A Ranma ½ / Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon / Ah! My Goddess crossover story
by L. S. McGill
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ 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 (dow 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 Three: Reversals
Rei jumped to Zhu Shu's side, mirrored by Akane. "Are you all right?" they asked simultaneously.
Zhu Shu nodded. "Zhu Shu fine. Was just surprise. Swords never do before." She looked down at the glowing dragons etched along the blades, slowly dimming from the fiery display. "Always push chi through swords… Swords never draw."
Rei reached out to touch the slightly humming blade. "It looked like that in the vision that surrounded you when that girl was healing—"
Her fingers touched the metal, and with a gasp, she found herself once more in a vision.
She knelt on a dais before the throne of the Moon Kingdom and watched as Queen Serenity stood and waited for the arrival of a figure she couldn't see from her position. A tall man with long flowing hair and glasses stood next to the Queen holding a long case. The Silver Crystal sat on a stand just before Serenity, and a halo of silver fire burned around it. Next to it sat a closed and clasped book.
The figure finally moved into Rei's field of vision and she took a deep breath at the sight of Lin Tzu, clad in a long Mandarin dress that bore an intricate dragon design. The Song Empress bowed before Serenity. "In the Name of the Dragon, I have come."
Serenity bowed back. "In the name of the Moon, I welcome you."
Lin Tzu straightened. "I have disturbing news, Serenity. My brother has been appointed one of Beryl's advisors… I fear no good will come of this."
Serenity nodded gravely. "Beryl has been a staunch ally. This appointment makes no sense."
"I fear the doom my scryers foresaw grows closer."
Serenity placed her hand on the Crystal. "We are prepared. With the weapons created by our magi, we shall withstand the onslaught of Chaos. The Silver Crystal shall defend the Moon Kingdom, as the Cards and their Guardians shall defend the Kingdoms of Earth."
Lin Tzu nodded. "I pray it will be enough."
Serenity motioned to the tall man with glasses. "Clow Reed?"
The man glided forward and held forth the long case. Serenity opened the top and placed a hand inside. Light poured forth from the interior as Serenity lifted forth a pair of swords with dragons burning on their blades. "I also commissioned these." She turned to Lin Tzu and held the swords to her, pommel first. "In the Name of the Moon Kingdom, and in the name of our friendship, please accept these as a token of our gratitude to the Clan of the Dragon for its support, and its aid in the defense of the Moon."
Lin Tzu slowly reached out and grasped the blades. Silver fire burned along the edges, then blazed into golden flame. As Lin Tzu lifted the blades free of Serenity's hands, the corona of flame engulfed her and the light grew too bright to see for several seconds… then, as it dimmed, Lin Tzu stood before them dressed in a scarlet and gold fuku, a dragon tiara on her brow. She smiled. "How appropriate." She bowed to Serenity again. "My Clan has vowed to defend the Moon Kingdom as your Senshi defend the Princess. I accept this token as a seal on our vows. My line shall bear them until the death of the last Dragon, as a symbol of our bond." She twirled the blades and arcs of golden fire trailed behind the swords until with a final flourish, she placed them behind her back and they vanished. She then looked at Rei and smiled, before turning back to Serenity. "Now, I must ask from you a boon, for myself and myself alone."
Serenity nodded. "All you have to do is ask, Lin Tzu."
"I fear this may be something you will be reluctant to grant, Serenity… and my heart dreads your refusal."
Rei felt her heart hammering in her chest as Lin Tzu's eyes held hers, the longing and the love in them burning brighter and brighter…
The eyes of the Dragon…
Akane was shaking her. "Rei? Are you okay?"
"Rei-chan is all right?" came Zhu Shu's concerned voice.
Rei gasped and started, her heart pounding as she realized she was still in the Tendo's home. "I'm okay, I'm okay… "
"You just froze in midsentence and were staring at nothing. We weren't even sure you were breathing," Akane said.
Rei nodded. "I get like that when I'm scrying… I just… well… I wasn't trying to scry… I just touched the blade, and a vision — or maybe a memory — came to me. I'm fine." She shook her head, the details already fading. "I… I saw Queen Serenity of the Moon presenting you with these swords… I mean, Empress Lin Tzu with them. And I saw her in the same outfit you wore in that vision…" She looked around the room to make sure they were alone. "Like a Senshi."
Zhu Shu raised an eyebrow. "Swords are family heirloom."
Rei nodded. "The Empress said they would be passed down until the last Dragon—" she caught her breath.
"Zhu Shu is last Dragon. But only until bear heir." Zhu Shu smiled. "Is interesting, but Zhu Shu not Lin Tzu. Zhu Shu only descendant of Imperial Servants."
Rei smiled. "I'm not so sure of that, Zhu-chan."
