"A Short Discussion about `The Universe'"

by Neil Reynolds

Chapter 1: The Basis of Magic

Nabiki Tendo made it a habit to carry a small tape recorder as a means of accurately reviewing information whenever she was pursuing information that would be important to her. The really important conversations would then be uploaded onto her computer, compressed, encrypted using a key-disk, and stored on CD-ROM. These, along with the older method of using pads of note-paper could be locked up when not in use.

For this reason, we have a complete record of her conversations with Cologne of the Amazons.

Cologne: What can I do for you today?

Nabiki: I'd like you to teach me what you can about using magic.


Cologne: Normally I'd just turn away anyone who asked that. Assuming for the moment that I could, I don't think that it is something that either of us would want.

Nabiki: I should be able to judge what I want, don't you think?

Cologne: Yes, you should. However you don't have any real idea as to what it would entail. Effectively you don't yet know what you'd be getting yourself into. But lets deal with the easier argument. Why should I teach you? You aren't a member of our tribe. You're the sister of the enemy of my great grand daughter.

Nabiki: Hardly. If Shampoo and Akane were merely enemies, this whole business surrounding Ranma would have long been over. You're fostering their competition for your own ends.

Cologne: As are you. But why should I help you in this?

Nabiki: For one thing, if you don't, then I'll find some other method of learning it. You'd rather be in a position to supervise me. As for another reason, well, any of the reasons that you're training Ranma in martial arts would do. My intellectual skills suit me as his physical skills suit him. Perhaps you would like an heir?

Cologne: I can use Shampoo for that.

Nabiki: Shampoo can learn martial arts also, so why train Ranma?

Cologne: As Shampoo's husband, he'll be a member of the tribe.

Nabiki: You and I both know that that is merely a bargaining position, not a certainty. Besides, Ranma is Shampoo's better in martial arts. I'm Shampoo's better at intellectual pursuits.

Cologne: Still, his sense of responsibility will link him inexorably with the tribe, no matter who he marries. Ranma's delightfully old-fashioned that way. The more you give him, the more he feels he owes you. You would have fared still better with him had you realized that early enough.

Nabiki: Blame that on the inexperience of youth. I'm not used to dealing with modern kids who hold traditional values, and it's not that easy to switch modes of thought to giving, when you are already taking money from the students at large.

Cologne: Still, Ranma is tied to the tribe, and you aren't.

Nabiki: I'm pretty sure you could find some way to satisfactorily tie me in if you do teach me. Besides, if Ranma marries a Tendo, I'll be his sister-in-law. That should be a start, anyway.

Cologne: Never-the-less. You are stronger willed, and harder to manipulate than others. Why would I want to give you more power to fight me with than you already have?

Nabiki: Would we fight?

Cologne: We're fighting now.

Nabiki: Would you want a weak willed heir, that has to run to you for every little thing, or one who thinks for herself?

Cologne: I'd want one who thinks independently, but would defer to my advice on subjects I know more about. I think you should forget about learning magic. Good day.

Nabiki: As this is hardly an emergency, there is no need for me to instantly follow your suggestion. Let us discuss it some more, Sensei.

Cologne: Would I have to argue with you every time I want you to do something?

Nabiki: Hardly. If a martial artist shouts "Duck", I'll duck. In a non-emergency though, I like to be convinced that I'm doing things for the right reasons.

Cologne: And in a situation where I know a reason that you don't, and I don't feel I can tell you?

Nabiki: Then you'd have to depend on me trusting you. I'm sure you'd foster such trust in someone you were teaching.

Cologne: Well then, assuming I were able to teach you, and assuming that you were bound to the tribe, I could see you as a possible student. However, There are reasons that you would not want to learn magic, but you'd have to learn magic to understand them.

Nabiki: There are obvious reasons not to learn martial arts, such as the pain involved, yet people still learn them. Can you give me an idea in layman's terms why I wouldn't want to learn about magic?

Cologne: Well, there are several. The most obvious is that it isn't a safe practice.

Nabiki: But then neither is anything else around here, except needlepoint. And I'm pretty sure a member of the school for martial arts needlepoint will come through town eventually.

Cologne: Once you start on magic, you cannot just drop it. And the more you learn, the more you realize you have to learn in order to be safe. Plus, magic speaks to magic. How much mystical craziness was drawn to Nerima by Ranma's arrival?

Nabiki: Still, I never liked the idea of safety through ignorance, and hoping to be left alone. Plus, I'm already living in interesting times.

Cologne: You may be living in them, but you aren't living them yet. You've watched the insanity, not been affected by it. Plus there are dangers that only occur to those who know magic.

