A Ranma ½ / Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon / Ah! My Goddess crossover story
by L. S. McGill
Disclaimer: Ranma 1/2 characters property of Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video. Sailor Moon characters property of Takeuchi Naoko, Koudansha, TV Asahi, and Toei Douga, and DIC. Ah! My Goddess property of Fujishima Kosuke, Kodansha, TBS and KSS films; AnimEigo, Studio Proteus, and Dark Horse Comics. Other characters who may cameo are property of respective owners. All are used without permission. I did not write this for profit, but for practice. Will be removed at request of original creators or authorized rep.
Zhu Shu (who shoo), Tao-Ching, Xi'an Chi (zy-an chee), and Clans' Dragon and Skorpion are mine, and may be used so long as I am asked beforehand.
Book Two: The Dragon's Child
Chapter One: A Fall of Cherry Blossoms
Time is a tapestry.
If one could step back and somehow view the universe from outside, one could see that all of time exists simultaneously. The past, the future, the now, they all exist at the same time in the grand weave, but for those of us who are the warp and the woof of the tapestry, we can never see how our threads intertwine. Only in the world-computer, Yggdrasil, can this entire tapestry be viewed; and even then, only in part.
At present, the woman sitting at the screen was herself worthy of a second look. The leather harness she wore almost gave her the appearance of wings, the wide straps that curved around her shoulders supporting two trailing pieces that curved on the floor under her. The black halter top and bikini bottom under the leather emphasized the curves and sexuality of her feminine form, displaying her figure to excellent advantage. Her hair was raven black, with almost auburn highlights, the short cropped pixie cut of the front blending into a long thick ponytail that vanished into the seat behind her. The blue diamond shaped tattoos on her forehead and cheeks glinted softly as the light from the monitor played over her beautiful face.
Peorth studied the screen and cursed softly. Another damn bug! They seemed to be increasing in frequency since Urd had bludgeoned the system with that drunken wish. If only Kami-sama hadn’t approved it personally!
And since Skuld had gone to Earth too, she was stuck debugging. She sighed as she got up from the screen, her long black hair clinging to the seat back for a second before she went to the closet and dug out one of Skuld’s hammers. She hefted it a few times, a small grin on her face as she mentally plastered Urd’s face on a bug. Stress relief time!
As she vanished into the world-computer’s depths, a monitor at her workstation flipped itself on and lines of code scrolled across. Within the main screen’s image, a thread shifted imperceptibly.
A warning came up on the main screen and flashed, indicating a probability shift in the thread, a small change akin to the flap of a butterfly’s wing.
The warning acknowledged itself and vanished, leaving behind the image of the tapestry and the faint echoes of an annoyed goddess whose bug hunting had been interrupted when her quarry ceased to exist. The side monitor blinked and turned itself off as Peorth stormed back to her workstation to try and figure out where the bug had gone, only to blink as the system reported none.
Annoyed, Peorth queried Ex, the operator currently on monitor duty. "What happened?"
The operator looked up form her console. "Mistress?"
"The bug, Cherie…. What happened to the bug?"
The young grey-haired female tapped a few keys and ran a system trace.
"It’s gone, Mistress. It appears the bug activated a subroutine and was erased by it."
The girl typed for several more minutes. "I am uncertain, Mistress. There are no records of the subroutine’s actions in the log."
…Curious…. She had Ex transfer the data to her terminal and tried to trace the routine, but ran up against a code wall. It had been activated from a secured section of Yggdrasil she had never realized existed.
She tried every code she could think of, to no avail. Yggdrasil itself denied the section even existed, though with much trial and error, Peorth discovered much of Yggdrasil’s automatic functions seemed to route through it. In fact, it seemed as if the entire reality maintenance subroutine was being monitored by the sealed sector transparently. If she hadn’t investigated the subroutine, it would have been impossible to notice the anomaly.
Aggravated, she settled in to do some digging. It took several hours of eliminating dead ends and blind alleys before she finally located an access portal. Whoever had established the hidden program was good. It was at least as sophisticated as the string program, though its scope seemed limited solely to the Earth. So far all she’d been able to determine, other than its size, was that it several hundred years old.
As she locked onto the portal she felt a grim anticipation. A few keystrokes tied her to the gateway, and she sent a log-on command.
She blinked at the REQUEST DENIED. She typed in her override code again.
//REQUEST DENIED: Override code invalid. Goddess Peorth, you do not have clearance to access.//
"What? Mon Dieu! How did it know who I was?" she muttered to herself, then blinked as letters began typing themselves across the screen.
//I have access to the Yggdrasil database, Goddess Peorth. I verified your clearance. You do not possess sufficient clearance to access me.//
"We’ll see about that, Cherie." She typed in a secondary override and keyed up a code breaker.
//Please desist, Goddess Peorth. You do not possess the required clearance. Further attempts to access will force me to notify my creators of your efforts.//
That caused her to give the screen a raised eyebrow. "I’m the Sysop. Any warnings you send would automatically be routed to me anyway, non?"
//Negative, Goddess Peorth. I am a secured autonomous system established to perform a set task. If I am interrupted or detect interference in my task, I may take such action as I deem needed. I do not at present deem you hostile to my mission, simply curious. I have means to alert my creator to your attempts to hack me, but doing so may result in disciplinary action to you. As you are attempting to isolate what may be a problem within your jurisdiction, I do not feel you deserve this. I am not a problem, Goddess Peorth. I am part of the system.//
"And I’m just supposed to accept your word, mon cherie? For all I know, you may be a virus or a hack program yourself."
//Negative. I am Yggdrasil subroutine 893453784321234453423452345523239787988: Project Phoenix Moon.//
Peorth blinked. She keyed in the subroutine number on her side display and called it up. It was no surprise when it came up classified. She queried a list of authorized users.
She drew in a breath in shock and turned to look at the main screen.
//Please desist in your efforts, Goddess Peorth.//
She nodded and the login screen closed itself. She sat back and mused at the strangeness of an intelligent program that the Sysop wasn’t supposed to know existed.
Still, far be it from her to question Kami-sama. One just did not ask the All-Father why he had a covert program on the world-computer.
But why was Legend listed as the other authorized user? What reason would Kami-sama have to allow the Dragon access to Project Phoenix Moon, whatever that was?
…Silent footsteps moving through intricate patterns. Long ribbons curving through the air in swift motions. One form following another in endless array. Wall of shadows, dance of flame, veil of ice.
Zhu Shu had been doing her forms for hours, lost in the dance as her mind whirled its own dizzying patterns. The physical exercises, ingrained so deeply they were reflexive, had helped her to tune out the outside world and focus inwards, trying to once more find her center amidst the raging emotions in her mind.
The peace of the shrine had been exactly what she needed to calm her raging heart and find her ground again, leaving her calm and detached, an observer able to consciously sort the storm tossed emotions that flowed through her, though staying centered had so far proven to far more difficult than it had ever been in her life. The winds of her emotions had become as unpredictable as a cyclone.
She’d at last conquered the jealousy she’d felt at Shan Pu’s betrothal, filtering her true feelings from the remnants of Akane’s in her mind. Her refusal to Ranma’s offer of marriage had been sound, however personally painful it may have been. He was better off with Shan Pu and Akane, women who felt the passion of his touch.
He deserved better than a woman who could only feel passion with another woman.
She loved him. For all her searching and separating her own feelings from those Akane had left in her head, she could not deny that. Akane’s feelings had merely complimented what she had already felt. She loved him as deeply as she had ever loved anyone, but there was no passion for him in her. His touch sparked nothing sexual. She would have gladly given him her body, had he desired it, but it would have been empty… as meaningless an act as any she had been taught to perform as an Emperor’s concubine.
And he would have felt that… and been hurt far worse than her refusal had done.
Yet everything she could not feel for Ranma, she did for Akane. She could scarcely contain herself in Akane’s presence, for desire of her. She had been so close to falling, to betraying everything she believed: her honor, her duty. For her love, Zhu Shu would have given up on everything she had lived for…
Had it not meant betraying Ranma.
