A Ranma ½ / Tenchi Muyo! crossover story
By Brian Randall
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ belongs to Rumiko Takahashi and Viz Communications. Tenchi Muyo! belongs to Hitoshi Okuda and Pioneer LDC. Among others…
Notes: Diverges from Ranma after volume 24, continuation for OAV 2 in the Tenchi universe (well, one of them). This fic uses the bizarrely vague 'Pick One!' scenario. Enjoy.
"Choose one," Ranma muttered to himself, his breath rasping with the pain he no longer acknowledged. "Yeah, right…."
Slumping to his feet in the otherwise deserted corridor, its gleaming steel and cold empty stretches echoing too-loudly in his ears, he groaned. Either they would come and find him dead, or he would kill as many of them as he could before he died. It was that simple.
He smiled grimly at the deep, resonating roar that shook the complex, rattling his teeth and telling him that that at least had gone as planned. "I win," he whispered, the pain slowly beginning to fade as his vision darkened. "I win…."
Ranma eyed the folded note distastefully. "So…" he said, the entire assembled Tendo and Saotome families, in addition to the normal tagalongs staring at him. "What's this all about?"
Nabiki shrugged uncomfortably, clearly looking unhappy about something or another. "Ranma," she began, pointing to the note. "They're not assigning any more spaces. Basically… you won."
He blinked, staring at the slip of paper on the table, suddenly frighteningly aware of the eyes on him. He had gotten a pass. Not Kuno, with his wealth, nor Nabiki with her grades, or anyone else… but him.
"Uh…" he started, suddenly nervous with the number of eyes locked on him. His father, his fiancées, and his rivals. "What does this mean?"
Nabiki stood slowly, taking the paper and striding purposefully across the room towards Ranma. "It means," she stated, "that because of your… 'unique' position, that you can take one person with you. Just one. But… any one."
Ranma swallowed involuntarily, taking the note as Nabiki pressed it into his chest. "Pick one. And make it a good choice, Ranma."
He sat on the roof of the house, alone, and thinking. Who to take? Just one person? That wasn't fair. Not for him — not for anyone, really.
Sensing another presence at the edge of the roof, he looked over, waiting patiently as she approached. "One at a time," he muttered to himself, wondering how they would take it. Maybe really only three choices, but that didn't make things easier.
Ukyou lounged at the counter, idly poking at a half-finished okonomiyaki, before sighing moodily, and pushing it away. She glanced over as another girl entered the shop, nodding before taking a seat near Ukyou. "Hello."
"Hello, Shampoo. What'cha doing here?"
The Amazon fidgeted for a moment before admitting, "Airen not going to choose Shampoo, Shampoo think."
Ukyou nodded. "He's probably going to choose Akane."
Shampoo nodded, pulling a note from a pocket. "He give this…" she trailed off, handing over the note.
"Three days?" Ukyou commented, reading the note. "So he's gonna tell us in… but that's…."
Shampoo peered nervously into the dark alleyway. People were acting less… restrained… this close to the end, doing things that they never would, were it not for the impending disaster. She shivered, suddenly afraid, and spun, seeing a shadowy figure before her.
There was only enough time for her to open her mouth in surprise, before she was silenced.
Akane followed the pigtailed boy doubtfully, intimidated by the expanses of bare corridor before her as Ranma marched forward knowingly. "Where are we going?" she asked.
He glanced over his shoulder and flashed her a smile. "Got some good news, and some bad news. After a bit of arguing, I got them to accept one boy, one girl, and one pet."
"You're kidding?" She adjusted the handle on her suitcase as her arm began to tire.
Had he chosen her? He still hadn't announced who he was going to pick, and time was running critically low. "One pet?"
"Don't worry about it."
She frowned, wondering why Ranma would have gone through the trouble… P-chan? But that would mean that Ranma had chosen her — as far as she knew, none of the other girls had pets….
"Here." He announced, gesturing her forward.
She passed through a giant secured door with slight trepidation. "What's this, Ranma?"
He said nothing, merely gesturing her forward. She stepped forward slowly, entering a room with an equally confused and nervous Ukyou — in her boy's school uniform. "Akane-chan?" she asked, disbelieving.
"Ukyou?" Akane turned to question Ranma, only to see the heavy door she had passed through slam shut, sealing the two together. "Oh no…" she whispered, piecing the clues together.
The okonomiyaki chef blinked, realizing what had happened. "But…" she started, looking towards the door.
Gasping suddenly, Akane stared at her suitcase, as a crackling voice over the intercom asked, "Saotome Ranma?"
Swallowing nervously at the suitcase, Akane whispered, "And one pet…."
Ukyou ran for all she was worth, Shampoo — human again, and dressed in one of Akane's spare outfits — towing Akane along behind her. "Airen brave," she panted, "but Shampoo not leave alone like this."
"He knows it, though," Akane grated out, trying to pace the other martial artists.
Ukyou nodded, darting a single glance back at the ship and its promise of safety. "We'll find him, then… then…" she trailed off, not having the slightest idea what she would do afterwards.
"NO!" Ranma roared, shoving her back through the final door, pressing her into the other two girls, and sealing them in as they struggled to regain their footing. "I owe…." He trailed off, leaning against the thick pane of glass in the center of the steel barrier. "I owe all of you… I ain't… I ain't gonna just pick one." He looked up suddenly, standing straight, and letting the trio actually see the reddening patch on his shirt, and the wound he had taken earlier being more than he had hinted.
"You owe me," he announced. "I gave up what I got for you, and you… you owe me bein' safe. So… go." He coughed, turning to the panel on the side of the door, and smashing the protective glass covering a large red button. "Go…."
Ranma's eyes drifted closed, and he nodded to himself weakly, the feeling of cold settling into his bones. "I win…."
One desiccated hulk of compacted and compressed alloys and biomaterial, slowly secreting a thick toxic sludge that ate through the steel corridors beneath it.
Washuu blinked at that, surprised, and smiled hopefully. It took a lot of power to destroy reavers, and she hadn't thought that the Terrans possessed anything short of nuclear weapons that could manage the feat.
The probe adjusted its visual settings, tracking multiple footprints in the steel, residual heat from some of them stating their relative freshness.
She paused for a moment, staring at the gargantuan hulk, stuck halfway in a wall, though the ichor was slowly eating through the confining metal. Its claws were splayed loosely around it, leaving the monster looking deplorably stunned, despite the twisted metal of the walls opposite it, slashed to pieces by the thing's massive piercing limbs, which easily evidenced its raw power.
The view screen focused inwards for a moment, showing a reddish coat on one claw, fresh blood slowly congealing on the appendage. Something she had seen more than enough of the last few days. Sighing, she traced the footsteps, noting one of them was accompanied by occasional splotch of blood every few meters.
"Hmm…" she wondered, watching the footsteps recede into the distance. Someone had gotten attacked, killed the reaver, and then been able to run? That was impressive….
The probe came to a sudden halt, catching up to a boy, likely younger than even Tenchi, slumped against a wall, unmoving.
He wasn't dead. She knew, instinctively without referring to any of her machines that he should be dead. But at the same time, she knew that he wasn't.
"Well," she mused to herself, brushing aside a stray lock of red hair. "I'll be…."
She bit her lip, seeing the probe's view of the corridor darken slowly. It was time to pull the probe back and hide again, but… but….
His hand twitched slightly, falling limp at his side, palm upwards as though in a supplicating gesture, begging her to help.
Slumping, she moved to press the recall button. No exceptions could be made; trying to help him would jeopardize her position.
She watched, surprised, as her hand did not hit the recall button, instead activating another function.
Another hand fell upon her shoulder, prompting her to turn around. "Yosho?" she queried.
The young-seeming man behind her nodded, staring at the monitor. "What are you going to do with him?"
She fidgeted, blinking lights and subtle alarms notifying her that they had been discovered. "Nothing much I can do, now. He's going to need help, and let's be honest, so will we."
The machine swept across the boy twice, informing her clearly what his vital signs were.
It would take every iota of her skill to bring him back from the brink, every ounce of knowledge she had available, and more likely than not, need almost every bit of equipment her lab could still provide.
Were circumstances otherwise, she would have been thrilled at the prospect, but now… this was simply not the time for such things. Sighing, she set to work, placing a net of wires and diodes to the boy's head. First things first….
Stability, if nothing else. She frowned, surveying the latest readouts. Logically, she knew that she needed to make him better — replace the damaged parts that were too heavily infected to repair. But she also knew from a personal standpoint that it would be a horrible thing to do… she had no spare human internal organs, and the cloning facilities were already under attack. The only replacements she could give him would mean….
"Having trouble, Washuu?"
She jerked, startled — and annoyed at being surprised. "What? Hmm…. Maybe you can help me, Yosho. You are a priest after all." She smirked at his frown, then gestured to the boy. "I've found some other interesting things out about him… but what should I do with him?"
