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…
Additional credits: Kitty Films and Naoko Takeuchi (Sailor Moon), TV Tokyo and Ken Akamatsu (Love Hina), Takada Yuuzou and A.D. Vision (Bannou Bunka Nekomusume Nuku-Nuku).
Notes: Diverges from Ranma after volume 24, continuation for OAV 2 in the Tenchi universe (well, one of them). Nuku Nuku is from the OAVs, not Dash or TV. Sailor Moon occurs, well, at some point in the series, but it's something of an alt anyway. This fic uses the bizarrely vague 'Pick One!' scenario. Enjoy.
Important: I made a few errors in chapter 5. Michiru and Haruka (Neptune and Uranus) weren't supposed to be there for the fight Ranma had against the reavers. Kinda explains why they didn't react much, huh? Aside from that, just before Hotaru destroyed one of the reavers with a Silence Glaive Surprise, I mistakenly referred to Ranma's gem as blue, when it should have been green then.
A dry, hard wind gusted across the landscape. Ranma blinked, slowly frowning, and looking around himself.
The land was dry, parched and cracked. Great chasms rent it wide, the ground flat above them, and nothing more than a chaotic jumble of stone spires and jagged rock fall within.
He surveyed the horizon, faint brown smudges of mountains in the distance. Behind him, lay a small heap of head-sized boulders, rising perhaps to his shoulders, and fifteen meters away.
Grunting, he walked to the edge of the nearest chasm, peering into it. Fifty meters wide, and beneath the warm sun the bottom was still obscured in darkness. What was illuminated was more of the serrated granite and basalt that lay scattered about, and nothing else.
"Well," he said aloud, more to break the stillness than any hope of a response, "it's hot, but at least it's a dry heat."
No response came anyway, save the wind increasing its pace slightly, picking up stray grit and dust. The dust storm rose, and Ranma instinctively grabbed for his shirt to raise it as a shield from the worst of the airborne dirt.
Only to remember that he wasn't wearing a shirt. He grimaced, but looking down, found he actually was wearing a shirt. The white Chinese shirt and the blue pants he was most fond of.
Frowning, he pulled his sleeve across the lower half of his face, and attempted to float upwards. Whatever mechanism allowed him to levitate failed, and he found himself standing in the dust, holding his sleeve across his face. "Great," he mumbled. "At least there'll be shade."
A soft, lyrical voice rang out, "Oh, how little you know… indeed, there will be shade."
The wind increased, no longer content to merely pick up loose dirt, now grabbing the packed soil and prying it up to fling into the mess. Ranma spun, narrowing his eyes and crouching to better shield himself. "Who's there?" he tried to shout through the dust.
A violent burst of wind erupted around him in a circle, not touching him, but forming a solid sphere about him, whirring and silent, that pushed back the storm. He dropped his sleeve, coughing, and shook himself off, dislodging more grit. As he looked around, the storm increased to the point of blocking out all light and visibility. "Oh, this just sucks," he muttered sourly. "What the hell is going on here?"
Blasting a violent path through the maelstrom, and halting only after it struck the spinning air around him, a corridor formed, clear of dust and debris. He looked up apprehensively, eyes tracking across the scoured earth and onward, to the small heap of head-sized stones. "Greetings," the soft voice said again. Not in the manner of someone who is gentle, but in the manner of someone who was afraid of breaking whoever it was they were speaking with.
"Who are you?" he asked, looking at the figure atop the small heap of stones. She was a woman, dressed in a black and green gown, with a flowing white cape. Her hair was a solid dun color, save for a few streaks of orange bursting from a brass disk on her forehead. Her eyes were solid pits of deepest blue — so deep that they turned purple in the shadows of her well-defined eyebrows. Her pupils were elongated black slits, like a cat's, or Ryouko's.
She giggled, her eyes narrowing into little lines as she rocked with mirth. "I am the eldest of three sisters, child." Her giggles trailed off, and she gestured Ranma closer.
Frowning, he approached, noting that the corridor of air faded away behind him, sinking back into the storm. But there was an oasis of safety around the woman.
He stopped at the edge of the storm, which had risen in intensity until a low grinding noise penetrated the shield. Ranma swallowed nervously, asking, "So, uh, what's the deal, then?"
She leapt from the stones, drifting serenely down to the ground at Ranma's side. She eyed him appraisingly, walking around him in a small circle. The wind's protection expanded to allow her to do so, and he growled, turning to face her. "And what the hell is it with women walking around me like that, huh? What am I to you — a piece of meat, or something?" he snapped abruptly.
She ignored him until her circuit was complete, then hopped daintily back to her perch of stone. Cocking her head to one side, she said, "That is precisely what you are. Look at yourself, child. A pathetic creature of meat and bone. How can you compare to a perfect being such as I?"
Ranma dropped into a defensive stance. "So you wanna fight me, huh?"
Snorting disdainfully, the woman waved a gloved hand at him, the fingers tipped in spikes. "You could not stand before me. However, you are of… some interest to me."
Grumbling, Ranma relaxed, shaking his head. "Yeah, what do you want? To kill me? I get that from time to time." His eyes narrowed suddenly. "You better not want to marry me," he warned. "That's just right out."
Lips curling in disgust, she pointed at him, and he fell, collapsing in a sudden fit of intense pain. Fire raced across his nerves, the sensation of the reavers' slashes rent him to pieces, cats clawed his eyes out, his vocal chords seized up, and his lungs failed, leaving him gasping for breath, lying on the ground and writhing until the pain suddenly vanished. Weak, he staggered back to his feet, shuddering. "Do not mock me," the woman admonished him.
He shook his head, growling, "What the hell is this?"
"This is my realm, child. My sisters' realms are different places. Let me show you their worlds." Her voice slowly faded, until he was only barely able to make out her words, and the whole of the world about them fell to nothingness.
When he returned to his senses again, he stood atop a hill, lushly carpeted in grass and small flowers. A stream burbled nearby, hidden in a small copse of leafy trees, spreading their green foliage to shade the loamy soil below. Small creatures fled from the sight of him, to blink from the protection of small shrubs dotting the landscape.
He stared at his feet, ankle deep in the thick green flora. He ran a hand through the grass at his feet, confirming his speculations. His hands simply passed through it. If he were to step further forward, he would likely subject himself to the veritable meat-grinder of the sandstorm. Looking behind himself, he beheld the woman, still perched atop her rock pile. "Okay," he said slowly, "what is this supposed to mean to me? You're not answering my questions."
The woman raised her hand, and the world shifted again, though he was able to avoid the disorientation from the first time, as it changed to a world of darkness and light. There was a single point of light, and a single point of darkness, on a vast field of nothing.
Light poured from its point of origin, the single brightly glowing mote, thick and flowing like honey, to spread outward, slowly gathered into the point of darkness in swirling eddies and currents. "That," the woman said, indicating the light, "is the domain of my youngest sister. She does not concern me, for her realm will enter mine and be finished. It is of no import."
There was a moment of silence before she spoke again, "This area, this world of gray between light and dark… it is my sister's realm. She does not govern it as she should."
"What are you talking about?" Ranma asked, confused.
Another gesture, and Ranma found himself on another hill. This time the landscape was not so burgeoning with life. The grass was taller, and large seedpods on the ends of some grass stalks broke free and drifted in the occasional breeze. Perhaps not grass, but something very similar to it. The forest was broken, some bushes having climbed into and toppled some of the trees, while others had grown larger. There were fewer small animals, though Ranma glimpsed a bigger one, disappearing into a larger mound of fallen branches and twisting vines.
"Now," the woman explained, as though to a child, "you see two of the realms. It is quite simple." She waved a hand, and the scene returned to the barren wasteland. "There is life, growth, and then release."
Ranma scratched his head, then shrugged. "Okay," he said. "I guess. But why are you showing me this?"
"Because," the woman explained to him in the same patronizing tone, "you are mine, to do with as I please."
Ranma opened his mouth, but his vocal chords seized, refusing to let him speak. He gaped wordlessly for a minute, then snapped his mouth shut and glowered.
"As it is, each is allowed only one knight… and both of my sisters have chosen theirs. I hadn't deigned to — there is no need, for me. And yet, when they created you…" she trailed off, gesturing at Ranma.
He staggered to his knees, feeling his flesh slowly strip away, his insides shifting and warping.
"Hmm," she mused. "When they fashioned you they made a mistake. For each is allowed only one. And in making you, they created you for anyone… and that one shall be me." She waved a hand absently again. "Oh, your powers will emulate those of my youngest sister… they can manage that. But my blessing has yet to be bestowed. How many times, I wonder, will you grace my doorstep? Washuu has changed you. You cannot cross into my realm naturally, and this vexes me greatly."
She brooded for a moment, then shook her head. "Not that it matters." The shifting and warping cut off, and Ranma fell forward, catching himself and heaving for breath. Clothed in his black skintight bodysuit again.
"I ain't yours," he gasped, finding his voice returned.
"Oh?" the woman asked. "It is true that I cannot force your hand… but consider this, child. Your world will perish under the onslaught of what is assaulting it. You may perish, as well." She grinned at that. "And if you do perish at my pets' hands, then you will be mine anyway. I do not think Washuu has changed you enough to avoid that. She shirks her duties, and I will call her to heel. As my servant, you will bring her to me."
Ranma shook his head, growling, and struggling to his feet. "Nothing doing," he stated. "I ain't gonna betray Washuu. If you think I am, well then, you can just go to hell!"
Dead silence ruled the wasteland, and the woman's face twitched with vexation. Intoning deeply, and eyeing Ranma with nothing but contempt and disgust, she said, "Then your world will perish, and you will fall, and then you will be mine anyway. You are not given a choice in the matter."
Washuu stared at the gray steel of the ceiling above her. A lock of spiky black hair obscured most of it, but she could see faint sunlight from a porthole, illuminating the room weakly. She moved to rise but found herself pinned.
Ranma lay tangled with her — and Nuku, somehow — on the captain's bed. She had asked for it for Ranma, and hadn't intended to stay herself. Her plans had included avoiding sleep to work on devices that could make a difference in the battle against the reavers. Not having Ranma pull her onto the bed and knock her out.
Had she been planning on it, she could have switched herself for a doll easily. But she had trusted Ranma. "Lout," she grumbled. "Anything to get a woman to fall into bed with you, I bet."
"Nothing doing," he murmured in his sleep, his head pillowed on her chest. "I ain't gonna betray…" the rest was lost, muffled as he turned his head.
Washuu winced. "Still loyal? I'm envious, Ranma. Whoever you end up with is going to be a lucky woman indeed. Now, will you wake up?"
"Nuh-uh," he mumbled, as Nuku flopped over in her sleep, her arm encircling Ranma and her fingertips touching against Washuu's ribcage.
"Okay," Washuu said sternly, "it's time to wake up, Ranma."
Nuku stretched a tiny bit, her fingertips wiggling ever so slightly, tickling Washuu's ribcage. "Whooo! Okay, come on, enough of, hehee! Stop that! Stop— hehee! Nuku! Aaack!"
Ranma twitched once, then bolted upright so strongly that he wrenched himself free of Nuku, and slammed into the ceiling with a resounding 'whang'. "Ung," he grunted.
Washuu took advantage of the opportunity to roll free of the bed, still giggling like a schoolgirl. Nuku remained blissfully asleep, until Washuu fell to the floor with the blankets. Rolling over, Nuku landed atop Washuu, the pair quickly becoming entangled in the sheets Washuu had accidentally pulled onto the floor with her.
Ranma sank slowly, eyes screwed shut as he scrubbed at the back of his head with his hand. "Oww…." He landed on the bed on his knees, and shifted forms. Probably remembering that he could heal himself — herself, now — in the process.
The smallest of the redheads groaned, turning to look at the tangle of Washuu and Nuku, wrapped as they were in the blanket. Washuu struggled to free herself, grinning at the humor of the situation. "Good morning, Ranma! I was wondering when you'd wake up."
"Uh," Ranma commented succinctly, as Nuku yawned expansively, one hand reaching up from the floor. "What's going on here?" she asked, pointing towards the pair in their tangled heap.
"Your daughter tickled me in her sleep," Washuu giggled. "I didn't mean to startle you."
Nuku chose that moment to wake, and the first thing she saw was Ranma's outstretched hand, as he dropped it. Washuu released a single shrill 'eep' as the girl lunged for the hand, pulling Ranma into the mass of cloth and confusion.