Nabiki: Still, I'm the sort who'd rather more knowledge. I have much less problem with dangers I understand, than always being a victim of whatever magical vagaries pass through. Now that I know of the existence of magic. I can't content myself with ignorance. You can't put the chicken back into the egg.

Cologne: True, but as your teacher, I'd face many of the same problems that this would create as you will.

Nabiki: If teaching it is as bad as all that how does anyone get taught?

Cologne: Few enough do. Why do you think that there isn't a hundred magic practitioners in the phone-book? That is the main reason I didn't wish to teach you.

Nabiki: But you're willing now?

Cologne: I didn't say that.

Nabiki: What other reasons do you have?

Cologne: I have severe doubts about my ability to teach you anything useful. Partly because I don't know how touched by magic you are, and partly because of our vastly different backgrounds.

Nabiki: I would think that after living here I could be considered touched by magic.

Cologne: It's actually a technical term. Let this be your first lesson, granted provisionally. As I said before magic calls magic. A person growing up in an environment without any magic would be unable to do any magic even if they had the knowledge. There would be nothing for them to work with.

Nabiki: But that would imply that you can gift magic abilities. Just cast a spell on them and they'd be touched, right?

Cologne: True, but in practice it isn't that simple. Would you be willing to jump into Jusenkyou in order to be sufficiently charged? In any case, it's not only a matter of how much magic hits you, but how much sticks to you, can be stored in you, and how it drains off. Think of it like heat. If you're protected by a perfect insulator, none will get in, but if you transmit it perfectly, it would enter, and drain right back out.

Nabiki: But nothing in life is so perfect. Are the odds that high that I'd be incapable of magic? Besides, I want to understand how it works even if I am unable to influence it directly.

Cologne: You're right. Few people are completely magically dead. It would just be a matter of finding out the best way to start you off. Throwing you into Nannichuan would probably do it.

Nabiki: I hope you can find a less extreme method if it is necessary.

Cologne: Oh, I should be able to do something. How about a magical potion to make you and Mousse fall in love? Then you'd be in the tribe, and we'd kill two birds with one stone.

Nabiki: Between the two choices, I'd pick the Jusenkyou curse.

Cologne: I'm sure we'll come up with something if it's necessary. Alright. I'll agree to it provisionally. I'll instruct you, until I deem it unwise. I'll raise other objections along the way, and if you can not come up with convincing reasons, then I'll stop.

Nabiki: OK, how do we start?

Cologne: We already did. this was your first lesson. I'll assign homework for the groundwork for our next lesson. As this is for your benefit at your instigation, you can decide how much you need to do. List all of the different methods of spells that you have seen or heard of around here, plus read up on both legends and fiction and list the magic methods used. You decide how many books to read, and come back when you think you have done a sufficient job.

* * *

Cologne: So Nabiki, what have you noticed?

Nabiki: Well, there seem to be several branches of magic, and groups tend to pick one and stick to it. The Amazons favor potions, and cooking related methods. The Phoenix tribe makes artifacts from the byproducts of their immortal god-king. Happosai likes to use Shinto items in casting spells. The implications are that either different forms of magic cannot be used together, or that no one understands magic well enough to combine two different styles. I assume that you will teach me your tribe's form of alchemy.

Cologne: A good observation, and a good hypothesis. Unfortunately you are wrong. There is only one type of magic in the world, and one method for casting a spell, and billions of methods of casting a spell.

Nabiki: Is this some gnostic contradiction like Christianity's one that are three gods that are one, or is it some kind of riddle.

Cologne: It's a koan. A riddle meant to impart an understanding that fails to be adequately expressible in language.

Nabiki: You're not going to hit me on the head to help me achieve Satori, are you?

Cologne: No, just if you act stubborn or dense.

Nabiki: Was that the sum of todays lesson. Am I supposed to meditate on the koan until I understand?

Cologne: You can do that in your own time. I will do my best to explain, and in time you'll grasp it fully. If each person could follow an instruction sheet, and cast a spell, it would put magic in the sphere of science, or physics. There can be no instruction books of stored spells. Each mage has to make their own, for only their spells would work for them.

Nabiki: But Shampoo uses your books, and claims that they are Amazon heritage.

Cologne: There are ways around most rules in magic. In this regard you might treat all amazons as a single person. Even in this case, there are spells of mine that she couldn't use, even if she became a better mage than I. I could loan you my books, and you probably would never get one spell to work.

Nabiki: I don't understand why.

Cologne: It's related to another saying about magic, and one of the reasons I was against teaching you. It's "There's nothing more dangerous than an insane mage, and there's no such thing as a sane mage." There are always hidden costs in doing things because we can not see all of the ramifications beforehand. Learning magic changes you in unexpected ways. If you ever meet an insane mage, grab your loved ones and flee. You'd be better off juggling knives with a sociopath.