A distant alarm sounded, and a light flared red briefly, before fading into blackness.
The pair stared at the spot where it had been for a long moment, before Yosho responded, "I don't know how to answer that question right now… the choice is yours, Washuu. You're going to have to decide for yourself… unless you can ask him?"
Washuu stared at the boy before her, and then glanced over towards the still-sealed tank containing the Masu. "Well," she muttered to herself, sitting before her computer, and retrieving some of her older files. "It's an edge. Better than nothing…."
Another scanner passed slowly over him, illuminating some of the more damaged areas, infected with toxins from the reaver he had killed. She shook her head, glancing back at him in admiration before turning towards the computer again. To be able to destroy one of them alone — he had to possess great willpower, not to mention his physical abilities.
"I know," she commented to him, "that on one level, what I'm doing is wrong, so I'm just going to have to hope you can forgive me… but this time, I can honestly say that this is for your own good. It really is…." Sighing, she deactivated some of the less-used portions of her lab, diverting power to her current project — and the lab's steadily deteriorating defenses.
She rubbed at her forehead, sighing mournfully. "I really hope you can forgive me."
Washuu sighed, glancing around the area at the calm, still surface of the pool surrounding the shrine's great tree — and the means by which Yosho was able to live such a long life.
She leant her forehead against the tree, suspecting that Yosho was nearby but dismissing it for the moment. "I've already done all the modifications I can. I still need a power source, and too much of the lab is already gone to build one right now. I need to devote too much attention to maintaining what's left — and the systems to finish him — to build it myself. We're in pretty dire straits."
There was a faint humming noise, echoing across the pond before a sudden beam of light coalesced, revealing a demure woman standing on the still surface of the pond. "Hmm…." Washuu smirked, turning back to view the newcomer. "Any good news, Tsunami?"
"I'm sorry, Washuu-chan." The woman looked to her feet, towards the reflection beneath her, much younger and with a lighter shade of hair. "We are attempting to assemble a fleet. The border still requires a certain amount of attention, and the Galaxy Police have already dispatched a sizable rescue convoy. They will bypass the Terran refugees, and attempt to evacuate survivors as swiftly as possible… how are things going there?"
Washuu shrugged, sitting against the base of the tree as Tsunami drew closer, pausing at the edge of the water, not stepping onto the shore. "Not that well," she said. "I'm tracking them now, though. The Terrans actually managed to stop twelve of them."
The woman blinked in surprise, stunned. "How?"
Washuu rubbed at her chin thoughtfully. "Well, from what I can tell, they dropped a nuclear explosive on a group of them… the radiation looks to have killed six of them."
Wincing, Tsunami shook her head. "That's a very poor answer… how many remain?"
"Two hundred and eighty eight, last count."
"How were the other six stopped?"
Washuu shrugged again, crossing her legs idly, lounging against the tree. "The American military developed a toxin for the reavers. That stopped three of them before they became immune."
The scientist nodded knowingly. "They have a form of telepathy, even though they don't really have sentience. So they figured out what to change, and are no longer vulnerable to the toxin."
"One of them ate a piece of radioactive metal… I'm not sure if it died from radiation poisoning, or the nuclear reactor's explosion, yet."
Tsunami drooped visibly, her expression becoming more apprehensive. "I see… there's no hope for stopping them, then?"
"One of them fell into a volcano, and died in the lava… unfortunately, it took several hours to be fatally wounded, and countless Terrans died to get it into such a situation."
Wiping at the corners of her eyes, and what looked to be forming tears, Tsunami nodded again. "I see." Her voice had slowly become colder and more terse, the more bad news that she heard. "And the last one?"
Washuu sobered instantly, frowning, and folding her arms beneath her chest. "That one…" she sighed, shaking her head. "As impossible as it should be, a single Terran killed it."
Tsunami blinked at that, shocked. "How?"
Washuu shrugged again. "Not entirely sure of that one myself yet… apparently he's just got such drive and will that he was able to beat one to death with his bare hands."
"Amazing!" Tsunami shook her head, rubbing at her temples and sighing. "I wouldn't have thought anyone but Tenchi-sama or Yosho-sama could do that…. So there is a way for you to fight them after all?"
Washuu sighed, staring at the moon's reflection on the still pond. "Somewhat. But, as I said earlier, I don't have the power myself."
"What do you mean?"
"He took considerable damage taking out the one he did. As I said before, I've done what I can, but he was badly wounded in his battle. I need more power, and with the reavers actively eating my lab, that's not going to happen."
Tsunami stared at Washuu for a long moment, then nodded curtly. "I will help. In the meantime, the Throne is preparing to send a lead convoy of our ships for evacuation through a Gateway, along with any capable Galaxy Police ships. Currently, we've only managed to assemble a few of their ships, supplemented with some volunteers from the Home Fleet. Despite Tenchi-sama's requests, Azusa is making it a volunteer only mission… the reputation of the reavers worries many Juraians, even to this day."
Washuu nodded knowingly. "Most Juraian warships aren't really fit for this battle. It would be about the same as using nuclear weapons, in terms of collateral damage."
Tsunami bit her lip, unsure. "That is one of the primary arguments going on in the Council at the moment. And the Galaxy Police do not have that many ships close by. Truthfully, the most deployable vessels are actually closer to Earth, than Jurai, so they are racing towards Earth as swiftly as possible, but that is still some time before they arrive… they lack the teleportation abilities that out fleet possesses." Tsunami frowned worriedly, seeming to hedge on saying more, then finally blurted out, "There was some hope that you could, perhaps, create a virus that could destroy them."
Washuu frowned distastefully. "Well, the reavers are part Masu, which makes it hard, even for me. They don't breathe, and they already know not to travel near each other because of the nuclear strike, so it doesn't matter how communicable the disease is, we'd have to administer the virus to them directly. And then they might adapt and transmit the information telepathically before they die, anyway… aside from which, do we really want to try that? That's part of where the reavers came from in the first place."
Tsunami bowed her head again, sighing deeply. "I will arrive in a moment, Washuu-chan, then I will try and help you. Is there anything I should do before I do so?"
Washuu nodded, standing and leaning against Funaho. "Yes, actually. Can you bring one of my daughter's gems?"
Tsunami furrowed her brow, then shrugged. "I will ask. I will be there shortly, Washuu-chan."
"Great, meet me in my lab."
"Ah, Tsunami, good to see you again." Washuu smiled crookedly, peering down at her latest project. "There he is," she commented, patting the clear glass-like shield covering him and protecting him from being disturbed, "in all his glory."
The Juraian woman studied the apparently sleeping boy closely, before narrowing her eyes. "He is still wounded?"
Washuu grimaced. "As much as I would wish otherwise. I can only keep him stable, and wanted your help before the next phase. Were you able to get a gem from Ryouko?"
Tsunami shook her head. "Only for a moment. She insisted on keeping them nearby to protect Tenchi-sama." The woman clasped her hands together, frowning and concentrating intensely, as a bluish aura flared to life around her, an intense glow emanating from her and illuminating the far corners of the room. Washuu raised an eyebrow speculatively, thinking for a moment that she could see the Wings of the Light Hawk, but blinked, and the image vanished.
Smiling weakly, Tsunami held out a hand, presenting Washuu with a nearly perfect replica of one of Ryouko's gems. Washuu sighed, taking the gem and examining it closely. "Tsunami… blue?"
The woman frowned. "That's not going to be a problem, is it?"
Washuu shrugged, gesturing towards the boy. "Not really, but I don't think he'll be able to use Ryouko's gems… not that that should be an issue. Hmm…." Shaking her head, she pocketed the gem, and padded over to a control console. "I'm ready for the next step… are you?"
"Yes, but we'll have to hurry, the Council reconvenes in an hour, and I didn't warn Tenchi-sama that I would be away for long."
"Right. Let's get to it!"
Dizzy. He felt very dizzy.
"Mm…" he managed, sitting up quickly, and staring around himself in confusion. "Wha…."
"Careful," a voice warned. "I've temporarily blocked away your memories, so that the shock won't throw you off completely. We need to get you adjusted to your new powers."
"Huh?" He twisted around, seeing that he was sitting on a low table — the kind usually associated with surgery. Had be been operated on recently? "What… what happened to me?"
A tallish woman with long red hair stepped out from behind a panel, jotting notes down on a clipboard and nodding herself. She clicked her tongue, lowering the board and eyeing him thoughtfully. "Well," she sighed, crossing her arms beneath her chest, "that's a long story, but it's also not important at the moment. I needed to blank your memories to keep you from going into shock at your changes." Nodding, she produced a mirror, and handed it to him. "Here, take a look at yourself."