"Ranma-papa-san? Good morning!"
Norris rubbed blearily at his eyes, having only gotten to sleep briefly when he had dozed in the command chair. He had loaned his room to the redheaded scientist, when she had asked for a place to put Ranma. In truth, more room could have been found more easily elsewhere, but Norris had wanted to keep a careful eye on the redheads.
The smaller one was dangerous. He eyed the wall that had been torn open casually when the girl returned to the ship. Flying around, making glowing swords out of thin air, and tearing through battleship armor were not things to be bandied about casually.
Shaking his head, he rose. He commanded the battle group, let the captain manage the ship. Listening to a few last-minute informational updates, he walked towards his own room. It was already eight in the morning. Civilians or not, they should be awake, he decided. And even if they were civilians, work needed to be done. The trip to China would eventually end, and Norris hadn't been told what was there for them — save that Tokyo wasn't safe anymore.
Dawn had revealed a gray smudge on the horizon where Tokyo sat. Likely the entire city was razed, at that point. And knowing the reavers, no survivors. Perhaps a few people stayed behind, though if the whole fleet of ships that had passed overhead were any suggestion, hopefully none that hadn't wanted to do so.
Taking a moment to enjoy the fresh sea air, and forget about the whole ordeal for a moment in the business of running the ship, the man took a slow, deep breath. Norris mentally prepared himself to open the door to his rooms, a thousand excuses prepared. But the bottom line was if Washuu were awake, he needed to talk to her.
The door opened at his touch, left unlocked, which he took as a good sign. "Good morning," he called out, struggling with the Japanese. "How are…." The rest of his words went unspoken, as he saw a trio of redheads in a pile on the floor, all of them peering at him in surprise. "Wrong room," he concluded, sealing the door and taking a step backwards. "That was unexpected."
Ranma disentangled herself from the pile of Washuu and Nuku, simply phasing through the blanket to escape sooner. Shaking her head to clear it, she helped separate Nuku and Washuu. "Morning, Atsuko, Washuu," she said once everyone was free of the bedding.
Ran-oh-ki crawled out from under the pile of sheets, one paw wiping at his eyes, and gave a plaintive, "Miyah?"
Scooping up the creature, Ranma sighed. "The rat's hungry." The point was emphasized when the creature bit Ranma's ear sharply. "Ow!"
Washuu snorted, stretching her arms over her head, prompting Nuku to mimic her. "Don't worry about that too much, Ranma. He's going to be hungry until he gathers the mass he wants," the scientist assured him. She summoned her computer terminal and retrieved a hairbrush from a small pocket of dark space. "And thanks to a full night of restful sleep, I should be able to finish what I was supposed to start working on last night." She waved the hairbrush at Ranma in warning, saying, "I don't mind sleeping, Ranma, but I don't approve of what you did. You can't just put me to sleep because you think I need to rest."
Ranma raised an eyebrow in reply. "Oh?" she asked.
Washuu nodded knowingly. "Yes," she stated. "I'm perfectly capable of deciding when I should sleep."
Frowning, Nuku cocked her head to one side. "So it's okay for Washuu-mama-san to put Ranma-papa-san to sleep, but it's not okay for papa-san to put mama-san to sleep?"
Washuu's smile disappeared immediately. "Oh," she said in a small voice. "That's, um, true. Er… I suppose I had it coming to me, anyway." Wincing, she asked, "You're not upset with me, are you?"
Ranma hesitated, considering that for a long moment. In all truth, she couldn't have done more in her condition than gotten herself hurt — maybe even killed. Not that she liked to think about it, but Terry's admonishment and final charge still rang in her ears. 'Always protect what you love, but never forget to love what you protect.' Well, maybe not love, but Washuu and Nuku were about the closest thing she had to family. She had to care for that, and that was probably what Terry meant more than anything.
"I guess," she said slowly, "that you were just trying to look out for me."
Washuu nodded, biting her lip and looking away.
"And, uh… I was kinda trying to look out for you, too." Washuu smiled, shaking her head and holding back a quiet giggle. "So, uh… I'm not mad, or anything like that. Um… are you mad at me?"
"Ah, no, Ranma. I'm actually feeling a little foolish about the entire thing." She paused, frowning, then shook her head. "I'm sorry." Turning to Atsuko, she said, "We have a little time before we need to get to work. Let me brush your hair, Atsuko. You slept on it wrong, and it looks a little funny."
Atsuko nodded, beaming, and sat on the bed while Washuu began brushing the tangles away gently. Ranma blinked, noting that the scientist's own hair was a matted mess. "You know," she warned, "you slept on your hair wrong, too. It looks pretty bad."
Washuu stuck her tongue out at Ranma. "You slept on my hair wrong, Ranma."
Ranma blushed, and ducked her head. "Er… yeah. Um, I'll be around, if you need me."
The scientist nodded, absorbed in the task of brushing out the odd looking spike of hair atop Nuku's head. "I'll tame you yet," she muttered quietly. Raising her voice, she added, "Okay, Ranma. Try and relax, for today. I don't think we're in danger, and you've hardly had a moment to rest since…" She trailed off, glancing at Ranma.
She nodded, waving a hand in a dismissive manner. "I got it. Just relax. Maybe find something to eat." With that, she exited, walking through the door, and past Norris. She shot a sidelong glance at the man, who was mumbling softly about something too quietly for the translator to pick up. "Oh," she said, "If you need to talk to Washuu, she should be done in a few minutes."
Norris nodded thankfully, leaning against the nearest wall.
Yosho woke shortly after dawn, his body protesting less upon rising than it had when he had gone to sleep. He blinked, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He glanced around the area he had drifted off in. Mousse and Ryouga were resting against the wall opposite him. Mousse was already stretching and yawning, and Ryouga was still snoring softly, with his dog resting her head in his lap.
They had taken refuge aboard one of the last ships to set out, separated from Ranma as they were. He had said to board the Kitty Hawk, but the crewmen wouldn't let anyone else board, and they were forced to fall back on another ship. It was a cargo ship, originally, though most of the cargo was dumped overboard to make room for people.
The end result was the three of them, along with some other people the self-proclaimed 'Senshi' had awaiting them were crowded into a freight container, devoid of cargo, with the door propped open enough to allow airflow. The young ladies were especially distraught over the affair, explaining that they had secret identities to maintain. Yosho was not impressed.
Eventually, they had agreed to share quarters, though they obviously looked to resent the fact.
Yosho rose, stretching, and Mousse joined him, rubbing at his back and wincing. "Not used to sleeping in quarters like this?" the man asked.
The boy shrugged, following Yosho outside, where the cold wind blasted at them. Mousse didn't react, though soft mumbling rose from within the compartment until the door was mostly shut again. Shading his eyes with one hand, Yosho stared at the horizon. Mousse answered after a moment, producing a toothbrush and a small bottle of water from his robes, "No… I have a futon in the Nekohanten. I sleep in the storeroom when I'm not locked in a cage."
Yosho turned to look at the boy, raising his eyebrows. "Excuse me?"
He waved a hand dismissively, making a face and beginning to brush his teeth. "It'ph nah impor'an'," he said around his toothbrush. Frowning, Yosho fell silent, looking around at the other ships.
Their own vessel was near the rear of the armada, the two American warships in the lead, and the submarines behind. The carrier was near the center, easily standing out among the freight and cruise ships attending it. And that was where Ranma was. The shore, if it were in sight, was hidden from him by the bulk of the ship itself.
Ryouga blearily stumbled out next, his pack held loosely in one hand. He waved weakly to Yosho and Mousse, who nodded in return, and dug through his pack until he was able to produce his own toothbrush. Yosho sighed, and asked, "Either of you boys have a spare?"
They both nodded, producing a toothbrush for him, and then looked at each other with a shrug. "It always pays to be prepared," Yosho murmured, "but all I have is Ranma's scroll." Accepting Mousse's offered spare, Yosho nodded his thanks, then borrowing some toothpaste as well. "You must have everything in there," he commented as Mousse stowed the tube back in his robes.
"Yeph," the bespectacled boy replied around his toothbrush again. He spat over the railing, then gargled with the bottled water he had prepared earlier. He leaned forward to spit again, but paused, and swallowed, grumbling, "'Waste not, want not'."
Yosho frowned, considering his words as Ryu emerged from the compartment they had shared, his own toothbrush already in hand. "Well," Yosho mused, spitting over the railing into the sea, "I guess everyone but me planned ahead."
Ryouga took a swig from a canteen before passing it to Yosho, nodding. "Live your life on the road," the boy commented after swallowing, "and you get used to it."
Ryu grunted what was likely agreement, as Yosho sipped cautiously from the canteen, and did as Ryouga and Mousse had. Carefully resealing the canteen, he frowned, looking around. "Well," he said quietly, "I don't want to alarm people, but our departure was fairly rushed. I don't think many people were able to prepare certain necessities. Food, water, anything else. We're not going to have a chance to restock on anything, either." He paused, considering, and glanced at the sea. "Actually, we might be able to get something edible out of the sea, but we still have a problem with water."
The three boys nodded in agreement, as Ryu took his turn spitting over the railing. He didn't need to be warned as he sipped from his own canteen and swallowed, rather than spitting again. "Don't know what to do about any of that," he commented. "But then, I don't even know where the hell we're going."
"China," Mousse said softly. "We're going to China. My people's tribe is there. I know how to live off the land, even moving. Finding fresh water and food enough for myself and a few others is something nearly any martial artist who's familiar with traveling can accomplish. But all of these people?"
Ryouga shook his head, saying, "I could find things to eat, and places to drink on land, but not here."
Yosho sighed. "As much as I dislike depending on her," the man grumbled, "we should ask Washuu for help."
"How are we going to do that?" Ryouga asked.
Smirking, Yosho patted the radio at his side. "Getting into contact with her should be simple. Actually getting things she might need, though, that could be tricky. And moving them from ship to ship won't be easy, either."
"I can make water," a voice said timidly, as one of the girls emerged, the others behind her blearily climbing to their feet and rifling through the pile of bags that had awaited them at the docks. The shorter blonde had prepared for the event, apparently, and even Yosho had been enlisted to help carry the massive pile of bags aboard.
There were still more faces inside, presumably sleeping, that he'd not put names to yet. They'd named themselves after planets, for the most part. "Mercury?" he asked, guessing. The girl nodded, no longer wearing the cheerleader uniform of the night before, and now dressed casually in a long blue skirt and white blouse with a beige vest.
"Yes," she said, meeting Yosho's gaze. "But I don't know where I would put it yet — it's not exactly convenient to do. Still, if it would help us, it could be worthwhile."
Yosho nodded. "Anything to help. What's your real name, anyway?"
Ryu, Ryouga, and Mousse all perked attentively, curious. Ryu had already known of — and exposed — Makoto's identity, but the rest were all still unknown. The girl hesitated for a moment, then admitted, "It would be rather unfair for us to hide our identities when you reveal your own. My name is Mizuno Ami." She bowed politely to the quartet of warriors, and Yosho returned the gesture.
"It should be interesting," he mused, "to work with rebels as allies."
The green-haired woman that Ranma had pounced on the night before stepped out of the compartment, behind Ami, arms crossed over her chest. "What do you mean by 'rebels'?" she asked irritably.
Yosho frowned thoughtfully, then glanced at the Kitty Hawk, and nodded. "Ah," he said. "This may take a while to explain, so everyone get comfortable."
The girls pushed duffels and backpacks into position as makeshift pillows, allowing Yosho to get a good look at them. The cargo space was dim, but someone thought to place a small battery-powered lamp in the center of the space, while Ryouga and Mousse latched the doors open to their fullest extent. Yosho took a seat before the door, and sighed, looking at the group.
Not a one of them retained their uniforms, all of them instead electing to wear more normal clothing. A sickly looking man that had awaited them along with the blonde the night before was propped up against a wall, rocking back and forth dizzily. "Are you alright?" he asked, worried.
The man smiled weakly, struggling for a moment before he said, "I've been better, but there's nothing that we can do, yet." Another man, this one with short blond hair stood protectively nearby. The only two men in the lot, unless Ryu was with them, but by Yosho's guess, Ryu wasn't exactly in their best graces, either.
