Chapter 4

Unexpectedly, Ranma found the portal to be a bit of a letdown: one moment her entire field of vision had been filled with the fuchsia-colored portal, and the next she found herself someplace else without anything happening in between. She wasn't sure how she should feel about the aforementioned "someplace else," because she hadn't really known what to expect, but an office hadn't been anywhere close to what had come to mind.

For a person who supposedly ruled an entire world, the office wasn't much to look at. Well, it was certainly rather spacious, and — to her inexperienced eye — of high quality, but it was rather spartan. Aside from a large desk, a carpet — upon which she stood — that stretched across most of the distance between the desk and the door, a couple of chandeliers, and a pair of french doors that led to a balcony, there wasn't much else to speak of. There weren't any bookshelves, anything framed and hung up on a wall, or much of anything on the desktop. She would later learn that her mother didn't much care for wasting money on things that would — in all likelihood — get destroyed at some point, especially the things of value that couldn't be replaced.

She found her mother standing in front of her desk, dressed in the same kind of outfit as she had worn when they had first met. Her visage was schooled, and her stare a bit uncomfortable, but something like resignation seemed to seep into her being and give her a more relaxed image and approachable air. She wasn't sure what to make of that, but it made her feel a lot less worried when she began to make her way toward her.

She felt even better when her mother hugged her briefly and asked, "What seems to be the problem?"

"Well," Ranma began dryly, as she released her human disguise and became a near-twin of her mother, "aside from this? What am I supposed to do with my life, now? Even if I manage to keep this a secret, I'll still be stuck as a girl."

"You could just become a human man again," came Nyx's calm reply, with a note of amusement in her voice.

Ranma opened her mouth to say something, then shut it, before her brain could come up with some kind of response. "Wha...?"

Nyx chuckled at her reaction. "By using a process called transmigration, you can return to being human and male in no time. Mind you, you won't start out as strong as you are now, but that's not something that some time and effort couldn't remedy."

"Are you serious?" Ranma asked, with the beginnings of giddy amazement coloring her words. Upon receiving a nod in response, she quickly added, "No curse, too?"

"No curse," Nyx confirmed.

"Just like that?" Ranma asked, her once-burgeoning excitement being checked by disbelief.

Nyx cocked an eyebrow. "Of course. You're my child, and it's within my power to help you, so why wouldn't I?"

Had Ranma's excitement gotten the better of her, she would have jumped at the offer immediately, without question or thought. However, it occurred to her that her mother was backing up her claim about giving birth to her on the condition that she be human, and she still didn't know why she desired her to be human in the first place. Should she ask her about it, now that it was on her mind? If she did, would her mother give her an acceptable answer?

Her mother had been considerate and helpful, so far. Sure, she acted a bit odd and distant at times, for some reason, but she was friendly and interesting on the whole. Compared to her father, she actually felt comfortable with the idea of getting closer to her, despite being a demon — be she a succubus or not. Perhaps it would be worth getting to know her better, before asking such a question? Depending on how that worked out, she might not even need to ask.

Besides which, there was a whole other world worth of stuff to explore, both figuratively and literally, and the traveling and training martial artist within her saw an opportunity to see new things and learn new stuff. For instance, even though she hadn't had the opportunity to truly take advantage of it yet... she could actually fly! Also, while anything male was probably beyond her, she could shapeshift as well. It'd be a waste to lose those abilities without really using them, and those were just some of the things that she was instinctively aware of. What else could she explore and experience, if only she had the nerve to find out?

She began to mull over the idea of remaining a succubus, at least for the time being. It wasn't the sort of thing that she would have ever imagined herself considering seriously in the past, but that had been before being presented with the prospect of choosing between death and making it back to Akane alive as a girl. She'd spent sixteen years of her life with her father, as a human male, so why not spare a few weeks, months, or even an entire year for her mother? Sure, she didn't necessarily need to be a succubus during that time, but she felt that various things probably wouldn't work out so well otherwise.

"Is something the matter?" Nyx inquired, after her child had gone quiet and introspective, with no clear sign of coming out of it.

Ranma pursed her lips as she considered her mother and finalized her decision. "I was just wondering when I could do that transmigration thing."

"Whenever you're ready," Nyx answered, before she paused to consider where things might be going. "Why?"

"What if I'm not ready?" Ranma replied, as she stared into her mother's eyes with enough resolve to be mistaken for a challenge.

