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.
Additional credits: Takada Yuuzou, and Kodansha (3x3 Eyes), Takada Yuuzou, and A.D. Vision (Bannou Bunka Nekomusume Nuku-Nuku), and Takahashi, Viz (Inu-Yasha).
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 TV. Sailor Moon occurs, well, at some point in the series, but it's something of an alt anyway. 3x3 Eyes diverges just before OAV2. This fic uses the bizarrely vague 'Pick One!' scenario. Enjoy.
Her Ranma-papa was furious — furious enough that he was ignoring her in favor of the man that he had retrieved from that funny space between any two points. "Ranma-papa-san, what's wrong?" she asked, trying to get his attention.
He glanced at her, his sword pointed at the man on the ground. "Atsuko," he said grimly. "I don't want you to see this. There's not much time left — take Ran-oh-ki and Washuu through the Gate, and do what you can to keep her safe."
"Ranma!" Washuu protested, seizing his arm. "What can you hope to do here?"
"I can destroy one more monster," Ranma replied flatly, his sword slowly ceasing its unsteady waver at Don Hai's throat. He glanced at Nuku briefly, then back to Washuu. "Washuu, please…."
The woman shook her head resolutely. "I'm not abandoning you," she stated firmly. "Atsuko, take Ran-oh-ki and get through the Gate."
Nuku's pout turned into an unhappy frown. "Nuku-Nuku won't run away, either! Nuku-Nuku can still fight! Ran-oh-ki, can you help Nuku-Nuku?" she pleaded, turning to look at the small creature in her cupped hands. It was so aggravating to her… she was so useless! She couldn't protect Ryunosuke, she couldn't protect anyone. Why couldn't she help her Ranma-papa and Washuu-mama? She needed something to help them….
Ran-oh-ki gave a vigorous nod, and vaulted skyward, while Nuku ignored Ranma and Washuu's exclamations. Above the courtyard, with the line of refugees streaming through the vast archway, the small furry being suddenly exploded into a veritable swarm of spires and protrusions a dozen meters and more across. It emitted a piercing cry that shattered the windows of nearby buildings, and sent the refugees into a panicked stampede towards the Gate. The glass slowly rained down, nearly melodic in the background, sunlight sparkling off the flowing collapses. Nuku offered Ranma a victorious smile, as a shaft of light speared out from the bottom of the confused topography of Ran-oh-ki's new form, enveloping Nuku and raising her away.
Inside, there was room for perhaps a dozen people, and a seat that could accommodate a person several times her size. She bounded across the smooth, reflective floor, and landed in the seat, raising a fist into the air and crying out, "Ran-oh-ki-niichan! Let's get rid of whatever's making Ranma-papa-san unhappy!"
Ran-oh-ki made a noise in confirmation, and lurched suddenly, rocketing upwards, as a pair of metallic clamps swung down, meeting Nuku's ear-sensors as they swung up, and careful restraints latched around her waist. At either side of the oval-shaped chamber, portals irised open, revealing the large satellites that Ranma had retrieved only a few days ago, and Ran-oh-ki had inadvertently eaten.
As she watched, they opened up, sensors and interfaces from Ran-oh-ki entangling with the local system and integrating it into himself. "Ran-oh-ki-niichan has weapons?" Nuku asked, elated. "Ran-oh-ki-niichan attack!"
At her words, more viewscreens irised open, revealing the sky, with green lines and indicators streaming what her old father had called telemetry data, and more that she recognized instantly as targeting data. Ran-oh-ki trembled slightly, and the starboard laser fired, searing through the sky and vaporizing the first of the targets. "Good job, Ran-oh-ki-niichan!" Nuku encouraged him. "Let's get them all!"
This time, she would protect her family!
Ranma stared wordlessly at the massive attack craft — smaller than he had seen Ryo-oh-ki to be, when Ryouko had ordered her partner to change, but still larger than a small house. Twin lances of green fire issued from the craft, brilliantly bright, and causing all of the refugees to freeze in their panic, staring upwards in awe.
Norris yelled at them to calm down, and resume their evacuation, while Ranma simply blinked, nearly dropping his sword to the ground at his side. Belatedly remembering Don Hai, he sheathed the blade, muttering, "Maybe we can stop it after all."
The man's eyes were wide with fear as he gazed upward, and babbled something Ranma couldn't understand. He knew basic Chinese, but nothing that the man was saying. Ranma dismissed it for the moment, turning to Washuu, and asking, "Why didn't you tell me that Ran-oh-ki could do that?"
The scientist stared upwards also, her mouth a round 'o' of surprise. "I didn't know he could yet," she managed. "He's not supposed to use lasers like that as weapons."
"Is it bad for him?" Ranma asked fearfully.
"Ah… no," Washuu managed. "If he's integrated them, then they won't be dangerous to him, only… whoever happens to be on the receiving end."
"Well," Ranma mumbled, clenching his hands. "I'm out a good reaver detector, but I think it's a good tradeoff." He glowered at Don Hai, and added, "Though I don't know if that makes up for his actions at all."
Washuu made a face, worried. "Don't kill him," she said quietly. "He's not worth it."
Ranma grunted, crossing his arms over his chest and trying to sense where the reavers were — Ran-oh-ki was busy at the moment, but Ranma could easily forgive his partner's distraction, given the situation.
Sighing, Ranma pulled the replacement gem from his left wrist, shooting a sidelong glance at Washuu. "I don't sense any reavers nearby at this second." Furrowing his brows, he kicked Don Hai as the man climbed to his feet, clipping the man in the temple and flipping him over to lie on the ground, unmoving. Norris bit back a curse, and ordered one of his men to secure him elsewhere.
"Ranma," Norris growled. "It's not a good idea to attack the people in charge of the country we don't even have permission to be in."
"I refuse to be afraid of this coward," Ranma spat. "He would have killed everyone I know, and who knows how many innocents—" He cut off, wincing, as Ran-oh-ki streaked overhead, firing at some distant point. "Look, I'm willing to trust Atsuko and Ran-oh-ki, but they might not be able to stop this. One of them could get through. This man tried to kill us all, when the damned reavers aren't even above the ground to be hit with the bombs! I say that we kill him, or better, leave him to the reavers."
Norris crossed his arms over his chest, sighing. "Ranma," he said levelly, "we cannot afford to make more enemies. We have to ensure that Don Hai's allies don't come after us for vengeance. We're going to be in enough trouble for trespassing — armed, I might add — in their own territory. I'm guessing politics aren't your strong suit, but trust me on this one."
Ranma narrowed his eyes, glancing upward, and sighing. The gem from his ear was replaced within his wrist. "You got that right," he grumbled. "I fight. That's what I do, and that's what I need to do right now."
And with that, he rose the merest distance from the ground, and vanished.
Part of his mind told him that he should be seething with envy.
He dismissed that part, giving one final shove, and hauling a massive, unbroken section of concrete atop the rubble-filled pit. Far ahead, he could see the line of refugees stir, preparing to move.
Taking a deep breath, he reclined against the rubble of the hotel for a moment, glancing to his side. Mousse had taken off his robe in the chill air, wearing only his blue Chinese pants while he worked, much to Minako's delight. The blonde girl stared at Mousse with enough fervor to unnerve him, though Mousse affected not to notice, hastily pulling his robe back on once the work was done.
"Jealous?" Ryouga asked after a moment.
The other boy stared at him for a long moment before comprehension set in. "No," he said flatly. "There's a price to pay to be a hero, you know."
Ryouga nodded quickly, agreeing completely. Ranma had paid for his power — paid for it in spades, in all truth. Ryouga could not begrudge his one-time rival that. And trying to consider Ranma a rival at this point would be futile. He couldn't hope to lay a hand on Ranma's current level… perhaps without Ranma's new abilities, but even then, Ryu had had a hard time of it.
He glanced at Ryu, who stared fixedly away, further towards the eventual goal of the refugees. "What about you?" he asked. "Jealous much?"
"Not really," Ryu muttered. "I've got the Umisenken and the Yamasenken. I don't need much else. The rest… I don't think it'd be worth it. And I got worse girl troubles than he does, anyway. "
Mousse choked back a laugh, and Ryouga bit his tongue. "Do yourself a favor," Mousse noted quietly. "Never try telling him that."
"Okay, I guess," Ryu answered, narrowing his eyes in confusion. "Sure wish we had Ranma's pet here, though. I keep thinking that we're going to get attacked any second."
Ryouga shushed him with a movement of one hand, checking to see that none of the refugees heard the complaint. "Don't say things like that too loudly," he mumbled.
Ryu rolled his eyes, glancing across the street to Minako and Makoto. Ray had climbed up on top of the roof of the store opposite the collapsed hotel, and was doing a passable job of looking like he knew what he was doing, rifle held at the ready. None of the refugees reacted to Ryu's mumbling, but he accepted the admonishment.
"I think this is a good sign," Ryu said after a moment of quiet. "Looks like we might get out of this one after all."
"Let's hope," Ryouga grunted, fingering the cloth strip around one arm.
Mousse adjusted his spectacles, gazing upwards and squinting his eyes. "What's that?" he asked, pointing.
Ryu and Ryouga joined him in glancing upwards, all of them staring in surprise as a dark shape tore across the sky, faint screaming sounds emanating from it as it tore through the atmosphere. Twin lines of light so bright that all were forced to shield their eyes emanated from the front of the strange bundle of spires and points, streaking across the sky to some place hidden from their sight.
"I don't know," Ryouga grumbled, motioning to Ryu, who was still carrying the radio. "We should ask." Grunting, Ryu handed the radio to Ryouga. "Mr. Norris?" Ryouga asked in cautious English. "Can you tell us what's going on?"
Norris responded a moment later, explaining, "Anti-missile defense. Keep the civilians calm, over."
Ryouga stared at the radio in dumb silence, then turned to look at the other two boys. "Missiles?" he asked.
Ran-oh-ki felt the rush of air against his new form, wind whipping across vanes and sensory spikes, providing him with an entirely new and dizzying array of input. He narrowed down the input to the bare minimum necessary channels; his partner had been working himself far too hard lately.
Stupid as his partner might be, Ran-oh-ki knew he meant well, and for that, Ran-oh-ki agreed completely with Nuku. If she thought that he should be spared some small effort and that they could fix another problem, so be it.
He activated the weapons he had managed to integrate into himself, though they weren't well designed to deal with the heat they generated. A stray impulse adapted for that, altering highly conductive materials to shunt the heat directly to his skin, which was chilled by the air that tore against it. Makeshift solutions, until he could find something better to eat.
Another corner of his mind quickly filed away what to look for later, when he had a moment, yet another responding directly to the linkage he maintained with some layer of Nuku's mind, juking neatly around a stray projectile. He spun about in air, still sliding backwards, and another beam of energy swept across the missile, reducing it to little more than molten vapor, though another stray impulse warned of potentially toxic material, and he adjusted for that, too.
It wouldn't affect him, but it might hurt Nuku, and that wouldn't do, so the filters that allowed air to enter the main cabin were sealed, reworked, refined, and reopened, all in the time it took him to wheel about once more, orienting himself against the thirty two remaining warheads.
Already his mind and elements of Nuku's had calculated what it would take to destroy all of them in time, and already they knew that no matter what happened, they would fall short. Utilizing one pattern, all but one could be stopped, and using another, all but three.
Ignoring the three would allow two to fall far enough away that they might be dismissed, but that was uncertain, and the third would land squarely atop the people that his partner was trying to save. Nuku didn't want them hurt, either, except for Don Hai, because that one had upset his partner.
The other would allow one to fall not far from his partner. That didn't suit him, even though it would probably catch Don Hai, because it would also catch one of the red-haired woman's metal things, and as tasty as they were, she was very protective of them. And he didn't want to be kicked.
On the other paw, it would also strike near his partner, who had shown himself to be variously capable.
All of this passed through the linkage between he and Nuku in what his internal chronometer assured him was only three seconds.
For that, then, a choice. Three, or one? One, then, despite the greater risk, and likely annoyance to his partner. His partner would not approve of a choice that let people get harmed one way or another.
And, of course, if anyone could stop it, it would be his partner.
Ami looked up, along with Yosho, though Yakumo was still too absorbed in studying his own hands to stare at the sky. Haruka joined the others in gazing skyward after a moment, and blinked at the display as a strange, dark bluish-black form seemed to… slide… across the sky, curving, and sending brilliant beams of green energy towards the horizon.
"What is that?" she asked apprehensively.
Haruka pursed her lips, and glanced towards Ami. "I could guess, but I think you could, too, Masaki-san," she mumbled.
"Right," Yosho said quietly. "I can tell you that that," he pointed at the largish form before it passed out of sight, low to the skyline, "is on our side." Indicating the refugees, he noted, "They won't know that, and they've had enough from us for one day, more likely than not. I doubt they'll listen to us very happily, so how do you suggest that we keep them from panicking?"
"Very carefully," Ami responded. "I doubt anything we can do directly to them will have the desired effect of calming them. I would suggest we merely remain as calm as possible so as not to alarm them."
Yosho's face twisted into a grimace. "'Them'," he spat. "Just putting more distance between us. But you're right. I suppose we can just sit here and count reaver carcasses. Ami, are there any near us at the moment?"
She stared intently into her visor for a long moment before announcing, "There are… there are some, but they are a good distance underground. They seem to be retreating."
"Not for long," Yakumo muttered. "They'll be back. They're just hiding from something that scares them."
"Scares them?" Yosho asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Yeah. They got two emotions. Hate, and fear. They hate all of us, but they fear some of us, too."
"Who do they fear?" Ami asked, unable to keep a tone of worry from her voice.
Yakumo scrubbed at his eyes with the heels of his palms for a moment, before trying to explain. "Blue… blue. Something about a woman… or a girl. Something blue, and something about her that's… green? No, they think green is something else… something… I think it has to do with life. They're afraid of her. They hate the blue… but they don't hate her." He shook his head, staring upwards.
Haruka crossed her arms, frowning thoughtfully, and asked, "Who's that?"
"I don't know," Yakumo responded. "They hate that which is of them and which is not with them, and they are scared of that which they cannot destroy. That one I do know." He chuckled sardonically. "That's me. They think I'm one of them."
