An Aah! Megami-sama / Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon / Ranma ½ crossover story
by Jeffrey Vasquez
Disclaimer: I donít own any of these really recognizable characters. They belong to some really talented people that well, make a heck of a lot more money than I am. Since thereíd be no real point in suing me (since Iím broke), Iíll go ahead and start writing now. Aah! Megami-sama ("Oh My Goddess!") was created by Fujishima Kousuke, and is licensed to Kodansha and AnimEigo. Ranma ½ was created by Takahashi Rumiko, and is licensed to Shogakukan Inc., Kitty, Fuji TV, and Viz Communications Inc. Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon was created by Takeuchi Naoko, and is licensed to Koudansha, TV Asahi, Toei Douga, and DIC Entertainment. The Forgotten Realms setting is property of Wizards of the Coast.
Foreword: Special thanks go out to R.A. Salvatore for his amazing characters and depiction of the drow. Enjoy!
Keiichi woke for the third time, to the smell of incense and old books. His head throbbed no matter how still he laid, leaving him feeling rather nauseous and weak. He tried lifting his head a little, but the room spun so bad that he had vomited over the side of the bed.
"The mysterious traveler wakes!"
Keiichi allowed his head to roll weakly, trying his best to ignore the burning aftertaste of bile in his throat. His nose was filled with a churning acidic smell, one that made him swallow repeatedly in order to keep from purging his stomach again. He noted idly that the sun had yet to break the horizon, and that his room was bathed in the waning light of a fat and nearly full moon.
"I bet that you were wishing that you hadn't, eh?"
The manís voice was deep and filled with good-natured mirth. When Keiichiís eyes finally focused on the jovial man, he was immediately reminded of Santa — minus the red and white suit. He was a large man, stout, with a silver beard that draped down his chest like a bib. His heavy woolen clothing reminded Keiichi of some Franciscan Monks that he had seen in a movie once.
Well, at least he knew that he was somewhere close to religious people. He only hoped that they wouldn't think him crazy when they started asking questions about his arrival. The young man smiled against his wishes, trying to put himself and his host at ease.
"Welcome back to the land of the living, lad."
Keiichi swallowed and tried to find his voice, but the bile in his throat made him swallow his words.
"I don't suppose you understand a word of what I'm saying, eh? You've got the look of Kara-Tur about you, an' that's a long bit from Lantan, to be sure." The large man settled on the side of the stout bed, causing the frame to groan a bit. He lifted a small bowl from the floor and drew a wet cloth from its shallow depths. As the man cleaned his face and nose with the cool rag, Keiichi struggled to take over.
"Here now, there'll be none of that." The man's voice said crossly. "You're to rest yourself now. Sister Maerdith gave you a great walloping, and if I might say so, you weren't looking all that healthy when you dropped in on us to begin with."
Keiichi swallowed heavily and forced his pasty mouth into action.
"Can… I… have some water?" he croaked.
"Oh, ho! You do speak a civilized tongue!" The large man grinned. "I am ashamed to have thought so little of you, Master…"
"Master Keiichi." The man rolled the name off of his tongue as if he were tasting it. "Well then, Master Keiichi, what brings you all this way from the Far East?" The man bowed over the side of the bed and brought up a good-sized ladle, and carefully helped the young man to drink before Keiichi answered.
"Urd… I think."
"Urd? I'm not familiar with that. Is it plant, animal, or mineral?"
Keiichi snorted. "None of the above."
Keiichi nodded. There was no way that he was going to try and explain his relationship with the Norn of the Past. The man just nodded and set about laying a new damp cloth across Keiichi's forehead. "Can I ask a couple questions?"
Santa-man nodded again and busied himself with cleaning up the floor where Keiichi had emptied his stomach.
"Who are you, and where am I?" The man straightened quickly and looked terribly ashamed.
"Bother me! Where are my manners?" He chuckled jovially. "I am Evendur Thistlebeck, Seeker of Oghma. And you, my friend, are in the Gainsburrow Abbey, on the Northeastern tip of the island of Lantan."
Keiichi didnít know where Lantan was, or what exactly a Seeker of Oghma was either. So, rather than press for more information, he allowed himself to slump back against his pillow. Evendur smiled kindly in understanding and quickly finished up his work. By the time he was done, Keiichi was sleeping peacefully.
"Sleep well, Master Keiichi."
Maiganís Hill, Shadowdale:
Ranmaís arms felt like lead. The fighting had been going on for three and a half hours straight, and the martial artist was definitely feeling the effects. Her feet were caked in bloody mud and had become ten pounds heavier in spite of all the jumping and dodging that she did. Had she arrived with any shoes, they would have long since been lost in the sanguine mire. Her hands were bruised, and her knuckles were cut and bleeding from blocking the dark elves' wicked blades.
She had tried to pull off a Hiryu Shoten Ha, but these dark elves were cold-hearted bastards. She could insult them until she was blue in the face and all that she would get was a chilling smile that promised a long and painful death. The sadistic, hateful looks haunted her, not for their intensity — she'd seen the emotion on the faces of her rivals enough to brush them aside — no, it was the frequency that chilled her. Everywhere she turned, she saw another body with that same face.
It was evident that she was in shock. It was the same adrenaline induced detachment she had experienced after Phoenix Mountain, and while the reason wasn't the same, it was related. She had heard stories and seen war movies, but nothing had prepared her for the savagery of the real thing. Death literally walked the field with gruesome, bloody steps.
No matter where her eyes fell, someone was dying. A stout dwarf had been buried beneath six opponents, and summarily butchered. A tall dusky-skinned elf lost her head to a dark elf's backswing. Two wizards from both camps had literally blown each other into a great cloud of gory red mist. And the list of atrocities went on and on.
After a time, Ranma let herself fall into the dance of the battle, losing herself in the rhythm of the conflict. The visions of death were easier to ignore so long as she was moving. She addressed each new partner in turn, giving them her all, while ensuring that they didn't die from her blows. After each consecutive engagement, she found her strength waning, leaving her open to more and more cuts and scratches from her enemy's weapons. She was certain that there would be scarring, but at this point she didn't care.
So long as she got out of this alive, she didn't care.
"Moko Takabisha!" Her voice was raw, but worse still was the weak blast that she threw at a group of black-skinned elves. Rather than flying, they had been merely knocked from their feet. It was enough for the defenders to finish the quartet, but Ranma knew then and there that she was in dire straights.
Her chi was almost spent, and the ki in this place was weird… almost slippery. It was like a lead-bottomed cloud, swirling just out of reach. She was having trouble gathering it to replenish her reserves, and Ranma had never fully learned the technique to begin with. It was something that she had cobbled together from esoteric resources and a few really stupid manga. Still, the theory was sound, and if anyone could pull it off, it was Ranma Saotome! She just hoped that she figured it out before someone stabbed her in the back.
She absently blocked a downward slash from a new opponent, and quickly snapped the sword arm at the elbow with an upward strike. The crunch echoed through her arm, making her want to puke, but she savagely pushed it down and went about her work.
She spun rapidly, trying to ignore the elf's screams long enough to put him down. Her follow-through lacked the power to knock the elf unconscious, but there was still the disturbing crunch of his nose being broken. The shock of more pain running through his body numbed her opponent for an instant, giving Ranma the opening she needed. With a great "KIYAH!" she quickly finished him off with an axe kick that drove his face into the churned turf at her feet.
