An Aah! Megami-sama / Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon / Ranma ½ crossover story
by Jeffrey Vasquez
Disclaimer: "Ah! Megami-sama" (or "Oh My Goddess!") was created by Fujishima Kosuke, 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" (or "Sailor Moon") was created by Takeuchi Naoko, and is licensed to Koudansha, TV Asahi, Toei Douga, and DIC Entertainment, L.P. "Forgotten Realms" was created by TSR. Inc. and is owned by Wizards of the Coast. All characters and settings are used here without permission.
All original characters belong to me. Please drop me a line if you want to use them. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Foreword: Gandalf is a wizard's wizard, but I've yet to come across a mage quiet as approachable as Elminster. He's the James Bond of Mages — suave, debonair, and he gets all the chicks. I won't knock Fizban, or any other spelltosser, but Elminster is far and beyond my favorite. Thanks to dear old Ed for dreaming him up! Here's hoping that I do him justice.
Special thanks go out to Treavor Bland, who did a lot of research and found that Bidderdoo was not a dog but a werewolf . Big difference in appetite there. The change befell the poor Harpell with a bad potion mishap during the Time of Troubles. I'll be making the change in the revision at the end of the series. Thanks Treavor! Special thanks go out to all of you who have been so supportive in your emails.
Also, a note about continuity here: End of manga for Ranma. Sailor Moon will be a slight mix of the manga and anime. Usagi has been using the Ginzuisho for some time now, but I do not think that she actively understands the mechanics behind the artifact. The power is there, but it's used intuitively rather than consciously. For Keiichi, I'm mixing OAV's and manga continuity — specifically the A!MG movie with Celestine and the Judgment Gate. For those that haven't seen it, I highly suggest it.
South of Old Skull, there was a peculiar tower. Some thought it to be little more than an old grain silo; others thought it a decrepit windmill. Those that lived in the area knew it as the Meddler's Tower, and it was the sanctuary of Faerun's most powerful mortal.
If Elminster had heard such a title, he would have scoffed.
He would readily admit to tossing a spell or three in his day, but he had also been around long enough to understand the meaning of true power. Very few understood or even subscribed to his idea that such overwhelming power came in the small everyday decisions that one made. It was one of the reasons that many loved him and so many more absolutely hated him. Storm and her entourage counted themselves among the former distinction.
It had taken them four days of answering questions, hard work, and slow riding to reach this rather remote part of the Dale, and Storm was feeling every mile at this moment. The defenders halted wearily before the weathered tower and drank in its plainness.
It had taken them the remainder of the evening and well into midday following the battle to dispatch the wounded drow and reclaim their own dead and wounded from the devastation of their mysterious savior's spell. The support from Ashabenford had arrived to aid in the search efforts for survivors, but that had been some time late in the afternoon. Those that had survived the night silently thanked Selune and any other gods that came to mind for the comatose elf girl's timely arrival. There was little doubt what the company's fate would have been otherwise.
The Fordmen were tired from their march, but went about the grim task of sorting the dead from the living while others tended the wounded. To Storm's surprise, there had been many warm bodies on both sides. More drow blood flowed as the ragtag remnants of the invaders returned to the battlefield, only to retreat back into the shrouded mists of Cormanthor when the Fordmen discovered them. The rabble had taken their fair share of Fordmen with them, though.
It had taken time, but all of the defenders were bundled into carts and wagons, dead or alive, to be returned to their families as heroes. It was clearly a victory for Shadowdale, and it all could be laid at the feet of a child-warrior with blazing red hair.
There was little doubt that Storm would be composing songs and tales about this one for years to come. She motioned for Reg to carefully lift the sleeping girl out of the cart, while she and Brailen gathered their things and moved up the flagstone path toward the home of Toril's most renowned and feared wizard: Elminster the Magister.
"You should warn the girl about the Old Mage the first chance you get." Brailen smiled impishly.
"How so?" Storm said tiredly as she waved the driver on to the tower's stables. She had tried to sleep on the ride down from Maigan's Hill, but the sun combined with the ruts in the road did little to aid her rest. At the moment she longed for nothing more than a warm bath, a hot meal, and the softness of a real bed. She could smell fresh bread baking within the Tower and wondered if Valor, El's newest apprentice, had made enough for everyone.
"Old Graybeard will charm her out of her petticoats before her stay is done." Brailen sneered. "He enjoys red hair and curves as much as any man."
Storm snorted and shook her head. "What petticoats?" She rolled her eyes and chuckled, more so at Reg's suddenly blushing face. "I will try and give the young lady all of the forewarning I can."
"I dare say it won't be enough!" Brailen laughed.
Storm chuckled wearily herself as she raised her knuckles to the door. She had not even the chance to knock before the door swung open to reveal a very imposing man. His physicality was none too impressive, but the authority and poise that he maintained clearly hinted at a deep well of power sleeping lightly within him. He was the very image of the consummate wizard — hawkish nose, weathered skin tanned from years of travel, ink-stained fingertips, long gray beard, and eyes so piercing that they seemed to cut to the soul.
"And ye would be right, Brailen Roseveil. But if memory serves correctly, I wasn't the one to sneak into thy bed during the dead of night!" Brailen blushed to her toes. "As much as a fond memory warms the heart, child, it seems that more than one among ye is in need of a bed." He snorted disdainfully and knuckled his mustache. "By Mystra's silver flame, just about anything will wash up on the shore these days!" He motioned curtly for the group to enter before either could open their mouths to speak.