Her mother considered her for a time, to measure the nature of her words, before something about her appearance began to suggest that she was tired. It was too subtle for her to be sure, but it was there, whatever "it" was. She began to wonder if whatever inspired it would make itself more apparent given enough time.

"Are you sure?" Nyx asked softly.

Ranma nodded her head firmly. "You're my mom. If you can accept me like this, I'd like to spend some time with you and see what it's like."

Nyx nodded her head almost imperceptibly. "Very well, then."

She drew an arm over Ranma's shoulders, who followed her direction when she began to lead her toward the balcony. The french doors opened on their own several steps ahead of them, and before she knew it she was overlooking a vast city that lit up the sky, as if to make up for the fact that there weren't any stars in said sky. Instead, there was what appeared to be a partially-lit gas giant, its smoky bands of white and blue such an awe-inspiring sight that she had a difficult time turning her eyes away from it.

Her mother swept her hand across the horizon and said, "All this and beyond is Asphodel, a city that is devoted to catering to the needs of those seeking various forms of entertainment and pleasure."

As she would later find out, Asphodel covered half of Tartarus' surface, a moon that was three-fourths the size of the planet Earth. Between the size of the gas giant that the moon was tidally locked with, and the city being located on the side that always faced said planet, the city experienced very long nights — as it had been intended. Well, it was more like an amusement park than a city, because almost all of the temporary and semi-permanent residences were located on the other side of the planet, where all of the entry portals, parking garages and transportation hubs were.

For a place made specifically for the night life of demons, "entertainment and pleasure" sounded rather ominous — and, indeed, that was very much the case. However, it wasn't all vice, if one didn't think that combat training should be labeled as such. Considering what demons were likely to do with their newly-gained skills, whether it was to slake their bloodlust or not, opinions were likely to vary. Also, Happosai was going to become one of the combat instructors at some point in the future, so... Yeah.

At the moment, however, she didn't fully comprehend just what kind of sight she was seeing, though her imagination was more than active enough to make it an unsettling one. And that was before she had spotted a few demons that were either big or close enough for her to see, which had only added more fuel for her imagination to work with.

It suddenly occurred to her that her father was probably a saint, when compared with her mother, despite her personal relationship with the latter being better. However, it also occurred to her that her mother may be trying to push her away, because she wanted her to return to being a human on Earth rather than being with her in the midst of a den of demons, who were likely doing all manner of things that demons were infamous for ever having done.

With that in mind, she took a deep, calming breath, and mostly succeeded in sounding casual as she asked, "So, this is all yours, huh?"

"It is," Nyx answered simply. "Though not everything that this place has to offer is physically present."

Ranma looked up at her mother questioningly. "What do you mean?"

Nyx's gaze followed her free hand as she placed it upon the balustrade. "This building, for instance, houses the company that manages human resources."

"...Manages?" Ranma couldn't help asking, even though she had a bad feeling about how demons would "manage" humans as a resource.

Nyx nodded her head faintly. "Many demons rely on humans for their survival, in some form or another, but hardly all. Those that don't have a tendency of wiping out entire human populations, and some go so far as to destroy the world that they live on." She looked askance, into her child's eyes. "It's not what one would call a wise use of resources, so we find, secure and manage worlds that are inhabited by humans, so that they may be enjoyed for as long as possible."

Ranma could do no more than gape at that. Her mother had basically described the human race as being nothing more than cattle on a farm, so that they could be milked until they could be milked no more. It wasn't just the idea that was horrifying, but that her own world might also be in the hands of demons. Considering how many humans were now living on Earth, would the demons plan to reap from it soon? And if that turned out to be the case, what would she be able to do about it?

"Having second thoughts?" Her mother casually inquired.

Ranma shook her head, both as a reply and as a means to get her head back into the game. As bad as it sounded for humans to be managed by demons, it could also be reasoned that said demons made sure that the humans in question wouldn't all be killed off as soon as they were discovered. While that didn't excuse what they were doing, it was enough of an excuse to stick by her mother, who seemed intent on convincing her to go back to living as a human.

But why? She knew what her father had to gain from keeping her close, so he could try to dictate what kind of future — and, by extension, his own place in it — he wanted her to have, but what could her mother gain by trying to keep her at a distance? Was it because she cared about her, and was doing it to protect her? Or, was there another reason for her behavior? Between those questions and her mother's otherwise friendly behavior, it left her feeling rather confused.