Haruka grimaced, prodding, "What else?"
"They fear that which changes more than they do, and so quickly that they don't know how to counter it. It… it uses the blue that they hate, and stands before the one they hate more. Something… I don't know. They don't have a color for that, but it's the one they hate even more — the one that they're trying to capture." He frowned thoughtfully. "I'm pretty sure that's Ranma. They also see him — like a crazed tiger, clawing through one, like an enraged demon, shattering one beneath the water… every time he kills one, they remember. He embodies something else… something red. They hate that more than anything, but…." Yakumo trailed off, screwing his eyes shut, and concentrating.
"If this is difficult for you, you don't have to do this," Yosho advised. "I can't imagine it's easy…"
"No, no… I can do this. I have to. I might lose this — someone who can remember should hear it." He blinked, then nodded. "They don't hate the red the way they hate the blue… they hate it because it's something they don't have, but desperately want. Ugh… what an ugly way to be. They can only hate and fear."
"What about their goddess?" Haruka pressed, morbid curiosity apparent on her visage.
"They don't love her," Yakumo managed, shuddering. "They just… they just… I can't put it into words. The only thing they have for her beside loyalty is a lack of fear or hate. No love." He shuddered again. "I can't think about her," he gasped. "It hurts… my mind… I can't think about her."
Ami moved to console him, shooting Haruka a dark look and carefully putting an arm about Yakumo's shoulders. "Then don't think about her," she whispered. "Think about something you love, instead."
He relaxed instantly, sighing in relief. "Pai," he muttered. "Pai… thinking of her makes it stop. But… the other thing they fear is something that they can't… they can't move around. Something they can't shift through. It's invisible, but it steps around their armor, and destroys them from the inside. I don't know what it is, though… but they're afraid of that thing without hating it."
"Radiation," Yosho guessed. "Washuu mentioned that. So then, the explosives would probably do nothing to them, it's the radiation that kills them."
"Maybe," Yakumo muttered. "That would explain it… but I don't know… I don't know how they knew something was coming."
Yosho looked distinctly uncomfortable at that. "Not a happy thought," he grumbled. "For the colors… I can guess. I can make a guess, I think, but it wouldn't be much more than that."
Haruka gestured for him to speak. "What's your guess? Any information could be useful," she said.
"Mmm. Perhaps. I think they're afraid of Tsunami, who is the goddess of life. The Goddess of Jurai. Washuu said they have no… she called it a quantum signature. I'm not sure precisely what she meant by that, but I think that means that on some level, the reavers are a construct, they're… well, undead."
"Like me," Yakumo noted. "No souls." He shook his head a moment later, dislodging Ami's arm and standing. "Why would that make them be afraid of her, though?"
"I may not know what a quantum signature is," Yosho explained, "but I do know what ki is. It's life energy. Ranma said that he could throw a bolt of it—"
"Yeah!" Yakumo exclaimed, eyes widening. "That's right! It looked like gold fire, he threw it at a reaver, and it got stuck in the ground!"
"Right, so if ki is a specific person's ki, and it makes it so that they can't phase…" he trailed off thoughtfully.
"Wait… Hibiki-san and Mousse-san said that their ki also interfered with the reavers," Haruka noted. "Hibiki said that he could break through their armor, and Mousse said that he could tangle them in his chains."
"Then that might make sense," Yosho completed. "It would mean that they fear that power because if they were touched by pure life energy, from Tsunami or another source that could also touch that power, that they would probably be more than just confused or stuck. It could destroy them."
Haruka looked like she was about to ask something else, but stopped, turning to look at the city, and frowned. Yosho joined her in watching, and suddenly yelled, "Down! Down! Close your eyes!"
And a tide of searing bright light exploded on the horizon, shining easily through the buildings between the heart of the city and the harbor.
Ranma spared no more time for Norris, or his discussion. Let Norris deal with Don Hai, if Norris was so certain that the man needed to be spared.
He willed himself to a point that Ran-oh-ki had suggested he move to, and stared upward. His eyes adjusted with their constant reminder that he wasn't human by any stretch of the imagination, allowing him to see exactly what Ran-oh-ki had warned him of.
A momentary request through their bond, and Ranma knew exactly what lay before him, down to the number of rooms in each of the buildings. It was a dizzying flood of information, but much less so than when Ran-oh-ki had accidentally sent too much, telling him of every object he could sense in space at once.
More importantly than just the location of buildings, or the number of rooms in a given building, he knew where all the soldiers were. Luckily, only a few were in the area he needed to evacuate; the majority were on the southern side of the city, towards the roads leading out. Taking a breath to calm himself, he remained hovering over the fourteen-story building he was on, and split into two.
It was disconcerting, to be in such close proximity to his otherself, since he was in both places at once. She regarded him as oddly as he regarded her… but there wasn't time to waste on that. Blinking, he teleported again.
Not bothering to explain why, he and his otherself simply moved the five soldiers he had found emptying canned goods from a grocery store into carts to the rooftop of his chosen building two at a time, until the last. Once they were there, much disgruntled, he allowed his two halves to recombine, and addressed the soldiers. "I don't know what happens when one of those things," he gestured vaguely towards the dark specks that the soldiers probably couldn't see, "goes off, but I don't think you want to be under it."
The lead soldier recovered quickly, and asked, "We have incoming?"
"Norris called it an 'SRBM'," Ranma said, struggling with the English sounds, and thankful that his gem was translating for him again.
The Marines all shared an uneasy glance, and turned to regard him. "Orders?" their apparent leader asked.
"Wait here," Ranma advised, turning his attention to the incoming object again. He tried to ready himself, thinking of the wall of force that he was able to summon when he needed. That wall was generally not very large, but it took him almost no effort to raise, once he had gotten the practice of it down.
The trick of it would merely be making it big enough, since it would need to cover the entire city to shield the refugees, and he wasn't certain how long he'd need to maintain it, either. On a sudden impulse, he removed his sword from his side, thrusting the sheath into the concrete before him. It stood, imbedded into the surface, and he plucked the gem from his wrist, preparing himself.
It would be difficult, at best, he decided. The gem's power would need to be utilized, and in a worse case situation, Washuu had appropriated a small bag of sapphires for the purposes of turning them into more gems. Furrowing his brows, he released the gem to float sedately a few centimeters over the hilt of the sword, rotating and sending scintillating motes of light to flutter down around it. "Let's see if I can work this right," he mumbled. He raised his arms, palms outward on either side of the gem, slightly higher than the level of his waist.
And at that precise second, while his eyes were screwed shut in concentration, the same moment he had established the dimensions of his wall of force, the object exploded, blinding him even through his closed eyelids. He heard muffled cursing behind him from the Marines, and felt a strain not entirely like the time he had attempted to support an entire collapsed building on his spine to protect Nonoko.
Grunting, he staggered backwards, not opening his eyes. The light slowly faded, and the force lessened from something he could never hope to stop, ever so slowly, to merely being a heavy burden, much like bearing the Tetsusaiga against a reaver, and then less than that, to only the effort required to levitate.
Slowly opening his eyes, he beheld the area before him, stark in its devastation. The Tetsusaiga glowed, surrounded by the same blue energy that enveloped him when he tried to heal someone, the flames dancing upward and linking it to the gem, still floating above the hilt. In a smooth, nearly flawless line in either direction along the wall of force, a shimmering barrier stood. The barrier spat motes of blue, and sparks of white along its length, anchored firmly by the gem and the sword.
"I think I got it," he mumbled, seeing where the buildings had been sheared in half along the line, and upwards to the sky, where a massive cloud of flaming smoke boiled upwards. "And now I'm out a translator again."
He turned to the men, all of whom were staggering about in confusion. Shaking his head, he reached out carefully, expending even more of his power to heal them — they had looked directly at the light, no doubt. His own eyes were still screaming with the pain that it had caused, so he knew full well how much it must have pained them. Only a moment and a careful touch to each later, and their sight was restored, though the effort left him weary.
The lead Marine babbled something gratefully, spying the devastation from the blast, but without a translator, Ranma could only guess at his words. "Just… just wait here," he muttered hopelessly. "And make sure no one touches the sword."
Nodding in understanding, the Marine hefted his positronic laser rifle, and nodded, then gestured to his radio. Ranma gave him an encouraging smile, and looked up, as Ran-oh-ki swept towards him, a much subdued but still deafeningly loud cry ringing out from his partner.
Nuku was deposited at his side in Ran-oh-ki's beam of light, and his partner then collapsed into the small furry form that Ranma knew best, to tumble through the air a moment later. The girl seized onto him immediately, wailing apologetically, "Nuku-Nuku couldn't stop them all, Ranma-papa-san!"
Ranma worked one arm free, and caught his partner as he drifted downward. Turning his attention back to Nuku, he said, "Atsuko, you did a great job. You and the rat both."
Ran-oh-ki managed a half-hearted growl, but no more response than that.
"Really?" Nuku asked hopefully.
"Yes, really," Ranma answered tiredly. "Come on, let's get back to Washuu. I'm feeling hungry."
"Okay!" the girl caroled out, her worried sorrow vanishing easily.
Norris instinctively shielded his eyes, blinking away the effects and staring at the wall of shimmering light that stood to the north, bisecting the entire city. He shook his head, staring at it in confusion. "What the hell is that?" he muttered slowly.
Washuu gaped, shaking her head and stuttering before she managed, "That's… that's about as strong as a barrier can get without being a Light Hawk Wing! Ranma?" She growled, and tapped her bracelet, but dropped her hands to her sides as Ranma returned again, bearing both the furry creature that had served as a remarkably efficient missile defense system, and his daughter with him.
The girl caught him as he stumbled, looking exhausted, his sword absent. "Ranma!" Washuu exclaimed, approaching him and his daughter worriedly. "What did you do?"
"Not much," Ranma mumbled tiredly in Japanese. "I used the sword and the extra gem to make a shield… uh… I think I stopped it, but there's still something trying to come through the wall."
Washuu blinked, staring at the shield in surprise. "It's probably blocking out the radiation," she deduced.
"That's a good thing," Norris opined. A worried grimace crossed his face, and he worriedly added, "That was the area of one of Patterson's supply requisition squads. Did you see any soldiers there?"
"Yeah," Ranma yawned, slumping back against the tree he had slept against previously, shifting to female form again. "I saw some guys there, they're watching the sword… told them not to touch it."
Patterson raised an eyebrow, turning towards the radio to contact the troupe. "Well," Norris announced to no one in particular, since Washuu was fussing over Ranma, and Nuku was cuddled up against her, already asleep, "we should be ready to leave in about five and a half hours. That would get us out of here at about sunset, assuming that we can get all of the refugees through the Gate before then."
At Washuu's lack of interest, he turned to study the crowd, which was moving at a fast march, having calmed slightly from the all-out-run that Ranma's partner had inspired in them.
"Gem," Ranma muttered. "Gotta get another one before I fall asleep."
Norris shook his head, wishing he didn't have to feel so powerless in the face of the events that were transpiring before him.
The distant explosion, whatever it had been, had been halted by a blue-white curtain of force that extended some distance into the harbor north of them, and as far to the west as they could see.
The light was short-lived, and the cloud behind that shimmering wall betrayed what the blast had been, leaving Ami to shiver uncomfortably. Scary enough to see forces that she knew well in action — her own powers, and the powers of the other Senshi….
But there was something that simply shook her to the core, seeing what she knew was a nuclear attack so close. She could only guess at what was holding it in check, as the radio gave nothing but static after the explosion occurred.
They needed something to distract themselves.
Using the aid of the Marines, Ami was able to freeze the still-oozing carcasses of the slain reavers, and then haul them to the bay. Yosho leant his own strength to the effort, while Ami watched her visor for more reavers, until the last of the massive chunks of toxic-ichor-spewing monstrosities was disposed of.
She wondered what effect it would have on the creatures that lived in the sea, but tried not to think about it too hard. It was a losing situation, she felt. Thinking about it… thinking about it just hammered that point home. Unless….
"Fuji-san?" she asked quietly, while Yakumo gazed fixedly at the curtain of power.
"Yeah?" he asked uninterestedly.
"How many reavers are there?"
He frowned, blinking. "I… I'm not sure," he said after a moment. "Less… less than three hundred, I think."
Ami brightened at that. "Really?" she asked. "If… if that's true, then maybe we're worrying too much! If there's that few, then we could probably stop them all easily!"
He shook his head, sighing. "It's not going to be that easy. I can tell." Yosho nodded silently, and Yakumo added, "They're up to something else… I just know it."
"Like what?" Ami asked apprehensively.
"In the wars where reavers were used," Yosho said quietly, "only fifty or so were dropped on a planet."
"And?" Ami asked. "Haven't more than that been killed? Ranma-san stopped one when we first met him, and then two more under the bay at the same time. Washuu-sensei said he'd stopped three more before that, and then there were the four that Ranma-san stopped a few hours ago, that's at least ten. Fuji-san, you, and I stopped one on the boat when we first met Fuji-san, and another two earlier today! And that's without counting the ones that Hibiki-san stopped! Aren't we winning?"
Eyes distant, Yosho quietly continued, "Those fifty would breed to thousands in only a few weeks. Within a month or so, the planet they were infesting would be devoured, all of the mass reduced to reavers, which would then turn on each other, until only one remained. That final reaver would collapse under the collected mass, and explode, scattering the planetary matter away."
"But, they haven't done that yet!" Ami protested. "If there's less than three hundred of them… haven't they been here for more than a month? America didn't disappear overnight."
"Close to it," Yosho grumbled. "Washuu says they can't multiply, for whatever reason. That's something I can't complain about, but…." He trailed off, staring away.
A seagull, gliding in from the bay and squawking loudly at the refugees broke the silence of the moment.
Swallowing apprehensively, Ami prompted, "But?"
"But I can't shake the feeling that there's more to this," Yosho admitted. "Even if we destroy the reavers, the impact on this world… the lives of the people who live here…."
"I think you're just being pessimistic," Ami countered.
Haruka made a thoughtful noise, finally contributing to the discussion. "I'd have to agree with Masaki, I'm afraid," she noted. "Rei's dream…. I don't think we can simply dismiss that. If Serenity appeared and told her what was going to happen, I don't want to ignore that. I still don't understand how Ranma's sword made a difference here," she allowed, "but I will trust her that it did."