Nabiki: I still don't understand.

Cologne: Using magic isn't the act of a sane woman. I toss a ball into the air, and it falls until it hits something. It doesn't hover in midair against all common sense, unless we want it to.

Nabiki: Magic relies on belief? A sane person doesn't believe in magic?

Cologne: Belief is important, but that wasn't my point. Belief is important for the strength of a spell, for lack of a better word. I'm discussing the ability to use magic at all. Magic exists. This is an undeniable fact. A sane person faced with this fact would have to accept it. The point I'm working toward deals with the woman's view of the world itself, not their belief in magic. Remember, someone can be sane, and wrong, or misinformed. Imagine for the sake of argument that you have always been one of the perfectly sane people. Before Ranma showed up, you believed magic was impossible. After Ranma, you believed magic was possible. The world didn't suddenly change, neither did you. There is no reason to say you became more or less sane at that moment. Think about how we view the world, and not what we believe about the world

Nabiki: The way we view the world? Before you mentioned a desire to make the ball float. You mean magic is caused by insane desires? Are you suggesting the Hindu idea of the world being illusionary maya caused by our desires?

Cologne: Bah. That only works if we carefully define "real world". No. The real world is real enough for me. Yes, desire is a necessary component in spell-craft. Your religious beliefs on the nature of existence are your own, and I'm not about to try to give you mine. Casting a spell has more to do with the caster than with the object of the caster. Change the caster and rework the spell. The spell is affected by a multitude of minor differences in the caster. It relies on the bizarre foibles that separate each individual from a homogeneous society of sane individuals, all acting and thinking the same. Viva la difference. It just so happens that due to our isolation, all amazons have a homogeneous culture, so we share many of the same mental kinks. That's why Shampoo's spells would be similar to mine. For them to work best for her, she'd have to adjust the recipes through trial and error. A truely sane person wouldn't have any tools to cast a spell. An insane person would have too many.

Nabiki: OK, I can accept it on principle, but I can't say I understand it.

Cologne: I'd be surprised if you truely did. I can offer you an analogy. Your older sister is very well adjusted socially. She has her niche, and seems content within it. Could a person like that rule a country? Could any of the world's great conquerors have had her attitude? To rule requires a dissatisfaction. A happy, content person would have no need to deal with politics or warfare. In this regard you could argue that one needs that dissatisfaction to rule, or rise in power. So to, do we need foibles to cast spells.

Nabiki: OK, I think I can see that.

Cologne: Well then, perhaps we'd better end this lesson. You'll need time to prepare for the next. The next one will probably be unpleasant for you. Unfortunately I don't know any other method.

Nabiki: Is this where we start bizarre methods involving fire or swinging boulders?

Cologne: No. Something much less pleasant for someone like you. I cannot teach you without better understanding your foibles. This requires you to open parts of you to my scrutiny. Are you willing to answer personal questions about yourself honestly? Letting me find out how you think? Your speed in learning will be related to the level of trust you are willing to give me.

Nabiki: And this is the only way to proceed?

Cologne: Well it's the only morally acceptable way. I need the information to proceed. The other alternative would be to tear that information from your brain. I refuse to do that. You'll have to relax your inhibitions and provide the information voluntarily.

Nabiki: You can tear information from another person?

Cologne: I'm not good at it. My victim would probably die in the attempt. It's like throwing an egg against the wall in order to extract the yolk. Given the choice, I'd rather kill someone.

Nabiki: I'm not sure I can be that honest with you.

Cologne: If it's any consolation, I don't look forward to the process either. You might look at it like a visit to a therapist. The end result is for your benefit. If you're not willing to continue, or if you are not willing to reveal enough to be useful, I'll understand.

* * *

Cologne: Well Nabiki, do you want to continue?

Nabiki: I'm willing to try; I'm not sure how much I can open up to you.

Cologne: Well, if you feel you need it, I have spells of my own that would dampen your emotional reactions. You'd still have your intellectual inhibitions, but your emotional reaction to them would be dulled. There are a variety of reasons that I would rather not use it. But if it proves too difficult for you, we can try it. Lets start off slowly. You're walking down a street, and a complete stranger walks up to you and tries to hand you a 1,000 yen note.

Nabiki: Why?

Cologne: He doesn't want to say.

Nabiki: Does he want a receipt?

Cologne: No, just for you to take the money. Why do you hesitate?

Nabiki: I want the money, but I don't trust him.

Cologne: Say he looks ordinary, and unconcerned if you take it.

Nabiki: I'm a good judge of character, but I can be fooled. I refuse.

Cologne: He leaves, walks around a corner and disappears. Would you have taken it if it were less money?