He stared at his reflection in the mirror for a long minute. Generally handsome features, he supposed, though he couldn't remember what it was in relation to…. He had medium-length spiky black hair, though he couldn't guess at the reasoning behind the style, spiked upwards and back as it was. He ran a hand through it, surprised as it sprang back up into spikes after he pressed it down.
The woman smiled apologetically. "Masu aren't even supposed to have hair at all, really, they just emulate it to the best of their ability," she explained, "and I suppose that could be considered a weak point in the emulation… at any rate, that's the best I could do with the time that I had. Hmm…. Sorry about the body suit, but I didn't know what colors you would like."
He looked down at himself, noting for the first time the one-piece jet-black form-fitting suit he was dressed in. Pants and sleeves that melded into shoes and gloves seamlessly. "You have a normal mode, and a battle mode. Currently, you are in 'battle' mode. Since you don't have your memories, pay attention to the things you do instinctively, so you'll remember them when your memories are unblocked."
He nodded acceptance, still confused. "What's your name? And who am I?"
"You can call me 'Washuu-chan', and we don't know your name yet. Worry about that later. Firstly," she commanded, "try to levitate."
He did so, needing to take a moment to understand how he did so, hovering a few inches above the operating table. "Excellent," she noted, marking her clipboard briefly before turning back to him again. "Now, try and phase through something."
Washuu sighed, pointing towards the table. "Try reaching through that surface."
He nodded, punching through the table with ease.
The woman sighed, shaking her head. "Doomed," she commented. "Maybe it's a side effect on the brain from the Masu… Ryouko did the same thing when— Bah. Try again, see if you can reach through it without damaging it."
"Oh," he said, prodding at the table experimentally, before finding a way to… slide… through it. "Like this?" he asked nervously.
"Excellent," the redhead crowed, marking off another point on her clipboard. "Now… those are your most basic abilities. The more time you spend in your new body, the better you will be able to control it. Here." She fished a small blue stone out of her pocket, and tossed it to the boy, who belatedly caught it. "Integrate this gem."
He blinked, needing a moment to understand how, before it melded into his wrist and a blaze of blue skin-tight material seemed to erupt from it, covering his arm and part of his torso before halting suddenly. "Very good." Washuu noted something on her clipboard. "When you aren't in battle mode, you will be able to leave the gem near your ear, though you can also just keep it on your wrist, dormant. Try and relax a little."
Nodding, he watched the blaze of blue seem to creep back into the gem, leaving his wrist bare as it popped out, floating above his hands. "Hmm…" he nodded to himself, letting the gem sink back into his wrist again, reforming the blue blaze across his arm and torso before it stopped. "What next?"
Washuu sighed, rubbing her head worriedly. "Well, there's more, but I'm going to unblock your memories. They should return over the next few hours, to keep things manageable. Until then, why don't you stay with me, and ask me any questions you have?"
He nodded, as she thumbed a switch on a console, smirking to herself in satisfaction. "Good enough," she mumbled, gesturing him to follow, and suddenly shifting to a much smaller form. "Let's go take a soak in the baths, hmm?"
He stared at her dumbfounded for a long moment. "I knew… I knew someone who did that," he said slowly, trying to put things together in his mind.
Washuu arched an eyebrow curiously. "Oh?"
"Yes… she…. She was a child, but she could turn into a woman… can't remember everything though…" he followed after her for another long moment, through a door, and into what looked to be a moderately sized dwelling. He glanced up at the crab-shaped bell as it clanked, then frowned. "My name is Ranma…."
Washuu frowned. "Ranma? Hmm. 'Ran-oh-ki'? It works."
Washuu shook her head, leading Ranma into a vast bath. "You can worry about that later. He won't be mature for a bit, since I started him a bit later."
He halted suddenly, glancing around worriedly. "You want me to take a bath with you?"
Washuu shrugged, pausing at the entrance to the girl's side. "It's… better for everyone involved to avoid being alone around here with the reavers loose."
Ranma staggered to his knees for a moment, clutching his head. "Big," he gasped out, "I remember… I thought it killed me…." He trailed off, staring at his hand, enclosed in the tight black material, with a certain morbid fascination. "What… I should be dead?"
Washuu winced. "Yes… you should be. But I thought you would be able to help us, if anyone could. And… it was the best way to keep you alive."
Ranma nodded slowly, regaining his feet, only to stumble again as another memory came back to him. "I turn into a girl?" he said, worry tingeing his voice.
Washuu frowned. "Hmm… yes, there were irregularities… Tsunami said that you should have more control over that now, though. Masu are more… mutable… than the average Terran, so you shouldn't have as much of a problem with it.
Ranma nodded, stepping forward uneasily. "I don't want to change," he said, stopping before the curtain.
The scientist crossed her arms over her chest, frowning at Ranma. "Well, there are some things to consider… your other form is much faster, and if you're damaged severely, you will revert to the lesser mass to repair yourself."
"So I'm still cursed?"
"Cursed? Hmm… for the time being. I could probably find a way to work around it, but until then, you're stuck that way. Anyway, come with me. I want to take a bath, and it's not completely safe alone."
Hesitantly, Ranma followed Washuu, looking away as she stripped, nervously examining the huge structure. "I think," be began, "there was something about baths…."
The girl nodded, wrapping herself in a towel, and wading into the pool. "Your memories will come back, slowly but surely. Sorry about that, but it was the best way to deal with the shock… severe physical trauma, and I needed to teach you your new powers safely…."
Ranma winced, running a hand through his hair. "My hair got cut," he complained. "It used to be longer."
Washuu nodded again, running a hand through her own hair. "Yes, well, like I said, Masu and hair don't mix very well." She gestured towards the water before her. "Aren't you going to climb in?"
He shook his head. "Um… I remember something about baths and girls… something about getting hit."
Washuu snorted, shaking her head. "I won't hit you as long as you behave yourself. If you try anything with me like this," she warned, gesturing to her small body, "you deserve what you get. Anyway, I've been operating on you for the last two days, I already know your bodies inside and out."
Ranma frowned, hesitantly searching for another towel. After finding one, he asked, "How do I take this off?"
Washuu glanced up from her own ruminations, and smirked. "Right… needed to explain that one to you. Heheh…. Try and will it away, and it will automatically phase into a subspace pocket."
Ranma focused, moderately surprised to note that the suit did just as she said, leaving him exposed. He hurriedly hid himself behind the towel, securing it about his waist, and entering the water cautiously, sitting some distance away from Washuu. "Um… thanks." He stared at his hand curiously. The gemstone in his wrist seemed to glow a faint blue, pulsating nearly imperceptibly with his heartbeat. "Do I need the clothes to fly?"
Washuu snorted, shaking her head. "No, you don't. The only difference between 'battle' mode and 'normal' mode is that you have better armor in battle mode. There's no real difference in your offensive capabilities, so you don't need to worry about that. There's more you can do, but worry about learning the rest later."
Ranma nodded slowly, feeling his hair again curiously. "So… what am I?"
The scientist sighed, explaining, "You're a little more than half Masu. The reavers are partly Masu as well, so you'll need the ability to phase to counter them, though they can't teleport or levitate."
Eyes unfocused, Ranma nodded. "It attacked us through a wall. It… almost got… got…. Who was she?" He sounded puzzled even in his memories. "I think she was… one of my fiancées." He shook his head dismissively. "It doesn't matter, I got them into the ship, so they could escape."
Washuu arched an eyebrow at that, summoning a cold, damp washcloth from somewhere to set upon her forehead as she soaked. "'One of'?" she asked.
Ranma furrowed his brow in thought. "I had more than one, I think… I sent them away to be safe… sent them…." He trailed off, staring upwards through the dome above him, at the faintly twinkling stars. "I wonder where they are…" he mumbled.
"On their way to Jurai? They'll probably be rounded up by the Galaxy Police, or the Home Fleet, and taken to Jurai. Tenchi-dono has an interest in preserving his people, after all. Why?" Washuu cocked her head to one side curiously.
Ranma frowned. "I don't know," he admitted. "I just wanted them to be safe… I… I don't know. What… what am I supposed to do, and what…" he stared at the gem in his wrist again. "What am I?"
Washuu stared into the pool, face clouded. "You're part Masu, like I said. I'm sorry. It probably wasn't the only way to save you, but it's what I did. I wanted you to be able to fight off the reavers, and… hopefully help us." She sighed, rubbing at the side of her face moodily, and shifting to her adult form again. "What I did was wrong, I knew that before I started. I'm sorry, I really am, but… this is the best chance we have, all of us."
The boy nodded, shrugging uncomfortably at being in the bath with a much more mature Washuu. "It's a martial artist's duty to protect… protect the weak. Yes. I guess…." He stared at the gem for a silent moment, collecting his thoughts, then sighed. "I guess I would have been dead anyway, right? So it's better than nothing."
Washuu sighed again. "Unfortunately," she commented, "that doesn't make me feel much better."
