Ranma gaped in disbelief before she looked at her mother and pointed at the image on the screen. "You want me to take care of them?"
How could her mother even suggest such a thing? The Sailor Senshi were the good guys! She was well aware that her mother could hardly be placed on the side of good, and she could also see how the Sailor Senshi might be bad for her mother's business, but why in the world would her mother think that she would be willing to go against the defenders of her own home world?
Nyx turned her chair around, so she was facing her child once again, and calmly said, "It's not necessary, but likely unavoidable."
Confused, Ranma dropped her arm and asked, "What do you mean?"
"Look at the crystal being shown in the corner," Nyx directed, where said crystal was being displayed in a smaller window. "Do you recognize it?"
While Ranma didn't recognize the Ginzuishou by sight, she'd heard enough about it to nod her head in confirmation. After all, any notable "crystal" associated with the Sailor Senshi was — in all likelihood — going to be the Ginzuishou. Her knowledge wasn't just based on secondhand accounts, as a lot of people had been looking for the Ginzuishou more than once over the past few years, but she had witnessed many a person's interest in it herself, while she had still been on her training journey with her father. Said people had been acting rather weird and creepy at the time, so it wasn't something so easy for her to forget; especially since her father had taken an interest in it, and had insisted on hunting it down.
She followed her nod up with, "It's the Ginzuishou, right?"
"That's right," Nyx stated, as she folded her hands in her lap. "What you see there is the real problem, both in the short and long term."
Ranma had heard the rumors regarding the Ginzuishou's power, as well as its reputed applications, so she felt compelled to ask, "How is that possible?"
Nyx leaned back in her chair and prepared for a lengthy explanation. "The Ginzuishou is a powerful tool, with nearly limitless potential. Simply put: it would take a comparable force or greater to overcome it. It's unlikely that Serenity's daughter will be willing to let go of it, and I'm afraid that human casualties will be quite significant if she resists, because she will lose to my forces."
Ranma wasn't sure if her mother was stating a fact or simply being confident, but she figured that it would be a good idea to take her seriously nonetheless. Since it seemed her mother was going to continue, she decided to hear her out before she made any kind of response or judgement: not only due to the seriousness of the situation, but because her mother might be up to something again.
"That's the immediate problem," Nyx stated simply. "I won't bore you with the details of how that could hurt the business prospects of that particular reservation, save to say that the loss will likely be significant. However, I can assure you that an even worse fate could befall your world if I were to intervene, because both enemies and opportunists alike will try to hold it over my head if they think it's of any value to me, if they don't try to destroy it outright. Whether their estimations turn out to be true or not, I think it's safe to say that the fate of your world matters to you, correct?"
Ranma could only nod her head in reply.
"That's why it would be better if you took care of the Ginzuishou yourself, instead of allowing my company to do it," Nyx reasoned. "There won't be any sympathy to mitigate whatever course of action it decides to take, nor would the financial consequence of their efforts have any real affect on the bottom line. Basically, my company isn't in any kind of position to favor a solution that isn't quick, cheap and convenient."
Ranma stared down at the floor intently, with her brow furrowed in thought, as she considered her mother's words. As far as she could tell, it sounded like her mother wasn't in a position to help, and could — in fact — make things worse if she intervened. However, if she were to take care of the matter herself, she might be able to prevent a lot of death and destruction.
The problem with that, of course, was the fact that she would be disarming the Sailor Senshi of their strongest weapon against evildoers. Would the short-term solution be worth the long-term price? She wasn't sure, but it did remind her of something else, and she figured that she might have a better idea of what to do under such complicated circumstances once she knew more about the situation.
After returning her gaze to her mother, she deliberately asked, "You mentioned something about a long-term problem, right?"
Nyx gave a slight nod of her head in reply. "That, I did. You see, to achieve what the Ginzuishou can do, it exacts a price in return: chaos is created with every use. The Ginzuishou is used to achieve a certain outcome despite the natural order of things, so — naturally — chaos is generated, whose nature is at odds with the notions that brought it into existence. Using the Ginzuishou to fight off the resulting chaos, as the daughter of Serenity has been doing, has effectively expidited the death spiral that is inherent with its utilization."
"It creates a death spiral?" Ranma questioned in disbelief.
"Indeed," Nyx replied solemnly. "It's not a matter of if, but a matter of when. It could happen in the next few years, or even after hundreds or thousands of years, but the Ginzuishou and chaos will eventually cancel each other out. If that were to happen anywhere near your solar system, well..."