Storm and Brailen grinned at the playful gruffness in the man's tone. The giant, Reg, looked as if he would bolt for the countryside at any moment. Where wizards were concerned, it was a very sensible attitude. The Old Mage himself had said so on many an occasion. Elminster smiled warmly up at the man and again motioned for the group to enter.
"Come in, be welcome, and find thy peace in my home. Mind some of the plants, though. I haven't had time to feed them this week, and they're getting rather unsettled." Reg gulped, Brailen tittered, and Storm made sure that her sword was still within easy reach before crossing the wizard's threshold. Normally El was safe to be around, but again, with wizards one could never tell.
Storm shook her head and smiled. Sharp tongue and sharper wit, none bested or surprised Elminster. She gathered her bags and gently nudged Brailen forward, causing the Archmage to stumble from her giggles and into the tower proper. As Reg lumbered forward, Elminster raised a hand to the tall man, causing him to pull up short lest he tread the mage under his muddy boots.
"A moment of thy time, my gentle giant." The mage stepped up to Reg, and stared deeply into the face of the red-haired girl. After a long and uncomfortable moment, the Magister's eyes slid down her petite form, as if studying her every curve. His eyebrows shot nearly to his silvery hairline as he stared at her ample bosom, but he schooled himself immediately.
"Come now, Graybeard!" Brailen said coldly, missing the wizard's expression completely. "Give your roving eye a rest, and let the poor girl retain some modesty!" Elminster snorted crossly and knuckled his mustache.
"How many years has it been since thy apprenticeship, Brailen?" His voice was fully the gruff teacher again, bringing a smile to the Archmage's lips.
"Too many, and assuredly not enough, Old Mage. Why do you ask?"
"Because dear lass, I wonder how you could mistake this buxom little goddess for a female, when she is in fact a strapping young man!"
The Archmage stared at Elminster as if he had grown a second head, as did Storm and Reg. Each had ample evidence to counter Elminster's claim. The women could testify first hand that the petite warrior was indeed female. They both had tended her wounds, and in the process had discarded what remained of her tattered rags.
"Surely you jest, Elminster," Storm began. The rest of her argument died on her lips as the Magister snapped his fingers, causing a small globe of steaming water to gently wash over the girl's chest. Gone was the petite elf maid, and in her place lay a well-muscled young human male. Brailen gasped, Storm simply stared, and Reg dropped the girl-turned-boy altogether. Had Elminster not been there to catch the lad with his spell, there would assuredly be many more wounds to tend to than already accounted for.
Brailen and Storm carefully crept closer to the floating figure, either not noticing Elminster's wry grin or conveniently ignoring it altogether. Storm touched the boy's bandaged chest in amazement, feeling the sculpted muscles of a very male figure. The wrappings were taut and she could just see the tops of the strange tattoos that had been present on the young woman. Brailen went a bit further and lifted the heavy blanket that they had wrapped the girl boy's naked figure in earlier.
"Oh my!" she gasped, and blushed. Storm quickly peeked beneath the blanket as well, swallowing hard as she did so.
"Oh my, indeed!"
"A-hem!" Elminster cleared his throat gruffly, causing both women to blush a deeper shade of red. "I trust that ye have had an eyeful, ladies. As such I'll be sending the lad to his rest." With a clap of his hands, the boy disappeared in a flash of light, leaving the quartet standing out on the stoop in the fading afternoon.
"Shall we?" Elminster said with a bow and a flourish towards the door. "Supper is almost done, and Valor hates it when guests dine on cold food." The trio nodded dumbly and allowed their host to shepherd them into his home.
Reg swallowed heavily and whispered a prayer to three or four deities, hoping to leave the mage's home unscathed. He added four more to his list just to make certain that he had his bases covered.
The Ivy Mansion,
Four days hadn't seen much change at the Ivy Mansion, regardless of how many strange phenomena had decided to occur. Explosions still liberally rocked the estate. Men and women continued to curse themselves in new and very creative ways on an hourly basis. And most importantly, new and often unsettling discoveries were made.
If there was any single place in all the Realms more renowned and feared for the chaotic curiosity and unpredictability of its wizardly hosts, Ulin hadn't found it. She'd looked high and low for over two hundred years, too.
It was unique. It was quirky.
It was home.
She'd lived in Waterdeep, hunted in Icewind Dale, and shopped in Amn. She'd summered in Silverymoon, and wintered in Calimshan. Yet none of those places held the same charm that her family home held for her.
Sadly, that charm was seriously tarnished today. It wasn't due to the fact that poor cousin Gertrun had blown herself up during the Great Surge the night that Usagi had arrived. Things like that were all too common where the Harpells were concerned. No, the newest resident of the mansion was the source of this bleak pall. Not the rather smelly slime demon that cousin Agribald had gated in this morning. No it was the rather scantily clad self-proclaimed warrior of Love and Justice that drew the cloud of concern over the Harpell Estate.
Ulin had come by three times a day with meals, but Usagi hadn't touched a one. Considering the appetite that the girl had shown at the evening meal on her first day, this had caused quite some concern for Ulin. She had tried coaxing, pleading, and reasoning with the young woman, all to no avail. It was as if the hope had rapidly drained out of her.
Such an event seemed quite impossible, given Usagi's effervescent attitude even after her plight had been revealed. She had vowed to weather any storm, climb any mountain, and even do her homework — what ever that meant — to speed up the process of finding a way home. Which made this turn in character all the more concerning. At first it had seemed that the Surge itself was the culprit.