Ranma smiled crookedly, staring into Washuu's eyes from across the pool. "What do I do, though? I'm supposed to protect you, right?"
Washuu winced at hearing that, feeling the guilt intensify. "No… no, not… I mean, I didn't change you just to protect me. I mean… as selfish as that is, that's part of it, but it's also to protect yourself, and help all of us fight the reavers."
He nodded, his blue eyes still focused on hers. "I'll protect you, then. I mean… I'd be dead if it weren't for you."
Washuu cleared her throat, shifting to her child-form again, and adjusting the washcloth on her head in an attempt to cover a slight blush. She knew she was a genius — the greatest scientific mind in the universe — but this young boy was going to protect her, a woman of more than twenty thousand years? "Well," she commented, "that makes me feel better. Yosho should be around here, too. Though I don't have a real plan for dealing with the reavers yet. Planning actually works poorly against them, since a given tactic usually only works once."
Ranma cocked his head to one side, blinking. "What… yes, what are they?"
Washuu grimaced, explaining, "An old genetically engineered weapon. Nasty things. But whoever found them on this planet apparently managed to remove their capacity for breeding, or we'd all have been dead, and this planet probably scoured of all matter. Come to think of it, they might have been adjusted before they got here…. Anyway, reavers are lifivores, Ranma. Do you know what that means?"
He shook his head, watching her raptly. "No. I've never heard of it… that I can remember."
She couldn't help but smile at that small joke. "Heheh… very funny, Ranma. A lifivore is a being that is able to subsist on any material — any material whatsoever."
Washuu sighed, rolling her eyes. "It can eat anything, and live off it, Ranma. They're also able to learn, and if you kill one, the others may have learned to avoid the attack you used." She was silent for a moment, considering, then brightened. "Ah, here's an example. When they were first created, they were very soft, and vulnerable to conventional Terran ballistics." At Ranma's blank look, she amended, "They could be hurt with bullets.
"They are too tough to be killed that way though, and learned to defend themselves from bullets easily. They just ate metals, heavy ceramics and the like, and added the new materials to their exoskeletons. The heavy ceramics allow them to withstand incredible amounts of heat before they die, and most weapons can't hurt them.
"You were, however, able to kill one of them. How?" Washuu leaned forward, as Ranma's head drooped, staring at his reflection in the water.
After a moment, he heaved a sigh, and stared upwards, watching the stars through the dome. "Ki…."
Washuu blinked at that, confused. "What?"
Ranma blinked again, focusing on Washuu, and raising a hand. "I… gathered my confidence, and my willpower, and threw a ball of ki at it when it attacked me. I think it… it got stuck in the wall. Like I knocked its… phasing?" He paused, while Washuu nodded, motioning him to continue. "I hit it while it was coming through the wall, and I think it got stuck. So I… I used the soul of ice. I made it cold… but it stabbed me with its claw when I touched it…."
Washuu's jaw dropped, and she found herself more interested. "You made it cold?"
Ranma shivered, nodding. "I made it cold, and it froze, then I hit it, and… part of it broke, but it bled on me… bled to death, I guess. The blood ate through the floor, and I think I breathed some of the smoke, but I… I kept the girls safe." He shivered again, staring at the water blankly, and dropped his hand back into the water with a soft splash.
Washuu recovered herself, remembering that there was plenty of time to examine Ranma's abilities later. "Yes, a good portion of the damage was the toxic fumes in your lungs. Some of the other toxins got on you, also. They're very powerful — they have to be in order to break down the things that they eat. You're very lucky…."
Ranma raised his head, studying Washuu closely. "Yes," he said slowly, "I am."
The scientist fell silent, only able to stare at Ranma and wonder.
Ranma said nothing after that, brooding about something or another. Washuu didn't feel the need to pry, though the return of his memories probably caused the boy to shift the way he was thinking, from the first few minutes she had started to know him.
But those few moments told Washuu about his core personality. He was a somewhat self-assured person, but seemed eager to look for direction…. He had a strong will, but he also had a very vulnerable portion of himself, one that desired closeness. Not that she could fault him. Years upon years of time alone in… exile… told her that solitude was vastly overrated.
Though Mihoshi could make her wonder… she shook her head, dismissing the thought, and climbed out of the bath, humming slightly as she redressed. Ranma emerged a moment later, shadowing her silently, and re-clothing himself in his battle apparel.
Washuu clicked her tongue appraisingly, observing, "We'll have to find you some clothes… hmm… it's getting late — we should probably find Yosho and discuss plans."
He nodded, asking, "What happened to my old clothes?"
The redhead snickered, already walking towards the house below the giant floating bath. "Well, there's a big hole in the chest from where some big monster made a hole in you, and then there's the blood-stains, and the toxic sludge from the reaver… I could fix them for you, but we don't have a lot of time. It would be faster to grab some old clothing from Yosho. Now let's hurry."
She trotted to the house easily paced by Ranma, then paused suddenly, startling the boy. "Oh yes," she added, smirking, "you need the practice, so try levitating more, hmm?"
He blinked at that, then nodded, muttering, "I guess I'd better get used to it…." Washuu rolled her eyes as he lifted slightly off the ground, and began trailing after the scientist, apparently unconcerned with his new power.
Washuu frowned, considering that. "You adjusted to that quickly enough…."
Ranma nodded, scratching behind one ear irritably. "Yeah, well… our style specializes in adaptation…." He paused for a moment before smiling ruefully, and adding, "Guess the hard part is just getting used to the whole 'not landing' thing."
The scientist nodded again, pausing one final time at the entrance to the house. "Hmm…" she mused, pointing towards the edge of the property. "Looks like we'll lose the bathhouse sometime tomorrow…." She sighed, shaking her head.
Ranma stared towards the spot she indicated for a long moment, then frowned. "I think… I kind of see something there… what is it?"
The woman shrugged, gesturing towards it dismissively. "You can probably sense the reaver out there. You remember the lab, right?" At Ranma's blank stare, she added, "Where you woke up?" Rewarded with a nod from the boy, she continued, "The reavers are able to breach dimensional barriers to a certain degree. My lab was placed here, but is actually five times the size of this planet."
Ranma stared at her for a long moment, then frowned. "I… kinda… feel it. Like it's… like it's there, but… it's not." He sighed, scratching behind his ear more roughly. "It's… weird."
She blinked, surprised. "You can feel it?" She shook her head again, frowning in confusion. "Anyway… the lab sits roughly on top of this property, no more than a few miles in any direction from the door in the house." She gestured towards the interior of the house, before pointing towards the edge of the property again. "The reavers are able to occupy the overlapping spaces simultaneously, but this means that when they see pocket dimensions, like the one the lab is in, they have to interact with them all at once. Do you understand?"
Ranma furrowed his brow in thought, squinting his eyes and sighing. "Um… so it's kind of like… playing a game where you have to cross a playground using the lines on the ground, and even though they're not real you can't touch the shadows? The things that are there, but aren't?"
Washuu blinked again. "Actually," she said, "that's not a bad analogy… it's more complex than that, but you understand it at least… but it's more than just one set of lines and shadows, it's several thousands of them. They have to interact with all of them, which means that they have to smash their way through almost every defense that the lab has before they can get anywhere, not to mention all of the solid objects in their way…. Also, from inside the lab, it seems like each one reaver is actually several thousand, because of the overlapping spaces.
"Now, normally the lab would stop any threat like this easily, but these are a special case…" she trailed off, frowning and staring at her feet. Sighing, she began again, "They were designed to destroy Juraian cities, and dimensional pockets in particular. So this place attracts them… but they also know not to congregate, or they would be destroyed with nuclear explosions."
Ranma startled at that. "Nuclear explosions? Here?"
Washuu shrugged, "Nuclear energies were not in use when the reavers were developed, but they actually seem to be somewhat effective."
The boy blinked, confused. "What… what's the story behind that? How old are these things, and what's a 'Juraian'?"
Sighing, Washuu turned, and opened the door to the household. "Hmm… do you remember the announcement after the reavers started to spread out, and the news got to the public?"
Ranma nodded slowly. "I think so… it was a few months ago, and there was some blonde girl on the TV saying that there was a safe planet for everyone to go to… or something about a 'Galaxy Police'… something…."
Washuu pursed her lips as she took a seat before the television screen. "Mm… yes, that. One of the places that she said to send ships to was Jurai, which happens to be the planet where everyone else who lives here went to get aid. Unfortunately, litigation, red tape, and who-knows-what-else have slowed things down substantially… as things stand, though, some Galaxy Police and Juraian craft are on the way." She sighed, rubbing at her forehead. "In the meantime, I'd like to find a way to deal with the reavers. I simply don't have the time to prepare a counter for them, and anything I can do is suspect anyway."
Ranma nodded, bobbing slowly in the air above the table. "Oh. Is that what I'm for?"