Damn! Her muscles burned, and her chest was heaving as she hungrily drank in the air about her. She needed a break. She'd never had to fight for this long or this hard without a breather before. There was no doubt that sooner or later she was going to make a serious mistake that was going to cost someone their life. Hopefully it wouldn't be hers. She really needed a break.
Miraculously, one came in the form of an elegant silver-haired swordswoman and a growling dwarf. Ranma quickly took stock of her surroundings, looking for the next adversary. She absently heard the woman and the dwarf shoot questions her way, but her blood was pounding in her ears. Even if she had been able to hear them, she knew that their words wouldn't have penetrated the horror that loomed before her.
The amount of bodies strewn across the bloody field was mind-numbing in its galling severity. But the sight that made her heart drop into the pit of her stomach were the men and women dispatching the foes that she had defeated. Crippled and helpless, the dark elves were quickly and efficiently… not excitedly murdered. Some fell to the defenders, but more than a few fell to their own. It was a terrible sight to behold, and the more that she watched, the angrier Ranma became.
Rage pumped adrenaline through her veins at a wild pace, and the buxom redhead savagely latched onto the slippery ki that surrounded her. It was instinctual. A one-in-a-million chance to succeed — and true to Saotome luck, Ranma had pulled a victory out of certain defeat. She wrestled the slippery life energies into a chokehold with her chi, and pinned it in a proverbial vise grip until the two energies began to mingle.
Slick and heavy on one side, and light and airy on the other, the spirit blood of this place was rich and powerful. It filled her. It burned her. It sang to her! Sweet Heaven above, it caressed her! She drew more into her and continued drawing, as much as she could bear and more. She rode the tsunami of power, surfing the fringe and walking the razor's edge. Each breath was labored, and sweat stood out on her forehead. It was all she could do not to lose herself to the vast flow of energy. There were no instructions in this maneuver, no manual or teacher to offer her guidance. Ranma was making this up as she went along.
She needed to end this conflict. That was what was important. She needed to stop the killing, even if it cost her life; she couldn't stand the thought of watching another life fade. Muscles tensed and her aura flexed with them, allowing it to spring to life around her in a dark, silvery-blue halo of angry flames. The dwarf squawked in surprise, and the silvery light that Ranma's body cast startled the woman as well. Both were pushed away due to the sudden burning chill that had begun to bleed off of the petite figure.
Thatís when Ranma felt it: the heat from the defenders, and the cold fury of their black-skinned enemies. It littered the field like a thousand swirling eddies waiting to be tapped. Ranma didnít understand why she hadnít noticed them before, but now that she had she was intent on using them to put an end to this stupidity. She called out to the heat and the cold and began drawing to her, weaving it into a tapestry of fury.
"Hiryu…" Her voice was nothing more than a whisper as she began moving in a tight spiral. The dwarf and the swordswoman could feel the power crackling off of Ranma and wisely chose to retreat. A ghostly silver mist began to swirl at the martial artist's feet, as she carefully crafted the spiral in her mind's eye.
Most of the combatants paused in their killing, to pinpoint the source of the sudden discomfort tingling up their spines. Each could sense the sudden change in the density of the air around them.
Her eyes glowed with silver fire, and jagged arcs of bluish white lightning danced about her body. Those that had not run at the sight of her fury noted a cold breeze whipping through their legs. Ranma cocked her fist, which more combatants took to be a sign to retire from the field.
"Shoten…" Her dainty voice echoed clearly in the silence as more and more combatants fled the field in search of cover from the growing wind.
"HAAAAAA!" Ranma's fist shot skyward, and the mother of all cyclones screamed to life around her.
From the shadows of her dark court, the Lady of Loss felt someone savagely take hold of the Shadow Weave. There had been no petitioning, or blood sacrifice. Someone had simply taken hold of the strand and tapped its energy. Shar cast her senses along the Weave and snarled.
She felt this wanton little thief drinking from her personal well of power and immediately sent a spell charging down the strand. Death would come to the whelp in time, but only after the mortal had been eaten from the inside out.
Shar watched the spell as it struck, but instead of taking hold as it should have done, it was absorbed and used to fuel the little thief's construct even further. The goddess of shadows growled and sent another spell, one with much more power this time, hurtling down the thread. Rather than consuming the offender in a ball of flame, as it should have, the spell was consumed and fed into the cyclone that the changeling had crafted.
Shar felt a sudden tugging sensation. It was small at first, but then it began to grow in strength. The Dark Lady suddenly found herself struggling against an irresistible current. It was all that the goddess could do not to be dragged into the shifting whirlpool of power.
Zuieez Víheron had stalked his prize patiently from the outskirts of the battle. As the numbers dwindled, he watched as her strength followed suit. Soon she would be exhausted, and in that fatal moment he would strike out to claim her as his prize. He had long ago seen that the battle was lost to House Jaerle, but out of every loss there could come a victory. Jarlaxle had taught him that valuable lesson long ago.
He cursed silently as the dwarf and the Silverhand woman made their way to the redheaded goddess. There would be no way that he would be able to circumvent their protective watch. Which meant that he would have to distract them somehow… but how to draw them away?
The drow wracked his brain for something… anything! But found only dead ends. His spells were exhausted, and all but three of his loyals had been killed; against the likes of Storm Silverhand — even a weary Storm Silverhand — three drow were little more than fodder. The dwarf looked like a solid wall of glimmering mithril. The warhammer that he held cocked at his shoulder was stained with gore, and looked thirsty for more.
Perhaps Zuieez would have to be satisfied with the gift of knowledge in this foray. He had known many of his brethren that had fallen because of hubris and greed. Two centuries of life had taught the drow that one should learn from the mistakes of others, lest he should fall prey to the same traps.
Yes. Patience was the order for today.
Zuieez began to retreat from the field, when something tickled his senses. It was soft at first but it soon became an insistent tug on his spirit, drawing him back to the killing fields. Silver fire danced on an urgent breeze, swirling and corkscrewing enticingly. He had never seen spellfire, but had heard the tales. Magic in its purest form, raw and untouched by the dictates of mortals, it was one of the rarest talents that had ever been discovered.
The drow topped the hill, and his breath caught in his throat at the sight unfolding beneath him. The redhaired goddess stood where he had left her, wreathed in a corona of silvery flames that stood off of her body at least five feet in every direction. Combatants were running in every direction, hoping to escape whatever spell was about to be unleashed. Others sought to interrupt her casting by filling her with arrows, only to have them be incinerated well before hitting their target.
He had thought her graceful when she fought, but as she began to dance in a tight spiral Zuieez learned a new definition of grace and power. Cold winds mixed with warm air suddenly as the petite warrior paused in the center of her spiral. Eddies of fog spun around her shapely legs, as she slowly cocked her fist. Something inside of Zuieez snapped, and his sense of self-preservation screamed for him to retreat, to run for his very life.
And he did.
He hastily cast a spell from one of his rings that tore open a door in space, just as her voice echoed throughout the forest. It was a primal scream that he would remember feverishly for the rest of his days. And then there was a roaring wind. The noise was deafening, and its pull was nearly impossible to break free of. He threw himself through the portal and tumbled roughly amongst the roots of a great Weir tree. He felt something snap beneath him, followed closely by a blazing inferno of pain along his right arm.
Had the dimensional door not been opened… had he not already been running through the door, Zuieez knew that he would have died in that accursed place. A moment of panic seized his heart as the wind began to pull him back through the construct. He cursed and scrambled for purchase with his good arm, before severing the connection with the door. Even after the magical doorway had shut, the relentless wind continued to tug at his tattered cloak, drawing his mystified gaze behind him. What he saw numbed his pain and left him feeling terribly small.