"Time will tell," Yosho said. "But one way or another, I still intend to fight as long as I can."
Yakumo echoed the sentiment, "Right. I'm not going to stop, either."
Sighing unhappily, Ami shot the men a disappointed grimace before turning her attention to her computer. Washuu had told her a good bit about the database, telling her what was old and what was new… there might be something there that could help, one way or another. Maybe something from the Silver Millennium….
Washuu pensively watched Ranma sleep. Nuku was snuggled up against her, arms tangled around the form of her unsuspectingly labeled 'Ranma-papa'. While asleep, she generated enough power to slowly charge another gem and, in female form, maintain the barrier.
Of course, the barrier was operating at a net loss, and by the time the day was over, that gem would crumble to dust. She grit her teeth. She wanted so much to wish that Ranma didn't have to fight… to try and protect her, and everyone else.
If Ranma could simply live her own life… but no, it was her fault that Ranma was trapped into the situation she was in.
She'd simply need to do more to shift the tide of the battle, then… only what did she have to call on to make a difference? Something tugged at a corner of her mind, and she summoned her computer, seeking out the distraction.
Blinking, she surveyed the traces of data, flashing from a point not terribly far away to an ancient, nearly forgotten orbital relay, and from there, to the Earth's moon. "Hmm," she mused, setting a subroutine to analyze and decode the data stream.
It only took a moment for the processes to return, displaying a message for her perusal:
Ethos array active. Status… check… failure. Self-diagnostic begins.
-Ethos one — offline. Aperture inoperative. -Ethos two — offline. Target acquisition control function disabled. -Ethos three — offline. Awaiting technician — condition unknown. -Ethos four — offline. System sleep-cycle termination — condition green. *Ethos five — online. Sentinel system running — battery not suited for orbital bombardment. -Ethos six — offline. System sleep-cycle termination — condition green. *Ethos seven — online. External system monitor — critical function error.
Washuu frowned, mumbling, "Ethos? What is…." She trailed off, watching, as the cursor typed in a command.
query — ethos1 info
Ethos One: commissioned in year twenty-eight of the reign of Omiki Amatera for in-system defense and monitoring. Local suppression effect and ecologically sound destruction of Terra-native targets. The first of a planned ten Luna-surface to Terra-surface prototype energy cannons, utilizing the experimental disassociation of phase valances for suppression effects. Ethos One is currently offline.
query — phase valance
Phase Valance: the controlling geometry of a non/sub-space that differentiates local space from external space.
query — phase valance disassociation
Phase Dispersion Cannon: an effort intended specifically to fight of the effects of both Phased-Space and Anti-Phased-Space attackers, such as any life form that uses non/sub-space attributes natively. The PDC is designed to shift the phase valances in a given region in such a manner that everything within the target area is disrupted and anything with more than one subdimension aspect is divided into component dimensional attributes. [MORE?]
PDC (cont.): This weapon was scheduled to be tested in year thirty-five, after completion. Hypothesized results varied, so every precaution was taken before primary utilization. Test results are currently available. Authorization required. [MORE?]
Washuu clicked her tongue, frowning in consternation. The only person she could think of who could be accessing a computer on the moon — though according to that last snippet, there was a lot more than just a computer up there — would be Ami. And there was a good chance that as well as she meant, Ami didn't really understand what exactly she was playing with.
And the same could be said for any idiot who thought that playing with phase valances was something that should be done on a casual basis. She knew full well the results of that tampering without needing to look over the terminal's notifications of the findings after the attempt. It was telling enough that only seven were completed out of the proposed ten.
Typing quickly, she located the sender, and queried the correct ports. The shocked image of Ami came onto her screen in a small window. "Washuu-sensei?" the girl sputtered. "What… what's going on?"
Washuu sighed, glancing at the data that was still streaming by. "Oh, just watching you," she remarked dryly. "I hope you don't intend to use the Ethos array on any reavers."
Ami's eyes grew round. "How did you know?" she asked, shocked.
"Your security measures are a tad… outdated, shall we say?" Washuu suggested. "And of course nothing could stand before a genius of my caliber anyway, but that's aside from the point."
"O… okay, Washuu-sensei. But what's wrong with using it against a reaver?"
"They affect a little more than just the reavers," Washuu drawled. "Things like surrounding continental plates, and whatnot. Generally, they'll take everything within about twenty kilometers of the central point of impact, and attempt to turn it inside out. That works quite well on reavers, but unfortunately, it works pretty well on everything around them, too."
Ami blanched. "Oh," she said quietly.
"Oh indeed," Washuu snorted. "It would also very likely disrupt and kill Ran-oh-ki instantly. I don't think that Ranma would appreciate that much."
"I hadn't realized he was so fragile," Ami whispered.
"He's not. That's a devastating weapon. A phase valance is no more than the geometrical location of normal space that stands between hyperspace and sub-space. Destroying that, however, allows all of the sub-space tied to that phase-valance to explode into hyper-space, and the backlash of two infinite spheres of non-space is explosively devastating on a massive scale." She trailed off, glancing at the data, and added, "You'll note that after the initial test-firing, they were all retrofitted to work on non-terrestrial targets primarily."
"Yes, but… I wanted to find something to help us speed things up and kill all the reavers…."
"Fair enough," Washuu allowed, shrugging. "How about we look for something else? You're exploring a large system, we should be able to find something aside from dangerously high-scale phase dispersion cannons."
"Er… we, Washuu-sensei?"
"Yes," the scientist affirmed, offering the girl a smile through the screen. "I can probably help you a little more than just asking the computer."
"I might know something, too," Setsuna added from behind Washuu.
"Then let's get to work," Washuu announced, sending the woman a backwards glance.
"Welcome again to my realm. I wonder how you've hidden myself from me, small one."
He blinked, unable to shake off a muzzy, thick feeling in his head, as though his sense were all dulled, toned down. The ground immediately before him was a thick, white material, soft and fuzzy, much like the hide of some creature. Which it was, he realized belatedly, raising his head, finding himself kneeling on the carpet.
A moment of dizziness surged across him, and he fell forward, catching himself on his splayed fingertips, and struggling to his feet. The same pillars that had surrounded him the last time he had dreams of the woman had returned, along with her, sitting as she was atop of her dais.
He squinted at her, feeling inexplicably thirsty, but pushed that aside. "What are you talking about?" he asked, confused, voice scratchy from his dry throat. "And why the hell can't I remember this when I'm awake?"
"Because I do not wish you to," the woman returned, shifting her position to rest one elbow on her knee, and her chin on her fist, scrutinizing him like some poorly crafted work of art. One that she did not find entirely to her liking. "You've hidden from me long enough," she said blandly. "I have no more patience for your games. Now I wish you to bring Washuu to me, so that we can be quit of this pointless struggle."
"Okay," Ranma said evenly, wishing for his sword, though even the robes that his ancestors had bestowed upon him were gone, leaving him only in the skintight black outfit. "You've been trying to tell me what to do for a long while now, right?" He wracked his brain, attempting to remember something. There was something that he was missing, he knew it… but what was it?
She nodded slightly, expression not changing in the slightest.
"And you haven't bothered just plain asking me for help, right?"
She nodded again, expression still as impassive as a marble facade.
"And you said that your pets are taking care of things for you, right?"
Once more she inclined her head in a nod.
"Which means that your pets are the reavers, right?"
"You might refer to the Qvansti as such," she allowed, then lapsing back into her prior state.
"Right. Okay. So you're on the side of the reavers, and you want me to betray Washuu and leave everyone on Earth to die, right?" he questioned, scowling slightly. Damn that elusive thought… what was it? Something… something… he had someone to help him in these situations?
"Not at all," she said, shaking her head very slightly. "I do not intend to mercilessly kill. I intend to press the evolution of a species faster. Are the reavers not the ideal tool to accomplish that?"
"No!" Ranma yelled. "They are not! They're mindless machines that destroy everything they can! They kill without remorse, and people learn nothing from them but fear and to run away!"
"Then they are too base to be elevated," the woman responded, eyes narrowing. "A strong species will adapt and change when they must. The reavers hasten this process. If a race cannot adapt fast enough, then it's a sign that my sister has failed in her task." Smiling, she sighed, explaining, again as though Ranma were a child, "The blame you seek to place on me belongs to my sister. Would you not bring her here that I could set her on the right path?"
Ranma stared at her, blinking. "So…" he said slowly. "If Washuu were doing her job, she would have made the entire planet like me, so people could fight reavers better?" Who was supposed to help him, though? He was alone entirely, here. Not even—
"Indeed," she returned smoothly.
He continued staring at her, thinking the situation over. "So… the answer to the problem here is to take everyone's humanity away from them," he drawled. "Turn them all into monsters like me. That doesn't make any sense! Didn't you say that I was made specifically for you? Wouldn't anyone else that Washuu made like that be 'yours' too?" The link was always there… even when he was asleep. It was what kept him from losing himself around the rats.
"Of course," she answered, still smiling. "Then they would all pass beyond the needs for the shallow existence they possess."
Ranma felt a prickle across the back of his neck, and growled. The link was there, in the back of his mind. His partner was asleep, but still peripherally aware. He mentally prodded that link, staring at the woman before him. "No," he snarled. "I think you're god-damned crazy. I don't want to listen to you anymore, so let me the hell out of this stupid dream!"
The woman's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Do not think to disobey me," she admonished, rising to her feet and glowering at him. "You are an enigma, mortal. And one I have no time for. You will do what I say, and you will do it now," she insisted.
"How about not," Ranma growled, feeling along the mental link… he wanted… there it was. "And how about you let me go, or I just kill you for what you say you've done?"
"You cannot harm me," she notified him, her fair features twisting into a disgusted grimace. "I am so much more than you can ever hope—"
Ranma wasted no more time, grabbing firmly onto the little ball of fear that Ran-oh-ki had taken from him when they first bonded. That little ball of fear that was so much more than a little ball….
Claws and darkness and scratches and growling and anger and hate and fear and anger and hate and fear and anger and hate and fear….
He felt much like a passenger in his own mind, falling back into a vast, dark pit, where he could hear them moving around. They were quiet, and they were clean, so he couldn't smell them, but he knew — oh, how he knew they were there. Any moment they would leap at him again, and again they would bite him, claw him, scratch him. Hurt him.
And his father… he could hear his father quietly above, mourning his son's incompetence. But he couldn't fail; he couldn't make his father unhappy! He had to struggle, to fight… to become what his father wanted. He had to make his father happy, or else the man wouldn't love him anymore, and he'd never get to see his mother again! He had to make them happy!
Unleashing a yowl, he tried to sense where they were — he knew they were there. He knew it. He flung himself forward, his grasping and clawing hands battering into one, pinning it. He was only dimly aware of his teeth sinking into the soft flesh that his paws held immobile beneath him. The cries of pain, and then the awful stillness. And again, another yowling leap, his teeth filled with torn flesh and loose fur, to repeat the cycle. Because that was the only way to survive.
As though he were watching the scene unfold from a great distance, he watched the woman stare, impassive, some invisible force that he couldn't penetrate holding him at bay. "Impressive," she allowed. "But savage. I warn you this, mortal, never try that again, or I will see to it that you are completely unmade."
The same force that was keeping him at bay suddenly turned, flinging him backward with enough power to sunder the column immediately behind him. His bones shattered, and his flesh tore at the force of the impact, leaving him to lie broken and bleeding while rubble from the demolished column slowly rained down on him.
He wanted to writhe in agony, so strong was the pain. To cling to the disgustingly sticky taint of fear and hate that gave him power… but it wasn't enough power, was it? And indeed, it was almost as though some other force warned him against it. Hate and fear… those were the tools of his enemy. He couldn't use them and expect to remain above them.
"I," he gasped out, feeling blood slowly pool in one lung, "ain't… gonna help you." He could afford to ignore it; he didn't need to breathe, after all.
"Humph," the woman derided him, stooping to lift him off the ground by his chin. "You will be difficult to break, but perhaps more worthwhile for it." She stared at him for a long moment, then tossed his body to the foot of her dais without effort. He tensed himself, willing his body to heal. He would not give her the satisfaction of defeating him. Even….
Giving in, he shifted, becoming female while landing, still weak and dizzied from the damage that had just been undone. "You will never break me," she said defiantly. "And you aren't gonna hurt anyone I can protect if I can help it, either."
The woman stared, glowering silently.
"You can cut me open," Ranma yelled at her. "You can break my bones and take me apart from the inside out. I'm willing to throw myself to the… the… to them to fight you. Nothing you can do will make me help you.
"And if you hurt anyone I care about, I will do everything in my power to destroy you," she finished.
"Healing," the woman stated, disgust evident on her features. "You have the power to crack stars open when you are fully matured, the strength and the ability to annihilate planets…."
She trailed off, gesturing, and as if his mind were available for all to see, forcibly relived his entrapment beneath the collapsing building in Tokyo, trying to save Nonoko. "Enough strength to crush the child easily," she observed, staring directly into Ranma's eyes. "You could have spared the child her own suffering and weakness, yet you try and protect her.
"Strong enough to destroy the one who has affronted you," she continued, as Ranma was struck to her knees at the memory of the fight with Ryu. "And yet, instead you give him something of nearly infinite worth to yourself, in the fragile hope of standing against the Qvansti."
She was thrown back further into her own memory, watching her partner eat her mother's sword. "And here," the woman continued, fascination creeping into her voice, "you have the strength to make that being see and do as you wish, or destroy her for her failure to accede to your desires, and yet, you let her live unchallenged.
"And here," she droned on, voice filling with loathing, "you use your power, that vast strength that you have been given nearly unparalleled in your universe, and you restore damage to the people who fear you." Again a memory surged through him, this one more recent, as he healed the man near Ryouga's team among the refugees.
"What's… what's wrong with that?" Ranma protested, reeling. "I can stop the damage! I can keep people alive!"
"Fool!" the woman spat, scowling at Ranma, eyes aglow with anger. "Healing! The enemy of growth! How can you not see that your abuse of power, repairing your fragile, mortal shells only serves to make you weaker? Medicine is the enemy of evolution! You only serve to weaken the species with your attempts!"