The scientist winced anew at that. "I… no, I didn't save you to be a weapon, Ranma… I brought you back to ask you for help. You can say no, if you wish." The scientist crossed her arms beneath her chest and sighed. "I'm sorry…"
The boy seemed hesitant for a moment, then drifted away from the table and lit upon the floor. "I guess…" he said slowly. "I'm not… I mean, I would have been dead otherwise, so complaining would be silly." He nodded decisively. "I'll do it. They tried to get… to get…." He trailed off, frowning. "I can't remember," he admitted, "but I'll do everything I can to help anyway."
He stood near Funaho, resting one hand against the smooth bark, head bowed. "No," he said softly, "I love this world too much to abandon it."
The tree hummed softly, bright points of light twinkling among the leaves as they swayed against the wind, then pouring downwards, and reflecting off the pool surrounding it.
The man nodded slowly. "I… I am glad, then, that you too, love this world…."
Sighing, he turned his back to the tree, resting his back against its trunk, and slipping to rest between two large roots. "They were made to hunt you, I think."
The tree's message played out in soft lights, spelling out its thoughts in a method to complex for mere words to convey.
"I will do everything within my power, but… I do not know. I am loathe to let them harm you."
The tree hummed softly once more, then fell quiescent.
Rising to his feet wearily, Yosho nodded. "Tenchi has the Tenchi-ken with him… I am left with nothing…." Sighing bitterly, he shook his head. "I will do what I can though, I promise this…." Trailing off, and realizing the futility of his words, he trudged away, barely able to muster the will to hop from stone to stone across the quiescent pond's surface.
The door to the main room slid open, and Yosho entered, kicking off his shoes before stepping out of the entryway, frowning at the sounds of hushed conversation and a pleasant smell from the kitchen.
Nodding to himself, he wended his way to the source of the noise, momentarily thankful for the noise and brightness against the oppressive darkness of the inevitable and encroaching reavers.
He frowned, upon entering the kitchen, seeing the boy that Washuu had rescued previously floating near the scientist as she wandered around the kitchen, lecturing him about 'parallel space' and 'dimensional pockets'.
The boy's eyes flashed towards Yosho, and he grounded himself instantly, coming to rest in a loose, relaxed stance, but one that the older man knew instantly meant 'readiness'. He came to a halt, raising one eyebrow, and both of his hands. "Hello, there…."
The boy relaxed very slightly, seeming to wait on confirmation on something from Washuu.
At that moment, Washuu was scrutinizing a small sample of her own cooking and nodding to herself. Turning towards the man, she smiled, pointing a wooden spoon at Ranma. "Yosho-dono, meet Saotome Ranma, our newest ally!"
Yosho let his grave air slip, trying to relax, and desperately hoping that he would get along with the boy. "Nice to meet you, Saotome-san." He offered a sincere smile, and extended one hand.
Ranma's eyes flickered once towards Washuu before he accepted Yosho's extended hand, offering a nervous smile in return. "Um… nice to meet you too, um… Masaki… san. But you can just call me Ranma."
Yosho nodded, as Washuu turned back to a merrily burbling pot. "Then for now, you can just call me Yosho, Ranma." He considered very carefully what was going on. It was odd enough for Washuu to not refer to the boy as a project, considering what she had done for, and to, him, but it was even odder for her to busy herself about the kitchen. The last time she had done that….
He pushed the thought from his mind, taking a seat on the stool near the kitchen's small island, currently littered with vegetable remnants, and a discarded vegetable knife.
Ranma relaxed, drifting slightly upwards, and resting in the air. "You guys sure seem to like carrots."
Washuu snorted, shaking her head, and turning off a burner. "Oh, that's mostly Ryo-oh-ki."
Ranma furrowed his brow in thought, muttering softly, "'Oh-ki'…. What about Ran-oh-ki? You mentioned that name before, too."
The scientist clucked her tongue, herding both Ranma and Yosho out of the kitchen with the spoon. "I told you," she chastised him, "he's not mature yet. Now help Yosho-dono set the table."
Ranma lit on the ground and padded after the older man, as he retrieved a small pile of dishes. "Don't worry," he commented, glancing out the windows towards the darkness. "I think we have a few days yet, before they get this far." Ranma's demeanor darkened instantly at that.
Washuu stood before the doorway to her lab, her habitual sleeping quarters lying deep within. On occasion, she slept in Tenchi's room, when the fear of loneliness got to be too much to bear, but that was no longer an option, and something seemed… odd… about requesting to sleep near Yosho, even if it was for a legitimate reason, like avoiding the reavers.
Sighing, she rubbed at her temples, and stared at the door. The problem wouldn't go away on its own, and despite the fact that she did not need to sleep for days at a time, she had gotten precious little rest of late. Nodding decisively, she turned her back to the door, aware in a peripheral sense of Yosho nearby, and marched to the couch. She could sleep there easily enough, and avoid the horrendous emptiness of the lab, and its erosion.
"This used to be Nobuyuki's room, but he gave it to Mihoshi when he left for his apartment." Yosho fell silent for a moment, glancing out the window and towards the faint glow of light on the horizon that Washuu had identified as Okayama. "At any rate, make yourself comfortable, and rest here tonight. We'll meet up in the morning and discuss what happens next."
Ranma nodded, waiting for the older man to leave before eyeing the bed uncomfortably, and finally pulling the blankets onto the floor.
He lay in the darkness, staring at the ceiling for a long while before his eyes drifted shut, and a tremulous tapping at the door gained his attention. Frowning, he rose, and answered the knock.
Slightly disheveled, and more than a little sheepish, Washuu stood, wearing a pair of light-blue pajamas patterned with small red crabs. "Um," she started slowly, glancing nervously at the open window, "my bedroom is in the lab, and I wondered…."
He nodded silently, gesturing towards the bed, still empty. Washuu smirked, dragging a heavy blanket and a spare pillow from a closet onto the bed before curling up on it, facing Ranma as he lay on the floor staring at the ceiling. "Are you okay?" she asked, her voice sounding uncertain.
He nodded again, turning to glance towards her before looking back to the ceiling as it faintly glowed from the reflected moonlight off the lake. "I'm…" he trailed off, frowning. "I'm not used to sleeping alone," he said at length. "I usually sleep near… Pops…."
Washuu smiled at that. "You miss him?"
Something in her expression said that she knew the answer before he spoke. "I… I think so. My head still feels like it's muddled, though. I'm not sure."
She said nothing for a long time, simply relaxing, her breaths coming deeper and more slowly. "Well, maybe we can arrange to find him. I don't think we can stay here much longer." She shook her head, yawning. "We'll worry about that tomorrow…" she mumbled.
He smiled softly. Being alone could be unsettling, and the comfort of her presence warmed him. It wasn't the same as his father, but he knew even with his fuzzy memories that he needed something to protect, more than anything. If he could protect her….
Yawning tiredly, he turned his back towards her, and allowed himself to drift to sleep.
Tenchi sat very still, trying his best to look imposing in the Juraian formal clothing that Ayeka had picked out for him. Before him, placed evenly about the great oval table of the Juraian Supreme Council's table sat the governing bodies of Jurai, the Emperor himself at the far end, his wives at his side. Funaho's position as the Inspector General of Information gave her a seat to the Emperor's left, while the lady Misaki sat to his right, in her role of Supreme Commander of the Royal bodyguard.
He wouldn't have thought it from his initial meeting with the woman, but Misaki's demeanor turned very cold and professional in the political arena. Funaho, on the other hand, seemed more relaxed, and casual… perhaps it was more fitting, considering her role. The Emperor himself wore the same grimly set features that Tenchi had grown used to after their initial meeting.
Taking a deep breath to steady himself, the boy relaxed at the feelings of reassurance that he felt from Ayeka. Ryouko herself was forbidden entrance to the Council chamber, and instead remained in the quarters that Tenchi was issued. Opulent as they were, they could easily house the entire population of Tenchi's high school, but Ryouko had termed it 'confining'. Despite her complaints, she remained there attended by Ayeka's guardians. The Juraian people were nervous of Ryouko, and Ayeka had suggested she remain as subtle as possible, less they risk the fate of the Earth.
To Tenchi's right sat Tsunami, and while Tenchi knew that she meant well, the ruby-eyed woman made him nervous. Clearing his throat, he placed his palm on a small blue disk on the table, indicating that he wished the meeting to continue.
His right as a supplicant could not be denied, giving the majority of the council cause to sigh and hang their heads as the meeting was extended again.
One of the councilmen nodded wearily, indicating that Tenchi should continue. "Now, Tenchi-san, we do share your concern for colonial planer 0-316 — "
"You mean colonial planet 0-315, and it's Earth," Tenchi corrected, overriding the man's speech. "What reasons are there to not help as much as you can?" He stopped himself off there, trying to retain control over his temper, and rubbing at the trefoil symbol on his forehead that he knew would be there. Tsunami's presence seemed to call it, but he was afraid it would glow with the intensity of his emotion.