Yosho frowned, but nodded. "I see," he said dubiously. "Well, I'll tell you the story as it was told to me, by Juraian historians….
"A great many years ago, when colonists were more common, and a few more than just the nobles and royalty were allowed to possess Ouke-no-ki, there was a dissident faction among the five royal families."
"What were the 'Ouke-no-ki', Masaki-san?" Ami asked, interrupting.
"The royal tree-ships of Jurai. Now, the royal families are Amaki, Kamiki, Masaki and Tatsuki, today. However, before they left to found a new government based on freedom somewhere else, there was a fifth family, named 'Amatera'."
Ami interrupted, frowning, "Do you mean to say, 'Amaterasu', Masaki-san?"
Yosho coughed delicately, nodding. "Close. But allow me to continue."
Flushing, Ami fell silent, bowing her head.
"The fifth royal family left because they were not granted what they wanted — favor from the Goddess of Jurai. All of the other families had been blessed individually by the Goddess of Jurai, Tsunami, at some point. But the Amatera family had not been. Because of this, when the Council convened, their votes were given less weight, and they considered this to be unjust."
Yosho trailed off for a moment, thoughtful, while the listeners watched him with a mixture of interest and skepticism.
"Which, to be fair, was true. The Council is not perfect in any sense. However, when the last direct successor was killed in a battle on the edges of the galaxy, the current ruling family was left without a direct line to the throne.
"After this, of course, the five families contended over who would get to rule, though Amaki had the best chances, since the last emperor was from their line. When the Council convened to elect a new emperor, clan Amaki and Masaki tied.
"All of this was ignoring clan Amatera's vote. They voted in favor of Masaki, but Amaki contended that they had no right to vote, because they were not favored by Tsunami, as the other clans were. Amatera was left without recourse, because Masaki and Tatsuki were united in claiming that the vote of Amatera was valid… and Amaki and Kamiki were united in denying their vote.
"Enraged, the leader of clan Amatera, Omiki Amatera, vowed that she would leave, and find a territory that allowed her to create a kingdom where her people would be given respect, and all would be equal. Shunning Juraian tradition, they gave their Ouke-no-ki to the lowest of all Juraian houses, one beneath the second-class citizenry. The Laruma clan.
"The Laruma, in gratitude to the Amatera, founded an agency to transport people in need to safety, while the Amatera crafted new ships out of crystal, planning to move beyond the reach of Jurai. However, they ended up settling somewhere else, instead. They ended up, after hundreds of years in suspended animation, arriving at a small colony planet that Jurai had all but forgotten. Colonial planet 0-315, or, as we like to call it, Earth."
Yosho nodded to himself, while his audience blinked, stunned. "So," Ami began, confused, "you're saying that we're all descended from aliens?"
"Yes," Yosho said. "And my understanding on the event is that 'Amatera Omiki' was corrupted into 'Amaterasu Omikami'. Since clan Amatera shunned traditional Juraian power while they were preparing to evacuate, we assumed that she used some other method to tap into a different power. Is this true?"
Ami nodded slowly, looking thoughtful. "This explains much," she said. "If it's true, that is."
Yosho snorted, shrugging. "You can ask any Laruma you see, they know the story better than anyone. They established Ginraii, the 'Silver Journey' to commemorate the kindness they were given by the Amatera. However, because of their actions, the rest of the Juraian nobility declared them rebels, and unwelcome in Juraian society. Perhaps in truth, merely dissident, but history labels them as rebels anyway."
The green-haired woman whom Ranma had pounced on frowned. "That's not the way I remember it being told," she grumbled.
"No? What do you know of?"
"We've seen one of your 'Ouke-no-ki' before, and it carried two people within it who were nothing more than enemies to us."
Yosho's eyebrow rose. "Is that so?" he asked.
"Yes. The 'Doom Tree' is a better name for it," the woman spat. "They wanted nothing more than to kill us!"
For a long moment, Yosho said nothing, pondering, then shook his head. "I'm sorry," he said. "But Funaho never sensed any other Juraian ships approaching before Ayeka's Ryu-oh. Whatever you saw couldn't have been a Juraian ship."
"Actually," Ami interjected, "that tree looked nothing like the ships we saw yesterday. There might not be a relationship between the two."
Shrugging, Yosho climbed to his feet. "Who's to say?" He paused, considering, then noted, "Tsunami would remember it, of course. If we see her again, we could ask."
"Who's Tsunami?" the green-haired woman asked, her frown lessening.
Yosho sighed, waving off-handedly as he stepped out the door. "The Goddess of Jurai, as I said before. Now, I'd love to chat later, but I need to find Washuu and Ranma."
Another voice piped up, crying out, "I want to see Ranma-san, too!"
Pausing at the threshold of the compartment, as Mousse and Ryouga joined him wordlessly, Yosho shrugged. "If you want to go see him, you had better stick with me, then."
Ryu grumbled, glancing at Makoto, then approaching Yosho. "I want the Umisenken," he muttered. "And I guess you're probably not going to just give it to me, are you?"
"No," Yosho said flatly.
"What if I challenge you for it?" Ryu asked cautiously.
Yosho quirked an eyebrow at that, dryly commenting, "I think not."
Ryu followed behind the older man pensively.
It was fate, he decided. Fate that had led him to the scroll that he was told would let him build a school.
The years spent mastering the Yamasenken to the exclusion of his own school, and then the subsequent years spent searching for the Umisenken would pay off.
It galled him to no end that they wouldn't let him have it. It belonged to Ranma. The real Ranma, he supposed, though the idea didn't let him feel much aside from dread and worry.
Yosho walked onward, his wooden sandals clicking against the steel deck as he moved on, trailed closely by Ranma's friends. Mousse, the half-blind Chinese-boy, and Ryouga, who had been strong enough to hurl a flaming car at one of the monsters. That kind of strength was respectable.
Ryu wasn't sure he was as strong physically, but had confidence in his skills. His art. His school. And that was stolen.
He pushed that thought away.
There was the additional problem, however, of Makoto.
He had no idea what to make of the girl, and what had begun for him as a simple fling to while away the time long ago, was now something that was apparently very important to her. His brows furrowed, trying to sort things out.
First things first, he needed the Umisenken, even if he wouldn't have the opportunity to actually build a school until after all of the monsters were killed. And then he needed to figure out how to resolve things with Makoto.
As if summoned by his thoughts, she grabbed his arm, hauling him back a half step. "Eh?" he managed.
She smirked, shaking her head and hanging onto him. "You aren't going anywhere without me now, Ra…" she trailed off grimacing, then corrected herself, "Ryu-chan."
Sulking, he continued onward, his thoughts again turning to Ranma and the scroll. Yosho stopped suddenly, as they reached the bow of the ship, and frowned thoughtfully, scanning the nearby vessels. Ryu blinked, looking around himself.
A few cargo ships like their own drifted nearby, accompanied by an occasional fishing trawler, and the large pair of American ships followed behind, like a pair of sheepdogs managing the herd. Ryu looked forward, less cargo ships and more passenger ships, and in the middle of it all, the massive American aircraft carrier.
Yosho rubbed his chin thoughtfully, eyeing the ship, which Ryu guessed to be almost a kilometer and a half away. "Well," the man mused, "now we just have to figure out a way to get there."
Leaning forward with his hands on the railing, Mousse peered into the waters below. "I have a way to get there," he said uncertainly. "But I can't get anyone else there."
Cocking his head to one side, Yosho frowned. "How would you get there?"
Mousse grinned, nodding, and quickly stripped off his robe, letting it fall to the deck with an oddly heavy and metallic sounding 'clang'. "Just watch!" he said, vaulting over the railing to plummet towards the sea.
Yosho made to grab him, but too slowly, and the Chinese boy sailed clear, splashing in the water briefly. Ryouga restrained the man before he could leap after, smirking. "Just look," the bandana-wearing boy said, pointing into the sea.
Ryu peered over the deck to look, and where Mousse had been, a duck floated, shaking its head to clear it before winging upward, and then towards the carrier.
There was a long moment of silence before Ryu finally asked, "Did he just turn into a duck?"
Ryouga nodded pensively. "It's a Jusenkyou curse," he explained. "Cold water triggers it, and hot water will reverse it."
Yosho shook himself, sudden understanding dawning in his eyes. He stooped, gathering up Mousse's discarded robes. "That might explain a thing or two," the man mumbled as he straightened up again.
Ranma walked about between the tents pensively. Either her clothing or something else about her attracted the stares of numerous refugees, and the vast majority of them simply stared at her as she walked from the room she had stayed in towards the front end of the ship.
A flutter of wings distracted her, and she looked upwards, smiling softly. "Yo, Mousse," she called out, drifting upward and stretching one arm out. "What's up?"
The duck flapped to a halt and landed clumsily on her hand, stumbling. Ranma caught it with her other hand, and chuckled wryly while Mousse shot her an annoyed glance. "Hot water?" Ranma asked.
Holding back her laughter, she sunk back to the deck of the ship, where the refugees cowered away, awed and fearful. The mood dampened her spirits instantly, leaving her to sigh, still carrying the cursed boy-turned-duck. Mousse allowed a single inquisitive, "Quack?"
Ranma snorted. "Nothing," she assured him. "Let's get you to Washuu. I was kind of worried about you, but Washuu said I needed to sleep after last night." The duck bobbed its head once, as Ranma wended her way back through the tents and towards the door she had emerged from earlier. Norris's room, she supposed, though the man seemed to not begrudge giving it up for Ranma and Nuku's use.
Mousse remained still and quiet, allowing Ranma to carry him all the way to the room without further noise.
When the door opened, Nuku pounced on Ranma immediately, leaving Mousse to flap a few times before he could land on the bed and look at Ranma in irritation, sprawled beneath the excited girl as she hugged Ranma. "Ranma-papa-san!" she exclaimed happily, nuzzling against her neck. "You came back!"
"Uh… yeah," she said, dazedly. "Can I get up now?"
The girl nodded happily, bouncing to her feet.
Ranma frowned at her thoughtfully, belatedly shifting back to his male form. If Nuku noticed, she didn't react. Mousse quacked for attention once, and Ranma snapped his fingers. "Hot water. Atsuko, where's Washuu?"
Nuku pointed to a small door near the back of the room wordlessly. Nodding, Ranma strode to it, phasing through it without effort. Through the door lay a small washroom, though all Ranma was able to make out at the moment was a nearly blinding haze of steam, and a large reddish blur that he took to be Washuu's hair. The woman hummed something softly, and Ranma carefully stepped backwards, phasing through the door again.
Cocking her head to one side Nuku asked, "What's wrong?"
Ranma coughed once, feeling his face heat up. "Nothing," he muttered. "It's, uh, going to be a while before I can get hot water for you, Mousse."
The duck paused, considering, then nodded in understanding, while Nuku peered at it curiously. "Ranma-papa-san?"
The girl scratched her head, instantly undoing the work Washuu had put into brushing it, and asked, "What's this?"
Ranma flopped onto the bed tiredly, shrugging. "Just a friend, Nuku." He snapped his fingers suddenly. "You know what? Keep him company for a minute — I gotta grab some clothes for him."
Returning to the quarters after tracking down Norris and borrowing some casual clothing in Mousse's approximate size, Ranma arrived in time to meet Washuu as she stepped out of the washroom. She stepped through the door, toweling her hair dry and humming contentedly.
He spent a moment wondering where she had come up with her changed clothing — khaki shorts and a fresh shirt — but dismissed the thought as unimportant. She smiled warmly at Ranma, asking, "Back so soon?"
Pointing towards the duck, he explained, "Just need some hot water for Mousse."
Nuku had slowly climbed onto the bed, crouched on all fours, and was staring at the duck closely, while Mousse slowly edged away. Nuku fell backwards and rolled to a sitting position. "Papa-san, will you play with me?" she asked plaintively.
"Uh, yeah, later," he said distractedly, gathering the clothes he had grabbed for Mousse and stepping towards the washroom. The duck followed him closely, while Washuu just stared after them in confusion.
After tossing the clothing atop a small rack on the wall, Ranma started the hot water running, and stepped out to allow Mousse privacy. Washuu frowned at Nuku, eyeing the spike of wild hair that refused to be tamed. "Well, Ranma, I've got a lot of things to do today, so I expect you won't see much of me. My genius is needed elsewhere, after all… if you need me, though, you…" she trailed off frowning, and tapped the blue jewel hanging at Ranma's ear. "Just tap it and talk to me if you need me," she said. "I won't listen in on you."
