A Different Art, brief treatment given BY REQUEST Ranma 1/2 by R.Takahashi, other char by other people and i could see a LOT of crossover possibilities with this one. Not only Gold Digger (Ranma as the up-and- coming young mage investigated by Dr Diggers on behalf of the wizard's council) but traditional fantasy literature and even Chris Stasheff's Warlock series.

NOTE: this is just meant to be amusing. Not Epic, not Great Literature, not Canon, not Akanecentric. Can't deal with the "nots" then save us both some frustration and read... well "Hearts Of Ice" is mainly canon, sort of, and manages to at least touch base with the other three.

this was meant to be exclusive to the Ranma 1/2 Superhighway, but i haven't heard from Red Death since then and i've seen a LOT of sites which have it archived anyway.

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chapter 1: Ill Met In Nerima
an Expansion Set betfic by gregg, metroanime@mindspring.com http://metroanime.home.mindspring.com

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"Arguing is what couples do best." - Genma Saotome.

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April 10, 1982...a mountain glade in Tibet.

A young father continued to look for his six year old son, who had wandered off during the night (looking for a little privacy.)

"Ranma!" The call echoed through the mountains.

Genma grimaced. In the kind of mountains there were around here, a child wandering in the dark was likely to end up with a rather painful landing at the very least. He had been a bit rough on the child, even beyond normal standards. Maybe he should have expected the boy to hide after that. If Ranma HAD run away, it brought up another problem.

How was he going to explain this to Nodoka?

He missed entirely the odd runes flaring to life on the inside of a nearby cave.

------------------

March 1, 1992, same place

The runes flared to life again, as they had done sporadically over the ages. Then, as they had also done before, the runes faded to become mere scratches on the wall.

A young man wearing rough but serviceable clothing stepped out of the cave and fixed his eyes on the landscape before him. Nodding, he scuffed a circle into the ground. After consulting a crude compass, he began scrawling sigils, glyphs, and other odd markings around the circle, with the largest symbol pointing due North.

Raising his hands over his head, the youth began to speak.
"Powers of light, hear as I ask,
Guide me on this simple task,
Where I must go, what I must do.
The fateward path, show me true,
This I ask as boon from you."

A beam of light seemed to rise out of the circle, and Ranma carefully sighted along it.

Nodding again, he mumbled a word of thanks and scuffed his foot along the circle. The beam went out abruptly.

He left the statuette in his pack, no point in waking him up. A cloth was unfolded several times, and a few moments later one of the local sheep observed the unusual sight of a flying carpet heading due East could be seen.

Unfortunately, Ranma did not see the runes flaring to life again behind him. It would have saved him some problems later.

----------------------------

Ranma was frowning. The magic here was chaotic, rather like the Mists Of Change in the Faerie Realm. He wasn't too concerned until the carpet suddenly seemed to become so much lifeless fabric.

Angling down towards one of the many pools, Ranma cast a velocity damping spell and watched as his satchel sailed past with the carpet. As soon as his velocity was down to a gentle drift, he allowed himself to land on one of the ridges of dirt seperating the pools.

The satchel waddled out of a pool, dripping water, and had a distinctly unhappy air.

Ranma sighed, noting that the carpet was waterlogged in one of the springs. He reached in for it. A moment later he was using a few words he'd picked up in one of the seedier taverns he'd visited. He really should have known better.

"Oh, young miss!" A rather large man in a Chinese uniform came hurrying up. "You did not...oh you DID get wet."

Ranma nodded her head, not trusting herself to speak as she'd probably say something quite nasty or throw a few fireballs around.

"Ah, well that is 'Spring Of Drowned..."

"Girl?" Ranma guessed.

"Oh no, miss. That one over there. This Spring Of Drowned Amazon. Very terrible tragic story of Amazon who fight Musk warriors here 350 year ago. Now whoever fall in Spring take body of young Amazon!"

"I would never have guessed," said Ranma drily. "What's the cure?"

"No cure."

"There will be." Ranma promised.

"Hot water turn you back, but only until cold water change you again." The Guide paused. "Where you come from, miss, I no see you arrive..."

"Any planes ever lose power over these springs?"

"Yes, miss, most people know you no fly over Jusenkyo. Very bad terrible tragic stories of people who try."

"Figures," Ranma squeezed what water she could out of her carpet. It would have to dry, and then she'd have to check the spells before she could risk flying it again.

Ranma blinked as a thought occured to her. "Do all of these springs have similar effects? Oh, and I'm a guy. Present appearance not withstanding."

"Yes sir. Why you ask..." The Guide looked at the coin that Ranma handed him. It... was gold?!

Ranma opened the satchel and started pulling out large containers and finally a long-handled ladle. "I want you to tell me which one is which."

"But sir..." The Guide looked at the coin in his palm, then bit on it. It was real and he estimated the heavy coin to be worth more than he made in a year. "Okay, but why?"

Ranma didn't look at the Guide. If that coin was insufficient, she had more. Though sometimes information was even more valued than money, she didn't think the Guide was very well off and could use the cash. "Simple. By having various samples, I'm going to figure out how these things work, then work on either eliminating the curse, or tricking it into seeing my original form as the form I'm to transfer to."

"Sir is very strange," the Guide looked at the coin again and added that at least she was generous.

--------------------

"Fighting tournament here, you watch sir, is special honor to win tournament."

Ranma nodded. He'd asked for someplace he could get some food, then lay out the carpet so it would dry. It would take him a few hours to do the check on the carpet's magic, and he wanted to be away from Jusenkyo's influence as much as possible. A quick heating spell on a cup of water changed him back, but it was getting annoying having to do this every couple of miles.

"Amazons..." Ranma smiled at a few pleasant memories. "Well, well. Which of the nine Houses is competing?"

"Sir?" The Guide looked to where Ranma was quite openly admiring the one Amazon fighting a much larger opponent."Sir maybe has wrong group of Amazons?"

The satchel, feeling much abused, thunked into Ranma's leg, then spotted the banquet.

"YOU! WHAT YOU....what in the..." The Champion had come striding over to yell at Ranma, then her mind caught up to what she was seeing. "Excuse me, but your carpetbag over there is eating my prize?!??"

Ranma had just realized what those slurping and crunching noises were. "Oh no... No! Bad Bag!"

"Shampoo, claim the bag as your prize!"

Shampoo was surprised. Mousse had a good idea? "Since your box-with-legs ate most of my prize, I claim it!"

"Out of the question," Ranma said back, glad that his translation ring was at least working. "How about if I pay you for your prize?"

"NO. Want bag... how come your lip synch is off?"

Cologne hopped forward quickly. There was little that could surprise her after all these years. This looked...interesting.

"I'm using magic. Well...if you won't accept payment, and this was your prize, how about if I challenge you for the tournament?"

"You dare!?" Shampoo glared at the arrogance of this man. Even though he DID look cute and seem interesting. To challenge HER.

Cologne smirked. Oh, she was glad she'd attended the Tournament today! She thought to herself that if what she was suspected was true, she'd have to arrange something... special.

Ranma landed lightly on one end of the Challenge Log, Shampoo leapt to the other.

"Fight!" The referee brought her arm down in a slashing motion.

Shampoo raised her bonbori, charging forward.

Ranma considered for less than a second. Fireball, no. Lightning bolt? No, he didn't want to hurt her, just beat her. Flesh to plush? No, she might consider that humiliating. Running out of time, Ranma drove a finger forward, and wove a pattern of Spirit.

The spell hit with a polychromatic sparkle quite visible to the audience, most of whom now made the assumption that the boy had unleashed a chi attack of some kind.

Cologne's eyes widened as Shampoo fell. He WAS a mage! The value to the village of even a median level spellcaster would be inestimable. As the boy was THIS young, he'd be valuable as a member OR as an ally of the tribe later. She'd marry him to half a dozen Amazons if that was what it took to get him into the village, but maybe Shampoo would be enough.

In the ensuing silence, a very kawaii voice started singing from where Shampoo was lying on the ground. It broke off into giggling a moment later.

Maybe not, concluded Cologne. It looked like Shampoo had gone from completely sober to absolutely drunk in very short order. Cologne doubted Shampoo could even get up to give the Kiss Of Marriage. What a disgrace.

The giggling died down, only to be replaced with a light snoring noise. Cologne's eyes met six others in the crowd, then nodded.

"Avenge Shampoo!"

Cologne's eyes widened. THAT wasn't the signal she'd given. It hadn't even come from one of her common agents. Mousse...

The mage, being a mage, did the sensible thing and fled. Shampoo awoke, three hours later, and was in for the tongue lashing of her life in front of the village. The disgrace
could only be repaired in one manner. She had to come back with that man as her husband. She didn't have to PHYSICALLY stay in the village, as marrying the mage would make him a part of it no matter where they were.

The magical display, walking satchel, and odd lip-synch, had not gone unnoticed. Even before Shampoo left, various other Elders wanted to one-up the Matriarch and so sent their own prodigies out on similar missions.

-------------------

Ranma was drying his carpet and checking over his spells when he felt his wards go off. The spell, a full ritual incantation, slammed into the intruder a moment later.

Two hours later, Ranma finished checking up on the carpet, and inspected the campsite.

When he found the cute little plush doll with the purple hair, Ranma sighed, put it in his satchel for the time being, and decided to get some rest.(1)

After seeing Shampoo shrink down into a plush toy, none of the other Amazons decided to bother him that night.

In the morning, there was the sight of the man on a flying carpet, heading due East. If it weren't for Tigar they wouldn't have been able to track him at all.

----------------------

March 6, 1992
Ranma checked the magic compass. It was pointing at the young girl who was having so much trouble with the groceries. A faint glamourie, he decided, just enough to make him seem less of a stranger...

------------------

"Excuse me, miss. You look like you're having a little problem there, may I help?"

Kasumi shifted the bags slightly, turned to politely decline the offer, and abruptly forgot what she was going to say. Her train of thought had not merely derailed, it had gone through the station and was heading for the cliffs beyond.

He was a few inches taller than her, built in a lean but quite muscular manner, with hair bound back in a pony tail that reached his mid back. Her eyes picked up the subtle fabrics of his odd clothing. They looked durable, but were as finely woven and looked as soft as silk. They showed off his frame quite nicely.

"Eh, uh, ah," Kasumi managed, drawn instantly into those eyes that seemed full of hidden wisdom and strength. "I...yes."

There was a brief puzzled frown, but the man took the extra bags from her effortlessly, and added them to the burden he already carried. He spoke to her again, the same deep rich baritone that sent a wave of weakness through her.

"Are you all right, miss...?"

"Ka-ka-Kasumi. Tendo. Yes, that's it, Kasumi Tendo." Kasumi blushed, she was playing with her fingers and trying not to look in that man's direction again. She hadn't even realized at this point that she'd handed all of the groceries to this stranger, and her purse.

The stranger just blinked a few times as if trying to figure something out. "Well, my name is Ranma. If you don't mind, why don't you show me where you'd like these taken."

---------------------

Watching the woman continue to dart looks his way and blush (very prettily he couldn't help but notice) Ranma reviewed the glamourie he'd cast but couldn't see how it would produce anywhere near this level of effect. It had been a simple low-power casting that should have just given him a slightly familiar look.

Either he had gotten something wrong (possible but unlikely), or this woman had been in just the right frame of mind to leave her unusually receptive to such a thing. In the former case, it would wear off shortly. If the latter, there wasn't much he could do about it.

He caught her looking at him again, shyly. The slim smile, the faint blush, the way she turned her head down and started studying her hands as she walked into a utility pole...

Sighing, Ranma the mage put everything down and rummaged in his satchel for a healing potion.

-------------------

Akane stopped. There was her sister, laying on the ground. Some strange man was putting a bunch of groceries down,then reaching into some sort of suitcase and pulling out a vial.

She'd seen this last week on "City Hunter" - slavers who took innocent girls to Hong Kong slave pens, never to be seen again. Well, he'd just picked the wrong girl to attack!

"Hold it, you! Leave her alone!"

The man looked up and smiled at her. "Hello. I was helping Tendo-san with the..."

He was interrupted by Akane's punch, which staggered the man as if he wasn't expecting it.

"Get away from her!" Akane watched the man pick himself up and launched herself at him again.

"Be ye grasped in Morpheus' grip,
Into peaceful slumber slip."

----------------

Ranma had no idea who this was, or why she was attacking him. He did notice that she had a pretty good punch. He caught her before she hit the pavement.

Now what? He decided he couldn't just leave her on the street, but had no desire to get hit again. He summoned magical forces again and wove a different pattern. (2)

She'd wake up soon enough, and Ranma had no intention of being there when she did.

----------------

"Tadaima!" Kasumi brightly announced.

Ranma noted that she kicked her shoes off onto the concrete area just before the wooden floor, and followed suit. He vaguely remembered something like that but was wondering how much he'd have to relearn.

She led him through into a kitchen and started putting groceries away with the efficiency
of long practice.

"Yo, sis. HeLLLO!" (3)

Ranma found someone new scrutinizing him. He hadn't felt like a piece of meat being graded to this extent since he'd last visited one of the Delphins barracks...

"Oh, Nabiki, this nice man offered to take me. I mean, my packages, home."

This penetrated Nabiki's assessment of the man and she took a good look at her sister.

Slight flush: check.

Unconsciously nibbling on her lower lip as she stared at her new "friend": check.

Kept constantly checking to see he was still there and hadn't mysteriously vanished: check.

Fretting with her hair: check.

Just put the milk in the cupboard and the canned veggies in the fridge: check.

Guy who looked like a male supermodel and was helping her to put away groceries: check.

Nabiki always took pride in her math skills, her grades were much higher than Akane's or even Kasumi's old grades in the subject. She was quickly able to determine the equation and carry it out.

With a sigh of disappointment, but a feeling of happiness for her sister, Nabiki gracefully picked up the receipt, and retreated back to her room.

A little hint of mischief showed as she turned back at the last moment. "Oh, sis?"

"Yes, Nabiki," Kasumi's blush returned with a vengeance when her fingers brushed Ranma's. She kept her knees from buckling by sheer dint of will.

"Nice catch."

"Nabiki!" Kasumi frowned slightly at the curtain then noticed the scrutiny from her new friend. "Oh...my."

---------------------

Soun passed his daughter, wondering why Nabiki was snickering, and was about to ask when dinner would be ready when he noticed the stranger.

Ki level: very high, but no hint of a battle aura
Overall build: strong, wiry frame.
Stance: relaxed, confident
Specifics: tightness at knuckles, evidence of quiet strength, deep tanlines, hair bleached slightly by exposure to outdoors conditions, moves with fluid graceful motions.
Assessment: median level martial artist with an unusually high ki level. No evidence of hostility.(4)

"Well, well," Soun said aloud. "Who do we have here? A new boyfriend, Kasumi?"

Nabiki chortling out in the hall would have been sufficient answer even if he hadn't
caught Kasumi looking nervously at the young man trying to gauge his reaction.

"I was just trying to find my way home when I noticed Kasumi here having some difficulty,
that's all."

Soun noticed Kasumi's disappointed look. So did the stranger. He turned a smile on Kasumi that seemed to reassure her slightly.

"Lost, eh? Tokyo's gotten pretty crowded lately."

"Yes. Say, maybe you know where I can find the Saotome residence?"

Soun Tendo twitched. No, it couldn't be. This young man was too old, too weathered. "Sa-Saotome? What would be...your father's name?"

Ranma noticed the reaction and frowned. "Genma Saotome. Don't tell me he stole food from you."

Soun fainted.

-----------------------

(1)- Yes, Ranma forgets entirely about her until much later.
No, this is not the end of Shampoo. Yes, she does get
turned back. It isn't that type, but can't you just picture
pulling a string and getting "Airen!" "Shampoo no like
this game." "Man who play with woman's heart go very
bad place." or "You no wants to mess with amazon woman."

(2)- No, it wasn't that kind of spell you hentai! She wakes
up, feeling quite refreshed, and realizes that her sister
and that man are gone! Oh no! Her sister is no doubt
chained up inside the hold of a ship bound for China,
disguised as a mannequin...but they left her?! How dare
they! Hmmmph.

(3)- This Ranma didn't suffer from poor nutrition on that
training trip. What, you think Genma got Ranma well
balanced meals with all his vitamins? This Ranma ate
well, had magical healthcare, lots of training, etc. He's
even had enchantments on him that not only increase
his ki, but have enhanced his development. Yes, some
of this DOES carry over to his other form. He's taller,
filled out more, better built, and is practically radiating
healthy sensuality, a calm and quiet strength, and
confidence. In other words, he didn't need the glamourie
as far as Kasumi was concerned.
Nabiki, on the other hand, wouldn't exactly turn him
down if Kasumi couldn't "land him" and she's not exactly
sure how close the two are. If Kasumi catches him, well
she figures it's about time Kasumi had someone.

(4)- While Soun Tendo is ridiculously manic-depressive, that
doesn't necessarily mean he's a total wimp or doesn't know
anything about his Art.

-==========================

Different Art chapter 1, part B

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"Revenge is a dish best served cold." - Genghis Khan

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Ranma, Kasumi, and a moment later, Nabiki all looked down at the passed out figure of Soun Tendo and wondered what this meant.

Ranma snapped his fingers and his carpetbag immediately waddled into the room.

This brought stares from both Kasumi and Nabiki, who were understandably concerned about luggage moving around under its own power.

"Uhm, Ranma?"

"Yes, Nabiki?"

"Your luggage has legs?"

"Yes, Nabiki. Don't worry. It's housebroken."

"Uh-huh." Nabiki flopped down in her chair and stared at the man. "Is it robotics of some sort?"

"Hmmm?" Ranma opened the carpetbag and thrust the length of his arm into it. That his arm was considerably longer than the height of the bag was not lost on either of the Tendo sisters present. "Oh, no. Nothing like that. It's just magic."

"There's no such thing as magic," Nabiki said, though her eyes weren't moving from the odd bag.

"Magic is just doing something that the other guy doesn't know how to do. Does your father faint very often?"

"No," Kasumi said in a quiet voice, not entirely sure how to handle that the nice young man she'd met earlier was now doing the impossible and acting as if it were commonplace. "He's very emotional, but he generally doesn't collapse like that."

Nabiki conquered her fear enough to approach the bag.