Ayeka cut in smoothly, stating, "We have decided to rethink our stance, and would request to reconvene tomorrow, after everyone has had a chance to rest." Her soft voice made the request seem meek — almost pleading. The Council agreed after a moment, everyone rising to their feet and stretching, groaning and muttering amongst themselves at they wandered off, attending whatever other duties remained to be dealt with.
The Juraian princess smoothed back her hair, her experience in the political arena allowing her to retain her composure as everyone — including her parents — slowly departed. Tsunami rose to her feet silently, and stepped a few paces away from Tenchi. He was unsure why she did so, but was comforted none-the-less.
Tsunami trailed behind Ayeka and Tenchi as they whispered together. She could have heard them, but respected their privacy, as they slowly wended their way towards the quarters that Tenchi had been assigned. The Emperor did not approve of Ayeka or Sasami sharing quarters with Tenchi, but Funaho had overridden his objections.
And Tsunami… they had no obvious opinions on that — Tsunami was Jurai, and could do as she wished. Except order that all of Tenchi's demands be met. Certainly, they seemed to kowtow to her every other whim, but when the Emperor was concerned, things became strained. He was a politician, and she was a goddess… but in part, she was also theoretically his daughter, and hence, he held power over her.
Added to that, he did not respect her opinions as much as he respected her, meaning that he sided with the Council in most matters, even sending more aid to Earth.
She slowed slightly, as Tenchi and Ayeka drew ahead, realizing that she was dodging the issue. As Tsunami, she had her own quarters, or could reclaim her old quarters, should she wish it. But then… she wanted to be with Tenchi, with Ayeka and Ryouko… she felt so terribly alone and distant from people. Respect was one thing, but affection was almost nowhere to be found.
She was unhappy with the way that the turn of events had pushed Tenchi, causing a rift to form; a rift she feared he would be too frightened to cross. Ahead of her, where she had stopped at an intersection of corridors, Tenchi gestured absently, muttering darkly, and shooting a glance behind him at something behind her, as the door to his apartments opened, then shut. She sighed, unhappy, and stared at the closed wooden door for a time, trying to distract herself with the structure of it; thick vines wrapped around narrow logs, giving it a very soft, friendly feel. Just like the doors to Ayeka's room. Or Sasami's.
Swallowing to herself, she turned away, walking slowly and sedately down the corridor. Of course, she had been foolish to make such an assumption — that the invitation would extend to her — but… Tenchi had never seemed that distant to her before, and had always been so kind and friendly to Sasami, but….
Closing her eyes, she walked down the corridor, a path that was firmly etched in her memory, one that she knew would be with her forever. Following the path engraved in her heart to its end, she opened her eyes before her tree. The First of the Ouke-no-ki. She lay a hand on the smooth bark of the tree that was also her, contemplating. With her powers, she could enter the tree, and exit any other Ouke-no-ki in the universe.
It would be oh-so-easy to escape, and simply run away, but she couldn't… even if he was afraid of her, she loved Tenchi too much to let him go without at least trying. But what could she do? Even as Sasami, her extended time as Tsunami would make them nervous, and Sasami's fears of Ayeka seeing her as not being the 'real' Sasami were slowly coming to pass.
Such a sad, silly thing… and it created a rift between her and all she loved. She had Ryouko's continued mistrust, though the woman was no less kind to Tsunami than she had been to Sasami, she was largely just indifferent. Ryo-oh-ki seemed to not mind at all… but Tsunami had no place in Jurai. She was a symbol, and the Juraian people grew nervous when she drew near.
Sasami was used to odd reactions from the palace staff, usually most respectful… but they were nearly reverent to Tsunami, because she was so much to their society.
Tsunami knelt on the ring surrounding her tree-self, and stared at her hands, musing. Possibly one of the greatest powers in the universe, and it robbed her of everything she treasured. It simply wouldn't be seemly for the 'Goddess of Jurai' to cook. It wasn't appropriate for her to play with small animals, like Ryo-oh-ki, or any of the countless other creatures that she had loved.
Tenchi was nervous of the figure that was so revered. Ayeka saw a being that had replaced her sister, as did Misaki. The Emperor, Sasami's father, was more understanding, perhaps, but was simply too cold to be of any comfort.
The aching loneliness bit at her — she was, perhaps, a simple creature, with simple needs. She simply wanted to be… wanted. And no one here wanted her….
There were then, two people that Tsunami could go to, even as Sasami. Washuu, and maybe Yosho, despite the obvious danger it posed. Steeling herself with a deep breath, she stepped into the tree, willing herself to be elsewhere. She could return in the morning….
Tenchi sat at the small table in the foremost sitting room, poking idly at the dishes Ayeka had ordered brought, and made moody by the tremendous responsibilities thrust upon him. Ayeka sat opposite him, while Ryouko sat at his side — nearly in his lap.
Ryouko pouted, trying to draw the boy into a hug, which he only partially resisted. "What's wrong, Tenchi?" she purred, trying to mask her nervousness.
Ayeka, for her part, restrained herself remarkably, settling for clearing her throat, which in turn caused Ryouko to back off, pouting more deeply, but with less apprehension.
After a moment, Tenchi shook his head, pushing his plate away. "I'm just… confused… and there's so much going on, and I'm worried about Jiji, and Father, and…." He trailed off, sighing. "I need to sleep, I'm tired."
He hesitated for a moment, wondering if he should track Sasami — Tsunami, he corrected himself. If he should track Tsunami down and apologize, and tell her that he just wasn't sure how to deal with the… difference… between her and Sasami. And that he missed Sasami, but….
He shivered, knowing somehow without looking that the trefoil mark on his head was gone, and that he had lost his chance. "Damn it," he whispered, climbing to his feet and trudging towards the sleeping quarters. Well, there would be tomorrow, after the meetings….
Slipping into the room, and no longer Tsunami, but not truly completely Sasami either, a young girl slipped into the Masaki house, creeping towards the stairs, and Tenchi's room. She halted before his door, half-remembering from her extended fusion, and blinked.
Her pink eyes flashed in the darkness, brimming with moisture at the dim recollections of rejection. "No," she whimpered, sinking to her knees. She had come here for help, and Tenchi had promised… promised….
"No…." Shivering, she moved down the hall, and balked again before the room she habitually shared with her sister. Her sister was not here, and… and she acted as though Sasami were no longer her sister.
Swallowing, she spun, seeking desperately for something to chase off the loneliness before she remembered, half on her own, and half through that strengthening, but fuzzy veil that seemed to chase her thoughts so often….
Washuu. Washuu would accept her, or Katsuhito, if he were around. But even Ryo-oh-ki was missing…. Where was everyone?
"Hello?" she called out tremulously. "Is… is anyone home at all?"
Shivering again in the darkness, she crept down the stairs, towards Washuu's laboratory, pushing away the odd sensations behind the veil in her mind. Washuu was probably still awake, since she rarely ever seemed to sleep.
Humming happily to herself, she pushed open the door and entered the lab, unmindful of the clanking of the crab-shaped bell, or the flashing red lights within its eyes, and their silent warning.
Ranma woke suddenly, bolting upright and sinking through the floor before he collected himself. Drifting down through a library, he stopped, floating amidst one of the largest collections of shoujo manga that he had ever seen. Washuu's voice called out to him as she swiftly descended the stairs, "You felt it too? It's the lab — let's hurry."
He nodded, drifting to the lab door and waiting impatiently for the diminutive scientist to arrive. He scowled, as she pushed the door open, feeling a tingling sensation along his spine when the parallel space was moved into closer alignment. Brushing past Washuu, he drifted through the doorway, following the growing sense of urgency emanating from….
He frowned, rubbing at the gem on his wrist, scowling as it suddenly flared a deep green, twinkling. He heard Washuu exclaim something as he darted forward, a faint and distant shriek of terror echoing from deep within the laboratory.
Sasami's eyes widened, and she pushed back at the veil in her mind — something was changing behind it, urgently calling to her, but she ignored it, backing away in a panic. Before her, a mass of shiny black armor coated… thing… seemed to struggle with the air, giant claws sweeping towards her, only to come to a halt suddenly. The grinding of metal raking across metal sounded, and the monstrosity seemed to mimic clawing something apart, then backing away, and… eating something?
Sasami swallowed nervously, unsure and only knowing for certain that the creature was inching forward, already cutting into her path to safety. Washuu was nowhere to be seen, and this monster was not helping matters.
Slinking away from the monster, she huddled away in a corner, whimpering. "Tenchi-niisan!" But he was nowhere to be seen, having disappeared like Washuu had.
The monster kept its mechanical motions, varying slightly upwards, or down, but moving forward ever so slowly, inching towards her. Shivering in fear, the girl let a shriek of terror escape, not knowing what to do.
