Saotome Special Final Attack (run away until you think of something better), when a flickering in the corner of his eye caught his attention. Just as he turns he saw the creature materialize before him. Forewarned, he was fully prepared to avoid the energy blasts when the creature struck again. He blinked and found himself part of the wall again, whatever those freaky blasts were he simply could not get out of the way. An image of Kunou spouting off about the 'Vengeance of Heaven' made him grit his teeth. This Saotome wasn't going down without a fight.

Realizing the futility of dodging he brought his aura under control and began a variation of his most powerful move. When the next strike hit him he ignored the pain and focused his concentration and remaining chi on the perfect Dragon Ascension strike. If it wasn't perfect he had no chance of surviving many more of those hideous fiery blasts. As he redirected the incoming energy he felt the breeze that was the precursor to the complete move. It was with satisfaction that he saw a charged funnel of rioting energy enveloping his foe. Falling to his knees in exhaustion he noted with pride the creature had been thrown through multiple walls to fall in a sprawl several hundred feet away.

He was just thinking how remarkable it was that the inside of the Tower was so large when he collapsed in an unconscious heap on the floor. This was just as well, it probably would have broken his heart if he'd stayed awake long enough to see Ammit slowly get to his feet, shake the rubble off his huge body and start to limp towards him.

Chapter 11

Ranma was just drifting on the edge of consciousness when he realized the background noises he was hearing were actually voices. It was too much work to tune them out so he simply let them flow over him.

"Well, you look like you were in quite a battle. Did the mortal put up much resistance?" asked a deep almost animalistic, growling voice.

"Yeah...nothing I couldn't handle. Are you sure he's just a human? I don't remember those kind of mortals demonstrating that level of power," the voice Ranma identified as Ammit reverberated within his mind.

"Thoth assured me it was so. If the God of Wisdom says he's human, then he's human. How did he put up such a fight against you?"

"It was odd. I couldn't lay a paw on him, or when I did he just literally bounced back, he seems very resistant against normal attacks. He went down fairly easily once I started to show him the true power of a god. I admit that if I hadn't been so furious I would have just sat back and used psionics, which were very effective by the way."

"From the burns it looks like you called upon Hellfire. Hmm, if he is defeated too easily by psionics it could be a problem."

"Well…let's say he's only a little more resistant than a normal human in that area. He'll do better than I first thought in our mission," the voice grudgingly admitted. "He may even survive. He withstood four or five direct strikes of my fire before going down."

"He better survive, Thoth has an important mission for him after yours is complete."

"Bah, Thoth is an oblivious scholarly fool."

"Be wary with your tongue, he may be ridiculously absentminded, but no one in their right mind crosses him without excellent reason. He has forgotten more arcane lore than the remaining pantheon is even aware existed."

"His loyalties lie with the Gods of Light, it will inevitably lead to conflict with us."

"Thoth is perfectly aware of our loyalties, he has excellent relations with the Darker elements of our pantheon. Set himself has an acceptable relationship with him. As long as open hostilities don't break out we can be assured of Thoth's neutrality."

"Hmmph," Ammit grunted unconvinced.

"Look at it this way, he discovered the human. If he hadn't felt generous, neither you nor I would be aware of him and our plans would have a much smaller chance of success."

"I'm sure he did it from the goodness of his heart," Ammit sneered.

"I am aware of some of his purpose for the human. I am not at liberty to say more but I find no fault with them. You came to me for aid, now be quiet and accept it." The voice said in a low growl, obviously losing patience.

"Fine, the human is your pet, you coddle him. I'm going to go and kill something, call me when we're ready to start," Ammit stated in disgust. True the human was more than he had initially expected, but he was still merely a human. Having to think of it as more left a bad taste in mouth. Spitting in distaste he opened a portal to his own realm and ambled through it.

There was a moment of silence and the deep voice continued, "You can open your eyes now. I can tell you're awake, though your aura control is admirable. You will not be harmed. Ammit was...over enthusiastic with his invitation."

Ranma carefully opened his eyes bracing himself for battle if necessary. He noticed he was in a huge chamber, it's ceiling well over 50 feet above him, it and the room he could see was constructed of solid polished grey marble. If Ranma had been better educated he would have noticed a subtle, almost Egyptian motif in the design and decorative carvings about him. All this didn't really register, he was busy being faced with something straight from his darkest nightmares.

Standing before him was a giant man, at least eighteen feet tall. It wasn't his size that aroused Ranma's horror, it was the fact the man possessed the head of a lion.

"C-Cat!" he screamed in terror, immediately running in the opposite direction as fast as his legs would take him.

The lion headed god watched his rapidly retreating champion more than slightly nonplussed. He had struck terror into many a mortal, but considering the bravery this human had shown in previous battles this was really the last thing he had expected. The fact that the mortal was creating humanoid shaped holes in the stone walls merely added to his puzzlement. A quiet chuckling sound behind him jerked him from his bemused contemplation.

"Greetings, Anhur. Ah, the neko-ken. I never thought I'd see that again. Then again only an idiot would try to teach that technique to someone. It certainly wouldn't be a worshipper of mine," a voice stated.

"Thoth," Anhur acknowledged his fellow deity's presence, still gazing after the human. "The neko-ken? I've heard of it. I'm afraid many of my followers aren't nearly as wise as yours. Several of my more misguided people have tried learning the technique. Although this is the first person I've actually seen to survive the training. I think it needs a little fine tuning."

"The training requires a large amount of ability to channel one's spiritual abilities. This combined with the extreme youth needed for the training leads to a very large number of fatalities. I've done a little research on the issue, only a handful have ever survived to training. One ascended to godhood in an obscure pantheon, one achieved demi-god status before his violent death. All have been ferocious warriors."

"If you knew, why didn't you tell me. I wouldn't have greeted him in my Primal Manifestation," Anhur asked, afraid he already knew the answer.

"It slipped my mind, I suppose I was thinking of something else," Thoth stated blandly, if truthfully, not really apologizing.

"Of course, and that curse of his? I was expecting a female," Anhur sighed in exasperation.

"Eh? What about the curse? It just makes him a better candidate. In a highly magical environment such as our home plane here, Dyval, or Rifts Earth it will give him the stamina, strength, and durability of a creature of magic. Despite this he's still as hard to perceive as a normal mortal. I think he can improve this by suppressing his aura as well. He really is quite the perfect candidate for both our purposes."

"Do you know how to get him out of the neko-ken? I've never dealt with a survivor before," the lion headed deity asked the God of Wisdom.

"From what I've found out about our friend Ranma, a sudden shock will work. Unless you want a protracted battle I suggest taking his bracers off and dousing him with cold water. Anyway that may not be a problem. Since he successfully left your presence he shouldn't be fully under the neko-ken."

"Thoth, many of my servants are of the Ramen race. By now he has no doubt met several. If being surrounding by humanoid cats doesn't drive him fully under the neko-ken influence, I can't imagine what will."

"It's really very ironic," Thoth said in a contemplative tone.

"No. What's ironic is that Ammit's mission is for Abdul-Ra. I don't think Ranma needs to know his mission is sponsored by the Lord of the Raksasha."

"He's a nice fellow for a Demon Lord, I've met him a few times. Very polite," Thoth said good naturedly.

Anhur looked sideways at the Lord of Knowledge. Only a fool would antagonize Thoth, besides most entities curried his favor. Thoth could provide incredible magics and artifacts if he chose to. Fortunately, he was wary of placing too much power in unreliable hands.

"Whatever, let's go find our champion. Maybe he's in a tree," Anhur said, while walking off towards the hole in the wall. He doubted it, there wasn't a tree for miles.

Several unpleasant minutes later Anhur stood holding a wildly scratching Ranma by the neck, at arm's length. Around him lay a pile of unconscious feline servants. Anhur himself had metamorphosed into merely an eighteen foot tall human. He had managed to grab one bracer and yank it off his erstwhile champion. Presently he was trying to grab the other arms. The claws of chi and wind-milling blur of arms made this a challenge. Off to the side Thoth stood with a huge gold inlayed bucket of cold water. He looked distracted as if he had other things on his mind than the skirmish taking place before him.

Anhur now knew how Ammit had felt. He was covered in long bloody gashes. He was not seriously injured, and his wounds were healing only slightly slower than they were inflicted, but it was a frustrating battle. He knew he had been fortunate to grab Ranma early in the conflict. From the speed he'd demonstrated he doubted he would have been able to lay a finger on him if he hadn't. The human also exhibited incredible strength, the god was still significantly more powerful, but Anhur was still impressed that a human, un-augmented by magic or science was strong enough to match many of the weaker deities he knew. He was also slightly concerned, unlike Ammit he didn't have access to the disabling psionics he had used. Thoth did, of course, but his mind was obviously elsewhere. He could call on his deific powers as Ammit had earlier, but he needed Ranma in one piece, especially with Thoth right there watching…well sort of watching.

As the God of War of the Pantheon of Taut he would have been enjoying himself if he had been sparring with his champion in the normal manner. This clawing at each other lacked dignity. Anhur finally grasped the other arm, and after struggling a little for the correct grip, pulled the other bracer off. He then looked expectantly at his fellow god. He was thoroughly ignored.

"Thoth! Hey Thoth! Pay attention, I need that water now," Anhur shouted loudly.

"Eh? Oh! Sorry, I was just think of a new spell. It was actually very interesting, involving a combination of opposing..." Thoth rambled on, still distracted by his musings.

"Thoth! The water! Now!" Anhur bellowed.

Finally bringing his full attention to his surrounding, Thoth nodded, and poured the water over the still attacking human. As the human stopped struggling, Anhur put down the wet, bedraggled, and very female Ranma-chan.

Ranma-chan came back to consciousness, standing at the intersection of a huge stone corridor. Furry bodies littered the floor around her. Fortunately for her sanity she didn't pay any attention to that. Her attention was riveted to the two enormous creatures in front of her. One was an eighteen foot tall man dressed in a golden breast plate. He had deep cuts on his arms that were visibly healing as she watched. The other was odder still, an equally tall humanoid with the head of a bird (ibis). It wore a beautifully decorated robe, a staff in one hand and a golden bucket in the other. It was hard to tell, but its eyes seemed to be focused elsewhere.

"Again I greet you. I am Anhur, God of the Pantheon of Taut. This is Thoth, known as the God of Wisdom. We have brought you here because we have need of your services. If we can come to an agreement, you will be my champion and representative in certain affairs." Gesturing down the hall he continued, "Let us retire to somewhere less cluttered.

"Thoth? Thoth! Pay attention!" growled Anhur with a lionish roar, eliciting a nervous glance from Ranma-chan.

Soon the three were in a cozy little room, with plush, comfortable chairs. A table sat before them with cookies, varied deserts, and tea on it. Ranma-chan wasn't sure exactly when it happened, but she thought that she had blinked and suddenly Anhur and Thoth were merely human sized. Although, it was probably meant to put her at ease, such flexibility with what seemed reality made her very nervous. This did not stop her from tucking away large quantities of the sweets in front of her.

"Well, what do you want me for," Ranma-chan mumble almost coherently around a mouthful of some creamy confection.

"A friend of Ammit's needs a favor. A female friend of his has been forcibly detained. Due to Ammit's friend's nature, if he attempts to even approach her he will be instantly detected. This is where you and Ammit come in," Anhur stated.

"Rescue a girl? I can do that. And you'll send me home then?" Ranma asked, not paying close attention to the conversation.

"Yes. There's more though. Aside from the details of the rescue plan, Thoth has a proposition for you after you have completed it," Anhur stated.

"I thought you said you'd send me home afterward," Ranma-chan asked suspiciously.

"This would be after you have been returned. While Ammit's mission is personal, Thoth's has more Universal implications."

"Er...how big do you mean," the pig-tailed girl asked.

"If Thoth's theories are accurate, it could impact every dimension I know of..."

"Suffice to say every plane of existence would be affected. I'll go into more details once you return. You would of course be compensated. Aside from the benefit of keeping the dimensions free of horrors beyond human imagining," Thoth casually interrupted, apparently his attention being caught by the subject of the conversation.

"Can you cure my curse?" Ranma-chan asked excitedly.

"I could. But I won't. The 'curse' you are under makes you very useful in certain circumstances," Thoth stated.

"But..."

"Besides, now that you have those defective manacles, the curse would seem to be adequately controlled. They also provide an excellent defense against further transformational magics," Thoth nodded benignly.

"But what else could I ask for?" Ranma-chan asked. Deprived of her primary goal she was somewhat lost as to what else she wanted.

"I am the God of Knowledge but I can't say what you desire. Once you decide that, maybe I can help," the Lord of Wisdom shrugged.

"Hmm...I may have a suggestion. Ranma, you practice martial arts, yes?" Anhur asked.

"Yeah. I'm the best," she stated confidently.

"Truly? There is no one that you could learn from?" Anhur asked with a level stare.

"Well, the old mummy can sometimes, well...usually...beat me with one of her tricks. And the old freak would win a lot more if he wasn't so easy to distract. I guess Pop even has a few moves he thinks are too dangerous to teach," Ranma-chan said hesitantly. She didn't like thinking about such unpleasant truths. If she really needed to win, she somehow would find a way. She was Ranma Saotome afterall.

"So there are things you could learn to perfect your art?" Anhur prodded once more.

"Yeah. I guess so. But the old freak won't teach anything he knows. All he does is grope women. The mummy, she's taught me stuff, but I doubt she'll give me much more. I think she's finally realizing that I won't marry her granddaughter. Besides the really advanced stuff I think she'd only teach an Amazon," Ranma-chan sighed sadly. What she wouldn't give to learn those techniques.

"Well Thoth? It seems we now know what she wants. Any Ideas?" Anhur asked helpfully.

"Let's start with the 'old goul'. I believe her actual name is Cologne. What does she want?" the bird headed god asked.

"Well...she wants a really competent heir. I guess three hundred years is a long time even for her. Shampoo isn't anywhere near as good as her though. She must be getting pretty desperate." Ranma-chan felt kinda bad about that. It wasn't Cologne's fault Shampoo had been dishonored or whatever. Of course it wasn't her fault either that the Amazons were poor losers.

"Without physically or mentally transforming Shampoo, I'm not sure what I can do about her skills or ability. However Cologne's age is easily dealt with. Would she be more cooperative if you could offer youth to her?" Thoth asked.

"You...you can do that," a shocked Ranma-chan asked.

"I could do it personally, or I could give her detailed directions on construction and use of a circle that could do the same. I think she is adequately skilled in ritual magic to make use of it. That might be the best approach. She could in turn apply leverage on the other's you mentioned. Training for youth," Thoth mused.

"That takes care of the goul…er Cologne, Happossai and Pops. Wow, cool. Too bad I can't help Shampoo, she still has to try to marry me even without Cologne's support," Ranma-chan said with mixed emotions. On the one hand her dream of being the best martial artist just may be coming true, on the other hand he still had most of his other problems…and maybe a new one.

"Wait a minute, that means we'll have a young Happossai groping women. Can I be responsible for unleashing that kind of horror on the world," Ranma-chan exclaimed in realization. "Maybe Cologne can think of something."

"Would this be acceptable? You would be achieving your dreams. We would be getting a champion of impressive skill, and the universe would have the aid it needs," Anhur asked.

"I...yes. I accept," Ranma-chan said. She was worried she might be making a huge mistake, but she had just been offered a dream come true. This combined with a chance to fight for the salvation of the universe...well, it was her duty as a martial artist to accept. She just hoped she wouldn't be regretting her decision.