And even that had almost occurred. Had Akane not relented that day in the massage room… she would have fallen…
Too close. Her heart had come too close to betraying them all.
No, far better to seal her emotions back behind a wall of will, back to the way she had endured….
And yet… even now… she would not change what had been, or the wondrous things that had occurred… especially the miracle she had explored in her meditations.
…Somewhere… on some level, she and Akane had never unmerged. There, in the back of her mind, was a connection, a bond. She could feel Akane through it, could feel her moods, and even a sense of some of her thoughts; but over everything else, she could feel her love.
…Sisters, in so much more than blood…
Zhu Shu had worried her by leaving so abruptly, but she had come to understand why she had, and her concern had not lessened in the slightest. Like a mental caress, her subconscious whispered reassurances to Zhu Shu.
She had been grateful for those reassurances the first few hours of her dance, and her attempts to order her thoughts, for they had kept her from drowning in despair, and had helped to distinguish Akane’s emotions from her own. I had enabled her to finally regain some of the calm which had eluded her of late.
Finally centered once more, and for the moment in control of her raging heart, Zhu Shu opened her chi paths again, feeling the warmth of the golden flow. She would forever share Akane’s energy, as Akane shared hers, but like the link, she considered that a blessing. She might have lost her center for awhile from the shock, but she had gained so much more.
She had a sister. Someone she could talk to, and share her heart with, and never fear she would drive her away. She would never be alone; not like she had been. She had been blood-sister to Shan Pu, but the bond to Akane was far deeper. It was more like the bond she had once had with Ying Ying, though in some ways it was far less intense. Her bond with Ying Ying had been created voluntarily, and during several hours of lovemaking, so it had always carried an undercurrent of the passion and utter devotion she had shared with Ying Ying, but they had never exchanged memories like she had with Akane.
She smiled as she recalled again how amazed they had been when she and Ying Ying had blended on that one wonderful day they had surrendered to each others gentle explorations, each striving to give themselves to the other as completely as they could. It had been so sudden, a rush that had chilled her and warmed her like she had never been before or since. It had been like she had suddenly stepped out of her body and partially into Ying Ying’s. She had been able to feel her own hand on Ying Ying’s skin from both her body and Ying Ying’s.
That sensation faded the further away they were from each other, but never fully. Ying Ying had felt every blow her aunt had delivered to her upon the discovery of what Zhu Shu had done, and she had gone to tell Shi what his daughter was doing. Even when Ying Ying’s parents had moved to another village, that link had remained. She had felt Ying Ying’s despair, her hope crumbling, her growing despondency, and finally, her death. She had felt nothing then until she had awoken in her bed looking up at the strange woman’s face and her grandfather. There had been a significant look that had passed between the woman and her grandfather before she had left, never to return.
It was strange. For the first time since she had begun to build her wall against the grief she had been overwhelmed with following Ying Ying’s death, she had been able to think of their days together without the pounding surge of loss that had howled outside the wall for so long. She still felt her loss keenly, but the wild undercurrent that had sought to drag her to her doom for so long had lessened.
For the first time in five years, she could think of Ying Ying without wanting to die.
She felt the tears falling as her body finally could continue no more, and she slowly collapsed into a heap on the floor of the shrine and cried silently.
She felt something soft brush her face and land in her hand. She opened her eyes to see a single cherry blossom, a drop of dew falling down its side like a teardrop.
<< A bloom cannot live away from the tree that nurtures it.>> a quiet voice spoke in her mind. She sat up and turned, but saw nothing, only fitful shadows of the temple fire. She turned forward again and stared at the flower as the single drop of dew was joined by another. It had sounded so much like her voice.
<<Of course it did, love. It is my voice.>>
Zhu Shu looked up and froze, her gaze lost in a pair of bottomless blue eyes surrounded by pink hair. "Ying Ying…"
Zhu Shu shook her head. "I must be…"
<<Dreaming? Most definitely. You haven’t slept in over twenty-four hours and you wore yourself out physically. You fell asleep and I took advantage of your being in the shrine to enter your dreams.>>
"Oh…" Zhu Shu said back, then jumped up to hold her. "Gods, Ying, I’ve missed you!"
The pink haired girl stroked her hair. <<I know, love.>> She let Zhu Shu hold her for long moments. <<I’ve missed you too, Little Mouse. And I’m worried for you.>>
Zhu Shu lifted tear streaked eyes to Ying Ying’s face. "Worried?"
<<Yes.>> Ying Ying stepped away from Zhu Shu so she could look at her, but kept her hands intertwined. <<You have been so distressed lately. And I know that a part of you fears you have betrayed me as much as you fear you almost betrayed others.>>
Zhu Shu gave her a startled glance. "I-I—"
<<Oh, Love. I know that consciously, you don’t think about it that way, but I could always read your heart. I came to comfort you.>>
Zhu Shu turned away. "Beloved… I wish you could. But my heart feels so…"
<<Divided?>> Ying Ying smiled. <<I can tell.>> Her fingers reached out to touch Zhu Shu’s back, Zhu Shu’s clothes suddenly vanishing as Ying Ying traced out the pattern of petals on her back. <<Without you, I faded as a flower torn from a tree will. The Tiger will always be a part of you, yet ever apart as well. And there are two you have yet to meet.>>
Zhu Shu whirled, her eyes locked on Ying Ying’s smile. Her look was one of utterly stunned amazement. Ying Ying leaned forward to peck her on the lips.
<<You never realized? That I am the Flower and Akane is the Tiger?>>
Zhu Shu shook her head.
<<The Dragon gave you signs, Love. To show you your destiny.>>
"Am I destined to lose my loves then? Like you and Akane?"
<<…No…. I was the Flower… Like any flower, I was not destined to remain. I grieve for the pain my loss caused you, yet we were not destined for more than our brief span. But the Flower turns into the seed, as I planted the seeds of the woman you have become in you. Akane is the Tiger, and like the tiger, you needed the strength her love will give you, as she needed the control you gave her. Together you will both be more than either of you would have been apart.>>
"Yet we will never be more than we are?"
<<Do not mourn for that, Beloved. There is happiness in store for you beyond all measure.>>
"…How? I am destined to wed one whom I can never love and fulfill my family duties."
<<No… You are destined to fulfill your family duties with one you will love.>>
Zhu Shu turned away again. "I wish that could be true. Yet I know this is a dream… How much of you is true, and how much is my own fantasies?"
Ying Ying stepped forward, turning Zhu Shu to face her as she wrapped her arms around her and pressed her body against her. <<All of it and none, Love. Yet I would give you a parting gift before you go back to the waking world.>>
<<I want you to have better memories of me than just our parting…Happier memories.>>
Zhu Shu melted with her kiss, losing herself for what seemed like an eternity as once again the feeling of existing entirely within Ying Ying’s love flooded through her and left her breathless. As Ying Ying drew back, she sighed happily.
"I will always have happy memories of you, my love."
<<I know. But for this instant, I don’t want them tinged with sadness.>>
"I cannot promise that when I awake." Zhu Shu smiled. "But when I am with you, I can never be sad."
<<But I am always here, love. I am always and forever here with you.>>
"I don’t understand."
<<In time, perhaps you will.>> Ying Ying looked over her shoulder towards the inner shrine door for a second. <<For now, know that my love for you has never died.>> She reached out to caress Zhu Shu’s face. <<And you can never betray me. Your happiness is paramount. Your friends care for you, beloved. They can help you if you let them.>>
Zhu Shu pressed her face against Ying Ying’s hand, reveling in her touch. "I know they want to. I just don’t know how they really can."
<<…Perhaps…. Perhaps you simply haven’t let yourself realize how they can. You cannot live without love, Little Mouse. Perhaps Akane is out of reach, but there are others closer to hand who care for you more than you realize.>>
Zhu Shu blinked at Ying Ying. "Who?"