"Bag, behave yourself. This is Nabiki, she's a friend." Ranma turned back to waving a metal tube under Soun's nose, and was rewarded with a groan.

Nabiki looked inside and was disappointed to see the apparently empty interior of a normal carpetbag.

"Close your eyes," advised Ranma. "Think of what you want to find and reach inside."

Nabiki blinked, drew in a deep breath, then closed her eyes and shot her hand down into the bag. She felt something settle into her hand and withdrew her arm.

"What is it, Nabiki?" Kasumi looked at the leather pouch that Nabiki had in her hands.

Nabiki was puzzled too until she opened the pouch and looked within. Her eyes shot to the size of dinner plates and her knees nearly buckled.

"Oh, that's just some of my ready cash. You'd be surprised how many times a little of that can make problems go away." Ranma put the vial back in the bag.

Nabiki estimated that the little bag weighed about five pounds. The coins inside were gold and about twice the thickness and size of krugerands. "Uhm, you've got... more... of this?"

"Yeah. A little. Why?"

Nabiki replayed earlier conversations she'd been listening to. He was looking for his home, didn't have a place to stay, eh? "Say, Ranma, you need a place to stay for awhile, don't you? Why not give me one of these coins, and...we can put you up here for a couple of weeks!"

"Well, I don't want to put you out. I *could* use a place, though, I need to do some research and it would be a lot easier with a semi-permanent address. After I've done that, well, I'm supposed to clear my 'karmic backload' before I go back home and try to take the Test for the next level of spell mastery."

Kasumi watched the young man and decided to trust her instincts. He was strange, and he was quite obviously used to dealing with things she wasn't, but the young man she had been speaking with had struck her as being kind and quite honorable. If a bit tempramental and apt to not consider the full repercussions of his actions. "It's no problem, Ranma. We have a spare room you can use."

"Excuse me," Soun managed to get himself up. For once his daughters and he were on the same page, the boy couldn't be allowed to simply disappear again. "Did you say your name is Ranma Saotome, and that your father's name is Genma?"

Ranma nodded. "Yes, and yes. Look, if he stole food from you, I can pay for it."

Ranma abruptly found himself swept up and being crushed in a hug.

"Oh my boy! Your father thought you were dead! The engagement betwen families can take place! Now our two houses can be united! How happy you have made me!" The floodgates briefly opened.

"Excuse me?" Nabiki blinked. Where had THIS plot twist come from?

"Oh goodness," Kasumi said with a blush. There was no doubt in her mind who her father would pair up this tall stranger with. (Maybe I ought to get Mother's wedding kimono and air it out...)

"Huh?" Ranma managed, beginning to turn blue.

"Daddy, you might want to turn him loose before he goes back to being dead."

"Oh, sorry." Soun released Ranma, who immediately started gasping to get air back into his lungs.

-------------------------

A few minutes later, everyone was sitting around the dining room table after a number of explanations had been given.

"So," summed up Soun, "we promised each other that the two schools and our families would be united by marriage."

"I...see..." Ranma was more than a little shocked by this. He caught the way the two girls were watching him and made an effort to control his reaction. He couldn't help but notice that Kasumi was back to studying her hands and Nabiki was giving him a purely speculative look. He could almost see the wheels turning in the younger girl's mind. "I'm afraid that if you're looking to unite the two schools of martial arts, that I'm not really that skilled at HTH fighting. I know the basics, but most of my time has been spent studying spellcraft."

"That's not as important as that you are here," Soun declared firmly if a bit wetly. "So all you have to do is pick which of my three daughters will be your new fiancee!"

"Oh my, that's right. Akane should have been home by now." Kasumi spent a few moments worrying about Akane before deciding it was just as well. Akane didn't like boys very much, and might have given this young man the wrong impression. Besides, Akane could take care of herself.

"Well, she's not, Kasumi. Her loss. Say, Ranma, you said you know magic, right? Could you show us a little something?" Nabiki was really hoping to spot potential profit-making skills in her soon-to-be brother-in-law.

Ranma blinked. "Okay, I suppose. What would you like?"

"Say," Nabiki seemed to be in deep thought, "oh, something like turning lead into gold? Producing money out of thin air? How about using magic to influence the stock market?"

"No, sorry. Metal is always tricky to manipulate. The other two are illegal and have serious repercussions." His teachers had impressed upon him Ethical Spellcraft, and how just changing base metals into precious ones could cause widespread economic upheaval. Best to keep to simple stuff when possible.

Nabiki blinked. He'd just admitted that he could do all three.

Ranma thought about it. Their reaction to his carpetbag had brought to his attention that they just weren't used to things of a magical nature. Whatever he did had to be completely nonthreatening.

Ranma brightened and stood up. "I know!" He brought his left fist up to be cupped by his right hand, two fingers pointing up. This might also have other uses.
"Spirits of magic, far and near,
Enlighten now, make choices clear,
Reveal within your shifting light,
The talent for magic burning bright!"

A brilliant plume of light erupted from Ranma, green/blue flickering. He noted that Soun Tendo had only a fitful blue radiance, while Kasumi had a brilliant white corona and Nabiki had a fiercely burning golden light.

Their reactions were everything he had hoped for. Soun was so overcome by the glowing daughters he didn't even notice that his own power rating was poor.

"So," Nabiki said. "This means I can do magic? Or, no, that I have the potential? Why is my coloration different from yours, and Kasumi is different from both of us?" Nabiki smiled at the golden aura swirling with patterns around her. The glow made her skin and nails look as if they were cast of gold, and Nabiki was finding it quite fascinating.

"Oh my." Kasumi was rather taken with the warm glow that surrounded her.

"Inner nature shapes what forces you can tap into the easiest. Kasumi looks to be best at healing and what is generally referred to as 'white magic.' You, Nabiki, look to be best at 'divination' or information-gathering magic. The patterns shown indicate that you have no actual training in the Art."

The sound of a door opening caused Ranma to make a gesture and the brilliant colors stopped.

Akane walked in, and looked relieved when she saw Kasumi. Then her gaze fell on Ranma and her expression became one more suited to the appearance of a slave-ring procurer. "YOU!"

Ranma readied a pattern of Chinese Sorcery(1) that would cloak him in a shield. Whoever this girl was, she had proven herself violent before and he wasn't at all fond of indiscriminately violent people.

"Akane, do you know Ranma?" Kasumi smiled at her younger sister. She had so much energy.

"Know him? I saw him trying to kidnap you earlier!" Akane's glare softened slightly. He'd obviously used a shiatsu attack to knock her out. When she'd come to in that tree, she'd checked but found no evidence of his taking liberties with her. Then had come the horrible realization that this enslaver-of-women had taken her elder sister, but not thought that SHE was worth taking! So Akane had run up a full head of steam based on a set of assumptions and deductions that had little place in reality.

It was just beginning to penetrate to Akane that Kasumi + Being Safe At Home = Guy Isn't A Kidnapper.

Ranma snorted. "Kasumi fell down. I was just getting a healing potion ready."

Nabiki twitched. Healing potions? Again the impression of yen signs floating by, ready to be caught. She gazed at Ranma across the table. She HAD to make sure he didn't simply vanish. Just the one coin she'd gotten as rent money would clear their bills for the month and put them in the black for next month. And he'd treated fifteen pounds of gold as not a big deal!

Nabiki prided herself as being a good judge of character. It was a necessary skill when you made money extorting people, being a bookie, or any number of other ways she went about making sure the house stayed afloat. Ranma was a nice guy, but not one you wanted to cross. Also, from what she had seen so far, if he'd tried to kidnap Kasumi, Kasumi wouldn't be here now.

"I really doubt that, sis," was Nabiki's only comment out loud.

"So which of my daughters will be your new fiancee?" Soun was refusing to be distracted.

"Fiancee? NO! ABSOLUTELY NOT!" Akane glared. So this *was* some sort of trick, she just wasn't sure whose trick or what the end result was supposed to be. Still, she would not allow some pervert boy at her!

"Hmmmm," hmmmed Kasumi, blushing. She had some friends from High School she ought to invite. How to get ahold of them? Traditional Shinto, Western, or one of the "hybrid" ceremonies? Less neck strain out of the Western or a hybrid, usually the bride's headpiece was one of the definite "minuses" in the equation.

"Kasumi would seem the wisest choice," volunteered Nabiki.

Akane stopped. Not her? Kasumi the wisest choice?! That meant Doctor Tofu would be available! "Couldn't agree more." At least until she revealed whatever secret plot was going on, then she could get it thrown out.

Ranma groaned. "Uhm, nothing personal, but why 'unite the two schools' when I'm not a martial artist? I do A Different Art."

Nabiki noted that Ranma wasn't ready for this. On the other hand, Kasumi was quite obviously attracted to the boy and was already nineteen with no prospects. To do this, without putting too much pressure on the boy, that would take careful management. Nabiki took a moment to consider this. Kasumi might make a good match for Ranma. Ranma had a number of talents and was able to pay his own way. If it had been anyone besides Kasumi, Nabiki would have required substantial monies to be paid out.

"Let me suggest a deal here," Nabiki said with a carefully prepared smile.

-----------------

Nabiki intended only to awaken Ranma, that was all. A light knock on the door producing no other reaction, she opened said door with the full expectation of a sleeping Ranma in the guest room. The camera was only present because she thought it would be nice to get a photo of the guy. That was all.

She didn't really expect that the Tendo household's guest room now possessed a second doorway. More, that said doorway wasn't the typical Japanese "slides into the wall" door as was common for closets and the like. No, this was a front door such as one would see on an old house. It would open on the backyard, though from the second floor.

"Uhm, Ranma! Err..." Nabiki watched the door open on its own. Stairs could clearly be seen on the other side.

"Be right there, Tendo-san. I've got a little more work to do. I've disabled the traps and alarms if you want to come on up."

Nabiki smiled a crooked grin. He knew her that well already? Well, she didn't need an engraved invitation. The smile faded slightly as the phrase "traps and alarms" penetrated.

Nabiki slowly made her way up the stairway, arriving at a second door. She estimated that she was halfway across the backyard, and slightly higher than the peak of the roof. If the first door was old-fashioned, this was practically Victorian. Including the knocker, a brass ring held in the mouth of a dragon. This door, as had the first, opened without her touching it. Nabiki stilled the slightly shaky feel in her knees, cursing herself for this sign of weakness, and entered.

Inside, the shakiness of her knees returned. The circular room looked to be of quarried stone, painstakingly fitted together. The ceiling above was a dome, and the floor was smooth rock. Six torches provided illumination, each also marking the "point" of one end of the star inscribed on the floor. Ranma was busy checking something on the floor. "Uhm, how could..."

"Just a second, Tendo-san." Ranma looked up briefly. "I'm checking my inscription to make sure the wards are finished."

Nabiki nodded and continued to inspect the room. "This is kinda like your suitcase being bigger on the inside than the outside, right?"

"Yeah," Ranma answered in a distracted tone. "Dimensional folding. Except Bag is a special case. This is just a stabilized pocket."

"Uh huh. Think you can do my closet later?" Nabiki looked over the torches and noted the lack of smoke.

"Doubling the size, yeah. Not much else. This room's a bit different, it's based on the workshop of a wizard I studied with. Except for the lack of lab equipment." Ranma finished pacing the perimeter of the room. "It'll take a little while but while I've got a forwarding address, I want to study a curse I just picked up and see what it will take to fix it."

"Uhm," said Nabiki, not sure how to handle this. Her weirdness meter had been pegged long ago.

"Anyway, I'm sure you didn't come here just to see me do a set of warding runes."

"First, call me Nabiki." Nabiki had little doubt that Ranma was a *much* better friend than an enemy. Normally she might consider playing various games and proving her mental superiority against a male. She wasn't sure how much of the old stories about wizards were correct, and she didn't think Ranma was a bad sort, but she had no intention of spending ANY time on a lily pad if she could help it. "Second, Kasumi has breakfast ready."

"Ah, good. I'll be right there." Ranma had to admit, he was hungry enough to eat kivaris stew. (An idle moment was spent wondering if there were any of the flying rodents here.) He noted that Nabiki was still fidgeting over by the door. More interesting was that Kasumi had just made her way up the stairs and was standing just behind her sister. "What else do you need, Ten.. I mean Nabiki?"

"How old are you, Ranma?"

Ranma straightened at the unexpected question. That Kasumi had abruptly stopped inspecting the chamber and was now paying close attention to him was also observed and filed. "Uhm, that depends."

"Depends?" Nabiki was expecting an answer, not an indication of lack of knowledge.

"I *think* I was born March 21, 1976. That would make me sixteen as far as my records and such go. When I went to Aramar initially, I was six years old. I spent quite a few Aramarian years learning magic, so I'd be about twenty-two if you went by how many years I've lived. Biologically, though, I'm only about eighteen." Ranma shrugged while trying to read their expressions. "One of the things about some of the training I've done is that your lifespan tends to get extended quite a bit, side effect of channelling large amounts of life energy. And as an Aramarian year is different from what we've got here, it may be even further off."

Kasumi started working this out. He was both younger and older than her. Still...

"Well, I'm done here," Ranma made a final gesture with an engraving tool and the lines of runes briefly erupted in emerald light. "This place is sealed against intruders. Only you two and myself can get in here, or we'd have to bring someone here. Just knock if I'm in the lab."

"Oh," said Kasumi as she turned to lead the way back to the dining area. "What will happen if someone else tries to enter?"

Nabiki left off her own thoughts to pay full attention to this.

"Depends on their intent," Ranma said, his own thoughts mainly on how to properly equip this lab. "Someone who's just trying to sneak in will find that stairway doesn't ever end. They'll be trapped in the loop until one of us frees them. If they're evil or intending me harm, it gets worse. If it's supernatural evil, well, the barriers *should* keep it out."

"There's not much 'supernatural evil' in Nerima, Ranma, I don't think you have anything to worry about." Nabiki proved that one didn't have to be Ranma to be wrong.

Ranma got to the dining area and immediately wondered where the meat was. No bread? No sliced fruit? A pot of green tea (THAT at least was familiar, the Amazons of House Rising Sun swore by the stuff) was simmering. Some sort of soup that had chunks of white stuff in it. And rice, lots of rice. He blinked, noting that Akane and Tendo-san were already sitting there. Akane went to Glare Of Doom mode, while Tendo-san seemed happy about something.

"Not a word, Daddy," cautioned Nabiki. "You know the deal. No pressure, THEY decide."

Soun subsided.

Ranma watched Nabiki eat and started copying her gestures. It had been so long, and the food tasted rather... bland by comparison to what he was used to.

"So, Ranma, if you're registered here as a sixteen year old, I suppose that means you'll have to attend school." Nabiki was thinking about this, once registered and enrolled, he'd be tied to the area for the remainder of the year. "I'll start the paperwork going."

Akane turned a suspicious eye on Nabiki when her sister failed to mention a price.

"Must I?" Ranma hung his head at the thought. Back to school? It might be easier to use spells to falsify a paper trail, though he wasn't even sure what sort of papers he needed at this point.

"So what can you tell us about this place you were staying, Ranma? Where did you learn magic?" Nabiki would transfer the info to paper later.

Kasumi made note of the uncertain look Ranma was giving the food, and wondered if there was something wrong with it.

"The world, or plane if you prefer, is known as Aramar. An ancient word meaning 'nexus'in some language that only survives in fragments." Ranma considered using an enchantment to transform the rice into something which would sit a little longer. No, that would probably be considered impolite. "It's an old world, and quite a bit different from Japan."

"How so?" Kasumi wondered if maybe the eating standards were different.

Ranma considered. "Uhm, easiest to just show you, I suppose.
"Illusion of past memory,
Weave the image that they may see.
The past revealed, show the scene,
Bring forth What Was to vision keen."

In the circle of Ranma's hands appeared a sphere of light. Images appeared across the surface.

A spiral tower of ivory and brass, standing upon a lone mountain surrounded by thick forest. The forest had an unmistakable sense of age about it.

Elaborate ships, flying through the sky without visible propulsion systems. Some lacked wings, but most resembled animals in their overall design.

Western dragons, one a deep blue and the other a metallic bronze locked in a savage combat that had Kasumi wince from the level of violence. The battle ended with the bronze burying its fangs deep within the neck of the blue.

Western dragons again, this group being shades of bronze, brass, gold, silver, and copper. This group was in some aerial ballet in the skies over an island with some sprawling castle.

A sneering bishonen fellow, dressed in what were obviously wealthy clothes that had bits of lace at the collar and cuffs. In his hands was a bastard sword of dark metal engraved with runes the color of fresh-drawn blood.

Ships, this time on an ocean, huge wooden Western-looking vessels not too different from the ships that had visited Japan a little over one hundred years previously. The viewpoint showed silvery wings as if one was riding some fabulous beast while flying over the fleet.

A short red-bearded fellow, standing with his hands resting on an axe nearly as large as he was. The scowl shifted slightly as he seemed to wink at them before shifting back into the previous mask.

A tall, thin, fellow, dressed entirely in black. He had a smirk that Nabiki found engaging. At his hip, a thin sword that seemed vaguely similar to a European rapier. He brushed his long hair back away from his face as he leaned against a stone column, also revealing delicately pointed ears, then sketched a quick two finger salute towards them before disappearing in a swirl of his cloak.

One of the elaborate ships, this one resembling some fantastic hawk, that was entirely crewed by warrior women. There seemed to be some battle going on involving hulking oni of some kind.

A black armored figure, making its way through the broken and bleeding forms of some of these same warrior women, the dwarf from before racing forward with axe raised to meet him.

A busy marketplace, looking somewhat like a farmer's market with elements of a more modern shopping mall. Nabiki idly commented that other than some of the warrior women, none of those present were human. Many looked near-human, if you could overlook the size or pointed ears or wings or some odd other set of features. Some couldn't pass for human in a deep fog at night.

Ranma drew his hands apart and took a couple of deep breaths as the image-sphere broke apart. "Actually, they aren't precisely human either. No more than the dwarves, or the elves, or the Tarakne, at least. Then there are the halfling races: burrowers, kenku, ottari, caivehi, ogrii, sareni, nymphs, kirani, talf..." Ranma stopped as he noted that he'd lost them.

"Halflings are the ones that look mainly human but have some... odd qualities?" Nabiki postulated as she waited for her hair to settle down from its currently "toinged out" state. Maybe, potential source of income or not, this "Ranma" was too weird for Kasumi?