Thoth simply nodded in acknowledgement and faded away. Apparently going back to his home.

"Excellent! You will be training for a short time here, in my home. Then you and Ammit will leave for the Dyval plane. Upon your return Thoth will give you the directions for the circle, you can go home and train there until Thoth requires your assistance again," Anhur stated in a hearty tone.

"Wait a minute, who's Ammit?" Ranma-chan paused in thought for a moment, "Hey, isn't he that ugly lizard thing that attacked me? I ain't going nowhere with that thing!" Ranma-chan shouted.

"Calm down. We have already agreed with the terms, besides Ammit has learned some respect for you. You will need to cooperate on your mission to Dyval."

"Hey what's this Dyval place like anyway?" a dubious martial artist inquired.

"It is where the Deevils dwell. It is here that the Deevil Lord Mephisto holds Rhada."

"Deevils, eh? Deevils? As in Devils?! You guys are trying to send me to Hell? Are you guys nuts? And who's this Mephisto guy? His name sounds familiar."

"Dyval is not Hades. Hades is where demons dwell. There is actually a very violent rivalry between the two realms. Mephisto is an extremely powerful Deevil Lord who is mainly in charge of guarding Rhada. His power is equal to most greater gods. We have arranged a diversion, since it would be unreasonable for you and Ammit to confront him. You should only need to deal with a few minions such as Deevil Serpents, Dire Harpies, and maybe Leviathan."

"Who's Leviathan?" Ranma-chan choked out. She was suffering from information overload, and was having a difficult time keeping track of things.

"Leviathan is a much weaker Deevil Lord, though she is still a significant danger. She rules the Dire Harpies. Mephisto controls the Serpents. Mephisto will probably not leave Rhada guarded with mere minions. He may have Leviathan stay in his stead."

"I don't fight girls..." Ranma-chan protested half-heartedly, her head still spinning.

"She is a Deevil Lord. I think you might want to consider her in the monster category rather than a girl. Although the manifestation she usually chooses is attractive..." Anhur's voice faded into speculative silence.

"Don't worry you won't be fighting all the minions at once. Stealth will aid you more than anything else. Also the Fenry will be helping you. Ammit will take care of that."

"Fenry? Isn't that the kind of demon 'Zar had? Why would the Fenry help us?" Ranma-chan asked plaintively.

"Well you are going in to rescue their mistress," Anhur helpfully offered.

"No I'm not. I'm going in to rescue a trapped girl. Wait a minute...is the girl I'm supposed to rescue even human?" she asked with a certain trepidation.

"Er, no. She's a Deevil Lord as well," the god corrected.

Ranma-chan started to bang her head against the table.

Chapter 12

"My lovely Cindra are you sure you want to do this?" 'Zar said, obviously having mixed emotions.

"I am not your Cindra. I am simply using your services in exchange for a price," Cindra stated, her voice dripping disgust.

"Ah yes. A date and a kiss," a dreamy look entered his eyes as a thin line of drool exited his mouth. Shaking himself from his stupor he continued, "Of course it would be best if your father was unaware of our relationship."

"There is no relationship, you freak! I mean...of course Daddy doesn't need to know. He'd get all upset over nothing. I am an adult and since Daddy gave his permission to marry my love, it is my duty to track him down," Cindra said with conviction.

"He may very well be dead. He was taken away by a God of the Pantheon of Taut. They are not known to be friendly towards humans," 'Zar warned.

"I may not be able to follow him to whatever fate may be his, but I can follow him home. Surely if he lives he will find his way back. And I will be there waiting. It's so romantic," Cindra sighed.

"Er, yes. Very. Anyway once Ammit left us I was able to summon an alternate demon and find out our friend's home plane," 'Zar nodded to himself in obvious pride.

"Hey, I am not a demon," a querulous voice rose from the corner of the room.

"Be silent. If you weren't a demon and of supernatural evil my containment circle would have had no effect, demon." 'Zar stated in dismissal towards the source of the sound.

"But I wanna go home. Is this any way to treat a harmless old man? Why is everybody always picking on me?" wailed the diminutive figure, which could now be made out in the darkened corner.

"Oh stop your whining. Here," 'Zar hushed while throwing a piece of cloth at the containment circle. The figure leaped towards the object only to crash against an invisible surface, which happened to coincide with the edge of the circle. Fortunately, a moment later the cloth fluttered down to land on the figure's head.

"Ah! Panties!" the old demon sighed in satisfaction.

"Fortunately these demons of perversion are all simple minded and easy to satiate. I'll send him back when I'm sure you've safely arrived. Have a care, my Princess. I anxiously await our date," 'Zar continued smiling suggestively at Cindra.

"Oh please. I think I'm going to be ill," Cindra said, fighting her gag reflex. "Just get on with it."

"Fine," 'Zar stated while tapping a circle with his staff, mumbling incoherent words. After several minutes of this a glow formed in the air and a ripping, electrical cracking sound could be heard. A portal soon irised open in front of the couple.

Through the gate a young lady in an apron and dress could be seen turning from a sink and a pile of dishes, a look of mild surprise on her face.

Cindra took the time to grab her bags and walk through the portal. As she stepped through the portal closed quietly behind Cindra

"Greetings. I am the fiancée of Ranma Saotome. I will be staying here until my love comes for me." Seeing the girl still unresponsive she took some gold coins from her belt and placed them in the girl's unresisting hand.

"Oh my! Guests! Paying guests. Nabiki will be so pleased," the girl said, looking vaguely confused.

"Anyway, Hades and Dyval have a violent rivalry that has been going on for...hmm...probably since just after the Old Ones were subdued, which is a good hundred thousand years," Anhur started after Ranma had stopped beating herself.

"What does Hades have to do with anything?" Ranma-chan asked.

"I'll get to that. Rhada, who is the Deevil Lord whose dominion is the Fenry, captured Abdul-Ra more than three hundred years ago..."

"Who is Abdul-Ra?" Ranma-chan interrupted with a query.

"My you certainly inquisitive all of a sudden. Abdul-Ra is a Demon Lord of Hades whose dominion is...not important right now. Apparently Rhada fell in love with her captive. She freed Abdul-Ra because of this. It's really too bad the other Demon Lords found out about that little incident. They were really upset that one of their own would demonstrate such freakish emotion, especially towards such hated foes. They chained her in her own castle, bound her powers so she couldn't escape, and have been arguing over what to do with her for three hundred years."

"Abdul-Ra left his girlfriend to sit in a dungeon for three hundred years?" Ranma-chan exclaimed in disbelief.

"Well, it's not as if he ever proclaimed his love for her. That combined with this probably being the first time he's ever had anything resembling a warm emotion since...well, most likely ever. I know him by reputation, very honorable, which I approve of. Unlike most of the Demon Lords he takes his responsibilities towards his minions seriously, but love? Ha! He's probably been wondering what in Hades happened to him for the last several centuries."

"If he's not a friend of yours, then why are you helping him?" Ranma-chan asked.

"Well, actually this part is much less straightforward. Ammit is a...friend...of Abdul-Ra. He has been a go between for Abdul-Ra and Rhada since shortly after the incident. You see if Abdul-Ra, a Demon Lord, sets foot on Dyval, the very ground will scream his presence for all to hear. Ammit, though a fairly powerful deity, is of the Dark Pantheon of Taut, and there are no overt hostilities between us and Dyval."

"Then why don't you go help Ammit?"

"It's not my concern. Furthermore I don't want it to become my concern. It would be distracting to come into open conflict with the Lords of Dyval. As it is Ammit will owe me a large favor for your services that I will eventually collect."

"Hey! What about me? I don't want a pack of Demon...er...Dyval Lords after me either!" Ranma-chan protested.

"It's very simple, you are merely human. Humans are very hard to sense, especially compared to other greater supernatural entities. Since you won't be declared my champion until after this little enterprise I won't be officially involved. The Dyval Lords will assume any mere human is a minion of Ammit's. Only the most petty would specifically target you for vengeance."

"Won't Ammit's involvement cause him trouble?"

"That's not a concern to me. Ammit can fight his own battles. The Dyval Lords would be fools to declare war on the entire Pantheon of Taut. Not to mention that in that type of general conflict our 'brother' Pantheon of Ra might be drawn into the war. Hades and Dyval's other enemies would take advantage of their weakness and Dyval would cease to exist soon after. It would be truly glorious, but very unlikely. They will confine their ire to Ammit," Anhur stated with finality.

"Okay, that explains your involvement, now how'd I get involved?"

"Thoth has been trying to deal with the problem with the Old Ones for long time, even for us. He needs someone whose power is so negligible as to be unnoticed..."

"Hey!" Ranma-chan protested.

"...Yet ironically he also requires a being of great power and ability." Anhur finished. "You have significant power and ability, yet if you hid your aura I myself would be hard pressed to sense you in this very room." Ranma-chan nodded, her ego soothed.

"Thoth can be very persistent so he finally found a candidate. You. He was actively looking and you caught his attention when that Western Empire fool accidentally summoned you for his own petty goals. You aren't quite ready yet so he contacted me. He has access to incredible knowledge, but for the arts of war I am your tutor."

"So you'll teach me...wait a minute, you mean you would have gotten me trained even if I hadn't asked for it," Ranma-chan cried out.

"Yes," Anhur replied simply.

"Greyson was right," Ranma-chan sighed in a defeated tone. "Why do you want me as your champion, and what is a champion anyway?" she asked still looking dejectedly at the floor.

"Aside from helping Thoth on an issue that is of vital importance, I am a god of war. This means that all aspects of conflict are of interest to me. I possess many armies, some with magical weapons and artifacts of destruction, others with technology people from your world have yet to see, or even imagine. But armies are useless by themselves, and though I am a god, I am not omnipotent. There are only so many places I can be at once. So I also collect individuals of intelligence and power, these are my generals and representatives. They wield my armies and even some of my power when I cannot be there myself."

"But I'm no general! I admit that I'm great with tactics, but leading an army isn't me. I'm a martial artist!" she protested.

"I never said you were. Besides, my generals may be required to negotiate, and I think you need to mature a bit before you develop the patience and wisdom for that." Ranma-chan looked toward the floor in embarrassment again. "I do require a champion, however. There are times where disputes with other powers arise where open conflict is not desired and can be dealt with a contest between two minions. There will also be times where my own minions will commit crimes and must be brought back to be judged."

"I'm not going to kill anyone you point to. I'm no assassin!" Ranma-chan vehemently protested.

"I am aware of your limitations," Anhur stated, a hint of disdain crept into his voice. "Thoth informed me of your moral shortcoming and I assured him that I will take them into account. Your missions will be limited to those even you would consider criminals. Likewise I will not force you to kill. It is usually easier than capture, but I will leave the decision in your hands."

"Well, that's okay then," Ranma-chan said, still unsure that it was 'okay'.

"As to your powers as champion, they will be similar to those of a priest..."

"Hey I ain't going to worship you or nothin!" Ranma-chan indignantly cried out.

Anhur sighed, "That won't be necessary. A simple acknowledgement of me being your chosen god is enough. That, and your obedience."

"Well...as long as you don't tell me to do anything dishonorable," Ranma-chan nodded.

Anhur rubbed his temples, he could tell Ranma was going to be more work than almost any other follower or worshipper he had. If Thoth hadn't personally asked for his forbearance on the matter...and of course, short of the major supernatural entities under his command, Ranma had the most potential. It was all a simple matter of resisting the overwhelming temptation of blasting the idiot out of existence, while waiting for that potential, and his protege's mouth, to mature.

"Your powers as a champion are as follows: you may dimensionally teleport to any dimension I have personally been to, assuming you know it exists. This is not very accurate without a quite a bit of practice. Be careful, you may end up anywhere on that world. You can use this three times a day. However on the bright side, whatever world you end up in you will be able to survive the local ambient conditions, and speak the local tongue

"Why three times a day?"

"It's the standard number. Ask Thoth, I'm sure there's an arcane reason that he'll be aware of," he took a breathe before continuing his explanation. Second you will gain a slight resistance to possession, mind control, soul-drinking and magic in general. This is because I am imbuing a small amount of my essence into you. Not much, as it would defeat the purpose Thoth has in mind for you. Your life span will, as a side effect, be enhanced and you will age at one tenth the normal rate."

"But as a martial artist and a master of chi I already had that. Why if Cologne and Happossai can live to over three hundred I bet I could double that," Ranma-chan boasted.

"It doesn't really matter. If what you say is true, you could look forward to a lifespan of six thousand years under my service. As it is, if you make use of the circle Thoth will give you for Cologne periodically, you can work in my service for whatever part of eternity you wish, and then retire for the rest of forever. Aside from all that, you are far more likely to die of unnatural causes," Anhur smiled cheerily to himself, imaging himself to be one of these unnatural causes.

"Wow, I could get, like really good, given forever," Ranma-chan mumbled dreamily to herself. "And I wouldn't even shrink like Cologne did."

"Yes, I'm sure you could. You also have the ability to contact me directly to ask for divine intervention or simple communication. Do not do this often. I don't need a champion if I have to do all the work anyway."

"I won't need any help," Ranma-chan confidently stated.

"We'll see. Finally, if you die in my service, assuming your soul is not trapped, dispelled, destroyed or otherwise inconvenienced, I will undertake it upon myself to resurrect you."

"Wow. Neat. I mean how often does that stuff happen?" Ranma-chan rhetorically asked.

An uncomfortable silence greeted her question. Just as Ranma-chan was going to follow up on her question again with more emphasis, Anhur continued on a completely different track.

"If you decide to leave my service I will remove these abilities, and you may continue normally with your life. Be warned, if you anger another deity, and he is aware of your special 'status' he has the capability to strip these abilities from you one by one. At least until you again come into my presence and I renew the contract," Anhur emphasized.

Anhur paused to gather his thoughts. "For now the only glaring faults I see in you is your ignorance of Deevils and Demons in general, and the Neko-ken. The first can be dealt with easily," Anhur extended his hand and a large tome appeared in it, "Take it. It is a complete description of the powers, abilities and anatomy of most dyvals, demons, elementals and dragons. These are the most common of the supernatural threats you may face."

"Does this have pressure points and martial arts technique in it?" Ranma-chan asked doubtfully. That book looked way too much like school work.

"No. Supernatural entities are very resistant to simple nerve and chi manipulation. It does contain diagrams of the musculature, skeleton, tendons, and full range of motion capable by such creatures. The specific techniques I will leave to you. Mostly for now you should think of how to apply the maneuvers you know to creatures having a completely different center of mass, density and flexibility. It would be most embarrassing to try a throw on a demon only to be disemboweled when you find the joint actually moves the other way."

"Hah! Never happen," Ranma-chan stated, gathering the book under her arm with more appreciation than previously shown.

"The next problem is the Neko-ken. There may or may not be cats in Dyval, but there are definitely fear spells and shape-changers. It would be unfortunate if you went 'cat' in Dyval, you might win the battle you were in, but I doubt we'd ever see you again. Ammit would certainly not bother to bring you back if you resisted," Anhur laughed with good humor that was somehow lost on Ranma-chan. "In the short term I have a amulet that will keep you from feeling fear. Don't use it too often, preferably only in combat. It blunts the self-preservation instinct, and most other emotions as well as fear." He tossed Ranma-chan another object he had pulled from nowhere.

"For the long term, I will have a mind mage in my service show you certain meditation techniques, that will allow you to control your fear. I think that with enough time and practice you might be able to employ the Neko-ken techniques at will, without the debilitating side effects." Ranma-chan perked up at this wonderful news. "You can probably perfect the technique in just a few centuries," Anhur continued heartily.