Nabiki: If it were obviously an inconsequential amount like a 5 yen coin, I'd probably accept or refuse, whichever was easier to get away from him.

Cologne: How about a vastly larger sum? Say twenty 10,000 yen notes?

Nabiki: Then I would take it, thank him, go to the bank, put it in my lock-box, and report to an official that I found it on the ground. That way if something's wrong with it, I wont be incriminated.

Cologne: Very careful. Why couldn't it just be charity?

Nabiki: People only give charity to people who need it, not random strangers. It doesn't happen often in any case. More likely it's a confidence man, or possession of the money would be injurious to him. Maybe it's counterfeit and he's trying to cover his tracks by spreading it around.

Cologne: Next question. An obviously destitute boy is trying to get a sentimental possession that has blown out of his reach. It's only 2 meters up, but he can't reach it. You happen to be walking by.

Nabiki: I'd hand it to him.

Cologne: You'd do it for nothing?

Nabiki: If he were obviously wealthy I might finagle some money out of him. But I don't mind doing something small for others without reimbursement.

Cologne: Now we come to the heart of today's lecture. I want you to answer emotionally, or instinctively if you prefer, to this scenario. Afterwards I'll ask you for a reasoned explanation. There's no reason to think that the two answers will be the same, so don't worry about giving the wrong answer, because there really isn't a wrong answer to the first part, merely possible untruths and self-deceptions.

Nabiki: I'm not sure what you want here.

Cologne: I want your opinion off the top of your head, even if its one you would never act upon because after a few seconds, You'd rationally chose a more thought out action. The idea is to see which way your mind would jump under odd circumstances. Most of your life is intellectually focused. You think things through before doing something, but there is always an immediate response before you've let an idea be digested. If someone shouts "look out", you dodge, and in the time remaining try to figure out where is safe. But before you determine how to duck, you are already in motion. It's these instinctual responses, and I'm using the term "instinctual" loosely, that prevent any rational, logical model of thought to simulate human thinking. They color our thought processes to some degree, and are a strong driver for lateral thinking. You being a very logical person, probably pay it little mind in your deliberations, but you also probably overuse rationalization after the fact to explain why you did something impulsively. That's why it is necessary for me to give you this long explanation beforehand. You expect there to be one answer, where I want two.

Nabiki: All right, like in free association, you want the immediate correlary, instead of a logical one.

Cologne: Exactly. You're in a situation you've been in hundreds of times. Maybe it's dealing with betting at school, or a fight between Kuno and Akane. You know exactly how it is going to go. You may be even feeling bored, because it's so obvious what is going to happen. But then it doesn't. What caused the bizarre to happen?

Nabiki: Someone else manipulating things. Something I overlooked. Who profits and is smart enough to do this.

Cologne: OK, lets look at a specific case, and get your better thought out answers. Akane and Kuno are about to fight, because Kuno blindly loves Akane, and Akane can't stand Kuno. Instead of punching him, she says "Lets play Shogi."

Nabiki: Well, it's a distraction ploy. She doesn't really want to play with him, so she's doing it to distract him from something else. There are easier ways to distract him, so either shogi is involved for some reason, and she fixated on it, or it was completely planned from before this. Barring any Shogi martial arts challenges, she must have had the idea given to her. She's too direct to plan it out in advance, and if shogi wasn't important, she'd pick something easier. So someone offered advice, and shogi was mentioned. Either it was the fathers, or someone else mentioned something, and she immediately associated it with our father's games. First hypothesis, Kasumi suggested something involving distraction and drew an analogy to our parent's cheating. What's Kuno being distracted from? Look in the areas he'd be if things happened normally.