No one had an answer for the magical surge that had happened that fateful night, and so many laid the blame at Usagi's feet. Spells had performed at insane levels, and the effects of those spells were still being felt throughout the mansion. Everyone prattled on about one theory or another. Some openly claimed that the displaced girl was the root of the problem, but Ulin had heard protests from many corners that this could not have been the case. Usagi had been here for hours before the phenomenon had occurred, and no one could bring themselves to fully implicate the poor girl, especially after seeing her hopelessness face to face.
Still, blaming the melancholy completely on the Surge seemed all too easy. Something else was at work behind the girl's depression, Ulin was certain. The girl had to have talked with someone, or rather someone had most likely talked to her.
A number of culprits readily came to mind: Kithia, Oumeg, Jareth, and Lor. Each of the fools had a propensity for pragmatic cruelty that had become legendary amongst the family. Ulin wouldn't be surprised if one or more of the group had revealed the long odds that Usagi was working against here, just to laud their superior intellects over the poor castaway. Still, long odds or not, that was no excuse in the Genasi's mind to give up.
Thus, this morning, Ulin — who had never had a strong sense of patience in the first place — decided to confront the problem head-on. With extreme care, she nursed the young woman's door open and after but a moment's hesitation, motioned for the floating bucket of frigid water to follow her in. She had made certain to find the one of the largest containers in the mansion, which was saying a lot, all things considered. It wasn't as big as the towering behemoth that Sadrizar had conjured the night of the Surge — that beast was almost as big as the mansion itself! — still, her choice in magically enlarged buckets was a humdinger. A full-grown Orc could bathe in it comfortably (an oxymoron to be certain), which made it the perfect size to wash away Usagi's poor spirits.
Gratefully, Ulin's target slept soundly as the sorceress silently closed the door behind her. The girl's eyes were puffy and the dress that she had worn on her first day at the mansion was a wrinkled mess. Her hair was a rat's warren of knots that would have daunted even Doila's mirror. The room stank of sweat and tears, and Ulin noted with some disgust that the chamberpot hadn't been emptied either.
"Ridiculous!" she hissed as she drew near the bed. The girl had every right to mourn, but to allow herself to fall so easily into hopelessness was unforgivable. The flowery reek firmed Ulin's resolve further; one way or another, she was going to pull this girl from her sorrows, even if she had to drag Usagi kicking and screaming from the Mansion to do it!
With exaggerated care, Ulin maneuvered her frigid bucket into the most strategic position she could. She was careful not to place it directly over Usagi's head. There was no sense in drowning the poor girl before Ulin had a chance to give her a piece of her mind. The Genasi paused when the bucket was situated over the bed correctly, and in a sense of fair play Ulin offered Usagi one chance to lift herself from the mire.
"Usagi." She nudged the girl with a brush from a nearby dresser. There was no way that she was going to touch the girl; at least not until she had bathed. "Usagi, wake up."
"Go 'way." The blonde mess rolled over and presented her back to Ulin. The Genasi smiled impishly and shrugged.
"Hard or easy, the result will be the same," Ulin said gravely. "One way or another, you are getting out of this bed now."
"I said go away."
Ulin motioned with her left hand, and the mammoth bucket upended itself.
Residents outside the mansion, and most inside as well, were rattled by the high-pitched wail that erupted from the guest wing of the mansion. Windows vibrated in their frames, the ground trembled, and flocks of birds took to wing from the hodge-podge roof of the mansion proper.
One resident in particular nearly jumped out of his skin. Poor Hevig Harpell hadn't slept well in the four days since Usagi's arrival. He was haunted by visions of a shapely angel continuously trying to hunt him down and well do something dreadfully painful with that heart-shaped mace of hers. There were other dreams as well, many of which the middle-aged Harpell refused to remember. The ones that he couldn't forget made him desperately hope that Mistress Usagi wasn't a mindreader.
Hevig mopped the nervous sweat from his brow and swallowed hard. Perhaps he could visit cousin Gavin in Silverymoon. He would have to find a way around his allergies to the cats, and the frogs, and the ferrets, and of course the horses — mustn't forget the horses— a small price to pay if it kept his head attached to his shoulders.
"WHAT WAS THAT FOR?" A very wet and shivering Usagi demanded from the soaked bed. Frigid water pooled around her body, causing her teeth to chatter uncontrollably as she glared daggers at Ulin.
"To wake you."
"WELL, IT DID ITS JOB! THANK YOU VERY MUCH!"
"You're welcome." Ulin sat atop the upended bucket before Usagi's bed with a warm smile firmly in place. "Are you ready to face a new day?"
"Oooooh!" Usagi growled and shook her head, trying to get the excess water out of her ears.
"No?" Ulin's dark eyebrow rose speculatively. With a snap of her fingers a second bucket, a little smaller than the first, appeared above Usagi, sloshing more icy water down the girl's back. Usagi stiffened immediately and began to wave her hands desperately.
Ulin's smile was about as warm as the water had been.
"Good. You've wallowed in your self-pity long enough."
Usagi growled something under her breath.
"I'm sorry. I didn't catch that," Ulin said sweetly.
"What would you know about how I feel?" Usagi grumbled.
"More than you will ever know." Ulin looked away from Usagi and set about collecting the buckets. "You've twenty minutes to get dressed and be ready to meet the day. I will be waiting for you in the reading room."