Seeing Ranma-chan's dejected look, he offered some advice. "I suggest you start looking at the long term, you're going to be busy, but forever is a long time even for a god. However, for now you should start studying. I'll have one of my servants show you where you'll be eating, training, and sleeping."

As one of the feline Raman walked into the room, a terrified Ranma-chan created her own exit leaving the room in the opposite direction. Sighing Anhur motioned to the servant to bring a bucket of hot water.

"I suppose I should have had him wear that amulet first. Oh well, I knew there was a reason I loathed pets," he muttered to himself. Anhur then went to start a process that he hoped wouldn't become a habit.

Chapter 13

Ranma rolled between the twenty foot creature's legs and then leaped up between the spread wings. Reaching out he clamped a hand onto the wing, near the base, while pummeling the spine and back of the monster with a chi enhanced Chestnut Fist. The demon couldn't reach behind it and was reduced to flailing it's wings around in the hope of dislodging Ranma. The creature's struggles were getting significantly weaker when it realized this tactic was useless. Reaching out an arm, a long fiery whip appeared within the huge clawed hand. It then proceeded to swing the whip over its back.

Ranma was almost impressed. He parried the whip with his bracers, and continued beating the demon. Within a short time the creature gave a low groan and collapsed to its knees. Seconds later it completed its fall to the ground with a resounding thud.

"This is pathetic. The creatures Happassai summons are tougher than this. Of course they usually are a lot faster, but less durable. That last sure could take a pounding, almost put Ryouga to shame." Around him slumped the twitching bodies of five other demons. Groaning they slowly dragged themselves from the arena area. Apparently quite a few creatures of the nefarious planes owed Anhur, and were presently working off their debts being beaten unconscious by a human. It was humiliating, but right then all they wanted to do was drag their bodies away to regenerate, away from the sight of a certain pig-tailed martial artist.

Ranma ignored them with little effort. They were demons. They were evil by definition, and unworthy of his sympathy. "Let's see, that completes the common lesser and greater demon, deevils. Anhur doesn't have any elementals on hand. From what I've read the greater elementals are much tougher. The two I fought earlier were certainly more challenging." Ranma muttered to himself, deliberately not thinking of the inconclusive outcomes of those battles.

To be honest, all the greater demons seemed very durable. They couldn't block his attacks, or usually hit him, but it still took a lot of time to wear them down. The book Anhur had given him proved to be invaluable. Many of the entities he fought had special attacks or abilities. Nothing that he probably couldn't have dealt with, but they would have been very surprising to just have happen in battle. There was the one that generated an aura of fear, he'd found himself almost slipping into the neko-ken before he managed to slip on the amulet Anhur had given him. Of course when he attempted to slam it with a Fierce Tiger Domineering attack he had found the negative aspect of wearing that item. He just couldn't muster the confidence needed for the attack, indeed all his emotions seemed muted. This was rather disturbing to Ranma since many of his chi techniques depended on carefully balanced states of awareness to successfully channel. He had defeated that demon, but not as quickly or surely as he had expected.

Other demons could cast certain spells as innate abilities. These had also proven to be a challenge. Ranma was confident that in a fight with a mage he would easily win. Mages just took too long to trigger their spells, they were unconscious before they had finished. Talismans, magic items that stored spells and could be triggered with a gesture were far more dangerous, and could be used by non-mages. Despite this, the person still had to hold the item and trigger it, which usually gave Ranma the chance to avoid the attack. Demons were usually limited in what they could do, but could do it with little or no warning. Very unnerving, his chi senses had barely saved him from a few such attacks so far. That, combined with the book describing the likely effects of these attacks.

Ranma was so engrossed in analyzing his previous battles he barely noticed as the earth seemed to move beneath him. He took little more notice when an irritated demon threw him off its back where he had been standing, and started to trudge towards the arena exit. Giving only a glance of disgust at the martial artist who had somersaulted in midair and landed lightly on his feet, still seemingly ignoring his surroundings.

A distant gong sounded, this seemed to draw Ranma out of his distracted state, "Damn, it's time for my meditation lesson with Master Arien." Ranma took off running out of the Arena and down the corridor to his appointment. He didn't really register the various demons whose heads he bounced off on the way.

Anhur withdraw his attention to his own plane. He had been perceiving a battle through the eyes of one of his Generals when a disturbance on his own plane disturbed his concentration. Spreading his senses through his domain Anhur attempted to pinpoint the source. There, fairly faintly, an unauthorized entity. Hmm, felt vaguely demonic, though something was off.

Since he knew the location he opened a portal directly to the source and stepped through. Once there he looked around expecting to see a minor demon, probably a spy from one of the many planes he was presently in conflict with. It was stupid for his opponents to think he wouldn't expect demonic intrusion, but they still tried the tactic. Not seeing anything obvious threat he was about to expand his senses when he heard a voice behind him.

"Where in the world am I now! This is all Ranma's fault!" shouted a boy wearing a bandanna around his forehead, waving an umbrella wildly in the air.

Well this was certainly different. An acquaintance of Ranma's. Altering his shape to that of a six foot human Anhur coughed softly to capture the boy's attention.

"I believe you are looking for Ranma?" he asked.

"Er...no. Ranma's lost somewhere. Could you direct me to the Tendo Dojo?" the boy asked, while turning to face the new fellow.

"Just out of curiosity, where do you think you are now," asked Anhur, speaking ancient Egyptian.

"Well Canada of course. Though I hadn't realized Canada had deserts," Ryouga muttered to himself in Egyptian.

"What language do you believe you are speaking in now," Anhur continued, switching to Atlantean.

"Listen, I don't have time for silly questions. I need to find the Tendos. If you won't tell me where they are, I'll just find them on my own," the lost boy shouted back, also in Atlantean.

"If you answer my questions, I will see you to your destination personally," Anhur stated, reaching a hand to the boy's shoulder to delay his leaving.

Ryouga shrugged out of the hold on him, or at least he tried. Whoever this guy was he might even be stronger than Ryouga. His eyes widened as he realized this. Up to now the only ones stronger than him were Herb's minion and Tarou's minotaur's form.

Acknowledging the stranger's prowess Ryouga turned around gave him his full attention. Anhur seeing this, released his grip on the lost boy and stepped back.

"Are you a martial artist" Ryouga inquired suspiciously.

"Yes, though I practice a very different style than yours. Do you accept my bargain?"

"Alright, maybe we can spar a little as well," Ryouga said eagerly, anxious to learn a new technique in his quest to destroy Ranma.

"Hmm, maybe. I might enjoy that. However, I do know something that may be of service to you. I am willing to aid you in exchange for a favor sometime in the future."

"All I want to do is reach the Tendo Dojo, you already promised me that," Ryouga said, wary again. This stranger was acting very odd.

"You suffer severe directional problems," Anhur continued despite Ryouga's protest to the contrary, "If I could explain the cause of your problem and propose a solution, would you find this worth a favor?"

"You mean never be lost again? You can do that?" Ryouga exclaimed, a slight amount of his constant depression lightening slightly.

"I can show you what needs to be done. The rest is, of course, up to you. Do we have a bargain, boy?" the god offered.

"Assuming you don't want me to do anything dishonorable, yes," Ryouga qualified.

"I tire of you humans constantly questioning my honor! But enough. We have an agreement. Come into my study and we will answer each other's questions." Saying this he walked to a portal that opened to one side of the two of them.

"Hey is that a technique I can learn?" Ryouga asked eagerly, following the man through the gate.

"That is the question, now. Isn't it?" the man responded to a confused Ryouga.

Ranma was walking towards the study. He had finished his meditation practice and his sparing with his demonic partners, and was searching for a snack. He had found that the study he had originally met with Anhur and Thoth always seemed to have fresh tea and cookies on the table.

As he neared the door he heard voices. Not wanting to make a nuisance of himself, he was about to walk away when he noticed something familiar about the voices. One was Anhur, of course. The god had a memorable voice that always made him shiver and think of lions. The other one took a moment to place. When he finally recognized the source he almost fell over in shock. What the heck was Ryouga doing here of all places. Was he following him or something? So it was that Ranma stayed silent and listened to the conversation.

"Were your parents as directionally challenged as you are," Anhur's voice carried through the door.

"Well father was, Mom just followed him around," came Ryouga's voice, much fainter, seemingly less substantial than the god's.

"How far back in your family history does this problem go?"

"Well we don't keep really good records of that kind of thing, but I think it was at least five generations. So you know a cure?"

"I'll get to that. As some background information, let me tell you a little about supernatural entities and dimensional travel."

"Dimensional travel? What does that have to do with anything?"

"You may not have noticed but you are not on your home plane. The fact that you haven't noticed is the root of your problem. However, background first. Many entities, dragons, deevils, demons, elementals, Titans, gods and similar beings possess the ability to travel to other planes and to teleport from one place to another within a single plane." Many of them also had the ability to understand and speak any tongue as well as a slew of miscellaneous talents, but he didn't want to cloud the main issue.

"This ability relies on three elements. Perceiving the exact point in the dimensions where you are, and either remembering or perceiving the exact point where you are going. Finally, the ability to actually move to where you're going. You seem to have one out of three of these abilities. It's the deficiency of the other two which are the source of your problems."

"But ...I'm no supernatural entity," Ryouga began, then stopped as another thought occurred to him. "Hey, if I'm not on earth where am I."

"You're on my home plane. Don't worry about it, it's irrelevant. Anyway most of the creatures I mentioned are incapable of siring offspring in humans, and yes you are mostly human. Gods, however, possess the unique capacity to crossbreed with any race in existence. You've probably heard legends of such events," Anhur stated, dark humor hidden in his voice.

"You think I'm descended from a god," Ryouga asked disbelieving.

"Well, probably more than five generations back. After all this time I'm surprised it bred true. What gives me hope that I can train you in the perception you lack, is your presence here."

"Why? What's so great about being here?"

"I know a small amount about you, due to a mutual acquaintance. It's your obsession regarding this person which is attracting you to places he either is, or has been. The very fact you can unconsciously follow him, though inefficiently, raises a hope you may someday do this on your own."

"You mean I'll know where I am at all times?"

"Maybe someday. Perhaps your senses may, one day, be keen enough to actually travel the planes with some degree of accuracy."

"Great! How long will this training take?" Ryouga asked, hope tingeing his voice.

"Well, I have an idea that will keep you from straying off your home plane and accidentally teleporting. Gaining actual perceptual skill and control should take no longer than…about a century."

"A...a century? I can't wait a century! Ranma, this is all your fault!"

"Be quiet! And sit down," the god stated tersely. "The actual perception is a simple thing. Once I open your eyes to the universe around you, you can practice on your own. As for your mundane sense of direction, use mundane means of control. Surely even your primitive world has some means of tracking things. Use them!"

"But a hundred years, I'll be an old man by then."

"I have been informed that a chi master of your magnitude could easily live past three hundred. Anyway, your friend Ranma has a method of extending this as well. Ask him the next time you speak with him."

"Getting on with things, put these on," Anhur stated while the clanking some sort of metal resounded through the room.

"Bracelets? Why do I need bracelets?" a bewildered Ryouga asked.

"Your manacles gave me the idea. Ingenious use of restraints, by the way. These are similar. Occasionally it is necessary to restrain a supernatural entity. It can be difficult when they can disappear at will, so these were constructed to prevent escapes. They should also prevent you from 'traveling' too suddenly around your world."

"Ranma gave me a set of manacles? You want me to wear another set? Ranma, I'll get you for this!"

"Stop being so temperamental and put those on. Since you already have a pair on your arms simply place these on your ankles. There we go. Stop grumbling."

"I don't like the idea of being shackled!" groused Ryouga.

"Don't worry, the shackles aren't locked. They aren't attached to the usual chains, anyway. There really is no down side to this arrangement. Your friend has even used those things to parry attacks, crack walnuts and a few other useful tricks."

"Ranma is here? Where is he? He'll pay for what he put me through!"

As if on cue the door opened and Ranma poked his head through, "How's it going, P chan?"

Ten minutes later an increasingly angry Anhur tired of watching the destruction of his home. Returning to his normal lion-headed, eighteen foot tall form. He bellowed at the two juveniles to stop.

Strangely enough Ryouga stopped, mostly from the shock of seeing the man he'd been talking to a few minutes before change into a very large monster. Ranma stopped from shear fear. Surprisingly, he did not take off running in terror as he had the last two times. Instead he stood stock still, his eyes closed, sweating and shivering as if under a great strain. Ryouga looked from the suddenly monstrous felinoid to Ranma in confusion.

"Ranma? Snap out of it! What are you muttering about? Are you scared or something?"

"I would suggest you don't disturb him. He is presently employing some meditation techniques he recently learned to control the neko-ken. Breaking his concentration would be inconvenient."

"Oh. A martial arts technique," Ryouga nodded to himself. "That's okay then. By the way what spring did you fall into? I haven't seen that one before."

"I am a god." Anhur stated in a dignified manner, hiding his irritation after his initial blowup.

"Gee, bummer. I didn't know Jusenkyo effected gods too. Don't let the other gods bother you over it. It's not your fault," Ryouga said in his best sympathetic voice.

"I did not fall into a cursed spring, I am a god. This is how I normally manifest myself before my followers," Anhur growled loudly, quickly losing what patience he had. The noise caused Ranma to shiver and sweat even more profusely, while increasing the volume of what could now be recognized as a mantra.

"Oh. If you say so. I'd be careful around cursed springs though, you never know," Ryouga said, confused, but determined to be helpful.

"Grrr. Let's start your training. I will initially show you the way, you will then work with Master Airen to learn the self-hypnotic trance and meditation to continue training on your own." After stating this Anhur walked over to Ryouga, who looked nervously back at the huge deity. Placing a large clawed hand on Ryouga's forehead, he embraced the awareness of the universe around him, the beauty of the overlapping planes and the sure knowledge of his place within this scheme. Then after forging a telepathic bridge to the demi-human before him, he crammed the complete content inside his student's skull, smiling slightly at the cries of agony from a mostly mortal being trying to grasp more than man was meant to know.

After a few minutes of this he released his grip. Letting the now blissfully unconscious human fall to the ground. Much more relaxed he called for the servants to tend to the boy while he enjoyed some tea. His happiness was short-lived, as the uncontrollably shaking Ranma, now shouting his mantra, snapped at the presence of the felinoid servant and ran through the walls. Again.

"Help with the Old Ones or no, this is stretching my patience near breaking. When this is over I will ban these silly martial artists from my home," Anhur said with a disgruntled growl. "They aren't worth the headache."

"Master, should I get another bucket of cold water?" the Raman servant inquired.

Staring at the hole in wall contemplatively, he sat down in the, now huge, chair and sipped his tea. "No. No hurry. I'll just sit here, and finish my tea. Warn the servants away from my champion."

"What of the demons you asked to be here for your champion's training?"

"I'm sure they'll find out on their own," with a nod, sighing at the well-made cup of tea.

Jess looked with satisfaction at the rows of her fellow monks as they practiced their katas in unison. They were approaching her own level of skill and she really had practically nothing more to teach. She sensed a presence behind her, easily deducing who it must be.

"Greetings, Master Reteife. It's a beautiful morning, isn't it."

"Yes. But sometimes it takes more than excellent weather to satisfy ones yearning," he paused before continuing. "You have been unhappy since Ranma's departure. You know my dear we are not a celibate order. If you wish to take a mate, we will only wish you well. Managing one's duties and one's family is a task most people must eventually learn."