Cologne: Let me give you a bit of amazon history to show you how we regard the inconceivable. Whenever amazon society was flexible, we'd adapt new ideas of other people into our outlooks. Whenever it was rigid, we'd reject the outside world. One of those periods that shaped our beliefs were the logical/philosophical arguments of the Greeks. From Heraclitus's discarding organized religion as a control method for the powerful, to Pythagoras's explorations of the nature of matter, to Plato's Ideal Forms. The universe was knowable, both from observation, and from purely rational deliberation. The basis for the "scientific method", which was lost in Europe through the dark ages until the renaissance.
So when magic was proved to exist, We fit it into this mind-set. What rules did magic follow? Remember, that this was the time when the idea of something acting had nothing to do with whether it were observed or not. The idea of wondering what sound a falling tree made if no one was there would have been considered insanity. So first we decide what rules we thought magic could follow, and then we test to see if we were right. And, of course we found that we were right. This inspired many of the rules of magic. The law of similarity. The law of contagion. The law of synthesis. And of course any magic that we tried that violated our laws failed, because we knew they would. There was, of course magic out there that didn't obey our rules, but we couldn't create it. This we classified as "Wild Magic". We assumed there were rules governing it, but no one knew what they were.
Now the Greeks had a mania for classifying things, which our magi adopted. After all, the Greek way worked for nearly everything, and for what it failed to explain, it would get around to it any day. So here's the big question. What are the smallest units of existence by which everything is made, and how many are there? Well, anyone studying science at all will realize what a wonderful job of classification current thought uses.
Science said "The smallest unit of something is the molecule, because that's how we define a molecule." Molecules can change, but that changes what an item is. There are arguably an infinite number of them. But then we want to describe how molecules change. We decide that molecules are constructed of building blocks. about a dozen peculiar ones, and a whole load of metals. So we define atoms as the smallest unit. Current science has classified about a hundred. But these atoms have similar properties, and form a logical progression. To explain this, we have all atoms being constructed of electrons, protons and neutrons. We're down to three. At this point science didn't really need a name for this group, because they are so few, and so different. This classification lasted almost three hundred years with only slight revising. Now we split the neutron and find quarks, super-strings, and energy/probability wave theory.
Similarly science traditionally had gravity, electromagnetics, and the unimaginatively named strong and weak atomic forces, and to this day, scientists are trying to show how they relate.
We started off with the usual three types of matter. Earth, Water and Air, or Solid, Liquid, and Gas if you prefer.
Fire was an obvious one, Chi was also pretty obvious. Spirit was another classification, but it seemed somehow tied with chi, like electricity and magnetism. The last element we used, was the out of style Greek fourth element Phlogisten. Phlogisten was the magical force by which other forces or elements could be manipulated. No one saw it directly, but there had to be something that allowed us to pull rabbits from hats.
Now since no one had a glass full of Phlogisten handy, we had to experiment with it through the other forces. Spirit and Chi were good, but they required huge effort to even tap them. The obvious idea is to use alchemical experiments to generate, liberate, or channel the Phlogisten. We want magic to be repeatable, otherwise it's useless to us.
Thus most Amazon magic is based around recipes. Potions and concoctions derived from very specific items in exact amounts. And because these beliefs are all but hardwired into the Amazons, nearly all Amazons who learn magic find potions the way to go.
This brings us back to my question of what you would think happened if the unexpected happened. An Amazon would be more likely to look at specifics to look for oddities. What were they wearing? What did they eat recently? What out of the ordinary could have prompted this deviation from the norm.
You wont get much success out of using alchemical formulae to cast spells, like we do. You aren't going to turn into a spell-casting cook who spends her time in the kitchen.
Whatever will work for you will probably have more to do with the focus of wills between people. Desires, deals, bargaining and manipulations.
Your homework for this lesson is to start to write a sort of followup on Sun Tzu's "The Art of War". Call it "The Art of Manipulating." And no fair cribbing Machiavelli. You aren't trying to rule a city-state, you're manipulating people in school. Try to find rules that seem to always work.

* * *

Cologne: You have an admirable skill at manipulating people and situations for one of your age. What do you think would be the biggest obstacle against using your skills in manipulating magic and the physical world around you?

Nabiki: My methods rely on using the desires and emotions and mental shortcomings of people against them. It can't work on things that are inanimate.

Cologne: Surely you aren't ready to dismiss the idea of Kami inhabiting things around us. Let us take it as a given that I could point out a tree that has all of those characteristics. Desires and feelings, and easily less intelligent than you. There are hundreds of trees like that all over Nerima. Manipulate it into doing something.

Nabiki: I can't manipulate a tree. I'd need to be able to talk to it at least.

Cologne: Therein lies the problem. You need a pre-existing link in order to manipulate someone. No matter what you do or say, a quarter billion Americans couldn't give a damn. There are beings of immense power that you could manipulate, but are unable, because you haven't met them. It reminds me of an old Amazon expression, "It's so hard to assassinate someone, whom one has not been introduced socially." Anyone can attack anyone else, but only a friend or ally can betray you. After all, "It is necessary to get behind someone in order to stab them in the back."

Nabiki: You make it sound so sordid. Not all manipulation is betrayal.

Cologne: Manipulation is getting someone to do something that they wouldn't have done otherwise. Its very nature is betrayal. Thats not to say that it might not be for the better. The same knife that can kill can be used to save a life, but that doesn't change the fact that a knife is a sharp pointy thing designed to separate two things that were once one.

Nabiki: Betrayal for a good purpose? Sounds like a rationalization to me.