"And if I'm not?" Usagi asked petulantly. The grin she received from the green-skinned woman before her was not a pleasant one.
"A certain Aunt of mine enjoys bathing in a particular mountain lake. I should be able to break a hole in the ice large enough for you in twenty minutes." The look on Ulin's face begged for Usagi to call her bluff. "You've less than nineteen minutes and counting, Usagi. I suggest that you make the most of them."
Usagi watched as the Genasi sauntered out of the room, and waited for a full minute before scrambling out of the bed. She thanked her lucky stars that the mirrors were still in the room, and prayed silently that they would help get the stink off as well as dress her.
Four days had allowed Keiichi to settle himself somewhat amongst the monks. It was nice to have a strict routine to fall back on in order to take the edge off the strangeness of his situation. He had awoken early the second morning to find that he could no longer understand anyone, which caused him to panic a bit. No one really understood how or why he had lost his ability to speak the language; some said that it was a spell running its course, and others thought that he might be faking ignorance for some nefarious purpose.
Okay, so that was only Sister Temlaine — but she seemed intimidating enough to be two or three people in her own right. There were other theories, to be sure, the mysterious Surge for one — not that Keiichi understood any of them; even after a hasty spell from Evendur had opened his ears and loosed his tongue again. A few hours later, the language barrier returned with a vengeance when the spell had finally run its course.
The monks and nuns had refused to cast the spell on the third day, insisting that he teach them to speak his tongue, while they taught him theirs. It seemed a fair trade — frustrating, but fair. It was a mind-numbing task that took up most of his day, and often became frustrating for both student and teacher. Especially since Sister Maerdith had eagerly volunteered to be both teacher and student to Keiichi. Her enthusiasm was draining.
They would begin at dawn, right after the morning meal, and work straight through to late afternoon. The complexity of the Japanese language was giving her headaches, and it was giving him migraines. Speaking was one thing, but trying to teach someone else all of the grammar rules was terribly exasperating. Thankfully, Evendur would come for him an hour before the evening meal, saving both teacher and student from the inevitable fate of throttling each other.
The second day of their studies, Sister Maerdith brought Keiichi a rather foul-smelling potion to drink. Years of living alongside Urd had left him gun-shy of such things, which was why Sister Maerdith found herself wrestling the traveler to the floor and pouring the thick, pasty concoction down his throat. She had drained the rest of the evil tasting glop with a tiny shiver, and the lessons began anew.
Keiichi's mind seemed afire as he rapidly digested the rudiments of the Lantanese and Chondathan tongues. By the time that Evendur had arrived, he had improved immensely. Sister Maerdith too, picked up more than she had been. As foul as the draught had tasted, it had performed miraculously — something that Urd's potions never did. By the third day, Keiichi was sounding more or less like a four- or five-year-old with his Chondathan. His Lantanese was a little better, but not much.
Day four was shaping up to be a slow build.
"Uh Sister Maerdith? Why we no use more drink?"
"Simply put, Master Keiichi, we can't."
Keiichi arched an eyebrow at her defensive tone. "Why?"
"There are no shortcuts to true learning," she said stiffly. Keiichi wasn't sure he had caught all that she had said, but he had gotten the gist of what she meant.
"This take very long time, no?" Sister Maerdith shrugged as she laid out her books.
"That depends entirely on you. If you work hard, you'll have Lantanese mastered in a few months."
"Um what mean to say 'Yeafen'?" Keiichi knew that he had butchered the question, but it was one of the only phrases that he could pronounce correctly.
"Yeafen is " the nun thumbed through her ledger of notes rapidly. " tsuki?"
"Oh! Month! I is understanding now!" Keiichi nodded his head vigorously. The rest of the day's lessons were slow, but filled with progress all the same. Evendur arrived later than usual that afternoon, with a summons for Keiichi to present himself at Ellosin's personal study before evening prayer.
Rage. Hatred. Fear.
He had felt these things directed his way all too often in his life, and so they came as little surprise. No, what truly surprised him were the other emotions dancing around him.
Pity. Concern. Protectiveness.
Those were emotions only came from a select few.
<Give him to me, Spellcow! Now, before I tear out your eyes!> Ranma could feel his skin prickle at the threat, but he could not find the strength to care. He felt someone pulling on his right arm, followed by a reflex of someone possessively clutching his left arm. Finding the strength to think was hard enough, anything else was next to impossible! He didn't want to open his eyes, hoping that this was all some sort of stupid nightmare — especially considering the all too familiar battle that awaited him.
He counted to ten. And then he counted back to one again. He willed himself to be back in his room at the Tendos. Unfortunately nothing changed. As usual.
He felt unusually weak — worse than the old Perv's little pressure point, the bastard — and his head felt remotely like a stuffed watermelon. He sighed tiredly as a woman scornfully laughed near by and felt someone clutch him tighter.
Nothing good ever came of that kind of laugh.
<Your wits are mired in a midden heap, Shar! There is no way in the Nine Hells that I would let you have him!>
Yup. Nothing good. Ranma started to pray to his ancestors, hoping that at least one of them made it to someplace remotely divine. Obviously he had hoped for more than his forebears were willing to offer. Either they weren't listening, or nobody had made it to the afterlife. Considering his track record and Genma's stellar example, Ranma was certain that his ancestors were laughing at him from the depths of Hell. It was the only thing that could explain his crappy life.