Ranma blinked her eyes at that, and studied her mother's face, but it appeared that she was serious about what she was suggesting: that whoever possessed the Ginzuishou wouldn't need to be on or near the Earth for it to be destroyed. If what her mother had said was true, then it would definitely be a good idea to destroy the Ginzuishou before it and chaos performed their final act.
Could she trust her mother, though? All things considered, from personal experience, she didn't really have a strong enough reason not to. However, who was to say that she wasn't being tricked? She might be her mother, but she was still a demon, and had recognized that she wasn't as forthcoming about things as she'd like at times.
No matter what she decided, whether it was to destroy the Ginzuishou or not, she felt that she wouldn't escape a heavy burden. The question was: would it be one of responsibility, or one of consequence?
Her thoughts were interrupted when her mother said, "Also, while you may have thought of this already, there's one more thing to keep in mind, which may be of some concern to you."
"What's that?" She asked, with some apprehension, already having some idea of what her mother might be alluding to.
Nyx looked her child straight in the eye, now that she had reached the pivotal moment of her plan, and said, "The Sailor Senshi's effectiveness as guardians will be greatly reduced with the loss of the Ginzuishou, and they will lose it whether you're the one responsible for it or not. My company will then proceed to operate normally, which means that it will only be a matter of time before some demon or another is allowed to make use of the reservation. What will you do when that day comes?"
Ranma wasn't sure what to say. She felt that she should defend her world regardless of the circumstances, but what could she offer when it was trumped by what the Sailor Senshi could do many times over? As a human, however much of an exceptional one she might have been, she'd barely managed to escape death from the likes of Herb, whom she may have only been able to defeat had she been able to use his own power against him. That was hardly an ideal way to defend one's world, especially if any future threat came in great numbers.
She knew — without a doubt — that she was stronger as a succubus, which also came with plenty of innate abilities that would make her a more effective fighter. Exactly how she measured up to the Sailor Senshi, she wasn't sure, but the point was that she would make a better defender as a succubus than as a human. The problem with that, of course, was that she would have to remain a succubus if she were — at all — serious about protecting her world.
Could she do that? Originally, she'd had no intention of staying a succubus for any significant length of time, but an indefinite amount would almost certainly be significant, so long as she planned to act as a defender of her world. And that wasn't even getting into the issues that would arise in her life, on the very world that she hoped to protect; especially in regard to a certain someone that she had yet to admit her feelings to.
The answer seemed obvious, but that didn't make it any easier to accept. Either she could sacrifice her humanity and manhood to do the right thing, what she had been raised to do as a martial artist, or she could be selfish and hope that things turned out well without her help.
Nyx didn't like seeing her child so conflicted, even though that was exactly what her plan had called for, so she stood up from her chair and said, "You don't have to decide anything right now." She stepped up to her child and placed a hand on her shoulder. "However, I'm afraid that my ability to keep your world off of the playing table is nearly at an end, so try not to take too long to make up your mind."
Ranma was silent for a moment, before she gazed up at her mother with searching eyes and asked, "Does it really have to be this way?"
"No," Nyx replied softly, with a sad smile, "but the alternative would be far, far worse. Not only would any action — on my part — to protect your world expose it to even more potential threats, I've made far too many alliances, agreements, commitments and other obligations to take such an action without causing serious consequences. After all, I'm a well-known overlord, with a very successful and popular netherworld, and there are far too many demons who will be looking for whatever advantage that they can find to take me out of the picture. However, as powerful as I am, I can't hope to sustain everything by myself, which is why I can't risk undermining what I've put together to prevent effective attacks that are made against me and my netherworld. As one means toward that end, my position must be neutral." She looked deeply into her child's eyes before she added, "Do you understand?"
Ranma nodded her head silently. Apparently her mother had her own world to protect, and she wasn't important enough to risk sacrificing it. She was disappointed by that, but not particularly upset. After all, unlike her father, her mother had a lot more than just herself to think about, and the circumstances sounded rather complicated. Besides, if her mother were to be believed, then doing no more than she had already done would be the safest thing to do.
Since there didn't seem to be anything else to talk about, and Ranma had suddenly recalled the situation that she had left on Earth, it wasn't long before Nyx opened up a portal to send her child — once more assuming a human guise — back. They had hugged briefly before parting, but it had been a subdued affair.