"By Vhaeraun's dark mask!"
A pillar of spinning silver fire dominated the night sky, roaring and shaking the earth with a berserker's fury. Even from where Zuieez lay on his back, a mile and more from the event, the shining column pulled at him. Well over a half mile in diameter, the magical cyclone looked like the finger of Selune stabbing angrily into the earth from the moon.
He watched, humbled, as trees and bodies danced in the fire's embrace and for the first time questioned the sanity of his vow to enslave the redheaded warrior. Her image came unbidden to his mind, and filled him with a lust so powerful that he groaned in longing. He knew that he would never escape the chains that this desire had bound him with. In the end it would destroy him, like so many of his brethren before him.
But Zuieez didnít care. The thought of possessing the haunting power and beauty that this maiden so openly displayed for the entire world to see made him laugh out loud. She would burn his soul to cinder and ash, and Zuieez laughed all the more. He would make her his own for a single instant before his death, and the Heavens would be conquered. That alone would earn him a place by Vhaeraunís side.
The drowís mad laughter danced on the roaring winds, and was swept into the dark night.
Mystra felt the unnatural pull on the Weave and immediately cast her sight along the flows. What she found chilled her. Memories of long ago Netheril surfaced, as Mystra relived once again the terror that Karsus had wrought upon Mystryl, her first incarnation. She probed the long perverted magics of Myth Drannor carefully, doing her best to avoid directly confronting Ranma.
"He has tapped into the mythal and the Weave." Mystra's voice sounded more than unsettled. "He is fueling the cyclone directly."
"Sever his connection." Selune's voice was cold and distant.
"If only it were that simple." The Lady of Mysteries struggled with the fear that was beginning to mount in her. She was starting feel Ranma's spirit seeping into the Weave, tainting it. "He has anchored himself to both by way of his spirit. He has effectively bonded himself to both the Weave and the mythal… as well as something else." Uncertainty. "To sever him completely will assuredly kill him."
Both Goddesses instinctually knew that this was a bad thing. Lord Ao had decreed that the three could not to be killed by divine hands or machinations.
"What will you do?" Selune asked with concern.
"Weave the excess energy back into its original form." Frustration. "You will have to convince him to relinquish control. If you cannot, my hand will be forced. Consequences be damned, the Weave must be protected! No matter what the cost!"
Selune looked up at her daughter worriedly. "Why can you not do this thing?"
Mystraís eyes blazed furiously. "If I could have stopped this, I would have already! Anything that I do at this point will rip his soul apart! The fool is filtering the Weave through his spirit! It is corrupting the purity of the Weave." Sweat was standing out on Mystraís forehead, and the corporeal form that she had taken shimmered. The unspoken fact that it was starting to corrupt Mystra was left unsaid.
"He must willingly relinquish control, Selune!"
Selune looked down at the changeling and frowned. She opened herself to his mind and allowed herself to enter the chaotic tumble that was known as Ranma Saotome. Her presence left Mystra's side, and descended to Faerun.
"AO'S EYES!" Mystra screamed as she was subjected to more of Ranma's life. The pain, the loneliness… the constant betrayal! Having been mortal, Mystra knew intimately what these things were. But to have one so young endure them….? Let alone thrive?!
She was more than impressed. She was curious. More experiences came to fill her need, mingling and blending with her memories. Each success bolstered her. Each victory filled her to bursting with pride. A thousand fights passed through her, won through cunning and skill in the Art. She grinned at the heady feeling.
She was unstoppable. She was the best! No one was going to keep her down! No one! More battles came and went, and a feeling built in Mystra. It was a calm, warm assurance that there was nothing that she could not overcome.
She screamed for the simple joy of it, defying Heaven and Hell to send their worst at her. She would weather their storms! She would, because she was Ranma Saotome!
Across Aber-Toril, spells were augmented to incredible, impossible heights. And for just an instant, the entirety of the Weave became visible to the naked eye.
The shadows screamed with Shar's despair. Hopelessness filled her as she fought against the impossible problems laid on her shoulders. How could she honor all of her obligations? How could she not destroy the lives of so many young women? How could she selfishly choose one over all of the others?
One real way out. No courage to accept it.
Shar was being overwhelmed by the despair as it built into an inferno of frustration. She was Ranma Saotome, damn it! She wouldn't lose! She would make everything right! …Somehow.
It was the first time that Shar had ever felt true hope. Confidence filled her, burned her, and consumed her! She screamed, and all over the face of Aber-Toril, the Shadows screamed with her.
"Lady of Mysteries protect us…."
Brailen Roseveilís voice was little more than a whisper, as she and those few lucky enough to find shelter beneath her protective dome huddled together against the onslaught of the spellfire tornado.
Many of her companions took up her mantra at the sound, and added their faith to the prayer, in the hopes that the Goddess of Magic would hear their pleas. Storm Silverhand stood with her hands braced against the magical barrier, ignoring the twister's fury as it tore large oaks from their roots, in favor of watching the young woman in the center of the cyclone.
A great keening wail erupted from the darkness around them, as if a thousand voices cried out in pain at once. And, for a single moment, the shield wavered, and then solidified again. And then she heard others gasp and point at the great web that had always been visible to her eyes. Her body felt filled to bursting with magic! Never in her life had she felt so invincible! She fairly glowed with renewed power. She barely noticed that the winds in the area gain strength.
"We're lucky to be in the eye of this beast." Dorn Stonebrow growled beneath his battered helm. The eye in question was over a half mile in diameter, with the defenders' dome anchored less than one hundred and fifty feet from the redheaded girl at the center of the tornado. "I would hate to be caught on these winds." Branches and bodies bounced off of Brailen's shield, along with other airborne debris.
Storm nodded. "Blessed be the name of Mystra." The swordswoman turned her attention away from the young redheaded woman and directed her gaze to Brailen. "How much longer will the dome last?"
Brailen simply stared heavenward and shook her head in awe.
Stormís angry voice broke the Archmageís reverie.
"How much longer will our shelter hold out?"
"I… I cannot say," she stammered, confused at the feelings she was struggling with. Storm's frown caused the Archmage to pale slightly. "Understand, Storm, that this… this… phenomenon is composed almost entirely of spellfire. One of the known abilities of Spellfire Channelers is magical absorption."
Brailen cast her eyes to the stationary figure at the center of the tornado and bit her lip nervously; something she hadn't done in over three hundred and forty years.
"For all I know, she's siphoning energy from my construct to fuel hers!"
Storm simply frowned and nodded. She turned her attention to the body of the group and raised her tired voice so that they would hear and understand her instructions.
"Hear me! We've no idea how long our shelter will protect us. We need to create for ourselves a shelter that will defend us from the winds should Brailen's spell fail." As Storm unfolded her plan, her tired soldiers immediately went to work, digging a narrow but deep trench with their weapons and shields. Brailen moved over to stand next to Storm for a moment to watch the redheaded girl. She did not move from her position, nor did she lower her arm.
Long moments passed without change, leaving Storm feeling more and more on edge. She shifted her gaze back and forth between her men and the young girl, until at last Brailen distracted her.
"We are lucky that the construct is stationary. I would hate to think of what would have happened if we had been closer to the walls. The spellfire is absorbing the dome's energy." The Archmage grimaced. "We have a quarter hour at best."