Suddenly, she felt a yawn coming on, and she was gripped by it before she could try to mitigate how tired it would make her look. Once it had run its course, she found it harder to ignore her fatigue, even though she wanted to hold off on getting some sleep so she could converse with her mother further.

Unfortunately, after seeing the kind of state that she was in, her mother turned her around and began to lead her back into the office in the same manner as she had out. "It would seem that whatever made you decide to become a succubus has taken its toll on you, so let's get you into bed." Before she could form a verbal protest, her mother added, "We can continue this after you've had some rest. This will also allow me to open up more time for you in my schedule."

Nyx stopped after passing her desk, then looked down at her child with a pleasant smile on her face. "How does that sound?"

Ranma looked down in defeat and mumbled, "Fine, I guess..."

"Good," Nyx replied, before she summoned a futon and matching quilt into existence, which appeared behind her desk.

Normally, she would have produced something much better to sleep in, but the type and location were very deliberate because she needed to be discreet. If word got around that she had more offspring, the situation with her child could become quite complicated.

She had taken enough of a risk with the balcony, in her attempt to discourage her son-turned-daughter from remaining as she was. It had not been a course of action that she would have ever thought necessary, hence the risk in light of her unpreparedness.

Having her child sleep behind her desk wasn't exactly the best place to put her, but it was the most convenient. Not only would it allow her to get right back to convincing her child into rejoining humankind, but it would also allow her to keep an eye on her — just in case. While using force was certainly an option, she just didn't have the heart to do it to one of her children, which is why she went on to help her child into bed and got her tucked in instead.

"Good night, mom," Ranma said, before she was overtaken by yet another yawn.

Said mom bit her bottom lip and managed to resist giving her child a kiss on the forehead. "Good night."

She cast a spell to put her child to sleep, even though it hadn't been needed. She'd done it so she could have some time to herself, to think and plan. It would have been too awkward for her to wait on her child to fall asleep, because of the nature of her thoughts and plans, and she didn't want that to be noticed.

Once she was seated at her desk, she leaned over it and buried her face in her hands as she released a long, drawn-out sigh. Not for the first time did she wonder why this situation had to be so difficult, even though she was intimately — painfully — aware of the answers to that very question. She'd love nothing more than to smother her child with motherly love, whether they were a succubus or a human man, but...

She eventually pulled herself together and focused on what needed to be done. First, she woke up her computer from sleep mode, which caused a section of her desktop to change from a wooden surface to a display of an advanced operating system's user interface. Several holographic screens appeared above the desktop at the same time, all empty save the one that she began using to adjust her schedule once again, only this time she focused on clearing her appointments for that evening.

While she had been doing that, her mind had also been on her child, and how she might convince her to become a human again, to live out her days as such without getting involved with other demons or visiting netherworlds that were full of them. The problem was that she didn't know why her child was being stubborn, even though she had been pretty sure that her child had preferred being both human and male.

Eventually, an idea began to take shape, which led her to opening a file in one of the holographic screens. At the top of the document that was now being displayed on it, in large, bold print, was the title: "Human Reservation #6907." Below that, on the left, was a column filled with data. On the right of that was an image of a rotating planet, one that would have looked very familiar to her child had she seen it.

"Hmmmm..." She hummed thoughtfully, as the idea crystallized.

When Ranma awoke, she didn't immediately show any outward sign of it, aside from the brief time when she had first opened her eyes and realized where she was, and why. Instead of getting up, she had opted to lie right where she was, so she could think about everything that had happened to her in the past few days.

Well, she didn't really need to think about Herb, so it didn't take long before her thoughts turned to her mother, and what had happened before she had gone to sleep. Looking back on it, it was all rather unbelievable: not so much because of her decision and stubbornness to stick with it, but what all Asphodel was likely for, how human worlds were an extension of what it had to offer, and the fact that her mother was at the heart of it all.

It was a bit strange, but she found herself trying to rationalize why she wasn't doing anything wrong by associating with demons. After all, demons certainly didn't have a monopoly on the kinds of things that they were known to do. Also, if her mother was any indication, then at least some of them were friendly and capable of love. At least, she'd like to think that what her mother felt toward her was exactly that.