Ying Ying smiled. <<Open your eyes, love. You might be amazed at what you’ll see.>>
Zhu Shu shook her head, "I don’t want to wake yet, beloved. I don’t want to leave you."
<<But you must, Little Mouse. It is not yet time for us to be rejoined.>>
Zhu Shu stepped forward, her lips locking against Ying Ying’s as they kissed. For another timeless moment, they stood embraced, their bodies pressed tightly against each other as they shared their love through their contact. Finally, Zhu Shu broke the kiss, and stood back, her eyes closed.
"I don’t want to see you go, beloved. I want my last memory to be your face as we kissed."
Ying Ying giggled. <<Silly. You always were a hopeless romantic, Beloved. It’s one of the things I love about you so much.>>
<<I love you too.>>
A hand reached out to caress Zhu Shu’s face one last time. <<Always and forever, beloved. Always and forever, I am here.>>
Then with a last whisper, as of a fall of cherry blossoms, she was gone.
Zhu Shu gradually let her awareness return to the world around her, and as she expected, found another concerned aura near her, this one sweetly confused. She smiled softly at the memories of the dream, and Ying Ying’s words before opening her eyes to gaze into the violet eyes of Rei Hino, her student and Sailor Mars.
"Zhu Shu? How long have you been here? Why didn’t you wake me?" Rei’s voice was as concerned as her aura, her Shinto vocation as discerning as Zhu Shu’s training.
Zhu Shu yawned and sat up. "I apologize if I have offended, Rei-chan, but there was no need to awaken you. I know my way around the shrine and what I needed most was solitude; yet I welcome you now." It would do no good to attempt to hide that she had fled the Tendo’s… Rei would not be fooled.
"Oh, Zhu-chan, what happened? What’s the matter?"
Zhu Shu moved to sit on a bench and sighed. "I have accomplished my task Rei-chan. Shan Pu is betrothed to Ranma. That which I have worked for is done, but its doing nearly unmade me."
"…Sensei…?" Rei’s eyes were questioning.
Zhu Shu sighed. "Shan Pu was betrothed to Ranma yesterday. I-I just was not prepared for what my feelings proved to be. I needed to get away."
"…Oh, Sensei!" Rei came and sat beside her, putting her arm around Zhu Shu and hugging her. "I’m glad you came here as a haven."
"It has always been thus, from the first day that I awoke within its peace."
Rei finally did a double take. "Your accent?"
"I have changed in ways, Rei. I bear within me pieces of another’s heart, as she bears pieces of mine. It was unexpected, yet I count it a blessing. We will never be separate again." Zhu Shu smiled sadly. "Perhaps it is fate’s way of soothing the pain of the fact that we will never be together, either…"
Rei looked away, shadows in her eyes. "You mean Akane don’t you?" A faint wistfulness was in her voice.
Zhu Shu nodded. "Yes. I am in love with all of them, Rei-chan, if in different ways. Yet I cannot have any of them, for their sakes. But my heart aches with the desire for that which is forever out of reach."
"I know exactly how you feel." Rei whispered softly, forgetting how sharp Zhu Shu’s ears were; nor did she see the long look that Zhu Shu gave her. Rei finally spoke louder. "You must love her a lot."
"Rei-chan, I love her to the point I nearly destroyed both of us. I would have forsaken everything for her sake, except loyalty. In the end, I could not betray a friend. I love her, Rei-chan, but I love Ranma too, so I held her away, for his sake and the love that he and Akane share, and that I hope they will come to share with my blood-sister. I held her away, and Ranma, and Shan Pu… Three times. Rei-chan, three loves, three offers of happiness I knew to be a lie. For their sakes… I had no choice."
"But why…? If Akane and Ranma and Shan Pu all love you?" Rei was looking at her, puzzled.
…"Because, I would have destroyed their happiness, Rei-chan. It is my curse to see too clearly." She sighed. "I know an old lady who calls me a ‘Little Mouse with the eyes of a Dragon’. I think I finally understand what a curse that is."
"The eyes of a Dragon see only truth." Rei quoted. "How is that a curse?"
Zhu Shu looked down, her eyes lost in shadow. "I cannot veil my eyes to see only what I want to see. My heart cannot blind me to the consequences of my giving in to my desires…"
Rei was quiet for a long moment. "As a Shinto priestess, I guess I can see where that makes sense… but as Rei Hino, I know what pain that must cause. It is not… easy… to examine your own heart and desires with clear sight." Her eyes fell on the altar "But as a priestess, I’m supposed to see the truth too." Her voice held a tone of resignation.
It would be simpler, Zhu Shu knew, to let it pass, but she was too bruised and battered from the storm of emotions she had already endured and the dream. She had caused too much pain already. Whirlwind memories flitted through her head… Ying Ying… Sarhia… Akane…
Duty told her what must be done, but that was the future. This was now. She had no more will for fighting the storm… and Ying Ying’s words echoed in her memory.
<<You cannot live without love…>>
She reached out to cup Rei’s face and drew her eyes to meet her own. Rei flinched when she realized what Zhu Shu sought there and tried to look away again…
"What do you desire Rei?" Zhu Shu whispered.
Rei stared, caught in the gaze of the Dragon. She had asked herself that very question a thousand times, a hundred thousand. What did she want? And still her heart had no answer. She had nearly caused Zhu Shu’s death when she had mistaken her for a Cardian, yet had been forgiven so casually. She had envied her, for Zhu Shu was so much of what she longed to be: confident, graceful, poised, yet none of it was pretense. Rei had sneered along with the rest of the Senshi when Zhu Shu had claimed they had been lucky so far, yet she too had had bones broken for her arrogance. She had hated her for how easily she seemed to get respect despite her seeming contentment to play the role of a traditional female in every way but one, and she had been so jealous of the way males seemed to lock on to Zhu Shu whenever they had been together, almost completely ignoring her.
Then she had spent time with Zhu Shu, and had come to realize it was just Zhu Shu’s way. She had no expectations of anyone, and desired none of the male attention she got, yet could not escape either. She cared for her friends unconditionally, regardless of who they were, and when she was teaching, she asked for no less than their best, because she would give no less herself….
And when she had realized Zhu Shu’s preferences, she had become more confused than ever. Rei had been her first friend among the Senshi, and she had always felt she was closer to her than the other Senshi were. She had tended to her, following her near death at their hands; she had won her trust following that. She had cared about Zhu Shu from the start, but the day she had spied on her, things had changed.
Zhu Shu’s quick kiss, following so close on the feelings Rei had felt when watching her practice had sparked a part of Rei she had never acknowledged, a part she had really never recognized was there… but that part had whispered to her what might have happened had Zhu Shu stayed at the shrine.
And that small voice had prompted her to spy on Zhu Shu’s kata the following day, and to the love of friendship was added the element of desire….
In the weeks that followed she had wondered, and explored her feelings, yet she had no answers, only confusion. She liked men. She had a crush on Mamoru, and the boy who helped around the temple, and half a dozen other guys… but she couldn’t deny her attraction to Zhu Shu either.
"The eyes of a dragon see only truth…" Rei whispered, never realizing she was quoting in Chinese. "The flames of a dragon burn away lies… The soul of a dragon is honor… the heart of the dragon is love… the tears of a dragon wash away sorrow… the laugh of a dragon is joy…" Rei turned away from Zhu Shu, her eyes once more resting on the altar, her voice dropping even lower. "Beware the love of a dragon, for only the worthy survive…."
"Yet one dragon-loved shall never die," Zhu Shu finished as Rei’s voice trailed off. "My father would sing me to sleep with that song when nightmares woke me as a child, before he… before he and mother died. It has never failed to comfort me with a sense of the Dragon’s presence, even here so far from home. I have never heard it from anyone before. How come you to know it?"