"Zhu Shu is." She stood. "And Zhu Shu want know what Senshi saw when she healed. Usagi start to mention earlier, but get hushed. Now Rei mention. What vision?"
Rei considered for a few moments, then said, "You were dressed in a scarlet and gold fuku, and had a dragon tiara on. The swords and you were surrounded by a golden fire. The vision I just had showed Lin Tzu the same way… and you do look a lot like her, Zhu-chan. Maybe you really are her descendant."
Zhu Shu shook her head. "Zhu Shu servant. Whatever honored Ancestors were." She put the blades behind her back.
Rei rolled her eyes. "One day I will figure out how you do that."
Zhu Shu smiled. "Think Zen."
"Oh, that helps!" Rei said sarcastically.
Akane giggled. "Don't ask me. I have no idea how I do it, either. If I think about it, I can't."
Rei laughed. "That's because your conscious mind interferes. It's like magick. You can't analyze it, you just do it."
The sound of Ranma and Genma involved in their after-dinner practice interrupted the conversation, and they wondered back into the living room. Akane whispered something to Zhu Shu, and they both smiled, then nudged Rei. "Why don't you go ask Kasumi if she'd like some help?" Akane prodded.
Rei blinked at her blankly for a few seconds before she realized what Akane was really up to, giving her an excuse to talk to Kasumi about Zhu Shu, then she smiled and nodded.
Kasumi was nearly done with the cleaning up from dinner, but she'd put a kettle on for cocoa. When Rei came into the kitchen, she smiled. "Hello, Rei-chan. Did you enjoy dinner?"
"Yes. I thank you very much for allowing me to dine with you."
"You're always welcome, dear. Zhu Shu is family, and you're her friend."
Rei gave her a rueful grin. "That's kind of why I'm here. Akane said I might be able to talk to you."
Kasumi wiped the water off her hands and pulled two cups off the shelf. "Of course. Would you like some cocoa, or tea?"
Rei smiled. "I have a weakness for chocolate."
Kasumi made them both some cocoa and settled down at the small kitchen table, her skirts flaring out around her as she sat on her knees. "So what would you like to talk about, Rei-chan?"
Rei blushed, suddenly too embarrassed to speak.
"Oh my," Kasumi said. "Would it happen to be your feelings for Zhu Shu?"
Rei started. "How—"
Kasumi smiled. "Dear… It was obvious the first time I met you that you had a crush on her."
Rei blushed even brighter. "Was I that obvious?"
"To me, dear. Probably not to anyone else. Zhu Shu knew."
"What? She knew?"
"Yes. She didn't want to play with your feelings, dear. She didn't want to influence your choices, since she knew you looked up to her."
Rei scowled. "I wish I had known."
"Would it really have made a difference? Rei, she's your sensei, and you, most especially, have a case of hero-worship for her, because you feel guilty about something that happened. She could have seduced you pretty easily, but she didn't want to hurt you. She really cares about all of you girls."
"Yeah… I guess I do feel guilty. I mean, I was the one who told the Senshi to—" She broke off as she realized what she'd said.
"Oh my. So that's the big secret Akane has been hiding and Nabiki has been trying to get you to admit to." She leaned over and patted Rei's hand. "Don't worry, Rei. Akane wouldn't tell me, so she wouldn't tell anyone else; and Nabiki may have figured it out, but she wouldn't do anything to endanger you. And I won't tell a soul."
Rei sighed. "It's okay, I guess. Ranma knows too, and Shan Pu. In a way, I suppose it's a relief to have someone we don't have to hide who we really are from, other than each other. It's even kind of amusing that Nabiki got Hibiki Studios to cast us as ourselves…"
Kasumi giggled. "Oh my! That is amusing."
"Yeah, anyway, I suppose I do feel guilty, because when Zhu Shu first showed up at Juuban ward, we found her on top of the shrine and Ami's computer said there were some weird energy readings on her."
"And Ami is…?"
"Oh, Sailor Mercury, she's kind of our science expert," Rei supplied. "And Makoto's Jupiter, Minako's Venus — as well as Sailor V — and Usagi's… Well, she's Sailor Moon."
"So you'd be Sailor Mars?"
"Yeah." She smiled. "Anyway, when she got wet and changed, I thought she had been possessed, so I started an exorcism. Zhu Shu tried to stop my spell casting, and we nearly killed her."
"Anyway, I took care of her, and when she woke up and I found out she could see auras, so it was pointless to try and hide who we were; then a day or so later, I found her practicing her kata in the nude… Well actually, I was woken up by sensing an evil presence, and I found her facing a demon. It was weird, actually, because all she did was give Zhu Shu a slip of paper with an address on it and told her to say hi to Ranma's fiancée…" Rei's face fell as she looked shamefacedly at Kasumi. "I'm sorry we didn't tell you about Shan Pu. Zhu Shu asked us not to."