Nyx continued to stare through the space where the portal had been only seconds before, wondering if she was doing the right thing. She just wanted her child to live a normal — relatively speaking — life as a human, rather than being exposed to the dangers that surrounded both her and the life of a demon. Toward that end, she hadn't mentioned that her child had the option to become a male demon via transmigration, since she was sure that her child would be more opposed to being a female one. It seemed like the best way to discourage her child from wanting to stay a demon for any length of time, without doing anything that she would surely be hated for.
If things worked out like she hoped, she would be able to create a good yet — unfortunately — distant relationship with her child, after she managed to get a new guardian to protect her home world. However, that outcome was far from guaranteed, because her position didn't give her many options to accomplish such a feat, at least as far as managing it without being noticed.
With a sigh, she returned to her desk and sank into her chair, not in a mood to do any work yet feeling the need to distract herself with something. Idly, she wondered if she could get away with dropping everything and performing a disappearing act, so she could live with Ranma in relative peace. Was there any chance of that working out, or would it be doomed from the start?
Since Ranma had been holding the money for the train ride, and Mousse and Ryoga had been awake for a few hours already, they were understandably displeased with her when she finally turned up. When asked about her absence, she had used her stuck-as-a-girl status as an excuse to go off on her own, in order to think about her situation; where, in the process, she had lost track of the time. It was close enough to the truth, and the two boys seemed to accept it, so they soon left for the train station without further ado.
The train ride back to Tokyo would prove to be quite uneventful, with herself lost in thought and her companions deciding that it would be best to not bother her with awkward conversation or empty condolences. The silence between them continued after they arrived in Nerima, though it was pretty much unavoidable once Ryoga and Mousse had been splashed by cold water in a freak accident involving a garden hose.
Being that it was Winter, and the two cursed boys were wet while in bodies that weren't exactly impervious to the cold, she prioritized getting them to a place where they could warm up. Since the Tendo's house was closer to their current location than the sentō and Nekohanten, and that was where she and Ryoga had been going anyway, having Mousse join them only seemed natural.
They came upon the rear entrance of the house first, where people were supposed to issue their challenges to the dojo, and she directed the other two to head for the furoba from there while she continued on. After all, not only would it be unnecessary for her to join them, but if Akane was worried about her, which she hoped would be the case, then it would be a better idea to make a proper entrance where she would be expected to arrive.
Which is why it warmed her heart when she rounded the next corner and saw Akane standing before the open gate, as if she were waiting for someone. Even if she weren't, she was a damn sight better than the naked trees set against the dreary, grey sky above. Despite the cold weather, she was dressed warmly enough without looking shapeless, in a sweater, skirt and leggings, with a scarf being her sole accessory.
Since Akane had — indeed — been hoping to see a certain someone, she was spotted right away. Her fiancée turned to face her as she approached, and waited patiently for her as she traversed the distance between them. When she finally stood before her, she wasn't sure what to say: she had a lot of things on her mind, which made it difficult for her to think of something casual, mundane or innocuous.
However, such concerns were completely forgotten when Akane stepped up to her, slipped her arms around her middle, and squeezed. She never would have imagined such a thing being possible, so it took her a few seconds to realize that she was being embraced by the girl she cared about. It was hard to believe that what she had once considered a fantasy, which she had used to overcome Herb, had become reality. The thought that her fiancée had been worried about her, to this extent, made her eyes sting with unshed tears.
After Akane pulled away, she said, "I saw what happened to the mountain on the news..." When she noticed Ranma's moist eyes, she became concerned and asked, "Is something wrong?"
Ranma shook her head in reply, even though — in reality — she was very unsure. It seemed so typical that she would experience a new level of affection from Akane at the same time as she had to seriously consider sacrificing both her humanity and manhood. Considering how long it had taken Akane to willingly embrace her in the manner that she had, the notion that her pervert-hating fiancée would go any further than that with another girl seemed ludicrous, impossible. Either way, whether she was happy about her fiancée's feelings in the here and now, or sad about their future prospects as a couple, her tears had yet to dry up.
"Are you sure?" Akane asked, as she regarded her fiancé with an odd look, not knowing what to make of — or how to respond to — said fiancé's behavior.
Ranma replied with a modest nod of her head. "Yeah..."