Rei shook her head. "It’s been stuck in my head ever since I took care of you after the fight… ever since I had a vision when I touched my symbol in your tattoo… Now, whenever I see you I hear that song… and…" her voice trailed off for a long moment. "By my ancestors, Zhu Shu… I’m so confused!" She buried her face in her hands.
"Do you want me?" Zhu Shu asked quietly.
"I don’t know," came Rei’s strangled reply. She stood and started to walk forward. "Gods… I’m sorry, Zhu Shu. You came here to get away from stuff like this."
"Wait," came Zhu Shu’s quiet reply. Rei froze. Zhu Shu stood and stepped up to the taller girl. "What did you see?" Her eyes held a plea as she gazed into the priestess’s violet eyes.
Rei closed her eyes. "I saw a girl with cherry blossoms in her pink hair… I saw Akane with a pair of tiger-pommeled swords… I saw… a ring of fire surrounded by the symbols of the Senshi being swallowed in darkness… and… I saw… The Dragon…" Her voice hesitated. "There was more, I know… but I can’t remember it…" She opened her eyes to look at Zhu Shu sadly. "I don’t know what any of it means…" She turned and made as if to leave again.
"…Rei…?" Zhu Shu’s voice again stopped her.
"Yes, Zhu-chan?" Rei asked quietly.
"Why have you never told me?"
Rei knew instinctively that Zhu Shu wasn’t referring to her vision. She laid a hand against a pillar and whispered, "Because I never had a chance. You love Akane and Ranma. Gods, Zhu Shu, how could I compete with that? Compared to Akane, I’m a graceless cow. She’s learned everything you’ve taught her and I can’t even finish my kata without messing up." She laid her head against the pillar. "And I can’t even honestly make up my mind if I’m in love with you or not! How could I possibly ask you out on a date or anything? I can’t even get up the courage to ask Yuuichiro out! And he’s a boy!"
"I see." Zhu Shu sat back down on the bench. "Rei… There is no shame in being confused. You are young yet. It is hard to know what your feelings are during this time of your life."
Rei sighed. "Don’t you think I know that? I’ve told myself that a thousand times. Then I dream about you, or I watch you during classes and think about how you looked performing your kata that morning… and then I don’t know how I feel any more. Other than how much of a fool I am."
Zhu Shu whispered something too faintly for Rei to hear, but suddenly, light was pouring over her shoulder. Unable to resist, she turned to look at the source of the glow.
A vision of herself stood before her, a mirror image, yet what it showed was far more than just a simple reflection. Her vision self stood naked, clothed only in wisps of flame. Wings of fire fluttered from her back, their slight motions leaving trailers of flame. A sense of presence emanated from the figure, seemingly vulnerable and untried, yet a strength stronger than steel hid within it. It reminded her of a flower, still in bud, but on the verge of blooming into something indescribably beautiful…
"You asked me once how I could tell who you were both in and out of costume." Zhu Shu said quietly. "I told you then that I could see your aura, but there is more to it than just colors, Rei-chan, at least for me. This is how I see you, how I see all of the Senshi. This is my curse, Rei, my dragon-sight. When someone lies to me, or is ill, I can see it in their aura, just as I can when someone tells the truth. Akane’s gained a small part of this ability, to be able to see colors, but I see it all. Look at yourself, Rei. See yourself as I see you." Zhu Shu shook her head. "You are young, Rei, and unsure of yourself, but that does not make you a fool."
Rei was still staring at the vision. "How can you bear it? How can you stand to see that way?"
Zhu Shu shrugged. "Like all things, you grow accustomed to it in time." She let the illusion go. "Rei… I knew from the beginning that you were curious, but I will not play with your emotions. I do not wish you harm, Rei. My duty is to produce an heir; I must eventually marry a man, no matter how I feel about them. I could not marry Ranma because I love him, and my lack of passion would only hurt him. I could see that as clearly as I can see you…" Her voice trailed off as she sighed. "Rei-chan. You are my friend, and I love you as such. I do not know if I am ready to be more, if I can be more, and I do not know if I will cause you pain because of my obligations. but if you decide to pursue me, I will not refuse you." She gave Rei a sadly gentle smile. "I have no right to make up your mind for you. I-I have done that too much of late."
Rei’s gaze locked with hers for a long moment, searching. Finally she nodded. "So it is up to me…" She laughed tiredly. ”Now all I have to do is make up my mind what I want… and to figure out if I dare to love a dragon." She stepped away from the pillar and met Zhu Shu’s golden gaze. "Well, at least you didn’t laugh at me."
Zhu Shu blinked, then gave her a tired smile, her green eyes lighting. "Rei-chan, you should have known I would never have done that." She stepped forward to give her a hug. "I may be your sensei, but I am also, and always, your friend."
Rei smiled. "Hey, Mina-chan’s latest Sailor-V movie is premiering today. You wanna go?"
Zhu Shu smiled "There. See? It wasn’t so hard to ask me on a date."
Rei blinked. "Uh— Well… Yeah, I guess so." She blushed. "Um… I gotta clean up the shrine first before school—" She broke off as she turned to look at the shrine, now finally illuminated by the early morning light. "By my ancestors!"
Zhu Shu joined her in staring. On the floor where Zhu Shu had been practicing, the wood had apparently reshaped itself. A pattern of small wooden tiles now adorned the floor, seemingly as old as the floor itself. Zhu Shu looked at Rei. "I didn’t do it. I don’t have that kind of ability."
Rei shook her head. "I’ll just chalk it up as one more of the many mysteries that surround you. But we better both go and tell grandfather… he’s going to freak."
Zhu Shu nodded and followed Rei out of the shrine, as puzzled by the appearance of the Dragon mandala as Rei was.
Akane awoke from dreams of dragons and birds of fire with a sense that something she couldn’t quite put a finger on had happened. The depression she had been sensing faintly from her connection with Zhu Shu had faded, replaced with a sense of acceptance and faint amusement. Wherever she was, she at least seemed to be doing better. Akane stretched, still feeling a little wrung out from the events of the day before. Between the wild mood she had been in that had resulted in several hours spent playing with Ranma that morning, and the whirlwind of activity that had resulted in her future betrothal and Ranma’s current betrothal to Shan Pu, she had been exhausted last night. She smiled at the tingles her body still felt after Ranma had finally returned the favors she had been lavishing on her. It had been so wonderful to have the red-head’s body pressed against her, so warm and soft and well rounded. She could almost still feel—
She blinked, realizing she could feel a warm, soft presence curled against her back. She racked her brains trying to figure out if the one glass of sake she had drunk could have fogged out her memories, then rolled over to find herself face to face with Shan Pu, curled up on the bed against her. Purple hair curled around her face as sleepy eyes opened and smiled at Akane. "Nihao, Airen."
Downstairs, Kasumi looked up at the scream, then heard the sound of Akane’s door slamming as steps came storming down the stairs. Akane slammed into the kitchen and stopped. "That… That… AMAZON!"
"Oh my, Akane. Whatever happened?"
"Shan Pu…! She snuck into my bedroom last night and crawled into bed with me!"
Shan Pu stuck her head in the kitchen. "Why is Airen angry? Is what couples do."
Akane sighed. "Shan Pu… We won’t be engaged for a week!"
Shan Pu stepped into the kitchen, revealing she was completely naked. "Humph… Akane not seem have problem with other fiancé. Shan Pu hear what Akane and Ranma do yesterday. Why not Shan Pu?"
Akane blushed furiously. "I was still under the influence of some kind of drug! And I barely know you!"
Shan Pu stepped closer, swaying her hips seductively. "Is simple remedy."
Akane couldn’t help but notice the lush swaying of Shan Pu’s full breasts, equally as large as Zhu Shu’s, and the small tuft of violet that proved Shan Pu’s hair color was natural. Her jaw hung slightly slack for a second as she blushed even brighter, then muttered. "I’m going to the dojo!" She turned and fled.
Shan Pu pouted and crossed her arms. "What do wrong?" she asked of no one in particular.