Storm did not acknowledge the panic that Brailen's words caused within her; she simply stared out at the young woman blankly. Storm spun on her men, pushing Brailen hurriedly towards the growing trench.
"DIG! For your lives depend on it!"
The dome rippled violently for a moment, inspiring a desperate surge of strength and speed amongst the workers. For a good ten minutes everyone dug, using helms, shields, weapons and spells to carve the earth into a hasty, makeshift trench. Three feet deep, slanted at a severe angle, and a little over twelve foot long, Storm knew that the trench was barely adequate. Another ten minutes and perhaps everyone would be safe. Deep in her heart she questioned even that assumption.
As if to mock her fears, there was a cracking sound above, drawing all eyes away from their work. Brailen's face paled, as she was bodily shoved into the bottom of the trench by Storm.
"Wounded in the middle! Heaviest on top! Use whatever means you can to secure yourselves!" Storm's voice barked, eliciting instantaneous action from her warriors. Those that were too awed by the spectacle stood rooted to their places until the Chosen of Mystra pushed, punched, or kicked them into action. She wouldn't be beaten by this! She was the best, damn it! She would retain her honor and the lives of her men!
One giant of a man named Reg refused all of Storm's attempts, ignoring her blows and her curses. The sound of the shield cracking reminded the Harper of a horrible avalanche that she had once narrowly avoided. The noise echoed loudly within the confines of the shield, leaving little doubt that it would soon give way. Desperate, Storm drew her sword and swatted the large man in his posterior, sending him hopping towards the trench post haste. Unfortunately he wasn't moving fast enough for Storm's tastes.
"MOVE, YOU BRAINLESS ASS!"
The shield shattered just as the giant fell atop his fellows, well above the lip of the trench. The whole pile groaned — more so as Reg dug his hands deeper into the pile to anchor himself better. Storm never heard their discomfort. The wind howled like a banshee, screaming loud enough to suck every thought from the minds of Shadowdale's defenders. Storm, three steps from the trench, was immediately caught up into the violent embrace of the storm and flung high above her troops.
"He has tapped into the mythal and the Weave." The voice sounded… unsettled. "He is fueling the cyclone directly."
"Sever his connection." The second voice was cold and distant, like the winter moon.
"If only it were that simple." Trepidation laced with fear. "He has anchored himself to both by way of his spirit. He has effectively bonded himself to both the Weave and the mythal… as well as something else." Uncertainty. "To sever him completely will assuredly kill him."
"What will you do?" Mild concern.
"Weave the excess energy back into its original form." Frustration. "You will have to convince him to relinquish control. If you cannot, my hand will be forced. The Weave must be protected."
Ranma felt the conversation more than she heard it, and knew that she had to get control of herself before it was too late. She felt so lost though; lost amongst the stars and this magnificent web of power. The majesty and the immensity of the feeling were truly overwhelming. The only thing she could liken it to was swallowing the Universe whole, with no water to wash it down. If she didn't let go of that vastness, Ranma knew that she would surely choke on it.
Sheíd been through too damn much to just roll over and die.
She felt tremors dancing along the threads of power that she manipulated, and knew instinctively that she was going to burn herself out soon. She wondered if this was how Ryouga felt all the time; hopelessly lost in the immensity of Creation, and unable to get his bearings. If it was, then she vowed never to call him "Lost Boy" ever again.
Something, out towards the edge of her creation, tugged on her spirit. It was dark and full of deep, secret pain. The well of lonely hatred probed at Ranma, prodding her spirit carefully. He could feel a curse echoing amongst the shadows cast by the cyclone of silver flames — a curse and something reminiscent of despairing grief. Then the darkness screamed, and promises of vengeance danced among the silver flames. Ranma saw many things in that moment, most of them unintelligible. But two things he saw very clearly, desire and hatred.
Visions of Ranmaís unmaking followed, mingling with the most confusing promises of being held forever in the sweetest of embraces. It made no sense.
Confounding him even more was a second set of emotions. Confidence and power, the likes of which he had never known existed filled him to bursting. And love… such terrifying, endless love. It made him afraid, for he knew that he would be consumed by it, whether he accepted it or not.
Storm screamed out a vicious curse that she had heard Dove use once. It seemed fitting, considering the circumstances. She did her best to cover her head with her shield, but the chaotic winds kept catching it like some metal kite. There had been one frightening moment when a gust had nearly torn the safeguard from her grasp. The jarring pain had been so intense that she had thought that her arm was torn from its socket.
Thankfully, it was still serviceable. A fact that she immediately put to use as loose debris pelted her body from behind and above. She wasn't sure how long she could last in the maelstrom, especially considering how useless magic was here.
She prayed to her goddess, and hoped beyond hope that the Lady of Mysteries could hear her. She was the only one that could fully control the Silverfire, and as such was the only one that could save Storm and her companions.
So many voices filled his head, both benevolent and profane. He tried to shut them out, but found that he could not. They were so loud!
<Shut up!> he mentally cried. <Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! SHUT UP!> his mental screams went unanswered as the voices continued to grow in volume. Everyone wanted something from him.
A blessing here. Intervention there.
"Aid me please."
"Help me protect them…."
"Give me the power that I need to fuel the construct."
""Forsake us not, Dark Lady, in our hour of need. Bring our enemies low!"
"Grant me fame."
"Accept this offering in our names."
"PLEASE SAVE ME!"
Damn it! He wasnít a god!
<GET THE HELL OUTTA MY HEAD!>
"MYSTRA! MOTHER! SAVE ME!" Ranma's eyes flared at the desperate plea. It had seemed so close. Desperation gave way to fear, filling Ranma with a sense of his own desperation.
<Can you save her?> The voice seemed to sooth the demands of all the other voices, crowding them into a sort of white noise in the back of Ranma's mind. It helped anchor and focus him again. He struggled for a moment to find his center. Yet, everything where he looked, he only found stars. Millions upon millions of stars pulling at him, calling to him, worshipping him…
He turned away from the starscape and closed his eyes. But the whispering voices yet remained.
"Please… Mother of Magic…." The desperation was gone, leaving only a calm acceptance in its wake. "Please accept my soul unto your bosom."
<Can you save her?> The calm, motherly voice asked again.
Despair filled Ranmaís soul. He couldnít do it all, damn it! Why couldnít the stupid tomboy save herself for once? Yeah, he could save her! So what? She got herself into this mess, so let her get herself out! He was tired of having to do everything!
Ranma opened his eyes and stared out into the emptiness of a terrifying void. The whispered petitions were gone, replaced by millions of moaning and weeping voices. The loss and hopelessness nearly swallowed him.
<Will you save her?> the voice asked. Ranma blinked at the change of wording in the question. The words were backed with a sincere need. Ranma turned again and found his vision divided. To his right, an infinite number of stars twinkled into forever. And to his left, a black emptiness so profound loomed.
Standing between the two, bridging them was a soft, silver light. And the light spoke.
<Will you save her?> Images poured into his mind from one bright star. Memories of a thousand tears and even more joyful songs danced in his mind. A face, as foreign to him as it was familiar coalesced into sharp focus before him.
Storm. His daughter. One of many that he loved dearly. The one that liked to laugh and sing with children… the Silverhand. His beloved daughter. Ranma reached for her star and the world exploded into a myriad of sights and sounds.
The winds buffeted Ranma-chan as she struggled to remain stable in the direct center of the cyclone. Above her, uprooted trees spun crazily amongst unearthed stone and dead bodies. A flash of silver hair caught Ranma's eye above her and to her left.