Ranma shrugged, turning to look at Nuku, who was watching him curiously. "Okay," he said. It was better than anything else he could say. He felt like spending time alone, or better, fighting, and not thinking about things. Even if Ryouga could be found for a duel, or Mousse agreed, he couldn't work out his aggressions without possibly damaging the ship, or worse… them.
As if on cue, Mousse stepped out of the washroom, stray wisps of steam trailing him as he adjusted his glasses. "Thank you," he said carefully, bowing to Washuu, and then again towards Ranma.
Washuu blinked in surprise. "Where did you come from?" she asked, frowning.
Mousse winced. "That is a story that might take some time to tell. Yosho-san asked me to speak with you — he and… and a group of people he called 'rebels' are on a ship behind us at the moment. He needs to get here, and has no way to do so at the moment." He licked his lips nervously, glancing at Ranma, and hastily amended, "If you don't mind, that is, Washuu-san."
The redheaded scientist nodded thoughtfully. "Well I could build a—" She cut herself off sharply, and frowned again. "Bah! I need to get to work. I'll ask Norris if he can have Yosho and whoever else he needs brought over." She shook her head, turning to the doorway. "I need to find out what kind of lab these people can give me to work with," she said glumly.
Ranma sighed, shaking his head. "I guess you got things covered," he said. "Atsuko? What did you want to play, anyway?"
The girl jumped up excitedly, and attempted to tackle Ranma. He braced himself, catching her as she violently attempted to cuddle with him. "Tag!" she exclaimed loudly before exploding away from him and out the door. "Try and catch me!" her voice trailed her.
Ranma snorted, smiling. Well, maybe it wasn't a fight, but it might be good enough.
Glancing briefly at Washuu, who nodded in approval, he darted after the girl. "I'll get you!" he warned, catching a glimpse of her hair as she bounded around a corner.
Ryu sat near Yosho, pondering. "Okay," he said, speaking over the out-board motor of the boat that had been sent to pick them up, "so tell me, what exactly is Ranma?"
The man eyed him for a second before answering, his tone cutting through the engine-noise without rising above it, "He's a Terran."
"What? You mean like you or me?"
Yosho snorted, shaking his head. "Why do you want to know?"
"Uh," Ryu started, finding himself at a loss. "Just curious," he covered lamely.
Yosho shook his head at Ryu, frowning, as they drew closer to the Kitty Hawk. "Ranma's his own person, Ryu. If you know what's good for you, you'll leave it at that."
Bouncing on her heels, flinging herself upward in a short arc, Nuku expertly hopped over a tent, and crouched after landing, peering about her. "Ranma can't find me!" she giggled, moments before he shouted out.
"Ah! Got you, Atsuko!"
Giggling again, she leapt, evading Ranma's clumsy attempt at a tackle. He smiled, not really feeling it. But he could make her happy, and it was pleasant at least, to watch her smile. Better than thinking about things too hard, at any rate.
She vaulted upward, rebounding off the side of the conning tower and out into the sea of tents. "Can't catch me!"
He grinned, lazily following her.
Simple-minded games. She bounced over a few more tents as he followed, using only his own muscles and skill, none of the abilities that Washuu had bestowed on him. He followed, until she stopped abruptly, looking out at the sea.
He followed her gaze, his eyes automatically scanning to the one small craft that sped towards them, accelerating faster than the larger ships still trailing them, and to the sides. "Ranma-papa-san?"
Called to attention, he turned to Nuku, whose head was cocked to one side, and had both ear-like sensors raised. "Yeah?"
"Is that Yosho-san?"
Ranma looked back, squinting. "I think it is," he said after a moment.
Ryu glanced around the deck of the ship warily, adjusting to the gentle rolling motion. Yosho stood at one side, conversing in English with an uneasy crewman. Ami listened attentively, frowning as she mouthed some of the words to herself. Makoto clung to his arm the moment he stood still long enough to allow her to do so, and Ryouga merely stood at Yosho's side, his dog having turned up again and leaning against the boy's leg.
Ranma came into view, striding swiftly through the tents and attended by an excitable red-haired girl. Ranma nodded at Yosho as he drew within speaking range. "Hey, Yosho." He glanced at Ryouga, then frowned. "Where's everyone else?"
The man waved a hand in a placating manner. "They're all fine, Ranma. " He turned to the redhead standing behind Ranma, bouncing happily on her heels, and said, "Thanks to Nuku's help, of course."
She blinked in confusion, and Ranma nodded grimly. "Yeah, thank Atsuko… and I guess Eimi, too. So they're just on another ship?"
"The majority of them, yes. I rather suspect Washuu will want a look at one or two of them, though…"
Ranma raised an eyebrow at that. "Why?"
Yosho glanced back at Ami, who was watching with a mildly curious and detached air. "I can explain later. For now… how are you after the battle? Last night looks like it was rough on you."
Ranma scratched his head and looked away. "Yeah," he muttered. "I guess. I've been better. I'm okay. You need to talk to Washuu, right?"
The man nodded, rummaging in his robes for a moment to produce the somewhat tattered scroll of the Umisenken for Ranma. "Did you want this back?"
Ranma shook his head, but before he could speak, Ryu stepped forward. "Ranma," he said. "Since you're the real Ranma… I need that scroll." He hesitated, thinking, as Ranma scowled at him. "So, how can I get it from you?"
Yosho and Ryouga shot Ryu a sidelong glance, both of them frowning. Makoto drew away to whisper quietly with Ami. Ranma simply stood still, considering. He accepted the scroll from Yosho after a moment, and studied it closely without opening it. "This is my father's legacy," he said. "Why do you want it so badly?"
Hesitantly, Ryu explained, "It's one half of two schools. The Yamasenken and the Umisenken. I've been told that when someone has both scrolls, they can build a dojo with it."
Ranma frowned, but again before he could answer, he was overridden. "Son, do you mind if I look at that scroll for a moment?" a weathered voice asked. The other boy turned to one side, along with Nuku, to peer at a shrunken woman standing nearby, dressed in a green robe with red trim. Ryu blinked, surprised at how short the woman was.
"Nah," Ranma said dubiously, handing the scroll over. "I guess it's okay."
The old woman nodded knowingly, and unfurled a small length of the scroll. "Interesting," she remarked cryptically.
Ranma watched for a moment before turning back to Yosho. "You need to find Washuu?"
Yosho nodded, and Ranma tapped the jewel hanging from his ear. "Washuu? Yosho's here." He remained silent for a moment, eyes tracking something unseen to the others, then nodded abruptly. "Okay. Yosho? She's going to send Norris around to show you where she is. I guess they gave her a lab somewhere to work on stuff."
The man smiled, and Ranma turned his attention back to the old woman, as she carefully re-rolled the scrolls. Ryu blinked at that, frowning. "Hey," he asked, suddenly worried, "what's the other scroll?"
She grinned at him toothily. "The other half, boy. You dropped it when Ranma brought you to my restaurant." Ryu huffed up, indignant, and stepped forward a half step, only to be held in check by Yosho's outstretched arm.
"I wouldn't do that, boy," the older man warned very quietly. "That woman is just about Ranma's only living family. Be polite."
Growling, Ryu brushed Yosho's arm away, but held some of his temper in check. "Give me my scroll back," he demanded.
"Your scroll?" the woman asked curiously. "One of them, Ranma was given yesterday. The other already has his name on it."
Ryu flinched. "That doesn't mean anything!" he said. "Anyone could have written it there!"
Ranma leaned closer, as she showed off the clumsily written name in hiragana across the scroll. "Saotome Ranma," she read. "And too sloppy to be anyone's handwriting except his."
Snorting, Ranma shook his head. "Gee, thanks," he muttered.
"Of course, Son," the woman said mildly.
"It ain't completely accurate, either," Ranma muttered.
Ryu blinked, remembering. "Oh yeah," he said. "You said that the name 'Saotome' wasn't yours anymore. What happened, you got removed from your clan?"
Ranma growled low in his throat, saying nothing. If he were a cat, Ryu could have easily imagined his hackles rising.
"Oh, hey, that means that the scrolls belong to the Saotome family, but you're not part of them, either! Tell you what, then," he said, thinking quickly, "I'll challenge you. If I win, the scrolls are both mine, if you win, you get them both."
Both the old woman and Yosho turned to stare at Ryu, slack-jawed, but Ranma ignored them, snapping, "Fine. There's an open area at the back of the ship, let's get this over with."
"Uh, hey, hey, wait a minute, here, we can't just fight, you know," Ryu hastily added.
"Look, you're not really human, right? You're like, part demon or whatever." Ranma flinched, eyes narrowing angrily. "So we gotta fight on the level. No glowing swords, no, uh, flying, or going through things like the ground. Deal?" Ryu was fairly confident that he had more skill, at least. And even if he lost, he would be able to see the Umisenken in action. The ability to learn that would be worth it.
Ranma just spent a long moment glowering at Ryu, making him wonder if he had crossed some sort of line. "Fine," he snapped. "Let's get this over with. I'm hungry."
Ryouga snorted, shaking his head. "Ranma," he said warningly, "go easy on him."
Surprised, Ranma looked back at the other boy, slowly smiling. "Gotcha, Ryouga."
Yosho frowned, as Ranma led the way to the rear of the ship, which was miraculously clear of tents and people. Ranma glanced around. There was a good twenty-five meter stretch between the last tent and the ship's stern. It was easily twice as wide, giving the boys plenty of room to work with.
"Okay," Ryu said, working out a few tense muscles. "I'm ready."
Yosho watched the battle dourly. He didn't approve of it at all. Ranma shouldn't have to be subjected to something as pointless while he was still recovering. He glanced at Cologne, and the old woman's scowl matched his own feelings quite well.
Ryouga stood to one side easily, arms crossed over his chest, studying Ryu. He seemed confident in Ranma's ability, at least. Yosho wasn't so sure, though. He'd seen Ranma fight only a time or two, and that was with the full benefit of Washuu's tinkering.
"I'm worried," Cologne muttered, fingering one of the scrolls.
Yosho raised an eyebrow. "Why?" he asked. He had his own reasons, of course….
"The art on this scroll is very powerful," she warned, "and very destructive. Ranma could be seriously hurt…." She trailed off, considering. "Ranma might heal, but I'd just as soon spare him the trouble. I'm not at all amused at this, but honestly, it's not Ranma's fault."
Yosho rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "What can we do, though?"
Cologne shrugged, sinking to sit in a cross-legged position, and ignoring the people who drew close to watch. "Nothing we can do. If Ranma loses, I'll challenge that 'Ryu' boy myself, and win them back. But Ranma would not do well with such a blow to his pride after losing his mother," she warned.
Ryouga's confidence faded, and he turned to look at Yosho and Cologne worriedly. "You mean he's in trouble?" he asked, trepidation lining his voice.
Makoto piped up suddenly, a faint hint of doubt in her voice, "My Ryu-chan will win. He's a great martial artist — just watch! He taught me everything I know."
Cologne glowered at the girl, as Yosho stepped forward, towards Ryu and Ranma, where they were squaring off. "Ranma, Ryu," he said calmly. "Are you sure you want to go through with this?"
Ranma jerked his head in a nod, pulling the jewels from his ear and his wrist, and tossing them to Yosho. "Yeah," he said, clad then only in a black body suit. "I'm ready."
Ryu took a half-step back, then removed his own pack, and threw it to the ground, where it slid towards Makoto. "I'm ready," he confirmed.
"Okay, then," Yosho said, raising his arm in the air. "Begin!" With the word, he snapped his hand down, stepping back.
The two fighters flowed toward one another smoothly, Ranma like a rushing torrent of water, Ryu like an overbearing avalanche. The two met, Ranma ducking under Ryu's initial punch and retaliating with a foot-sweep. Ryu nimbly hopped over the foot-sweep, and launched a series of hard punches towards Ranma's torso.
Ranma deftly wove between the punches, deflecting and blocking as necessary, before throwing one strong punch towards Ryu's face. The boy blocked it easily, capturing Ranma's fist in his hand. The two glowered balefully at one another before Ranma wrenched his hand free and spun, launching a roundhouse towards Ryu.