Okay, so maybe the ancestor thing didn't work, but like most of the Japanese, he didn't have his eggs all in one basket. He just needed to send his prayers to someone else. How about Susano-Oh? Ranma had always felt drawn to the guy. There was something about being named the "Impetuous Male" that just resonated with Ranma. The oh-so-familiar tug-of-war was really starting to hurt, which added the necessary desperation the young martial artist needed to spice up his prayer.
To his surprise, he heard a phone ringing in his head. It rang, and rang, and rang, and rang. It rang some more, and he felt like he was going to be ripped in half. Come on! Answer the damn phone already!
It rang twice more, and then someone picked up on the other end. Yatta!
"Yo. I ain't here. Thor and Bacchus are pitching a wild one in Ama-no-Uzume's backyard. Free booze and all the buffalo wings that you can eat. Bring 'em if ya got 'em! And if this is Amaterasu callin' ta nag me again "
Ranma winced as the sound of an air horn blasted though his head. When the ungodly noise stopped, Ranma thought that he heard a beep through the ringing of his ears. He wasn't entirely sure, since he was too busy cussing a blue streak.
The string of insults and swearing lasted a good ten minutes. He cursed the Heavens and Hell, he cursed his ancestors and his father, he damned the phone company for playing such a wicked joke and promised in very plain language that he was going to shove a phone — preferably a large and cumbersome model — up someone's Well, someplace where the sun definitely can't shine. Ranma felt that some of the colorful phrases were rather creative, and wholly fitting considering the circumstances. Something seemed to "click" in his head, strangely reminding him of an answering machine turning off.
Wouldn't it just be his luck that Susano-Oh really had an answering machine? If he did, Ranma figured that the god would take his call one of two ways: He'd either be extremely offended (Ranma had said some rather nasty things about the "Impetuous Male" after all), or the Storm Lord would laugh himself to death. Ranma darkly hoped that it would be the latter. It was asking a lot, but a man had to hope.
The urgency of the tug-of-war was really starting to increase, and like a pressure cooker, Ranma could feel the stress building. It was only a matter of time before the whole damn pickle blew. He felt someone wrap another arm around him, which was immediately mirrored by the other woman. The very air was charged with their anger.
Now, Ranma considered himself well-versed in cursing and insulting. After all, Genma had spent ten years calling the young martial artist every name in the book. Hell, the old fart had even coined a few new phrases to boot! Nothing, however, could have prepared Ranma for the blistering foulness of these two women. Even after his little tirade, Ranma knew that there was no way that he could compete.
They were creative in a way that made Ranma want to vomit. A thousand images danced in his mind, each fouler than the last. Some words just weren't supposed to come out of a woman's mouth. Hell! Some imagery was too much to leave a man's mouth! Just hearing the cursing made Ranma feel the need for a bath. It was a humbling, if not terribly disturbing, experience.
If it hadn't been for the fact that they were slinging mud while yanking on his arms, he might have actually enjoyed the show. However, women fighting over him was up there with cats. A shiver ran down his spine at the thought of getting caught in the middle of yet another ca-ca-catfight.
The pair moved into a rather guttural language that Ranma couldn't understand, and their screeching voices were beginning to really make his head throb. That was it. He couldn't take it anymore.
"Oi! Knock it off!" He wasn't surprised that they didn't hear him. Their frantic tugging increased and Ranma felt like he was being torn in half.
Something snapped in him. Maybe it was the simple fact that he was tired and his head hurt. Perhaps it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. Then again, it could have been years of martial instinct finally taking over. Ranma blindly reversed their holds on him, smoothly spun and tucked, and in a very deft movement slammed both women face down on the ground.
All without opening his eyes.
The sense of surprise was tangible.
The young martial artist quickly secured his pin and counted backwards from one hundred before speaking.
"Get this straight." The Soul of Ice was such a wonderful technique. It made his words come out twice as cold as they should have. "I ain't no one's toy. I ain't no one's property. And I sure as hell ain't goin' anywhere with either o' you. Got it?"
Silence met his ears and a cold prickling danced up and down his arms and spine. He wasn't sure what it meant, but it definitely felt like someone walking over his grave. The women beneath him began to struggle and Ranma sighed. Again.
"I don't know why I'm even trying. It's not like anyone ever listens." He released them and stood up smoothly. It was past time to see what new mess he had gotten himself into. What he saw when his eyes opened would literally haunt his every waking moment for the next few months.
He was familiar with the female body. He had one, after all. However, in all of his days he had never seen a "perfect" female body. Now, standing before him, he saw not one, but two. One was dressed in shadows that left nothing to the imagination, while the other wore an equally revealing dress made wholly of glittering stars. Their faces were, for lack of a better word, Divine. Each luscious curve tugged at his eyes, and made his stomach squiggle and worm in a way that not even Shampoo or Ms. Hinako could hope to inspire. He felt the fires of lust for the very first time in his young life, but only until his eyes met theirs.
Windows to eternity. That's what he saw when he looked into their eyes. There was a depth to their gaze that he had never experienced before, and the need to kneel and worship these women seemed perfectly within reason. They loomed over him. They made him feel so tiny.
He could feel them calling to him, coaxing, tempting, and promising things.
Power. Adventure. Freedom. Love.
They said all the right things and made all the right gestures. Had they continued to focus their attention on him, he would have lost himself to them. However, the shadow woman crossed the path of the other, earning a rather painful kick to the rear from the star woman, and thus spell was broken.
Ranma turned away and started to sneak from the nasty catfight with all the stealth that he could muster. He tried his best to ignore the shouted voices and their subsequent cries of "MINE!"