Ranma didnít think; she simply reacted. Her legs bunched, and in an explosion of energy, she vaulted into the air. Her aura burned brighter, drawing energy from the cyclone to push against the raging air currents that sought to push her back to the earth. It felt like swimming against the tide for a moment, and then she was literally blazing across the intervening space.
She could see the silvery flames dancing off of her arms as she streamlined her body for more speed. Had she not been so intent on the knotted ball of fear spinning out of control before her, she would have been laughing her head off. This was a blast!
Ranma immediately recognized the silver-haired woman from before, and angled herself slightly to scoop the swordswoman into her arms. The panic she had felt wafting off the woman subsided into something akin to wonder, but Ranma's attention was riveted elsewhere.
A tall white-haired woman had materialized directly before her, hovering without regard for the chaos around her. Her clothes were motionless in the wind, as was her hair — which in and of itself creeped the hell out of Ranma.
Her aura was, for lack of a better term, light. Its size was incalculable, stretching beyond the horizon and dwarfing the petty little cyclone that Ranma had given birth to. Compared to this woman, Saffron was nothing more than a child… No. He was more like a gnat zit on Cologne's butt.
Okay, so maybe that wasnít the best comparison to make.
Ranma shook herself and directed her attention back to the entity. The most magnificent discovery she made in that brief glimpse was that the darkness that most men and women allowed to shadow their souls was non-existent. She was clean, bright and pure, just like a newborn.
<Greetings to you, geijutsu-ka.>
Ranma was shocked on many levels. The first was hearing a voice in his head. The second was the fact that this immensely powerful woman inclined her head to him. And final shock was the simple idea that she had just named him "artist". It seemed so hollow when compared to the purity that the woman before him possessed.
<You have saved the one, but can you save the others?> She pointed to the huddled survivors of the battle, struggling to remain packed into their trench. Ranma's brow furrowed as she tried to puzzle out how to get them to safety. Tears of frustration began forming in her eyes after many moments of fruitless searching. She could possibly reach them, if he left this woman to her fate. Perhaps she could get ten or so to safety… perhaps.
He clutched the frightened woman closer possessively, unable to accept the impossibility of saving all their lives.
<Let go, Ranma-san. Let go of the fury that gives this creation life. Save these few, that others might find peace.>
A gentle luminescent hand, the color of milk, caressed Ranma's face, soothing her rage. The woman's voice was so calming, so tender. A gentle warmth filled Ranma's heart, replacing the cold anger that she had felt before. How many nights had she dreamed of a voice like that, one that would protect him from the cats, and comfort him in his hours of need?
The only name for her was "mother".
The winds calmed, lowering Ranma and his passenger slowly to the ground. Her eyes never left the matronly woman, until at last all that he could see was a shimmering outline, barely visible against the fullness of the moon. When Ranma's feet finally touched the ground, she could no longer point out the figure, but there was no doubt that she was nearby, watching over them.
Ranma gently set her passenger onto her feet with a heavy sigh, before passing out face-first onto the ground.
Storm stood panting over the young woman. Her hair was mussed, and her body was liberally bruised. She watched as white and black lightning coursed up and down the redhead's body once, before disappearing altogether. She sank to her knees in the mud beside the girl and rolled the petite warrior onto her back.
Brailen and many of her men gathered around her. Dorn scratched his muddy beard and shook his head in puzzlement.
"Burn me beard, Storm, but I couldía sworn that the lass was human."
"Aye, Master Dorn. You and I both."
Storm did not look at the olive-skinned elfmaid's perfect features. Her eyes wandered to the hole torn in the woman's shirt instead. Over each breast lay a stylized tattoo, one for Selune and one for Shar. But directly over her heart, separating the two, was a symbol that looked a great deal like Mystra's. Yet instead of seven stars circling around the mists of the Weave, there were eight.
The Ivy Mansion, Longsaddle:
Usagi woke to the sound of Noon Bell, which to her mind didn't sound very much like a bell at all. In fact, it sounded very much like Luna when Usagi would accidentally step on her tail. It had to have been one of the most disconcerting and most heart-wrenching sounds that she had ever heard.
Thinking of Luna brought rise to an emptiness that felt overwhelming. She didn't know what she was going to do without her friends to guide her. Sure, she was supposed to be their princess, but she had clearly demonstrated time and again that a simple title did not make a person special. She had fought a sudden bout of homesickness for the remainder of the hour. She tried not to cry, and for the most part succeeded.
Her only solace was in the fact that she had gotten here somehow, which meant that there was surely a way to get home. All she had to do was find it. It wasn't much of a confidence builder, but it kept the tears at bay. And for that, she was grateful.
She simply sat and stared blankly at the room about her, for over half the next hour, seeing the room but not really acknowledging it. It was only after her stomach growled that she noticed a covered tray on a table that stood between two tall freestanding mirrors. Pushing away her sadness for the time, she settled at the table and quietly ate her fill.
The muffins, she decided, were exceptional — on par with, if not above, Makoto's best. The baked chicken seemed a bit much for a morning meal, but Usagi didn't complain. The seasonings were wonderfully blended and the chicken was very juicy. The fruits were a bit smaller and not as sweet as she was used to, but she ate them readily enough. The only thing that left a really odd taste in her mouth was the odd porridge.
And for once in her life, Usagi found herself not finishing her meal. Had her mother been there, she would have endured no end of fussing and motherly concern. Usagi not finishing a meal was tantamount to the world ending, after all. The blonde chuckled lightly and settled herself deeper in the soft back chair in order to finally take stock of her surroundings.
The room was plush and comfortably decorated in a floral spring motif. The furniture looked to be grown rather than carved, and the drapes were a fine sky-blue silk that diffused the light as it passed through a tall window. It was like being in some really fancy hotel room or something. Her thoughts drifted into a naughty little fantasy about Mamo-chan and the honeymoon suite at the Tokyo Hilton.
The fantasy slowly faded, leaving Usagi more depressed than she had been before. She could just imagine Luna chastising her. "You should be looking for a way home! People are counting on you!" The displaced Moon Princess sighed haltingly as she stood. In some cases, Luna was right. People were counting on her. Usagi didn't understand how or why she had earned their trust; she wasn't princess material. But whether she was or wasn't, she did have an obligation to her friends. And she couldn't fulfill that obligation lying around all day.
With that in mind, she strode up to the room's elegant mirror and grumbled at the rat's nest that her hair had become. She frowned doubtfully at the mess, and wondered how long it was going to take to untangle. One of these days she was going to cut it short, like Ami or Haruka — just so that she didn't have to deal with the weight or the hassle. She closed her eyes and began to daydream about Mamo-chan's potential reaction.
As if reading her thoughts, Usagi's reflection slowly began to change. Her hair shortened and styled itself to match the mental picture Usagi had conjured. After a few moments of fluctuation, the reflection finally settled on one image. Usagi opened her eyes and blinked at what was looking back at her.
Her first reaction was to feel for the hair that seemed to be missing. She sighed in relief as her hand brushed through her thick silky hair. She turned her gaze back to the mirror, and marveled at just how sexy it made her look. There was a sense of maturity about the image that empowered her. Yet, Usagi couldn't bring herself to take the plunge. It had taken so long to get her hair to this point, to cut it all off was… well, just plain weird! Someday she would do it… just not today.
Usagi tapped her lips thoughtfully for a moment as she studied the image before her. She smiled happily and put her hands on her hips, only to have her reflection tilt its head cutely and smile.