Kasumi didn't say a thing, still staring at the space that had held all the images. Or was that Ranma's chest since it was in her line of sight?

Akane grumbled. (What a weirdo! What secrets is he hiding?)

"That's right," agreed Ranma to the previous comment. "The burrowers are the short guys with the spiky fur and heavy foreclaws, for example."

Kasumi thought back. Oh yes, those were those cute little hedgehog-people in the marketplace.

Ranma finished eating finally, having lost practice with such odd implements as chopsticks, not to mention the odd foodstuffs. Well, maybe he ought to go along to this school and start the paperwork anyway. It wouldn't do to have the local authorities getting on his case for something that trivial.

-----------------------------

Ranma had watched the crowd gather, had watched Akane wade into her attackers, and had summed up his opinion of the whole thing in a single phrase.

"What kinda idiot came up with this kinda combat training?"

There went a large number of idiots, each getting in each others way (quite deliberately from the look of it), and attempting to subdue Akane with the least amount of force necessary. Because of this, and because they were working against each other, they looked rather pathetic to Ranma. He'd seen tavern brawls that were more graceful and elegant.

Then came out the main villain, or someone who entered in the manner of such. He started in on what Ranma vaguely classified as the usual Villain Rant. (the Ranting villains he liked slightly more than the ones who snuck up on you and stuck a knife in your ribs - the former having at least a veneer of civility.)

Ranma walked past the yelling Akane, the pontificating Kuno, and entered the school. Maybe he could go to a better school if he had to do this school schtick.

-------------------

Ranma sighed, sitting back at the table, and surveyed the lunchroom. He could sum up his opinion of the school, the gossip, the classwork, and the general competency level of the staff in a single word.

Pathetic.

A few minutes into the placement tests, he'd simply triggered a few subtle spells he'd worked out while waiting. He was now (as far as the school administration was concerned), nineteen years old and applying for a job. Having a base of operations would be good, and having access to capital while trying to fix everything sounded good for now.

He couldn't teach most subjects, obviously, but the fight in the morning had given him an idea of a job that needed doing. There *were* classes he could teach. Math was the same, physics were the same, and the mage he'd studied under had not undervalued science.

So, as a teacher's aide (as soon as he could produce the paperwork) and disciplinarian, Ranma Saotome Gallowglass was quite prepared to earn his keep.

"HOLD!" The bokken-wielding maniac from earlier stood in front of Ranma and glared at him.

"Tatewaki Kuno, Junior, Group E, Captain of the Kendo Club, ain't it?"

Kuno blinked. "Yes. Errr. DON'T TRY TO TRICK ME!"

"Wouldn't think of it, you're the son of the absent Principal, the guy who declared that in order to date that Tendo girl, the dater has to beat the crap out of the datee."

"NO! YES! I mean..." Kuno trailed off as he figured the crude language out. "YES!"

"It's disrupting class, Kuno-san. That will no longer be tolerated." Ranma noted that everyone was quiet and paying attention. Good. "I'm up for a teacher's aide position, and may be helping out with a few other odd jobs here. Fighting on the school grounds, outside of school sanctioned activities and one-on-one challenges will cease immediately."

"WHO ARE YOU TO DICTATE TERMS TO THE GREAT TATEWAKI KUNO?!"

"Lose the attitude, dude. Personally, I don't care if you ALL date Akane Tendo. If you challenge her, do it OFF school grounds and AFTER school."

Akane began to growl at the presumption of this boy.

"I see, you are staying under the same roof as Akane Tendo, and are now attempting to steal her away from her one true love."

"No," said Ranma as he waited for it.

"I SHALL NOT TOLERATE THIS!" Kuno drew and struck forward with his bokken.

"Glacial Grip," replied Ranma.

There were screams and squeaks at first. Then, slowly and starting with some of the girls, the applause began.

"Tatewaki Kuno will be in detention today," announced Ranma after the applause had died down. "Miss Tendo, put the table down."

"Do you realize what you've done?!" Akane glowered.

"I've stopped the morning attacks and taken the first step towards making the school an institution of learning and not a battleground," replied Ranma, perfectly composed. "If you want to indulge in some sadomasochistic dating practice, do it after school."

"I DO NOT WANT TO..." Akane stopped as that penetrated. "You're not interfering in my fights?"

"No, knock yourself out if you like. Not during school hours or on school property." Ranma jerked a thumb at the ice pillar. "It may disappoint you, but Kuno-san will not be joining you today."

Akane blinked, then slowly began to smile. "Actually... actually, that sounds rather nice."

--------------------------

"How could you become a TEACHER?!" Akane had waited until they were relatively alone (the dinner table) before getting confrontational. It hadn't taken that long before she realized that being late for school wasn't nearly the problem it had lately become.

That didn't mean she was happy.

"Teacher's aide and a glorified hall monitor. Since I know how to brew healing potions (nothing really powerful but they do the job), I'll also be helping out the school nurse. Did you know the last three left due to the violence level at Furinkan?"

"Actually," Nabiki said drily, still going through the possible repercussions of Ranma working for the school, "one left because she was using prescription drugs without a prescription, one left because Kuno had been latching onto her before he started getting obsessive about Akane, and the third nurse left because of a nervous breakdown."

"Ah," said Ranma after a few minutes.

"Where's Kuno-baby, anyway?"

"He was... uncooperative," Ranma said sadly. "Attacked me during detention. I had to get rough with him."

"What did you do, turn him into a toad?" Akane chuckled at the absurdity, then froze as she considered the idea seriously.

"Nah, too cliche," countered Ranma, "besides he was ready for that sort of thing. I used a 'Power Word Stun' followed by a transformation spell - temporary but it ought to cause him to reconsider his current methods."

------------------------

Tatewaki Kuno stared into the mirror, tugging at the soft firm flesh of his face.

In the mirror, Akane Tendo tugged at her face in exactly the same manner.

Swallowing, Kuno opened the front of his kendo outfit, looked down, and screamed. A moment later, and he had confirmed that his bokken was the only sword he had at the moment.

-------------------------

"You did WHAT?!" Akane twitched.

Nabiki, on the other hand, was rolling on the floor laughing. It took her several seconds to get under control again.

"Took the physical pattern of the girl he's obsessing on, and superimposed it over his own with a specialized transformation spell. It only lasts a few hours. I've worked out a mass way of doing it, so if Akane-san has to face the mob again, they'll ALL get Akanied." His research into his curse was having *some* benefits, besides having this "repel water" spell going all the time.

"How nice," said Kasumi with a nod. Giving all those boys an Akane of their own, this would be their dream come true.

"Yeah, I was trying to work out a way that the spell would remain in place until they stopped thinking about her," Ranma continued, oblivious to the increasing anger level of the youngest Tendo sister, "but it'll take more work. If I prepare everything beforehand, then all I have to do is hit the trigger phrase when ready."

"MY FACE?!" Akane looked a little sick as she pictured what Kuno could well be doing at that very moment. "*MY* BODY?!"

Nabiki smirked, certain that SOMEONE would get hit with that tomorrow. Then she could sell the former boys details on the spell, as well as proper attire and booklets on "how to". Heh. After a few hours walking (literally) in her sister's shoes, they'd likely be a lot more respectful of women in general. Nabiki's smirk intensified as she considered the pecuinary possibilities inherent in such a setup.

"That's *disgusting*," said Akane, still focussed on what she suspected was happening in Tatewaki Kuno's bedroom at the moment. "DIE PERVERT!"

Ranma didn't understand that, but noted that the spellward he'd placed earlier went off as he had planned. He'd been expecting it to be used against the "Horde Of Hentai" however. He was just grateful he hadn't switched it to the "Akane-itis" spell.

"Wan? Wan? WAN! WAN!" The puppy dog was (literally) hopping mad now. At least she was once she got out of the pile of clothing.

"It's temporary, Akane-san, just don't go near any Chinese restaurants for the next couple of hours." Ah, he could remember the times in his Master's tower when he'd gotten transformed into something for falling asleep during one of the Master's lectures.

"WANWAN! WANWANWAN!"

"Oh how cute!" Kasumi swept the little puppy dog up into her arms.

The puppy (a reddish Akita) whined a little at the thought of being a cuddle toy for the next two hours.

Nabiki snickered briefly, then got a truly mischievous gleam in her eyes that caused the puppy a little panic. "Well, now, Akane. You want to go for a walk? Play ball?"

"Maybe I could find a squeak toy," said Kasumi thoughtfully. "I may have a soup bone."

Akane growled at Nabiki, followed by a betrayed look at Kasumi.

"Like I said, Akane-san, the spell will run its course in two hours." A bit of mischief showed itself as he seemed to think about something. "Unless, of course, you think impure thoughts."

Akane let out a questioning whine.

"Oh, you know, get angry or plot revenge. In that case, it'll get longer."

The puppy fainted. Kasumi tucked the cute little puppy in Akane's bed. Nabiki took a number of photographs.

Two hours later, Kasumi checked in to find Akane was human again, though whimpering in her sleep and one of her legs was twitching.

------------------

Akane woke, scratched herself behind the ear, and grumbled about the weird dreams she had been having. Well, she was back to being human again, and she'd get even with that damn Ranma. She ran downstairs, ready to confront him when she noticed her father and Kasumi staring.

"Akane! Your clothes!"

Akane eeeped and went off to find her clothing. And who had tied a little pink ribbon around her neck?

Slamming open the bedroom door, Akane stalked into Ranma's room and noted the doorway on the far wall. Opening that, she started stomping up the stairs, completely focussed on letting Ranma know how displeased she was with spending the night as a dog. Dreaming about getting groomed, about Nabiki taking her to dog shows, about chasing rabbits, about Kasumi feeding her "Kibbles and Bits" and scratching her behind the ears, about sleeping all warm and cozy in someone else's bed - as a cuddle toy!

"AKANE TENDO! MY LOVE!"

Feeling a shiver, Akane looked behind her. Rushing forward, flowers in their hands, had to be at least fifty amorous looking Kunos.

Shrieking in horror, Akane started running up the stairs.

---------------------

Kasumi stuck her head through the open doorway but could not see Akane anywhere on the stairway. A little timidly, she went up the stairs and knocked on the door.

"Hang on," came Ranma's voice. "I've got some delicate setup to do."

"When you're done, breakfast is ready." Kasumi paused, how to put this delicately? "Also, Akane is missing, have you seen her?"

"Hmmmm. No. I'll be down in a minute." Ranma's voice was distracted. "Bag is being stubborn."

-----------------------

Nabiki waited patiently for her time to strike. Kasumi left, followed by Ranma. Now it was *her* chance.

Stealth was a skill Nabiki Tendo had in plenty, and she utilized it to her full extent. Sneaking up the stairs without a sound she was able to enter the room, as promised, without any problems she could perceive.

The room had changed slightly, as Nabiki had hoped. Now there was some sort of lab apparatus set up against one side of the room, and another held the very sort of treasure she'd most hoped for.

Books. Books, Nabiki knew, held information. Not only was the information within them valuable, just the sort of books Ranma had would indicate what he was up to. Had, as Akane had suggested, Ranma thrown some sort of spell over them? Could he in fact be some sort of manipulative monster out for nefarious purpose? (Nabiki was almost hoping he was, just to get back in control of life. Also, if he *was* some sort of Svengali, then she could steal from him without so much as a twinge of conscience.)

Upon seeing the books up close, Nabiki cursed her own stupidity. OF COURSE they wouldn't be in Japanese! Though the longer she stared at them, the more the odd lettering seemed to make an odd sort of sense.

Turning her eyes from the books, she found a small circle drawn in chalk around an oddly designed bottle. Upon seeing this, she knew her answers were at last at hand.

"Do Not Open Until Armaggedon" proclaimed one sign. The engraved words on the bottle itself were "Bottled Demon." Thin silver chains bound the stopper to the bottle. The room itself was a Seal Of Solomon, and here this bottle was in the center of ANOTHER Seal.

"Subtle, Saotome. Real subtle." Nabiki looked over the bottle and noticed the wax seal had runes of some sort engraved upon it. (The bottle is harmless. The bottle contains the answers. The bottle contains treasure. You want to open the bottle.)

Nabiki shook her head. Why had she referred to herself as 'you' in her thinking? Nabiki picked up the bottle, noting that it was sufficiently opaque that she couldn't tell what was in it. (Surely just a little peek wouldn't hurt?)

Nabiki's hand grasped the bottle's stopper and again she stopped momentarily. Shrugging, she removed the stopper, after all, what could it hurt?

----------------------

The door slamming shut wasn't the only alarm.

The loud clanging as of some great watchbell being struck was a further clue.

Ranma yelling an obscenity (in Hobgoblin, a language built for obscenities) and diving away from the breakfast table was another. There was still food on the table, after all, and Ranma voluntarily leaving a meal before finishing was another Sign Of The Apocalypse.

Kasumi and Soun, curious, followed.

---------------

Akane screamed inside her head. Her face however smiled and gazed lovingly at the boy in the tuxedo next to her. The priest began to pour the sake, and within a few minutes, Akane Tendo would cease to be. Akane Kuno would be the loving and dutiful wife of her husband Tatewaki. Forever after. Tatewaki whispered to her about his plans for the night, when she would fully become a woman.

The sake cup was raised to her lips.

A hand grabbed her and pulled her out of the scene.

"What were you doing in there?" Ranma demanded of Akane.

Akane blinked, realizing that she was in the guest room. Her father was weeping, and Kasumi looked somewhat concerned. "I... I..."

"That was the Room Of Greatest Personal Horror," noted Ranma as he closed the door again. "You must have intended me harm. Well, we don't have time for this now."

"I... I..." Akane staggered to the window and managed to open it before getting ill.

"What's going on, Ranma? Please tell me."

Iron conviction melted before brown eyes. "Aw crap. Okay. I picked up a curse in China. I had a spell worked out that should have transferred the curse to a demon."

"A DEMON!? IN MY HOUSE?!"

"Keep your shirt on, Tendo-san. I figured if anyone deserved a curse, it was a demon. So I'm trying to figure out how to transfer the curse, so I pull the demon's bottle out and set it up in a protection circle. This particular demon is one that's caused me trouble in the past, so I've held his prison until I find a way to crush the little bugger once and for all."

"Have you?"

"Yeah, I think so. Problem is, there's a fifty-fifty chance it'll just smash the prison so I ain't done it." Ranma frowned as he contemplated the door. "There's no way it could have broken free on its own, I used a Level Three binding on a Level Seven demon. So Ratsfahr had help, but from whom?"

Kasumi blinked. "Where's Nabiki?"

-----------------------

Nabiki watched IT start to come shooting out of the bottle and did her best to shove the stopper back in. The pain in her hands and the pressure forcing itself out were sufficient to keep her from doing so until after a solid hand belted her halfway across the room.

"Free. Free at last to ravage and pillage and kill." The voice was deep and had an odd echo quality to it.

Nabiki scrambled back to her feet to behold... a middle-aged Japanese businessman, well off from the look of him.

"Free to conquer the mortal worms of this world and to glut myself on their fear and suffering," the businessman said with a chuckle. "Now, where to start?"

"You're a demon?" Nabiki cleared her throat and repeated the question after the first attempt had come out as a squeak.

"Hmmm? Oh, you were expecting the horns and batwings?" The businessman seemed to shrug and was now a four-armed nine-foot-tall batwinged monstrosity who was anatomically correct but had thorn-shaped barbs in all sorts of odd places. "Better? I use a near human form when working undercover, and it took up less space in that damn bottle. Hmmm. A bedslave, I think."

"Excuse me?!" Nabiki looked at the thing, and attempted to merge with the stone behind her. Maybe she could just casually edge her way to the stairwell.

"You'd make a fair bedslave, I think," the demon said, a thin trail of greenish yellow drool extending from his snout. "And it HAS been awhile."

"Uhm, I'll pass, actually. You're not my type."

"Who said anything about giving you a choice?" The demon's tongue, a long ropy thing that split into three tentacles, caught the trail of drool. "But I suppose I can give you a wish as repayment for freeing me and dooming your world. It's just too amusing to play these games."

"I wish you'd go back into that bottle." Nabiki edged a little closer to the door.

"Not likely, my pretty little bedslave. Try again."

"I wish that bottle had been the kind holding a genie slave like in the stories."

"Hmmmm. Well, there are other bedslaves to be taken. Ratsfahrt, Demon Seventh Class of Magical Mishaps, grants your wish."

Nabiki screamed, feeling herself turning to mist and drawn within the bottle. The stopper, altered slightly now, fitted itself into place.

Ratsfahrt picked the bottle up, now noting that the label had changed. "In there, you can see and here what's going on outside even if you can't affect or communicate anything outside your prison. This is a sort of 'genie slave' deal, though you won't have any great magical powers. No, you'll simply become the magical bedslave of whoever opens the bottle. I'll just go out and conquer your world, then come back and open your bottle. You ought to be done by then."

Putting the "Bottled Bedslave" bottle on the shelf, Ratsfahrt got a better look at the room he was in.

"Seal Of Solomon? Hmmmm. It'll take me awhile to beat through that. Maybe if I..."

"Hello, Rattie."

"RANMA!" The demon growled and flexed his wings. "At last. I shall flay your flesh, devour your soul, and make windchimes out of your bones."

Ranma closed the door behind him, only to be pushed aside as someone shoved her way through.

"I can help! I'm a martial artist, you know!" Akane glowered at the boy who apparently thought she was weak or fragile and needed protecting. Then her eyes caught the demon. "EEEEP!" Akane especially caught the lack of clothing and long twitching tentacle of the beast.

"You brought me a snack?" The demon licked its lips as he looked over the wench in front of him. "How nice, I was just wondering where I'd get a new bedslave, and here one is delivered."

"HENTAI!"

The demon looked puzzled. Where had that mallet come from?

"PERVERT!" WHACK! "HENTAI!" THUD! "ETCHI!" WHAM!

Ranma's jaw dropped slightly but he recovered and broke into a grin. He hadn't expected Tendo-san to be effective against a demon.

"Ouch, hey! Watch it! How dare you strike... Cut it out! eeeEEEEEEP!"

Ranma conjured a baseball bat, handing it off to Akane after she tried unsuccessfully to free her mallet from where it had gotten lodged.