When he heard the first explosions, stealth was tossed to the wind. It didn't matter how tired he felt, he ran anyway. When the voices of the women started calling after him he doubled his speed.
"Storm looked up from her reading beside the boy's bed, and noted that he was thrashing in his sleep. Given the battle they had just survived, she didn't blame him. She calmly set her book aside and started to move to the bed when the youth sat bolt upright with a haunted look in his otherwise vacant eyes.
He was panting as if he had run for miles.
She could tell immediately that he wasn't truly awake. His eyes darted back and forth never really settling on anything. His hands also moved, as if he were using them to blindly find his way through a dark cavern. He was panicked, as though some terrible creature was hunting him. She watched uneasily as the boy scooted across the bed until his back was firmly against the headboard.
Storm had seen enough magic and strangeness in her life to see that the boy might be under a foul spell, and immediately called out to El. A moment later she was grateful she had, for the glow of silver flames spread outward from his body in a bright nimbus and black lightning danced up and down his form.
"Gods above. What have I brought into this home?"
Gainsburrow Abbey was a curious place, not at all like any monastery that Keiichi had ever seen. Not that he'd seen many Well, uh He'd never actually seen one at all, to tell the truth, but this place was about as far from the idea of a monastery that one could get.
There was no chanting, except in the evening sometimes and the sense of peace that was supposed to hang around holy places was conspicuously absent. He supposed that was due to all of the crashes and explosions that rocked the compound during the day. It reminded Keiichi of the Nekomi Tech machine shop back home.
It was humbling, in a way, to walk these halls. Even after living in the presence of three — and at times more — goddesses, not to mention in a temple of his own, Keiichi had never felt this awed. No, that wasn't the right word. He had stood side by side with Belldandy before the Judgment Gate. Poised on the threshold of Eternity and clutching desperately to her hand, he had walked through that terrifying portal, not knowing beforehand how the Gods would judge his love for her. He had felt more humbled, more in awe of life and Belldandy's love for him, in that single moment than in any other he had ever experienced.
No. These halls energized him in way that he had never felt before. He hungered to learn. He needed to learn, and share his learning with others. It was a wonderful thing to feel.
Ingenuity, patient exploration, and the exchange of ideas and learning all pointed in one general direction: progress. This was the conceptual foundation of the faith of Ohgma; something that Keiichi believed in wholeheartedly. Life without progress was empty and dead.
"To be certain."
Had he been speaking out loud? Keiichi pulled up short and shook his head. Seated before him, just outside Ellosin's study sat a handsome man. His clothing was modest, yet elegant at the same time. His dark hair and curiously verdant eyes shone with something more than human. A large tome, situated in the man's lap, was opened to reveal pages that had long ago turned gold with age. No. They were gold!
"I I'm sorry to have disturbed your reading." Keiichi scratched the back of his neck nervously.
"No harm done, Master Keiichi." The man closed his book and stood. "Could I trouble you for a walk?"
Keiichi rubbed his cheek and chanced a look at Ellosin's door.
"I'm sorry, but uh, Ellosin "
" Has been detained in other business. He asked that I entertain you for a time, Master Keiichi, while he attends to temple affairs. Do you mind?"
"Oh. Of course not." Well, that was sure odd. Not unheard of, but odd. Ellosin was a busy man er, elf. It wasn't out of the ordinary that he would introduce people to Keiichi either. The man motioned for Keiichi to lead the way, and fell in step beside him immediately. They walked for a time through the energetic halls, and yet they saw not another soul.
That was extremely odd.
"Forgive my manners, Master Keiichi. My name is Ty Binder."
"Keiichi Morisato. It's a pleasure." The displaced young man bowed slightly, and was surprised to see his gesture returned.
"I must protest. The pleasure and honor are mine." The man's smile was genuine, setting Keiichi's heart at ease. "From what I hear, you've come a visiting from quite a distance."
"I guess you could say that, yeah." How does one describe the distance from another reality?
Silence built for a time, each man walking with his own thoughts. Ty's stride was long, and Keiichi had to take two steps for his every one.
"May I ask you a personal question, Master Keiichi?" The question came, but it wasn't unexpected. So many people had felt the need to pump him for information over the last few days, why should this experience be any different?
"Sure, go ahead."
"Would you consider yourself a religious man?"
Keiichi had expected any number of questions, ranging from the climate of his home to what is this thing called a microwave? The subject of religion had never really occurred to him. He should have expected this sooner or later though; this was a monastery, after all. It was only a matter of time before someone tried recruiting him or whatever it was called.
"That's a tough question to answer." Blech! How lame! Way to dodge a question, Morisato!
Too bad Ty didn't pick up on it. "How so?"
"Well, I'm honestly not sure how to answer it," Keiichi hedged.
"It seems a straightforward enough question, don't you think?"
"Look, Mister Binder. Don't get me wrong, I really appreciate the effort, but I don't think I'm what you're looking for in a convert." Way to go! Not too forceful, and a tad diplomatic as well. Hopefully that would nip any more attempts at indoctrinating him.
"Oh? I think you have all the right instincts to worship Ohgma." Keiichi grimaced inside. "However, I am not trying to proselytize you, Master Keiichi."
"No?" Well, that was a first.
"Then why ask?"
"Why continue to dodge the question?"
He had Keiichi there.