"What do you think, beautiful?" the reflection spoke with her voice.
"HOLY CRAP!" Usagi scrambled backwards, falling and tripping over chairs, tables, and finally the bed before coming to settle in a heap of blankets opposite the mirror. It took forever to untangle herself from the plum-colored quilt, but finally she was able to cautiously make her way back to the mirror.
She blinked as her likeness came back into view. Her reflection blinked a full five-count after she did. Usagi blinked again, but this time her reflection smiled widely and spun around in the mirror.
"Do you like it?"
Usagi nodded dumbly.
"Would you like to look like this today?" Usagi shook her head causing her likeness to frown with disappointment. After a moment though, the excited grin was back, along with another hairdo. "How about this?"
Usagi had seen a beehive before, but never in a thousand years thought that she would see herself with one… Well, sort of. She curled her lip and shook her head.
"But it's great for formal celebrations!" her image protested.
"But I donít think Iím going to a formal celebration today," Usagi countered. The image paused thoughtfully.
"Oh. Well, how about this?" Makoto had insisted on watching "The Bride of Frankenstein" once, citing that it was a highbrow romance. Everyone had teased Usagi that she should dress up like the bride for the school festival, and she almost had. Now she remembered why she hadnít. Blonde hair didnít look good in an afro.
"I donít think so."
"But this is what the Court of Evermeet was wearing last season!"
"I donít belong to the court of Evermeet, though," Usagi protested.
"Ahhhh…." Her reflection nodded sagely. "You want something more traditional, then." Usagi gasped as her reflectionís hair began to braid itself in long thin braids, adorned with a rainbow of colorful ribbons and silver bells. Her brow was crowned with a laurel of silver ivy that looked as if it had been grown rather than cast from metal.
"Wooooooow!" Usagiís voice came out in a low whisper.
"You like? Itís what you wore to the Festival of Falling Stars on your fifteenth birthday."
"It is?" Usagi asked with a whisper. Her reflection nodded and spun around.
"Shall we fix you up, then?"
"You can do that?" Her reflection grinned, and without further ado Usagiís hair was untangled and braided. No pulling, no tugging, no split ends — and it had taken less than five minutes! She liked this place! Usagi simply marveled at the soft chiming that her hair made as she spun and giggled softly.
"The look suits you."
Usagi gasped, and spun to greet the owner of the new voice. She had seen a great many strange things in her life: demon women made entirely out of pastries, talking cats, and bratty daughters from the future. But in all the time that she had fought as Sailor Moon, she had never come across a woman whose skin looked to be made entirely out of polished jade. Her hair was cut short, in a feathered a-line fashion, giving a wonderful view of her elegant, long neck. Her deep black eyes spoke of hidden things; secrets buried deep within the heart of the earth.
"YOUMA!" Her broach was out and she was transformed in record time. To her credit (and thanks in great part to the young woman's high pitched screaming protests that she was not a youma — whatever that was), Usagi didn't blast the jade woman into oblivion.
"What the heck are you?!" Usagi had meant to say "who", but the shock of being surprised caused her manners to fly out the window. The jade-skinned woman looked offended, causing Usagi to blush at her rudeness.
"If you must know, I am Genasi. One-half Isherine Dao, one-quarter human, and one-quarter elf." The jade skinned woman snorted. "What are you?"
Usagi chuckled weakly and shrugged. "Human through and through."
The woman raised an eyebrow at Usagi and chuckled. "I seriously doubt that."
"Hey! What's that supposed to mean?" Usagi narrowed her eyes.
"Come now, you've the taint of divinity about you. Surely you're Plane-touched." The Genasi tapped her pale green lips thoughtfully. "Aasimar, assuredly."
Usagi wasnít sure what the other girl was talking about, or even if she should be offended or not. So she simply settled herself on a small chair before the mirror watched as the Genasi (whatever that was) went to another part of the room and pulled a sheet from another mirror.
"The former occupant of this room had a propensity of being a slug-a-bed. She was terribly vain, and hated rising before the fourth afternoon bell." The jade woman smiled at Usagi and beckoned her over. After a moment's hesitation, the blonde girl made her way over. The green woman gently maneuvered Usagi in front of the full-length dressing mirror. "She had these mirrors enchanted in order to aid her in preparing for what was left of the day."
The jade skinned woman grinned and clapped her hands.
"Spring fashions from Waterdeep, please." Usagi's grin swelled as her reflection was suddenly draped in a comfortable looking, sleeveless gown. The color was a light blue that matched Usagi's eyes.
"Next, please." A second dress, a pale coral pink with elbow length sleeves shimmered into existence. The Genasi shook her head in distaste. "Something in white, please." A diaphanous sundress, with copious amounts of lace, replaced the previous dress, causing Usagi to coo with delight.
"Turn slowly, please." The reflection responded accordingly, without Usagi's aid, affording both women the opportunity to admire how the dress seemed to hug in all the right places, without giving too much away. The dainty white slippers and sheer white shawl made for a perfect outfit.
"This one, definitely." The jade woman smiled approvingly and nodded. Usagi gasped as her pajamas dissolved into a pale white smoke that disappeared into the mirror, leaving her all but naked for a moment. She blushed, but noted that her new acquaintance had turned away. The bare feeling lasted only an instant, before she was fully clothed in her newly-acquired dress. The Genasi clapped three times, and the mirror went blank.
"Wow!" Weird perverts and homesickness aside, Usagi was starting to like this place. Her jade attendant simply smiled. The displaced heroine grew thoughtful for a moment, and then turned to the jade woman.
"Um, will I get my pajamas back?"
"Pajamas?" The green woman asked quizzically. Usagi pointed to the mirror worriedly. The Genasi giggled girlishly, reminding Usagi of a curious mixture of Minako and Ami. "Assuredly! You simply have to clap twice and ask for sleepwear."
Usagi nodded and blushed, suddenly remembering her manners. She bowed deeply to the young woman. "Thank you for letting me borrow the dress. I don't think I would have felt comfortable running around in my pajamas."
"Borrowing? Nonsense! The dress is a gift, along with the room. Uncle DelRoy has made it known to the rest of the Mansion that you are to be a guest until such a time as you can either be returned to your home, or until you decide to leave."
"But… but…! You don't even know me!" Usagi boggled. After a long moment, she felt extremely guilty. "I can't accept such a large gift."
The Genasi frowned playfully and stepped directly in front of the young blonde.
"You can, and you will," she said matter-of-factly. There was no arguing with the young woman as she adjusted Usagiís shawl. "You are far from home, with no one to care for you. We Harpells cannot allow for such an injustice to stand." She paused long enough to gently lift Usagiís chin with a finger.
"I am Ulin Shemzarida Hashpida Harpell. You are Tsukino Usagi." She grinned. "There, we are no longer strangers. Now, you will tell me of how you came to be in cousin Hevig's bed. Is it true that he sleeps in the nude?"
Usagi blushed as she was carefully led from her room. It didn't take long for the two to become fast acquainted, and soon the inhabitants of the Harpell Estate were blessed with the sight of two beautiful women laughing and giggling as they walked down the halls.
Usagi pestered her new friend with questions about the Ivy Mansion and its inhabitants as they toured the grounds, and was forced (under duress) to recount her encounter with Hevig Harpell again for a group of younger cousins who seemed to enjoy nothing but gossip. She passed all of the alchemy shops, and crafting rooms, the forge, and a library the likes of which she had never seen.
Ami would have drooled!