"DIE, PERVERT!" WHAM! THUD! SLAM! HIT! CRUNCH! WHACK! BAM!

"Nice form," said Ranma as he watched the demon getting beaten on. "Looks like the Seal Of Solomon's weakening him enough that normal attacks can damage him."

"Hmmm?"

"Oh, don't let me distract you, Tendo-san. Carry on."

"HEY!"

"Thank you, Saotome-kun!" CRASH! BATTER! BEAT! WHACK-UM!

"Mercy... Owie..."

"Like you showed mercy to those girls from Delin's Village? How many girls have you raped and killed, Rattie?" Ranma started the spell as subtly as he could.

"Ouch! Hey, a demon's gotta do OW! what a demon's gotta do. Besides, they loved every minute of it!"

"HENTAI!" Akane found her outrage pushing her power levels up to new heights. "You... ENEMY OF ALL WOMEN!"

"You know me?" Ratsfahrt was slightly flattered. Then flattened.

Throwing the useless halves of the baseball bat aside, Akane was in her element. "It is a martial artist's DUTY to pummel perverts!"

"EEEEEEEK!"

STOMP! KICK! PUNCH! SNAP!

"ENOUGH!" The demon slammed out with a taloned hand and knocked Akane across the floor. "Damn stupid creature! Acid Spray!"

Ranma finished the preparations, and held the sphere of white energy in his hands. "Excuse me, Tendo-san!" The sphere shot across the room, struck the demon, and both began disintegrating. "I'll bring a healing potion in a moment."

Akane clenched her teeth against the pain, her arm and side smouldering from the demon's counterattack. She felt her mouth forced open, then liquid that tasted of mint being forced into her mouth. She tried to gag, only her mouth was now being held closed and her throat stroked until she swallowed. Immediately the pain receded.

"That..." Akane's eyes widened slightly as the burns receded.

"Healing potion. Thank you, Tendo-san, that was quite impressive."

It began to penetrate. She'd fought a monster. Not a pervert boy like those fools who tried to mug her, not an idiot like Kuno, not a white slaver. A real live monster. And she'd been kicking its butt! Akane fainted but she had a grin on her face that would have required surgery to remove.

Ranma carried Akane down the stairs. Where was Nabiki, anyway?

-----------------

"Maybe she's just already at school?"

"I dunno, Kasumi. I'll look more once I get back. I gotta help out Mister Kunakida at the school library today. Oh, and I'll be helping Tatsuya-san with some kinda test today too, so I might be a little late."

Akane glared over at Ranma. "We will discuss this later, Ranma."

Soun merely nodded and continued reading his newspaper. "Hmmm. Rice futures are up."

"Well, I'm gone. Dimension Door." Ranma bamfed and was gone.

Akane blinked. "That BAKA! The least he could have done is take me. It's HIS fault I'm going to be late."

"Akane, 'you catch more flies with honey than vinegar', you know."

Akane gave her sister a puzzled look. "Why would I want to catch flies, Kasumi?"

Kasumi sighed and noted that Bag was eating Soun's discarded newspapers. Well, at least the little carpetbag was clean. "Shouldn't you be going to school, Akane?"

"AAAH! I'm *really* late now!"

The carpetbag coughed as an article went down the wrong way, eventually spitting up a small plush doll.

Kasumi smiled and picked the cute little doll up. How nice, no doubt some souvenier from Ranma's travels. She'd just clean it up a little bit and give it to him around supper.

----------------------

Several things occurred while Ranma was discovering the joys of grading papers and demonstrated the use of a Ray Of Enfeeblement upon one Tatewaki Kuno:

In a bottle upon a bookshelf, Nabiki slumped against the glass wall of her enclosure and wondered what the heck she'd do if she were stuck here for any length of time. Other than go crazy from sheer boredom. And why was she getting so turned on?

A number of Amazons got on a ship that was supposedly heading for Japan. After the Captain announced that they were all about to be sent to slave pens in Thailand, there was a sudden and violent change of personnel on the ship. Unfortunately, with all of those actually able to sail the ship ejected into the Sea Of Japan, the little vessel proceeded to get thoroughly lost.

Kasumi set the little plushie down as she worked in the kitchen, and found herself talking to the doll. There had been a little tear in the doll's clothes, quickly mended, and bits of grass in the silky purple hair. It was odd, but Kasumi almost felt as if the doll were grateful.

Akane arrived late at school, but found that Ranma had already arranged an excuse. Fighting demonic entities bent on world domination was a bit odd, but deemed suitable reason to be a little late in arriving for homeroom. As long as she made up the time later, that is.

The Amazon Village, Nichieju, was repairing the damage from the foppish figure that had come through. Said person, finding himself challenged, had gone to the children's playground and cast a spell stating that if they surrendered his mortal enemy to him, he would turn all the cute little kitties and puppies and itty bitty monsters back into kids. Upon being told that Ranma was not there, the mage conjured up a stampede of elephants and left. WITHOUT undoing the spell he'd cast earlier. So the village currently had a lot of kitties, puppies, alien critters, and elephants. Most of the damage was from, unsurprisingly, the elephants. The Amazons had plans on what to do if this male returned to the village, marriage not being on the list. The ones who had to clean up over twelve tons of elephant "poop" were only slightly more vulgar in their suggestions than the ones whose children were now requiring flea powder.

A seller of okonomiyaki, planning a move to Tokyo, looked out the school window. Genma had related how his son had died in the mountains when she had run across him in Azabu Juuban. How could she have missed such an obvious tactic like dialing Information and asking for Genma Saotome? (There were only three in all of Japan.) Genma had finally confessed to his wife about the loss of his son, and had still been recovering from her displeasure at that to be confronted with the dowry theft. They'd replaced the dowry, but it just felt as if there was something missing from her life. (Maybe Nerima. The Furinkan district has low rent...)

Some students learned that annoying the new Teacher's Aide at Furinkan was not a particularly good idea as the boy had a bit of a temper. Forty seven Akane Tendos were running around school that day, not counting the six baka hentai who had been found getting quite etchi and had been promptly hit with a Curse Of Compulsive Tidiness.

Ryoga Hibiki got lost, but he wasn't that unhappy with it. What *did* bother him was that boy Ukyo Kuonji. How dare the boy ignore his requests for food! He'd pay for the previous meals as soon as he got some money. Maybe what was needed was a challenge, a duel! Yes, that would do it, for the insult of the bad credit - Ukyo Kuonji would pay!

Shampoo had awoken to find herself lying, still a helpless doll, in some odd living room. Then some gigantic Japanese woman picked her up, repaired a rip in her clothing, brushed her hair out, and set her in the kitchen where she could watch someone doing something. Fears swept through the Amazon. What if dogs or children found her while she was like this? She couldn't move or blink, much less defend herself! She found herself enormously grateful for the giant, though she couldn't understand most of what this woman was saying. It beat all that time she'd been lying out on the grass, or even the short time she had been in that room.

----------------

Soun finally thought about it, got the number from Information, and called an old friend.

"Hai, moshi moshi. Saotome-ke."

"Genma Saotome, please." Soun grinned as he thought about the engagement. Soon the houses would be joined!

There was a sigh, as of someone long suffering. "Genma is out on a training journey with his daughter. What did he do *now*?"

"A 'daughter?' Well, he hasn't done anything LATELY."

"Let me guess. He engaged his daughter to your son? You've had cats turn up missing? There's some bills you need to take care of? Engaged his son to your daughter? Engaged his daughter to your daughter?"

"Uhm, no..." Soun wondered exactly what Saotome had been up to over the years since he had reported his son's death. "I just wanted to report that his son had turned up. Not dead."

There was a long pause. "What is the name of this 'son'?"

"Ranma Saotome, he indicated that he got lost and not killed."

The woman's voice went from suffering to eager. "Who is this? Where is he? Is he... manly? Is he well?"

"I take it this is Mrs Saotome?" Upon hearing an assent, he continued. "This is Soun Tendo. Ranma is currently at Furinkan High School, though he is staying here at the Tendo dojo. Yes, I think...."

"Give the address, please. I'll be right there."

---------------------

Ranma pulled a hat out of his pocket and cast "Monster Summoning" with a gesture. "Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat."

Mists formed, and a creature stepped out to regard Tatewaki Kuno with cold eyes.

"Hah! Summon all the allies you want, they shall all fall before the might of the Blue Thunder!"

The little furry fellow just waited, breathing deeply as he regarded Kuno. "A-ni-mal." (1)

"Yes, you are a pathetic little beast. I shall smite thee and then the sorceror that summoned thee, then go on to date with the tidy and pure Akane Tendo!"

"Urrr?"

"HAVE AT THEE, FOUL GAIJIN BEAST!"

"Urk? SMITE! Hahahahaha." GRAB, FOLD, SPINDLE, MUTILATE, STUFF

Ranma went back to grading papers. Animal vanished. Tatewaki Kuno's feet twitched and he pondered how a six foot tall samurai had been stuffed into a three foot tall waste basket. Surely this was the Darkest of Sorceries!

-----------------------

Ranma's first task was to find Nabiki. Under Akane and Kasumi's watchful eye, he used the same sort of Pathfinder enchantment he'd used to find his way here.
"Powers of light, hear as I ask,
Guide me on this simple task,
Where I must go, what I must do.
Nabiki's location show me true,
This I ask as boon from you."

The light touched his bookshelf. The light touched a bottle on his bookshelf. Akane was the first to the bottle, but the label caused her to look sickened. "What kind of sicko are you, Ranma?"

"It's not mine," Ranma replied. "Rattie must have conjured it. The spell indicates that's where she is, though. Odd that he didn't put any misdirection spells on it, that's pretty par for magical prisons."

"Well, I'll just free..." Akane started pulling the stopper from the bottle.

"NO! Tendo-san, that was created by a demon. I'd expect traps on it. Let's take the bottle downstairs, I'll research it, and you can draw the stopper as soon as I've made sure it's safe."

Akane considered drawing the stopper anyway, but allowed that there might be something to all this.

end chapter 1

(1) Animal appears courtesy of Jim Henson and the Muppet Show. The humiliation of being defeated by a muppet furthers the Kuno hatred of Ranma beyond even canon levels.

GAMING DATA-
Aramar is the name of the Dyson Sphere-like world of my gaming mileau (started out in Metagaming's Melee & Magic, changed to The Fantasy Trip when that was available, and eventually shifted to AD&D) while Shadar is the name of an "empire" within that setting.
Instead of using the spell/level, a spell-point system from TFT was adapted for use in AD&D. Less spells at hand, but the mage can cast those spells as long as their manna holds out. Race gives a base number of points, plus bonuses for high Constitution and Intelligence. Points increase per level gained.
Ranma is actually Emeraldrank, meaning he can cast 7th level spells. He's studying to go to Sapphirerank, which is where the mage can cast 8th level spells. Beyond that is Diamondrank (9th level spells) and Namerank (you're no longer channelling magic, you *are* magic.)
Glassrank, Amberrank, Crystal rank, Opalrank, Rubyrank, Jaderank, Emeraldrank, Sapphirerank, Diamondrank, Namerank.
Ranma's "mother" in Shadar is the archmage Lijra (ardrow f, W22, NG(L)). His Master, however, was a Jaderank named Kinnor (dwarf m, W12 (max for dwarves of his breed), LN(G), Shadarian Mage Corps Captain.)


==========================================

Chapter Two: "Home Is Where The Heart Is"

see disclaimers at beginning of chapter 1, slight bit of hentai at beginning.

"Don't try to drink a dwarf under the table,
Ya don't wanna share a meal with a burrower,
Don't trust an elf to keep his word,
and if ya cross a dragon, well my best to yer next of kin."
- Halfling drinking song, "Next Of Kin"

---Tendo-ke, Japan, 1992-------

Ranma pulled the cork from the bottle, double checking his wards. Smoke gradually coalesced into the figure of Nabiki as Akane and Kasumi watched.

"Oh, how pretty!" Kasumi looked at Nabiki's raiment and thought about how impractical the garment was.

"Eeeep!" Akane exclaimed and ran up to Nabiki's room to see if she could find some clothes to give her sister a bit more coverage.

"Well, the wards held. Any hostile spells were neutralized. There was some kind of transformation going on, but I can't see any differences. How do you feel, Nabiki-san?" Ranma tried NOT to look too closely, though certainly if there had been any physical changes her "clothing" wouldn't conceal them.

"A bit chilly, actually." Nabiki had always been a bit of an exhibitionist but her current lack of clothing was not quite what she would prefer to wear outside. Though she DID like the gems. She was hoping that everyone would excuse the obvious signs of arousal from her as being from the retail value of her costume, or from the cold. Instead of that it was taking an iron control to keep from pouncing on Ranma and doing something terribly ecchi right there before Kasumi.

Tiny gems twinkled and winked at the thin chainlink belt around her waist. From the belt hung a thin sheet of nearly sheer golden silk, which hung from waist to knee level but was only about six inches wide. More gems glittered at the earcuffs, the golden manacles and leg cuffs, the collar around her neck, and the bands of lacy-looking metal encircling upper arms and lower thighs. Thin chains that also appeared made of gold linked a ring on her middle finger to the manacle on each hand. A similar set was on her feet. Her breasts were barely restrained by a single length of the thin chain attatched halter-fashion to pair of gemmed cups.

"This costume appeared on me about three hours ago, while you were doing up the Circles," Nabiki said, trying to appear nonchalant and in control.

Akane burst into the room. "Hey, what are all MY clothes doing in your closet?!"

"Maybe I could turn the clothing back," mused Ranma.

"DON'T YOU DARE!" Nabiki composed herself again. "I mean, don't bother, Ranma-kun. It's hardly that concerning. Besides, I'm sure that I can find a use for some of the... ornamentation."

"Well, if you feel all right, Nabiki-san..." Ranma let his voice trail off, still trying not to look too close.

"Fine, Ranma-kun, I just need to go change clothes."

"Well, then, I'll clean the circles from the dojo later. Kasumi, could you come to my room?"

Kasumi's eyes widened. Hers weren't the only ones.

---Beggar's Pass, Shadar, Aramar 7th Age---

They called themselves, when speaking among themselves, the Dvaerren (or in the regional dialects of two varieties, the Dvarren.) Everybody else called them dwarves.

There were six varieties of them, and what was true of one variety was not necessarily true about another. The things all of them had in common was that they were short by human standards, tended to be really good artificiers and engineers, preferred living underground, generally despised elves, and were sturdy folk. They all also tended to sink due to a problem with tissue density and insufficient flotation. Which is why there were no Sea Dwarves. (The Sea Of Steel being a desert of reddish sand rather than something with water.)

Some had beards that they would elaborately tie and trim, like the rugged vaguely Nordic culture dwarves of the Hegemony. Some shaved all available hair like the dwarves of the Sea Of Steel. Some dwarves were like those of the Starfall Mountains, and lived underground but worked above the surface. Some dwarves were like those of Amberlake and mastered the powers of mind as they forged Items Of Power. Some dwarves, like those of Emeraldis, preferred working with wood and brass to steel and magic.

Thurin Kaille was a dwarf of Shadar, and a Shadarian Marine, which meant that he trimmed beard and hair, bathed frequently, and didn't care that much for what others considered "typical dwarf standards." Currently he was on a zard, a scaley-feathered herbivorous "reptile" that wasn't too quick (physically or mentally) but had the benefits of enormous strength and stamina.

Being a Shadarian Marine, and therefore part of a chain of command, Thurin was not particularly surprised when the image of a tall humanoid faded into view. He spent a few moments getting the zard to behave before addressing the image.

"Captain? I assume there is a reason you're interrupting my patrol." Thurin reined the zard in. He didn't like zards, he didn't like border patrol, he didn't like his Captain, and he especially didn't like the cloud of gnats attracted to the damn zard.

"Kaille." The dislike was proven mutual just from the way the name was said. "Your patrol is to be cut short, and you are to proceed to Port Shadar at best speed. Your destination is the Southern Cross base, drydock nine, an Osprey class ship named Wildhorse. There you will find further orders."

"Excuse me, 'Wildhorse'?" Thurin glared at the figure. "This isn't some more crap dealing with that damn useless mage Ranma, is it? I thought I was finally done with playing nursemaid."

"I am not at liberty to say," Captain Ashwraith said, returning the glare.

"Where did these orders originate, then?"

The Captain was clearly reluctant, but dropped a name before cutting the connection.

Thurin scratched his beard as he considered. "Imperial Palace, eh? So, it looks like Ranma's in trouble AGAIN." The dwarf grinned as soon as he was sure that he wasn't being monitored. "Well, move, you damn beast. The kid's so wet behind the ears he'd drown if he didn't have ol' Thurin Kaille to pull him out of his messes."

------Tendo-ke, Japan-------

After all the preparations and excitement of getting Nabiki out of the bottle, it was almost just another morning at the Tendo dojo. There *was* a break in the usual routine, however, as Kasumi was not currently involved in cleaning.

Instead, she was in the guest room.

Akane was doing something unusual too. She had a glass in one hand and was listening through the wall.

"I'm sorry Ranma, but... can I touch that?"

"Actually, Kasumi, I was hoping you would."

"Oh. I've never handled one of these before. I've seen pictures, of course. It feels warm..."

Akane made a noise. It was somewhere between "glek" and "geeble."

"Warm? Ah, you've got the grip perfectly, Kasumi. Keep it up. Nice even strokes."

"Ah, this is easy. I thought it would be more difficult."

"Well, easy for you. You have such a gentle touch and a natural talent, I think."

"Hmmm. Why thank you, Ranma!" Kasumi sounded relieved. "After watching the way you pick at the meals, I was afraid you were unhappy with me."

"Oh no, not at all. The fault is entirely mine. I'm used to a *very* different diet. I thought you could use some reassurance, though, which is why I'm sharing this with you."

Akane twitched, what was obviously occurring in the next room sufficient horror that she couldn't seem to move.

"Hmmm. This juice here... OH! It's good!"

"It gratifies me to hear you say that, Kasumi." Ranma chuckled at something. "Try gently squeezing here as you suck on it."

"MMMMMmmmmm. Oh MY."

Akane slammed the door to Ranma's room open. "CUT IT OUT! KASUMI, I'll... save you..."

Kasumi and Ranma looked up from the table had been set up in his bedroom, thin slices of some unidentifiable fruit and chunks of dark black bread visible. The oddly shaped knife and cutting board in front of Kasumi, as well as the sliced melon, seemed to indicate what the 'nice even strokes' had been.