"No! It's not like that at all!" she paused gathering her thoughts. "I feel I have reached a dead end in the Art. I have seen someone fly, while I trudge along behind, barely hopping. I want...I want to learn to fly, and I just don't know any way to do it. Oh, if I study and practice on my own I'll certainly advance to some degree, but I'll never even approach the level I saw," she said sadly.

"Hmm. This is true. Our monastery has seen an increase in our skills that I had never dreamed of, but we could do better. Do you see a solution to your...our...dilemma," the elderly monk inquired.

"No. Ranma is gone. Maybe dead. No one knows where he went, or really what took him."

"Well actually, I had heard it was a dark god of the Pantheon of Taut," Jess gasped in dismay. "But there is little we can do for him, my dear. Think about it, Ranma did not learn his skills by himself. He's very good, but no one is that good."

"Of course he learned his skills, but since we have no idea where he learned them from, this doesn't really help us, does it?" she asked uncertainly, the old master was leading to something.

"I spoke with your friend Grayson the other day. He in turn has been in contact with the Royal Summoner. It appears that we do indeed know where Ranma came from. I would not object if you undertook a training journey to this location. You would of course be expected to come back, some time in the future, and pass on the skills you learned."

"The Royal Summoner is willing to send me to this place?" she asked excitedly.

"He hasn't agreed yet, but I think we can arrange something. The monastery will of course supply you with funds for your journey. It wouldn't do if you were too busy trying to survive to continue your training."

"This is a great honor, Master. I will strive to live up to your expectations," Jess said humbly.

"You already have. Simply act as you have already demonstrated you can. Since it seems you will be going to Ranma's home perhaps you could deliver this to him." Master Reteife pulled a wooden box out of his robes.

"A visitor came to our door and asked us to deliver this to the red haired girl. I didn't understand what he meant until I heard from Grayson that Ranma has a red haired sister. Although I still don't know how they found out. Anyway, when you get there give this package to a Ranko Saotome. I don't know who it's from."

"Should I go to the Royal Summoner now?" Jess eagerly asked, accepting the package.

"I don't think that is necessary. He has an unsavory reputation. I'll have Grayson make the arrangements, and get you a talisman to help you speak the language. Perhaps you should pack and make any other personal arrangements." He really envied the girl. If he was fifty years younger he would jump at the chance to learn at the feet of the wise and serene teachers she would undoubtedly encounter.

"It is time," Ranma looked up from the kata he was performing to see the human appearing Anhur in the entrance of the arena. "You have a sufficient knowledge of the Deevils you may encounter, and can control the neko-ken...at least long enough to employ the amulet if necessary. You will leave immediately. Ammit will meet you at your destination. Either he or Rhada will be able to return you here upon completion of your errand. Any questions?"

"How's Ryouga?"

"Recovering. He has met Master Arien several times already and is almost ready to continue on his own. Chances are he'll be home before you. He'll probably get lost soon thereafter, but that's not my concern," Anhur stated dismissing the matter.

"I guess I'm ready," it would be nice to go home and see his friends again. Of course he had to go through Hell...er...Dyval to get there.

"Very well," Anhur nodded, and without further ado a strangely menacing portal opened not far from Ranma. With only a slight gathering of chi as a sign of the trepidation he felt Ranma walked through.

Chapter 14

When Ranma stepped out of the portal he first noticed the deep silence. As he looked around, his initial impression was only strengthened by what he saw. He was in a forest, the trees surrounding him dwarfing almost all others in his experience except those of Ryugenzawa. There was a distinct difference between this place and the home of the Orochi. His present location seemed to ooze menace. The light that reached the ground was a dim ghostly thing. The plant life might have been green, black or grey. With the light available, the difference was not discernable. And then there was what had struck him first, the silence. He expected to see corpses littering the ground, for only a place of death could have a quiet so deafening. Ranma made his breathing shallower, the noise it made seeming to cry out for all to hear. He was about to expand his battle aura to enhance his senses when he heard his first sound.

"Greetings, human. Spooky, isn't it?" a voice echoed in his mind, while a audible growling sound accompanied it. Ranma leaped forward thirty feet, while twisting in mid-air to face the direction of the growling.

Behind him was Ammit, the beast god. He seemed much cheerier than he had been. He didn't look any different but the tone of the mental voice communicated as much. On either side of him were a dozen demons Ranma recognized as Fenry, the huge demon wolves exuding a dark aura.

Ranma grunted in greeting, not trusting his voice. It was probably just as well, insults seemed to accidentally pour out when confronting people he didn't like. Considering he needed the lizard freak to get home that would qualify as unwise.

"This forest has the interesting property of absorbing sounds," Ammit demonstrated by walking forward. No sound disturbed the dead silence. "By now Lord Mephisto has received word that his home is under attack, as soon as my scouts report he has left Rhada's castle and prison, we will head towards it. With good fortune all we will encounter will be Deevil Serpents."

"And if we're not?" Ranma asked, finding his voice again.

"Then you follow my directions and we still finish this mission. I have planned this for quite some time. It is unlikely that Mephisto, Lord of Deception and Lies, will ever fall for a similar ruse again. Rhada will be rescued today," a gruff chuckle erupted from the beast. "This is just a nice turn of phrase, of course, Dyval has no day. They appreciate perpetual dusk in this corner of the Deevil realm," letting out another growl, enjoying his own wit.

When Ammit noticed the Fenry giving hostile, and somewhat hungry looks at the human he chuckled again. "Be patient, we need the human to complete our plan to rescue your mistress. Besides I think you'd find his meat surprisingly tough to chew."

He was just turning back to the martial artist when another Fenry leaped into view. The creature stared at Ammit while giving a series of low growls. It then ran back in the direction it had come, equally silent. "Mephisto has left, hopefully he didn't add any surprises. Follow me."

At this Ammit took off in an awkward, lumbering gait, which may have been amusing in a creature less massive. The Fenry seemed hard pressed to keep up with the pace the dark god set. Ranma himself had a difficult time. His speed was incredible over short distances, but constantly pushing his body to break the conventional laws of physics was draining on his chi resources. It was hard to tell, but he guessed they were travelling at close to sixty miles per hour.

After about twenty minutes of this pace they reached the edge of the forest. Ranma almost let loose with a chi barrage as they were surrounded by over a hundred pairs of glowing eyes. Ammit ignored the horde of Fenry that met them, allowing them to fall into flanking positions on either side of Ammit and Ranma.

As they left the perimeter of the dead forest, sound slowly trickled back into existence and the pad of hundreds of feet could be heard rustling in the black grass. Ranma would have found this reassuring, but he was preoccupied with the fortress looming ahead of them. The castle walls were of black obsidian and the gates, which were presently closed, were likewise of some manner of dark stone.

Approaching the gate, a stirring and screeching could be heard as demon called to demon, warning of impending invasion. Soon fire and lightning strafed the hoard of onrushing Fenry as the unseen defenders called upon magics they either personally wielded or were built into the walls.

That was when Ranma noticed something resembling liquid flame falling from above, he looked up in the air and noticed the Dire Harpies. Large demonic harpy creatures were flying high overhead and spitting at the forces beneath them. The Fenry struck by this lava-like substance shook their heads or bodies in irritation, apparently immune to the heat. Considering each monster was about eighteen feet from head to claw, Ranma knew that they were unnatural simply by the fact that their wings enabled them to fly.

Ranma had been nimbly avoiding the missiles, conserving his strength, rather than counterattacking, when he saw several of the harpies come within leaping range. He was about to leap on one of the creatures when he was surprised to see one of the Fenry fling itself thirty feet straight up and latch onto the bird hybrid. While its weight seemed insufficient to drag it down it did cause enough drag that another Fenry was able to leap up and attach itself with its teeth. This seemed to be adequate, as the harpy fell to the earth amid a snarling pack of wolf demons. Ranma, seeing his original target incapacitated chose to leap up to a second harpy unwise enough to fly within range. He grabbed onto one of the bird talons and flipped himself up towards the torso. Letting loose a quick Chestnut Fist, he was about to follow up with a chi blast when he noticed the creature was unconscious. Shaking his head in disgust he used the deevil's body to cushion his impact, as the now immobile creature plummeted to the ground.

Standing up from his opponent's body, he glanced around seeing most of the remaining harpies retreating to higher altitudes. Ranma didn't care, this reduced their combat effectiveness to almost zero, considering everyone, including himself, seemed immune to the lava attacks.

Looking at the gate he saw that the charge had momentarily stalled as Ammit and the Fenry clawed at the massive stone barrier. Ranma sighed, you would think they would have at least been prepared with explosives or something.

"Out of the way! I'll take care of the gate!" he commanded running over to the clump of his allies. Not bothering to wait for them, he struck the stone wall with the Breaking Point. After the massive explosion he looked up to find he was only halfway through. Grumbling in disgust he kicked one of the unconscious Fenry, who had been too slow to leave the blast radius, out of the way and again applied the Breaking Point. He was standing there in triumph, when he noticed that on the other side were arrayed several dozen rather attractive snakes. It wouldn't have been a concern except that these were twenty feet long and three feet in diameter.

With his battle senses on full alert, he could feel magical energies gather around, he was in the process of leaping away when a blinding blast of sand was blown at him at hurricane velocities. Thrown back several yards by this unexpected attack, he was about to roll with the blow and then leap forward with a counter when he encountered the effects of a second spell. Attempting to land on his feet he suddenly found himself waist deep in quicksand. Where a moment ago lay packed earth, now the ground in front of the castle was enchanted mire.

Struggling to free himself of the sludge, Ranma was unable to avoid attacks by the harpies flying above. Shouting in pain he was bombarded by the molten saliva of the foes circling above. Despite doing no damage the agony was enough to keep him from focussing his chi for a counterattack.

He was about to try to gain solid land again when he found himself lifted by an unseen force and roughly deposited on firmer ground. Ammit's voice rang in his head, "Stop playing in the mud. You have proved your worth by gaining us entry, but if you fall for every petty spell cast your way it will not be worth the effort to rescue you."

Ranma ignored the voice's snide remarks and quickly leaped into battle with the serpent creatures, finding that without their spells they fared only slightly better than the Dire Harpies. Ranma had taken down his fifth Serpent when he again heard Ammit's 'voice', "Leave those Serpents to the Fenry. The Dire Harpies seem to be getting more reinforcements outside. This may mean Leviathan is in the area. Let us find Rhada before she can interfere."

"You're too late Ammit. I'm here already. I may not be a big bad Dark God like you, but I think I can occupy you until Mephisto and his other minions arrive," a sensuous voice gave a throaty chuckle. At the other end of the courtyard stood a beautiful blond woman carrying a large hammer with a twenty foot long handle in one hand and a ten foot long short sword in the other. These proportions only seem odd until it is realized the woman stood over twenty-eight feet tall. A shining sphere of energy revolved around her head, giving her almost a halo effect. "I've taken the liberty of summoning a Sphere of Destruction just for your benefit," with a barely discernable nod of her head the glowing sphere flew toward Ammit. She watched in glee as Ammit began to twist in an attempt to avoid the flying object. When Ammit was unsuccessful at dodging one of the passes, it seemed as if his entire body lit up from within, and shook as if electricity flowed through it. Ammit rearing in pain threw himself away from the sphere and towards Leviathan only to be balked when the sphere once more swung back around in front of him.

Ranma had been watching all this with interest. He held no fondness for Ammit and it was rather entertaining to see him leap and wriggle around. It was also evident to his practiced eye that Ammit was in no real danger. The sphere, although it looked really painful, was actually doing less damage than his chi blasts had done to Ammit earlier. Ranma know from bitter experience how ineffective they were. The dangerous element involving the sphere was that each time it hit Ammit the god seemed stunned for a few moments. From watching the beast god writhe around it was obvious he hadn't learned the art of simultaneously attacking while dodging. Too bad really, Ranma mused. Looking at the Deevil Lord he shook his head in wonder.

"I go all the way to Hell...or wherever...and I can't get away from violent tomboys," Ranma loudly marveled.

"Tomboy! How dare you can me names. Ammit, it appears I'll have to teach your little pet human his place. Too bad it's going to be a smear beneath my feet," the outraged Deevil Lord shouted.

"Well of course you're a Tomboy. I mean really, shouldn't you be home tending little deevils or something?" Ranma taunted, getting into the spirit of the game. It almost felt like home. She even had a hammer.

The giantess was fast and strong, even somewhat skilled, but she was no martial artist. Ranma easily avoided the hammer and the sword. As the Hammer she wielded arced through the air the weapon started screeching in a tormented wail that sent fearful shivers down his spine. Bracing himself against the hideous noise he continued with his campaign. He couldn't bring himself to attack her, even if she was a Deevil, but his insults apparently hurt more than any mere physical damage.

"I mean here we are, you're big...er...bigger, than an ox. And you're like strong, like and ox. But you really shouldn't be fighting. Your thighs are too thick. You can't even kick," he said glibly as her mountainous foot flew overhead. "Unlike an ox. You talk like a hick."

Leviathan was more furious than she had ever been in her entire existence. Here was a mere puny mortal mocking her beauty, and grace. Every blow she sent in his direction he seemed to avoid with ease, laughing at her while he did so. The ground about them looked like a war zone, ten foot wide craters littered the ground where her hammer had missed him. He had even started commenting on her fighting skills, correcting her posture and giving little tips and pointers.

She was going to kill him. Then trap his soul and torture it for the rest of eternity. No, no, that was too good, this maggot had to suffer more than any other of her victims had suffered throughout the ages. If she hadn't expended all of her energy on the sphere she would show this little insect of a human not to trifle with Leviathan.

She was so incensed by this hated mortal, that she failed to notice that her sphere had stopped attacking Ammit, indeed, lacking any direction from her it had started to wander away searing its way through random stone walls of the fortress. If she had been paying any attention whatsoever, she would have noticed the telltale red glow around the beast god as he summoned the same godly Hellfire that had defeated Ranma earlier. She wasn't. It came as a complete surprise when a firey crimson beam slammed into her back, after she had embedded her hammer into the ground for the fiftieth time. Crying out in shock she realized her mistake just in time to turn around and take another blast in the face.

Ranma stood by again and winced in sympathy. He knew exactly how hard those blasts hit. He had to admit though, she certainly took them better than he had. She looked hurt, but far from out. He had only been able to take four or five of those things, it looked like she'd be able to handle far more. These greater supernatural creatures just had way too much stamina. He smiled to himself, it just wasn't natural.

The two entities continued to trade blows. Ammit appeared to be stronger, and the Hellfire he threw was certainly doing more damage even than the huge hammer Leviathan wielded. It was also obvious that each entity was incredibly durable. This battle could last for hours. Ranma somehow doubted they had hours.

"Human, I will keep Leviathan occupied. She is overmatched, but all she needs to do is delay us until Mephisto arrived. Behind you on the ground you will see a small black file with runes inscribed on the sides. Take it and follow the Fenrys waiting for you in the corridor. He will lead you to Rhada. Go now. I do not know how much time we have," Ammit's mental command resounded like a bell through Ranma's mind.

Looking around and finding both the file and the demon wolf he followed it down the corridor with nary a backward glance. Until he developed a much more powerful attack, he'd leave Deevil Lords and Gods to themselves. But only until then. Ranma Saotome never gave up.