"Good point." The young man sighed and rubbed his neck, but after a moment he gathered his courage and pressed forward. Ellosin had said that honesty was the best policy, and so Keiichi went with it.
"Yes and no."
"Yes and no?" Ty laughed. "You're a bit of a fence-sitter, aren't you?"
Keiichi chuckled. "I suppose I am at that."
"This is puzzling to me, Master Keiichi." Ty rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "How can a man, who has truthfully proclaimed to love and be loved by a goddess, not be religious?"
Keiichi rolled his shoulders and hung his head somewhat shamefully.
"I wish that I knew."
"Is that why you were sent away? Because the Powers That Be could not accept a faithless love?" Keiichi's steps faltered, and he scrambled to keep his footing. The young man blinked up at his companion and then immediately looked away. There was only honest curiosity in the other man's face. But the anger that he felt at that question remained.
He loved Belldandy! And he had lots of faith! He went to the temples on holidays. He paid his respects to his ancestors.
"I I " What could he say to something like that? He knew what he wanted to say, but Keiichi had been around Urd long enough to know that there was a certain etiquette to be practiced in temples. Cussing a blue streak was not something that one did in holy places. So he took a deep, steadying breath and plunged forward.
"I don't really know what it means to be religious. I mean, I've lived with three goddesses for close to four years. In that time I've seen all sorts of things: demons, angels, magic, mischief and miracles. But in all of that, I don't see a big, over-arching, all-encompassing Plan."
"You don't?" Ty asked with a knowing grin.
"Not unless it has something to do with terrorizing mortals and making their lives a hell on Earth."
Ty nodded his head sagely. "There are some Powers here that believe that way."
"You've no idea." Ty deadpanned. "Truthfully, though, Master Keiichi, have you never asked yourself that timeless question — 'Why me'?"
Keiichi snorted. "Of course I have. Who hasn't?"
"Why you?" Keiichi looked at him quizzically. "Why were you chosen to receive a wish, above so many others? How could you, above all other men, capture the heart of a goddess?" Ty watched as Keiichi tried to hide his discomfort.
After a long time, Keiichi sighed. "I don't know."
"Does not knowing matter to you?" Ty asked quietly.
"Yeah. I suppose that it does."
"Then why not exercise a little faith?"
Keiichi looked at the man walking next to him for a moment, and then stopped altogether. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"Go out on a limb. Take a chance. Gamble." Ty's smile was sly and knowing. "That's what you've always been afraid of, isn't it?"
"What?" Keiichi fidgeted, shifting his robes around his shoulders.
"The Answer." The capital "A" was easily noted.
"The answer to what?" Keiichi hedged.
"Don't be dense. The Answer. The answer to 'why me'? The answer to 'what's the Big Picture here'?" Ty paused and pinned Keiichi with a very disconcerting look. "You are so afraid of answers, Master Keiichi, that you refuse to ask any of the right questions."
"And what would those be?" Keiichi pulled his robe's belt a little tighter in order to control the urge to deck the guy. Who in the heck did he think he was to judge Keiichi like this?
Ty shook his head. "A lot of heart, good amount of brains, but no common sense."
Keiichi ground his teeth.
Keiichi moved his head to look up and down the hallway, but saw nothing of any real interest. His eyes settled on first himself and finally Ty, but for the life of him he didn't understand what Ty was getting at.
"I don't get it."
"Step outside of yourself, Master Keiichi. Step outside of yourself and look at this situation from every possible angle, even if the possibility is improbable. Only then will you understand why you were sent here."
"What are you talking about?"
Ty Binder smiled patiently and shook his head. "What helped you through those first tumultuous months with Verthandi, Master Keiichi? What helped you endure all of the pain and humiliation that her beloved sisters heaped upon you?" Ty paused. His gentle grin became a full-blown smile. "What guided your steps through the Judgment Gate?"
Keiichi stood slackjawed for a moment as the full realization of what he was talking to hit him. He hadn't expounded on his tribulations with Urd and Skuld, nor had he spoken of the Judgment Gate with anyone except Belldandy. In his experience, only a god could pull stuff from his head like that. Knowing this didn't stop his mouth from asking the inevitable question.
"Who are you? Who are you really?" Keiichi demanded. "How how do you know all that?"
"I am who I am, Morisato Keiichi. You have the right of it at the very least. I am the Binder of all Knowledge. I am the great Namer." Ty waved his hands this way and that, motioning to encompass all that Keiichi could and could not see. "It was given to me to name everything — living and dead, concept and fact. Nothing comes to Toril without me first giving it a name and a place in the great scheme of things." He smiled at Keiichi warmly.
"You, however, and two others like you, cannot be given names. Not by me, at least."
Keiichi couldn't resist. He had to know the answer.
"It was decreed that you shall find your own names and your own places here in this world, and if you proved worthy of greater gifts ." Ty trailed off with a shrug, and the proceeded to walk again. "One of you is divine by birth. One divine by chance. But one of you can be divine by design."
"By design?" Keiichi asked. The words hadn't really settled, but the seed had been planted.
"It is an old idea, really. Don't let it surprise you."
"That would be telling, now wouldn't it?"
"You won't tell me?" Keiichi asked cautiously.
"And ruin the journey? Certainly not!" Ty answered with a grin. Keiichi shook his head. "I will tell you this, Morisato Keiichi, for you already know it in your heart. Love has always guided your steps before, and it will not fail you now."
Keiichi swallowed and watched the handsome man start to pull away from him.