"Akane?" Kasumi seemed puzzled by her sister's outburst.

Akane thought quickly, trying to find a way to make her sudden entry sound logical.

"Oh, Akane, why don't you try some of this," Kasumi exclaimed, holding a purple fruit about the size of a fist out. "It's really quite good."

"Errr. No, I think I'll stick with the traditional breakfast. Really." Akane smiled while she mentally kicked herself. Even if this Ranma were using a spell to control Kasumi, her sweetly oblivious sister wouldn't do anything like *that*.

Ranma actually chuckled. "I understand and empathize, Tendo-san."

Akane blinked. (He knows that I thought he was using a spell to rape Kasumi?!)

"Yeah," Ranma said. "I'm having a lot of trouble adapting to a Japanese diet, particularly in the morning. There's just something about not wanting to get too inventive first thing in the morning, ne?"

(Whew!) Akane relaxed marginally. "Yeah, I guess."

Nabiki stuck her head in, saw the fruit, and didn't wait for an invitation. After the first bite, her eyes popped open and she began inhaling slices of bread and pieces of the other fruits.

Kasumi and Ranma were amused. Akane was alarmed but hid it. Nabiki used the distractions to palm seeds of the exotic otherworldly plants.

"Anyway," Ranma said after a few moments, "Kasumi, would you like to go for a ride later? I was curious about the area."

Kasumi brightened slightly but pointed out that they did not have a car.

"No problem." Ranma snapped his fingers, causing the bag to waddle over and open. He reached into Bag, drawing forth a rolled up carpet that he snapped out as if it were a sheet. That the carpet flattened out and hung in midair was duly noted by all concerned. Their reactions, however, were not quite identical.

Kasumi's eyes widened and got a focussed look to them that her sisters would not have recognized had they been paying attention. An image of herself, flying along on a carpet, danced before her eyes. She could look down at the house and watch her responsibilities and duties dwindle off into the distance as she soared amongst the heavens...

Nabiki saw the potential for profit among other things. A trip to anywhere she wanted that didn't cost her anything. Up to the Gero Spa or down to Kansai for a quick trip. No crowded commuter trains, to ride with style wherever she wanted to go...

Akane thought about how Ranma might go zipping off forever with her naive sister on one of those things. On the other hand, it'd be nice to go somewhere without getting groped by some pervert on the train... Maybe she ought to demand a flight first, just to make sure it was safe.

"So, since this is Sunday, y'know," Ranma began, cursing himself for being flustered. There was no way, even if this girl actually turned out to like him, that she'd want to go back home with him. And what was this bit with taking over a dojo that Tendo-san kept harping about during dinner? He was a mage, getting up there among the higher ranks, though he couldn't quite pull off a MIRV or Dragon Storm. What kind of... well, she *might* make a good Healer cleric. Hmmm.

Soun opened his mouth, ready to charge into the room from where he was eavesdropping and make sure they knew that this was an ideal opportunity to unite the two Houses.

"I will need this room clear, though. Those casks of water are cursed and part of my research. I'll transport them myself upstairs." Ranma gestured towards the small barrels.

"Oh dear, I forgot breakfast for father!" Kasumi said this in the sort of voice one would expect for someone saying that they'd forgotten to set the parking brake and that massive collision at the bottom of the hill was THEIR fault.

"I'll handle it, Kasumi!" Akane winked and made a show of rolling up her sleeves.

Soun fled, thoughts of joining the two houses momentarily tabled.

Kasumi waited until Akane had left the room. "Uhm, Ranma-kun. You..." This had been bothering her for some time, and she was finally just going to come out and ask.

"Yes, Kasumi-chan?"

Kasumi took a deep breath. "It's just that I..."

"FOUL SORCERER! WHERE ARE YOU?"

Nabiki, listening from nearby, winced. Akane dropped the bottle of vegetable oil and flung her apron aside. Soun growled. Kasumi politely excused herself as she made a comment about how they apparently had a guest.

"What's Kuno doing here?" Ranma sighed and shook his head. "This is my day off, fer cryin' out loud." Maybe he ought to use something simple. Mostly Harmless might work.

Soun frowned further. Here the schools were about to be joined and some MORON had to go butting in!

Akane went out the front door, intent on beating some sense into Kuno. How dare he attack her home!

Kasumi noticed the smoke and flames from the kitchen first, rescuing the doll just before it caught.

"Quench," cast Ranma a moment later.

"So where's Kuno, anyway?" Akane walked back in. "Hey, what happened here?"

CRASH!SPLASH!

"Offhand," said Ranma looking up, "I'd say Kuno's in my room."

An inhuman cry echoed through the house. "Squuuueeeeee!"

"And I'd say he found the cursed water," appended Ranma.

"I'll get him," Akane declared, running up the stairs.

"She isn't..." Ranma said, unable to believe she was doing that. "Just great, I'll have to shift my Repel Water to HER!" dimension door

"I wonder why..." Kasumi wondered about that. Ranma had mentioned several times that he had a curse, but always changed the subject when questioned about specifics. What kind of curse could he have?

----------------------

"Squeeee Squeeee!"

Akane looked in the room but didn't see any sign of Kuno.

"Here, Tendo-san!" Ranma appeared in midair and caused a globe of light to form around the youngest Tendo. "That'll keep you from getting cursed."

"Yeah right," Akane said, looking for her usual target. There was his blue kendo outfit. There was his bokken. There was a smashed open wall and a shattered keg of water. Akane stiffened as the implication hit her. Tatewaki Kuno, greatest pervert of the school, was in HER home - WITHOUT his clothes! "That, that, that PERVERT!"

"Hmmm?" Ranma asked, not seeing the connection. Stupid he was willing to admit, pathetic to be certain, egomaniacal -definitely, needlessly violent - relatively. Pervert?

The doorbell rang, giving Ranma something ELSE to think about.

----------------------

Shampoo was bored. Bored, bored, bored. Life as a plush doll was *not* something she particularly fancied. She could see, she could hear, she could feel. Moving or even blinking didn't seem to be options. Sleeping she could do. Oddly enough she felt calmer and more at peace than she had in her memory.

Shampoo was assuming that this was because she apparently didn't have blood or hormones going through her system, a side effect of being a warm and fuzzy sort of toy. The initial panic had worn away and was now down to a sort of amused largely-detached observation.

So Shampoo had spent considerable time doing something she'd never had time to do before. She was getting rather introspective. Previously, time training had consumed her life. One of the things she'd hoped would be different when tracking down this mage was that the world wouldn't rely on her to be Shampoo anymore. Her great grandmother could find someone else to train, the other village girls could stop with all the comments and gossip, Mousse could find someone else to annoy, and Shampoo could find an Outsider male!

She'd known since she was fourteen that this was the way to go. Not merely annoying to the point of near-homicidal tendencies like Mousse. Nor like Razor, who was a very nice weaponsmith with some healing training, but in a marriage he'd be the properly deferential Amazon male. NOT what Shampoo fancied in a lifemate.

So an Outsider had defeated her, he was male, he was valuable to the tribe by her own great grandmother's admission, and...

And apparently he'd set a trap up so that as she snuck into his camp, it went off and Shampoo the Amazon Champion was now the 7"tall plush doll. Her dignity was the first casualty, quite obviously.

Then there was this girl. Not a proper Amazon at all. Nice, though. Pleasant. The girl chatted to the doll about a great many things while she was cooking. Shampoo had puzzled it all out gradually, but her command of the Japanese language was a few odd words she'd picked up listening to Sash talk about that anime stuff. Still, it made this less intolerable than it would have been.

And then some different girl had come in, started cooking, and left. Shampoo had watched with horror as the oil caught fire. As the flames spread closer, Shampoo would have been screaming if she could. She could feel the heat, and knew that she was a few seconds from burning to death.

Then the first girl came in and set everything aright. The mage stuck his head in, casting a spell that caused the flames to die, but it was the first girl who had SAVED her! Not saving the village elder's great granddaughter, not some odd fantasy of Mousse's creation, and certainly not the Village Champion weighed down by responsibilities and constantly having to meet OTHER people's expectations.

Shampoo's eyes got misty as the First Girl took her to the door. She wasn't being left alone again. She was being clutched to the girl's chest and just felt so... warm and fuzzy.

Now if SOMEONE would just turn her back to normal.

-----EYECATCH----------

Ranma is in tuxedo with top hat. He sets the hat on a small table.

"Hey, Kasumi, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!"

"But, Ranma, the last time you tried that..." Kasumi is in an evening dress and looks concerned.

"Nothing up my sleeve. PRESTO!"

Akane, dressed in a bunny suit, has just been pulled out of the hat and is hanging by her ears from Ranma's hand. "You're a dead man, Saotome."

"Uhm, we'll be right back after these messages." dimension door

---Shadar, Aramar 7th Age Of Man----

Thurin left the hated beast behind at the first chance, then made his way through the Amazon Base.

He grumbled, he glared, and he generally acted royally pissed. It kept most of them away. He was a Marine and therefore had served on the old-fashioned spelljammers, skyjammers, etherjammers, and other craft. This meant that he was well acquainted with the race known as the Delphins Amazons.

He was a dwarf, he was a warrior, he was a damn MARINE! He was NOT cute!

(That had been one good thing about having the Kid around. All the girls went after HIM and left ME alone.) Thurin almost smiled. (Let's see Southern Cross Amazons tend to follow the pie-slice design on their bases, so the drydocks should be there. Yup. Now let's see... Dock Nine...)

Thurin grimaced at the sight of the ship. Osprey class skyjammer, as promised. (There's an old saying among the shipwrights. Manueverability, Versatility, Firepower, Livability. Choose any two. Hmmph.)

The dwarf looked at the ship, looking vaguely like a stylized hawk, and wondered how many battles this ship had been through. "What a piece of junk!"

"HEY!" A silver skinned woman looked down from one wing. "The Wildhorse has been through a few fights, but she'll still d-hop capable and will do 75 kph in normal skyjamming operations."

"Pfeh. An oriad? Besides, I've worked on Osprey class ships before. The Stargazer, for one. One light ballista, manueverability sucks, and it wallows in the water."

The oriad frowned. "Mage cannon, missile type. You're still as grumpy as ever, are you, Thurin Kaille?"

"Do I know you?" The dwarf regarded the oriad. Problem was, all nymphs tended to look alike. Oriads all looked either like they were sculpted from stone or liquid silver. Well, at least if they had a mage cannon they weren't *completely* defenseless.

"Silvara, Engineer of the Wildhorse," the oriad proclaimed. "Rank designate is sergeant, Captain."

"I ain't no officer, I work for a living," the dwarven marine grumbled. "I'm also no mage so I can't operate the cannon."

"You're the captain now," Silvara informed him. "Orders are in your desk. We're going to go rescue some friend of yours by order of the Empress."

That *did* surprise Thurin. "The Empress? Me, a Captain? I'm a warrior, not an administrator."

A familiar voice broke into the conversation. "True, and I thought that *I* would have been a much better choice, but some people thought otherwise."

"Stormshadow?!" Thurin couldn't help but look around, though he knew the elf would only show up when *he* wanted to been seen. "Turn over a ship command to a rogue like you? HAH! If you were the only other choice, no wonder they'd make me Captain."

Shadows seemed to solidify as the elf stepped forward. "Still stubborn as a rock and twice as harsh? I guess some things don't improve with age. Still, you've hit on it. My 'talents' are more often employed in the field of special operations."

Thurin considered the lanky form of the elf. He knew the mage was overall a good person, if overly concerned with uncovering the secrets of ancient magic. "So what are *you* doing here? Are we expected to steal something?"

Stormshadow lost his customary smirk. "You'll see. We've still got to wait for two more crewmen, so you'd better take the time to read those orders."

-----Jusenkyo, China-------

"Ah sir," the Jusenkyo Guide said, guessing. He *thought* this was a sir, but wasn't entirely sure. "You not want to go there. Is over one hundred spring here, each with own terrible tragic stor...urk!"

The Jusenkyo Guide clawed at the invisible fingers around his neck as he was lifted into the air.

"Silence wretch. I want to know where Ranma Emeraldrank is. Have you seen him?"

"Urk!"

"Never mind," the foppish looking figure drew a glowing pattern in midair. "Ho ho. So he WAS here. And was transformed into a girl by the magic of these pools? Let's see what happens if I toss YOU in one!" SPLASH

The Guide crawled out of the pool. "Sir cannot curse me. I already cursed by springs to act as Jusenkyo Guide and Caretaker of this place."

"Whatever, you are of no use to me." The hunter adjusted his lace collar briefly. "Hmmm. So he went from here to that village of obnoxious women, then from there on. But to where?"

"I not know."

"Of course you don't, vermin," the hunter said disdainfully and cast a spell at the Guide. "Now, that should hold you while I siphon off the magic of this site, then use the power to get a lock on that boy's position."

"Kaw! Kaw!" The raven flew away before this crazy tourist did anything else.

----Tendo-ke, Japan------

"Yes, can I help you?" Kasumi answered the door to find a woman she didn't recognize standing there. She was a little distracted though, as she had just noticed that the plush doll she was carrying was CRYING?!

"Hello there," the woman said with a bow. "I received a call from Soun Tendo stating my son was here. I'm Nodoka Saotome."

"Oh," said Kasumi. "How nice. Won't you come in? My name is Kasumi Tendo, and I'm Ranma's fiancee." (Oh dear, did I say that?)

"Geez, Akane, all I did was..." Ranma came down the stairs and stared at the doll in Kasumi's hands. "Oh heck. I forgot entirely about her."

"Oh, Ranma, this is Nodoka Saotome."

"Oh hello." Ranma scratched his head. "Uhm, Kasumi, about that doll you've got there..."

"You're Ranma? You're too old to be my son, he'd be only sixteen."

"Son?!" Ranma blinked, this being enough to derail his concentration rather adequately. "Uhm, actually, I think if you go objectively chronologically in THIS universe I *am* sixteen. It's just a few more years have passed for me subjectively. You're my... mom?!"

"Who is your father?"

"Genma Saotome. Errrr. This isn't about a food bill is it?"

Nodoka blinked this time. "Why?"

Ranma sighed. "Well, it's like this. I used a seekerspell to track his progress, tricky when the trail's that old so I used a spirit-magic invocation. The spirits don't forget that easily." Ranma grimaced. "Apparently neither do storekeepers, gamblers, or a few dojo owners. Every town I went into for provisions seemed to have someone ELSE trying to get me for repaying HIS debts. I went through half my gold stash just paying them off."

Nodoka blinked again. "That DOES sound like Genma. Oh, Ranma, you're back!" glomp!

"Uhm, let me change the doll back to human before we get too involved in this," Ranma requested.

-----------------

Akane entered her room, glad that she'd convinced Ranma to drop the spell he'd cast on her earlier. It had felt uncomfortable, like an extra layer of skin that didn't quite fit. Something registered and she went into a defensive posture immediately.

"Bweeeee!" (Akane Tendo, you have come to rescue me!)

A small black pig launched itself at her, dripping water. Naturally, being a trained martial artist, Akane blocked the attack.

"Bweeee! Bweee! Bweee!" (Ah, Akane, my love! Throw off the chains of the spell that bind you to that foul sorcerer!)

"Ohhhh!" Akane got a good look at her attacker. "A piglet? You look cold. C'mere. Don't be afraid."

The piglet slowly eased forward, looking very uncertain. "Bweee? Bquiii squee squee snort skiii kwee." (This room? Ah, so I have found the bedchambers of Akane Tendo!)

"You're all wet, poor thing." Akane held the little black pig to her bosom, feeling his heart beat rapidly against her. "Well, I guess I just need to warm you up. How's a hot bath sound?"

"BWEeEE!" (That sounds most wonderful!)

--------------------

Nodoka watched as her son put the doll on a cushion, stood well back, and put a hand up.

"Uhm, you two might want to get clear. Last I saw, this girl was attacking me. If she doesn't go away quietly, I'll have to use another spell, and right now my manna ain't that high." Ranma looked over his shoulder at where his newly acquired mother and Kasumi stood. They were joined a moment later by Nabiki, dressed now in a pullover.

"Bag," said Ranma after a moment's consideration.

Kasumi and Nabiki got out of the carpetbag's way as it waddled in. Nodoka merely stared, her normally immaculate hair toinging out slightly.

Apparently rummaging in the interior, Ranma explained. "I had just returned to this dimension when I ran into this village of Amazons. Bag here started eating the first prize, and I got challenged to a fight by one of the Amazons present. When I defeated her, a whole bunch of other Amazons tried to attack me. I escaped, but naturally I put up a set of anti-sneak wards when I made camp for the night.

"This girl is the one who challenged me, and tried to sneak into my camp. Hence her current status as a plush toy." Ranma found what he was looking for and pulled an orb out of his pack. "Since it might take me a few moments to get off a binding spell if she's violent, I'll have to awaken one of my travelling companions.

"Kyor," Ranma said to the orb after placing it on the floor.

The orb shimmered and expanded, finally bursting and revealing a non-orb shape.

"Oh, how," Kasumi was going to say cute but that would be a blatant lie, "distinguished."

"That is one UGLY dog." Nabiki was not mincing words. Then she frowned as some details of the anatomy registered. "What the...?!"

The dog looked over each of them, golden eyes regarding Nabiki and Nodoka's wrapped bundle briefly before deciding that nobody in the room was an immediate candidate for lunchmeat.

"You have a dog, son?"

"Aramar in the Seventh Age Of Man can be a dangerous place," explained Ranma. "You're looking at one of the few things that can eat a troll without being either poisoned or killed by the regenerating properties. Kyor is an askanar. Say hello, Kyor."

*"Hello Kyor."*

"Very funny."

*"Kyor think so."* The dog's golden eyes searched the room again. *"No threat."*

"A telepathic dog, or no, that isn't quite a dog is it?" Nabiki's eyes narrowed. The eyes looked more feline, and the creature had a mix of feline and canine features in the body structure as well. It was also huge and thickly built, Nabiki was guessing about one hundred eighty pounds or so.

*"Kyor not like cities. Smelly. No room to run. Not fun. We go back now?"*

"Actually, Kyor, I need you to guard. I'm going to transform this doll back."