Kasumi nodded. "It's all right. It's worked out so far."
"I feel really guilty that we didn't tell Akane…" Rei said.
"She's most likely already forgiven you, dear. She does seem to have a lot of Zhu Shu's memories in her head, so I'm sure she knows." Kasumi looked thoughtful. "I have to wonder why a demon would be interested in Zhu Shu?"
Rei nodded. "I don't know, but I haven't seen her since, and I've kept a few charms handy."
Kasumi shrugged. "There has to be more to this puzzle, but I don't know where to look." She smiled at Rei. "But we were talking about you, dear."
Rei blushed again. "Yeah… well… I… um…" She swallowed hard. "I spied on her kata the next morning."
"Well, I don't know… I was, well… aroused…" Rei admitted.
"Would it help if I told you she has that effect on me a little, too?" Kasumi noted. "She can't really help it, you know. It was ingrained into her."
Rei nodded. "I suppose… I'm just so confused. She's my friend, and at the same time, I fantasize about doing other things with her… and when she's around… I feel… special."
"She has a knack for that."
Rei sighed. "I guess, in the end, I don't know if I want to…"
Kasumi nodded. "How old are you, Rei?"
Rei blinked. "Fifteen."
"And how many boyfriends have you had?"
"Um… well… I dated Mamoru a few times, and then… well… "
"Mostly just boys you know, right?"
"You haven't had much experience yet, Rei. It's only natural you're confused." She reached out and held Rei's hand. "Give it time, dear. Let it grow at its own pace, and see what happens. Don't fret over it like this."
Rei smiled. "I suppose that's good advice… Just…"
"Not what you wanted to hear. I know. I can't tell you how to feel, Rei. That you have to figure out on your own. But what I can be is someone to talk to, and I'm more than happy to be that."
Rei nodded, her eyes shining. "Akane was right about you, you know. I wish I had you as a big sister."
Kasumi smiled. "But you do, dear. For so long as you want me to be one."
An annoyed squawk from outside the kitchen window announced the arrival of Phobos and Deimos. Rei looked out at the two ravens, and smiled. "Okay, okay, I'm on my way!" She looked at Kasumi. "I'm sorry, they're telling me that they're hungry and they want me to go home." She stood. "Thanks for the dinner, and the cocoa, and especially for the big-sistering…"
"You're more than welcome," Kasumi said as she walked Rei to the door. "I'm here anytime, dear."
Rei smiled as she nodded and turned to head for home. She wasn't any less confused, but she felt better, and she felt secure that she had a friend who understood.
That, by itself, was priceless.
Zhu Shu looked around the room, feeling like she had truly come home. It was strange, really, how much the Tendo's house felt more welcoming than her memories of her own home in her village. She hadn't minded staying at Rei's for a few days, but being back was certainly a relief.
She noted Shan Pu's rolled futon against the wall with a smile. According to Akane and Ranma, Shan Pu had been trying to win her fiancées in the straightforward manner of the Amazon she was. It hadn't worked, but at least it seemed to have done no harm either. She was going to have to teach her blood-sister the notion of subtlety. Kasumi had made a suggestion along those lines, and the destroyed dojo out back was the result. That, at least, would be remedied by the time they came back from China. Nabiki had smiled at Tao-Ching and consented to a date after he'd offered to have the dojo rebuilt.
All in all, she was very glad to be back. Even Soun's extravagant tears at dinner, rejoicing that his adopted daughter had returned, had made her happy…
A small bubble of laughter escaped from her lips as she realized that was indeed how she felt. The stress with Akane, while it would never be gone, was livable now that they had resolved their relationship, and without Akane's feelings living in her head, she was at peace with being in the same house with her.
Even her friendship with Ranma was fine. He didn't like her refusal to marry him, but he was willing to live with it, and to try and make things work with Shan Pu. It might take him a while to learn to love her, but she was confident he eventually would.
She'd even found an unexpected ally in Nodoka Saotome. Ranma's mother seemed happy with her son's dual betrothal, and not all of her reasons seemed to deal solely with the advantages to the Saotome family the marriages would bring. Zhu Shu would almost think that Ranma's having two fiancées made Nodoka feel Ranma was incredibly manly… despite the fact that he'd seemed to be more accepting of being female half the time.
Zhu Shu sat down on her futon and picked up the picture of her and Kasumi kissing on the train. So much had happened since then, and yet, so little time had passed. She sat the picture back down and leaned back against the small mountain of stuffed animals she'd collected from the various boys at Furinkan trying to date her, musing on how she might work out the tangled love lives of her friends…
<<And your own…>>
She smiled at the stray thought. it had almost sounded like Ying Ying… She reached back to the small strand of the connection they had once shared and mentally caressed it. It was strange how much comfort that small hint of her lost love could give.