"I think you just may have come on too strong, dear," Kasumi said helpfully. "Akane’s the kind to resist if you come across as too forward."
Shan Pu put her hands on her hips. "Is Amazon way! Warriors are direct! Akane is fiancée like Ranma."
Kasumi looked her over. "I know, dear. But maybe you should try subtlety. Crawling into her bed naked may not be the best way. Lovely as you are, Akane’s not used to admitting she’s attracted to girls yet."
Shan Pu sat down at the table and sighed. "Great-grandmother tell Shan Pu should win Akane’s heart first, or be much jealousy. Shan Pu thought was being good fiancée. Shan Pu want be good fiancée."
Kasumi looked at the miserable Chinese girl. She was completely sincere, and as far as Kasumi could tell, was telling the plain truth. And… She was Zhu Shu’s adopted sister, and sooner or later, Shan Pu would be hers too. Zhu Shu trusted her enough to arrange for her to marry Ranma and Akane.
Besides, she hated to see anyone unhappy. "Maybe I can help."
Akane was nearly three-quarters done with a morning workout before she realized she was copying Zhu Shu’s routine perfectly. She’d come into the dojo, stripped out of her house coat, stepped onto the tatami mat naked, picked up a pair of Chinese broadswords and begun the intricate steps of the Song school of sword dance. She missed a step when she realized what she was doing, but reflexes took over and she corrected. She was amazed at herself. The memories she had absorbed from Zhu Shu had gone deeper than she had realized. She hadn’t even thought about doing the early morning exercises, they had just seemed the natural thing to do after waking. She lost herself in the dance as she pondered the matter of Shan Pu.
The traces of Zhu Shu’s memories of her travels with the Amazon showed her how passionate Shan Pu could be. The Amazon had made her interest in her blood-sister obvious, but had been accepting of the fact that Zhu Shu had felt it necessary to put off her original proposal. She had been a warm and cuddly sleeping companion, but had never pushed for anything else. She had sparred with Zhu Shu and spent hours talking about how much she was looking forward to finding Ranma so they could be happy together. She had always been bright and cheery, and no matter how frustrated she had gotten at Ranma’s eluding them, she had never had an unkind word for her blood-sister. She could change moods in a second, but there was no way to doubt that once she had given her heart, she had no reservations about it.
She certainly had had no reservations about showing her affection. Only Kasumi’s hand on her shoulder had kept her from jumping up and booting the Amazon into orbit when she had locked lips with Ranma following the ceremony. Only the fact that the startled boy had tried to fight the relentless kiss had reassured her somewhat that Ranma was just as uncomfortable with Shan Pu. He’d failed to get out of the kiss though, and somewhere after minute five, Akane had decided she really was in need of that cup of sake.
Still, Shan Pu had tried to be just as affectionate to her. Akane had just been better at avoiding the very physical Amazon. Then when they had found Zhu Shu had gone, it had put a damper on being too celebratory. They had still had a nice night as Ranma had told his mother about some of his travels, and the Amazon Loremaster had told tales. Even her very drunken father had listened raptly, while Shan Pu had tried to sit and hold onto Akane’s arm. Akane resisted, but Shan Pu had given her a calculating look and watched her closely the rest of the night. Akane hadn’t been able to avoid the impression of being a mouse sized up by a cat.
And this morning certainly showed Shan Pu wasn’t going to be put off. She was going to have to decide how to deal with her sometime.
A polite cough drew her attention to the side of the mat. Shan Pu stood next to the mat, holding her bonbori, but otherwise still naked. Akane blushed slightly, but gazed back at the Chinese girl defiantly.
"Shan Pu only see Zhu Shu use techniques. Shan Pu spar much with Zhu Shu. Will Akane spar?"
Akane considered, unwilling to back down before the warrior girl. "Any other laws of the Amazons I should know about first?"
Shan Pu shook her head. "Is already betrothed. No can challenge to marriage duel."
"I meant more along the line of ‘death’ stuff."
Shan Pu smiled. "Akane is Airen. No would kill Airen. Just spar." She looked at Akane eagerly, the desire to test herself against Akane’s skill apparent in her eyes.
Akane shrugged. The damage had already been done. They were going to be betrothed in six days whatever she thought. And… She knew there was a question they both needed answered. Maybe having this resolved would give her a clue to figuring out the Amazon. "Why not?"
Shan Pu nodded and bowed before stepping onto the mat and assuming a stance. Akane took the chance to study her for a long moment. She really was beautiful, easily a match for Zhu Shu, but she had a hardness Zhu Shu lacked. Her muscles were more defined, and her moves spoke of a lot of power carefully controlled. Her large breasts swayed slightly with her breath, their nipples partially erect. Akane took in her stance, her eyes following up long legs to the tangle of violet curls, then up to meet Shan Pu’s eyes. The small bell ornaments in Shan Pu’s purple hair chimed softly in time with the ones in Akane’s braid as their eyes held each other, searching. There was silence as for a long second neither girl moved, then they simultaneously attacked.
In a blur of motion, Akane intercepted Shan Pu’s right bonbori as her other sword flickered towards Shan Pu’s head. Shan Pu dodged behind her, her second bonbori flashing at Akane’s legs, but Akane flipped over the swing and curled around the other weapon as Shan Pu tried to intercept her in mid-air. She flipped and landed out of Shan Pu’s range as they guarded again.
Shan Pu licked her lips, her nipples hard as rocks. "You good," was her only comment.
Akane launched herself, her body spinning as her blade arched towards Shan Pu, then reversing her spin as the blade was intercepted. Shan Pu threw herself into an aerial cartwheel over the blade and launched an attack at Akane’s extended arm. Akane’s whirl carried her arm out of the way as both blades circled towards where Shan Pu’s legs would land.
Shan Pu bounced into a high split over the swords and attempted a counterstrike at Akane’s head. Akane blurred out of the way as the floorboards erupted from the air pressure of the missed blow. She continued her cart wheels as Shan Pu launched a rapid fire series of jabs, exploding the floor just behind her elusive opponent. As Akane did a high flip over Shan Pu, the Chinese girl took a deep breath and seemed to blur.
Akane dodged the first of the series of lightning fast blows as instincts took over and the world slowed to a crawl. She parried blow after blow, the air growing as thick as molasses and waves slowly rippled out from behind their furiously striking weapons. Then, as the waves met and merged in a dull rumble, a vast surge blew them apart.
Time resumed its normal flow as they both rolled in the air and the dull rumble became the roar of a sonic boom. The walls of the dojo ripped apart in the angry wind, swirling paper around the two girls as they landed with barely a thump. For a long second, only their hair moved in the swirling wind, then they blurred again.
Shan Pu managed to deflect the flashing blades, but realized her mistake as the long ribbons attached to the pommels wrapped around the hilts of her bonbori, and with a wrench they were gone. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched as they narrowly missed a Ranma who had frozen outside the dojo in shock.
Shan Pu flipped over Akane’s head and back flipped out of the immediate reach of her swords to land in a crouch. "Hah! Shan Pu not need weapon!" She returned to the fray with a volley of kicks and punches that Akane was hard pressed to avoid, then her return attack with her ribbons was caught by Shan Pu, and her swords were wrenched out of her hands and hurled across the room. Akane bounced back out of Shan Pu’s range and the two girls circled warily.
"You match Zhu Shu in blade,"Shan Pu admitted. "But Song school has big weakness. No sword, no defense." She smiled as she attacked once more.
Akane smiled as she blocked the first attack and bounced back across the dojo. "Maybe, but I’m also a student of Anything Goes!"
In a blur of kicks and punches, block and counter block, they whirled around the dojo, the air once more turning to molasses.
Soun and Genma arrived at a dead run to see the two girls moving almost too fast to see through the shattered walls of the dojo. They joined Ranma in an open mouth gape at the display.
"…Soun…. When did you teach Akane that?"Genma whispered in awe.