Kyor sniffed the doll, then trotted back. *"Put back in bag when done. Not like it here."*

Ranma cast the dispel. The doll shimmered and changed.

"AIREN!" The Amazon Glomp was stopped in midpounce by a dog knocking her out of the air and locking jaws around her neck.

Everyone else, except Ranma, blinked. They hadn't seen the dog move from a seated position near Ranma's feet, and then it just suddenly was there with the girl in a compromising grip.

*"She not intend harm. She try grab. Kyor stop. Kyor kill?"*

"No, Kyor, just keep her away for now."

The dog backed off slightly, resuming his position near Ranma.

"Did he just teleport?!" Nabiki grabbed the first explanation that made sense.

Shampoo rubbed her neck to check for blood. "No, Shampoo see. Dog move very fast."

"Askari Hounds can move *very* quickly when they want to," agreed Ranma. "Now, will you grant me a promise that you won't hurt anyone here? Otherwise I'll just turn you into a statue until I get a long distance teleport ready."

Shampoo winced at having her options cut down like that, but when dealing with a wizard... She was about ready to flee back to China anyway. "Shampoo promise."

"So, why did you pursue me Shampoo? I left your village and had no intention of coming back. I never intended harm to you or your village."

Shampoo considered *very* carefully. Spending an unknown amount of time as a doll had taught her something that her great-grandmother had despaired of teaching Shampoo: caution.
"Shampoo no speak Japanese goodly. Is OK say Chinese?"

"Not speak goodly is an understatement," said Nabiki in a tone that indicated amusement.

"Well, I'm running low on manna, but I suppose," Ranma said reluctantly. It wasn't that he disliked Amazons, far from it. He had some very good friends in House Rising Sun of the Delphins Amazons. (They'd wanted to be much better friends, that touch of alienness about them had always put him off.)

Shampoo waited until the glow of the spell appeared. "Okay. Here's the deal. In my tribe tradition and personal honor count for a lot. When an Outsider male defeats an Amazon, they must give the Kiss Of Life and marry the man in question."

Ranma nodded. "Oh, I see."

Nabiki and Kasumi blinked. "WHAT?!"

Nodoka smiled and turned to Kasumi. "Best get the tea things out, dear, this sounds like it will take awhile."

--------------------

"AAAAAAAAAA!"

"Ah, Akane Tendo, my love!"

"Where did you...? And where's P-chan?!"

Kuno smirked as he stepped from the bath. "Ah, Akane, this must be fate itself that you should appear before me as magnificently..."

Akane panicked. Kuno appearing out of nowhere, obviously being HENTAI and then some. In fact, she KNEW he was glad to see her. It was rather obvious. "AAAAAAAA!" Akane repeated for good measure.

----------------------

"aaaaaAAAAAAAAAA!!" ZOOM! ZOOM!

The small crowd around the table did an eerie synchronous blink.

"Uhm, the stress must be getting to me," Nabiki confessed. "I could have sworn I saw something that was flagrantly impossible."

"Oh dear, Akane really should wait until after she's married before doing such things!" Kasumi made a mental note to talk to Akane about this, and likely to schedule the wedding SOON.

Ranma finally blinked. "Uhm, Nabiki, if it was your youngest sister, nude, being pursued by an equally nude Tatewaki Kuno across the dining room and out into your backyard... that wasn't an optical illusion."

Nabiki blinked again. "MY CAMERA!" Zoom!

Nodoka waited calmly for Kasumi to fill her teacup. "My goodness, is it always like this here?"

"aaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaa!"

"Akane Tendo, my love, come to me! Your invitation to bathe with you is quite accepted!"

"I never knew that the Japanese had such... bizarre courtship rites."

*"Kyor think girl just genuinely repulsed."*

"So, Shampoo," Nodoka began, ignoring the still audible wail of the running couple. "Can you explain what's going on?"

"With regard to myself, yes. I have NO idea what's going on with those two. And who's that older man who just got trampled?"

"Oh, father father father."

"So, Shampoo, why don't you explain why you've got to marry my son?" Nodoka ignored the chaos as best she could and just concentrated on the first problem at hand.

---------------------

Nabiki went to Ranma's room, stepped over the puddle, and took a position atop one of the casks. These pictures would be worth a FORTUNE!

Nabiki eagerly snapped a set of photos. Some shots of Akane. Some shots of Kuno. Some shots of Kuno and Akane! Yes, this would sell for big yen. Not that she needed the money, but it could go into her college fund.

SNAP! SNAP! SNAP! CREAK! CRACK! SPLASH!

"Aaaaa! Meow! Meow! Meow!" CRACK! SPLASH! "whoooo! whooo!"

-------------------------

"I see," said Ranma, sipping his tea.

"So you'll marry me?"

"There's several problems with your proposal," noted Ranma. "One, I will not stay in this world but will return to my own as soon as I've cured this curse, determined what needs to be done to clear my karma, and gotten THAT taken care of."

"WHAT?!" Nodoka's aura of calm evaporated.

"I'm sorry, Mother," Ranma said with a sad smile, "but Shadar is my home. I've friends and an adopted family, responsibilities and duties. I'm a mage, but I also work for the Imperial Palace itself."

"And what of your honor to your family? What of your honor to your country? What of your duties as our firstborn?"

Ranma merely cocked an eyebrow at this. "Up until a few minutes ago, the only family I knew of was my father. Unless you count my adopted mother Lijra. As to my country, Shadar *is* my country now. And to its defense and well-being I am sworn."

Kasumi gathered her courage to do something that no one who knew her would expect. At least no one who saw her as a meek little hausfrau. "Ranma? When you leave, would you..."

Nodoka and Ranma watched Kasumi briefly stammer and shake.

"...would you take me with you..."

"WHAT?! Don't tell me that YOU are my rival here?" Shampoo was upset.

Ranma blinked. "What do you mean rival?"

"Son, we *really* need to discuss this."

"You can't be my rival. You're not even a warrior!"

*"Loud. Wanna go home."*

"aaaaaAAAAAAAaaaaaa!"

"Akane! My huff fragile and puff delicate gasp flower!"

"WAAAAAAA! Now my youngest daughter is getting married! Oh happy day!" (And maybe this will give Kasumi and Ranma some ideas!)

"whooo who whooooo!"

Ranma considered briefly the joy of a Silence 15' Radius cast upon himself.

============================

GAMING DATA:
Aramar was first envisioned as a "there's an actual reason for (insert fantasy or RPG standard) occurring" setting. Such as how an elf and a human could produce a child or why so many species resembled humans to some extent.
In the First Age Of Man, humans developed a technology based on observed phenomena. Eventually they got through their various stages (Stone Age, Iron Age, Renaissance, Space Age, etc.) and colonized the stars. They also cracked the secrets of DNA and how to build organisms to exact specifications.
Dwarves were built for living/mining heavyworlds, where concentrations of heavier elements made for higher gravity. Dwarves were therefore built densely, short, with reinforced skeletal structures and a higher than human tensile strength.
Elves were originally L-5ers, or humans adapted for work in low or no gravity environments such as space stations. They were later altered greatly by the Time of Chaos and Second Age Of Man.
Halflings and various other races were genetically engineered for various other environments and tasks. Most of whom were designed to be able to breed true and be compatible with humans. Human + any of those races designed for it, would produce a member of the nonhuman parent's species as that DNA was dominant. In the cases of elves and dwarves, a mix would be born that could then be re-merged with one of the parent's lines.
This is also why there are so few humans in the 7th Age Of Man...

========================

A Different Art, chapter 3 "It's a nice day for a white wedding..."

Ranma 1/2 by R.Takahashi, other char by other people and i could see a LOT of crossover possibilities with this one.

NOTE: this is just meant to be amusing. Not Epic, not Great Literature, not Canon, not Akanecentric. Can't deal with the "nots" then save us both some frustration and read... well "Hearts Of Ice" is mainly canon, sort of, and manages to at least touch base with the other three.

"Don't go to the dwarves for answer, for they will tell you they don't know, don't care, and will likely throw a party to celebrate this attitude. On second thought, maybe you *do* want to go to the dwarves..." -Selman the Halfling, "An Adventurer's Guide To Shadar" 851 6th Age.


---------------------

"So, Ranma, explain," Nodoka said while looking askance at her son.

Akane was upstairs, recovering from her ordeal. Where she'd gotten the pet pig from, nobody was quite sure. There were a few suspicions, but after a hesitant attempt to tell Akane that her newly acquired pet might actually be the pervert in question, and Akane's rather vicious response (flattening Ranma) - nobody else was going to bring it up.

That left Nabiki (currently a pygmy owl that was impatiently waiting for the water to be heated up) perched on Kasumi's shoulder. Kasumi was looking a little "out of it" due to the events of earlier this morning, as well as having one sister sitting on her shoulder and another sister having decked her fiancee less than fifteen minutes ago.

Shampoo wasn't sure WHERE she fit into all this, but had noted that in a HTH fight she could take Akane. Akane could take out Ranma. Therefore, Ranma in a strictly physical battle would fall to Shampoo fairly quickly. Various possibilities occurred to her. Using Formula 110, or just dragging Ranma off to receive the Kiss Of Life (followed by some more kisses and some quite etchi activity to consummate the marriage), or a number of other scenarios kept coming back to the same problem. When he could get to spellcasting again, she might find a worse fate than being a plush toy in store for her. Indecision racked the Amazon, so she was just listening for now.

"Unnngh," said Ranma, holding an ice pack to his head.

*"Are you sure I can't eat her or the pig?"* The huge dog asked politely of everyone before seeming to go back to sleep.

Kasumi replied no. Eating Akane or her pet was not an option.

"Son?"

"Yeah," Ranma took a deep breath and held up one finger on the hand that wasn't holding the icepack. "Okay. I gotta go back because the 'mother' who raised me and taught me magic is there."

"Mother?" Nodoka frowned. It was logical that someone raised Ranma, but she was less than thrilled with the concept of someone else having that title in Ranma's life.

Ranma gestured, and a translucent image formed. Everyone else stared. Ranma's gaze was more wistful.

"She's... not human, is she?" Nodoka said hesitantly.

"No. In fact, the only humans I'd heard of in the Seventh Age were other people who'd been lost in time or across dimensions like myself. Never met any of 'em," Ranma said. He'd seen the Emperor but only at a distance. "Elves, dwarves, orahm, tor, ogrii, halflings, burrowers, nymphs, dragons, Amazons..."

"Amazons?!" Shampoo naturally seized on the opening.

"Delphins Amazons, I don't think you're related. They're taller for one thing." Ranma shrugged. "Anyway, humans are viewed as mythic creatures for the most part. Lijra's the one who raised me, and she's what they call an ardrow. One of a group of religiously persecuted elves from offplane, who settled in Aramar where some evil goddess of spiders couldn't reach 'em."

Nodoka looked over the lean woman with the black skin, white hair, amber eyes, tapered pointed ears, and wondered exactly what kind of mother this elf would have made.

"Second," said Ranma adding a second finger to the first, "is duty. I'm currently an Emeraldrank mage working for the Imperial Palace, part of a Company of troubleshooters. Sapphirerank, the next official ranking among mages, is *real* important. You're getting into raw power there.Then there's Diamondrank, and beyond that's Namerank. Lijra's at that level. Ya get to that level and you're mentioned by name in treaties between kingdoms, things like that. So I'm on leave now 'cause the diviners said that I had things to get tied up back here before I take the next Ordeal.

"Third," Ranma indicated with another finger joining the first two, "is that THERE is home now. I've spent quite a few years learning magic with Lijra, then with Kharon, then finally at the Lonely Tower. I've spent years perfecting my skills with the Art serving first among spelljammers and going to places like Waterdeep on Toril or the Rock Of Bral. Then dimension hopping to places like Rehaven and Sigil. But I've always come back to Aramar and the empire of Shadar because it's *home.* It's all a part of me, now.

"The Festival Of Life, the Amazons' Sadie Hawkins race (Imperial dispensation not to be a participant helps one enjoy it!), the Flight Of Dragons, Dwarven Summerend, the mouseling Party Of Fine. All the temples and priests and magic." Ranma set the icepack aside and they could see the longing in his eyes. "It's where I belong now."

Nabiki hopped down as Kasumi pulled the teakettle off a burner. A moment later, and a restored to human Nabiki was quickly dressing.

"What about your family here?" Nodoka asked with apparent calm. "What of your fiancee?"

"That's Mister Tendo's idea," replied Ranma. "I didn't hear anything about it before I got here. Kasumi-chan is nice, and I really like her, but when I return home could you see her coming along?"

Kasumi blushed and studied her hands. (He thinks I'm nice? He really likes me? But, could I leave Japan? What about my family? Who will clean up after Father? Who will cook for them or fix Akane's messes? What kind of kitchen would there be in that tower?)

Nodoka noted Kasumi's reaction, also that Nabiki was blushing slightly, and the pensive look that Shampoo was giving. (Interesting. Perhaps my son is manly to have so many girls interested.)

Nabiki had no trouble with the "bedslave" curse while an owl, but had almost slipped her iron control and glomped Ranma. Regaining control and trying to concentrate on something else, she wondered if the customs of this other world were significantly different from Japan.

"Fourth," indicated Ranma, apparently not noticing other people's discomfort, "there's so much I have *to do*!"

"This 'Lonely Tower' that you mentioned," Nabiki said as she tried to focus on something besides how much she wanted to pounce on Ranma, rip his clothes off, and make mad passionate love right there on the dining room table. Other than fast breathing, a slight flush, and that she was staring at the table as if it had personally offended her, there weren't any clues to the others. "Uhm, that's your home?"

"Oh yes." Ranma nodded and changed the image to the tower he had shown the two sisters earlier. The spiraling tower, looking vaguely Arabic, thrusting up from the peak of the mountain that seemed an island among the sea of forest surrounding it. "I was granted the land of the tower by the Emperor for services done. Me and a few friends had to clean it out first, but it's a nice little place."

"Clean it out?" Kasumi asked curiously, thinking about thick dust and cobwebs being attacked by a number of maids with feather dusters.

"Yeah, there were kuei and ghouls in the lower levels," Ranma chuckled. "Giant spiders and other vermin in the top levels. Then there's the dwarven caverns underneath, and THEY had to be cleared. Goblins, y'know. Anyway, the White Temple should be done purifying the site by the time I get done here."

"Kuei?" Nabiki said, images of hungry ghosts managing to cool her ardor momentarily.

"Giant spiders?" Kasumi said, turning pale as her image of a group of maids dusting out cobwebs was replaced with huge bloodsucking spiders being held at bay by spear-carrying housemaids.

"White Temple?" Nodoka said with a frown. Hopefully he hadn't gotten too much religious instruction, it could have stunted his manliness.

"Yeah, some good folk there. Not good warriors, but good folk." Ranma smiled at a private joke. "Anyway, the White Temple are batting clean up. By the time they're done, that tower will be safer from evil influences than most places."

"Oh," Kasumi thought about it, and decided if it were safe... it probably needed a woman's touch though.

"I don't get an idea of the scale from this, it's kind of fuzzy," observed Nabiki.

"The mountain's only eight hundred feet tall. The forest isn't much, some old trees but the tallest ones are sixty feet tall tops. The tower itself is only five floors, about seventy feet across." Ranma looked apologetic. "I'm only an Emeraldrank, after all."

"..." Nabiki considered the worth of such land and space in terms of the real estate she was used to: Tokyo Japan.

Kasumi wondered how difficult such a place was to clean, and how big the kitchen was.

Nodoka wondered if her son was sufficiently manly, and should she mention the contract that Genma had signed?

"So, anyway, I've still got to cure this curse. Once I've got that fixed I can cure Nabiki's since they're both Jusenkyo curses." Ranma pointedly looked up at the ceiling in the direction of Akane's room. "AND someone else's if Akane will let me."

"Ranma," Kasumi steeled herself again. "What kind of curse are you referring to?"

"Hmmm? Oh, I've got a couple of curses. Comes with the territory mainly. The one me and Nabiki share is a Jusenkyo curse. Transformation curse, water aligned, old faerie magic. Doesn't look like spirit-magic will be effective, so the next thing to try is air or wood."

There was much blinking.

"So, you turn into an owl too?" Nabiki held her cooling tea and tried not to look suspicious.

"Uhm, no. It's worse than that. I originally thought it was Spring Of Drowned Girl, because it looked like I just changed genders, but the Guide told me that it was Spring Of Drowned Amazon. Okay, I thought that wasn't a big deal. It turned out it WAS a big deal, though."

Nabiki was tired of waiting. She threw the tea.

Ranma changed, as he had indicated, into a girl. What nobody had expected was that the transformation was from embarassed boy to damn-near-hysterically panicked girl. "Hot water, hot water, hot water! Quick!"

Nodoka had serious doubts about the manliness of her son.

"What's the big deal, Ranma-kun, at least you stay *human.*" After spending time as a pygmy owl, Nabiki was much less impressed with Ranma changing into a busty redheaded girl.

"You don't understand. This body is magically unstable! If I even accidently rhyme, a spell will go off. If I so much as sneeze, I could trigger a wild surge! I think it's possible to spellsing in this form, but I'd rather try and juggle fireballs. It'd be safer!"

Shampoo asked why everyone was back to speaking Japanese. As she was asking this in her native tongue, nobody else quite understood.

"Also the spells near me tend to either dispel or twist." Ranma was passing her previous state of panic and approaching apoplectic.

Soun had finally recovered enough to rush in. "Well, that isn't so bad, and now that your mother is here we can hold the wedding immediately!"

"Quick! Hot water before something happens." Ranma shook her head at Soun. "Mister Tendo, I never agreed to this marriage thing, what of your daughter's happiness?"

FLAM! Purple flames gouted in midair.

"That didn't rhyme," noted Nabiki as dozens of big yellow rodents appeared out of the purple flames and went racing off across the backyard.

"Wild surge," said Ranma with a wince. "Looks like a crossdimensional tear. Well, it could be worse, like if it affected your Jusenkyo curse."

PHOOM! Nabiki was limned in sparkles. "KASUMI! Get that hot water!" It was Nabiki who was now in Full Panic mode. "What did you do?!"

"I don't know!" The redhaired girl looked exasperated AND scared now.

"SAOTOME, WHAT DID YOU DO TO MY LITTLE GIRL?!" Soun began to manifest his demonic head attack.