Cologne: The world wasn't created with the goal of allowing a simple and absolute ethics system. "Omniscient," "Omnipotent," "Omnibenevolent," The creator of existence had at most two out of three of those features. Life cannot exist on this planet without taking something that another life needs. Everything we eat, was at one point alive. Even if we could survive like plants on sunlight, we'd be taking up space that another plant could use. Every action we take has a negative effect, even if it's so small we can't isolate it from the background noise. Every belief system has to confront this if it is to be relevant to this reality. If you ignore or dismiss the pain you cause, you are bound to cause more than you need to. The only way to cause no pain, is never to have lived. This is why evil is usually loosely defined as being unconcerned with the pain it causes.

Nabiki: So being good would be always doing whatever causes the least pain?

Cologne: No. Causing the least pain is backing away from life. If you never were conceived you'd have caused less pain than anyone alive. Good is living and taking responsibility for the pains you do cause. Sometimes the best action is the most painful one. Are you doing good if you never get out of bed in the morning? You might be minimizing the pain and suffering you and others feel, but you aren't doing good. I don't know how we drifted to talking about Ethics. Lets go back to Metaphysics and Manipulation. Manipulating Kuno is easy for you, but suppose you wanted to manipulate Kuno's hypothetical cousin? You'd either manipulate Kuno into manipulating the cousin, or you'd use Kuno to help you form a relationship with the cousin. Either way, you're extending your power through channels you've already established in order to form new ones. Unfortunately, when it comes to magic, you have almost no channels to start with.

Nabiki: So how should I begin?

Cologne: Think back to the last time you started off with nothing. How did you gain financial power at school?

Nabiki: Well, the safer method was to loan out money to people I could control either through their reputations, or through Akane. The riskier method was making sucker bets.

Cologne: If they were sucker bets, how were they risky?

Nabiki: Sometimes random chance throws a spanner in your plans, and sometimes your opponent is playing you for a sucker. If someone offers you a bet that Kuno will have applesauce on his clothes, there's a 90% chance that someone is planning to attack with applesauce.

Cologne: Well then, You start off with no magic, and most of the magic around you is locked into forms like Ranma's curse, where there is no one for you to bargain with. You are unable, by your nature, to properly make use of something unless you've earned it. Therefor your first move will be to provide something in exchange for magic. You'll have to do it at some point, so you'll concentrate on getting the best deal possible.

Nabiki: This isn't an attempt to tie me to the tribe, is it?

Cologne: No more that getting money from Kuno ties you to him. In order to get as far as you have, you had to start by restricting your possibilities. People deal with you because they know you'll keep your end of a bargain. Before you cast your first spell, you'll have to give something up. However at this point, you have a choice as to what to tie yourself to. You can give up something nearly worthless to yourself, if you can find the right trade.

Nabiki: Where do I look for these trades?

Cologne: Well, there are the deities, and the anthropomorphics of natural trends, like death. They're an easy road to power as long as you promise eternal obedience.

Nabiki: That's not for me. What other choices are there?

Cologne: Don't knock it completely. If you found one whose nature meshed with your own, your life would barely change. Still, it would better suit your nature to be a sub-contractor to the major powers. Not a lackey, and certainly not an equal, but someone who could rise to be one.
Your best bet would be if someone offered you a task, but no gods are beating a path to your door asking for help. So with no demand for your services, you really have only three choices. The easiest is to wait for someone to come drop power into your lap, and jump at the right opportunity.

Nabiki: Not proactive enough. What are the other two?

Cologne: Oaths are the next easy. Bind your options until you are the kind of person that some power likes. The oaths can give you some power, but in the end, you'll be waiting to serve. Don't rule this out completely. It is, after all, the lynchpin to how your loaning and gambling empire works.

Nabiki: And the third?

Cologne: Yes, the best and hardest for last. There's no demand for your abilities. Make a demand. Address some need that is as yet, unrealized.

Nabiki: And how would I do that?

Cologne: I've no idea. You're not completely without connections though. You know where dragons and phoenix live. Ranma's nekoken is not merely a martial arts skill. Through Ranma, you've met shape-shifters and followers of bizarre faiths. There are the myths of Japan, and other countries to draw upon.
Remember though, what ever deals you make will change you. Make a deal with a judge of the underworld, and you can kiss goodbye any chance of becoming a polyanna.

Nabiki: Not like that's likely.

Cologne: But seriously, do you want to end up moral, immoral, or amoral?

Nabiki: What do you mean by morals?

Cologne: If you really don't know, then amoral it is. Morals are ethics as it applies to a society at large. If you accept yourself as a member of a group, you must learn the underlying beliefs, and decide if you will follow them. Ranma is ethically required to marry Shampoo, Ukyou, and Akane. According to Japanese society, he is morally required to marry Akane and Ukyou. According to Amazon society, he's morally required to recognize he's already married to Shampoo.
There are many powers that advocate survival of the fittest. The betterment of yourself over the welfare of others. They're immoral. There are powers that champion self-sacrifice. Things that better the group at the expense of the individual. There are still others who don't understand the concept, or don't consider it as important. Or at least not as important as their primary sphere if interest. Someone without morals isn't necessarily evil.