There was a sudden flash, then, and Sasami bounded to her feet, still pressing herself to the wall. "Ryouko —" She cut herself off suddenly, staring at the newcomer, so much like Ryouko, were she to be a boy. She had seen Ryouko don a similar outfit, at one time, but…. The boy snarled fiercely at the creature, dropping into a crouch, then leaping at the monster, feet lashing out to smash into its carapace.
The monster shrieked, then backed away, waving the larger pair of forward claws menacingly, and squaring off with the boy. He snorted, smirking, and took a loose, relaxed stance, eyeing his opponent. The monster, Sasami realized, was more then equipped to hurt the boy — he had only bare hands and feet, while the… thing… had eight appendages, all of which were tipped with nasty and dangerous looking points and jagged barbs.
Ranma relaxed, allowing his memories of proper stances to flood back into him. But how to fight the creature? It was huge! And to keep this new little girl safe, of course….
It snarled again, sweeping a pair of appendages towards him like a giant pair of scissors, each tipped with wickedly jagged barbs. He ducked, throwing himself to the ground and only narrowly avoiding being caught, then lashed out with a foot, aiming for the thing's… face?
Head-like-area, at any rate. It recoiled from the force of the kick, but seemed otherwise unaffected, sweeping its claws back open. Ranma pushed himself off the floor, momentarily winning the battle against gravity, and dodged another attack, landing another fierce kick to the creature, which succeeded in temporarily staggering it.
Scowling, he realized that he wasn't making any headway — he simply wasn't able to do enough damage to the thing. Yelling, he rushed, ducking under an attack and attempting to grapple the thing. It looked like he might be able to flip it over onto its back, like a turtle. He knew he could make it cold, but was worried that the backlash from such an attempt would hurt the girl.
He grunted in pain when he closed with the thing's leg — it was covered in sharp, spiny protrusions, some of which seeped pale colored and stinging ichor. Heaving, calling upon strength he did not know he possessed, he raised the monster into the air, wincing as a pair of claws rent the space near him, coming perilously close. He paused, momentarily stunning himself with the fact that he was able to lift the monster above him, since he was certain the thing had to weigh more than most small cars, before slamming it into the ground. It screeched, floor-plates buckling upward around it as Ranma drove it down.
Staggering back, out of reach of the flailing limbs, Ranma rubbed at the bloody streak running from his shoulder to his hip, then noticing his hands. He hissed, seeing the raw wounds, some of them discolored with the pale ichor.
Spitting towards it derisively, he took a deep breath, allowing the adrenaline to fade from his system, and the pain to slowly come through. A wave of dizziness swept through him, reminding him of what Washuu had told him earlier. Their blood was toxic, and so were the fumes from it. "Aww…" he bit his tongue, eyeing the girl.
Her eyes remained fixed on the monster, and he turned belatedly to look at it. The legs had stopped thrashing in the air, instead arcing downwards and bending its joints backwards. Ranma's eyes widened in disbelief, as the limbs fully reversed their orientation, allowing the reaver to rise again. "No way!" he breathed.
Washuu rounded the far corner, backpedaling as she saw the monster. "Oh!" she exclaimed, her eyes quickly scanning over to Ranma, and her expression twisting to confusion as she saw the girl. "Sasami?" she asked.
The girl nodded, still staring at the creature in horror. Ranma waited, but the creature seemed bent on attacking the space before him, still a good half-meter away from him, and at least twice that from the girl — Sasami. He relaxed slightly, wincing as the soreness caught his attention again. "Washuu, what the heck am I supposed to do with this thing?"
The diminutive scientist shook her head, remembering the situation at hand, and turned to Ranma. "Beat it the same way you did the last one! Remember?"
He stared at the monster, then frowned. "Uh… I don't want to hurt the girl, she's kinda in the way…."
Washuu stared at him, hard, then shook her head, setting her hands on her hips as though the monster weren't an immediate threat. "Then pick her up, and bring her to safety!"
Ranma nodded belatedly, turning, and gathering up the entirely unresisting girl in his arms. He turned again, eyeing the monster, and frowned, calculating. Taking a deep breath, he muttered, "Hang on tight!"
The girl did just that, her arms circling his neck as she curled herself into a ball, huddling into his chest. Darting along, making sure to shield the girl with his own body, Ranma leapt across the corridor to where Washuu waited, tapping her foot impatiently. The creature lashed out, one lightning-fast strike that Ranma knew was going to hit him making a high-pitched keening whistle as it cleft the air.
Struggling frantically, he willed himself to somehow move faster, and momentarily surprised both himself and Washuu when he sped up, flipping over and slamming into the wall behind her.
The girl coughed, shaken up, but Ranma had absorbed most of the impact himself. "Ow…" he groaned, still stuck into the now-cratered wall, and Sasami held to his chest protectively. Washuu stared at him, incredulous, then stepped forward and helped the girl down.
"Ranma?" she asked, her voice confused.
"Uh… yeah?" he responded, pushing himself out of the wall and remembering — this time — to float to the floor.
"What are you doing?"
"I… uh… kind of forgot about the entire… power… thing." He sighed, raising a hand to his head before belatedly realizing he would smear blood through his hair. Grumbling, he shook his head. "Those things are nasty!"
Washuu nodded, eyeing the wounds dubiously. "Right… maybe you should try not to use your bare hands, Ranma."
He stared at her dumbly. "Huh?"
Wincing, Washuu held a hand towards him, and clenched it into a fist, causing him to step backwards as a red, blade-like, glowing bar of energy sprang forth, humming quietly in the air. "I forgot to mention it to you, but you can generate these, too. And right now, you probably should."
She shook her head, gesturing towards the creature. "I'm not fast enough to handle it myself, or I would. Ranma… try and be careful, okay?"
He nodded, staring at his hand and wondering… "Uh…" He nearly asked, but shook his head, stubborn pride temporarily overriding common sense. If she could make a glowing sword out of thin air, so could he.
Gathering himself, he focused. How did one go about generating glowing sticks of light? He clenched his fist in frustration, willing it to happen, but… there. It was a sensation… he closed his eyes, relaxing, and sought the sensation out. It was like a muscle he had never flexed before, how did he….
He cleared his mind, trying to reach it, but it slipped from his grasp, elusive. Heaving an exasperated sigh, he opened his eyes, seeing both Washuu and Sasami staring at him expectantly. Swallowing, he managed a smile, knowing that the reaver was inching ever closer. "Oh… boy," he whispered.
Soul of ice. He calmed himself, throwing his focus into that single moment of perfectly centered self, seeking out the ice that lay within, and the control it yielded to him. In a heartbeat, he had it, and a blazing ball of shimmering blue lay across his outstretched hand.
He grinned, not letting the soul of ice slip, and clenched a fist around it. As though obliging an unspoken request, the light… shifted… a bar of it before him, like a long dagger, and below, a shorter bar and an odd sphere. He waved it experimentally, surprised at its weight, and resistance to movement.
Shaking his head, he swept past the girls, not really noticing as he formed a second blade in his other hand. The reaver, sensing his approach, backed off slightly, allowing itself more room to maneuver.
He leapt towards the reaver, arms held behind him as he flew towards, it like a bird of prey. It raised a claw to block his passage, and another in an attempt to spear him. The claws met with his blades, neither yielding immediately. Ranma gritted his teeth, willing himself to move forward, trying to force his levitation to become more a part of the attack, and lending its power to his.
Sparks flew from the contact, as the energy of the blade slowly carved through the thick reinforcements of the reaver's carapace, and behind that, frost slowly spread across the creature's limbs.
Snarling, Ranma pressed his advantage, sensing that his victory was near. He was only able to gawk, stunned, when one of the reaver's rear legs suddenly whipped around, slashing him across the face as he narrowly evaded being cleft in two.
He shook himself, wiping at the blood irritably, and scowling. The monster had learned to fight him quickly!
Leaping upwards again, Ranma avoided another series of strikes, descending on the monster's back, and driving his twin blades against the carapace.
The creature howled, and Ranma rolled off its… back? The creature had flipped over, Ranma remembered, so that must be its underbelly. A claw descended towards him, narrowly missing the boy, and instead driving itself deep into the monster's own carapace. Ranma stared at it dumbly, stunned that it would do such a thing to itself. Shaking his head, he took advantage of the opportunity, this time hacking at the leg's joint, hoping the armor would be weaker there.
With one of its own legs pinned in its own hide, the monster was not effectively able to counter, and Ranma drove his blades against the joint, managing to slowly sever the trapped limb. Yanking savagely, he pulled it off, revealing a frozen mass of pale yellow tissue behind it.
Grimacing, he let his blades vanish, remembering how he killed the last one. Yelling savagely, he struck the creature, driving his fist through the frozen mess, and unleashing a deluge of its ichor upon himself.