"I don't know! Something about her owl curse! All I know, it's probably, oh thanks Kasumi." SPLASH

Nabiki twitched. (I'm really batting 100 here. First I go poking around in a magical lab, and get hit with a curse of raging libido, then I try to get a few photos, and get cursed to turn into an owl, then I get impatient and now...) "Uhm, Ranma, how do I find out what's happened to me?"

Kasumi splashed Nabiki.

"Whooo?!"

"All it did was change your coloration, Nabiki." Kasumi smiled at her sister, making a mental note to research what pygmy owls ate and try to stock some of it. Maybe a nice travel cage for long trips...

"Whewwwwww!" Nabiki-owl looked relieved, then held up one of her wings so that she could inspect it. "Whoo-whoo!" (Hmmm. No color vision in this form. I hope I don't moult. Hmmm. I could use a nice mouse right about now, wonder if Kasumi could stock a few.)

"Well, son, I have some bad news," Nodoka said, pulling a piece of paper out of her sleeve and handing it to Ranma.

"Hmmm?" Ranma looked it over. "What does a 'man among men' mean in this context?"

---Shadar, 7th Age---

Multitask vessels like Osprey class ships were rather a jack-of-all-trades approach. IE: it did a number of things fairly well, but none of them exceptionally.

Osprey class ships were rated 25 tons in the "Djinn's Guide To Ships" and had a single sail vertically, plus a set of wing-sails to the side. They could land in water, though they wallowed, and it was normal for them to be set down on the ground. Their cargo capacity was quite limited, compared to the huge Albatross or Dragonsclaw class ships particularly. Smugglers and couriers tended to favor the smaller and more manueverable designs like the Peregrine or the Ferret. Warships ranged from the nimble Dragonfly II to the fearsome Kraken.

Thurin Kaille had served aboard a Ferret once, a Kraken on another occasion, but tended to favor ships like the Sword class. Ships that were built sturdily, had a number of weapons, and could be used to ram when needed. You couldn't ram in an Osprey and there was only one weapons turret.

The dwarf stared at the orders, cursed briefly, then called Stormshadow in. If ANYONE knew more about what was going on, it would be that damn sneaky elf. Or Yusef the Short, but the Bazaar was quite a ways off and the information specialist/barber was likely to require details of the finished mission as part of his payment.

"You've read it?"

Thurin jumped and turned around. "Don't DO that!"

The elf smirked from where he was sitting. In the Captain's chair, naturally. "So what did you want, Captain? The mission objective is pretty clear."

"Who are we waiting for?"

The elf raised an eyebrow. "A cleric, healer I think, and an Amazon - probably from House Rising Sun."

"A pacifist and an Amazon," Thurin groaned. "Do you know WHY we're going after Ranma? And get your boots off my desk."

Stormshadow shrugged, but took his feet off the desk. "Officially, I don't know. Unofficially, one of the Emperor's espers had a 'seeming' that Ranma needed to get back and go through his Ordeal and soon. That's the rumor at least."

"Let me guess, one of the ninjas from China Grove?"

Stormshadow nodded and relaxed a little into his chair. "Yup. Got it one. So likely the Amazon's either from the espers or is a ninja."

"I thought YOU were one of the Emperor's ninja."

"Who, lil' old me?" Stormshadow did his best to look innocent. "Do I *look* like a Delphins?"

"True, if you WERE a male Delphins, you'd be surrounded by a half dozen wives and likely not allowed to step outside for danger of something happening to you." Thurin actually chuckled at the thought. All the sentient races had different ratios of male to female, and that affected their marriage customs. He himself hadn't seen his wife in five years, but doubted that with the other four husbands that she missed him. Elves had a four-one female to male ratio, dwarves were one to six, most of the halflings were one-to-one or two-to-one, but the Delphins were twenty-to-one even using magic to encourage male births. As for nymphs, they never aged and lacked males of their own species.

Silvara knocked hesitantly on the door. "Sir, the Delphins has just come aboard."

Thurin and Stormshadow exchanged a glance. Silvara sounded... amused? It had taken Thurin awhile to place the chrome-colored nymph, he'd actually served aboard a ship with her and Ranma about three years ago.

Stormshadow was deep in thought when an idea forced itself through. "Oh no. Don't tell me it's Garr."

"Ah, Stormshadow, you're already there? Yes, it is." Silvara's voice indicated further amusement.

"Get him belowdecks before we get mobbed," Thurin said, covering his eyes with one hand. "If the Southern Cross finds out HE'S aboard..."

"We'll have Amazons trying to sneak aboard and hide to the extent that our weight allowance will be overwhelmed," Stormshadow lost his smirk. "And don't YOU go doing anything, Silvara, you know how easily spooked the boy is."

"Awww, that's no fun."

"So we've got a Tracker, that'll make some of this easier." Thurin admitted after a moment. "With his ability to 'find' things, it might not take long. Providing the cleric shows up before word gets out that Garr of Rising Sun is aboard."

Stormshadow groaned at another thought, the customary smirk quite absent. "I think I know what the hurry is on this mission."

"Huh? Well, enlighten me."

"Garr is the same age as Ranma, right?" Stormshadow shook his head, not believing he had missed this. "Both are at the marriageable age for the Delphins, right? And Delphins are the closest match for human in general makeup, right? Want to bet that the Amazons petitioned the Emperor for Ranma to be included in a certain Coming-Of-Age rite?"

Thurin blanched. "Not the Race? Oh, by the Seal. I actually feel sorry for the boy."

------Tendo-ke, Nerima------

Akane flumphed back onto the bed. "Honestly, P-chan, where did Kuno come from?"

"Bwee!" (Clearly we are meant to be together, as soon as I vanquish the foul sorcerer who has done such a thing!)

"I was just taking you in to warm you up, then he appears and tries to MOLEST me!" Akane shuddered. "At least he didn't hurt you!"

"Buqiii! Snort!" (Ah, to worry about me so. Your love for me seeps out behind the vile spell that the sorcerer Saotome has cast upon you! Do not fear, for I am with you!)

"And trying to tell me that Kuno was right here! Honestly, I don't see what Kasumi sees in that creep. I don't see Kuno, do you, P-chan?"

"Bwee?" (Alas, my poor Akane, how terrible that both of us have been laid low by the demon's spells. You with this bewitchment that has you denying your love for me. Myself with this horrible shape. How can the Heavens not weep or resound in anger at this injustice?)

"I don't either." Akane sighed and stroked P-chan as he crawled into her lap. "I've got to do something, P-chan! If I don't, he might marry Kasumi! She has no clue about him!"

"Biii?! Buu... Biii!" (You mean he really isn't secretly pursuing you? How dare he ignore the grace and tidy beauty of my love! How... dare... he? Oh, Akane, how strong and soft your fingers are as they stroke me. I cannot wait to return to human form that you may do so properly!)

"You like being scratched there, P-chan? That's my baby." Akane continued to rub along the mid spine of the pig snuggling into her lap. She had to save Kasumi! (He may not be a 'foul sorcerer' but he's *completely* wrong for Kasumi. I KNOW! I'll tell Doctor Tofu, he'll beat Ranma up, and we'll be rid of him!)

-----------------------------

"So, because I'm cursed to turn into a girl, and I'm not 'sufficiently manly' by these Japanese standards, I'm supposed to put a knife in my own gut, swirl it around some, and then act stoic while you cut my head off?" Ranma blinked. "You know, I thought that the DWARVES had some weird customs but this just blows them out of the water."

Kasumi noted that Ranma's mother was quite serious, and looked at first as if she would faint. Then, in accordance with samurai ancestry, the steel began to show. (Mother or not, she is *not* going to kill my iinazuke on a snap judgement!)

Nabiki-owl merely sped off to find some hot water. She REALLY needed to be able to talk.

Nodoka nodded, unwrapping her katana. "Honestly, I cannot see how you could be sufficiently manly..." CLONG

Lest anyone think differently, that last was the sound of a bonbori "slipping" out of the hand of a certain Amazon and knocking the woman in question unconscious. "Oops, Shampoo clumsy today. Very sad. Maybe make up for lapse with ancient Amazon custom of washing hair of prospective mother-in-law?"

"No, Shampoo," Ranma said with a certain distracted air. (This makes absolutely no sense. Is this really my homeland?) "I'll have to admit that 'manliness' isn't something that I gave much thought to. The standards of each race and subculture is a bit different, but acting like a Southern Cross Amazon on shore leave after a five year mission doesn't fit into any sort of plan on MY agenda."

Shampoo looked disappointed as she tucked the bottle of Formula 110 away.

"What's going on?" Akane came down, looking askance at the group. Introductions had been made when Ranma had been trying to explain something about P-chan.

Kasumi swallowed. "Errr. Ranma's mother says that because he isn't sufficiently 'manly' she's got to kill him."

Akane blinked. "Well, admittedly, he ain't much..."

"HEY!" Kasumi and Shampoo protested this assessment.

"...but that seems a bit harsh." Akane pondered for a brief moment whether she ought to support this action anyway, as it would at least save her sister.

"Shampoo ask that Airen put spell back in place that let everyone speak Amazon dialect. Shampoo having trouble following conversation."

"Not enough manna for me to cast much, Shampoo." Ranma looked at his unconscious "mother" (still trying to get used to the idea he had one) and at all the girls, finally focussing on the pig rubbing his head against Akane's breast. "You know, she's really gonna be ticked when she figures that out."

"Why do you keep picking on P-chan?" Akane grumbled at the boy. She liked the vaguely exotic pet, and P-chan seemed cleaner than most housepets.

"Bwee!" (The foul sorcerer cannot cast spells currently? Alas that I am stuck in this foul shape, though held tightly between the soft white mounds of my True Love. Ah, what an interesting contrast, that I experience the hell of frustration and the heaven of my love's affection at the same time!)

"Well, I'd better go replenish my manna. There's a couple of tricks for that." Ranma winced as there was *always* a tradeoff, but things were going too quickly to take his time with any of it.

-----the Wildhorse-------

"The first thing is to report at the Imperial Palace," Garr informed his Captain.

Thurin grunted. He hated court appearances.

"I'm to stay on the ship, for obvious reasons."

Thurin grunted again. They'd barely escaped the dock after a horde had been sighted heading their way. Damn overprotective Amazons. Especially the young ones. Garr was an okay kid, but once the rumor had gotten out that there was a MALE of their species possibly going into danger...

"Frosty will also stay behind."

Thurin frowned at this. "He could go. He's able to shapeshift again."

"He's even less comfortable in the Imperial Court than you are."

"Not possible." Thurin couldn't believe anyone hated all that crap more than he did. Even a Healer priest.

"After that, I expect we're going after Ranma."

Thurin smirked. "Nope."

Garr blinked and sat back. "OK. Why not?"

Thurin's smirk turned into a grin. "Because, this didn't come from the Emperor. That elf has come up with three rumors he's overheard since we got aboard this ship. That we're going after Ranma because he's needed for a prophesy, because of the Race, or we're going to go rescue him from Wyndlace. No. This bears the markings of being of the work of the Third Empress."

"In which case, anything obvious is not going to be correct." Garr cocked his head. "Actually I was hoping the bit about the Race was true. He'd take some of the heat off me."

"Wishful thinking."

-----------------------

GAMING DATA:
Shadar: (accessible only by accident and natives)
Constitutional Monarchy
Racial Breakdown (approximate)
Humans: four individuals currently. considered to be
legendary. the elder race from which the other races sprang
Elves:
Wood 45,000
Sky 4,860
Sea 12,900
Ardrow 4,100
Fire 19,200
Dwarves: (heavyworlder)
Steel or Desert 24,250
Starfall or Jungle 18,520
Shadarian or Hill 64,000
Amberlake or Mage 3,100
Ironhill or Mountain 21,000
Reach or Deep 4,200
Caivehi 4,200
Kirrfolk 2,100
Wolfen 7,900
Rakasta 5,100
Tortle 2,100
Changelings
Half-elves 4,500
Half-dwarves 2,200
Half-giants 900
Half-dragons 50
Halflings
Burrowers 9,900
Orahm 7,200
Talf 11,100
Kenku 950
Decori 11,250
Delphins 955,000
Dragons 2,127 (per latest census)
Reptine 3,100
Mu 750
overall tech: varies. mainly based on the use of psionically
tuned crystals, some areas are late Dark Ages, other areas
have movable type printing presses.
Current Enemies:
Feryl Amazons: remains of the spelljamming race of humans that declared war on the Delphins in such a fashion that the Delphins Houses agreed on a war of genocide. Currently operate mainly as terrorists.
Boskone Empire: named by Emperor Shades after a fictional empire he read of in his home century. Necromantic intelligent fungi. War erupts sporadically between Shadar or Nihon and the Boskone due to the recurrent Maelstrom - a dimensional rift that appears between the two areas.
Dead Lands: An evil mage 325 years ago settled some 12,000 miles from Shadar. He was later revealed to be the returned Broken Man, an immortal lich-king whose body parts were severed in the Fourth Age and scattered. Undead and eternal beyond even normal liches, the Broken Man rules his kingdom of undead and dark servitors, occasionally sending squads on missions to the lands where the living rule.
Goblin Reaches: The goblinkin races were created as soldiers by humans in the First Age of Man. These lesser soldiers haven't organized anything beyond minor criminal activity since the Black Rose assassin Scarlet conquered the Gutslime Tribe of Hobgoblins.
Pirates & Bandits: The most infamous group of pirates are the Dorona gang, using a modified Kraken skyjammer and operating in the area between Cross Isle and Shadar Hi. The most infamous group of bandits are the Red Rockets, who seem to be better equipped and better trained than what is normally expected of bandits.


===============================

A Different Art, chapter 4 "The calm before the extreme precipitation hits the fan"

"Is manliness defined by the trials *not* faced?"
-Jared Saotome, "Skysaber's Choice"

-------------------------

"So, let me just see if I understand this. After not knowing him for more than ten years, on the basis of his behavior in just under an hour, you've decided he's not 'manly' enough and therefore has to honor a seppuku pledge that he never knew he had made." Nabiki frowned at the woman sitting across from her and her two sisters. "Does that sound about right?"

Nodoka looked across at the three and frowned ever so slightly. "Well... yes."

"Oh, I'm sure it's not that bad. He's arrogant and conceited and an idiot, THAT'S manly!" Akane pointed out as she held P-chan on her lap. "He's clueless, and that's pretty manly."

"It might help," interjected Nabiki, "if you explained what you considered manly."

Nodoka adjusted her kimono slightly, and noted that someone had applied superglue to the tsuba of her sword- it would take some work to free the blade from the scabbard at this point. Sighing, she began. "Manly behavior is based on three principles. Properly manly behavior towards the opposite sex: such as peeping, sleeping around, and being forward with affections even in the face of rejection."

"Being a pervert is manly?!" Akane blinked. "No WONDER all those guys act like that at school. It's their mother's fault!"

Nodoka favored Akane with an odd look. "Secondly, manly is also a matter of honor. A TRUE manly man would not hesitate to commit seppuku for a pledge even if made unknowingly in a previous generation! Errr, by the way, where is Ranma?"

"He's renewing his magic. He said the sooner he gets home 'where everything makes sense' the better." Nabiki shook her head. (If *I* came to my land of origin without knowing better, and encountered this sort of attitude, I'd probably want to go back where I'd just exited from too.)

"The third is the principle of personal courage. If he were a TRUE manly man, as Genma had promised, he would have accepted his duty." Nodoka dabbed at the tears on her face with a fine hankerchief.

"So, if Ranma were to sleep with a girl, he'd be considered manly?"

Akane and Kasumi could only stare at their sister.

Nabiki proved that she *could* blush as she hadn't realized that she had spoken aloud. "Well, uhm... He's profitable. AND I have to admit that certain things said about this other world intrigue me."

"Such as?" Akane wondered what could get Nabiki to make such a sacrifice. Unless her other sister was under a spell too?! That fiend! (Waitaminute, I'm beginning to sound like... Kuno. Eeeeeewww!)

"Bweeee!" (Kill the varlet! The Heavens themselves demand his life for smiting the mighty Tatewaki Kuno and turning him into such a vile form! Sitting in Akane's lap proves well her love for me, save where the evil one's spell has ensorcelled her! Ah, Akane, how I long to do this in my true human shape!)

"Cut it out, P-chan, that tickles!"

All three of the other women present winced as P-chan nuzzled Akane's lap as if in search of wayward crumbs, the mood completely broken.

"Uhm, Akane, you know the Jusenkyo curse I've got," Nabiki said as calmly as she could. She'd accept the change of subject as it seemed that the seeds of doubt were already planted and needed some room to grow.

"Well, yeah," agreed Akane.

"You know how it works. Hot water to reverse, cold water turns me into an owl. Right?"

"Yeah, Nabiki. What's your point?"

"Now, when Ranma was pointing at 'P-chan' and telling you that Kuno was right here?"

"Why are you going on about THAT? Look, he was picking on P-chan! Big bully!" Akane was getting a feeling like something she didn't really want to think about was about to be said. "P-chan, stop squirming!"

"Bweee!" (Water is the key to breaking the spell! I must find some hot water that I may be reunited with my love in my human form.)

Nabiki growled, feeling like she should get up and shake her sister to try and get her to understand. Only the very real chance that she'd be missing teeth kept her from doing so.

Kasumi poured some hot tea into a cup and handed it to Akane. Except that for some unexplained reason Kasumi dropped it. "Oh my! I'm sorry Akane."

"Akane Tendo MY LOVE!"

"Aaaaaaaa!" Akane shrieked as a naked Kuno wrapped himself around her.

Nabiki looked directly into Nodoka's eyes and inclined her head towards the amorous Kuno and her frantically struggling sister. "Now, I take it this means that Kuno-baby here is 'manly' in your book?"

Nodoka agreed, but sounded a little unsure of herself.

--------------------

Ranma frowned as the information began accumulating. He was having trouble replenishing his magic reserves because of a basic problem with the local magical energies. There was a taint of chaos EVERYWHERE in the flow of magical energies, and the level of manna he could tap normally was lower than he liked it.