Nabiki: Well, immoral sounds dangerous, I'm not sure I could handle a strict moral outlook. I can't see myself jumping into the path of danger like Ranma, or living like Kasumi.

Cologne: Amoral has is own problems too. People will do things for Ranma and Kasumi, that you'll have to pay them to do. If a monster attacks, they'll jump in, because they know he would do the same for them.
Still there are enough magical creatures and gods that being amoral is a decent choice. Dragons care little of society at large, and then there are nature gods, gods that exist to protect the home islands. Trickster gods, and gods that merely want entertainment.
Your homework for this session is to come up with some plans to get some magical creatures' good will. We may even try one.

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Nabiki: You mentioned gods that protect the home islands, is there power in protecting others?

Cologne: Definitely. Some of my power springs from my vows to protect the Joketsuzoku and the magical items in our possession.

Nabiki: So, would it be possible to use money to buy protection for a magical area? Say I had the money to set up a foundation that owned Ryugenzawa, and protect it in perpetuity?

Cologne: Yes, that would work. There'd be problems defending it against the government using "Eminent Domain." You'd also have problems setting up things so that you aren't perceived as holding the area hostage. And if you did set it up in such a way that you couldn't undo it, then you'd have to have some way to insure their gratitude. After all, gratitude is merely "a lively expectation of favors to come."
The biggest problem with it is that it has already been done. With the eight headed Orochi dragon, and the water of life, even a one percent tithe of power to it's protector is a powerful dividend.

Nabiki: I'll have to research who did it.

Cologne: Not at your stage. If you investigate, you'll be noticed, and either classified as a friend or an enemy. Either way, your chance to select your future will be gone.
You've already lost some of your choices when you came to me, I'm not going to let you become a necromancer, or demonologist. I don't mind if you deal with the dead or damned, but I wont train you if I think that that is your primary bent.

Jusenkyou is in a communist country, so the only way to protect it is through force of arms. which you'll note is already a crowded playing field.

Nabiki: So if 'm going to be a protector, I'll have to start smaller.

Cologne: Either start smaller, or join a group that already has staked a claim. Indeed, you'll find that the stronger the ties you make with the amazons, you'll receive some power from us.

Nabiki: What about Ranma? Does an attachment to him provide power?

Cologne: Not because of his curse. The curse is a mindless spell, or at least too obscure to contact to consider intelligent. His nekoken is a living thing, if its desires could be determined, there's a source of power. There's also the powers that have their finger stuck into the destiny of that boy.

Nabiki: So what would a Nekoken-kami want?

Cologne: Certainly not to have Ranma's phobia cured. It will fight that tooth and nail. You'll find odd coincidences cropping up whenever anyone tries to cure him.
Perhaps it wants Ranma's body full-time, or to better merge with Ranma. Maybe it wants more time spent in the nekoken. I imagine that on some level it wants to reproduce itself, or replicate itself. Watching Ranma, I'd imagine that it is still at the intellectual level of a kitten, but eventually it will become a cat. Set in its ways, and more powerful, but not likely to make changes.
I've been researching a method of transferring it to several young amazon girls, to dilute it to several young, so that they could accept it without the accompanying fear, but still access some of it, and maybe gradually gain the whole nekoken in time, without the disadvantages that Ranma suffers.

Nabiki: I have noticed an affectation towards cats among amazons, including things from before Shampoo got her current curse.

Cologne: Yes, thats due to alliances of power that I'll only divulge when you are bound to us.

Nabiki: You say it like it's inevitable.

Cologne: Not yet, it isn't. But you will slowly be tied to us through enlightened self-interest. Your future success in a male-dominated society will require you to accept backers at some point, and the amazons are nearly ideal for you. The only question is whether we will form a mutually beneficial arrangement, or if we're going to hold out for more than the other is willing to give.
Take for example the idea of training you in magic. There are other people who could teach you something, But for obvious reasons you've approached me before trying Happosai, or the Musk Dynasty, or even self-study. Now I could make some outrageous requirement, like killing Akane so that Shampoo gets Ranma. Outrageous of course because she is one of the ties that gives you strength, and also because as you have long known, she is irreplaceable to me as a foil for Shampoo, not to mention she'd make a great amazon. Why, my most ambitious dreams require her.

Nabiki: Dreams?

Cologne: I suppose I can tell you as they are merely a dream at this point, and would require your consent at some point. Imagine an amazon village in Japan, either as a friendly rival, a colony, or even as an equal. It would cure many of the ills that the Joketsuzoku are prone to.

Nabiki: You really think that's possible?