"You know what?" Ranma asked tiredly.
"What?" she snarled. "Dare you defy me further?"
"Yeah," Ranma answered, smiling grimly. "So fuck you."
Nuku rested uneasily, unsure why the flight with Ran-oh-ki had left her so drained, but largely contented to sit with Ranma. She twitched in her sleep fitfully, and Nuku carefully maintained her position, arms wrapped around the slightly smaller girl and restraining her easily. The little part of her mind that told her how strong her grip was seemed to be damaged, as restraining Ranma, who was only twitching very slightly, appeared to take a force that would shred tensile steel.
Of course, that part of her mind seemed to worry far too much about numbers, so she seldom paid it heed. Ranma whimpered slightly, then lapsed into stillness for the time being. Nuku frowned, wondering if she were having a bad dream, and asked, "Ranma-papa-san?"
She didn't respond immediately, so Nuku gave what she thought was a gentle shake, rousing her instantly. "Who… what's going on?" she mumbled tiredly, peering around in confusion.
"Ranma-papa-san?" Nuku asked. "Did you have a bad dream?"
"Don't remember," Ranma answered, stretching. "I'm hungry. What about you?"
Nuku shrugged, glancing at Washuu, who offered them a good-natured smile, before turning her attention to her terminal, Setsuna watching over her shoulder thoughtfully. "Norris said that there were some rations for you," the scientist said, typing at something or another. "I don't know that they're any good, but they're there," she said, gesturing to a small pile of vacuum-sealed packages.
Ranma grunted, shaking her head at some memory or another, and glanced at Nuku. "Atsuko, could you let go of me so I can get something?" she asked plaintively.
She released the smaller girl, pouting, and Ranma moved to investigate the pile, grabbing a few of the packages with a shrug before sitting down next to Nuku and offering her a smile again. "You want anything, Atsuko?" he asked, eyeing the rations dubiously.
"No thank you, Ranma-papa-san," she said, smiling, and glad he had offered. She wasn't hungry, simply tired. Ran-oh-ki fared little better, still sleeping soundly. Shivering, Nuku absently hoped that they wouldn't have to do it again, though for Ranma and Washuu, she gladly would. So would Ran-oh-ki, for that matter.
After eyeing the contents of one of the packages dubiously, Ranma began eating, and asked between bites, "Has anything important happened?"
"Not that I know of," Washuu noted, still typing away at her terminal. "Ami and I are working on finding anything left over from an older civilization… nothing useful yet, I'm afraid. Most of the weapons are either useless, or broken."
Ranma raised an eyebrow at that, and even Norris glanced over curiously. "More weapons?" he asked. "Like what?"
"Nothing very useful," Setsuna added, eyeing Norris and then turning back to Washuu's terminal. "At least, not yet."
He stared at her, assessing something in his own head, then nodded brusquely, turning his attention back to the radio. "Emry," he snapped into the device, "monitor the airspace nearby and notify me of any changes, over."
Norris's men said something back, though Nuku heard it more through her own sensors than from the speaker in Norris's radio, but she paid little mind, instead focusing on Ranma. Ranma stopped eating for a moment, made an odd face, and did the strange thing that changed her to him, though Nuku still wasn't certain how it worked, merely that it did.
Ranma grumbled something under his breath, finishing off whatever substance was in the packages, and folding himself into a meditative position. Allowing his eyes to drift shut, he said, "The reavers are moving away."
"Mmm," Washuu noised. "I'm having trouble tracking them, Ranma. Where are they headed?"
"West," Ranma said slowly. "And… they're moving fast. Some of them are still staying nearby…. Why are they leaving?"
"Who can say?" Washuu muttered. "I'm just glad they're going away from us."
"What about," Setsuna began, then frowned uncertainly, shaking her head. Staring anew, she asked, "Do you suppose we should ask Fuji? He might have some small insight into the reavers' minds…"
Washuu considered the question thoughtfully, offering Nuku a smile before answering, "We might as well. It couldn't hurt."
Usagi was not normally given to contemplation, or deeply searching insight. That wasn't to say that she was a fool, exactly, as much as it was to say that she preferred having the situation such that she needn't think about what she was doing. And her situations, generally, were much more clear-cut than the present.
Mamoru's mind was made up already on the subject, and part of Usagi wanted to agree with him, and simply state that Higurashi was wrong. But there was something that she simply couldn't dismiss… as much as he looked like a half-youma monster, as much as he had powers like theirs…. He didn't need to name any spells, so it was an ability of his, not magic.
At least, she thought that was what it was…. Perhaps his grandmother would know better? "Cologne?" she asked the woman, who was carefully reading through the aged parchments that Ranma had given her.
The old woman looked up, raising her eyebrows. "Yes, Child?" she returned, carefully tucking the papers away into her robes somewhere.
"Why was Ranma angry at us?" she asked carefully.
Mamoru grumbled at that, arms crossed over his chest as he dubiously watched the pair converse. Rei and Eric stood across the street with Michiru, staring at something further down the road and conversing quietly, while Hotaru simply admired the small square of cloth that Ranma had given her, ignoring Mamoru's reproachful attitude.
"Ah," Cologne said, nodding knowingly. "He's simply doing what any hot-blooded young man would do to defend his honor."
"What do you mean?" Usagi asked, mystified. Had the reavers done something to damage his honor?
"Allow me to clarify a little," Cologne drawled, drawing a pipe from her robes and putting it to her mouth thoughtfully. She did not light the pipe, merely left it in her mouth while she looked thoughtful. "Now, much of what I know is not my place to say, because it falls on Ranma and his ancestors. What I can tell you, however, is that Ranma's many times great-grandfather and many times great-grandmother have charged him with doing what he can to protect everyone." She nodded to herself, then gestured with the pipe, indicating the crowd. "Everyone here, he's trying to protect. Why he was angry at you is because… for whatever reason, some of the same energy exists in the crystal you bear, as in the monsters he fights."
"So he hates the monsters?" Usagi asked quietly. "I can't blame him for that."
"I don't know many who could," Cologne remarked dryly. "I don't think he was angry at you, as much as the power that created the reavers."
After a moment, Usagi thought to ask, "What was Ranma-san like? Mamo-chan told me that Hibiki-san and Mousse-san explained some of it a while ago, but we've never really met him before."
"Well, I've kept him busy training," the old woman admitted. "I don't know him as well as I would like to. Hmm. I suppose you could say that he's a very driven person, and he refuses to let anyone keep him down, though he forgives easily enough once he wins… I don't think that's changed much. He's not really that different from anyone else, I suppose."
"Except that he can fly, walk through solid objects, and everyone seems to forgive him for threatening Usako," Mamoru spat.
"Watch your mouth, Child," Cologne advised, her eyes narrowing. "You've killed a reaver, haven't you? Young Rei struck it with her ki and you crushed it, yes?"
The man nodded uneasily. "Yeah," he allowed. "I did. Why?"
"Ranma's killed at least six before today," she said. Mamoru fumed silently, glowering, and Cologne added, "Of course, the largest number of kills isn't everything, not by a long shot… the point, however, is that we're in the middle of a war, Child. A war that I, for one, do not intend to lose.
"However, in a war, you must cast aside petty and childish things and be prepared to do what must be done." She frowned thoughtfully, aware of Hotaru's sudden attention, and Usagi's curious gaze. "Consider this, Child," she began again. "Mousse and Ryouga, have fought with Ranma nearly non-stop since they met, because that's what they do. Like any martial artist, they seek to constantly improve themselves, and that means they would fight constantly."
"So he thinks that he can threaten Usagi and get away with it?" Mamoru growled.
"Not at all," Cologne continued smoothly. "But I'll tell you this much — whenever something came up that required them to work together, they would do that. Much more so, now. Child, our lives depend on all of us combining our strengths and working through this together. I don't think for a heartbeat that any of us will win if we fail to ally with one another. "
Mamoru's anger faded slightly, and he shook his head, frowning. "If you say so," he muttered dubiously.
Cologne shook her head, turning back to Usagi. "Did you have any other questions, Child?" she asked.
The girl simply shook her head. She'd learned a bit, as little as she liked it. Still, it was something to think about, and there was something inside her that couldn't be denied that told her that Ranma was the key to a puzzle… one she'd do well to solve, if she wanted to protect people.
Her thoughts were distracted by the refugees, moving forward slowly, then slightly faster, until they were moving at a calm pace, quickly striding down the street. Smiling, she said, "It's working! We're going to get everyone else to safety!"
The same, unyielding docile blandness passed beneath it without according further notice than the most efficient route and method that a later pass would consume it. Occasional breaks came, rarer metals or other materials being phased through quickly, but that was not what it was looking for.
That came into its mental view shortly. It wasn't certain how it managed to hear the signals it did, though only a very few escaped its sensory net. This site, though, was something that needed to be destroyed and abandoned, before the invisible poison from the target seeped through its armor.
Defenses on the compounds were unworthy of note, not offering noticeable resistance before they were mown down, and everything that felt remotely vulnerable was destroyed. That done, it drew back, surveying the damage to itself. Only three segments weakened, and those not beyond recovery. A fourth only grazed by the poison, but escaped.
Attention unfocused for a moment, taking in the entirety of itself. There were not enough; there needed to be more. Some component was missing, though. It couldn't tell what.
It spent a moment, planning on focusing its attention on the two that its mistress desired, and the others that confounded it.
It desired so much to rend the flesh and eat the bones of its enemy. It replayed a moment of striking down the one who was of it and yet not, reveling in the hatred, denying the fear. Always, always, always it would be thwarted.
Not this time.
Defenses were prepared, as enemies were catalogued.
Some of them could be felt in its mind. Where to attack… where to attack… the one that made cold. She would need to be destroyed. The docks had been a failure at the last attempt, though. One of the things there frightened it — was of it, yet not it. That too, needed to be destroyed. But it was dangerous.
It had sent much of itself towards the strange construct that all of the weak flesh-beings had walked to, but those were thwarted, too. No matter where it went, it would attract the attention of that other, that 'favored'. Then to attack in two places at once? Or perhaps more?
How much of itself could it spare to the task?
All was ready.
Ranma shivered suddenly, and stood, shrugging his shoulders nervously. Washuu couldn't tell what had upset him, merely that something had. "Ranma?" she asked cautiously. "What's wrong?"
"Dunno," Ranma answered quietly. "But I got a real bad feeling." Whirling, he seized his still-sleeping partner, and turned to Norris. "Norris?" he asked. "Tell your men to keep a real close eye out. Something's up."
Following up Ranma's hunch, Washuu turned her attention to the monitors she had set up. "Ah," she said, frowning. "Well, China won't be firing any more nuclear warheads at us."
Norris scratched behind his ear nervously. "I'm not going to like finding out why, am I?" he asked.
"They've all been destroyed by reavers, it looks like."
"In a way, I can't complain," Norris grumped. "They finally did something that helps us. Okay. Patterson, have all ground-forces on the alert, tighten up the cordon since we're actually moving people, and have Dew's team watch out. Yosho's team's been attacked twice today already." Norris's aide nodded quickly, and began speaking quickly into the radio.
The man then turned to Washuu, his glance flickering to Setsuna for the merest moment before he asked, "Did you find anything else that can help us?"
"Yes," Washuu said slowly. "Another lunar array, this one less overpowered than the Ethos array. This one is just a lunar based matter disruption cannon."
"How's it work?" he asked cautiously.
"The Halcyon array is a very sophisticated weapon," Setsuna answered, glancing at the screen and reading the details. "It might be enough to turn the tide."
"It's an exceptionally crude weapon," Washuu countered. "But that could help us more in the long run."
Setsuna scowled. "It's not that bad," she muttered.
"It's good enough. It'll turn everything in its targeted area unstable, and cause it to collapse into its component atoms. However, it's not a precision weapon, and the side-effects of all those compounds being ripped apart into basic atoms and then recombining is not exactly a good thing."
"At this point it's a tradeoff we'd have to accept," Setsuna admitted.
"Will it work on the reavers?" Norris asked skeptically.
"It should," Washuu said, frowning. "It operated just like radiation. At the very least, we'll get a few shots off before it becomes useless — it's only got enough energy left for a few shots anyway."
Norris nodded slowly. "Great. What kind of area does it cover?"
"About a mile square," Washuu said.
"Okay. Well, be prepared to use it if the opportunity arrives, but it sounds pretty dangerous — it'll kill us just as easily, after all."
"Only if we're careless," Washuu said, shaking her head. "Sufficient shielding on our part can block it if we have to, and Masu aren't affected by it anyway."
Ranma snorted, breaking from his silence, and explained, "Me and the rat. But I don't think I can manage another shield at the moment, at least, not for very long. It's taking a lot out of me to just keep that one going." He broke off, gesturing to the glimmering wall of force. "I guess it's just radiation, but it's still there. I can feel it…." He cracked his knuckles, agitated, and looked to Washuu for guidance.
"The effect only lasts for a few seconds," she said. "I think you could stop that without exerting yourself too much. But we don't want to take that risk if we don't have to."
"I wish I had my sword," Ranma muttered.
"Ranma-papa-san?" Nuku asked anxiously. "Can I fight with you?"
Ranma scowled, and shook his head. "Just protect Washuu, Atsuko." After a moment of hesitation, he handed Ran-oh-ki back to her, shaking his head. "I have a really bad feeling—"
"Commodore! We have reports of an attack from Ryouga's group!"
Washuu turned to tell Ranma to be safe, but he was already gone. "Damn it," she swore softly, noting that Ranma had left Setsuna behind.
Norris frowned, looking around. "Anything else?" he asked after a moment.
"Another attack among Cologne's group, Sir."
"All right. Men, spread out, and stand at the ready!" Norris shouted to his Marines.
Ryouga wasn't certain what had tipped him off, other than a prickling at the back of his neck, but he was on his feet in an instant, shouting, "Aino-san! The chains! Spread people out!"
This time, however the rounded black monstrosities that burst from the ground did not rend the crowds apart mercilessly. Instead all three converged upon Ryouga, casually slashing at whatever was in their path.
"Well, shit," Ryu drawled, flexing his newly healed arm, and fading from sight after hunching over.