The remaining journey was almost anticlimactic. The corridors were teeming with Serpents, but Ranma and the Fenry had the element of surprise, as the battle was supposed to be taking place elsewhere. Some of the Serpents even congealed from smoke or mist, forming with little warning. Despite this, they still seemed more surprised than Ranma, and he soon learned to sense these gaseous threats before they even started to materialize. Without the time to cast the irritating spells they knew, the Serpents fell quickly to Ranma's physical assaults. The shocked, almost dazed look in the poor demon wolf's eyes gave witness to the fact that this was one Fenry who would never underestimate the power a 'mere' human could wield again.

After a ridiculous number of winding corridors, they finally reached one that spiraled downward. Knowing that dungeons are always deep under ground, Ranma was almost expecting it when one final door opened in to a large dimly lit room. Smoky, guttering torches sent uncertain illumination throughout the room. Unlike the rest of the fortress, which appeared exquisitely constructed, with barely a seam visible, within the chamber the designer seemed to have purposely made the walls from mismatched pieces of stonework. The air was humid and trickles of moisture could be seen on the walls. Each feature seemed designed to bring to mind another unpleasant facet of the prison.

"Be wary, my minion, I yet have guards," a melodious voice warned from the darkened corner of room.

The Fenry sniffed the air and then stiffened growling. The growling was sudden cut off. Looking toward his demonic companion Ranma first noted it seemed unnaturally stiff. With a start he recognized the effects as transformation magic, similar to that used on Jess. Warned he focused his senses and felt the chi of two other demons in the room. With this to orient upon, he saw what appeared to be two sets of serpent's eyes hanging eleven feet up in the air. A subtle tingling sensation from his bracers informed him they were working to stave off transformative magic. Ranma didn't remember the book saying anything about floating eyes and petrification, but inwardly he shrugged. Live and learn.

Leaping towards the first pair, he sent a powerful kick directed at the eyes. He was shocked when his foot struck something prematurely. Something dimly sensed swept towards him and he instinctively flung himself away. Realization instantly dawned on him. He wasn't fighting two sets of floating eyes, he was fighting two unknown opponents, probably about twelve feet tall, who only had their eyes visible. Listening carefully he heard a soft slithering sound and low hissing noises. His guess confirmed, he closed his eyes. They would only deceive him, his ears and chi senses would best lead him through this battle.

Now prepared, Ranma again leaped toward the presences he felt, avoiding the flailing objects that were probably limbs. He moved tentatively, not used to fighting invisible foes. Striking several times he threw his two opponents up against the wall. Due to his intense concentration, his blows were not the devastating chi enhanced strikes he had uses in his earlier fights, so he was not surprised when he sensed his foes struggling to get up. He was surprised at how little his attacks had hurt them. His chi senses felt very little dimming of the enemy's aura.

Increasing the intensity of his attacks, he focused more energy in to his blows. This of course meant he had a difficult time tracking the deevil pair with his chi senses. Gritting his teeth he poured more power into faster Chestnut strikes. Ranma winced in pain as the return strikes of his enemies caused sudden, bloody rents to appear in his clothes. With a final burst of effort, a combination of strong blows sent his unseen assailants reeling into the wall. He sensed that they were now seriously injured, perhaps even temporarily stunned. He himself was fairly well torn up as well.

That didn't really concern him. What really worried him was the powerful, evil presence he felt rapidly approaching.

"Shit! I think Mephisto is here!" he shouted.

"Quickly! If you can, please free me," the voice from earlier pleaded.

Nodding Ranma replied, "One moment." Raising his hands he opened his eyes and summoned the chi for a dual blast that knocked both of his opponents into the walled, firmly embedding them there. Unconsciousness evidently ended whatever method of invisibility his foes had used to evade his sight. Standing half-in the walls were two hideous cloaked humanoids with snakes for hair. At the moment the serpents had ceased their hissing and lay limply around their head. Nodding to himself he muttered, "Gorgons. I thought so. Though the book didn't mention they could turn invisible."

Obstacles removed, he turned to face the voice that had spoken earlier. Against the wall, mostly hidden in shadows was an incredibly gorgeous twelve foot tall woman, long silver hair draped her head and shoulders in shining glory. She was shackled to the rear wall, sitting on what looked to be an uncomfortable crude stone bench. Only Ranma's constant exposure to women and his familiarity with his own female form prevented gouts of blood from spewing from his nose.

"R...Rhada?" Ranma stuttered.

"Yes! Now free me if you can, quickly. If Mephisto comes our attempt will be for naught, we must leave before he arrives. Who sent you?"

Bringing out the black file he approached the large, beautiful woman and started applying it to the single oversized shackle on her right wrist. As he touched the manacle with the file, sparks crackled and spat, singeing him.

"Ammit sent me. He's doing it for Abdul-Ra. Hold on, I think it's working," Ranma said as he noticed the file cutting through the enchanted manacle like a hot knife through butter. Unfortunately the deeper the file bit the more numerous and hotter the sparks given off by the interaction of the magics. As he approached the finish, vicious streams of sparks caused burns to appear on his hands. Ignoring the pain, Ranma continued.

"I suggest you get ready to leave. I was told you could teleport us out of here once you were free. Well...there...you...go!" Ranma said through a triumphant hiss of pain, having removed the last bits of the restraint.

At that moment the door melted to slag and a very large, very furious, and obviously very powerful Deevil Lord stood in the archway. The creature was just building up a huge amount of energy, preparing for a devastating offensive when the human, the prisoner, and a very realistic statue of a Fenry faded from the room.

They say the resulting roar of outrage could be heard even in the silence of the Dire Woods.

Chapter 15

One moment Ranma was preparing himself for a battle he had a difficult time trying to convince himself he could win, the next he found himself somewhere grass-like plants reached up to his chest. Still on edge from his previous battles he looked around warily, searching for enemies.

For as far as he could see lay grassland. Knowing his view was limited by the plants surrounding him, he leaped straight up thirty feet to get a clearer idea of his environment. Far off in the distance herds of some sort could be seen placidly grazing. He couldn't tell what sort of animal it was but it seemed large. The tops of the grass barely reached the creatures knees.

"Alright, I give up. Where the heck am I this time," he muttered in exasperation.

"Well, assuming it hasn't been moved elsewhere, during my ...absence, we should be in the Realm of my Abdul-Ra," a woman's voice answered behind him.

The voice startled Ranma for an instant. It wasn't that he had forgotten Rhada was next to him. She was a beautiful twelve-foot tall woman. It was simply that his mind had labeled her a non-hazard, and had continued scanning for more relevant dangers. Due to this, he was as surprised as if a piece of furniture had spoken. Considering how often he ran into Tsubasa, it wasn't actually an unfamiliar sensation.

"You can stop hopping around now. We should be safe here. I can't imagine a Demon Lord going through the trouble of freeing me only to trap me again." A faraway look came into her eyes, "I can only hope this means he feels as I do," she whispered to herself. Shaking herself from her reverie she continued, "I am sure he is aware of our presence and will soon send his minions to greet us. You may as well relax and wait."

It was at this moment Ranma noticed that Rhada herself had taken her advice to heart and was seated on the only support in sight.

"Are you, uh, going to be able to restore him? It's not like I care or anything, but we fought together so I probably should get him fixed up" Ranma asked, pointing to the female's chair.

"Oh don't worry. He is my minion, he fell trying to protect me. As soon as I have the resources he will be restored," she calmly assured while lazily swinging her legs from her perch.

Something clicked with Ranma's thinking, "Did you say this is Abdul-Ra's home?" he asked.

"Yes," Rhada languidly stated, staring up at the sky and admiring the view.

"He's a Demon Lord, right?" Ranma continued with growing trepidation.

"Yes, he is," she purred, obviously thinking pleasant thoughts about said Demon Lord.

"So we're like in Hell?" Ranma casually asked.

"No, of course not," Ranma relaxed. "We're in Hades." Ranma became tense again. "But I must admit this is a very nice corner of it. So nice to finally be out and stretch my legs," she sighed in relief.

"Umm, who's he Lord of?" he asked, scanning the area with his senses.

"The Raksasha of course."

"Hmm, that doesn't sound familiar. I could have sworn I read the whole book," Ranma grabbed the Demonic Compendium Anhur had given him from subspace and began leafing through it. "It should be here. Hey! There's a few pages missing!"

"Don't worry, I feel them approaching. It's been a very long time. I wonder if his fur still gleams in that delicious way it used to, " Rhada mused to herself.

"They're here? Fur? Well fine, I can handle monsters. No problems," Ranma cracked his knuckles to enunciate his point. He too felt several presences closing in around them. Unlike Rhada, he was slightly concerned about the unknown threats. Without the book as a reference he had no idea the power level of these new demons.

"On behalf of my Lord Abdul-Ra, I greet you…" a deep voice purred. Looking around he saw one of the creatures he had sensed closed enough to see through the vegetation. It was worse than he had thought, much worse. Padding regally towards them was a ridiculously large tiger. Orange and black stripes ran across a very healthy looking pelt. Ranma had other things on his mind. Like teeth. Teeth and claws. It was the largest tiger he had ever seen. Even his nightmares hadn't had such hideous creatures in it.

Grasping for the meditative state Master Arien had taught he desperately concentrated on ignoring the horrible thing in front of him. Muttering his mantra loudly to himself he slowly backed away, while clutching spasmodically at the Phobia amulet in subspace. Each time his hand closed on a cleaning tool his mantra became louder. By the time he had backed into something solid enough not to give way behind him he was shouting his calming chant, being distracted by the various brushes beating him about the head and shoulders.

"Looks like the little human you brought is a bit nervous. Mind if we play?" the distracted tiger thing gave a growling chuckle.

Rhada had finally brought her attention fully on the events around her and she was puzzled. Her rescuer was acting terrified. She knew Raksasha were greater demons but this reaction was all out of proportion to the level of threat. Especially considering this human had minutes before been prepared to face Mephisto himself. "I think it would be wise to..." was as far as she got.

The cat creature in front of Ranma slowly approached, looking in amused contempt at the obviously terrified human. The look on the human's face when he turned to face what he had backed into and saw an equally large lion monster was priceless. Finally seeing that he was surrounded on all sides by huge feline horrors, Ranma's legs gave way. The creatures laughed uproariously, seeing the human collapse in terror.

The humor gave way to puzzlement when the human "Meowed". Puzzlement soon gave way in turn to terror and pain.

A limping, somewhat mangled, tiger slowly led the Lady Rhada into the presence of his Lord. Abdul-Ra sat in a large wicker lounge chair in the middle of a wide clearing of merely ankle deep grass. In a circular pattern around him hung several glowing portals. Abdul-Ra himself shared many physical traits Anhur himself did. He wore a humanoid shape with a large sleek panther-like head, and black glistening fur. Instead of the impression of restrained violence given by Anhur, Abdul-Ra radiated grace, intelligence, and ruthlessness. To one side of him was a round table of wrought gold, with a glass top and an unfurled silk canopy to give shade. Upon seeing Rhada he slowly got to his feet. Walking towards her he drank in her beauty. He wasn't sure what he felt but he was enjoying whatever it was.

"Greetings, my Lady. It has been too long. I apologize it couldn't be sooner," his deep voice growled.

"Yes, it has. I assume by my presence here that you feel the same way," she asked uncertainly.

"I...I don't know. I feel something between us. I don't know if it's this 'Love' you declared to me three centuries ago, but I need to find out. I think 'we' need to find out. If you'll stay by my side until we work this out between us, I would be most appreciative." The demon lord stated, almost as if saying a speech he had practiced for. Only a hint of confusion and worry in his eyes showed the depth of his feelings.

"Of course I will. I will stay as long as needed to work this out to its end. I hope it will be a long time. I have looked forward to being here," her voice trailed off as she moved closer to the Demon Lord.

A disgruntled 'meow' brought her from the mellow daze she had been falling into. Looking down she noticed a slightly peeved Ranma-neko being squashed between the two powerful entities. Rhada and Abdul-Ra stepped back, each somewhat surprised that they had been so close to the other.

"Why are you holding a human?" Abdul-Ra questioned, finally noticing the odd sight.

"He is a minion of Ammit's who aided in my rescue. He is a ferocious fighter, but seems to suffer from a severe phobia of cats. It's very odd, when confronted by your minions in their feline form he showed extreme fear, then suddenly took on the mental state of a cat himself. He was mangling quite a few of them before they managed to subdue him with psionics. He seems to have taken a liking to me. Do you think Ammit would mind if I kept him as a pet," Rhada said as she stroked Ranma's head. Ranma himself lay pleasantly curled in the twelve-foot tall woman's arms and purred contently.

"Hmm. I think I've heard something about that type of phobia. Can't remember what it was though. I think Ammit may want him back. Good help is hard to find. Aye Random?" he called off to the side. An armored human stepped out of one of the portals in the clearing.

"I would hope I haven't given you cause to think you had found such help, Master," the muscular man grunted in reply.

"Rhada, this is my human servant Random. Could you bring us some refreshments? Oh and some food for my Lady's pet, as well."

"Yes, my Lord," stepping through one of the dimly glowing portals he vanished again.

"We may as well sit and talk until my human arrives. It shouldn't take long, he's very efficient, and dedicated. As humans go, I don't think he's quite sane, but I must say he fits in well around here." He turned his attention towards Ranma once more. "Your pet seems to have fallen asleep. I'll change my form to a more human one. I wouldn't want to startle him." With that his feline features and fur seemed to blur and retreat taking on a human cast.

"You look handsome in any form," Rhada stated, and the two fell into an almost dream state, staring into one another's eyes.

Ranma woke to a familiar sensation. It was comfortable until he remembered why it was familiar. Leaping from his perch he started to babble.

"It's not what you think, Akane. I can explain..." he protests trailed off when he noticed it wasn't Akane's lap he had been crouched in. This combined with the fact that the two large human appearing creatures sitting across the table from one another were ignoring him, quickly silenced him. To be more specific, they seemed to be ignoring everything around them in the interest of looking into one another's eyes. Ranma hated being ignored but decided against taking any steps to remedy the situation. For now.

Looking around he observed he was in a clearing surrounded by glowing circles. He was about to explore a bit more when a bulky man in armor stepped out of one carrying a large tray.

"Well, if sleeping beauty isn't up and around," the man sneered. "You're not going to last long around here if you're frightened of a few cats. I look forward to throwing your dead body to the demons, my boy," he continued with hateful glee.

As he stepped past Ranma he swung his arm in a roundhouse swing which would have laid any normal man flat on the ground unconscious. Ranma had noticed the intense hostility radiating from man and was not surprised by the maneuver. He deftly sidestepped the blow, and while the man was recovering, kicked him back through the portal he had come through. He was careful to catch the tray before it fell though, something smelled good, and he was starving.

Humming in anticipation he walked over to the table and dropped the tray off onto it. When he slid the cover off it was obvious whose meal belonged to whom. There were two large gallon sized mugs, holding lemon-aid and ice, and one smaller glass with tepid water. There were also three plates, one large dish with a feline motif around the edge, a second of equal size with dogs or wolves on the outer edges, and a third plain dish. The actual meal looked mouth watering, a delicious looking fried fish with some unknown vegetable on the side. The plain dish lacked the garnish, the vegetables and the fish was half the size as the other two. Ranma gave a surly look at the portal he'd kicked the annoying man through.

His feeling quickly changed when he started the meal. It was delicious, truly a masterpiece. Every bite was a work of art rivaling the best Kasumi had made. There was something odd about it though. It reminded him off the food Akane made for him. As he ate, he pondered this dichotomy.