She pulled out the bejeweled scepter Luna had given her just a few hours before, and stared at it a long time. Why did it seem as if Luna wanted her to be something more than she was? She didn't know why she seemed to have so much Silver Millennium energy, and she had no idea how to use it either. She wasn't a Senshi, or the reincarnated Empress… she was a servant…
<<As are all rulers… if they love their subjects.>>
She shook her head, dismissing the notion. It was simply too ridiculous. She tucked the scepter back behind her back.
A night breeze stole in through the windows, bringing with it the scents of the flowers in the garden. She stood and stretched, then stripped in preparation for bed. She stood in the window, looking at the moon for long moments, and marveled. For all the distance she was from her home village, the moon didn't look any different. In a week's time, it would be full, like it had been that awful night. Yet for the first time in four years, she wasn't dreading the anniversary of Ying Ying's death…
<<I am here… I am always and forever… Here.>>
She lay down to sleep, touching with her mind the links to her loves, and let their warmth melt her into dreams.
Akane sat at her desk in her pajamas and played with the pen Luna had given her. She wished she knew why the link with Zhu Shu had changed her so much. True, most of the changes had been needed, and had made her much happier… but stuff like this scared her. She wasn't a Senshi. She wasn't a reincarnated warrior of some long-forgotten kingdom and an age that history had erased; she was a teenaged girl with fiancée problems, a future husband who was also likely to be just as much a wife, an Amazon warrior who seemed just as hot to fight her as to do other things, and a school full of idiot hentai who would make her life sheer hell if they realized the full ramifications of both.
How were her girlfriends going to react when they found out that she was going to be engaged to Shan Pu? How where they going to act when they found out she was going to marry another girl?
She sighed as she put the pen away. It really wouldn't have been any different than how they would have reacted if she'd actually gotten Zhu Shu to marry her. No, she had enough problems without the Senshi. She stood and stretched as she looked out at the moon. Strange to think that once, so long ago, there had been a Kingdom of Justice and Love there. She smiled as she recalled Usagi's last training session. She was such a klutz… but there really was something about her that just made you love her, like a puppy tripping over its tail…
She started as a flash of light lit up the sky for a long moment in the direction of the Tokyo Tower. That had been a common occurrence of late. Sometimes, she would even think she saw things which were obviously impossible; a side-effect of what had happened between her and Zhu Shu, no doubt. So many faint tuggings in so many directions. She knew from Zhu Shu's memories that she felt them too, but was so used to them. Zhu Shu ignored them… Maybe she would eventually, too, but sometimes, it felt like a storm was brewing while the sky was completely clear.
The light faded, along with the feeling of an intangible wind blowing in that direction. It was disconcerting, to say the least.
Strange thing was, she felt the same thing around Rei, too; like the girl was the source of the wind she couldn't quite feel… and around Zhu Shu even more strongly.
She shook her head. It had been too long a day. She pulled the curtains closed and lay down on the bed.
Before her head hit the pillow, she was asleep.
Ami poured over the logs on her computer yet again. It was very strange…
During the battle with the creature, the small computer had been taking readings; and now that she had had time to study them, it became obvious that more had been going on that night than they had been aware of.
The fight had started late evening, accompanied by a massive surge of negative magical energy, only part of which had been centered in the creature that had attacked. They had been so busy fighting that she'd never had the chance to realize that a much larger surge had built far to the east, somewhere in the United States. Then several hours later, when they had been too exhausted for anyone to notice, the surge had moved to somewhere southwest of them, near Hong Kong, and the power levels had grown enormously: a spike of gigantic proportions that had then reached a peak and fell, leaving several smaller spikes that had died down. Much of it had been outside of her computers exact range, and only detectable by its sheer strength.
Obviously, something hugely magical had happened. Something that probably didn't bode well for whoever had been involved; but so far, none of it had affected Japan, or seemed directly tied to the Senshi yet.
It had been so quiet since they had defeated the Doom Tree… could this be a sign something new was about to come?
She closed up the computer as she yawned. Tomorrow she had to be up early to study for a mid-morning test.
Hopefully, nothing more difficult would pop up.
The masked man stood on the balcony, looking like the epitome of a Chinese sorcerer. Even Herb felt intimidated by the cold feeling the wizard seemed to exude. She looked to Lime and Mint, the pair of them looking a little downcast and jubilant at the same time. They were happy that they would be leading the little excursion to the Amazon village, but were sad they wouldn't be joining Herb in going to Japan. Still, the thought of getting to fight the Amazons, and maybe even getting to do… other things… had excited them. The sorcerer had been generous in supplying men, and had bolstered the few remaining troops of the Musk with well-trained soldiers.
They were a far cry from Musk warriors, true, but manpower was manpower, especially against the Amazons. Herb had read too many tales of the Musk's dealings with those… creatures… to expect the fight to be easy, even with the magical aid the sorcerer Xi'an Chi had promised.