"I didn’t know I had,"Soun whispered back.
All Ranma could see was that all traces of the awkward tomboy he’d fought on his first day at the Tendo’s was gone. Akane’s style had merged with Zhu Shu’s grace and fluidness to give her a kinesthetic all her own. She moved with all the lethal grace of a tigress, right down to the lashing tail of her braid. To him, she had never seemed more beautiful.
…And Shan Pu. He’d never had a chance to appreciate how skilled she was. He’d taken advantage of her tiredness to get in a quick power shot that had knocked her off the challenge pole. Now, watching her fighting Akane, he realized he might have had an entirely different kind of match had she not just won several challenges in a row. He still would have beaten her, he was confident, but he would have been in bad shape afterwards… and seeing her in this light, he was struck by how beautiful she was as well.
Nodoka Saotome arrived on the scene finally, her kimono in disarray from a hurried dressing, and her sword half drawn. "What is going on? It sounded like a bomb went— Oh my…" Her voice trailed off in amazement as well.
A golden globe shattered a support and resolved itself into Akane. She spun in midair to land on her feet and launched herself straight up as Shan Pu’s kick ploughed into the ground where she had landed. Shan Pu launched herself upwards after Akane, but was met in mid-leap and borne to the ground. They froze, Shan Pu on her back looking up at the hand Akane had poised to strike, her eyes locked on the long, glowing gold claws that had sprung from Akane’s fingertips. Her eyes dropped down to meet Akane’s, a fire burning in them like none Akane had ever seen.
"You have conquered Shan Pu, Airen." She stretched her arms languorously and lifted her breasts into Akane’s view. "She is yours yet again. Is fight Shan Pu should have had."
Akane’s blush broke her hold on her ki, and the claws vanished. "What do you mean?"
Shan Pu reached out to stroke the small bells along Akane’s dangling braid "Shan Pu no lose to fluke. Shan Pu conquered as Amazon should be." Her eyes met Akane’s again, the need in them intense. She raised her hand to Akane’s cheek and attempted to draw her down for a kiss, heedless of the others.
Feeling trapped by Shan Pu’s obvious desire, and her own conflicting feelings about the Chinese girl, Akane did the only thing she could do. She ran.
Shan Pu cried out after her as she vanished, her hand held out in longing, then she collapsed sobbing, her fist denting a rock as she shattered it in frustration. "Shan Pu such fool! Fool! Fool! Fool!" she cried, the rock reducing towards rubble with each exclamation.
Nodoka was the first to recover, and she tried to go and comfort the sobbing Amazon, but the proud girl fled into the house as well. Nodoka wrung her hands and sighed, then turned to the other three. "Quite a pair of warriors."
Ranma, Genma and Soun nodded. Creaks and groans came from the dojo behind them.
"That my son bested the Amazon speaks volumes. That Akane matched her is impressive as well. Ah, Ranma. I think your life is going to be interesting. I am so proud!" She hugged him.
"…Aw, mom…" Ranma blushed.
"Just stay in shape. I’m already worried enough about you surviving the wedding night, and I do expect grandchildren." She turned and re-entered the house as behind the men, the dojo gave a last groan and collapsed.
Kasumi peeked out of the dining room door. "Oh my. I suppose I had better call the girls and inform them lessons are canceled today." She started to turn then stopped. "Oh, yes. Breakfast is ready as well."
The dojo gave a last creak as Soun settled to his knees and cried.
"So, she plans to go out socializing with one of the Senshi,"the figure in the mirror mused. Mara nodded.
"Yes. She will be alone with her."
The wizard growled. "I should have guessed. She always was partial to the bitch." He steepled his fingers. "I have things I must see to here, but I think we should not let our nuisance free to enjoy herself. Especially with a Senshi."
Mara nodded. "I agree. I have an imp I can send to annoy them. Anything more will alert the goddess watching over her to my meddling."
The wizard scowled. "No. I have something better in mind."
Urd pounded the keyboard in frustration. "Whaddaya mean, Access Denied?! I’m the Sysop!" Yelling at the screen seemed to have no effect on the words it displayed, so with a scowl, Urd tried a different tack. She didn’t have any more success.
"Okay. File encrypted and password locked. Alright, already." She pondered, wishing she had access to the main board. She glanced across the control center to where Peorth was giving her a faintly amused look from the center seat. No use asking her for a favor.
She turned back to the substation screen and thought of a different approach. "Okay, Yaggy. Who encrypted it?"
Letters formed across the screen in answer to her query, but nothing could have prepared her for what they said.
Her eyes were locked onto the screen for a long, long time before she found the strength to whisper, "Date?"
Again words appeared on the screen "August 27, A.D. 647."
A long time after that, she stood up and numbly moved out of the Yggdrasil mainframe, totally oblivious to the look Peorth gave her. The other goddess raised an eyebrow at Urd’s strange behavior and called up a copy of the substation’s screen. She blinked, then looked after the departing goddess, her eyes narrowing. Then she turned to the screen and began drafting an e-mail.
A few minutes later, Urd formed out of the TV in the living room and collapsed into her favorite chair.
Belldandy found her there an hour later, still unmoving. "Urd?" she asked, concern written across her features.
"I went to ask Yggdrasil about that Amazon legend," Urd said faintly.
"Oh?" Belldandy was confused. Urd was in a major shock, and she couldn’t see how a story over a thousand years old could have caused such a reaction. "What did you find?"
"The file’s encrypted."
"Hmm… I’m sure Kami-sama had his reasons."
"Kami-sama didn’t encrypt it."
Belldandy raised an eyebrow. Urd was Yggdrasil’s usual Sysop. She had all the passwords, even on probation. "But, who? Peorth?"
Urd’s eyes met Belldandy’s. "I did."
Belldandy blinked in confusion, then drew in her breath at Urd’s next words.
"The file was encrypted by order of Sysop, Goddess First Class, Unlimited, Urd…"
Akane sat on her bed, thinking about the events of that morning. After her bout with Shan Pu, she had more or less gone through the school day in a daze, trying to sort out the welter of emotions the fight had brought out.
For one thing, it had shown her exactly how deeply the skills she had absorbed from Zhu Shu had ingrained themselves into her. The training for speed and ki techniques of the Song school, and the even more acrobatic forms of Shiva’s Dance had blended with her training in Anything Goes to enable her to hold her own with the Amazon. The ease with which she had used those skills had frightened her and thrilled her at the same time. She had occasionally damaged the dojo before by putting a hole in the wall, or breaking a board here or there, but she and Shan Pu had leveled the place. That was the kind of property damage she would associate with Usagi and the other Senshi, or their enemies. Even Kuno at his worst couldn’t level buildings so quickly. Had she met Shan Pu with only the training she had had from her father, she would have been slaughtered.
And Ranma had beaten her without Zhu Shu’s abilities, just his own training in Anything Goes. And if he could be believed, he’d beaten her quickly.
She understood now how he could view Kuno with contempt.
It threw into bold relief just how lackadaisical her training in Martial Arts had been in comparison. Yes, her dad had taught her everything he had known, had made her the best martial artist in Furinkan, but he had never pushed her.
No. To be fair, she had never made him push her. She had never had the all-consuming drive to be the best that had driven Ranma and Shan Pu. She could have spent years training and never have caught up to them.
But now? Zhu Shu had told her that Shan Pu could beat her easily in unarmed combat, but Akane had held her own… and won.
No… She had been evenly matched, but Shan Pu had acknowledged defeat.
Maybe she’d been wrong about Shan Pu’s reasons for wanting to spar. At first she had thought the Amazon had wanted a little revenge for losing to Akane the day before and for Akane’s reaction on finding her in her bed, but now she didn’t think so… It had been more like she had wanted to meet her as an equal, which was why she’d met her with nothing more than Akane had had… weapons alone.
Shan Pu hadn’t fought at anything less than her best, but it seemed she had wanted to lose… she had needed to lose after giving her all. She had needed to prove to herself that she had given her love to someone worthy. She was an Amazon… and the Champion. Her pride demanded she give herself only to the best.