Ryu leapt over the kick, and lashed out with one of his own, which Ranma avoided narrowly, deflecting the boy to bounce a short distance away, landing on his feet. The two straightened, eyeing one another up and down before readjusting their stances, and flowing together again.
This time, Ranma started on the defensive, studying his opponent, dodging out of the way and offering only feints as he felt out the other boy's defenses. Ryu grinned, launching a powerful kick upwards, which Ranma stepped to the side of, retaliating with another foot-sweep while Ryu was still extended in mid-kick.
The boy toppled, but somersaulted in his fall, and rebounded off the deck of the ship on one palm, coming to rest on his feet again. Ranma frowned, while Ryu grinned.
Yosho turned to Cologne inquisitively. "That looked like an exchange in Ranma's benefit to me, why is he frowning?"
Cologne sighed, shaking her head, and explained, "They're both holding back. A lot. Ranma's worried because he can't tell how much Ryu's holding back, but Ryu seems to think that he's sounded out Ranma pretty well."
Yosho turned back to the battle, mentally gauging the pair himself. While Ranma appeared to have the advantage in power, Ryu seemed to have an advantage in skill. "Dammit," he whispered. Cologne merely nodded.
Makoto beamed at the pair. "See?" she said. "Isn't he great?"
Ami chastised Makoto quietly, while Nuku shot her a dirty look, and confidently stated, "Ranma-papa-san will win, because he promised Nuku-Nuku that he'd play with her."
Ryouga's voice rumbled low, as he watched the pair's battle, "I hope you're right."
The exchanges between the pair had shifted from simple strikes and kicks to more complex maneuvers and techniques.
Finally, the pair stepped apart again, Ranma's frown lessened, but Ryu's grin just as strong. "Okay," Ryu declared, "I'm done warming up. You?"
Ranma nodded dourly, neither of the pair breathing hard. "Yeah," he said. "Let's see what you really got."
The two met again, rushing towards each other like a pair of young titans, each with more destructive power than most humans could dream of possessing. Ranma cocked his head to one side, taking a blow on his shoulder that could have cracked stone, and snapped a kick into Ryu's thigh before lashing out with a dozen carefully placed blows to Ryu's torso. Ryu deflected the majority, staggering back to reduce the force he could be struck with and recover his balance.
Grinning, Ryu drew his hands to his chest, stepping towards Ranma and yelling, "Oh no! The old woman!"
Ranma snapped his head around to look at Cologne. Cologne's level gaze warned Ranma, and he dropped to the ground quickly enough to pass beneath Ryu's kick as it flashed through the space his head had been a moment prior. While falling, he bunched up his legs, and shot one out like a piston to strike just below Ryu's knee.
The other boy staggered back, off balance from his kick, and fell down before rolling to his feet. Ranma climbed to his own, staring at Ryu in disgust. "That was pathetic," he said.
"Yes, it was," Ryouga growled from the sidelines.
Yosho frowned, but remained silent, while Cologne sighed, "But that's the way the school works."
"Is it?" Yosho asked, surprised.
"At some levels. Watch."
Ryu grinned cockily, saying, "Yeah, but it almost worked, didn't it?"
Ranma shook his head dourly. "Pops had a lot of techniques based like that. Making a noise to surprise someone and then hitting them really hard is nothing new."
Ryu's grin faded. "Whatever. You want to see the Yamasenken?"
"Not really," Ranma responded levelly. "I want to finish beating you up so that I can get something to eat."
Ryu chuckled. "At least you can still laugh," he remarked. With that, the momentary pause again lapsed, and the two surged together in a blinding exchange of punches and kicks, each neatly blocked before Ryu suddenly lunged at Ranma, yelling, "Mouko kaimon ha!"
His arms threw Ranma's defensive posture open, while he launched a kick upwards with enough force to shatter most men. It caught briefly along Ranma's chest before impacting powerfully with Ranma's chin, sending him upwards a good three meters before he slammed into the deck, lying prone.
"Ryu-chan! Don't hurt him so badly! Go easy on him!"
Nuku growled at Makoto, and stalked away with a disdainful sniff, to sit near Cologne. "Ranma-papa-san will win," she grumbled to the old woman.
"Maybe," Cologne said, her voice uncertain.
"Feh," Ryu snorted, "can't handle it, eh?"
Ranma climbed to his feet, staggering about momentarily before he shook his head to clear it. "One," he said calmly. "That's one."
Ryu rolled his eyes, slipping back into his stance. "I have more where that came from."
Ranma rushed silently, darting to one side and spinning fiercely, leg extended, to strike Ryu from an angle he wasn't expecting. The other boy blocked the kick, sliding backwards across the deck of the ship, and grimacing. He countered with a swift elbow jab, but Ranma simply wasn't there to receive it, hopping upwards and arcing over Ryu's head.
When Ryu looked up, it was to see Ranma's knee descending towards his face. Smashing into Ryu, Ranma rebounded, landing a short distance away, while Ryu rubbed angrily at his nose. "What the hell?" he asked, annoyed.
Ranma snorted, beckoning Ryu to attack him. Ryu shrugged, and dropped back into his stance, rushing the other boy. Ranma fluidly dodged back out of Ryu's attack, countering with light, ineffectual jabs. When Ryu relaxed, Ranma sent a kick of his own through Ryu's guard, smashing against his ribcage, and flinging him a good ten meters away, where he slid across the deck, clutching himself. "Crap!" he shouted, wincing as he climbed to his feet, tenderly examining his torso.
Blinking, Ranma stared at his foot, still extended from the kick, and frowned.
"Ranma?" Ryouga asked, confused. "What's going on?"
"I don't think he knows how strong he is," Yosho opined. "I'm afraid I heard at least one of Ryu's ribs crack."
Makoto gasped, turning to stare at Yosho in consternation. "Are you serious?" she asked, worried. "He'd better not hurt my Ryu-chan!"
Ryu drew his hand away from his chest, and took a few experimental steps.
"Give up?" Ranma asked, raising his voice to be heard across the distance.
Shaking his head, Ryu assumed a defensive posture, and beckoned Ranma closer. Ranma grimaced, but nodded, and set himself, springing towards Ryu like an unleashed tiger.
Ryu drew his hands to his chest as Ranma approached, then suddenly flung one out, a rope snapping from his hands to entangle Ranma, pinning his arms to his sides. "Kinshi kinbakushou," he declared firmly, snapping the rope again and sending Ranma flying towards him.
Ranma struggled in vain to escape the ropes, as Ryu shot out his right hand, fingers together like a knife, and shot them forwards, towards Ranma's heart. "Dokuja tanketsu-shou!" he cried, slamming into Ranma, piercing through the black-skin-tight bodysuit, but halted by Ranma's ribcage.
Thrashing around wildly, his teeth gritted from the horrific pain, Ranma landed a kick to Ryu's jaw, sending the two tumbling apart. A spatter of blood sank to the deck between them, as Ranma struggled to his feet, his bodysuit resealing itself over the wounds. Ranma spat to one side, spittle thick with reddened blood.
Yosho frowned, the jewels in his hand flaring brightly blue, the merest hint of green in their cores, showing only briefly before it winked out. "We should stop this," he said uncertainly. "If they keep going…" he trailed off, scowling.
Eyes glued to the battle in morbid fascination, Ryouga said, "I've seen that attack kill a reaver."
Cologne winced, adding, "We can only hope they finish it soon."
Much less eager and certain then she had been, Makoto watched nervously, no longer cheering Ryu on.
Ranma hissed, feeling his body reshape, sealing the wounds.
Ryu wiped at his lip, his fingers coming away stained with blood. "Time to finish this," he said confidently. "I don't need to be near you to beat you."
"What are you talking about?" Ranma asked, assuming a loose, relaxed stance.
Centering himself, Ryu drew his hands towards his chest. "I didn't want to have to do this," he warned, "but you left me with no choice. Kijin raishuu dan!" As he drew his hands apart, a booming shockwave of force and vacuum swept out from his outstretched hands, screaming in a line directly for Ranma.
He braced himself, the blades of vacuum forcing him to slide backwards, and cutting deeply into him. Grunting, he slumped to the ground, supported on one knee, palm on the ground as he tried to retain his form. Bright lines of blood trailed from his body before the wounds sealed. "That," he gasped, straightening painfully to his feet, "all you got?"
Ryu growled, and prepared to throw another. Ranma turned, preparing to leap out of his way, but froze, catching another blast in the chest and wheeling about before slumping to the deck again. "More than enough for you," Ryu taunted, leaning forward and bracing his hands on his knees as he caught his breath.
Weak and tired, Ranma crawled forward. "I got more than that, jackass. I ain't gonna throw stuff towards a crowd, either!" he snarled vehemently, surging to his feet again.
Ryu sneered. "It wins the battle, doesn't it?"
Ranma stared, aghast, and shook his head. "Not anymore, it doesn't."
Shrugging, Ryu straightened, and prepared himself for another round. "You can just give up," he said hopefully.
At Ranma's resolute headshake, Ryu sighed, and roared again, "Kijin raishuu dan!"
But this time, instead of bracing himself, Ranma simply extended a hand, palm outwards towards the blast. Ryu's blades impacted against an invisible wall, scarring and torturing the deck beneath Ranma's feet in a straight line touching the edge of the wall, and nothing else.
"Hey!" Ryu shouted. "You said you wouldn't do things like that!"
"I promised that I wouldn't fly, phase, or use the blades that Washuu gave me," Ranma retorted. "If you're going to throw your honor by the wayside and put innocents at risk, then I'm going to have to stop you somehow."
"Idiot!" Ryu snapped. "They would have faded before they got that far!"
Ranma colored angrily, and snapped out, "Enough! Let's end it!"
He leapt at Ryu, a low, fast arc that traversed the distance between the two quickly. Ryu vaulted upward in response, evading Ranma, but Ranma just rebounded off the deck, and vanished. Ryu blinked, looking around as he reached the apex of his leap. "I win," he heard, moments before Ranma smashed both hands down in a double-arm strike just to the side of Ryu's head, launching the boy towards the deck.
Makoto's jaw dropped, as Ryu slammed into the deck, causing the entire ship to reverberate, and making the heavy steel plating around where he landed bend around him, permanently marring the surface. Ranma — the monster — landed nearby a moment later, and inspected Ryu, nodding in satisfaction. "I win," he stated again more clearly.
"Bastard!" Makoto shrieked, losing what control she had left. "How could you?" She was vaguely aware of someone insisting that she stop, and her own transformation was stunningly brief, leaving her to square off against the completely unimpressed boy. "Supreme thunder!"
Ranma's eyes widened as a massive bolt of electricity surged across the gap between them, slamming into the boy and leaving him lying prone, smoke rising from his body.
She raised her hands grimly, prepared to strike again. "I'll teach you to—"
Then all became darkness.
Yosho glared at the fallen girl, her clothing melting from the exotic fuku to the clothing she had worn aboard. Cologne sniffed disdainfully, lowering her staff. "Don't worry, child," she addressed Ami. "She'll wake soon enough."
Ami nodded doubtfully, kneeling to tend to her fallen friend, while Yosho wheeled to look after Ranma.
Ryouga and Nuku were already there, the redhead glowering balefully towards Makoto before turning back to Ranma. Yosho hastened to the boy's side.
While Ryouga fretted nearby, unsure of what to say, Nuku had pulled Ranma up from the deck and clutched him to herself protectively, muttering, quietly, "Took mama-san away… took papa-san away… took Eimi-chan away… took Ryunosuke away…."
Ranma coughed suddenly, as the smoke stopped rising from him, and slowly cracked one eye open tiredly. "I ain't gonna get taken away," he assured her in a broken voice before he trembled violently, the trembles building into a full spasm that rendered him female again. "Just changed around for a while," she grumbled, as Nuku's angry demeanor melted.
"Is Ranma-papa-san okay?" she asked worriedly, becoming the playful and innocent — if anxious — child she seemed to want to be.
"Just peachy," Ranma assured her, rising to a sitting position on her own and ruffling Nuku's hair.
Ryouga jerked a thumb towards Ryu's still prone form. "You worked him over pretty good, Sao— Uh… Ranma." The girl nodded slowly, climbing to her feet with Nuku's assistance.
"Yeah?" Ranma asked dazedly. "Good… Is he okay?"