"I've set your steps, but your path is your own to walk." Ty turned and smiled at Keiichi one last time. "I will allow you to pass on a few concepts from your world to mine, Master Keiichi. It will make the way easier for you and for those who worship me." He paused at a doorway leading out into a courtyard and smiled back at Keiichi. "I will also leave you with this advice. Find your Faith. Find it before you are found wanting. Fare you well, Master Keiichi. We shall not meet again in this lifetime."
And with that he left, leaving Keiichi alone with his thoughts in an empty corridor.
His life depended on it.
It wasn't the exploding terrain, the superheated air, or even the way that lightning seemed intent on skewering him that tipped him off. It was the way that the shadowy woman was doing her level best to explain how wonderful life was going to be. Eternity as a s-se love slave was anything but desirable on Ranma's long list of to-do's, regardless of how gorgeous said woman was. The simple fact that she was backing up her offers with well, exploding earth, super-heated air, and lightning It says a lot about a person's personality, y'know? The woman scared him more than Kodachi ever had, and that was saying something!
Not that Ranma Saotome was scared of a chick. Not really. Naaaw. He just respected the few things in creation that could really give him a run for his money .
Not that some nutbar Goth-girl had a chance of beating him. Nope. No way. Ranma was just trying to give 'em a break, was all. It was a privilege to be beaten by the best, and sure, he was irresistible, but a guy had to draw the line somewhere! He had enough women in his life to last ten men. There was no need to add any more to the mix.
Still, the Saotome Final Technique wasn't really getting him anywhere. He'd been running for some time now, and he still hadn't come any closer to figuring a way out of this mess. It was really starting to piss him off. Tack on some really creepy opponents that kept popping out of the woodwork every so often, and Ranma was really starting to get mad. He had fought some rather weird things in his life, but living shadows were just too much! It brought a whole knew meaning to the phrase "shadow boxing". The starry woman had tossed some sort of ki attack that lit everything up, dissolving the shadows, effectively showing Ranma their weakness.
This, of course, pissed the shadow woman off enough that she would shift her attention away from Ranma for a time, giving the martial artist time to put some distance between his pursuers and himself. It never lasted long, though, regardless of where he went or hid.
That became another sticky point for Ranma. He had no idea where he was, but it sure felt familiar. He was certain that he had passed through his mother's house at one point, and the rocky area that he had run through not too long ago looked an awful lot like the one where his father trained him with the Habu pit vipers. And he couldn't be sure, but the small lake that he had just swum across looked an awful lot like the Tendo's koi pond . This whole experience was like some bad dream. No, make that "nightmare". He could usually wake himself from his dreams.
Everything was little more than a blur as the terrain around him shifted constantly, hindering his esc er, progress as much as helping with it. More shadows appeared and just as soon disappeared, as Ranma brightly flared his ki. He ran farther, noting the bleakness of the sky and the darkness of the black sands that he was passing over. A dark, boiling storm hung on the horizon, like oil on water. The sight would have filled anyone with trepidation, but not everyone could be privileged enough to be Ranma Saotome. They would have run in fear, whereas he ran forward completely unaware of his surroundings.
It didn't take him long to overtake the storm, driven as he was to find a good hid er Ah, to hell with it! He could admit it to himself. He was scared! Those two women scared the hell out of him, and he wanted to hide like there was no tomorrow! And from the way that those two kept tossing ki, there might not be a tomorrow!
Sickly green lightning danced soundlessly in the blood-red clouds above, barely illuminating the black sands beneath his feet. In the distance loomed a massive obsidian cube. It dominated the horizon, blotting out the sky the closer that Ranma came to it. He wasn't sure what it was, but it looked like it might be a place to find some shelter from the angry screaming and explosions that were rapidly drawing near to him. That was enough of a reason for Ranma to pour on the speed.
The ground rumbled rhythmically beneath his feet the closer that he drew to the black cube. It was a frighteningly familiar sensation that he couldn't quite place — something that instilled a great deal of terror in his heart. But next to the imminent danger at hand, Ranma felt that he would brave some familiar ghost rather than face what was behind him.
"I will not let you have him!"
Oh, Hell! It was the only thought that Ranma could coherently come up with as he searched the base of the gargantuan cube for a door, or a window, or a freakin' mouse hole, for pity's sake!
The starry woman called down a massive bolt of green lightning to strike her opponent. The shadowy woman screamed in agony and immediately retaliated by sending a wave of sandy earth crashing down on her opponent.
It was a day of surprises for Ranma. The impossible was common fare for him, but the way that these two were fighting was just downright cool! Scary as all get-out, but cool! Their techniques held sooo much power! Not to mention the fact that they were flying just like Herb could.
Damn! He still hadn't figured that one out yet, either!
Ranma made a mental note to start working on that technique as soon as the current crisis was out of the way. For the moment, he satisfied himself with feeling around for a hidden door on the huge metallic cube. There had to be a way in! There just had to be!
Ranma's fingers flew across the obsidian surface of the edifice; deftly probing until at last he felt something "click". A large pair of doors began to silently slide open, revealing nothing but more darkness within the depths of the mammoth cube.
His celebrations were short-lived as a starry body slammed into him from behind, bowling him into the waiting darkness. The shadow woman followed closely on their heels. The moment that she passed the threshold of the portal, the doors slammed shut with a great, echoing "BOOM!"
The world grew silent. Lightning no longer fell from the skies, and the earth no longer trembled — it was as if the whole of creation held its breath.
" meow "
To be continued.
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