Mousse snarled, weaving his chains at the reavers as Minako frantically shoved people to clumsy safety with her own barrier of linked hearts. Ryouga stepped backwards quickly, drawing the advancing reavers away from the refugees… if they wanted to make it easier for him, he wouldn't complain. From across the street, using his vantage on the shop's roof, Ray leveled his rifle at one of the reavers and unleashed a barrage of glowing green fire at it. It staggered briefly, but quickly resumed the rush towards Ryouga.
He braced himself, having no clue how he would face three reavers at once, when a pair of arms wrapped about him, and hauled him fiercely upwards. "Hey, Ryouga," Ranma announced conversationally. "Nice new friends you got there."
Ryouga rolled his eyes, grumbling, "We don't have time for this, Ranma."
"Right," he said. "Want me to drop you here?"
For a half-second, Ryouga looked down to the reavers, who had quickly wheeled on Mousse as the next target. "Yeah," he said, instants before Ranma let him fall the six meters to the nearest reaver. Ryouga snapped one of his wrist cloths into a blade-like projectile even as he fell, slamming it into the area over the creature's eyes as he landed.
The monster's carapace was oddly slippery, despite its jagged hide. He slid to one side, only barely able to avoid a lashing claw, and leapt to the ground, spinning with all of his strength.
The cloth blade claimed one of the reaver's supporting legs, and he kicked the bulk of the creature away from him before it could fall, spurting the thick yellow ichor they had for blood as it tumbled.
Glancing quickly to the other reavers, Ryu and Mousse both harried one while Ranma chased the other, two blades of glowing blue energy at the ready. Across the street, Ray finished swapping his batteries and opened fire on the reaver that Ryouga had kicked to the top of the pile of rubble. Deciding to leave it to Ray for the moment, Ryouga joined Ryu and Mousse.
For his part, the Chinese boy had thrown his chains in a different fashion, entangling one limb at a time, then the chains together. This baffled the reaver, which gave Ryu the openings to score power blows along its side, and Mousse threw a barrage of the small needles he employed for that purpose at the creature's eyes, enraging it.
It all seemed so odd… the reavers had been so dangerous last time, and now they were little more than sitting ducks, barely able to fight back. Something was wrong.
Something was very wrong.
Warned only by a shouted, "Jupiter oak evolution!" Ranma teleported to one side, watching a flurry of golden leaves slice through the space he had occupied a moment ago, slashing the reaver viciously, and pinning it against the side of the rubble.
"Something is wrong here," he said aloud, shooting a glance towards Ryouga in time to catch his apprehensive nod.
Casting out with his senses, Ranma found what he had expected quickly — the reavers weren't simply attacking one place at a time. "Crap!" he swore, loudly. "Ryouga! I gotta go!"
The lost boy nodded quickly, turning his attention to the reaver he had wounded and yelling, "Take care of it fast!"
Ranma nodded back, teleporting away again.
Ryouga staggered away, frowning. The second Ranma disappeared, all of the reavers simply sunk through the ground, vanishing. "What the hell was that?" he asked, trading equally confused glances with Mousse and Ryu.
Turning back to survey the refugees, Ryouga frowned. Some people had been wounded, others killed… but so few. He wasn't pleased about it by any extent, he wanted as few people to die as possible, but… but what were the reavers doing? Simply arriving, putting up a half-hearted offense, and then running away again?
"They're feeling out our defenses," Ryu surmised. "They want us to use whatever tricks we still got on them so they knew what we can do, I bet."
Mousse nodded thoughtfully, glancing at Makoto and Minako as the girls drew closer. "You're probably right," he noted. "What we need to do is make sure we don't use anything we've got until we have to. It seems to me that they now know one more of our attacks," he broke off momentarily, jerking his head towards Makoto, then continued, "and since they know more, they're backing off until they can figure out a counter for it."
Makoto blushed deeply, dropping her head in embarrassment. "I'm sorry," she said softly. "I didn't know…."
"I wouldn't worry about it," Ryouga said, sighing. "If we didn't do anything new, they would probably have stopped holding back so much. If they were going all out, I don't know if we would have gotten off that easily."
"True enough," Mousse muttered. "We need some new tricks, and badly. Let's just be glad we managed to cripple two of them, eh?"
Minako brightened instantly. "I've still got some tricks left!" she announced.
"Good," Ryouga said, nodding at Ray as the man hopped down from his perch and approached them. "Let's get the crowd moving again. They might come back."
Pacing tensely, Nuku frowned, wishing that Ranma would take her with him to help — she knew she was able to fight! She didn't fight very well the first time she had met Ranma and Yosho, but then, she also remembered that she had nothing to fight for.
Now, however, she had a lot to fight for, Washuu and Ran-oh-ki included. Ran-oh-ki perched atop her head, and batted at her to gain her attention. By reflex, her ear sensors raised, and Ran-oh-ki's whiskers brushed against one of them, transmitting the information she needed to hear.
Not stopping to think about it, she dashed to Washuu's side, sweeping the woman into her arms and leaping away moments before the threat Ran-oh-ki had warned her of arrived. Setsuna was bowled over, knocked clear of the monster and swearing as she rolled to her feet.
Landing a good fifteen meters away, as more reavers surfaced, Nuku set Washuu down, the scientist struggling madly to reach the terminal that still remained near the reaver. Well, if Washuu wanted the terminal saved, Nuku would do everything she could to do just that!
Bouncing away easily, leaving Washuu where she was set down, she leapt at the reaver, knocking aside a lashing claw with one elbow. The reaver reeled, and she ducked underneath it, springing upwards with all the force she could muster and slinging her fist ahead of her.
The monster was launched upward, carapace creaking hideously from the sound of the impact, while Nuku stared up after it in satisfaction. "Nuku-Nuku can fight too," she announced proudly, as the reaver slammed into the ground a few meters away, generating a crater and inciting the refugees to a panic.
Washuu stared, her terminal dissolving into thin air, as Setsuna gestured at the reaver with her staff and said something so quietly that Nuku's sensors were only just able to pick it up. "Dead scream," she whispered, launching a bolt of malevolent maroon force, crackling with electricity to impact against the side of the reaver, knocking it over and leaving it to twitch, largely unmoving.
It was only left for a moment before two beams of green fire converged on it from a pair of Marines, the rest focusing on the remaining pair of reavers. "Okay!" Nuku chirped, taking a page from Ranma's book and grabbing Setsuna. "Let's stop the others!"
Setsuna's yelped protests went unheeded as Nuku cleared the line of refugees, landing in a slide. The woman with her was let go to stumble, and Nuku launched herself into a spin-kick that clipped the reaver, sending it flying across the courtyard to crash loudly into the trees lining the park. Nuku herself was unbalanced and tumbled to the ground, providing a makeshift crash pad for the unbalanced Setsuna, while Ran-oh-ki tumbled free a few paces further.
Righting herself, the woman yelled, "What's wrong with you? Your entire family is insane!"
Nuku ignored the comment, pointing towards the reaver.
Rolling her eyes, Setsuna targeted it, along with yet another pair of green lasers. "Dead scream," she whispered again.
Usagi knew what to look for, this time. It troubled her that she could sense it so easily, but Ranma was right, one way or another. It was the same power as the Ginzuishou. "They're coming," she whispered.
Rei nodded knowingly, pointing to a spot in the street. "There," she said, then pointing to another, "there," and pointing to a third spot, "and there."
Cologne frowned. "Let's move everyone, then," she instructed them, glancing at Mamoru.
The man nodded, glancing around and yelling to the refugees, "Everybody! Stop moving and clear this street out!"
The others joined him in short order, though the crowd was reluctant to part as they had ordered initially. Rei produced a small number of ofuda, biting her lip uncertainly. "Any moment now," she whispered, nervous.
Usagi offered her a reassuring smile. "We'll make it," she assured her friend and fellow warrior. "Just—"
But there was no more time for further words, as a trio of the monstrous black creatures emerged from beneath the ground, all of them converging on her. Mamoru charged the first, sword at the ready and armor fully formed about him, while Eric fired at the same creature.
Cologne hesitated, unsure, and mumbled, "We might need a little help, though."
Usagi nodded, feeling oddly… slowed. She could sense Hotaru at her side, restless, but not moving to engage the reavers that charged languidly towards her.
The motion crawled, losing more and more of its speed, until Cologne was raising her staff at a snail's pace to deflect a molasses-speed strike. Mamoru dodged away from a claw slowly — too slowly — and Usagi was eerily aware of all of the minutiae of the effects on the claw as it failed to pierce his armor, instead flinging him backwards forcefully. The tails of his cloak lazily snapped in the breeze of his passage as he sank into the concrete wall awaiting him, and bounced back, landing face-first and sliding a short distance.
Rei caught a claw with an ofuda moments before it stabbed into her, launching her over the crowd, blood trailing from her crumpled form as she flew beyond the range of Usagi's peripheral vision. And yet, more prominently than any of those details, which Usagi knew should affect her much more than they had, more strangely apparent even than Michiru's failing retreat, magical energies flowing ineffectually from her fingertips to batter against the reavers… something nagged at a corner of her mind.
Something… there was something there. Hotaru remained, seeming not to be slowed down in the slightest, and regarded Usagi curiously. Eric ejected a battery from his rifle, sliding another into place before the first struck the ground, yelling something that Usagi couldn't hear as he tried to ready his gun through the slowed time.
But then it was too late, and the scene was frozen, three reavers regarding her with their unblinking, sinister eyes, claws twitching and scrabbling against the ground as though the beasts were embarrassed, unsure of what to do with her.
Crystal. Something in the crystal.
What was it? What was it that baffled it so? Was that crystal the key? It was similar, and surely a token of the mistress's powers, but was it for it? Or another?
Thoughts projected into the flesh-being that carried the token. Through that token, it could reach her mind, but slowly, reluctantly. She fought against it, somehow, resisting its attempts.
Still, there were two answers.
Destroy her and devour the crystal, integrate that token into itself and increase its capacity… yes.
Goal decided, it moved into motion again.
Rei's vision was nothing more than a black field with dizzied blurs of color and sparkling motes of white light swimming through it. The monsters were strong — obscenely so. She couldn't breathe, though she was aware of herself hurtling through the air. It hurt… lines of fiery pain traced themselves through her chest, hot moisture dribbled freely from her lips.
That wasn't right. She wasn't supposed to drool. But it was hard, so hard to remember through the veil of pain and disorientation, what she was supposed to do.
Her senses flickered and vanished briefly, and she found herself sitting, without pain, without clothing, and utterly alone.
A field of small white and yellow flowers stretched as far as she could see, distant hills providing contours to the area, and far further mountains topped with pale snow. She tried to speak, but words wouldn't come, until a figure she recognized stole the desire to do so from her.
Serenity smiled softly, standing in her regal dress, offering Rei a mournful glance before kneeling at the girl's side. "You've fought well, haven't you?" she asked.
Rei blinked away tears. Fought? She had, but not well — she was useless, ultimately, unable to do any real damage against the threat that had attacked.
Understanding was readily apparent on her face, and she smiled sadly. "You think you've not done enough yet?"
Rei shook her head.
"You would go back and fight further, then?"
She nodded quickly, tears spilling across her face; she couldn't abandon her friends, after all.
"Then there is… perhaps, one thing that may remain. If you can reach it, in the old palace on the moon, there were once four swords."
Rei blinked in confusion, as Serenity's gaze grew distant. "To each of the Senshi, each of the guardian knights of the realm we took from Jurai and made our own…." She smiled, one hand gently wiping away Rei's tears. "Flamberge was lost before even I sent you forward. But it would not serve you well anyway…. On the moon, in the old palace, Sanglamore remains.
"If you can retrieve it, it may be of some small aid to you. Now, child," Serenity said, frowning gently, and drawing Rei's face close. "If you wish to live, you must take the power to do so into yourself, where it will do you the most good."
Rei nodded in understanding, preparing herself to return to the battle.
Ranma reacted without thinking, simply pitching his body in the path of the girl that was hurtling down the street. He flung himself backwards to cushion her landing, and swore loudly when the girl lolled in his grasp, eyes fluttering weakly, blood trailing from her lips. The crowd parted easily for him as he drifted downward, swearing further and already ablaze in the healing blue flame that Tsunami had gifted him with.
"Come on," he grumbled, feeling the girl's life force waver uncertainly. "Come ON!" He threw more power into the flame, sinking to his knees and focusing the whole of his being on making it enough. "I'm not going to let you die!" he yelled. His head swam with the effort, and he tried not to think about the barrier that he was still maintaining to cordon off the radiation. "Don't die," he pleaded. "I can't handle more people dying…."
The girl twitched, curling closer to him, as though to draw more of the blue flame into herself. Still focusing, Ranma gritted his teeth. "Come on," he swore, shifting forms and converting mass to energy.
Without warning, the girl moaned weakly, raising her head despite the unsteady wavering of her life force, and hugged Ranma tightly. Ranma bit back her protests, remembering how Tsunami had healed her, once. Perhaps that was more efficient, and indeed, after merely a few seconds, the flickering flame of her life was restored to what it should have been.
Ranma drew away from her, dazed, rising to her feet with the still unsteady girl. Rei wobbled, and flushed furiously. "I'm sorry," she said after a moment.
"You lived," Ranma stated simply, lifting her into the air and teleporting, trying to dismiss the ordeal from her mind.
Usagi felt herself moving backwards — being moved backwards, really, by Michiru, though Hotaru remained where she was, as the reavers advanced simultaneously.
What was going on? What were they doing that kept her from doing anything? She knew that she was supposed to fight them, but instead, all she could do was stare vacantly. Why?
A claw pulled back, the sound of air parting around it audible, ominously loud and slow, the point aimed for her chest, and then the claw shot towards her viciously, moving at an appreciable speed despite the slowness of the world about her.
The claw was halted at the last possible instant, the same figure in the red robes, holding her left hand towards the reavers, right arm curled supportively about Rei.
The right hand attracted her attention, though she couldn't discern why. A gem glinted from the wrist of that arm, and Usagi felt her hand drawn inexplicably towards it. Yes, a voice assured her from the depths of her own mind, she needed to touch that gem. That would set things right.