He was just finishing up his small plate when it came to him. Arsenic! It tasted just like arsenic with a touch of hemlock. It actually added rather nicely to the flavoring. He remembered it being one of Akane's better meals. He still had ended the night getting his stomach pumped, but at least he was able to keep it down until then. That was all Akane seemed to care about, that uncute tomboy. Boy this meal really brought back the memories.

Smiling he moved on to what he guessed was Rhada's meal. She and the big guy (he guessed it was Abdul-Ra) were so engrossed with each other he doubted they'd mind. Scarfing down Rhada's plate he noticed her meal had the same lethal spices and something he didn't know the name of but tasted like one of Kodachi's hallucinogens. It sure tasted great. As he was eating the last dish he noted that it at least seemed not to be poisoned. Apparently that clumsy oaf was only out to get him and Rhada.

When he was done with the dishes he casually threw them through the portal where he had kicked the man. Listening carefully he was rewarded with several sharp cries of pain. Nodding in satisfaction he leisurely sipped his water, after borrowing a few ice cubes from his companions. Rhada's seemed to have a trace of nightshade in it, actually adding some nice flavoring to the water. While waiting for his companions to notice him he sat in the shade and relaxed. It had, after all, been a long day, and the neko-ken always exhausted him.

He was about to drift off into sleep when he noticed a slight rustling in the grass next to him. Cracking his eye, he surreptitiously scanned the area around him for danger. Not seeing anything he was about to chalk it up to the wind when he noticed a set of impressions in the ground that looked disturbingly like footprints. Then one disappeared and reappeared closer, then the other impression did the same thing. Ranma wasn't a genius, but he didn't need a diagram for this one.

Closing his eyes spread out his senses. He was unsurprised to find a chi presence where those footprints were slowly approaching him. He was slightly more impressed that it seemed to be wielding a minor magic sword. It was time to take off the kid gloves. As he sensed the enchanted blade swing down at him, he rolled out of the way, while kicking his foe's feet from under his.

Still with his eyes closed, he sprang to his feet, walked over to the still prone figure and plucked the weapon from the stunned man's hand. Giving a grunt of disgust he again booted the invisible oaf through what he assumed to be the kitchen portal.

"Impressive. You handled my valet with ease," Abdul-Ra's voice drifted too him, laced with approval.

"Hah! Your valet is a pathetic psycho. Good cook though, if you don't mind an upset stomach."

"The poison didn't bother you? I'll have to talk to Random regarding poisoning guests. He must know I would simply resurrect you if you died here. I suppose he's just spiteful."

"Nah the poison's alright. If I can survive Akane's cooking it'll take more than a few spices to hurt me. By the way can everyone around here turn invisible or something?"

"No, not everyone. Although many of my minions can, it is not unknown to purchase or acquire a magic item. Random, my valet, for instance has a ring of invisibility. It's actually fairly harmless as all demons and most supernatural entities see the invisible." He paused for a moment. "Well enough of my valet, since you have done me a great favor, what may I do for you?"

"I don't really need anything except a way home. Can you get me there?"

"I don't see a problem. Rhada, why don't you wait here, while your human and I take care of this. I'll be right back and we can continue our discussion." Rhada gave a demure smile and blushed. Ranma supposed it was possible that there may have been more happening than what he had seen, they sure were acting funny.

Abdul-Ra walked through the portal to his right and Ranma followed closely after.

"Come back and visit any time," Rhada told him as he left. It was so nice to have pets once in a while, she thought wistfully.

When Abdul-Ra came back a few minutes later Rhada asked, "Did things go well?"

"Oh yes everything went fine. It's too bad I couldn't do anything more. As it was I insisted he accept a Raksasha ring in token of my gratitude."

"What's that?"

"It's a ring that allows you to take the shape of any feline."

"Doesn't he have a severe phobia of cats?"

A long pause, "I suppose that wasn't the best way to thank him. I'll contact Ammit sometime next month and warn him about it. It shouldn't be a problem, it's not as if you can accidentally activate it."

"So he is home now?"

"Yes. I sent him back to Ammit. Next time I see him I'll ask if you can borrow him. Or if you want we can stop by the Splugorth slave market and get you another pet."

Ranma looked around. The sky looked overcast, and he seemed to be on the bank of a great river surrounded by reeds and other water dwelling plants. Out in the water logs could be seen floating placidly by. He ignored them until one of the logs opened an eye and looked at him. Hungrily.

Taking a longer look at the logs, Ranma noticed that they all looked like over grown versions of Mr. Turtle.

"This doesn't look like Nerima, unless Kodachi's pond flooded," Ranma muttered to himself.

Chapter 16

Ranma kicked a few stones out of his way as he dejectedly wandered along one of the banks of the river. This place seemed almost deserted. It had been a few day and he was losing hope of ever getting home, or even civilization. The sun never seemed to rise, but it never seemed to get truly dark either. The constant twilight gloom was wearing away at his optimism. It wasn't like he was hungry, those big crocodile things were actually pretty tasty, and had more meat than even he could eat. Maybe more than Genma could eat, though it boggled the imagination.

The crocodiles were large but didn't seem supernatural or evil. They weren't even very intelligent, wandering into his path until he kicked them into the river. He tried to cheer himself up by thinking of it as training for Mr. Turtle, but considering Mr. Turtle was never a threat put a damper on what little enthusiasm he could work up.

The main problem was the time that this oppressive place gave him to think. Ranma admitted to himself that this wasn't his favorite activity. He just didn't enjoy silent contemplation. If he had the choice he would rather train, perform hard physical labor, or even just meditate on his chi. The only thought exercises he enjoyed were strategy and tactics. Here he had to keep moving, the crocodiles weren't really dangerous, but were enough of a threat that he had to pay some small attention to his surroundings.

Being forced to think about his situation wasn't helping his mood either. Sure the gift/bribe he was receiving from Thoth would get rid of three of his major problems, Cologne and perhaps Happossai, maybe even his father. This wouldn't help his situation with Shampoo, Ukyo, or Akane. It wouldn't help with Kodachi either, but Ranma was hard pressed to work up any tears for that raving loon.

It wasn't that he didn't like the girls, he just wasn't sure if he loved any of them. He and Akane had been getting along much better since he had rescued her from Saffron. At times he even thought it might be more than friendship. Still, he was pretty sure that she was unaware of how little her hammer strikes and the other objects he was beaten with on a regular basis, actually hurt. While he feared her cooking (except for the curry), he had to admit he now knew more about toxins than maybe even the old goul, and it had really helped increase his general resistance. He hardly ever had to go to the hospital to get his stomach pumped anymore. Still the very fact that she was willing to inflict what she considered massive amounts of pain, often made him wary about future relationships with her.

Shampoo was an enigma. She said she loved him and then drugged, or enchanted him into oblivion. She knew he was uncontrollably terrified of cats, yet continued to 'hang' onto him in cat form. Most of his Neko-ken experiences could be attributed to her. During her encounter with the ghost cat she had refused to give up the enchanted bell, despite the terror he was obviously suffering on her behalf. Yet she still helped him when he needed it. She had even opposed some of Cologne's schemes in order to help him. Of course many times he only needed help because of her in the first place. He had few illusions regarding his plan with Cologne. Getting the old goul off his back would make Shampoo even more desperate, especially when it became obvious that Cologne no longer needed an heir. She was required to win him as a husband or kill him. Killing him in honorable combat had been beyond her capacity for quite some time now. It might help resolve his feelings towards her if he knew if it was just Amazon law behind the apparent about-face she had undergone, from trying to kill his girl half, to falling in love with his male half.

Even Ukyo wasn't immune to these weird fits of violence that seemed to plague the females in his life. She had gone from wanting to kill him, to wanting to marry him in the time it took for him to say she was cute. Most of the time she was kind and supportive, but she had her grimmer moments. He had long since forgiven her (being almost incapable of holding a grudge) of crashing his aborted wedding, but she had come very close to killing people he cared about. Besides, he still couldn't seem to think of her as more than a old buddy.

Without any distractions the situation revolved endlessly within his mind. Honor versus love. Love versus friendship. The job for Thoth and championship for Anhur promised to keep him busy and away from Nerima for large portions of time, but this solution left a bad taste in his mouth. He loved his father, but wasn't sure he liked him. He was positive he didn't respect him. He had watched, not always understanding what was happening, as Genma ran away from one situation after another. Most of Ranma's problems could be traced back to his father, one way or another. What Ranma feared most (aside from those things of the feline persuasion) was that he would start to run from his problems and spend the rest of his life in a never-ending retreat.

It was with some relief that he was jarred from his thoughts by a rustle of reeds, and the sensation of a presence hurtling at him from behind. Grinning in anticipation, he confidently stepped to the side, allowing his new enemy to hurtle by him, while slamming his fist on the thing's head as he moved through. At least that was the plan. The blow he aimed at the creatures head merely glanced off the skull, the surface being much flatter than he expected. The tail of the creature whipped around in passing and slammed into his thigh. If it wasn't for the burning agony that spread from this impact he wouldn't have even noticed the force.

Leaping back, away from the creature, he looked down at his leg to gauge the damage and was shocked to see a deep puncture wound seeping a black fluid. Beginning to be concerned, he examined his attacker more closely. About twenty feet away, turning to face him, was some sort of humanoid crocodile creature. The long scaly tail whipping back and forth behind the creature had a long hooked stinger attached to it. A moment passed before he recognized it, a scorpion sting. He had a moment to consider than he had never been exposed to scorpion poison when the first wave of weakness hit him.

Ranma kept his feet under him through the dizziness, drawing forth his battle aura in an attempt to stop, or at least slow, the poison's effects. He had an enemy to deal with before he could concentrate more fully on his wound.

The creature leapt towards him claws outstretched for a raking blow. Leaping over the creature using his good leg he avoided the first attack. As he expected the tail, he was able to safety grab the tail as it sped towards his still leaping body. Landing behind the creature, he used his momentum to swing the monster by his appendage, over his head and into the ground. Feeling another wave of weakness, he quickly followed through with his advantage hitting the creature with several Chestnut Fists while maintaining his grip on the tail. Ranma was actually surprised that it took several blows before the thing slumped into unconsciousness.

Ranma was about to slump to the ground in relief when his senses picked up seven more creatures approaching. As he turned to face his new enemies his vision briefly doubled before returning to normal. Four of the monsters rushed forward while the remaining three stood back growling at him and glowering at him in seeming concentration.

Ranma repeated a variation of his last move, this time tumbling between the large creature's legs and grabbing the tail in passing. Still kneeling he swung the lizard into his two companions. He had just returned to his feet when he felt an ominous wave of magic from the three creatures in the rear. Cursing his failing senses to have not detected this earlier, Ranma attempted to jump out of the area where he senses the gathering energies. He was disappointed, but not overly surprised when he found his feet firmly attached to the ground. He'd seen this effect before and he didn't like it at all.

One of the creatures he'd hit seemed to be down, the others merely bruised by the impact. Seeing how the human was now incapable of dodging their attacks the three remaining fighters closed in from different directions. The effects of the poison seemed to have reached a plateau, not debilitating him further but far from releasing his body from its effects. He found his vision alternately blurring, doubling, and clearing. Despite this he was able to block all the tail strikes and most of the claw strikes. The ones he couldn't parry caused long bleeding cuts, joining the now almost healed marks from his fight with the Gorgons, and the now forgotten skirmish with the Raksasha.

The crocodile monsters did not escape unscathed. Since Ranma had been concentrating his parries on the tail's and his counterstrikes at what he believed were vital points, two of his opponents tail's lay trailing brokenly behind them. Without two of the three scorpion stings to worry about, he was able to eliminate two more of the opponents within grappling range. He made sure that one of these was the one with the working tail.

He was about to finish to last lizard thing, when one of the three who had remained further back growled something at his companion. Taking this as a signal, the conscious reptile, which Ranma had been fighting, backed away. The reptile mage who had done the grunting, waited until his companion had backed away before completing a gesture.

A sudden hurricane wind demonstrated what this magic involved. Ranma, grimly expecting something, was still unable to halt his fall, as his injured leg collapsed beneath him. He found all his limbs, except his right forearm immobilized. He also noted that his head was free of restraint. This was a mixed blessing, as he watched the reptiles regroup and begin to walk toward him.

Ranma knew he was still far from helpless. Most of his options had been removed, true, but he still had sharper teeth than these creatures knew. He could probably take out at least half the opposition with a barrage of chi blasts. The problem was he was fairly sure he couldn't take them all out before they scattered. The barrage would also reduce his chi reserve more than he thought he could afford. He was presently using a large portion of it merely to keep the more debilitating effects of his poisoning at bay. Reducing that too much and unconsciousness was the least of his worries. He also doubted he would be able to accomplish much after that degree of effort, which would again leave him helpless.

He hadn't wanted to experiment. He had theorized about the deeper ramifications of the techniques he knew, but laying on the ground was not the condition he had in hoped for when he first tried it. Still the move had the potential to take out the entire lizard brigade at once, and that was the only thing that might save his life. He also believed the maneuver would be much more energy efficient, if harder to control, than just throwing chi at the creatures.

As the lizard's approached he made up his mind. He didn't like it but many of his most devastating attacks were developed in midst of a crisis. This definitely counted as such. Gathering the perception he needed to perform the Breaking Point, he was surrounded by the familiar web of energy. Focusing deeper still, he strove to see, not merely the single points, but the multiple points between himself and the enemy that might conceivably form a line. Finding such a configuration he focused his chi, not at the one intersection that was the Breaking Point, but the point that was the beginning of his line, and passed his chi through it.

"Breaking Point Revised, Cascade Avalanche Strike!"

Ranma watched in fascination as the chi burst traveled in almost the exact path he had predicted. As the energy traveled through the intersections, wave upon wave of explosions burst forth, creating a straight line of devastation as it progressed. Ranma didn't get the chance to see the end result of his new technique. He had barely time to note that a small portion of the energy he had projected was reflecting back toward him. His last sight of the battlefield was the ground around him exploding.

A portal opened in the air above the silent field. A large deity with the form of a human and the head of an ibis, stepped out of the gateway. As he stood floating above the carnage he sighed at the devastation. A crevasse cut through the ground below him. Two hundred feet in length, twenty feet in width and ten feet deep it looked as if the hand of god had reached down and gouged a furrow through the land. Thoth was pretty confident it hadn't been him, so he reached out with his senses. After a moment the only life signs he detected was at the bottom of the trench fifty feet from where it began.

Sighing again, he used his psionic abilities to throw the dirt and rocks off the object of his search. Minutes later a battered figure was revealed. Only shallow breathing showed that it lived.

"Let's get you out of here. I don't know how you ended up in Ammit's back yard, but I think we should leave before he notices your renovations."

Chapter 17

Once Ranma had been healed, he was brought to the sitting room where most of his conversations with Anhur had taken place. Across from him sat the two deities he spoken with earlier, wearing merely human proportions. Ranma was ravenous and was consuming large quantities of the inexhaustible supply of food and treats laid out on the table.

"I have spoken with Ammit. He seems pleased with your performance. He is also under the impression that Abdul-Ra sent you directly to me. I chose not to enlighten him," Anhur stated.

"I don't know how I ended up by that river," Ranma mumbled through a mouthful of food. "Even if Abdul-Ra thought I wanted to go to Ammit's home. And what were those crocodile things. They really took me by surprise. Not that I couldn't handle then or nothin," Ranma ended somewhat defensively.