And Akane had proven to her that she was at least an equal. She had not needed to win to know who was truly better; the fight alone had proven her love was worthy. She hadn’t cared who was there other than Akane. She had desired only to be taken with a passion as wild as the fury of their fight. She had needed to be taken.
And the depth of her need had frightened Akane.
She’d been forced into this engagement, even if by her own actions. She’d been deliberately corrupted by Zhu Shu to make her amenable to the idea of a female lover, even if she did love Zhu Shu too much to really be angry about it. She’d been manipulated by the old ghoul Shan Pu called her Great-grandmother into begging for her life…
No… The parts of her that were touched by Zhu Shu wouldn’t let her take the easy way out. Zhu Shu had never done anything more than be a friend. Akane had been the one to make the decisions. Shan Pu had only jumped to Ranma’s defense, much as Akane might have done. Akane had only herself to blame for knocking Shan Pu out. Had it not been for her ties to Ranma and Zhu Shu, Shan Pu would have given her the kiss of death. And now… Shan Pu was only trying to win the heart of someone she had already given hers to.
Could Akane really be angry with her for trying to do to her what she had done to Zhu Shu? Or Ranma?
The whirlwind in her head continued.
"Well, I still say it’s weird," Usagi said to Minako. "I mean why would she want to take Zhu-chan to a movie and not want the rest of us to go too?"
"Usagi, you can be so dense. Zhu Shu came to her last night because she was so upset about stuff over at Akane’s. She needed a break, and peace and quiet. You can’t sit through a movie without running commentary and at least five trips to the concession stand for more popcorn," Minako replied.
"So why’d she get so dressed up?" Usagi pouted.
Makoto looked up from the stove where she was cooking. "Think about it, Usagi. You know how Zhu Shu looks before she puts on make up. And they were going to that nice restaurant in the Ginza after the movie. Rei had to dress nice to even get in there."
Usagi humphed. Minako giggled. "I think you’re just sore she wanted to go alone."
Usagi curled into a knot of arms and legs. "Well… I wanted to see the movie."
"No… You wanted Rei to pay for you to see the movie," Makoto called. "Now go set the table. Dinner’s almost done."
Minako sighed and got up. "Come on, Usagi."
"Aww, do I have to? My butt still hurts."
"Then you should have known better than to ask Rei if she had become a pervert and was she really taking Zhu Shu on a date," Makoto said unsympathetically.
Minako giggled, receiving a glare from a red-faced Usagi. "Hey!"
"Oh, come on, Usagi-chan. It was funny watching Rei turn you over her lap and paddle you. I should have taken pictures. Lots of magazines would pay good money for them." Minako’s eyes danced.
"YOU WOULDN’T DARE!!!!" Usagi yelled, then reconsidered. "Would you?"
The other two girls howled with laughter, but broke off as Ami came into the small kitchen dining room of Makoto’s apartment.
"Hey, guys, this is pretty weird." She looked up at a beet-red Usagi, then at the other two swallowing giggles and asked, "Did I miss something?"
"They’re being mean!" Usagi wailed.
"Oh… Well… I think you might want to look at this." She waved the little mini-computer in her hand. "Might even want to call in Artemis and Luna."
The other three girls got serious in a hurry. "What is it, Ami-chan?" Makoto asked.
"I was running some comparative analysis on my scans for the last few months… and… Well, I’d really rather only try to explain this once, but I think it might be important."
That was enough for the others. By the time dinner was out, the two felines had arrived.
"What is it, Sailor Mercury? We haven’t monitored any suspicious activity."
Ami shook her head. "I’ve been going over my sensor logs." She turned to Makoto’s monitor and an image of Zhu Shu standing on the roof of Hikawa Shrine appeared. Next to it, a sensor trace appeared with labels indicating what the various colors meant. "This is what Zhu-sensei read when we first met her. As you can see, she has absolutely no trace of negative energy, but extremely high levels of what Rei said was chi, and strong traces of magical energy. At the time, there was a last trace I ignored as unimportant." She pointed to a small gold trace barely visible at the bottom of the readout. "This is Silver Millennium energy. It’s very faint and I dismissed it then because it’s fairly common to find people with traces." She ran the log forward to the point it had rained. "Here is where she transformed. As you can see, the magic trace spiked off the scale for this one split second, but look at the other traces."
Usagi said it first. "They ain’t there?"
Ami nodded. "Exactly. For this one instant, it appears Zhu Shu existed only as magical energy." She ran ahead a few frames to Zhu Shu’s Dragon-girl form and the traces reappeared, but even Usagi’s usually unobservant eyes could see the difference.
"Her bands have shifted," Artemis observed.
"Yes. Her magic trace has climbed almost two orders of magnitude, and there is a significant change in her chi trace. It almost seems as if her change merges her chi trace and this strong magical trace. I’m still trying to figure out what that means." She added a split screen of Rei. "And for comparison, here’s Rei at the same time period."
"Wow… She’s got a magic trace too!" Usagi noted.
Ami nodded. "Well, she is a priestess. But as you can see, her major trace is Silver Millennium energy, about ten orders of magnitude over Zhu-sensei." She pressed a few buttons on the computer. "Now I’m going to the readings a few days later, when we all came to the shrine to meet Zhu-sensei." The graphs shifted and everyone gasped.
Ami looked at them seriously. "You won’t notice unless you’re looking for it, but like this, it’s rather obvious. Rei’s magic trace has elevated over an order magnitude, but what’s really strange is this." She pointed to the gold trace on Zhu Shu’s graph. "Zhu-sensei’s Silver Millennium trace also has increased by nearly an order of magnitude."
She tapped a few more keys and the screen jumped ahead to a time reference of just a few hours previous, and everyone gasped. Ami looked grim. "This is our sensei today. As you can see, somehow, she’s undergone a massive change. Her chi has leaped almost five orders of magnitude and her magic trace is off the scale and staying there. Something very strange has happened to her."
"Hey! What happened to her Millennium trace?" Usagi asked.
Ami looked at her in surprise. "Good question. Let me check." She tapped a few more keys and the other traces vanished to reveal the previously hidden trace.
"Oh… my… gawd…" Usagi mumbled slack-jawed. The others wore equally shocked expressions.
The gold trace was off the scale.
"Where are Rei and Zhu Shu now?" Luna asked quietly.
"They were going to see the new Sailor V movie and then to dinner in the Ginza," Makoto supplied.
"We’ve got to get to them quick. We need to find out what is going on," Artemis said, his voice more serious than they had heard it in weeks.
An alarm began beeping on Ami’s computer. She looked down. "Damn! I have a massive magical trace building."
"Where?" Luna’s voice had a tight edge.
"Juuban Ginza." Ami’s voice was as colorless as her face.
"You’d think the way she carries on, Minako would be a better actor," Rei commented over her chow mien. "I mean, who writes her scripts?"
Zhu Shu laughed, surprised at how much she was enjoying herself. Ever since her dream of Ying Ying, she had been pondering the advice her beloved’s ghost had given her, and reviewing the last few weeks. It had made her realize exactly how often she’d noticed looks from Rei that she’d dismissed for no other reason than she was afraid of leading the girl on. She’d been so wrapped up in her quest to help Ranma and Akane that she’d failed to see how much Rei had started to look at her as more than just a friend. She still wasn’t sure if Rei actually did share her preferences for women, but she certainly owed her enough to allow Rei to discover if she did with her. When Rei had come home from school and they had decided where to go eat, she had actually made the effort to use some of her training to dress herself and Rei up. She had dug into Rei’s closet and found her an elegant Mandarin style dress and had dressed in a complimentary one, and the pair of them had turned all kinds of heads that night. Zhu Shu had smiled repeatedly at Rei’s blushes when various boys had whistled at them; she had made a huge effort to ensure that the taller girl had outshone her for the night.