If there was one thing that she was sure about, when all was said and done, it was her desire to get closer to her mother. Not that long ago she hadn't understood how a mother could fit into the equation of her life, but that was beginning to change. Between how her mother usually treated her, and how the idea of getting closer to her father made her ill, she was beginning to see the appeal. The fact that her mother was a demon had quickly become a non-issue, especially in light of the fact that said demon had been ready and willing to restore her humanity and rid her of her curse.

However, that willingness presented her with a quandary, one that she wished to solve. Even though she would really appreciate being human and male again, she was all but certain that there was more than just her mother's kindness behind the offer. It could just be that her mother was doing it for her sake, by trying to push her away, but increasing the distance that she now desired to shorten was unacceptable, even after taking into consideration everything else that she knew about the situation.

She may end up biting off more than she could chew in her endeavor, but it certainly wouldn't be the first time if that turned out to be the case. Really, as long as she was assured a return to both humanity and manhood, she didn't really see a problem with being a succubus for a little while. Well, aside from what might await her back at home, while pretending that she was still stuck as a girl.

"How long do you plan on lying there?" Her mother suddenly asked, with a note of amusement in her voice.

She opened her eyes and sat up before turning to face her mother, who was sitting at her desk but had her office chair facing away from it. After a good stretch and a yawn, she asked, "How did you know that I was awake?"

Nyx smiled slightly and said, "The creation and control of dreams is just one of our many talents, so it's important to know whether someone's asleep or not, lest we get caught doing something suspicious."

An awkward silence passed between mother and child, due to the subject matter that had been brought up, before the former sighed and asked, "Are you still intent on being a succubus?"

Ranma nodded her head resolutely. "It'll be okay if it's only for a little while, right?"

Nyx didn't say anything for a moment, as she regarded her child with a measured expression. "Perhaps. It might even be convenient."

"What do you mean?" Ranma asked, confused.

Instead of giving an answer, Nyx replied with another question. "If your world were in danger, and you had the power to protect it, would you?"

Ranma thought that was a strange question to ask, because the answer to it was obvious. "Of course I would."

"Well," Nyx said casually, "it just so happens that your world is in danger."

"What!?" Ranma exclaimed, and jumped to her feet in an instant.

Nyx made a placating gesture with her hand. "Calm down. It's not in imminent danger, but I can only slow down the process for so long."

"What do you mean?" Ranma asked, her brow furrowed in puzzlement, before her eyes widened in realization. "Hold on! You mean that human resources stuff!?"

"That's right," Nyx replied, with a nod of her head, before she began to explain. "Your planet, Earth, was submitted for re-evaluation a few years ago. This often means that circumstances have necessitated a change in the plan that was already established for the human reservation, or that some other action needs to be taken in order to maintain the integrity of the original one."

Since her child seemed to be at a loss for words, she decided to continue. "Normally, when a human reservation is being re-evaluated, I stay out of the process. I do, however, have the power to reject whatever solution the board wants to carry out, or hold it for review. I chose to do the latter in this case, because I don't have a good argument for rejection, and my relationship with the board is such that doing so would have brought me a lot of unwanted attention."

She slouched in her chair a bit and sighed. "However, after sitting on it for so long, I've been attracting the kind of attention that I've been wanting to avoid. With all of the potential clients that are interested in a world with over six-billion humans, I've been under a lot of pressure to release the human reservation from limbo, even if it's just to reject the current plans for it."

After digesting all of that, Ranma was able to piece things together, and in a soft, quiet voice she asked, "It's 'cause of me, isn't it?"

"For you," Nyx both corrected and admitted, and smiled wanly. "I didn't forget where you were, but I couldn't outright reject the proposed solution without drawing a lot of scrutiny to your world, so..."

"So she was protecting me even before I knew about her," Ranma thought to herself, who felt a warm and fuzzy feeling inside.

That feeling wasn't to last, however, as she considered the rest of her mother's words, which made her frown. "You've mentioned a solution, but... What's the problem?"

Nyx turned her chair sideways so she could have access to the display on her desktop, and prepared to press the command that she had prepared earlier, but not before she stared her child in the eye and said, "The reason why I asked if you would be willing to save your world, if you had the power to do so, is because I was hoping that you could take care of this."

She activated the command upon saying her final word, and in response a very large holographic screen appeared well above the desk. Ranma looked up at the image that was being displayed on it, and she was absolutely shocked by the familiar sight being shown to her, which was being presented to her as being the problem.

It was none other than the Sailor Senshi.