Cologne: Definitely possible, also unlikely. Can you imagine how your sister would thrive in such an environment? She's certainly mule-headed enough to be mistaken as an elder. And Ryouga is everything we want in an amazon male, including all the features that Mousse is missing. If it weren't for his getting lost all the time, I'd have sent him home by parcel post!
He's another one you could tap. His getting lost is supernatural in origin, and I'm reasonably sure he'd worship the woman who cured him. Unfortunately I need him as a foil for Ranma, or he really will get complacent. We have a phrase that describes Ranma and Ryouga, it roughly translates to "An enemy made in heaven."
But enough of an old woman's dreams. What other ways do you think you could get your magical starting capital?

Nabiki: I could investigate rumored haunted locations to find a spirit that needs something done for it.

Cologne: Ghost Sweeper Nabiki? A decent idea. You'd need to research carefully if you want to keep the level of danger down. If you plan to go that route, you should consider becoming a Shinto shrine maiden. Just a rumor that you're a virginal priestess who goes into danger to face the unknown and you'll have as many drooling fan-boys as you can beat with a stick.

Nabiki: That's more Akane's game. I may not be sure of what I want, but drooling fanboys isn't it.

Cologne: Any other plans?

Nabiki: Lets see, Tanuki wildlife reserve ranger, Kitsune poultry supply, E-bay for magical items, Internet Service Provider for supernatural creatures, Detective for ghosts. Reverse genealogical lookup for ghosts, renting out Akane as a virgin Damsel in distress (complete with hero to rescue her). Providing donated blood and cucumbers to kappa, Investment broker for leprechaun and dragons, renting out Kuno for possession by spirits. That's about it. I really don't know what the supernatural want, and I'm not sure how I'd find out what the nekoken wants.

Cologne: I think the Nekoken wants a willing host to integrate with. That's why I'm researching splitting it up over several amazons, so it can live, but not be completely dominant as it is with Ranma.

Nabiki: Could it be transferred to a cat?

Cologne: Probably, but I don't think it would like that. The nekoken is a form of cat fighting that takes advantage of a humanoid form. There's nothing special about a cat fighting as a cat, after all. I think it would fight that kind of cure.

Nabiki: What would happen to someone taking part of the nekoken into themselves?

Cologne: Thinking of volunteering? It really depends alot on the person. Also it would depend on how much the person was willing to change. Ranma instinctively fights it tooth and nail, so either he's completely human, or completely cat. Whoever accepts the nekoken would become more powerful, they would also have a more cat-like way of looking at things. You'd be giving up your "iron control" of your emotions, and probably your drive to excel, in exchange for knowing that you can take whatever you want or need.
Another option if you had the power to do it, would be to create a familiar. but you'd have to provide it a body, and care for it. You'd have to care for it, because any emotional or physical hurt it received, you would too. On the other hand, you'd have a friend for life, with a cat's body, but your own level of intellect, as the cat could effectively use parts of your mind for solving its problems. You could probably also see out of the cat's eyes.
If you were older, and in a stable relationship and wanted a child, I'd suggest using a Jusenkyou spring to make a human child from a cat, and give it some nekoken. She would certainly grow up to be a capable woman, able to draw on a human intellect, a cat's resilience, and the nekoken for defense. But this would just be a disaster if she weren't raised well, and you are way too young to be caring for a child.

Nabiki: Helping Ranma's nekoken if it would diminish Ranma's fear of cats looks like the best way to go. I've got them both under my roof, so I don't have to hunt them down, or perform to a timetable, and it may be possible to get renumeration out of both Ranma and the nekoken, not to mention Ranma's fiancees, Ranma's parents, and possibly daddy.

Cologne: I trust you will forgo bilking Shampoo as I assume you'll be wanting my help.

Nabiki: How about I give you everything I get from Shampoo, for you to give back to her somehow. I still have a reputation to think about.

Cologne: Alright. She needs training in dealing with people like you anyway. Let her try to keep you from milking her dry, as long as she really doesn't loose anything. Assuming the nekoken were sentient, and able to talk, what would be your first step?

Nabiki: Approach Ranma and find out what he'd be willing to concede to get rid of his fear of cats, Then approach the nekoken to find out if a deal could be made, then figure out what I can realistically do. At that point, set a price to it that they are willing to pay.

Cologne: And since the nekoken doesn't seem to have a voice?

Nabiki: Go talk to Ranma. See if he would be willing to enter the nekoken a few times if it meant a cure, and then look into how I could get a cat to talk to me.

Cologne: I guess that's your homework for today. Remember, You need to find out what Ranma is willing to do, Not what he claims he is willing to do in front of Akane, his father, or his pride. I think you should also reassure him that it wont involve pits of starving cats.

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