Her hand rose slowly, as a slowly blurred swarm of claws lashed at the barrier of force separating them from the creatures.
And then, while Rei wobbled unsteadily away, there was contact, as Usagi's fingertips brushed against the brilliantly glowing green gem.
Two beings stared at one another across a great distance, though there was nothing else in that place but the two women. Both were female. Both bore regal expressions. Both were clad in pristine clothing. One blonde, with long locks of hair flowing to her ankles, in a white gown, the other with turquoise and aquamarine hair fanned out behind her, waving slowly in an unseen wind, in immaculate robes.
The blonde woman bowed her head, unable to meet the other's eyes. "I… I made an error, I think," she said at length.
"Mistakes are made," the somewhat younger appearing woman answered, offering a sympathetic smile.
"I thought you hated us."
"Then that was your mistake. I never stopped loving you, merely that my power in some spheres is… limited."
Raising her eyes, the blonde whispered, though it was heard easily across the distances of that non-place, "I wish to atone."
"There is nothing to atone for," the younger woman answered, shaking her head. "If it's about leaving me… I forgive you."
"There must be something I can do?" the regal blonde pleaded.
"I cannot ask you to cast aside what you fought so hard for."
Tears brimming in her eyes, the blonde dropped to her knees. "I no longer want what I fought for. I was foolish and blinded. What I fought for is a thing become corrupted by time and powers greater than I had imagined. I wish to allow my successors, who fight so hard and so valiantly, to create a future that they desire, not the one I thought we wished to have."
"Then you must break the bonds that tie you and yours to that path."
"I… yes. I will do that. It is the least I can do for you, Tsunami."
"Welcome home, Amatera Omiki."
Usagi was vaguely aware of the Ginzuishou on her chest, as the power constructing it… rippled… and then it revealed itself, shining brightly. Ranma ignored her, struggling to maintain her barrier, though Usagi was dimly aware of her hands rising, her right hand never leaving contact with Ranma, and gliding up the redhead's arm, until a hand rested on each shoulder.
A feeling of finality flowed through her, as the Ginzuishou on her chest, the crystal that was the key to so many of their plans, crumbled to dust, and then something finer, and then… nothing.
And with that, the lethargic slowness that had occupied her mind so much of the time vanished, allowing her to gasp, feeling the power flow from her to Ranma. Not the crystal's power, anymore, but solely her own.
That power manifested itself, violently, and suddenly, and the glimmering barrier of wavering force on the horizon shifted instantly, no longer blue and shifting, but solid gleaming white, one large black streak across it, and smaller white planes of force standing as attendants to the monolithic structure.
Ranma staggered, turning male again, and smiling grimly. "That's the stuff," he whispered, stepping away from Usagi and vanishing. He reappeared less than a half-heartbeat later, sword in hand, and grinned savagely at the reavers. "You lose," he announced, drawing the massive blade.
Hotaru, once again able to move, dashed across her field of vision, tending the fallen Mamoru as he climbed to his feet unsteadily. The reavers, perhaps denied the Ginzuishou, erupted towards Ranma in a mad frenzy of slashes, all rending claws and sudden movement. Mindful of the refugees, Ranma rose into the air above them, slinging his sword over his shoulder.
Washuu and Setsuna turned in tandem to watch as the barrier rippled, shifting its composition, and becoming more stable. Setsuna didn't comprehend the change, but Washuu was unable to hold in a gasp at seeing it.
"What?" Setsuna asked sharply, turning to look at the scientist. "Is the barrier going to fall?"
"No," Washuu said quietly. "That's… that's a Light Hawk Wing."
"Ah… think of it as a very primal force field, I suppose. They're monstrously difficult to create; they take more power than most suns can provide," she mumbled. "So who summoned one here? Ranma would destroy himself if he tried to channel that much energy so soon."
"That much power?" Setsuna asked apprehensively, staring at the barrier.
Turning her attention to her computer, and instigating a new bevy of tests, Washuu mumbled, "They're easier to maintain than to summon, but still…. Who has that kind of power?"
Setsuna said nothing, merely frowning and looking vaguely disturbed.
"Is something wrong?" Washuu asked.
"Do you know that feeling, where you've planned and worked for something, and some unknown factor comes in from nowhere and destroys all of your hard work and planning in a heartbeat?" Setsuna asked nervously. "I have that feeling that something went dreadfully wrong."
Snorting, Washuu replied, "I call it 'the Mihoshi factor'."
The mechanized interface whirred to life as summoned, absurdly human-like features descending from the central computer's dome and turning to blink at the speaker. "Yes?"
"How long until we get to Earth?"
"Current course and headings indicate that we should be able to reach Sol system within two standard days, given minor variance for galactic weather conditions."
Mihoshi sighed, slumping in her seat, her uniform slightly disheveled.
The computer blinked at her again, prompting, "Is there anything else?"
"Can't we go any faster?" she pleaded. "Tenchi said that he wanted me to do my best, and this is taking too long!"
"Without breaking formation with the advance convoy, we are constrained to our current deadline, Mihoshi. Perhaps you should take a break, and rest?"
"I don't want to," Mihoshi pouted. "I want to get to Earth faster."
"You are welcome to attempt to improve on my current route, but we are unlikely to find a more efficient path at this juncture."
Mihoshi shrugged indifferently, idly punching a button, and calling up the display. She stared at the path in confusion, and complained, "This will take forever! Can't we just take another way?"
Yukinojo regarded her momentarily, then warned, "Changing route mid-jump would be inadvisable."
"But you just said that I was welcome to find a better route!" Mihoshi complained, absently stabbing at the display with one finger, eyes firmly fixed on Yukinojo. The computer chirped negation, a low grinding, unpleasant noise. Unbeknownst to her, the current course heading shifted its route, going in a straight line through a clearly labeled black hole.
The second she removed her finger, the computer changed the course back.
"That route adjustment has been considered and calculated. Changes would extend travel time by an unknown duration."
The blonde sighed unhappily, slumping over the console. "This is boring, and I want to help," she pouted.
Needing only a minute of Hotaru's aid, Mamoru grunted sourly, leveling his own blade the reavers, and attacking one from behind while they waved their claws at Ranma in agitation. Faster than he could react, the monster wheeled about, a pair of savagely barbed claws swinging towards his midsection.
They were deflected by a faint blue force field, and Ranma admonished him from nearby, "Careful. They're faster than they look."
Mamoru stared at the boy floating at his side, and blinked. "Why did you help me?" he asked, uncertain.
"You kill reavers," Ranma answered simply, taking his sword from his shoulder.
A glimmering of understanding reached through the layers of anger he held for Ranma — it was exactly as Cologne had said. "Okay," he allowed. "I'm still not happy about you threatening Usagi, but I think I understand."
"Great, let's get to work," Ranma responded, teleporting behind the reaver immediately before Mamoru.
Ranma's great sword cleft easily into the reaver, and he spun, leaving Mamoru against the weakened reaver by himself. Eric finished slamming the third battery home and leveled his rifle at the same reaver Mamoru was fighting.
Not looking directly at the beam of light, Mamoru set into the damaged reaver, his blade only just barely able to wound it. Weakened by the prodigious gash that Ranma had already inflicted, the reaver was able to only struggle weakly, and nothing else before it finally stilled.
In that time, Ranma had already slain another reaver at the cost of a sizable gash to his shoulder, and the third was destroyed messily through Hotaru's silence glaive surprise. Ranma grunted, one hand deflecting the wayward wash of acidic blood, then standing uneasily.
Hotaru charged the boy, grabbing onto him excitedly and dropping the glaive at his feet. "Ranma-san!" she exclaimed happily. "I knew you could come and save us! It was really weird, and it got all strange when the monsters came, but you showed up and made everything better!"
Ranma stared at the girl who had latched onto him with no small amount of confusion. "Um," he managed after a moment. "Yeah. That's my job."
He grimaced suddenly, nudging Hotaru out of the way momentarily to allow him to sheathe his sword. "Yosho," he grumbled. "I need to check for anyone else who's in trouble."
"Wait," Usagi called out, climbing to her feet tiredly. Mamoru dashed to her side, sheathing his sword and helping her up.
Ranma frowned expectantly. "Yeah?" he mumbled.
Raising her eyes to meet his, she asked, "You… you were mad at my gem, right?"
"Uh…" Ranma managed, confused. He scratched his head nervously, while Hotaru released him, watching him curiously. "I don't know… there's something about that… where did it go?"
Usagi gazed down at her chest, where the crystal had once been. "It… Serenity told me… 'I release the seal I put on you, and ask that you seek your own future'," she quoted faithfully. "I don't know why it was taken away, but…." She smiled oddly, shaking her head and glancing at the white barrier of force. "I'm willing to trust her. There are other answers, aren't there?"
"I guess," Ranma allowed, frowning. "I'm, uh… sorry about that. I didn't mean to scare you there… just was wondering why you were using the reaver's power."
She shook her head quickly. "The crystal's been destroyed," she declared. "I don't think we'll ever see it again."
"Well… okay, I guess." Shaking his head, Ranma mumbled, "I should check with Yosho."
"Can you take me with you?" Rei asked, finally able to stand steadily.
"Why?" Ranma asked, frowning.
"I need to get something…" she said, glancing at Usagi, and biting her lip nervously. "Serenity told me that there was a weapon I could use on the moon."
Ranma stared at her for a long, silent moment, considering, then nodded. "You make fire, right? I guess something else might come in handy. So you just want me to take you there?"
"Er… if it's not too much trouble to fly me to the moon," Rei mumbled, bowing her head.
He strode to her side, and extended a hand to her. "I can manage that," he said confidently. She accepted his hand nervously, and he grabbed her about the waist gently, nodding at Usagi, and again at Mamoru before disappearing.
Glancing at Cologne, who stared, seemingly lost in thought, Mamoru allowed, "I might have been a little quick to judge him."
Usagi smiled at him warmly, repeating Cologne's words from earlier. "'Our lives depend on all of us combining our strengths and working through this together.' I'm glad, Mamo-chan… I don't think we should be mad at him. We need his help, and he's a good person at heart. I can feel it."
"Of course," Cologne commented absently. "Teamwork is instrumental."
He nodded, sighing, "Of course."
Staring fixedly at the display on her visor, Ami admitted that she was completely baffled. "Maybe they're too scared?" she asked Yosho.
"Or maybe whatever they're doing, they don't see a need to come any closer," Yosho muttered. "What if they use another phase shift, while they're beneath us?"
Haruka stiffened instantly, glancing at the Marines who stood a short distance away, watching as the first of the packed sea of refugees began to move. "Can they?" she asked worriedly.
"They wouldn't," Yakumo assured her. "They're afraid of what happened the last time they did that. It scares them, and they know that they could put themselves at risk of me again. I think they're really scared of me. And something that Ranma did."
As if summoned, the boy appeared in the air a short distance away, carrying Rei with him. He set her down, frowning. "Why aren't the reavers attacking?" he asked, confused.
"We were just asking that," Yosho noted. "How are you, Ranma?"
"Fine," he allowed, glancing at the barrier of light momentarily.
"The reavers are running away," Ami said, frowning darkly. "Do you know why?"
"Not really," Ranma answered, scowling. "But I'm not sure how to feel about that, either. Rei wants to go to the moon to look for some weapon for herself there."
Rei nodded, admitting, "I don't know where it is, though. Serenity told me… that it was in the old palace on the moon. If anyone can get there, I think it'd be Ranma-san."
"I've been there before," he allowed.
"What?" Ami asked, confused.
"We need to know the way to the old palace on the moon to get the weapon, and she called it 'Sanglamore'," Rei managed.
"Oh." Letting the confused expression fade from her face, Ami studied her computer thoughtfully. "I think I can find an answer for that," she allowed. "The old palace on the moon… there!"
Ranma stared at the screen intently, then nodded. "Okay," he said, standing, "my partner knows where that is. Hell of a long way from where I went last time." Turning to Rei, he asked, "Are you ready?"
She nodded apprehensively, and Ranma took her hand, bearing her upwards, and then vanished.
Yosho frowned thoughtfully. "Sanglamore?" he asked Ami.
Shrugging helplessly, the girl admitted, "I don't really know what it is, but if it can help, I can't complain."
"Agreed," Yosho allowed, turning back to look across the refugees. "We should get ready to move soon."
Ranma used the coordinates that his partner had suggested, holding Rei close and prepared to leap back instantly should anything go wrong. She didn't notice, peering about the lunar surface in confusion. "I don't see anything," she protested.
"Down," Ranma mumbled. "It's all covered by dust. A hell of a lot of dust. Hang on. Ran-oh-ki can sense something… there we go." Jumping again, he found his eyes and hearing taxed, surrounded by an impenetrable and inky darkness.
He was aware of the proximity of the floor beneath him, though. He frowned, thinking, and focused for a moment, releasing one hand from around the girl. She shifted against him slightly, sending waves of soft noise echoing about, though they could only report the floor, since there wasn't enough air to convey sound beyond the bubble he had taken with him.
Holding his hand aloft, and focusing carefully, he summoned a ball of bluish energy, not grasping it to create a sword. It floated over his hand, shedding a soft, blue light on everything beneath them, granting it a somehow… special glow, making the entire place seem somehow fantastic, despite the fact that it was only a box-like room, filled with fallen pieces of rubble and coated generously with dust.
"Wow," Rei breathed out, while Ranma set her down and glanced around, raising his arm to shed more light across the room. "I think I know what this room was."
"What's that?" he asked, transferring his spare gem from his wrist to his ear.
"This was an antechamber. There's a guard room… a storeroom for weapons down that hall," she explained, pointing. She moved to take a step forward, but Ranma pulled her back. "What?" she asked, turning to look at him expectantly.
He pointed to the dust she had kicked up, which had risen slightly above her ankles. Leading her away, she watched as the bubble of air he maintained drew away, leaving the swirling dust to fall straight down. "Stay close. In fact, let me carry you — I don't know if you can survive too far away."
She nodded eagerly, taking his wrist and glancing behind her fearfully. "I didn't realize… I thought there would be air here, still."