Still… it was a small price to pay for the means to find the Kaisuifuu.
"Everything is in readiness, Xi'an Chi," Herb said. "I leave in the morning with my escort. Mint and Lime will lead the assault on the village in two days. The flasks are all filled and waiting on the wagons. We will achieve our revenge easily."
The man turned ice-cold eyes to Herb. "I pray it will be so, your Highness. I have learned to never take things for granted where the Song are concerned." His voice was deferential, but Herb had no doubt who really ruled the Musk for the moment. The sorcerer had been true to his word and forged the alliance, but in some ways, Herb feared she had made a grave mistake.
But one that could be remedied once she had resolved her little problem and had her full powers back. For now, she needed the manpower Xi'an Chi brought.
And Mint and Lime… Well… She would teach them a lesson when she returned, show them both what a real man was supposed to do with a harem full of women. The troops with Xi'an Chi had been quick to introduce the pair to the pleasures women offered. Herb had refrained… for now. But once this little problem was fixed…
Xi'an Chi's cold eyes lit with a faint tinge of amusement. Herb's eyes narrowed. Allowing her mind to drift was inexcusable. Still… she could get some faint hint of revenge. "I am not concerned with the Song, Xi'an Chi. The false Dragon's Child is yours to do with as you will. I am the only true Dragon's Child… and I will rule all of China, if I must slaughter all who oppose me." She turned back to the throne room, her cloak swirling. "Leave me now. I must prepare for tomorrow's departure."
Xi'an Chi's eyes glittered at his dismissal, but he smiled coldly as he bowed and left, trailed by Mint and Lime. Herb stood alone in the throne room and pulled open her top, and stared down at her breasts. "I will break this curse, Xi'an Chi… Then when I'm a man again, we'll see who really rules."
The old man strode out of the castle to the waiting helicopter. As he approached, a shadowy figure stepped out of the interior. He stopped and addressed the form. "Herb leaves in the morning. You know what to do."
"And the Musk?"
Xi'an Chi laughed. "They were amusing toys. Herb's two lieutenants were easy to seduce with a few spells and their own lusts. They will make an interesting experiment. It matters not whether Herb finds the Kaisuifuu or not; I have made her condition permanent. It will be interesting to see how she fares once returning to her friends still female. I wonder how long it will be before they make her forget she was ever male?"
A thin sliver of white was the only indication the shadowy figure was smiling. "Truly an interesting study, Master."
Xi'an Chi nodded. "I must be away to Hong Kong. Events there cannot be put off for this amusement any longer. Bring me the Heir once she is caught. I have many other interesting experiments I wish to try."
"Of course, Master."
The old man turned just as he entered the black helicopter. "Do not fail. Or you may end up being my experiment."
The shadowy figure bowed, then seemed to fade into the dark. The rotors of the helicopter picked up speed, and the strangely insectoid-appearing craft lifted off, to vanish into the night.
Dawn came to Nerima bright and early. Ranma woke to the faint sounds of two sets of swords chiming faintly in a pattern almost too fast to follow. He peeked out the window to see Akane and Zhu Shu practicing in the early morning light, their swords moving in intricate dances that formed hypnotic rhythms. He smiled as he realized they were up so early, because neither one was dressed, and the dojo had not yet been rebuilt. He tiptoed out of the room and downstairs.
At the edge of the koi pond, he reached down into the water and splashed himself, then stripped to stand on a rock by the edge of the pond and waited. After a few seconds, the blurs resolved themselves into the pair of fencers. "Yes, Ranma?" Akane asked.
The redhead bowed. "Would you care to spar?"
Zhu Shu smiled. That was something she had been hoping for for a while now. Ranma wouldn't fight anyone she didn't consider an equal in skill, unless attacked, and Akane had been so far below her skill level she wouldn't even consider really sparring with her… but in his stubborn, macho way, he had passed it off as "I don't fight girls", thinking that Akane, independent spirit that she was, would just accept it. That she was actually asking Akane to spar was a big leap.
Zhu Shu stepped to the side and toweled off as the two faced each other. Akane took a stance, her swords trembling slightly. Ranma gave her a "come on" with her forward hand.
Akane blurred as she attempted to catch Ranma off guard, and her attempt to wrap her ribbons around the other girl failed. She looked down at the red-head, grinning at her as she held the ribbons taut.
"I've been watching Zhu-chan for months now, Akane. I thought I figured out how she did that. Looks like I'm right, huh?"
Akane smiled. "I guess."