She met Matherly Harpell, or rather his statue, and Bidderdoo, who had been at one time Ulin's fourth cousin, but thanks to a bad mix of potions was now a cute but scruffy-looking dog. Ulin answered every question put to her, and dazzled Usagi with wondrous stories of magic and romance. It was enough to make her feel right at home.
"Forgive the intrusion, ladies." A smartly dressed young man with violet hair bowed to both women as they were about to leave the house. "Iíve been instructed to escort you to Master DelRoyís study."
Usagi felt her tummy fill with butterflies and smiled at Ulin. Had DelRoy already found her a way home? She knew that it was a lot to hope for, but she couldnít help it.
Gainsburrow Abbey, Lantan:
Keiichi woke feeling weak and empty. His head no longer throbbed as it had, but there was a definite tender spot just above his left eye that gave him no amount of trouble when he touched it. All in all, he felt remarkably well, considering the fact that he was still in the same room he had been. The only real difference was the fact that the sun was up, and a plate of covered food sat across the room on a small round table.
The room itself was rather spartan. Save for the table, there was a single chair, a bookcase full of hand-bound books, and a small chest at the foot of his bed. Draped across the chair was a set of woolen robes, much like the ones Evendur had worn the night before. They were simple, serviceable, and most of all, warm. Keiichi could tolerate their itchiness in favor of finally having clothes to wear again. The one thing he wished for, that seemed conspicuously absent, were a nice thick pair of socks.
The stone floor was bitterly cold.
He ate his meal quickly, letting nothing of the western-style breakfast go to waste. The meal, consisting of a sweet porridge, a slice of hard-crusted bread, two slices of cooked ham, and a glass of an odd-tasting milk, hit the spot. With his stomach full and warm, Keiichi allowed himself the opportunity to browse the bookshelf. To his dismay, each volume was scribed in a very foreign language that eluded him.
"So much for a distraction," he mumbled, settling back into the chair. For quite some time he simply sat, wondering at what cruel twist of fate his life had taken, while staring out the window. He saw Evendur and another man talking over something that Evendur held beside a small stone wall. The room suddenly seemed to weigh on him, making him feel the need to stretch his legs.
"Well, itís not like Iíve got anything better to do." He smiled wryly to himself and stood.
He walked slowly to the door and opened it, only to be bowled over by a walking stack of books. He heard someone squawk as the tower of tomes toppled. He tried to escape, but found himself effectively buried beneath their weight. He heard someone apologizing profusely as they scrambled to gather the books. Keiichi gathered himself with a quiet smile and carefully began picking up the tomes that were within reach.
"No harm done…." His voice trailed off as he came face to face with a blushing Sister Maerdith. She was just a little older than he, approaching her late twenties at best. Her chestnut-colored hair was pulled back into a severe braid that was wrapped about her head twice. Her light complexion was dotted with freckles, and her lips were pointed up in a soft smile. He winced, but she quickly averted her pale blue eyes to the floor and sped up her efforts to reclaim her lost cargo.
"I am terribly sorry, Master Keiichi. I shouldnít have been carrying so many." Maerdithís face was aflame, as was Keiichiís.
"Here, let me help," he offered, gathering half the stack into his arms and standing.
"No, I couldnít. You should be resting!" Keiichi shrugged her off and laughed.
"Nonsense. I receive worse from Skuld all the time."
"Skuld? Sounds northern. Is he from Icewindale?"
Keiichi shook his head. "She's my… um… Belldandy's little sister. They're from… Well, from where I'm from." He quirked his brow and pursed his lips to make sure that that had come out correctly.
"My girlfriend," he supplied.
"Girlfriend…?" The word tumbled off of Sister Maerdithís lips oddly.
"Heh. Yeah." Keiichi blushed.
"So this girl… Skuld, was it?" she asked, starting to walk down the hall, not bothering to look back at Keiichi. "I take it that she doesnít like you very much." Keiichi scrambled to keep up with the cleric.
"Well, um… She's rather protective of her sister, and she doesn't, um… approve of our… relationship."
Sister Maerdith nodded, looking fairly uncomfortable. She had never fancied herself particularly (ahem) worldly, but she had read quite a bit. It wasn't hard to guess why this Skuld had it in for Master Keiichi. After all, he had shown up in the middle of services bare as the day he was born. She coughed into her hand in order to clear her mind of the images that kept squirming their way in.
"So, uh, Master Keiichi. Tell me about this Belldandy of yours."
Keiichi smiled wanly.
"Um, there's not much to say really," he hedged. "She's the most beautiful woman in the world, sweet, devoted, humble…."
Sister Maerdith listened to the string of adjectives for two full flights of long stairs, before Keiichi finally wound down.
"She sounds like a very magical creature, Master Keiichi."
Keiichi stopped dead in his tracks with a panicked, stricken look and began to laugh forcefully. "Magical… heh-heh. What makes you say that?" Sister Maerdith narrowed her eyes thoughtfully, causing him to sweat and berate himself. He was going to strangle Urd and Mara when he got back, even if it cost him his life! How was he supposed to explain his arrival to a bunch of monks?
"Itís the way that you describe her, Master Keiichi. She seems very delightful. You must love her very much." Maerdith manipulated a heavy oak door, and pushed into a rather large library. As she set her books down on one of the large tables, she chanced to look back at her helper, only to see a wistful grin splitting his face.
"…love her… yeah." She idly noticed a thin trickle of blood dribble from his nose before he passed out from sensory overload. The grin never left his face. Perhaps she had hit him too hard.
Then again, maybe he was weird in the head already….
The Ivy Mansion, Longsaddle:
Usagi wiggled her eyebrows at Ulin as their guide slowly brought them before DelRoy's study. Annon was one of the many apprentices that came to Longsaddle every year, in order to learn from such masters as DelRoy, Fengdur, and Jaelith Harpell. Ulin admitted conspiratorially that Annon was wonderful to look at, but that was about the extent of his charms. Usagi wasn't sure what "kissing like a bullywug" meant, but it didn't sound very flattering. Annon knocked twice, waited for DelRoy to acknowledge him, and then opened the doors for the ladies.
Ulin motioned for Usagi to enter first, and the followed two steps behind. The sight of her tired uncle gave her pause, but DelRoy made no motion to acknowledge her presence. His attention was fully riveted to Usagi.
"Please. Sit." His voice was too serious for Ulin's liking. She watched the other girl carefully and could immediately see that her new friend was already fighting back tears. DelRoy carefully removed his reading glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose.
"There is no easy way to explain this, my dear," he said at last. "So, I will simply get right to the point." He waited for Usagi to nod her head before continuing. "Any action takes energy to perform. To magically move from one place to another takes a great deal of energy. So much so that there is always a residual trace left behind — breadcrumb trails, if you will. For those with the correct spells, a trail can be followed back to its source."
Usagi nodded intently.
"However, in our attempts to follow your trail, we have run into a small problem."
The blonde haired girl bit her lip. Ulin could easily see that her friend could not voice the question that she so desperately needed to ask, so she asked for her. "What type of problem, uncle?"
The elder Harpell sighed weightily and laced his fingers together. "Simply put, Mistress Usagi left us no trail to follow."
"How can that be?" Ulin demanded. DelRoy shrugged and thumbed a pinch of sweet-smelling tobacco into his pipe.
"The Lady of Mysteries keeps her secrets close to her heart." The elder Harpell leveled a weighty look in Usagiís direction. "And it seems that Mistress Usagi here is one of those closely guarded secrets."