"You actually were in the area that Ammit calls his home. If you had truly been one of his minions you could have easily found your way to Ammit's lair. It was probably just as well that he didn't send you directly there. There seems to be some hostility between the two of you. If he had thought you were beyond either my, or Thoth's protection, he might have taken steps to eliminate what he thought as an irritant."

"I would have found out relatively quickly, but I may have been too late." Thoth clarified, "Gods have ways of permanently losing things or entities. I may not have been able to recover you."

"The crocodile creatures are a race named Tautons. They are general minions used by the pantheon of Set. I have my own adherents that I use, but the Tautons have their place. As for Ammit, I understand you had some difficulty dealing with Ammit when he was summoned. On his own plane he is significantly more powerful. It would have been a short conflict," Anhur warned. Ranma responded with a sullen silence.

"Anyway, you have completed your errand for Ammit. It is time to send you home so you may begin your preparations for my task. My mission is not as clear-cut as Ammit's was and will likely require some degree of scouting and exploration before we even have enough information to be proactive," Thoth added cheerfully.

"Um, I'll need that circle information for Cologne. What if she tries to get out of our deal? She's kind of tricky. I mean I think she has some sort of honor, but with those Amazon laws of hers there's no way of really telling how she'll react," Ranma said with a belated sense of caution.

"Don't worry," Thoth stated as he handed Ranma a small booklet. The cover seemed to be made of some sort of silvery metal with a strange, almost hypnotic design on the cover. The pages inside the book were penned in precise strokes, the writing surface having a smooth silky texture that tingled when touched. "These are the directions I have written for the circle. Before you give Cologne the book, describe to her the terms of the agreement. When she accepts the books, the magic I imbued into this will enforce the contract."

"What if she grabs the book before we finish talking?"

"That would be unfortunate. For her. The enchantment will force anyone who uses this book, or willingly has this book used for them to come under the contract."

"Then why do I need her agreement?"

"The enchantment is powerful. It would be unfair to inflict these conditions on someone unwillingly. However, if she attempts to steal the book the consequences will be on her head. The contract is simple, whoever accepts this book or magic must teach you, to the best of their ability, any martial arts skills they know. It's quite an overwhelming compulsion. I even consulted with the Greek pantheon, as they are known in your dimension, to be sure it could effectively bind the Amazons," Thoth explained, nodding in satisfaction.

"Greek Pantheon?" Ranma asked, confused by the apparent change of subject.

"Well, the Amazons have their origins in ancient Greece. Although they have migrated over the millennia to China and the Gods that they acknowledge have slowly changed, I was still able to get a reasonable idea of their nature by asking Athena. While I was there I also spoke with Hecate, she is quite a pleasure to converse with. I might have spoken regarding our problems with Hecate but she seems...a bit focused on other things," Thoth stated distractedly, obviously about to go off on a tangent.

"She's a power obsessed power mad psycho. I suggest you leave her out of our discussions." Anhur interrupted, aware of the pending signs of Thoth's distraction. "Suffice to say the willing acceptance or use of the book will have the desired results,"

"There's nothing wrong with the pursuit of knowledge," the God of Knowledge stated defensively. "Though I admit she does tend to pay more attention to things that give her power..." Thoth trailed off, realizing that Anhur probably had a point. "She's still a fascinating conversationalist."

Ranma's attention had wondered away from the conversation and back to the food. He didn't know or care about some Greek girls named Diana or Athena, and Hecate just sounded like a sneeze. A prickle of remembrance motivated him to ask Anhur, "Hey, that Demon Book you gave me, how come it didn't list the Raksasha?"

"We know how nervous you get about felines, I didn't want to aggravate your condition," Anhur smoothly answered.

"Well...don't do again. If I'd known that I was going to meet a bunch of demon cats I would have been wearing that amulet you gave me," he still shivered at the memory of those hideous cats. At least Anhur's Ramman servant's didn't go out of their way to terrify him.

"So you're not going to tell me anything about what you want me to do?" Ranma inquired of Thoth.

"Not the details. There are still some thing I need to find out about before I decide where to send you to scout things out. I should know more specifics by the time you finish your training. I can give you a little background on who and what the Old Ones are, if you like."

"Will it take long?"

"I'll try not to take up to much of your time," Thoth returned with some irony before continuing. "In the beginning of the Multiverse eight Intellegences were formed from the very fabric of space and time. These were the Old Ones. They were the first, and greatest of the Intellegences. Because they are a fundamental part of the multiverse, they are very much indestructible." After a moment of thought, he clarified, "Or rather, in order to destroy them you would run a large risk of taking what we know as reality with it. Unfortunately, these entities were not benevolent. Each one seemed to embody some negative aspect of the emotional spectrum. There was Xy, who was Power incarnate. He was the greatest among the Old Ones. Al-Vil, who embodied envy and jealousy. Erva represented darkness and death. Netosa was eternal suffering, despair, and undeath. Tarm-kin-toe, who was synonymous with hatred treachery, vengeance and pain. Ya-ahk-met, whose dominions was the blind quest for power and light. Ya-blik, a connoisseur of pestilence, betrayal and pain." Unnoticed by Thoth, his voice turned bitter as he spoke of Ya-Blik, and Al-Vil. "The last one, Agu, was a bit of a deviant, for an Old One. He actually enjoyed the emotions of life, birth and rebirth. If he hadn't actively supported the others, there wouldn't have been any need for his defeat. These creatures created many lifeforms that we know of today," after a moment of sad contemplation, perhaps remembrance, Thoth continued, "They also exterminated many whose memory has passed from us.

"As I said, they used the other, lesser races as their playthings. They fed off the negative emotions of those they tortured. Consuming the energies released by such activities, when nothing more could be extracted, they consumed the body and then the soul of their victims. The known dimensions were all under their dominion, and such universal hell was the lot of all the mortal, and many of the immortal races."

"These creatures were powerful but not omniscient, or omnipotent. They created many powerful servants, who are now known as the gods of today. There were also many Intellegences, lesser in power, but still not to be trifled with. These Intellegences were forced into service as well, reluctantly bowing to their distant, more powerful kin."

"What's the difference between Intellegences and god's?" Ranma asked, confused by the terms.

"Gods are entities of magic. As mortal are made up of atoms, gods are made up of the life energy, or magic of the universe. Although many were created by the Old Ones, others were made by the lesser Intellegences, some even were called into existence by mortal races, around whose focused belief coalesced the manifestation of their faith. Gods are simple in theory to bring into existence, less so to control." Thoth chuckled darkly. "Few who have created Gods have long remained in control of them, whether the superstitious mortals, the lesser Intellegences…even the Old Ones. Intellegences are mostly weaker relations of the Old Ones. They share some benefits from being so closely intertwined to the fabric of reality. They are for instance very durable, although fortunately only the Old Ones were nigh indestructible. They are not as strong as most gods are on their home plane, but an Intellegences power does not fluctuate depending on its location or number of worshippers, and on neutral ground an Intellegence's power will most likely be greater. Some, like the Splugorth, are a whole race of significant number, others are alone and unique. Most tend to be hostile to mortal life-forms and highly territorial. Deities do have the advantage of generally having a higher degree of magical skill, and although a last resort and costly, our Diefic powers can be terrible weapons. I think Ammit may have demonstrated this to you."

"..."

"Getting back to the subject. The Old Ones had few allies, even their weaker cousins ...especially their weaker cousins, loathed the submission and servitude forced upon them. When Xy, the greatest of them mysteriously disappeared, a movement coalesced. This movement was composed of most of the Intellegences and gods, the ancient races such as the dragon, titan and elves. Even the infernal powers known today as demons and deevils joined in the rebellion. That was over a hundred thousand years ago," Thoth seemed lost in thought for a moment, while Anhur hands twitched as he relived ancient battles.

"When the struggle was over, many races had been wiped from the face of reality. The noble Titans were reduced to a fraction of their previous numbers, whole pantheons were destroyed. But we prevailed."

"You are too modest. You were pivotal in the struggle against the Old Ones," Anhur stated grimly.

"I may have designed the final enchantments, but it was Lictalin, Lokum, and Kym-nark-mar who completed the great spell.

"If destroying the Old Ones destroys the universe, how come we're still here," Ranma asked, struggling to stay focused. Only the epic struggle keeping his attention engaged.

"We didn't...couldn't... destroy them. We placed them in an enchanted slumber. The most powerful entities still in existence periodically check and maintain these bonds. It is usually merely to keep them from degenerating due to age, and the unconscious flexing of their captives. After all, who in their right minds would willingly free them?" Thoth shook his head in wonder. "Still, it appeared it has happened. I have found several of the enchantments weakened. I could easily strengthen them, but then whoever tampered with them in the first place would find another, perhaps more subtle means to sabotage the bindings. Ways I may not be able to neutralize as easily."

Ranma stared at the ibis headed god, "So ...how can I effect this. I know I'm good, but this seems a little ...much."

"We need a mortal agent to go places we cannot go without causing our prey to detect us and go to ground. You are powerful for a mortal, but still a mortal. With certain training you will be more powerful yet. You can also effectively hide your power level and aura."

"But the way of the quiet thief are sealed ..." Ranma protested.

"That is the extreme effect of hiding your aura, but even without resorting to that you can damp your aura to that of a normal human without crippling your power too much. I suggest you use the circle I gave you to 'convince' your father to unseal his techniques. You will need every advantage possible against our unknown opponent."

"So basically I'm a spy?" Ranma asked, not pleased at being reduced to such a dishonorable role, regardless of the necessity.

"Spy, catspaw, bait. You will play any role needed to prevent some idiot or maniac from reawakening the Old Ones," Thoth spoke severely, obviously irrate at something. "The multiverse is not a paradise. There are some corners of reality that are true horrors to behold. Still they are relatively small portions. When the Old Ones ruled, every dimension, every world suffered under their heel. What we have is not perfect but it is infinitely preferable."

Thoth stood, "If you have no further questions, I need to research our problem. When I find somewhere for you to begin our search I will come for you. You should have plenty of time to pursue your studies, the entities responsible seem adept at covering their trail." With a short nod the Lord of Wisdom faded from view.

"Looks like you may have irritated him a bit. Don't worry about it. Remembering the time of the Old Ones tends to rile Thoth up a bit. He's too easy going to remain that way long. We would have lost if it hadn't been for his spell," Anhur nodded contemplatively. "We were losing, slowly but surely. Then Thoth appeared, he didn't remember where he came from, but that's not unusual for gods. Most likely some library of researchers and scholars prayed him into existence. Whatever his origin he came into existence knowing more than anyone short of the Old Ones themselves. Thoth, together with Lictalin the elf, Lokum the angel, and Kym-nark-mar the Dragon designed and implemented the final enchantment. I'm not sure about the others, but Thoth was accepted by Osiris into our pantheon, and I believe Kym-nark-mar along with his fellow dragon's ascended into their present Dragon-God status."

"How is that different from a god?" Ranma asked.

"Ancient dragons often rival a god in sheer power. Imagine and ancient dragon who has shuffled off the dragon's semi-mortal coil and ascended to their equivalent of godhood."

"Powerful?"

"Yes. Very. However, I suppose the DragonWright pantheon earned its position. Most races of dragon are not social creatures, they work terribly together. Before Kym-nark-mar and his fellows wrestled control of our dragon allies, they were nothing more than loose cannons. Many dragons died merely by rushing in by themselves, or simply ignoring orders. There was one particularly grisly instance where two males fell to fighting over territory and domination in the middle of a heated combat. They died of course. Good riddance."

"Dragons sound really stupid," Ranma said with disgust.

"Not really. One-on-one they can be very wise. Get two or more males together longer than a few hours and you should be prepared to bury one of them. Females are more stable, but still don't work well together." Anhur's eyes glowed with pleasure. "But when led by Kym-nark-mar, never have I seen such an incredible army at work. Truly, it was one of the turning points in the war. We were losing quite badly until then. Afterward...well we were still losing, but it was an organized, slow retreat, rather than a rout." After a moment of silence he continued, "But enough of that war, it was glorious, but it long over. With a bit of good fortune and planning we should never have to see an Old One awake."

"Can I go home now?" Ranma tired of always being in a strange dimension.

"There is one last thing you need to do before you go. Do you still wish to accept the role of my champion?" a serious glint in his eye.

"Uh...sure?" Ranma said, somewhat lacking in his usual confidence.

"Then simply state that you accept my authority over your actions."

"Well, as long as you don't ask me to do anything dishonorable," Ranma qualified, oblivious to the now glowing deity.

"Stop questioning my honor! You dirt hugging mortal!" The war god shook as he tried to control his anger and not do something unwise like burn the silly nit to ash.

"Alright! Alright! You gods sure are touchy. Sheesh. Okay I accept your authority," Ranma said attempting to placate the angry god.

"Fine. You are now my champion," Anhur growled through gritted teeth, finally successfully reigning in his temper.

"That's it? Shouldn't there be a light show or something?" Ranma asked somewhat disappointed.

"Yes. That's it. You now have a direct link to me. It's not as if you are gaining godly powers, after all, you're simply borrowing mine. To access them simply concentrate on me and ask what it is you wish. The same applies for the dimensional teleportation, except you simply picture the location you wish to go and state that by MY power you will go there. Unlike a direct request for my attention I probably won't notice your use of this ability so be wary..."

"By Anhur's power take me home!" Ranma interrupted, shouting excitedly. Then he promptly vanished. Leaving behind a very irritated war god.

Ranma looked around. Well there were humans, although most of them seemed to be Caucasian. They weren't wearing any fancy alien garments, so it was probably the correct dimension. This was supported by the cars going by on the street. Of course the cars were driving on the wrong side of the street. Turning to look behind him he observed a large expanse of water behind him. On an island off in the water, was a familiar blue green statue of a woman holding a torch.

He was just opening his mouth to curse, when he felt a heavy blow to the back of his head. Leaping away, he turned to face the direction of the blow.

An angry looking Anhur stood in all his armored glory. "Are you an idiot, or merely an imbecile? I told you it would take a large amount of practice before you could properly travel. Do you really want to spend the next few months randomly hopping around the world until Thoth fetches you?"

"No," Ranma said is a subdued tone. "Er, how did you find me so quickly?"

Okay, he's an idiot, Anhur sighed to himself in exasperation. "Normally I wouldn't notice, but since you did use MY powers to teleport in front of me, it was a simple matter to find where MY power sent you."

"Oh, yeah. I guess that makes sense."

"I'm glad you find my logic acceptable. I will send you home now," and good riddance, "I suggest you study and memorize the book before you give it to Cologne. Even though Cologne will be compelled to teach you it will increase your options should she attempt other strong arm tactics."

"Isn't that kind of stuff hard to learn?"

"You don't have to be able to use it. Memorize it so you can give accurate directions to a qualified user of magic. Someday you may be able to use it yourself, but until you can, keep in mind the smallest error could kill you or transform you into something far worse than a girl."

Without further warning Anhur opened a portal and pushed Ranma through. With any luck Thoth's little mission would take a few decades. Ranma needed time to mature into an effective champion. If Anhur saw the infuriating martial artist, or for that matter any martial artist from Nerima, before then he refused to be held responsible for any acts of destruction that might ensue.

Sighing in relief, he was about to transport himself to his own domain when he heard a familiar voice behind him speaking ancient Egyptian.

"Excuse me. Could you tell me how to get to the Tendo Dojo?"

Chapter 18

The first thing Ranma saw as he stepped through the portal into the Tendo home was Nabiki. She sat at the living room table staring with a silly grin at a small pile of yellow coins in front of her. Ranma couldn't understand why this struck him as inherently wrong until he realized he had never seen Nabiki so happy before. This was bad. A happy Nabiki meant many other unhappy people.