"Nope," Ranma answered, furrowing his brows. "And I think if there was, it would have gotten bad. Pops told me about how air trapped in deep caves can turn poisonous…" he trailed off, sighing. "Never mind. Let's go to this little guard room of yours." He hefted her, simple in the reduced gravity of the moon, and drifted above the several-centimeter deep sea of dust.
The hallways were alternating worked stone and some kind of tile, though Ranma couldn't tell what it was. He had the vague sense that Ran-oh-ki would have loved to eat one, and resisted the urge to smirk at that. They were there for a reason, after all. "Where next?" he asked, glancing around, his light brightening with a thought and illuminating the long hall to the end. Doorways darkened the columns at regular intervals, and Rei stared for a moment before pointing at one midway down, on the left.
Ranma obligingly drifted in that direction, stopping before the door and setting Rei down. "Huh," he muttered, eyeing the solid-looking door. "What next?"
"Well," Rei said, studying the door closely, frowning in consternation, "the only way through, as I remember it, is to find the key… the captain of the guards normally carried that with her."
"Great," Ranma mumbled, "so, where's the key?"
"I don't know," Rei admitted. "I… I think Minako… no, who Minako was…." She winced, rubbing at her forehead. "Well, they should be where… where… I'm not positive, actually."
Ranma grunted, tapping once against the door to sound it out. It didn't give when he pushed against it either, even when Rei attempted to throw her strength into it, kicking up small clouds of dust with her movements. "Wait," Ranma said, motioning her back. "This is stupid."
"Do you have a better idea?" she asked, upset.
"Kinda," he grumbled, phasing through the door. He only stepped halfway through it, leery of taking the bubble of air with him, and leaving the girl alone in the vacuum. Summoning another ball of light to his right hand, his left still with Rei, he glanced around. Deciding he knew enough, he stepped back to her side, releasing the secondary globe of light. "Okay, ready?"
She nodded, impressed with his solution. "That will help a bit," she admitted, as he teleported the pair of them into the room.
"So," he asked, looking through the rows of furniture that had collapsed to dust long ago, "what are you looking for, exactly?"
Rei pointed at a far corner of the room, saying, "I think it's something over there."
"What, you've been here before? How do you know anything about all this stuff, anyway?" Ranma asked, raising his hand to increase the radius of the light as they approached a massive stone coffer.
"I… I think I was here in a former life," Rei explained hesitantly.
Ranma frowned, stopping before the stone coffer, and setting Rei down. "This it?" he asked.
She nodded, struggling with the lid, manageable only due to the lower gravity. Ranma tapped his feet impatiently as the lid slammed into the dust opposite the container, not kicking up any, thanks to its distance from the protective air around him. Rei peered inside, retrieving a long sheathed weapon from its depths.
The scabbard was green, worked through with yellow slashes to denote something, though what that was, was completely beyond Ranma. The blade itself was very fine as she drew it, unblemished despite resting where it had for countless centuries, if not millennia, not nearly the length of the Tetsusaiga, but longer than Mamoru's short blade, or Haruka's.
"This… this is Jupiter's weapon," she said, frowning. "But why did Serenity tell me to get it?"
"Probably because she thought it would work better against the reavers," Ranma answered, having no clue whom Rei was referring to. "If that's it, we should get back. Ran-oh-ki tells me that everything's okay for now, but I don't like being this far away for long."
Rei sheathed the weapon, which vanished from her fingertips in a dazzling gout of sudden flame, then nodded, frowning. "Yes."
"Wait," Ranma protested, staring around the room in confusion. "Where did the sword go?"
Rei made a confused noise, and produced it from the same brief flash of roiling flame again. "I'm not sure where it goes," she said, fascinated, "but we have other things that will go away and come back when we need them, too."
"I guess if the Tetsusaiga can change sizes, I can't complain," Ranma grunted, lifting Rei off the ground again. "Let's get going."
He teleported them in near the upper level of the glowing barrier of force, causing Rei to gasp and clutch him tightly, sending her sword away at the same time. He smirked, shaking his head. "Look at the refugees," he noted, pointing.
Fascination overcoming fear, Rei managed to pry herself away from him enough to look as he had instructed. Indeed, the line was crawling along from the harbor ever so slowly. "Wow," Rei managed, surprised. "Does that mean that we'll make it?"
"I hope so," Ranma grumbled. "Where to next?"
"I… I need to ask Mako-chan if I can use her weapon, Ranma-san."
Ryouga nearly jumped as Ranma appeared just as suddenly as he had vanished, bearing the girl in the red skirt — Rei — with him.
Ranma set the girl down, glancing around uncomfortably. "Yo, Ryouga. I guess you handled those reavers okay?" he asked cautiously.
"Yeah," Ryouga grunted, walking over some of the building's rubble to stand closer to Ranma. "Once you left, they all ran away."
The other boy blinked, furrowing his brow in consternation. "Running away," he spat. "I hate it when they run away."
Ryouga took a half-step back before he could stop himself. "Ranma?" he asked worriedly.
Ranma shook his head, sighing, "Running away means they're up to something, Ryouga."
"Yeah, we guessed that. We think they're just feeling out our defenses, waiting to see what new tricks we've gotten."
"Probably," Ranma agreed, nodding. "By tonight, we'll probably be headed out of the city, and we can talk this over with Washuu and Yosho — a whole hell of a lot's happened, and it's not all good."
"I know exactly what you mean," Ryouga sympathized. "We're going to start heading up the road to tighten the coverage on the refugees. Can you still find us once we start walking?"
"Uh…." Ranma frowned, blinking. "Yes," he said after a moment. "As long as you have a radio, Ran-oh-ki can tell me where you are."
Ryouga nodded tersely, unsure of what else to say before blurting out, "Hey, Ranma? When this is all over, you want to spar?"
Ranma stared at the other boy in confusion. "What?" he asked after a moment. "Spar? We fight all the time, Ryouga."
"We did," Ryouga admitted. "But we never tried just sparring. I think… it would be good. Make sure your skills aren't slipping from your powers," he managed, grinning.
Ranma snorted, smiling faintly. "Okay," he said, glancing at Mousse as the bespectacled boy approached, "and you too, I guess. 'course, I'm still going to win, but why not?"
"Oh, that's okay," Ryu drawled, "once you're done beating them into the ground, I'll show you how a real martial artist fights."
Ranma burst into laughter at that, nearly falling to his knees, and clutching his stomach as he did so. Ryouga was unable to resist, and managed a laugh of his own, echoed more strongly by Mousse. Ryu feigned confusion as long as he could, but burst into a wide grin shortly.
Recovering, Ranma rose, wiping at his eyes and shaking his head. "Okay, we'll all spar if we got time tomorrow, deal?" he asked.
"Sure thing," Ryouga replied, grinning. Sobering slightly, he added, "It'll be good for all of us, I think."
Ranma nodded, his smile fading. Rei approached, somewhat subdued, carrying a sword Ryouga hadn't seen before. "What's that?" he asked her.
"This is… this is Mako-chan's sword," she answered, studying it with no small amount of fascination. "Serenity called it Sanglamore, but Mako-chan says it was called the Glint Blade… I don't know why they have different names, though." She drew the blade to allow everyone to see it.
Ryouga frowned, studying it. It was a tachi, as far as he could tell, the edge stunningly razor perfect by his keen eyesight. But for all of the sword's craftsmanship…. "Will it work on a reaver?" he asked.
Ranma nodded, reaching towards the blade, his fingers hesitating centimeters away, as a sudden flurry of writhing electricity crawled across the blade, enveloping it in a crackling skein of power, snapping towards the boy's hand hungrily. He drew back his fingers, raising an eyebrow. "If electricity bothers them, then I guess so," he allowed.
Rei's eyes widened as she stared at the blade in fascination. "Wow," she managed after a moment, sheathing it carefully.
"Right," Ranma mumbled, furrowing his brow in thought. "I should take you back, in case we get attacked again."
Rei nodded quickly, saying, "Please, Ranma-san."
He took her hand and lifted her gently, nodding at Ryouga and the other boys. "I'll see you guys later." And then he vanished again.
"Damn," Ryu muttered. "I've seen that a bunch of times, and it still freaks me out."
"Just disappearing like that," he said, shaking his head. "Anyway, let's start moving, before we run out of refugees to protect."
"Right." Ryouga glanced to Makoto and Minako, standing on the opposite side of the street with Ray.
Rei bowed politely to Ranma as he set her down, leaving after a quick survey to check that everyone was okay. Cologne, Usagi, and the others were walking alone, not keeping pace with the crowd. Eric was walking on the opposite side of the street, Michiru at his side, and Hotaru sitting on his shoulder comfortably while Michiru bore the glaive for her.
Usagi turned to face Rei, smiling warmly. Rei returned the smile, noticing that something in Usagi's demeanor seemed… different. Subdued, somehow. "Did anything happen?" she asked worriedly.
Shaking his head, Mamoru answered, "No, thankfully. Did you find what you were looking for?"
Rei nodded, hefting the oddly light sword in one hand. "Ranma-san took me to it, and Mako-chan said I could use it… but I don't really know how to," she admitted quietly.
Mamoru frowned, thinking about that. "Funny," he said, scratching his head. "I don't know how to use a sword, either, but I could use this one…."
Usagi brightened, and offered, "Maybe you could teach her, then?"
"I suppose…. Could anyone else?"
Cologne turned to look over her shoulder, and noted, "There are plenty of people in my village who know how to use all manner of weapons, and are more than willing to teach a woman of strong will."
"Er… how far away are we from your village, anyway?" Rei asked, glancing at the seemingly endless procession of skyscrapers.
"I would guess only a short while by car, much longer by foot," Cologne answered, shaking her head. "I'm uncertain. Even after the refugees are moved, it will most likely take some time."
"I don't know," Rei said, staring at the sword. "I… it's like I can remember how to use a different sword… very similar to this one, though." She shook her head, looking at Usagi and Cologne.
Cologne shrugged, turning her attention forward, while Usagi offered the other girl a hopeful smile. "Well, maybe it won't be that much of a worry, Rei."
Ranma reappeared adjacent to Washuu as the scientist consulted some data or another through her terminal, Setsuna sitting nearby, looking winded. Nuku was sleeping against the same tree they had napped against earlier that day, Ran-oh-ki resting in her lap.
Frowning, Ranma noticed the corpse of a slain reaver, not terribly far away. "Hey," he called out, causing Washuu to spin in alarm.
She rolled her eyes, mumbling, "Will you stop sneaking up on me?"
"I'm not sneaking up on you," he said defensively.
"Right, right…." The redheaded woman sighed, banishing her terminal and rising to her feet. "Are you okay, Ranma?"
"Fine," he assured her, staring at the slain reaver. "Why didn't you tell me you were attacked?" He glanced to his partner momentarily, realizing that Ran-oh-ki would have been aware of it, and yet had chosen not to notify him.
"You don't have to be the one who deals with every single threat," the scientist muttered, staring at Ranma levelly.
"I can try," he countered. "I need to do everything I can. How many people were hurt?"
"None," Washuu answered, smiling. "Your daughter is much more capable than you gave her credit for. She and Meiou stunned them long enough for the Marines to kill them."
As Ranma watched, a large truck backed up to the dead reaver, Marines jumping out to chain the corpse to the rear and haul it away, more Marines emptying sandbags onto the spilled ichor. "Oh," he said quietly. Sighing, he folded his legs beneath him, floating at a level slightly lower than Washuu's waist. She smirked, and summoned a cushion from somewhere, sitting across from him. "I… I… that's good," he said finally, unsure why something about that bothered him.
"Yes it is, Ranma," Washuu said confidently. "According to the numbers, very slowly, we're winning."
"Are we?" Ranma asked, frowning.
One of Norris's men glanced over from the radio, though Norris himself was absent. "Not entirely," he warned. He stared at a sheet of paper for a long moment before looking up and continuing, "We're still losing civilians with each encounter, so until we manage to move them all to safety — and we can be sure that they'll be safe — I wouldn't say we were 'winning'."
"Hush, you," Washuu growled, turning to look at the officer over her shoulder. He ducked his head apologetically, and focused his attention elsewhere.
"He's right though," Ranma said quietly.
"You need to be more confident," Setsuna countered from her position on the ground, looking upwards tiredly. "It's far from perfect, but I have a feeling that we're going to pull through this, which is more than I can say for how I felt yesterday."
Ranma grunted wordlessly, watching the refugees stream past, as ever more of Norris's Marines returned to the park bearing truckloads of supplies and larger vehicles as they prepared a convoy. Norris himself was at another rickety table someone had set up, which explained to Ranma why he hadn't seen the man before. He was poring over what looked like maps, likely planning the exact route to Cologne's village.
Deciding that Norris could manage things on his own, he fell silent, simply thinking and monitoring whatever reavers were nearby. Six… low underneath the city, moving slowly. Likely trying some new trick — perhaps destroying everything beneath the city so it would collapse. He frowned, and Ran-oh-ki mewled softly in his sleep, one ear twitching as his sensors scanned… but the reavers weren't devouring things beneath the city, they were simply waiting.
For what, he wasn't certain, but he'd already killed more than six that day alone. So what were they up to? Waiting for reinforcements?
He frowned, dropping his head as he considered.
Setsuna waited impatiently, a lump of nervous apprehension knotting itself up tightly deep within her. She tried to distract herself watching the people that walked past her to their theoretical safety. Washuu had retrieved the device that she had said would ensure that the reavers were chasing them, instead of the refugees, and was waiting for their safety to activate it.
Ryouga's team had arrived, the other boys taking up silent positions near Ranma wordlessly, while Makoto and Minako set nearer Setsuna, managing some quiet conversation. But it was painfully obvious that it was no more than idle chatter. Ranma himself hadn't roused to do much more than nod at the other boys, losing himself in thought quickly, meditating in his position over the ground. Washuu tended to sit near him, watching silently, though more often she was consulting her terminal to look for some bit information or another.
Eventually, however, Usagi arrived with the rest of her team, all of them looking bone weary, and the sun only just touching against the mountains in the horizon. Still, people were moving, and they were that much closer to being finished with the affair.
Rising to her feet and smiling faintly, Setsuna approached Usagi before the girl could reach her. "Usagi," she greeted her. "I had the strangest feeling that something had gone wrong."