Akane launched herself into a spinning attack that Ranma dodged by flipping over, then blocked Ranma's return kick. Satisfied that the pair was having fun, Zhu Shu finished toweling off, then used the kettle of hot water she had brought out. She had figured that a dip in the pond would be inevitable in a sparring match, as Ranma had proven over and over when fighting Genma, and Akane had proven her right. Once more her normal self, she monitored the two as she performed her routine forms, admiring how beautiful they both were as they danced through attack and counterattack. She found herself thinking about how Rei had looked when she had faced the creature, and how nice her body had felt as she had pressed against her during her henshin.
She noticed what she was doing and laughed softly to herself. Daydreaming about Rei while watching Akane. Maybe there was hope for her yet.
Urd looked down on the three practicing from her perch in a bird's nest and worried. Things were not going they way they should.
She hadn't worried about Zhu Shu's initial refusal to Ranma, confident the mix of emotions she had gotten from Akane would drive her to him eventually, but Zhu Shu's death and the subsequent revelation that she was the Child of the Dragon had shocked her. Then Zhu Shu's resurrection by the Old Woman had added far more complications. And that damn program in Yggdrasil wasn't being forthcoming. How the damn thing knew all of her tricks… She sighed and went back to observing Zhu Shu.
As far as she could tell, someone… or something… had altered Belldandy's spell on Zhu Shu. Not removed it; altered it. Belldandy was much better at spells than she, so she couldn't make out exactly what had been done, but it seemed to have removed the emotional crossover of the spell from just Zhu Shu.
That had to be the Dragon's handiwork.
She watched Ranma catch Akane's ribbon and spin her into the pond. He was like a computer when it came to learning new martial arts. She shook her head before lying back in the nest to figure out what to do next.
There was more going on here than just her test, there had to be. She was running into too many stone walls and barriers for a normal wish. The Ultimate Force itself should have overcome many of the obstacles she had encountered, yet it hadn't. Yggdrasil had so many blind or password-protected files that what she had learned amounted to a small fraction of what she needed to know. She'd found enough to suspect she had gone back in time to arrange for the loophole in the Amazon laws, and evidence that she'd arranged other things, but no indication of what.
It was infuriating. And to find out that apparently the Dragon was running his own game with her test as well only made it worse.
What was that inscrutable overgrown lizard up to? She had never been able to figure out why Kami-sama gave Legend such respect. He wasn't part of the pantheon, but her father respected him like he did no other in Asgard. According to Phoenix Moon, until she had entered her password, only Kami-Sama and the Dragon had known of its existence, yet it had given her frustratingly little hard information.
Yet… she couldn't shake this sense of urgency to her test, like everyone was waiting with baited breath to see if she succeeded or failed. And Mara…
The bird whose nest she had borrowed returned and scolded her out of its home as Zhu Shu, Akane, and Ranma finished up their practice and headed into the house before anyone else woke up. She hopped down and snuck into the house after them, headed for the living room and the TV. She needed to talk to Kami-Sama…
Breakfast went normally, or at least as normally as it did at the Tendo dojo. Kasumi and Zhu Shu worked at getting breakfast on the table as Akane, Nabiki and Ranma prepared for school. Nodoka, who had come by early, took the opportunity to quiz Zhu Shu about her son and how he had behaved himself since she met him. Zhu Shu told her about the misadventures in China, and some of the problems Ranma had had in Japan with his curse. Nodoka smiled approvingly at how he had tried his best to live with it.
Ryouga wandered in about midway through the free-for-all with a new flower for Kasumi. She smiled at the dancing bellflower as it wavered back and forth on the table and thanked the lost boy for such an unusual gift. Ryouga blushed as he stammered it was nothing, pointedly not mentioning the thin slashes he had gotten when the plant had launched a flight of razor-sharp leaves at him. Or the shocking he'd gotten when he'd dived out of the way and landed on a large yellow rat.
Akane smiled at her big sister as she accepted the dancing flower. It was getting more and more obvious everyday that Ryouga was smitten with her. Then she noticed as Kasumi gave Ryouga an extra large helping of fish cakes. Kasumi may not have made up her mind romantically, but Akane was certain she did like the lost boy.
Zhu Shu watched the exchange and wondered if she should inform Ryouga that he might want to not stammer and stutter so much around Kasumi if he really wanted to get her to like him. After all, that was one of the things about Doctor Tofu that Kasumi found so discouraging. She watched as Ryouga tried to jump up to help Kasumi clear away the table, only to step on the root of the dancing flower, get hit by a spray of leaves, and fall into the koi pond. Shaking her head, she picked up her books to follow the others out as they headed for school.
Ryouga followed them out, only to find himself nose-to-nose with a very large sabertooth cat who Nabiki was scratching the ears of. His eyes grew very wide as the cat opened jaws bigger than he was, and let out a loud "bhweee" before Nabiki smacked the cat upside the head.
"Behave, Tao-Ching. That's your cousin! No eating him!"
