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by Jonathan Rosebaugh

Disclaimer: Ranma 1/2 characters property of Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video. I lay no claim to the characters and situations which I am using, nor do I lay any claim to sanity.

Chaos tends to gather and swirl in certain places. Like many other things which humans don't understand, we have scores of sophisticated explanations for this. The quantum physicist will suggest something about strange attractors while the student of the arcane arts will make grand speeches about Fate and Destiny. What this student will not be able to tell you is that some of these centers reoccur all across the Multiverse. One of these reoccurring places is a section of Tokyo known as Nerima.

Nerima is the sort of place where people try to ignore things which are out of the ordinary. This is why when the man walked out of the alley, the locals conveniently forgot that he hadn't walked into it. That kind of focus was a survival skill in Nerima and people quickly turned their attention to guessing at the man's origins. Foreigners were not scarce in Nerima, as visitors were drawn from all over Asia because of the local concentration of martial artists, but this man didn't look as if he came from anywhere nearby. American, most who cared would guess, and they were right, after a fashion. The young man made his way quickly through the maze of streets, pausing once or twice to call up the map from memory, always an "interesting" process. He wished that the techs could find a quicker way to pass knowledge through short-term memory -- it always made it harder when they just dumped it into long-term storage, especially when, as usual, he wasn't allowed to count on his partner's assistance. Agent Michael Tellman reached the Tendo Dojo and stepped inside.

He knocked at the door of the house.

Quite likely the only reason the Tendo home is still standing is the fact that Ranma and Akane had school six days of the week. While they were away, Kasumi would have time to repair the shogi screens, replenish the pantry, and do general cleaning. Today, though, she hadn't done any of that. Explaining that her sister deserved a day off, Nabiki had, in an unusual display of generosity, hired a student housecleaning service to handle the daily chores, which is why she and Kasumi were relaxing by the koi pond.

Kasumi heard the knocking and started to rise, only to be interrupted by her sister.

"I'll get it. I was getting up anyway." Nabiki walked around the side of the house.

They stopped. Michael turned his face towards Annette, communicating something across their link. She nodded, then turned back towards the mountains. The air shimmered as she constructed walls of energy, binding pathways to channel a sound. Her instrument hung before her; she opened her mouth and sang. Stark and pure, like the combined sound of a well-matched set of tuning forks, the notes echoed across the landscape. The song built and built, adding reverberation, until finally it reached a breaking point. The force-instrument fell apart and Annette fell silent.

The others, not knowing what to expect, couldn't have said when the shadow appeared. But it was there, high against the sun, circling downwards toward them in an intricate dance of air currents and wings. In perhaps twenty seconds, it had reached them. It hung before them, about three meters above the ground, with folded wings. It was not so much hanging above the ground as the ground was hanging below it, as if the only reasonable frame of reference depended on it, rather than on the planet. The dragon took them all in with a glance. It opened its mouth and there was a sound of waterfalls. A voice formed in their minds, a voice of a woman with years beyond count, a voice of one who had known all too much and done all too little.

"Hello, my children. Why have you come here?"

Ranma stared. He had seen a dragon before, of course. But the Orochi was senseless, a dumb brute with no purpose but to protect its territory. This… Her scales glittered, reflecting suns that didn't shine in the sky. Her wings, like massive living foresails. And the eyes, filled not with burning menace, but with a sort of starfire, purifying, refining. Ranma didn't know what he saw, but he knew without thinking that it was too perfect for the world, that it didn't come from any here that he had ever known about. "Wha…" He closed his mouth, opened it again. "What are you?" A wondering tone, no hint of challenge.



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