Usagi smiled at that, an odd, sardonic smile. "Well… changed, maybe. I don't know about gone wrong," the girl said.
The knot of apprehensive worry tightened further. "What happened, Usagi?"
"Setsuna… the Ginzuishou… it's gone," Usagi explained reluctantly.
Setsuna stiffened, clutching the staff in her hand tightly. "Gone?" she asked quietly. "What do you mean 'gone', Usagi?" She hadn't even realized that she was trying to menace the girl before her until Mamoru growled at her, moving protectively to stand in front of her.
"Why are you worried about the Ginzuishou?" Usagi asked curiously.
Groaning, Setsuna shook her head. "Usagi," she explained very slowly, "we need it in order to establish Crystal Tokyo. If we don't have the Ginzuishou, then it can never come about!"
"Why do we need Crystal Tokyo, Setsuna?" Usagi asked again, her curious eyes trained firmly on the woman.
"Because it's the way things are supposed to be!" Setsuna exclaimed.
"You sure are working hard to make sure it happens, aren't you, Setsuna?"
"Of course I'm struggling to make sure that Crystal Tokyo comes about! Have you forgotten? That's my job!" the woman snapped.
"No," Usagi said very quietly, shaking her head. "Your job is to protect the Time Gate, and to serve me, right?"
"Of course! And you tasked me with ensuring the eventual creation of Crystal Tokyo."
"Did I?" the blonde asked seriously.
"Yes, in the future…." And then, in a very quiet voice, eyes wide with surprise, Setsuna managed, "Oh. I see…."
Sighing sadly, Usagi said, "I never told you to do that, Setsuna. Serenity… when the crystal broke, she said that maybe things should be different."
Setsuna's apprehension was now full-blown fear. "What do I do now?" she asked helplessly. Never before had she felt so lost, so alone….
"Maybe it's time for us to look, Setsuna. What do you think, Mamo-chan?"
"Maybe," he said doubtfully. "I think that's a long way away, though. For now we should probably just worry about getting ourselves safe, shouldn't we?"
She turned to look at him, and frowned. "Of course," she acquiesced. "But it doesn't hurt to think about things, does it?"
Mamoru bowed his head, sighing. "I guess you're right. I'm sorry. We never really talked about how things were going to be, did we?"
"Well then," Usagi announced cheerfully, smiling at him and Setsuna, "isn't now a good time to begin?"
Ranma roused himself from his meditations, staring at the last few stragglers as they were herded through the Gate, and followed by a number of the positronic laser carrying Marines. Lagging behind the Marines, and pausing in the twilight of the then-vanished sun, a few men stared about, hesitant. The light of the glowing white barrier of force remained, bathing the courtyard in a pale, nascent glow.
Norris strode to the Gate, Patterson at his side, along with the man who was taking care of the radio for him previously. He talked with the men in low voices, most of them nodding and walking towards the Gate, but two stayed behind. "I… I should stay and fight with everyone else who's fighting," one of them said, loudly enough for Ranma to hear. The other shook his head sadly, walking to safety.
Studying the man who remained for a long moment, Norris nodded. "Okay, if you're sure," he announced, motioning the last rush of normally armed Marines through the Gate. "Go ahead and stand with the defenders."
Washuu sighed, climbing to her feet and stretching, which captured the man's interest as he approached. She ignored him, walking swiftly to the still gleaming arch of metal, and fiddled with a panel for a moment. A moment was all it took, and the image of Australia, and the last few people still looking backwards, vanished in a brief haze of sparks and light, and then nothing more than Renmin Park.
Drifting near Washuu, and ignoring the newcomer for the moment, Ranma asked, "What next?"
Taking a moment to smile encouragingly at Ranma, Washuu turned her attention to the Gate. "Well," she said, touching a small row of buttons in quick succession, "you've shown me that the reavers are too smart to leave this here," she said. "The phase shift trap proved that. Leaving something like this would be too much of a risk, so I'll take it down and we'll take it with us."
"How long will it take to remove?" Norris asked worriedly. "I don't like the idea of staying here any longer than we have to, even if we have less people to look out for now."
Washuu turned to look at the man, raising an eyebrow as the entirety of the gleaming expanse of metal folded itself into a single disk, no more than twenty centimeters across and five thick. "Not long," she observed. "It's calibrating it that takes time."
"Then… I suppose we're ready to leave," Norris said, frowning. "Miss Hakubi, I'm a Navy man, and I'll manage the Marines to the best of my ability, and you'll not find a better tactical aide than Patterson, and Pavel is a genius with the numbers… but it looks like you're in charge of this motley crew."
Washuu sighed deeply. "I blame Noriyasu for this. He was in charge of things— Okay. Since I'm in charge, let's get moving as quickly as we can." Approaching the defenders, Ranma still attending her from a few centimeters above the ground, she yelled, loudly enough for the forty-six Marines standing behind them, "Okay, everyone, do I have your attention?"
Ranma surveyed them visually, remaining silent as all of them nodded their confirmation. "Great," Washuu said enthusiastically, "we're going to do the best we can, and we've got a long way to go before we find more allies, but if we work together, we can all make it. Everyone, I want you to stay in the teams you worked in today already, until we get to the village, that's the teams we're going to use. I don't have much more to say other than that I'm sure you're very tired, but hopefully, we can sleep along the way."
There were mumbles of agreement, and Washuu smiled, adding, "Let's make sure we all grab some form of provisions, load up, and get moving, okay?"
Not hungry at the moment, Ranma merely attended Washuu, frowning while everyone did as they were told, finding their way into the various assembled vehicles of the convoy. He remained at her side, calculating in his mind. "Hey," he said after a moment.
"Yes?" she responded, turning to look at him.
"You didn't sleep the entire time you were working on the batteries. And you didn't finish until last night, did you?"
She frowned at him dubiously. "If I say yes, are you going to knock me out again?"
"Maybe," he admitted. "We all need to be in good shape and well rested."
"That goes for you, too," she countered, placing her hands on her hips. "And I am in charge here."
He crossed his arms over his chest, not backing down.
After a moment, she sighed, and grumbled, "I'll sleep when we're moving out, with the proviso that you do, too."
Nodding, he said, "That's fair."
"Come on, before all the good seats are taken."
He followed her, Nuku trailing him, to eventually sort themselves into a hijacked tour bus, half of the seats missing. Ranma sat down in the empty space near the back, leaning against the wall after setting his sword to one side. A figure sat across from him, raising his head to blink tiredly at Ranma, who dimly recognized him. "Yakumo?" he asked.
"Ranma," he returned levelly, nodding, eyes flashing with some momentary insight, though he remained silent on it.
The engine rumbled to life, the rag-tag convoy slowly moving out, while Nuku curled up at Ranma's side, wrapping her arms about him and falling asleep nearly instantly. Washuu smirked, noting, "You promised you would sleep, Ranma."
"I'm not going anywhere with Atsuko hanging onto me," he mumbled.
"Better be doubly sure," she said, throwing a blanket from a supply box over Nuku, and taking another for herself. Ranma frowned as she smiled haughtily before mimicking Nuku, resting against him and shortly dozing off.
Ranma sighed, glancing at Yakumo. The man merely shrugged, moving a blanket aside to reveal Ami asleep at his side, head resting in his lap. "Seems to be going around," he commented.
The boy laughed softly at that, mindful of waking the sleeping girls. "So," he said after a moment, "what's your story?"
Yakumo's eyes flickered momentarily, and after a moment he said, "I used to be a human. Now I'm… well. I lost that."
"You too?" Ranma asked, surprised. "Are you Masu?"
"Wu," the man answered briefly. "A zombie, really."
"You look better than in the movies," Ranma observed.
"I'll be sure to file with zombie rights activists to complain," Yakumo drawled. "What about you?"
"I used to be human too," Ranma answered. "But… well, I asked you first."
"I don't like to talk about it," Yakumo said levelly.
Sighing, Ranma looked away. "Sorry for asking."
Yakumo growled, shaking his head. "No, I mean… okay. See, I was just fine, until I met this girl, and I would have died if she hadn't turned me into a… well, you know," Yakumo mumbled. "Not like I can hold it against her, though."
"I know what you mean," Ranma said after a moment. "The same exact thing happened to me."
Yakumo heaved an exhausted sigh. "What's the world coming to, eh? Immortal women with more than one face who change what you are and make you fight monsters…."
Ranma raised an eyebrow at that. "Immortal? I don't know…." He looked at Washuu thoughtfully. "Sometimes she does look like a little girl… or at least she used to."
For a long moment, Yakumo said nothing. Blinking, he shook his head, admitting, "I guess I got off pretty lucky. I mean… I only have this mark, really." He thumbed a headband off his bangs, revealing a Chinese character Ranma didn't immediately recognize on his forehead. "You got the eyes and the ears…."
"And the fact that I float, where most people walk," Ranma noted. "Or teleport around, or make glowing swords of energy."
"Hey," Yakumo protested, "I summon demons."
There was another extended moment of silence.
"Okay, well, I can't do that," Ranma admitted. "You seem like a nice guy, though."
"For a horribly inhuman monster," Yakumo commented mildly.
"I could say the same about myself. And she doesn't seem to mind," Ranma noted, nodding at Ami.
Yakumo flinched. "Well… she's a nice girl, but she's not Pai," he mumbled. "And you got yourself two girls, so who's talking?"
"Atsuko's a cyborg who's decided that she's my daughter, and Washuu's from another planet," Ranma returned.
Again, there was an extended moment of silence.
"Okay, you win that round," Yakumo chuckled softly. "Where are you from?"
"Japan. Spent a bit of time in China training, but really, all over, I guess."
"You don't say?" Yakumo asked.
"I do," Ranma answered, looking over his shoulder through the bus's low window at the city receding in the distance, glowing barrier of light still visible. He frowned slightly, then examining the girl and woman that were both clinging to him. "I can do this," he mumbled.
"Nothing," Ranma said, shaking his head and focusing. After a heartbeat, he managed his attempt, his double floating slightly over his head. Yakumo stared, eyes widening. "Don't worry," Ranma added quickly, speaking from his male-body. "It's just another me."
She teleported away, leaving Ranma to shiver faintly. How eerie, to think of something that was him as something else…. "Another you?" Yakumo asked incredulously. "How many are there?"
"Just one, but I can split in half," he said conversationally.
"You win that one, too." There was a moment of silence before Yakumo spoke again, commenting, "I can't die."
Furrowing his brow, Ranma thought. "I'm pretty sure I can, but I've never tried it before. You win that one."
Yakumo chuckled again. "You know, the reavers hate you," he noted.
Ranma grinned. "Good for them."
"I thought you'd say that. They're scared of you, too."
"How do you know?" he asked, intrigued.
Ranma teleported to the point that the barrier had been erected from. The soldiers guarding it had already been summoned back by Norris, and from there, sent through the Gate to Australia, but the barrier remained, centered and focused on the gem she had left behind.
She frowned, leaning forward to study it. Not the one she had left behind anymore. Where it had once been stark cobalt, it was now white, luminous like a pearl, with only faint hints of blue. "Hmm," she mused, reaching carefully forward to grasp it. It was warm in her hands, and the wall of light nearly instantaneously collapsed, folding into a small bubble that enclosed her. She frowned at that, studying the gem, and feeling a vague tug that warned her that someone else needed it.
Teleporting to a point above her otherself, she studied the ragtag fleet of busses and cars as it rode away from the city, still clutching the gem in her hand. The bubble of power faded, leaving her with only her eyesight in the darkness. She shook her head, turning her attention to the jewel. The white had faded in intensity, leaving the jewel a milky bluish-white, faint auras of both white and blue radiating from the sphere.
The blue was simply a faint nimbus, while the white was a flaring spike, pale as it was even in the darkness. It speared into the night, like the needle on a compass. Ranma frowned again, following its guidance to another bus, which she phased through easily.
While most of the others not counting the driver were asleep, two remained awake, staring at Ranma's sudden arrival in astonishment. "Who are you?" the man asked cautiously, one hand on his sword.
"Ranma," she answered, smirking. "I guess you wouldn't remember."
"I think I do," the blonde answered quietly. "Hotaru-chan explained that to me, at least. And I saw you earlier today…. What did you need to come here for, Ranma-san?"
Ranma held the gem out, frowning. "I know we got off to a bad start, but… when you grabbed my shoulders when the reaver was attacking us, you did something. This used to be one of my gems. I've never seen it white before, and I don't want to wake up Washuu to ask her about it, so I wanted to know if you knew anything. If you weren't sleeping, anyway."
Usagi took the proffered gem, smiling. The white aura flared brighter, shedding soft illumination over the three of them. "I don't know," she said absently. "It's… it's not quite like the Ginzuishou…. Mamo-chan? What do you think?"
The man frowned, plucking the gem from her fingers and holding it between them while he studied it closely. "I've never seen a stone like this," he admitted. "I don't know what to make of it."
Usagi turned to Ranma, and asked, "What do you plan to do with it, Ranma-san?"
Ranma tapped at the gem on her ear, smiling softly. "Don't need it," she said. "And something tells me I can't use it anyway. Keep it, if you think it'll help. It let you make that barrier, right?"
The girl nodded, frowning. "I… I think I did… but I needed your help to make it into a white wall… then it was easy to leave it that way."
Mamoru raised an eyebrow, commenting, "Do we really need a replacement for the Ginzuishou? Aren't we trying to change things?"
"That's true," Usagi admitted. "You should hang onto it then, Mamo-chan."
The man's eyes widened in surprise. "Me?"
"Yes," she said, still smiling. "If it's important, I'm sure it will come in handy."
Ranma shrugged, levitating towards the roof of the van. "I gotta go," she said, "I'll probably see you later. Thanks for making the wall that stopped the radiation, that helped a lot, since mine was wearing me out."
Usagi nodded at him, eyes bright with happiness before Ranma teleported away.
To be continued.
Author's notes: The pre-readers have been sacked. No one has yet dared brave this fic for grammar and spelling. Thanks to Slacker, Bjorn, Ginrai, and MageOhki for general impressions on the flow of the chapter.
|Layout, design, & site revisions © 2005||
Webmaster: Larry F