The big cat gave the piglet the eye and an evil grin, then shrugged. He scratched out a few kanji symbols that spelled "Just kidding" before nudging Nabiki to mount up.
The trip to school was fairly uneventful, Zhu Shu's umbrella intercepting the splash from the little old lady watering the sidewalk, predictably diverting it onto Ranma. The red-haired girl merely shrugged philosophically and trudged on along the fencetop.
At the gate, a Kuno awaited. Tatewaki was nowhere to be seen, but Kodachi was more than willing to make up for his absence.
"My Goddess! At last you have arrived! But allow me give you this token of my worship!" She knelt and handed Akane a bouquet of black roses. Akane carefully took them and aimed them at Kodachi's enraptured face. A cloud of white powder exploded into the worshipful girl's face, and she flushed, a look of pure desire lighting her eyes.
Akane took off, a lustful Kodachi in hot pursuit. Zhu Shu shook her head.
"More things change, more stay same," she muttered.
Nabiki whistled happily as she wandered towards her homeroom, idly listening to the sounds of Kodachi pursuing Akane through the school. She had enjoyed riding to school on Tao-Ching's back as he purred and sauntered. The older Hibiki was trying his best to be charming, and she had to admit, it was working.
She took the three separate reports from her factors and glanced through them, her thoughts more on Tao-Ching than on the reports until she came to a flag.
She paid more attention to the report as she noted what her factor had wanted to call to her attention. The five girls she had been asked to look up had a penchant for missing school on the same day, despite the fact they went to three separate schools.
Nabiki flipped to one of the other reports, and quickly cross-referenced the dates. They all coincided with reported Senshi battles.
She flipped through the third and found pictures of Zhu Shu and Rei dining at the Ginza, and one of Zhu Shu taking Rei up the sides of the strip.
Sailor Mars had been the first to arrive.
She dropped the folders into the shredder she had in her locker for just such situations and nodded. She had enough proof. So what to do now?
Memories of how she felt that night, watching as Akane, Ranma and Shan Pu disappeared into the dark returned to her, and she decided that for now, she wouldn't do anything.
But if they endangered her sisters again…
Her thought was broken off as she entered homeroom.
"Nabiki Tendo. I have been awaiting you," a hoarse voice said from under heavy bandages.
"Kuno-baby! I thought you were still in the hospital!"
"A thousand foul blows from that treacherous Saotome cannot lay Tatewaki Kuno low."
"I thought Kodachi did that to you, Kuno-baby. All those head smashes must have addled your memory again."
"My fair sister has been bespelled by that vile sorcerer. It was he who controlled her. That is why I have awaited you. I must know how this evil enchantment may be ended."
Nabiki blinked, then did a mental shrug. Kuno would never just accept the truth. She'd tried explaining to him about Ranma before and had gotten nowhere. No matter what she said, he'd find a way to twist it into his little fantasy world
Still… This was Kuno, and she needed a little extra cash.
She motioned Kuno over to a corner, rolling her eyes as he attempted to sneak inconspicuously in a well-lit and crowded room, and whispered, "I fear you are correct in believing Kodachi is bespelled; however, Ranma is not the source of this foul deed. I know of someone I could obtain the information of who has cast this vile spell, but I fear I lack the price he has asked."
Kuno bought it hook, line, and sinker. "Ah, what a vile creature this must be to desire money for such information! To stand in the way of justice for gold! Yea, though it doth offend my noble soul at the thought, I do posses the coin with which to pay this blood price. Tell me, Nabiki Tendo, what the miscreant demands!"
"40,000 yen," Nabiki said. That should cover the cost of her new CD player and a few CDs.
Kuno grimaced. "I have not that much in cash."
Nabiki held out the card reader from her notebook. "Major credit cards accepted."
Kuno's face lit up as he pulled out a credit card and ran it through the reader.
Nabiki smiled. "Meet me at the tree after school, and I will tell you what I've learned." That should give her plenty of time to create a wild goose chase for the rich idiot.
Kuno nodded, and wandered to his chair just as the bell rang.
"I'm telling you, I don't know what it was exactly. It's just that it was so powerful my computer could detect it from Japan, and the main surge was in Hong Kong," Ami told Makoto and Usagi for the fifth time.
Usagi poked her nose into Ami's bento, in hopes that maybe there'd be something there, having already devoured her lunch. "So you aren't sure if it's some new enemy?" she asked, frowning at the empty box.
"I don't have enough information to figure it out either way," Ami said.
Makoto moved her bento further away as Usagi looked at it hungrily. "I wonder what it was? And if it had any connection to what happened here?"
Ami closed the small notebook computer. "I don't know. So far it hasn't repeated itself. I set the computer up to signal me if it detects a similar spike, though." She looked down. "That's funny. I could have sworn I brought an apple…"
Usagi quickly hid the apple core behind her back. "So, what do you think is up with Rei?" she asked to distract the smaller girl.