Gagging, Ranma staggered away, trying not to scream at the pain as it ate into his flesh. He stumbled towards the wide-eyed Washuu and Sasami, sinking to his knees. "Damn it!" he cursed. "This hurts!"
Washuu blinked, and Ranma felt an odd… tingling… sensation reverberate through him. When it finished, the pain was gone. Surprised, he got to his feet and looked himself over, noting that he had changed.
"Hey," Ranma said slowly, looking down at his — now 'her' — body. "What happened?"
Washuu shook herself out of her reverie, and motioned Ranma to follow her. "Like I said," she explained, "when you take too much damage, you convert to your smaller mass form." Sasami stared at Ranma in a bemused sort of shock, even as Washuu led her away down the corridor. "You could change back now, but if you know what's good for you, you won't. You'll need to replace some of the mass you lost in the battle, first…."
Ranma blinked, thinking she understood. "Uh… okay. So… who is she, and how did she get here?"
Washuu frowned, still leading Sasami away. "This is Sasami, and she's a Juraian princess. I'm not sure why she's here, but I think she's in shock from the reaver attack… at any rate, let's find Yosho-dono, and have some tea. I doubt I'm going to get back to sleep right away." The last was said with a bit of disappointed regret, causing Ranma to wince.
"I know what you mean… hard to sleep after seeing that…." Ranma frowned, feeling herself over. "Why aren't I hurt anymore?" she asked. "I mean, I can understand that I shouldn't be hurt as much, but… not at all?"
Washuu smirked, nodding to herself. "I am the greatest scientific genius in the universe, after all. Why would I make it so you kept the damage if you didn't need to?"
Ranma frowned again. "Doesn't that mean that I can change at will if I want to get rid of a bruise or a cut, or something?"
Washuu nodded. "Of course. Once you learn the trick of it, you should be able to heal without changing, too."
Nodding, Ranma ran a hand through her hair, grimacing at its spikiness as it resumed its previous shape after her hand passed through it. "Anyway… what's going on with the, er…. What's going on with Sasami?"
Washuu frowned, tapping one finger against her lower lip thoughtfully, as she reached the lab's exit. "I'm not sure, we'll have to ask her… when she's feeling more up to it, I suppose." Ranma nodded, moving to sit on the couch in the living room, but halted by Washuu's warning call, "Wait, Ranma!" At Ranma's questioning gaze, she explained, "You're going to need to wash up, before you touch any of the furniture.
She blinked, looking down at herself, then again at Washuu. Washuu frowned, shaking her head. "And of course, ladies first, so… you'll have to wait for Sasami and I to return." She nodded to herself, and led Sasami away. Ranma winced, seeing the bloodstains she had inadvertently gotten on the girl's clothing, and her long, aquamarine hair.
Sighing, she folded her legs beneath her, floating a half-meter or so above the table. "Wait…" she muttered, looking over her shoulder to the giant floating outdoor bathhouse. Blinking, she turned, noting that Washuu had led Sasami down a hallway. Tentative investigation revealed sounds of splashing water and hushed voices behind one of the doors, but she elected not to pursue further, dimly remembering an association between baths and violence.
Shrugging, Ranma exited the house and drifted towards the outdoor onsen. If they wanted to use the one, when there were two, then there shouldn't be a problem with her using the other….
She lit upon the entrance, pleased to note that it was still brightly lit within. She peered in, seeing no one, and focused for a moment, willing her bodysuit to disappear. That done, she wandered over to the washing area, frowning at the steaming water of the baths as she grabbed a rag and began to scrub herself.
Slowly coming to her senses again, the first things she were aware of were fingers pressing down into her scalp, gently scrubbing shampoo into her hair. She blinked, noticing a few faint streamers of red in the water over the tile on the floor of the bathing area, and knowing that whatever it was, it had been taken behind that clouded veil in the back of her head.
Probably not important, really. She heard a mutter behind her, where whoever was helping her bathe was kneeling. She turned her head slowly, managing to get a bit of shampoo into one eye. "Ack!" she exclaimed, blinking the tears away as she saw the diminutive redhead smiling sardonically at her.
"Feeling better, Sasami?"
The girl nodded, wondering what had felt unwell in the first place. "Washuu-chan? What happened?"
Shrugging, Washuu dumped a pitcher of cold water over Sasami's head, rinsing the lather out of her eyes. "Oh, probably nothing to worry about at the moment, really. Do you remember meeting Ranma?"
She nodded slowly, dimly remembering some things that the veil was not strong enough to hide. There had been a monster… a giant, horrible creature, and a boy with midnight-black hair and frighteningly blue eyes…. "I think so… he has blue eyes?"
Washuu snorted, hiding a smile and nodding. "Oh, then you remember him well enough. I'll reintroduce you to him later, though. Now, turn around so I can scrub your back!"
Ranma sighed, eyeing the warm water suspiciously. Washuu had said that she had best remain in female form until she could replace the lost mass, and that probably meant eating, which suited Ranma just fine. Healing from eating was a definite plus in her book, since she liked both being healthy, and eating. And if the one lead to the other….
Shaking her head, she tried to focus, remembering what Washuu had said about control. Someone named Tsunami had told her that Ranma should have better control over the curse. Well, control at all would be an improvement….
Steeling herself, and smirking at the irony, she dipped one leg into the hot water, feeling a tingling sensation that swept through her, seeming to collide with her steeled will, as though she were keeping the change at bay. Her smile widening, she sank into the water, releasing a contented sigh.
It was odd to force the curse at bay, especially since she wanted nothing more than to do away with it… but the novelty of control was intriguing. Perhaps less a curse and more a tool…. She giggled, stifling the noise and looking about herself, mortified that someone might have heard the… girlish… noise.
Realizing that she was still alone, she relaxed, sighing. A discarded hand-mirror lay near Ranma's hand, on the edge of the bath. A bright pink plastic frame, and a small smudge on one corner. She rubbed at the smudge absently, before turning the mirror over and examining it.
A crudely scrawled, 'Mihoshi,' was inscribed on the reverse of the mirror, and the smudge came off easily. Nodding to herself, Ranma flipped it over again, studying her reflection. Her face seemed the same as it had, perhaps a little more weathered, but…. No, it was the same, she decided.
Still disgustingly 'cute,' still with red hair, though no longer in the boyish pigtail, and instead…. She grimaced, holding her breath and sinking below the surface of the water. She emerged a moment later, shaking the water out of her eyes, and noting with some interest that the spikiness was gone, leaving her hair to lie straight down her back, hanging slightly past her shoulders. "Hmm…" she mused, running her hand through it.
As she watched, it seemed to dry itself off, reassuming its previous spiky configuration. Sighing, Ranma set the small hand-mirror on the side of the bath again, staring upwards and musing. The still-blurred images of the girls she had fought for danced through her head, vying for dominance. She remembered a pair of eyes; eyes that could sparkle with a luster that put jewels to shame, and a smile that framed a face….
But she couldn't remember the color of the eyes, or anything about the smile other than it being one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful things she had ever seen. Gone, now. Sent away beyond the stars…. Grimacing, she looked upwards, seeing the stars still, twinkling in the sky overhead.
And that smile was gone, leaving Ranma alone. She sighed, deciding that it was for the better. She would be safe, at any rate. Safe from the monsters, and some day, perhaps, Ranma could find her again…. She nodded to herself. Until then, Ranma had someone to protect, and a world to cleanse for her return.
Stretching against the heat, Ranma leaned back into the wooden rim of the bath, allowing herself to slowly doze off.
Waking with a start, Ranma blinked, looking around, and feeling drained.
He grunted, climbing out of the water, and pausing to look down at himself. A wave of dizziness passed through him, tingling, and he shifted. As she regained her balance from the unexpected change, her head cleared, reminding her of Washuu's warning.
"Of course," she muttered, eyeing the water mistrustfully. Perhaps that had been a bad place to try and sleep. Shaking her head, she summoned her clothing to her again. Frowning at her once-again gloved hands, and covered feet, she shook her head, allowing herself to drift outside, and wheeled abruptly, a sharp sensation ringing on the back of her neck.
Like an abscess of moonlight, though she could faintly make out the glow of the pre-dawn, she felt more than saw it. A shadow, creeping inexorably closer to the onsen, which had dropped to the level of the lake's surface while she had slept. Steeling herself, Ranma glided forward, preparing to meet yet another reaver.
To be continued.
Author's notes: This is, in fact, the fic that got me (however temporarily) out of fan fiction. I was told that I could not, could not, COULD NOT write it the way I wanted to.
Well, whoever says I can't is welcomed to believe that. I will simply try my best, and if that isn't good enough, then I'm just going to have to get better. Thank you for your time and patience, and thank you most of all for bearing with my horrible temperament — and myself. ;)
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