He was taken further aback when Nabiki looked up at him, her grin becoming marginally wider. "Ranma, we're so happy to see you back. Why don't you go to the Dojo. Akane's in there, and I think she has something she wants to show you," she purred idly stacking the coins in neat rows.

S. Nabiki. Anything you say," Ranma stuttered nervously, carefully backing away from the happy girl. As soon as he was out of sight Nabiki dived for the phone, clicking on the quick dial.

"Ukyou, how much would you pay to be the first to receive some very important information?"

He would have been almost relieved to see her acting in a more typical fashion. Almost.

When Ranma reached the Dojo he heard the thump of feet, and shuffling. Wondering who could be in the room sparing with Akane, he opened the door. He saw a female figure hurtling towards him. He instinctively moved to cushion the impact of the person landing on him. This had unfortunate consequences as he noticed an angry Akane glaring at him. "Er, hi Akane. Long time, no see," Ranma chirped.

"Ranma! You're alive! I'm so happy to see you survived! I was so worried!" Ranma did a double take, not expecting such emotion from the Tomboy. An odd feeling of tension overcame him as he realized the voice had come from the girl in his arms rather than Akane.

"Ranma! I can't believe you! You're back five minutes and you're already fondling all the girls around you!" A now glowing Akane stalked towards him, her favorite hammer in a ready position.

Ranma looked down to see a familiar face, alarmingly close to his. "Jess? What are you doing here? I thought you were staying with the monks?" a shocked Ranma asked. "How did you get here? You aren't even from this dimension?"

"You can stop groping her, you pervert!" Akane shouted as she slammed her hammer down on Ranma's head.

"Erk, sure! I mean I didn't mean nothin by it. I mean..." Ranma, now aware of the embarrassing manner he had been holding Jess, quickly put her on feet. He hadn't taken any notice of the impact from Akane's weapon. His brain was too frozen in shock to even pretend it had hurt.

He was a still a little too slow, from behind him a new voice carried, "Ranma, you have finally arrived. Now we can return to my father's kingdom and marry…what are you doing with that lowborn tramp in your arms. I knew you were after my Ranma. Training, bah. I should have realized it for the pathetic excuse it was. Prepare to die, you little harridan!" The poised declaration of love, slipping into a screech of rage.

"Cindra? But...How...Why...How..." Ranma sputtered.

"You brought back two new fiancées? This is a new low even for you!" Akane shouted, oblivious to the fact she herself had thrown Jess into Ranma's arms.

"Ranma honey, I'm so glad you're back," the voice of a brown haired chef drifted in from the main house.

"Shampoo glad too! Now we go back to China and live in village. Yes?"

A hail of sharp objects flew over his head, as Ranma tried to absorb the events taking place around him. "Ranma! I will not let you molest my Shampoo. I will defeat you..." the voice would cut off as the thud and crash of a body slamming through a wall was heard.

Ranma was at a loss. He was sure there was an important reason he had come back to Nerima, but at the moment it escaped him. Hades seemed like a nice place to visit in comparison. Sunny, green, only one incompetent psycho, and a few cat demons after him. Hmm, Abdul-Ra seemed to like him. Perhaps a short visit would be in order. Still pondering the wisdom of a vacation, he ran out a newly created Ranma sized doorway in the wall of the doorway and ran as if there were a pack of Raksasha chasing him down the street.

He passed Kasumi sweeping the walkway, as he exited. "Oh, Ranma. You're back. How nice! And you brought you're friends. Be sure to be back in time for dinner," she called out pleasantly to the retreating youth.

He was slowly out pacing the large, expanding mob following him when a portal opened over his head and a mangled, bruised Ryouga fell on top of the fleeing martial artist. "Ranma! This is all your fault!" croaked the injured lost boy as he temporarily pinned a very surprised Ranma beneath him.

He was incapacitated just long enough for the mob to catch up with the tangle of limbs, laying in the street. For quite some time afterward, they took turns alternately beating and hugging, kissing and killing a very confused pigtailed martial artist. It was an interesting welcome home.

Ranma trudged through the kitchen wearily. It was the next morning and he still ached from the beating he had been subjected to. Fortunately, he had been able to discourage his father from wasting too much of his time this morning by a few well placed kicks to the head.

"Morning Kasumi. What's for breakfast?"

Oh...just the usual..."

"Hey! Wait a minute! I almost forgot! I got some spices that the people in the market said you might find interesting," he immediately reached in to subspace and grabbed it to give to the oldest Tendo girl. He realized he had been a little bit hasty when he found himself holding on to a brush that seemed intent on battering the already bruised boy.

"Oh, how nice, a brush. I can never have to many of these," Kasumi said, and reached for the wildly gyrating cleaning instrument before Ranma could stop her.

He was relieved and immensely surprised when the brush lapsed into calmness at her touch. "It was very thoughtful you. Oooh, look! It even cleans by itself. What a helpful brush." Ranma looked on in wonderment as the brush began to polish the floor around them.

"Well you know me. Always thinking about others," Ranma modestly acknowledged. "Look I have even more," he said as he began pulling the annoying tools, one at a time from storage. Just as the first one did, each struggled until touched by Kasumi, whereupon it would begin cleaning the area around it as directed by her.

"Oh, and here's the spices, too. I got some for Ukyou and Shampoo, too," he magnanimously added. A wide smile was spread across his face, he hadn't realized how irritating those things had felt until he had removed them all from storage.

"What about Akane?"

"Well I wanted the spices to be used as a force for good..." he didn't finish as a mallet slammed into the side of his head. "Oh, hi Akane." The girl in question growled in frustration at having her strongest blows ignored.

"Well what about me?" she growled, jealousy oozing from her.

"Well I got this for you along the trail to the Timiro Kingdom," Ranma said as he drew out a large war hammer. Even in the morning light a slight blue shimmer seemed to cling to the mirrored metal surface. He didn't mention the huge ogre who was it's previous owner. He figured if a weakling like him could effectively wield the large weapon, Akane with her sheer brute strength could easily handle it. For once he kept silent in regards to his opinion. Weapons weren't for real martial artist, but hey, if someone wanted to rely on tools, fine, let them.

"It…it's beautiful. Thank you," Akane said hugging her gift. Ranma was glad he had taken the time to clean the dried blood and mud off of it.

"Yep. I figured a violent Tomboy like you could handle it if anyone could," Ranma said without thought, inevitably losing his war with his mouth.

"Die Ranma!" Akane's hammer blow was accompanied by a huge thunder crash as the hammer's enchantment augmented her blow.

Wow, Ranma thought from deep inside his impact crater, that actually hurt. A lot. Maybe giving her an enchanted mallet wasn't the smartest thing to do. Gotta admit, she sure looks cute with it.

Later in the day Ranma slipped away from the house. He had studied the circle book all night and this morning. He was confident he could explain the procedure in exquisite detail. It was now time to confront Cologne.

Entering the Nekohanton, he looked around the café. Not many customers. That was good, fewer distractions. "Hey! Old gou...er...Cologne! I need to talk to you."

"Oh Ranma! You date with Shampoo?" the purple haired blur asked as she attached herself to her husband.

"Er...no. I need to talk to Cologne. It's really important. Oh yeah, here's a gift. I would have given it to you yesterday, but I was kinda occupied." Ranma handed her the scabbard flaming sword he had taken from a guard.

"Very nice! Ahh!," Shampoo dropped the sword as it burst into flames. Ranma deftly caught the blade by the handle and returned it to her.

"Yeah, and if you point it at something and say the word Acba, it shoots fireballs," Ranma nonchalantly stated.

"Ooh, Shampoo so happy! Acba!" she said, promptly pointing it at an innocently sweeping Mousse. She watched in enjoyment as he flew in a graceful arc out of the window. Sheathing the sword she promptly hugged Ranma again.

"Greetings, son-in-law. I see you have been to some interesting places. It is fortunate you found your way back, I was worried you would be lost forever. I wasn't making much progress finding you."

"Gou...Cologne. I need to talk with you. Alone. I have something you might find interesting."

"Hmm…Shampoo, take care of the customers. Son-in-law and I will be in the back."

"I acquired something that might interest you. Probably enough that we can come to some sort of arrangement," Ranma nervously began.

"What kind of arrangement, son-in-law?"

"I have a book that gives precise instructions on the creation of a circle that would restore youth to the user."

"Hmm. Really now, son-in-law, do you really expect me to believe this without proof?"

"After we agree on terms, I'll give you the book. If it is not magic, you can give it back and everything we agreed upon can just be forgotten. You can't lose." Ranma stated gaining some confidence as he laid out his argument.

"We'll see if I can't lose after you say what you're after, son-in-law."

"Well, um, it's simple really. I'm going on a mission for a god soon…"

"God?" Cologne interrupted skeptically.

"Yeah, Thoth, God of Wisdom. He gave me this book for the sole reason of getting you, Happossai, and Pops, to train me in everything you know about martial arts. Says I'll need them."

"Alright, sonny boy let's see this enchanted book," she said raising an eyebrow.

"Well, all right. Don't touch the book before we come to an agreement. It will enforce the contract between us."

"Just how do you know this person you were talking to was a god? You aren't really stupid, son-in-law, but you do lack somewhat in wisdom."

"Well, he said he was," Cologne snorted, and he continued, "he cast some spells, teleported at will, was about twenty feet tall, and has the head of a really big bird."

Cologne was silent, absorbing the odd information.

"He was pals with Anhur, another god, who made me his champion. I can now teleport too. It ain't that accurate though. I think I ended up in England or Germany somewhere. Oh, he also said I could speak any language."

"It that true?" Cologne asked in Chinese.

"Well, I guess so I haven't had a chance to find out yet. I also took this amulet from the guy who summoned me. And it seems to do the same thing, so who knows," Ranma said, oblivious to the fact he was speaking in perfect Mandarin.

"Well it seems you have had a few adventures while you were gone, son-in-law." She wasn't quite sure if she believed him, but Ranma was a notoriously poor liar. He obviously believed what he said. It wouldn't hurt to humor him, even if he turned out to be deluded. "You can tell me about them later. What are your terms?"

"Well, as I said I want training in all the techniques you know and your help to convince Happossai and Pops to teach me everything they know. The use of the circle for myself, my family and my friends. Oh, and you also don't support Shampoo in her hunt for me or take any action against me."

That's quite a bit, son-in-law. Although I am the Matriarch of my tribe, I'm not sure I could promise all that."

"C'mon Cologne. I ain't stupid. You need an heir, bad. You and Happossai are over three hundred years old. I know you're getting desperate for someone suitable. With this you wouldn't need Shampoo so bad."

"Do you really hate my granddaughter so badly?"

"No!" he exclaimed in exasperation. "Look, I know she's in a really bad situation. But the first time I saw her she's trying to kill me, the next thing I know she loves me. Those laws of yours are stupid. I mean really, if I beat her once, and she promises to hunt me down, what's to keep me from killing her the next time I see her. I mean if I fought women. Don't you lose a lot of warriors that way?"

"We did in the beginning. The law encourages the Amazons to be the best. Eventually we were. It wasn't made for the likes of you though. I must admit though, I'm the only Amazon that stands a chance against you in combat. Would my leading the tribe into the future be worth creating someone I would most likely be unable to defeat? What if you turn against us in the future? What if you teach our enemies our secrets?" she sighed wearily, if Ranma hadn't been fooled these were very serious issues.

"I ...I could promise not teach anyone your techniques without your permission. You know I keep my word. And I wouldn't attack your village...unless you did something really, really horrible to me or my friends. I don't think you'd do that."

"True. Such an action on my part would be unwise, but you'd still be a loose cannon."

"Well, what if I promise to help defend your village. You know that not much can stand up to me. Especially after you train me. I mean defend, too. If you go off and attack someone on your own, I ain't lifting a finger. I'm no trained attack dog for no one," his conscience twinged as he thought of his deal with Anhur.

"Keep in mind that my not actively supporting Shampoo isn't going to stop her. The law states she must win you or face punishment. Even If I had a hundred more years as Matriarch, it would be difficult to change the law."

"Ha! With this circle you'll have more than a hundred. I'll try to keep the situation as stable as possible until you do. It'll probably help that my patrons will probably be sending me all over the place for a very long time," Ranma grumbled, halfway looking forward to it.

"I couldn't guarantee Happy's aid. He does what he wants. He always has," she said sadly.

"If you dangle youth in front of him I know he'll leap at it. It will be a pain dealing with him as a young pervert, but with both of you training me, I could do it. Besides, if you use the magic of the book on him he'll be under contract to teach me too."

"Just how powerful is this 'contract'?" Cologne asked suspiciously.

"I don't know. It was created by Thoth. He said he also asked some Greek girls for advice."

"Greek girls," Cologne's eyelid twitched.

"Yeah, Atheta, or Arena, or maybe Athena," Cologne's staff creaked under the strain she unconsciously placed it. "Yeah that was it, Athena. The other one was like a sneeze...er, Hecate!" Ranma stated triumphantly. Cologne's staff snapped.

"I suppose that would be fairly powerful, then. Athena is the Greek Goddess of wisdom and war. Hecate was one of the Titan precursors to the Greek gods. She was known as the Mistress of magic. Although the Amazons no longer actively honor these gods, they are known to me."

"So what about it?"

"Hmm, that leaves only your father. As weak a willed ninny as any male I've ever seen. I don't think we'll have a problem getting him to agree to train you in those 'forbidden' techniques, and giving you his blessings to use them," she said with disdain.

"Well, he may be pathetic, but he is my Pop," Ranma rallied a weak defense.

"My apologies, son-in-law. You have my agreement. Training, no interference with your relationship with my granddaughter or with your friends, and help convincing the two deviants..."

"Hey!"

"...to fully train you. If what you say is true, regarding the book, that should not be much of a problem. In return you will give me the enchantment of youth, your aid in defense of our village, and your promise to not pass on our secrets to outsiders without permission."

"Alright!"

"So be it. I still hope that someday my granddaughter will succeed in her goal, future-son-in-law. Now give me the book," she said while reaching for the slim tome.

Chapter 19

Jess smiled as she handed a puzzled Ranma the wooden box. She had completed her errand for the Master of her Order. She almost skipped as she went off to the Dojo to train with Akane. She hoped she would be able to train with Ranma sometime in the near future too. Akane was moody since Ranma had come back but she didn't seem to hold the earlier incident against her. It was good to be alive.

Behind her the pig-tailed martial artist continued to stare blankly at the box in his hands.

Elsewhere an old man received a mystic warning. He gathered his crimson and gold robes around him and stood. Now that the tracer was in the target's possession he could start to initiate some of his contingency plans. The plans of the Emperor would not be delayed much longer.

"That's quite a generous offer," 'Zar spoke carefully to the deevil, being sure to avoid eye contact with the creature within the circle. "And in return all your mistress wants is the general coordinates of his home plane?"

"Yes," the creature hissed.

"Okay, we have an agreement," the Summoner eagerly agreed. He didn't know why this deevil's Master was interested in the information. He didn't really care. Ranma had been dragged away by Ammit, and regardless of what he had told the others, he was most likely dead or worse. If he could turn a nice profit, magically speaking, he didn't see the harm in dealing with a few Gorgons.

There's a reason most people believe that Summoners are insane.

Here ends Part One of the Journey

Started 02-12-99 finished 03-16-99

Revision 1.3 (07-05-01)

Revision 1.4 (07-03-14)

Please send any question or comments to danielfruth

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