Yosho turned to look, seeing Ryu begin to stir, amazingly managing to drag himself out of the depression he had been slammed into. "He's okay," Yosho said, turning to look at Ranma closely. The scent of seared flesh and ozone hung in the air faintly, but Ranma seemed well enough, recovering quickly.
She shook her head, glancing towards the tents, where the refugees were still gaping. "Ah, damn," Ranma muttered. "I think I broke Norris's boat. Uh…."
As if summoned, Norris arrived with a trio of rifle-toting guards, the four of them staring at the scene and looking less than pleased. He snapped out a few swift orders in English, and two of the guards slung their rifles, assisting Ryu along. Then he turned to Yosho, asking "What's going on? What on Earth do you think you're doing to this ship?"
Ranma stared blankly, then turned to Yosho, frowning. "Can I have the jewels back?" she asked. Yosho nodded, belatedly returning the gems to Ranma, who repositioned them, one in her wrist, the other at her ear. "What?" Ranma asked Norris.
After the man repeated his question, Ranma looked away evasively. "I… I really don't want to talk about it," she muttered. "I need some time alone. Sorry."
With that, she strode off. Norris frowned, but knew better than to follow. "Fine," he muttered. "How in the hell are we supposed to fix this?" he asked, gesturing to the dent in the deck. "Anyway, Miss Hakubi is this way, Mr…?"
"Masaki," Yosho replied, his eyes on Ranma as she walked through the frightened crowd. Ryouga exchanged an uncertain glance with Nuku, but both restrained themselves, not following. "Yes, I expect I've got a lot to talk to Washuu about," he murmured.
Ranma perched on the foremost point of the ship, leaning forward and peering downward. The other passengers, crowded onto the deck of the ship and murmuring, left the area she had claimed as hers alone.
Clearing her head, she turned to face the sea, and took the first stance in the beginner's kata. The motions came slowly, controlled. She was in control.
Pivot, strike, kick, block. Pivot, strike, kick, block.
She left her body to perform the kata, her mind turning to the previous day.
And what a horrible day it had been.
Her mother, her father, Soun, and Terry.
The dual blows of losing her father and her mother's sudden rejection still stung, as much as Washuu had tried to help.
Soun and Terry had vanished forever, their final words still ringing in her ears.
She had a duty to live, even if she wanted nothing more than to throw herself at the reavers, and rend them limb-for-limb.
Trembling, she realized that she had allowed her technique to become sloppy, and stopped herself. "Does it ever stop hurting?" she asked weakly.
"Are you Ranma-san?"
She spun, leaping a good meter into the air before she caught herself, and landed to face the girl standing on the deck of the ship. She came to rest on the point she was perched on in a crouch, and nodded at the girl, peering upward. "Yeah, I'm Ranma," she said.
The girl was small. She wore dark clothes, a straw hat, and nearly shoulder-length hair framed her face. She smiled hopefully at Ranma. "I saw you for a moment last night," she said, "but I thought you were a boy."
Ranma rocked back on her heels, nodding. "Oh yeah?" she said, remembering vaguely. "You told me I was your boyfriend, too."
The girl nodded happily, extending a hand to the redhead. "My name is Tomoe Hotaru!"
Ranma rose, shifting back to male form. "Nice to meet you," he mumbled, not taking her hand.
Her eyes widened, at the sight. "How did you do that?" she asked, confusion evident on her face.
He merely shrugged. "A curse."
Hotaru dropped her hand and inched forward curiously. "Really? How did that happen?"
Ranma laughed humorlessly. "It's really simple. You see, I was in China training with… with Pops…" he trailed off, slumping. "Me and my father fell into cursed springs," he concluded lamely.
Hotaru bit her lip, frowning. "What happened to your father?"
"He… he died yesterday." Ranma shook his head. He shouldn't be talking about such things with a child — it would likely just confuse and upset her. She didn't need to hear that. "That's not really important," he said, coughing when his voice caught.
He would not cry, he would not cry….
Hotaru took another careful half step towards him, reaching her hand out again. "Are you okay, Ranma-san?"
"Yeah," he said nodding quickly. "I'm fine. Why do you ask?"
She nervously glanced at the edge of the small platform he stood on. Ranma's guess was that it served as the crucial few meters necessary for the planes to take off, but the entire carrier's surface was covered with tents anyway. However, when she was close enough, she tentatively touched his arm, frowning in concentration. A tingling surge flashed through him at her touch, and the gem on his wrist began glowing softly green. "I can help, if you're hurt," she said, voice filled with determination.
Ranma blinked, as the girl smiled triumphantly, and swooned, falling to one side, and off the edge of the ship. It took less time to think about, than to teleport to her side, catching her carefully and using his levitation to dampen the landing for her.
He frowned at the girl in his arms. She was unconscious from doing whatever it was she had done to him. The green glow slowly faded, leaving the gem on his wrist to resume its normal dull blue tinge.
He drifted upwards above the lip of the deck, and set back down on the small pier-like structure again. A voice prompted him to look up, as the girl cradled in his arms stirred gently. A young couple broke free of the cluster of tents, barreling towards him. Probably for the girl, he thought.
The woman wore her hair long, green and flowing, just past her shoulders. The man had his hair shorter, combed carefully back, and they were calling out in tandem, "Hotaru!"
Ranma said nothing, merely setting Hotaru down when she roused, though the girl leaned against him unsteadily. Unsurprisingly, the blond man reached them first, reaching down and pulling Hotaru away worriedly.
He didn't need to see more; they wouldn't want anything to do with him. And they wouldn't want their daughter to have anything more to do with him, either.
Drifting above the deck of the ship, he closed his eyes, teleporting beneath the sea. The murky waters echoed with the rumblings of the engines overhead, and allowed him a moment of solitude.
All of those people above him, he thought, and yet, he was someplace no one else could bother him. He furrowed his brow. That wasn't entirely true. Ran-oh— The rat could find him, and Washuu's communicator could reach him… likely anywhere.
He sighed, as much as he could without needing to breathe, and being underwater. He didn't need yet another reminder of what he'd lost. His family, his right to be part of society. He flipped onto his back, drifting lazily beneath the fleet. The sun was little more than a bright, distorted spot above, while the fleet was a group of shadows against the surface of the ocean. Below was nothing more than murky darkness, though his senses reported back how deep it was, had he cared to investigate.
But he didn't. He simply wanted to be alone with his thoughts. Frowning, he took the gem from his ear and held it above him, centering it on the large golden blob of light that was the sun. Closing one eye, he watched the sunlight through the gem, which sparkled a luminous gold and blue, alternating as the waves above shifted and moved.
The gem remained in position after he released it, floating above him. Pondering, he allowed his senses to drift. He closed his eyes, reaching through the link he shared with his partner. How much information could he glean?
Ran-oh-ki sat happily in an out-of-the-way corner of the ship. The upper areas weren't very nice. Too many people. Especially grabby and drooly little ones. He didn't like that at all.
But the place he had found was nice, even though it could have been better. The nice soft one with the red hair — either of them — that followed his partner could have kept him company. Or better, the one with the long blue hair, but he knew that she had left. Her friend had said so, just before he left.
He idly wondered what it would be like to be stuck, like her friends were. Unable to walk around, hop on his partner's head… and worst of all, no teeth.
Nope. Wouldn't be fun at all, he decided. On the other hand, here, away from the grabby-smelly-loud-annoying people above, there were quiet people who had a great sense of importance to what they did.
They also seemed to resent him and chase him with sticks. Playing tag wasn't much fun, since they couldn't phase through the walls. Still, they had some nice things down near the bottom areas.
He settled down for a nap in his dark secluded corner, planning on hunting down the excitable soft one with red hair that liked his partner — not that he could see why she did — later for a game of tag. She was fun to play with.
One ear perked, listening to, but not really understanding the words he was hearing. His partner could probably explain them, if he had to. He would, if it were important.
"Um… Sir? We're missing some ordinance."
"Hmm? Alright, spit it out. What's missing? Someone else feel the need to try and steal a handgun?"
"Um, no, Sir… we're missing an F-18."
Dead silence filled the dark and warm space for a moment, and Ran-oh-ki stretched, yawning quietly.
"Say that again, petty officer?"
"Um, Sir, we're missing an F-18."
"Where the hell does an entire plane go, petty officer?"
Ran-oh-ki belched softly, and tuned the rest of the conversation out.
Ranma jerked back to his senses, startled. The gem was where he left it, and he had only drifted a short distance from the Kitty Hawk. Idly snatching the gem, he zeroed in on Ran-oh-ki's location, phasing through the deck beneath the creature.
Ran-oh-ki didn't move, and Ranma ended up picking up his partner atop his head. He made a soft noise, and Ranma wordlessly encouraged him to be silent for a moment. Stealing food was one thing, he thought, but his partner had some fairly expensive taste.
Phasing outside of the ship and drifting upwards, Ranma whispered, "Well, we'll just keep that our little secret, eh?"
Ran-oh-ki sent something along the lines of vague approval, and drifted to sleep. "Man," Ranma muttered. "Where the hell do you put it all?"
Shaking his head, he sighed, while his partner snored softly. Unable to phase through things while Ran-oh-ki was asleep, he focused on the image of Washuu in his mind, until he felt something click, and levitated slightly, breaking his contact with the steel plating of the floor to teleport.
Washuu looked up at him in surprise, setting down her tools. "Ranma?" she asked. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah," he said after a moment, looking around the room. It was more like a small hanger, with a pair of largely dismantled airplanes nearby. The scientist was up to her elbows in some strange cylindrical device, laying on a large worktable before her. "I'm fine. Just thought I'd keep you company."
She stared at him for a moment, picking up and fiddling with one of the devices that lay scattered about the table. "Okay," she said hesitantly. "Just make yourself comfortable. I'm working on the lure at the moment, and I'm going to try…" she trailed off, turning back to the machine intently. "Try," she resumed a heartbeat later, "to build something to distill sea water to drinking purity. Something to last a few days, at least."
Ranma nodded, not entirely understanding the scientist. If it was important to her, it was probably important to everyone. "Hey, Washuu?" he asked after a moment.
"You already talked with Yosho?"
"Yes," she replied absently, tapping a small box on the side of the cylinder as it lit up. "Aha! This task was a mere nothing for a genius of my caliber!"
"What's it do?" he asked doubtfully.
She glanced at him, frowning. "It annoys the hell out of the reavers. Can you move this for me? I'm going to need the table cleared and don't have time to try and reinvent anti-gravity with the technology that's available at the moment."
Sighing, Ranma lifted the large cylinder, hefting it and setting it in the corner easily. "Right," he muttered. "Anything else?"
"Not at the moment," Washuu muttered, pulling components and parts from the two dismantled jets and eyeing them dubiously. "I don't think most of this is remotely suitable for what I want, and it's about the only thing I have to work with. I'm going to have to find a way to convert the basic metals here into more complex alloys."
"Oh," Ranma said. "Yeah, that makes sense."
The redheaded scientist nodded, completely missing Ranma's sarcasm. "Well," she commented, "I can still do it. I think."
Placing a small mountain of parts of the table, the scientist scowled at some out-of-reach component. "Need help?" Ranma asked, leaning closer to look.
"Yes," Washuu grumbled, "I can't get to that valve there," she said, pointing to a small device lodged firmly within the fuselage of one of the jets.
"What do you need it for?" he asked, leaning closer to peer at it.
"It's a pump. Pumps are always useful."
"Uh-huh," Ranma said, reaching up to catch Ran-oh-ki as his partner fell from his perch and woke in Ranma's hands. "Okay, rat, earn your keep. Free up that… thing," Ranma commanded, pointing at the valve.
Ran-oh-ki obligingly bit down on Ranma's hand, causing Ranma to bop the creature upside the head in retaliation, knocking it into the small chamber with the valve. "Miyah," he whined, before loud chewing noises emanated from the cavity in the fuselage.
Washuu stared wordlessly, before a smile slowly bloomed across her face. "That's… very clever, Ranma. I could have borrowed a blowtorch, though."
The boy shrugged, levitating upwards slightly and lounging in the air. "I guess, but the rat's always hungry. He likes anything that lets him get fed."
The scientist chuckled, as Ran-oh-ki slowly widened the hole until it was large enough for Washuu to wrench the valve she wanted free.
Washuu pretended to pay more attention to her project than Ranma. For his part, he pretended that there wasn't a problem, and everything was fine.