This was good news *and* bad news to Ranma. The good news was that it wouldn't take much of the right kind of dispelling to break his curse. A Healer priest could probably do it without much effort. If he could find the right counterspell, it wouldn't take long to weave the correct pattern, filter out the chaos, and then cast it. The bad news, and it was a doozy, is that if he went back home to cure the curse it could be strengthened by the higher ambient magic levels. Certainly it seemed to be the sort that grew stronger as the strength of the victim increased.

Another thing for the Very Bad pile was that he was currently using a technique with two circles of power and a tap into the nearest feng shui junction just to recharge his normal spell load. WITH filters in place, it could take him days to recharge just what he'd cast in his first week. During spelljammer operations, he'd met a few wizards (mainly from that Toril place) that memorized spells and then released them. In Shadar, one spent time learning a spell, and as long as one had enough manna one could cast that spell.

The lowest cost spell one could cast was something like the Image Sphere, just pushing light around and partially translucent. Unfortunately, Ranma was so used to using magic that to suddenly have to mind the costs was counter to habit. The spellsinger, tapping into wild magic, might have access to a bit more power as chaos seemed to have a local influence.

After more than six years learning how to pull in manna, store it, pattern and use it, NOT using magic wasn't an option. Maybe he couldn't cast a Dragonform spell while here, but he could still use Fireball.

Then there was the problem with the chaos infecting his spells. Ranma wasn't sure what would happen if he tried some of his more powerful magics like Nike's Wings.

Shampoo looked around the chamber and wondered if she could make nice with the doggie.

-----Shadar-------

The world was a sort of Dyson sphere, though that wasn't the term the inhabitants and most visitors knew it by. The great Shadarian Empire stretched out over thousands of miles. There were three neighbors, each of which was only a few hundred miles across themselves. The Goblin Reaches was an island seven hundred miles long that was populated by goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, kobolds, ogres, twisted ones, trollak, and other types who ruled by strength. Nihon was a kingdom largely composed of Delphins Amazons of House Rising Sun and was less than four hundred miles at its longest point. Finally came the Free Kingdom, despite the name not a kingdom so much as a large group of people who didn't want a single unified ruler and preferred to work without rules forced upon them. So mainly there were a lot of little rulers. Still, if you added each nation and empire and included the little outlying villages you ended up with less than one hundred thousand square miles of islands in a big ocean.

Scarcely a drop in the bucket. The inhabitants merely called it the world. Visitors called it big.

And in all that big, one 4'5" dwarf was trying not to track mud into the Imperial Palace and swearing under his breath all the way.

There were a large number of races mainly united through the Empire, though regional governors and the like tended to take care of the discrete clumps of them. So, of course, a trip through the outer areas of the Palace tended to present one with a wide variety of those communities' representitives. Unfortunately, this meant that one could be trampled or could accidently trample another. The halfling races (so called because each race was about the same size - roughly half the size of an elf and it was a convenient tag) were over a head shorter than Thurin, and pixies and the like even shorter. Then there were the bigger races, the nine foot tall ogrii and twelve feet long mu. And then there were Amazons and dwarves who were representitives for races who physically couldn't leave their homelands or tolerate this environment for whatever reasons.

Which made for a colorful chaos in the Outer Circle. Then one made one's way to the Inner Keep and things changed considerably. A few dwarves, a few elves, and LOTS of Delphins. He was passed through, though he had to check his axe Mountaincutter at the front. He was allowed to keep Wraithsfire due to respect for his beliefs. Thurin took some delight in Stormshadow being shaken down, though he was somewhat impressed at the number of hidden weapons unloaded. Silvara had no weapons, and the Amazons covered their dislike of nymphs fairly professionally.

Finally they reached the Inner Court and Thurin suppressed a gasp.

Stormshadow merely knelt, fist to chest, head bowed. Silvara DID gasp and stare.

The Emperor himself. Like Ranma, one of that near-extinct elder race known as humans. A young warrior from another space and time who had come and conquered - mainly through attitude and luck during a time when kingdoms had been shattered and laid waste by the Godswar. Now old and shriveled, thin flesh and scars over thin bones. The eyes, though, the eyes were still sharp and clear.

"First off, yes, as you can see the rumors are true." The old man's voice was a dry rasp that Thurin had to strain to hear. "Longevity potions and spells eventually stop being effective. I am at the end of my days and will go to join my First Wife soon. About time too. I never wanted this damn job."

Thurin nodded. One of the endearing traits of the Emperor was that he had never actually sought power, merely accepted the responsibility when it came down to it. Which, in the minds of many, made him the perfect man for the job. He generally stayed out of everyone's hair (those races that had hair) except to make sure that the various factions never started pushing any of the other factions around. The ninjas, the dragons, and the mu were enough for most threats.

"None of my heirs want the damn job either," continued the Emperor, eyes glittering. "Proving that they've got SOME sense at least. Heh. But I'm gonna see SOMEONE else stuck with the job before I pass on..."

"Not the kid?!" Thurin recovered and bowed an apology for his outburst.

"Pfeh. That Ranma? Hardly. HE has enough sense to weasel out of the job too. Though he's gonna go through SOME of my problems, and it'll be amusing to see someone else deal with 'em." The Emperor coughed a bit before resuming. "No, when he does get back he'll go through his Ordeal, and I've little doubt he'll both survive and pass- making him a Sapphirerank. I'd ordered him left alone as far as female companionship was concerned."

Silvara nodded and murmurred agreement to that.

"Oh, Stormshadow, DO get up. I've known you for over four hundred years now and you know damn well I can't stand all this prissy court stuff." The Emperor glared at the elven troubleshooter. "Where was I? Oh yes. I ordered him to be 'hands off' otherwise some of the Amazons or nymphs or even those elven lasses would have dragged him off as soon as he was old enough to leave Lijra's tower. Stormy there's been keeping an eye on him since he started adventuring, though low profile. Now that protection is about to end."

"The Sadie Hawkins Race, my liege?"

The Emperor glared first at Stormshadow for the use of a title, then at the Amazons still guarding the chamber. Neither was phased in the slightest, having endured such things for years. "Whoever dug up that ancient story and presented it to the Delphins should be shot, hanged, and drawn and quartered. EVERYONE knows how the Delphins take ancient concepts and find a way to fit it into their cultures. Hell, Ruine even discovered that House Rising Sun based their entire culture on a series of ancient holovid dramas about samurai and ninja. Though blonde beachbunny ninjas..." The Emperor shuddered slightly. "Fortunately there ain't many. Still, the Race is the best place for Ranma to determine who (and what) he will marry. Garr of Rising Sun and Izak of Southern Cross will also attend, standard rules.

"According to the mu, Ranma will re-enter our world soon. Something goes wrong, though, and he is accompanied by others." The Emperor made a face as if tasting something vile. "One of whom is an Analogue of the girl known as Scarlet."

SCHINNNNG! Many weapons were drawn simultaneously, only to have the embarassed Amazons slowly sheath them again.

"There is to be NO repeat of the previous disastrous series of events... You've got a blank look on your face, Thurin." The Emperor looked amused again.

"Who is Scarlet, milord?" Thurin still couldn't think of anyone with that name.

"Emperor, may I?" Stormshadow waited for the Emperor's nod. "Scarlet, like Ranma and the Emperor himself, was a traveller from offplane who arrived here by accident. She was discovered wandering in the desert, not dressed for the occasion, by Rebas the Diviner. Rebas determined the girl was lost and alone, and rescued her.

"Rebas had his little desert oasis, and had patterned his lifestyle on legends of ancient sheikhs such as those from Al-Qadim. Initial spells apparently determined that she was a very nice girl, and therefore he didn't take some precautions that he might otherwise have. She awoke, tended by nymphs dressed in keeping with Rebas' tastes, amid a feast and swirling dancers and the like. Upon finding herself dressed similarly (due to her own clothing being laundered), she proclaimed Rebas a pervert and killed him with a large blunt instrument. She escaped during the confusion that followed. Evidence suggests that she hadn't known that snapping the man's neck had killed him.

"Scarlet turned up next in a tavern frequented by Amazons of House Southern Cross and House Northstar. She reacted loudly and negatively to the presence of 'Amazons' and when asked if she was confusing the Feryl with the Delphins replied that all Amazons were the same. Naturally, several of the Amazons were about to forcibly correct this attitude when things turned even worse.

"One of the pacifist priests, a Healer, named Danyd of House Northstar, attempted to restrain Scarlet and stop the fight. Again she produced some sort of warhammer and brought it down on the apprentice Healer. He died. Scarlet later protested that she didn't expect anyone to die just because their skull had been crushed. Three other Amazons ALSO died trying to restrain her. Due to her actions, the White Temple cannot heal her, even if they try. Southern Cross, Northstar, and quite a few nymphs swore bloodfeud with Scarlet.

"Apparently, Scarlet went underground for awhile. When she resurfaced she'd learned the assassin's martial arts style known as the Black Rose. As long as she stayed in the Goblin Reaches, however, she was safe. On occasion, someone goes hunting for her and never returns. Also on occasion, someone is assassinated with the Black Rose style, and Scarlet is among the chief suspects. At least until recently, there are rumors that she returned to the world from which she came."

"Fair enough summation," the Emperor agreed. "However it turned out that the girl DIDN'T intend to kill. Once she had embarked on a path of denial and violence, however, the Rules Of Magic came into play and her karma sped her along that path. By the time my ninja and espers had untangled the events, she was already being indoctrinated into the Black Rose cult. She went on to become a power of death that was useful where she was, the Goblin Reaches. With her in power, the incursions of the Tribes were greatly reduced. With her having slain many of the upper echelons of the Black Rose, THAT group was also weakened.

"The White Temple may have forgiven the loss of a promising Healer. So, even though Scarlet had to require on potions for healing thereafter, they didn't pose much of a problem to this girl returning eventually. Like most of the ninja, they regard her as having come under the Rules for Tragic & Flawed Hero. The AMAZONS on the other hand, well, killing a child, a male of their species, AND a pacifist cleric was about the most reprehensible thing that could be done short of an event like the one that started the Feryl-Delphins War."

Muttered grumbles from the various guards in the chamber indicated their agreement.

"In any case, another such instance is to be avoided at all costs," the Emperor said, settling back into his throne. His hand moved a lever, which altered the throne into a recliner. "I grow weak now. This audience is at an end. I leave you with one final command. If Ranma returns with others, they will likely be human as well. Warn them of the Rules of Magic, and do your best to see that they end up in the roles they would have chosen. But if ANY look to become dangers to the populace and security of the realm - end the threat as quickly and mercifully as you can."

Thurin began reconsidering the problem on the way back to the ship. Originally he'd thought that Ranma would be sought, as the Wildhorse had one of the old spelljamming helms and the ship had performed flawlessly under the mage's direction. For everyone else, it wallowed.

----Eyecatch------

A mob of armored, sword wielding, orcs go rushing across the screen to exit Stage Right. A moment later, they trudge from R to L, now clothed solely in boxer shorts.

Camera pans right to reveal Nabiki with several large bundles marked "Swag" and operating a gambling table. She winks at the camera.

"Next!"

------China--------

Private Huang Li ran. The price for desertion from the Chinese Army was death.

Being shot to death was preferable to some things.

The effeminite Westerner continued walking around the village as if looking for something. The bullets had had as much effect as a thrown grenade. Zip, nada, nothing.

A panicked call by a retired Colonel had brought Huang's company running with an APC. Some sort of weird westerner using biological weapons? Or maybe someone had just gotten ahold of some of those pesky mogwai again. Like anyone paid attention to the rules about getting them wet or feeding them after midnight. So they'd come locked and loaded, ready for a bug hunt.

The last Huang had seen of his APC was that it had become a transforming vehicle. A grisly series of pops and crunches with accompanying screams had told him what had occurred to the remainder of his squad. The APC was now a suitcase-sized box in the middle of the road.

The town *seemed* deserted, but there were a lot of cows about for some reason.

The Westerner was THAT way. Which was why Huang Li was running THIS way. Besides, he needed to warn people. HIS village wasn't that far away.

-----Japan-------

Genma snuck along. With any luck, he wouldn't have to face Nodoka until MUCH later. Though her name meant "peaceful" - she was awfully fond of that sword.

Grumbling along in his wake was his eight year old daughter. She was *not* happy. "Why can't we go home, anyway, Pop? Mom's not gonna be as mad at you as she was after all that Catfist stuff."

Genma shuddered at the memory of THAT. (Who the heck reads all of the manual nowadays? That woman can be *so* unreasonable!)

Midori let out a deep breath, and tried to find some pleasant aspect of the situation to focus on. "Well, at least you'll get to visit that friend of yours while we're *hiding* from my mother." (Honestly, couldn't I have gotten better parents? My mother trusts my father, even AFTER crap like that Catfist training and the engagement to Satoshi, and the...)

"That's true," agreed Genma, brightening slightly. Maybe he could get a game of shogi in with his old pal Soun. And maybe he's remarried and had a son! We could still unite the two houses! His eyes tracked towards the green eyed girl who was trying to put on a cheerful face. (If I mention it in front of Midori, then she'll go straight to Nodoka and give everything away. Best to keep it quiet for now.)

"Well, at least it isn't raining!" Midori managed to chirp before the clouds started thickening overhead. "Oh, CRAP!"

The rain pattered down on the panda and son briefly before the boy pulled a girl's umbrella out and started muttering about how difficult it was to try to keep a "positive mental outlook" with a father like Genma.

Genma tried to look hurt, but the panda didn't quite pull it off.

------------------

Ranma regarded the two girls sitting just outside the circle and then his biological mother.

"Two words! PORK CUTLETS!" A shout from elsewhere in the house announced that Akane had located P-chan again.

"So you're withholding judgement?" Ranma asked curiously, not able to leave his current position without disrupting the flows of energy.

"For now," Nodoka agreed. "I may have been over hasty in my judgement."

Kasumi nodded.

Shampoo looked at Kasumi, her expression unreadable.

Ranma shook his head, not understanding. "Well, whatever the case. I think I've got a lock on some of the problems and can wrap things up here soon."

"RANMA! YOU MUST MARRY..." Soun slammed into the outer ward.

"I'm sorry, Mister Tendo. I've heard the Emperor doesn't want me to marry until after my next Ordeal."

"Ordeal?" Kasumi asked politely, of course.

Ranma was grateful to be able to talk about something familiar, as opposed to marriages and the like. Wasn't he too young? Heck, elves didn't marry until they'd passed the century mark. Dwarven women were in their forties before they took their first husband. Besides, Kasumi reminded him too much of Lijra. It just didn't seem right.

"The Ordeal is something the Mage Guild worked out centuries ago. Only those who pass their Ordeal are allowed to proceed into the next rank. The one I passed to become Emeraldrank involved a Trial By Combat, some fruitloop named Wyndlace challenged me." Ranma rolled his eyes at the memory. "You know, that was one of those elves that give the rest of 'em a bad name. He felt that because I had received four battlefield rank advances, I had to go through four Ordeals to make up for it. Nobody else agreed, and when he hit me with four Ordeals wired together, KHARON got incensed.

"Anyway, what Wyndlace hit me with was the typical Locked Room trial. A cage with anti-teleport wards being slowly lowered down a cable towards a lava pool. So I'm hacking and coughing from the fumes while I get a Telekinesis spell off and lift the keys from one of the guards. The guards start SHOOTING at me, making me use a Shield spell, then one of 'em pulls out a *morrani* dagger!"

Everyone, including Soun (who was still rubbing his nose) noted how Ranma had put emphasis on that word.

"A 'moranni' dagger?" Kasumi politely inquired.

"Morrani. Developed thousands of years ago by the elves, even during the worst days of the Elven Empire though, they never used *them* that much." Ranma noted that nobody looked as if they understood it. "Look, moranni weapons have a blue-black glow to them. Just being in the room with an unsheathed one is pretty horrific, you *feel* the blade's presence. They're a shard of the True Death, you even get nicked by one and you might die from it. And if you die from a moranni weapon, that's it, you can't be brought back and there's no trace of your soul as far as magic can determine. They're *evil* - even goblins and orcs won't usually touch the damn things. Sorta like having a poison that taints everything it touches and that actively WANTS to kill everything around it.

"So, even the animals that Wyndlace had around to attack me are fleeing. Trained attack snakes or not, even really vicious dumb critters can feel the presence of a moranni weapon and want as far away as they can. Wyndlace held that this invalidated the Ordeal.

"Kharon and the Council came down on Wyndlace like a dwarven blacksmith on a beer. Not only did he have a damn moranni weapon, he entrusted it to a low level hireling- tell me that THAT wasn't a disaster waiting to happen. Not only did he overstep his boundaries with an Ordeal of that fatality level, but then he tries to bargain with Kharon. Dumb, really dumb. You can't bribe or argue with Kharon, you cross him and you're damn near crossing the Emperor.

"So he's looking at demotion or censure. THEN he goes and compounds the problem by making an attempt on my life just prior to his sentencing. Four hundred fifty years old and STILL an idiot. So last I hear he's facing permanent exile or worse!"

Everyone was silent, having tuned out at various points.

Soun had tuned out at the thought that back where Ranma came from, it was possible to return from being dead.

Kasumi thought about how horrible these Ordeals sounded and how she just wanted to hug Ranma and give him some reassurance.

Nodoka considered the references to battlefield promotions and wondered how much Ranma had actually seen.

Nabiki noted that it sounded like this "Emperor" had a personal interest in Ranma. And if so, might not a clever individual be able to use that closeness to curry favor with the wealthy?

The sounds of violence being committed downstairs indicated that at least two individuals weren't paying much attention to any of this.

------------------
GAMING DATA:

Crystal Matrix- a form of technology developed in the Sixth Age that is still mainly in the rudimentry stages. Crystals grown in the Storm Zone have proven to have some odd properties such as being able to be "tuned" to a different effect and store magical *or* psionic energies. Unfortunately, storing the energy in an untuned crystal usually causes a small explosion. Skyjammer engines usually consist of Levitation stones set as the strips of a rotating cage. The angle of the cage around the central core as well as the speed of the cage, determines the speed of the ship and angle of ascent/descent.
Mage cannon are normally barrels of brass or some similar metal, hinged, with the insides composed of an array of spell crystals. Fire, force, ice, and lightning mage cannon have been developed by the Delphins for ship-to-ship combat.

oh, and i used moranni as it's better than Deathshard (what they were called years ago in the game), and they are *similar* to Steven Brust's "morganti" weapons. Not the same or i would have adopted the name entirely.



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