"What does that mean?" Usagi asked in a tremulous voice. She felt tears building, but did her best to act like Makoto and Rei. They wouldnít cry. They would stubbornly weather whatever life threw at them.
"Well, child…" DelRoy silently cursed himself. He hated being the bearer of bad news. He coughed into his hand and took a deep breath. "My brothers and I have used some of the most powerful spells known to wizardry in our search to uncover your mystery. Mind you now, we Harpells donít like unanswered questions. So rest assured that there are more than a few of us that will be working diligently to rectify your problem." He smiled warmly at Usagi as she began to fidget in her high backed chair. Her crestfallen countenance broke his aged heart.
"So…" Usagiís voice caught in her throat as she tried to force the words out. "So, what youíre saying is that you donít know how to get me home."
DelRoy blinked and chuckled, drawing Usagi's gaze.
"Not at all, my dear girl! I'm certain that we can get you home, but we are having problems finding out where home is!" DelRoy was pleased to see a glimmer of hope return to the young woman's eyes. "Take heart, Mistress Usagi. We've still a few spells up our sleeves, not to mention a few contacts that we can call on should the need arise. Rest assured that we will find a way to get you back home. There's no question that a Harpell cannot answer, given enough time."
Usagi wiped her eyes and quickly ran around the old man's desk and buried him in a giant hug. Ulin watched with a small smile and wondered if the Harpells would find the answer to Usagi's dilemma in this lifetime.
Gainsburrow Abbey, Lantan:
"Brethren and sisters, we close this day giving thanks to Ohgma for deeper insight into ourselves and into the Universe around us. Tonight I will read from The Strangerís Path, as written by Jalduth of the Evening Star."
Keiichi sat beside Evendur, listening intently to Learned Father Ellosin conduct the evening ritual of Covenant. It had been a fairly engaging day after he had settled in with Evendur. They had spoken at length about Earth, and openly questioned Keiichi's method of travel to the Abbey. Sister Maerdith seemed intent to avoid him, which seemed appropriate as far as Keiichi was concerned. The auburn-haired woman was pleasant, in a bland sort of way, but seemed more interested in uprooting the truth behind Keiichi's arrival at the Abbey.
He had spent considerable time touring the Abbey and the surrounding grounds, enjoying the day and the weather amidst all of the curious questioning that Evendur's fellows hounded him with. Not that he minded the attention. He was concerned that someone was going to pick up on his half-truths and press him for the real story, though.
It had been an enlightening day to be certain. Keiichi had learned a little about the area that he was in, specifically that the Gainsburrow Abbey was a retreat of sorts for the clergy of Ohgma. Since he had never heard of the deity, he had made the mistake of asking about the religion and was soon inundated with the precepts of Ohgma from Evendur and his brethren for over three hours.
The island itself was considered a haven for those of a more technological mind, which intrigued Keiichi to no end. He had seen a few inventions, and met a few new people, including the Learned Father. That had been an eye-opener. He had met some intelligent people in his life, especially at Nekomi Tech, but none of them had been as wise as Ellosin. Upon meeting the statuesque elf, Keiichi had merely boggled. It was one thing to read about them in manga, and another thing entirely to meet them in person. The interview with the elf had been nerve-wracking at first, but he had accepted Keiichi's story at face value. Keiichi had stumbled across many of the more fantastic races: gnomes, dwarves, a halfling or three. He even met a rather grumpy half-orc named Hegral One-eye. The encounter was a bit scary at first, but Hegral soon turned out to a rather polite and insightful fellow.
Keiichiís interview had ended warmly for the most part. As he was leaving Ellosinís study, the white-haired elf put a slender hand on the boyís shoulder and smiled. "All secrets are known to Ohgma, Keiichi. And they are all revealed in their season. Donít be afraid of the truth." Keiichi knew right then and there that Ellosin had pierced the veil of half-truths that he had spun about him. Keiichi could also read the invitation to share his secret, no matter how crazy it might sound.
Which brought the displaced mechanic to a conundrum. Should he reveal his past? Or should he continue to hide himself until Belldandy and the Ultimate Force managed to rescue him?
Maybe he would tell Ellosin. That would be safe enough. The worst that they could do was kick him out of the Abbey. Given his lack of knowledge about the surrounding area, local politics, and the extreme lack of technology, this would be a bad thing. Bad, but livable.
Keiichi watched as everyone bowed their heads, as if preparing for prayer. He mimicked them clumsily, while Ellosin continued the Covenant.
"Oh great Ohgma, Father of Truth. We dedicate our knowledge unto thee."
Keiichi was ashamed to admit that he had never really set foot in a church before, with the exception of a shrine or two; and nothing in his life had prepared him for the slow torture of a long-winded orator. Not even Urashimi-Sensei had been able to go on for this long! The prayer continued for several more minutes before Ellosin finished. By the time that he had, Keiichi's bottom and right leg had fallen asleep. Keiichi had hoped that everyone would get up, but from the looks of it, they were simply settling in! Keiichi began to panic as Ellosin stretched his back slightly, but otherwise did not move.
"Ohgma reveals himself in many ways. He teaches us through many voices. Today we have amongst our number a new voice, and with that voice comes new knowledge. Please stand, Master Keiichi, and share something about yourself and your life."
Keiichi felt every eye on him, weighing him down. He looked at Evendur, the man's Santa Claus face smiling broadly. He looked into Sister Maerdith's eyes and saw nothing but a hunger for new knowledge. Each of the faces that he looked at next, held the same expectation. At last, he looked at Learned Father Ellosin and knew that he couldn't hide the truth from the tall, regal elf anymore. Any lie that he might spin would surely be seen through, and that was an injustice that Belldandy wouldn't stand for.
She hated liars, and if Keiichi lied, then she would hate him. He couldn't betray her. He tried to get his blood flowing into his lower extremities as he stood. He bit back a grimace, as his legs became pincushions for a million invisible needles.
"Um, good evening. I am Morisato Keiichi."
Way to go, Morisato! His voice made sound like was visiting some sort of support group for the very first time. He began to scratch the back of his neck.
"Something about my life…." He laughed hollowly and coughed in his hand, as he summoned the courage to do what needed to be done. "Well, it all started when I was taking messages for my upperclassmen. You see, I got really hungry and decided to order take-out."
Over the next two hours he had a spellbound audience as he told an abbreviated version of his life with Belldandy and her sisters. The trials of being in love with a goddess, and ultimately of how he had no idea how or why he had ended up here, bereft of clothes. As his tale ended, he smiled weakly and sat down — mostly because his trembling legs wouldn't support him any longer.
He waited in silence for the laughter to come, but it never did. He looked up at the men and women seated around him, and to his supreme discomfort he found the staring at him — not with disbelief, but with confusion. The entire congregation seemed unsure of whether to bow to him or not. It was Ellosin that finally broke the impasse.
"We have been brought knowledge from afar." His voice was calm and unshaken. It was too bad that his eyes didn't seem as confident. "You have felt the truth of it." Everyone nodded.
Ellosin turned his attention back to Keiichi and bowed deeply at the waist.
"We welcome you to the Halls of Learning, Morisato Keiichi, Beloved of Belldandy. The Father of Truth has sent you to us for a reason, and we therefore extend to you our hospitality for as long as you wish to stay. We pray to the Father of Truth that your time here will be enlightening for us all."
Keiichi stood and bowed deeply to the Learned Father and then to the rest of the congregation as well.
"Thank you for opening your home to me."
To be continued.
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