She knew he was hiding it, even if it was from himself. What made him so unable to open up? What part of his persona insisted that he had to be strong enough to not seek help from anyone?
There wasn't a single person in Washuu's mind who could weather the emotional pain that Ranma already had and do more than curl into a whimpering ball, but he persisted in not speaking about it. The one time Ranma had spoken about it was when she had reached out to him, but Washuu wasn't convinced that was healthy.
If he needed help, he should ask for it. The tricky part was getting him to ask for it first.
She glanced at him, as he dangled a bit of wire before Ran-oh-ki, teasing his partner with it while the creature attempted to grab it, only to have Ranma tug it away. Ranma was sprawled in the air a half-meter above the floor, his partner making small upward hops towards the cabling. "Say," Ranma asked suddenly, not looking at Washuu, "where does the rat put everything he eats, anyway?" He reflexively jerked his hand out of the way, as Ran-oh-ki made a pass at it, instead ending with a mouthful of wire.
Shrugging, she explained, "I already told you. He keeps it in a subspace pocket."
Washuu glanced at Ranma again, now sitting cross-legged, Ran-oh-ki sprawled on one knee, napping contentedly. "Well," she said, summoning her terminal to alter some properties of the metals before her, "he's a starship. He needs mass before he can turn into one. Ryo-oh-ki had her successor to draw mass from, so it was much easier for her."
"How much more does he need to eat?" Ranma grumbled.
"That, I'm not certain of. I could check later, but likely, he hasn't gotten hardly anything to eat, and he's not mature enough to generate the slave-crystals he's going to need to control sub-space access." She finished typing in a command, and banished the terminal. "And shielding," she added after a moment.
"Slave crystals?" Ranma's voice was filled with doubt.
"Not slaves," Washuu assured him. "That's a technical term because they act like intelligent controls, but aren't really. They're subordinate to his commands, so that he can control his mass, ballast, shielding, attitude, and acceleration."
"Huh," Ranma said, interest fading from his voice.
It was getting him to talk, she supposed, but not about what she wanted. And if his interest was waning, it wasn't much to talk about anyway. "Anything else?" she asked neutrally.
"Uh… not really," he mumbled. "I c'n go away if I'm bothering you…."
"Don't mumble," she chastised him, turning to face the boy where he hovered. His face was a mask of torn indecision. "And never think that you're bothering me," she said, moving to kneel near where he hovered. As she approached, he sank to the floor, warily. "You can always talk to me, Ranma. That's what friends are for, right?"
He nodded nervously. "Uh… I know. You already told me I could."
"But you don't," she said. Sighing dramatically, she stretched, and looked away. "Some days I feel downright unneeded."
"Well… it's not like that, you know…. It's more like I just aren't really good at talking."
Washuu grimaced. "I can tell. Your grammar is atrocious."
Ranma frowned, and stared at Washuu. "Gee, sorry," he muttered.
She rolled her eyes. "Sorry, sorry… I was teasing." She smiled softly, seeing her opening. "And what was it you wanted to talk about with me?"
He was silent for a long moment. Washuu was about to give up — Ranma looked resolutely away before he broke the uncomfortable silence, absently scratching Ran-oh-ki's ears. The creature gave a muted but happy purr, as Ranma spoke, "Did Yosho tell you what happened today?"
Washuu bit her lip pensively. "About Ryu?" she asked.
"Yeah. About him." Ranma's voice was filled with contempt.
"Yes, he did… he told me that Ryu challenged you to take away something your father left to you." She kept her tone level. Yosho's rendition of the story was likely unbiased, with Ranma being an innocent dragged into a struggle he wanted to avoid. "What else?"
"I fought him," Ranma said angrily. "I fought him, and I… he…" he struggled for words, balling one hand into a fist and slamming it into the floor plating at his side. "He threw some kind of attack towards the crowd, knowing that I'd take it rather than let it get through." He shook his head angrily, not noticing that the floor had buckled where he struck it. "I mean, yeah… I know that I don't fight with a lot of honor, and I use tricks… but that was just low. And because he did that, I cheated."
Washuu blinked, realizing that Ranma's contempt was purely for himself. "What?" she asked, confused. "How did you cheat?" Yosho had explained that Ranma was fighting without any of his Masu powers; had he used them?
"The trick I learned last night." He gestured vaguely. "I blocked what he was throwing. Then I… I dunno," he stared at his hands, being careful not to jostle his partner. "I lost my temper and hit him really hard. I hit him a hell of a lot harder than I've ever hit anyone before — I've never slammed someone into a metal plate like that."
He began to tremble, as he continued, "I mean, all my life I've fought, that's nothing new, and I've been mad plenty of times… but I've never tried to hurt someone that badly before." He swallowed nervously. "I… think that people think that I'm turning into some kind of monster," he rasped out, choking back a sob, and masking it with a cough. "And when I look at the way the people up there look at me… I think they're right."
Ranma convulsed, eyes bright with tears he refused to shed. "Maybe, maybe I should leave you alone," he choked out, preparing to leave. His move to rise failed, as Washuu grabbed his hand firmly. "Ranma," she stated. "You are not a monster. If anything, from what I've seen you're more human than anyone else I know." She stifled a sigh, as Ranma looked away, unable to meet her gaze. In a gentle voice, she added, "You did what you had to in order to protect people. You tried to keep him from hurting innocents, right?"
He nodded sullenly. "I guess," he allowed.
"Good enough. You can't blame yourself, though. You did the right thing, and people… not just humans… but all people are often afraid of things they don't understand. I think once humans become more familiar with other races, they'll learn better."
He slumped, sighing. "I feel… I feel like I'm alone, though."
Washuu dropped his hand, causing to look at her in surprise — a worrisomely vulnerable expression on his face. Seizing him firmly, Washuu embraced him tightly, her own voice oddly thick as she said, "Never, Ranma. As long as I can help it, you'll never be alone."
After a tentative heartbeat, Ranma raised his arms, carefully returning the hug. Washuu smiled happily, blinking away her own tears as Ranma cried softly. If anything would teach him that trying to rebuild his walls was unnecessary, that would be it. "Thank you," he said when he had calmed down, breaking the embrace with a tinge of embarrassment on his face. "Thank you."
The prow of the small ship bobbed alarmingly, forcing all of the girls — and the sickly Mamoru — to stay low, though they were luckily all free of seasickness.
Usagi made faces, but bravely weathered the ride. "How are you doing, Mamo-chan?" she asked worriedly.
"Better today," he said after a pause to consider. "I think."
Shaking her head and staring towards the carrier they were headed for, Setsuna tried to sort her thoughts out. Firstly, her plans had been completely destroyed by the arrival of the aliens. Secondly, her pride had taken a considerable bruising because of the embarrassment of having some… alien… show up and do the Senshi one better. Thirdly, she knew she had made a mistake in letting the girl in the past live.
"What's got you so upset?" Minako asked.
Startled out of her reverie, Setsuna winced. "Just yesterday, when I was dealing with the half-demon."
"Did it hurt you?"
She shook her head quickly. "No, I disabled him quickly enough. Luckily, he and the girl with him were both calm and sensible."
Setsuna blinked, eyeing the blonde and frowning. "Do you really want to know?" she asked.
Minako nodded, and Setsuna glanced around. "Alright, then." She paused, collecting herself, and eyed the boat's pilot, who probably couldn't hear over the whine of the engine. "I went to follow the trail of someone who was meddling. She was from our time, and had traveled back a bit. She was planning on making major alterations to the time stream."
"How did you stop her?"
"I had to slow her pet half-demon down with a dead scream," Setsuna muttered. "After that I told her that she couldn't rewrite history as she saw fit — no matter how tempting it might be."
"Oh." There was a long, silent moment. "Why not?"
And that was the fourth thing bothering Setsuna. "Because if history is altered, Crystal Tokyo might not become a reality," she grumbled. Shrugging, she gestured to the massive carrier as they drew near. "And right now, it might already be too late to fix. I have no idea what that girl did, but it set something in motion that completely failed to stop the monsters. Whatever it was, it can't be a good thing."
Minako was quiet, contemplating. "Oh," she said after a moment. "I guess I see." She stared at the ship, and asked, "What about that strange boy from last night? How did you make him jump on you like that? Can you teach me?"
Setsuna stared at the girl blankly. "No. And don't make him angry," she said, speaking up to get everyone's attention. "I don't like it much, but he could be very dangerous to us, so let's be sure to stay on his good side."
The other girls — Minako, Usagi, and Rei — nodded their understanding. They wouldn't be the kind of people to antagonize anyway. Setsuna ruefully admitted to herself that she was probably overreacting.
Completed with her project for the moment, Washuu stepped back and eyed it critically. "Should be able to distill about ten thousand gallons per minute," she announced. "The hard part is going to be getting it around."
Ranma waved a hand dismissively, teasing Ran-oh-ki with unneeded parts. The creature pounced and ate every bit of scrap metal he was presented with, doing so with a nearly malicious glee. Ranma paused a moment, considering, then tossed a tiny spring in such a manner as to make it bounce all about his partner, as the creature entered an almost mad frenzy to capture it.
Once he had done so, Ran-oh-ki collapsed contentedly, sleeping in Ranma's lap with a happy expression. The boy smirked, tickling the creature's chin as he slept. "Don't ever let him know I said it, but the rat's kinda cute," he confessed.
Washuu smiled, shaking her head. "I won't," she replied, sitting near Ranma, and sighing.
The boy glanced at her quizzically, and she found herself reassessing him again. "So… what now?"
"Oh, Norris and Cologne are speaking of tactics." Washuu sighed, shaking her head. "I have one more trick up my sleeves, since we can't get where Cologne wants hauling this many refugees."
"What's that?" Ranma asked, scratching Ran-oh-ki's ears as the creature stretched in its sleep.
"Hmm. Well, if I can find everything I need here," she gestured to the ship, "then we can simply make a Gateway to send people away — to some place safe."
Ranma looked doubtful. "Where?"
Washuu shrugged, lacing her fingers together and placing them behind her head as she leaned back against the bulkhead. "Australia, probably. Some place far away. It should be safe, since the reavers will all be attracted to that," she said, indicating the beacon she had built earlier with a nod of her head.
The boy frowned, but accepted the answer. "Okay," he grumbled. "What next?"
Making a face, Washuu considered. "The odds of finding what I need aboard these ships are infinitesimal. We can hope to find them in Shanghai — I haven't activated the beacon yet, so we can try it, but… the idea of trying to hold a city isn't so great. The odds of succeeding where we failed in Tokyo are worse than the odds of finding what I need to build a decent weapon of some kind."
Scratching his head, Ranma looked upwards, eyes playing across the ceiling. "Well," he said slowly, his index fingers dancing idly about one another, like lazy electrons, "I can get out and find stuff for you… where should I go to look for… uh… whatever you need?"
Washuu waved a hand at him dismissively. "Don't worry about it," she assured him. "I'll just have my computer hack into all the local satellites and collect what information they can from them. Today, you should just relax."
Ranma continued to fidget nervously, finally relaxing enough to nod. "Okay," he mumbled.
"What, you don't like to relax?" she teased.
"More like I never really learned how," he grumbled.
Washuu clapped her hands together delightedly. "Oh! Then this will be fun!"
Ranma turned to look askance at her. "What?"
A knock on the door distracted the woman, and she sighed, climbing to her feet tiredly. "No rest for the wicked…."
Usagi was the first to step aboard, though she wasn't surprised to see Ami waiting for her. The stern-looking Yosho was to be expected, but Ami's barely concealed anxiousness was something new. "What happened?" she asked, not able to believe anything truly bad had happened, but still worried.
She'd seen enough things go wrong in her world in the last month to last her a lifetime, and something warned her that it wasn't over yet. Not by a long shot.
Ami bit her lip nervously, and explained in simple and concise terms what had happened. "Ryu-san challenged Ranma-san to a duel, and… things got a little out of hand. Ryu-san used a fairly underhanded trick, and I think that Ranma-san overreacted. When the fight was over, Mako-chan thought that Ryu-san was hurt, and… attacked Ranma-san."
"With her martial arts?" Usagi asked worriedly. Makoto's martial abilities were nothing to laugh at — not at all. She might have seriously hurt someone.