"I don’t know, Rei-chan. I thought it was very entertaining," Zhu Shu answered. "It was interesting to see her pretending to fight. I will have to remember those moves when we train. It will help me to train her better."
"She was on wires most of the time, Zhu-chan. It wasn’t real."
"Yes. But there is no reason she can’t use what she learned for that to help her out in training. Or combat." Zhu Shu picked at her so-called Szechuan… She could make better in her sleep. "Anyway, I thought she did a good job. It’s not her fault they have her sounding like a cheap American superhero."
"Except I know she adlibs half her lines," Rei laughed. "You know, I’m actually having a lot of fun." She smiled at Zhu Shu.
Zhu Shu nodded. "I was just thinking the same thing. Maybe this was just what I needed… a complete break from—" She was cut off by the sounds of screams from down the street, immediately followed by the commotion of people running past the railing of the open air restaurant. A shudder ran through the ground followed by the roar of something gigantic.
"Dammit!" Rei cursed. "Why tonight, of all nights?!" She stood and began to search for someplace private, then she felt an arm wrap around her waist.
"Hold on," Zhu Shu told her. Rei grabbed her as she leaped, and tried to make herself as small as possible as Zhu Shu rebounded off the wall. She bounced from wall to wall, gaining speed with each bounce until she cleared the upper stories and landed on a rooftop halfway down the street. She looked down at the girl in her arms and smiled. "Time to be a warrior."
Rei smiled back. "That was quite impressive." She held up her pen and tapped Zhu Shu on the nose. "Showoff."
Zhu Shu giggled. "Maybe."
Rei called out her transformation while still in Zhu Shu’s arms, much to the Chinese girl’s surprise and Rei’s amusement. Zhu Shu found herself caught in the midst of the swirls of energy sweeping around the transforming Senshi, and with a completely naked Rei pressed against her, still laughing as her Senshi uniform started to form. Zhu Shu felt a rush through her as she felt the energy flow along her chi paths, warming her with the heat of Rei’s fire. As the henshin finished, she found herself gasping in shock.
She gave Rei a look. "Now who’s showing off?"
Rei giggled again, then looked off to distance where another roar could be heard. "I’ll be right back." She went to kiss Zhu Shu’s cheek.
Zhu Shu had been turned to look towards the roaring, and was turning back to Rei as she started to give her a peck, and as a result Rei’s lips found Zhu Shu’s. There was a second of shock, and Zhu Shu started to draw back, realizing Rei had meant to kiss her cheek, but Rei moved with her, her hand rising to cup the back of Zhu Shu’s head as she started to kiss her in truth. Zhu Shu stopped resisting and returned it with growing feeling.
Rei broke after a minute and smiled. "That… was wonderful."
Zhu Shu blushed. "That’s what I should say."
Rei nodded. "What say I go trounce whatever that is and we go back and finish our date?"
Zhu Shu nodded. "I would like that very much."
Zhu Shu watched as Rei jumped to the roof of the next building and reflecting on the sudden fire the kiss had seemed to ignite. Whatever she and Rei eventually might become, there was no denying there was a chemistry there.
Another roar sounded, and she decided to follow Rei and watch her student in action. It was just to study how she fought and see how she could improve her training class, it certainly wasn’t because she wanted to watch the beautiful Senshi in action in that really short skirt. Not at all.
The imp roared happily as it reached down to scare yet another running human. It hadn’t had this much fun in centuries. The wizard’s sending was feeding it enough power it felt invincible! Even holding to its current giant size was child’s play. And with the havoc it was creating, its prey should be drawn to it soon; her noble instincts wouldn’t let her stay away.
"Villain! Monster! For the suffering you have caused innocents, in the name of Mars, I will make you pay!"
The imp looked up to the rooftop across from it to see Sailor Mars. It laughed, a vast booming chuckle. Already, its lures were arriving. The dragon girl couldn’t be far behind. "Will you stop me all by yourself, meat?" The imp called as it shrugged off a Fire Soul.
"She is not alone, villain!" Sailor Moon called from behind it. "Moon Princess Halation!"
The imp continued laughing as the energy washed over it without effect. So all of its lures were coming to play. The teacher had to be close. It shrugged off the effects of a Lightning Dragon as it smiled. "So good of you all to come, my little Senshi." It waited as the five girls surrounded it. "Now, my pet!"
Only Usagi had time to scream as tentacles shot out of shadows all over the rooftops and enveloped the quintet, then even that was cut off as her mouth was clamped closed. They struggled, but for every tentacle they wiggled free of, eight more clamped on.
"Do you like my little ally, Senshi?" the imp gloated. "I would have thought you would have been more wary. You fell into my trap so quickly."
A whistle and a sharp report announced the rose bouncing off the imp’s scaly hide, followed by a pronouncement in a deep voice.
"Those who seek to destroy beauty may find instead they are destroyed by it!"
The imp turned to Tuxedo Kamen. "How sweet. More bait." It ignored the spatter of roses as it lashed out at the building under Tuxedo Kamen’s feet. Mamoru flipped through the air towards a new perch, but was snagged by a dozen tentacles and dragged down into the shadowy mass that had almost completely enveloped the Senshi. The imp laughed insanely. The dragon girl had to come now!
From out of the darkness overhead a flurry of ribbons flickering with golden light flashed down to a call of, "Ashura’s Whip!"
Roars of pain arose from the shadow beast as the light ripped through dozens of tentacles, freeing the Senshi enough for them to breathe. The imp screamed as pain rushed along the connection it had with the unseen beast. It looked up at the source of the ribbons and howled.
Hovering in a whirlwind of ribbons was a golden-haired figure in a gold-skirted sailor suit. Emerald dragon eyes fixed the creature with implacable anger. Golden light poured down from the globe of energy that surrounded the figure as she danced in the air, her arms moving in a hypnotic pattern that almost made her seem to have six of them. A clear voice called out over the howl of the imp.
"For crimes against the Earth, and for crimes against love, I sentence you. In the name of the Dragon, you shall be destroyed." The quiet pronouncement held just a hint of sadness, but carried the finality of doom. The figure put back her head and screamed, "Ashura’s Call! Senshi! Lend me your power!"
Rei responded with all the strength she could muster. "Mars Burning Mandala!" Rings of fire flashed upwards into the swirling vortex around the figure.
"She can absorb our attacks!" Mercury yelled. "Mercury Ice Bubbles, Blast!"
One by one, the Senshi added their attacks until the figure glowed like the sun. The imp hurled fireball after fireball to no effect. "What does it take to kill you?!" it screamed as yet another fireball was sucked into the golden orb. The golden figure’s scream faded as the ribbons around her pulsed with power, leaving streamers of plasma. In the sudden silence, her voice seemed to echo forever.
"Shiva’s Dance, Final Attack. SWORD OF HEAVEN!"
The ribbons blazed into a mandala around the figure as she flared brighter than the sun. A vast crescent speared towards the transfixed imp, then through him and into the shadow beast.
For a second, the imp appeared unharmed as lightning crackled through the shadow beast, then as the shadows consumed themselves, it slowly began to part. Arcs of energy lashed across the divide before it flared into a concussive wave that flattened the Sailor Senshi.
Above them, the golden figure flickered like a dying ember and began to fall.
Rei screamed in denial as Zhu Shu crashed into the rubble with a sickening thud, and scrambled in her direction heedless of her own wounds and bruises.
Zhu Shu lay like a burned and broken doll in a pool of her own blood, her spine severed by a jagged piece of concrete. She coughed, a harsh rattling sound, and blood poured from her mouth. Her eyes opened to focus on the priestess, and her hand rose shakily to brush Rei’s hair out of her eyes. "I could not stand by and watch you die, Rei-chan… I… could… not bear—" Her hand fell as her head rolled back, the light fading from her eyes.
In Nerima, Akane’s scream ripped out her soul…
To be continued.
|Book 2, Chapter 2|
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