If not for Kasumi's timely appearance, an awkward silence would have likely befallen them. Instead, they turned to look toward the front door when they heard it slide open, and saw the eldest Tendo's face light up with pleasant surprise from where she stood in the genkan.
"There you are," Kasumi said cheerfully, before she motioned for them to enter the house. "Come inside and warm yourselves up."
Ranma and Akane were more than happy to oblige her, and it wasn't long before they were done taking off their shoes in the genkan and entering the house proper. By that point Kasumi had left them to their own devices, but not before telling them that dinner would soon be ready.
It was then, as they were walking toward the family room, that Akane had the presence of mind to ask, "Where's Ryoga and Mousse? Are they alright?"
"They're fine," Ranma assured her. "They got wet on the way here, so I thought it'd be better if they went straight into the furo."
Before Akane could ask an even more pertinent question about Ranma's trip, she was interrupted by a flying kettle upon entering the family room, courtesy of Ranma's father. Since it hadn't been Genma's intent to hit his child with it, she watched — unconcernedly — as Ranma caught it by the handle with ease, and kept the hot water within from sloshing out of the spout or past the lid.
"Do you mind?" Ranma groused, in response to her father's act.
She took the opportunity to look around, and noted that Soun and Nabiki were seated at the kotatsu with her father. Considering how the table was already set for dinner, and recalling Kasumi's parting words, she didn't need to guess the reason for why they were all gathered there.
When his child didn't immediately make use of the hot water that he had so generously provided, Genma frowned. "Well?"
Ranma shrugged her shoulders and casually said, "Don't need it."
Even though she'd already had everyone's attention, her response inspired even greater scrutiny. While that was mostly restricted to being stared at, her father wasn't going to be content until he considered the matter settled, even if it required getting physical.
As such, he stood up from the table and sternly demanded, "What do you mean, you don't need it?"
"There were... complications," Ranma carefully replied, which was an understatement if she had ever heard one.
"What kind of complications?" Soun inquired worriedly.
Before Ranma could think of an explanation, she heard Kasumi approaching from behind. Since she and Akane were blocking the entrance that she would use to deliver their meal, she turned around and accepted the tray of food from her, so she'd have an excuse to sit at the table and put off further discussion until later. By then, she hoped to have a good excuse, especially since she hadn't yet decided on whether she would return to being a human man or not.
Of course, when she sat down at the table and set the tray down on it, her father plopped down beside her to pursue the issue instead of taking the hint. "Well? What complications?"
Knowing that she wouldn't catch any peace otherwise, Ranma manifested her tail and maneuvered it so she could drain her father's energy from his foot, which he failed to notice because of the callous that she had aimed for.
"Eat first, talk later," she said dismissively, not bothering to look at him.
Her father was about to argue, but the sudden onset of fatigue made him confused, which required him to reassess his priorities. Between that and Kasumi's return with the rest of the meal, he ended up mumbling something that might have been agreement as he changed his focus to the food that he hoped to re-energize himself with.
Having accomplished her goal, she retracted her tail and looked around to make sure that no one had seen it. While Soun and Akane were looking at her with concern, even if for different reasons, she was pretty sure that they hadn't seen anything. Kasumi probably would have made some kind of innocuous-sounding observation about it, had she seen it while walking over to her place at the table, so she was reasonably sure that she hadn't.
Nabiki, on the other hand, had been staring at her with a strange expression on her face until their eyes had met, at which point she had — in an uncharacteristic move — ducked her head and looked away. She wasn't sure what to make of that, since she was pretty sure that Nabiki wouldn't have been able to see her tail from the other side of the table, mostly because of said furnishing.
Besides, had Nabiki seen her tail, she was pretty sure that she would have given some sign that she was going to take advantage of her later because of it. If not for the fact that she could make her tail disappear from sight, she probably would have tried to draw attention to it in order to make her go through the trouble of hiding it from everyone else.
She wasn't sure what was going on, but Nabiki had been acting odd around her ever since her mother had given her "interesting" dreams. While that had certainly made a positive impact on her wallet, and her peace of mind in general, her curiosity was beginning to get the better of her.
Why had Nabiki been looking at her like that, at that particular time? Had she seen something strange, even if not her tail? Perhaps it was time to put one of her new abilities to use, to see if she could learn anything by looking at someone's dreams. Depending on what she chose to do with her life in the future, she might need the practice anyway.
For the time being, however, she was content to eat her meal in peace, even if her mind was far from peaceful at that moment.