"No," Yosho grumped, "she hit him with a bolt of lightning. I daresay that if the boy weren't half-Masu, that shock could have killed him easily. There's a scorch mark on the deck where it happened."
Usagi's eyes widened, and she fought back tears. "Is he okay? Is Ryu okay? What about Mako-chan?"
Beckoning Usagi and the others to follow, Ami strode towards one of the ship's corridors. "Mako-chan hasn't woken yet, but Ranma-san's grandmother said that she won't be hurt. The doctors say Ryu-san should be okay with a few weeks of rest. Ranma-san… he was very angry, I think…."
The rest of the journey became a muted blur for Usagi, until she was let into the room where Makoto rested. The chestnut-haired girl lay, seemingly asleep, on a cot. At her side, on a slightly higher and very clean bed, lay Ryu, though his wrist was secured to a guardrail with a solid-looking pair of handcuffs.
He glanced at her balefully, then away, staring pointedly at a poster on the wall. Usagi couldn't read it, since it was in English, but dismissed it after half a heartbeat. Makoto was next to her, and Makoto was more important than anything else at the moment.
She knelt at the girl's side, glancing around at the assembled Senshi, Setsuna muttering and swearing under her breath. "Mako-chan?" she asked worriedly. "Are you okay?"
Stirring at her voice, Makoto snapped awake, blinking dazedly at the circle of her comrades staring down at her. "I'm… I'm okay," she said, sitting up slowly. "Ryu-chan!" she exclaimed suddenly, relaxing when he waved at her from his bed, still not willing to look. "What… what happened? Ryu-chan! I thought that monster killed you! Oh, no! The monster, you have to—"
Yosho cut her off angrily. "Ignorant— Rebels indeed…." With that, he turned and stood in the corridor, muttering under his breath.
Usagi spared him a glance, frowning. "Monster?" she asked. "What monster?"
Leaning against the hall outside of the room, umbrella slung over one shoulder, and a bandana hanging low on his forehead, someone else answered when Ami couldn't find the words. "There's a long story there," he said, voice low and rumbling.
Another voice chimed in when Ryouga's trailed off, lighter and faintly accented, "Ranma's got problems on a level that you probably can't even begin to comprehend, and we don't really want to let you add to them. There's not much we can do to apologize for what we've done to him, but we can try our best to keep other people from making our mistake." Mousse stepped into sight as he finished, looming near Ryouga, and eyeing the girls skeptically.
"What happened to him?" Usagi asked.
Ryouga and Mousse exchanged a glance, Ryouga deferring to Mousse. The bespectacled boy nodded, adjusting his glasses, and spoke, "I'll tell you what I can, and Hibiki-san will have to fill in the blanks. From what I know…."
Ran-oh-ki sneezed violently, twice, startling himself awake. Ranma smirked, trying to ignore the conversation between Washuu and Norris. It didn't involve him anyway.
He sneezed suddenly himself, and shrugged in embarrassment when Norris and Washuu turned to look at him. "Sorry," he muttered, collecting Ran-oh-ki and teleporting above the ship again. They had their own problems, and he was supposed to relax.
Sighing, he stretched out over a passing cloud, peripherally aware of the fleet below him, and drifting. Ran-oh-ki sprawled on his belly, eyes already drifting shut tiredly. "Sleep, eat, sleep, eat," he chastised. "Your life must be so hard!"
The creature opened one eye, as if to say, "I deal with you, don't I?"
Ranma snorted, folding his arms behind his head and exhaling.
And presently, sunning himself above the thin cloud-cover, he fell asleep.
Tsunami wrestled with herself. It was so hard to be strong, to maintain her facade. So hard to retain control — to be herself.
She rose suddenly, surprising both Tenchi and Ayeka, but garnering no more than a curious glance from Ryouko. The Court had long since learned that Goddesses were above comment and petty politicking, and remained silent, despite any thoughts they might have on the issue.
Smiling politely, she bowed to Tenchi, dismissing herself without any further preamble. She strode swiftly through the halls of the palace, unmindful of the guards, and heading down the path that was engraved into her being as firmly as any path could be.
The path to her tree-self.
But then, being strong wasn't the answer. Nor was being 'Tsunami', as she was. She couldn't suppress Sasami and expect the integration to flow smoothly. She knew her reflection had regressed somewhat, becoming more Sasami than what it had been. But the growth needed to be shared, not stolen only by one.
She paused, on the lip of the ring surrounding her tree. She was frightened even as Sasami would be — frightened that Sasami would not be able to handle the changed situation. But running wouldn't solve anything.
For that problem, she had devised a solution, however uncertain it was.
Glancing over her shoulder, and finding herself alone once more, she reached into the folds of her robes, producing a small, spherical, blue gem. She played it across her fingers, a bemused smile coming to her lips as her other hand rose to the tree.
The tree's trunk rippled, as she smoothly sank into it, leaving the palace in nearly all physical senses. She entered a place that existed only in the space between the Ouke-no-ki. It was the lines between their network — a place that was no place, because it existed only in the minds of the trees.
And there, it was formless, merely a vast web of thoughts and impulses passing from tree to tree, all of them neatly ringing herself. And in that space, which was no space, she summoned a mirror. The reflection in the mirror was not quite her, but not truly someone else.
The girl in the mirror regarded her curiously before stepping out of her own accord, staring around in wonder and confusion. "Where is this?" she asked.
Tsunami offered her hands to the girl before her. "We are inside me — inside us."
Sasami regarded her levelly, then smiled, placing her hands within Tsunami's. "I remember," she said. "Some of it. I remember that… you saved me… but what's happening now?"
"Now," Tsunami said wistfully, "we cross the point of no return. You and I share much, our spirits are combining. But… our bodies, our beings must unite. And I confess… I am frightened."
Sasami's eyes widened at that. Tsunami didn't need to think hard to imagine why. It was probably incomprehensible to her that Tsunami could be frightened. But she was, and Sasami knew why, too, as little as she might like it. "Can I help?" she asked, anxious.
"Only by allowing me to trust you, and allowing yourself to trust me."
"You can trust me!" Sasami assured her. "I'll help you as much as I can!"
"Are you certain, Sasami? It can never be undone, even now… but I could withdraw, leaving as much of your life to yourself as I could, should you desire it."
"It's okay! I want to help!"
"It will hurt," Tsunami cautioned. "Did you not ever fear losing those you loved?"
"Losing them?" the girl asked, confused. "Tenchi-neesan will always be there for me, right?" she asked anxiously.
Tsunami looked away, unable to meet Sasami's eyes. "I cannot promise that," she said softly. "We can hope, but I cannot promise."
"Ayeka?" Her face became petulant, worried.
"And I can promise that less, Sasami. I am sorry… I am so very sorry…"
"What… who will I have, then?"
"You will have me, Sasami. And… Washuu will be there with us, for always and forever."
Sasami was silent, for a long moment, and finally asked, "What about Ranma?"
"That," Tsunami stated hopefully, "is a distinct possibility."
"But not a promise?" Sasami asked warily.
"No, I cannot promise very much at all."
The girl considered for a long, silent minute, then answered solemnly, "Tsunami… I trust you. I still want to help."
"Bless you, Sasami," Tsunami whispered, as their hands began to dissolve into sparkling motes of light, swirling together slowly. "Be brave," she warned.
Sasami didn't flinch, staring upwards and into Tsunami's eyes, her own bright pink eyes full of love and devotion. "I trust you."
After Ryouga and Mousse — in their own somewhat clumsy yet effective manner — managed to explain the entire situation to the assembled Senshi, a silence fell over the room. Ryu still refused to speak, staring away resolutely.
Makoto couldn't quite meet anyone else's eyes.
Setsuna shook her head in irritation. "So much for not making him mad," she grumbled.
Usagi straightened suddenly, stiffening, and radiating a sense of calm. Composed completely, she straightened, possessed of a presence much greater than herself, as shimmering planes of light sculpted themselves about her, forming a gown of pristine white so untainted that everyone subconsciously flinched away.
Voice resonant, she spoke, "Ranma must be forgiven for what he's done to Ryu…." She paused, blinking twice at Ryu, who had finally deigned to look. "But apologies must be made, as mistakes already have been." At the last, she frowned at Makoto, neither angry nor unhappy, merely… disappointed.
"Tell me, child, do you know the stories of Death's younger sister?"
Ranma spun, staring about the same desolate and barren wasteland from before. There was no pile of stones — no speaker. But the voice still resonated, coming from everywhere and nowhere.
"Uh… not really," he mumbled, turning slowly, waiting for the woman to appear again. It was strange, when he stopped to think about it, that he forgot about the dream upon waking, and remembered it again when he fell asleep.
"A popular myth in many cultures, including some of the ones of your own world."
He spun again, not wholly surprised to see the woman awaiting him, perched atop her pile of stones. She was speaking not to him, but to a rounded, polished, and very clean stone in her hands. "What does that have to do with anything?" he asked, frowning.
"Nothing, child. Nothing to you at the moment." Her eyes narrowed, as she turned her gaze away from the stone and released it to tumble free and join in the pile beneath her.
The stone came to a stop at the base of the pile, and Ranma realized that it was no stone at all — it was a grinning skull. Unable to stop himself, and knowing what the answer would be, he asked, "What is that?"
"The last of a dying race," she said, bemused. "Would you like it? It serves me no use, truly."
Ranma swallowed, eyeing the pile of 'stones' she rested on. "Those… those too?" he asked nervously.
"It is my duty," she responded simply. "And it will be yours, in time. You will be able to harvest a great many of them," she mused.
He shook his head, feeling his stomach churn, and stumbled to the chasm, falling to his knees. He braced himself on the edge of the cliff, and heaved, but his stomach had nothing to surrender. Still uneasy, he stood slowly, as a small section of the soil beneath his hands gave way, tumbling free, and loosing the soil already blasted in the scouring sandstorm of his last visit.
Another stone, buried only shallowly by the soil. No stone, he guessed, recoiling in horror, as the woman behind him laughed, "Surprised, child? You should not be — you know what I am."
He shook his head, staggering away from the cliff, instinctively wiping his mouth with the back of his wrist. "You're… you're disgusting," he spat, nauseous. "You're a killer, and you want me to help you?"
The woman looked away, and she mused softly, "I am no killer. Merely a harvester, a collector. When the term of a being is over, I intercede, and only then." She looked directly at Ranma again, waving a hand. As her hand passed, darkness fell, and when it was lifted, Ranma found himself standing in a great hall, all white marble floors and vast ivory columns leading to a ceiling that disappeared in the distance, further than his eyes could see.
"You," she stated, now seated on a dais of gold and bone, carpeted in the hide of some creature that Ranma didn't recognize, "will be harvesting for me… unless you agree to bring Washuu to me. When you do that, perhaps—"
And then the dream ended.
Above, in a cloudbank, Ranma woke sharply at the intense green flare from his gems. Ran-oh-ki needed no urging, and scrambled to Ranma's shoulder as the boy threw himself Earthward, hurtling through the air, and tensed. His head felt muzzy, confused.
As though something important that he couldn't remember had happened, and it was something that he should remember. He dismissed it, focusing on what was important — the reavers.
"What's going on?" he asked, touching the gem at his ear.
"Ranma?" Washuu sounded surprised. "Nothing, we're just discussing the information I've gotten from the satellites."
"Are you sure?" he asked worriedly. "My gems just turned green, and they only do that around reavers. I don't sense any, but I sense… something. I can't pin it down."
As sharply as it had arrived, the sensation vanished, and with it, the flare of green. "Are you certain, Ranma?"
He sucked in a sharp breath, halting himself and staring at the gem in his wrist dumbly. "It's gone, now…."
"Well, we can check to see if there's anything in the area, but the sensors I have here aren't picking up anything at the moment."
Washuu sounded doubtful, and Ranma hesitated only a moment before dismissing the incident. "I'm sure it's not important," he mumbled. "Sorry if I bothered you."
Returned to merely being 'Usagi' again, the blonde swooned, to be caught by Mamoru. He glanced at Ryu and Makoto reproachfully, before turning to tend to his fallen lover.
Setsuna was the first to break the silence, placing a hand on Hotaru's shoulder absently. "Why," the woman mused, "do I have the feeling that things just got much, much more confusing?"
To be continued.
Author's notes: Thanks to Ginrai, Slacker, Kieron, Andrew Norris, TonyLoco, and Lalandil for pre-reading.
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