"Hmm." Ami blinked. "I don't think anything's up with her, Usagi. She's felt responsible for Zhu Shu ever since we first met her. Her getting killed like that just upset her a lot. Now that Zhu Shu's all right, I'm sure she'll be fine soon."
"Yeah, after all, Rei gets along with Zhu Shu much better than she does the rest of us," Makoto added.
"I get along with Rei!" Usagi protested.
"Oh, course you do, Usagi. That's why you two fight all the time." Makoto rolled her eyes. "Give me a break, Usagi-chan. Rei's a nice girl, and so are you, but you two get on each other's nerves."
Usagi stuck out her tongue. "Say, you gonna eat those chips?"
Makoto laughed. "Well, I was… but we can't have our illustrious leader dying of starvation, can we…?"
Usagi gave her a haughty look. "Of course not."
Ami looked pensively off into space. "I can't say I blame Rei for being worried, though. Zhu-sensei may have strangely high levels of Millennium energy, but she's shown no indication she has any type of Senshi powers. I'm worried something like the Doom Tree might be a danger to her."
Makoto nodded. "Yeah, Usagi. We're the ones who've chosen to face those kinds of dangers. Zhu Shu may support us and teach us, but she shouldn't have to fight our battles just because she's our friend. We should have found a way to fight that creature. She shouldn't have had to sacrifice herself to save us."
Usagi blinked. "Umm… well… what do you want me to do about it?"
"We just need to keep Zhu-sensei safe," Ami said.
"So we just keep her out of Senshi stuff. That's easy," Usagi mumbled around a mouthful of potato chips.
Ami and Makoto exchanged a glance. They weren't so sure it would be that easy.
Nabiki looked through the contents of the email again, feeling her stomach sink. She'd gotten the message just as lunch began, from a contact who had an uncle in the Yakuza, and she was less than thrilled at what her inquiry had revealed.
All in all, it was a polite response from the uncle that essentially said she shouldn't pursue the line of inquiry. The uncle would overlook the request this time because his niece had asked him to, but that he would not be so lenient next time.
However, he had answered her question even while seeming to have refused her completely. It was pretty clever actually, and had undoubtedly been done to cover himself in case his superiors intercepted the email. It was just that the answer wasn't one she had wanted to hear.
The email contained the three photos she had lifted from the police database of the "muggers" that had attacked Zhu Shu and Kasumi. Added to the photos were the names of all three, and the ominous title, "Tong assassin, Clan Skorpion."
The warning message the Uncle had sent told her to not make inquires as to Clan Skorpion's activities, as such inquires were as unwelcome as inquires into the "Families'" business. It also included the passports for all three, showing they had come from Hong Kong; the island of Lan Tao specifically.
Needless to say, the email had not made her very happy.
A shadow fell across her, making her jump.
"Girl say Nabiki wish see Zhu Shu?"
Nabiki placed her hand on her heart, trying to make the hammering stop.
"Gods, Zhu Shu, don't sneak up on people like that!"
"Zhu Shu sorry. No mean to sneak."
Nabiki patted the bench next to her. "Please sit. I have to talk to you."
The Chinese girl sat and tilted her head curiously. "What may do?"
Nabiki took a deep breath. "First, please be careful. And if you must help out Rei and the other Senshi in a fight, please don't change first. Your cursed form is just a little too much of a standout to keep secret."
Zhu Shu raised an eyebrow. "So, Nabiki know."
"I figured it out, yes. I would assume Akane probably knows as well. Don't worry. I won't tell anyone that you were on a date with Sailor Mars; just please be careful." She took another deep breath. "Which brings me to my second problem."
Zhu Shu raised her eyebrow higher.
Nabiki looked her square in the eye. "Can you give me any reason why the Skorpion Tong would want you dead?"
Light dawned in Zhu Shu's eyes. "Clan Skorpion. That explain much Zhu Shu not understand."
"Care to enlighten me?" Nabiki prompted.
Zhu Shu looked off into space. "Zhu Shu remember Grandfather tell tales of Clan Skorpion. Long ago they war with Clan Dragon. They kill many ancestors. Grandfather's grandfather fight many time. Clan Dragon once have many enemy. Clan Skorpion, Musk Dynasty, Shadowkhan. All from old tales. Zhu Shu not know such still exist." She shook her head. "Clan Dragon barely survive enemies. Sad that enemies still see as threat. Zhu Shu is last Dragon. If no heir, Clan dies with her." She looked at Nabiki with a penetrating look, her gold eyes seeming to look through her. "Clan Dragon must not die."
Nabiki looked away, unable to meet those eyes, but when she looked back, Zhu Shu's eyes were once more their normal jade green. Nabiki swallowed hard, then decided it must have been a trick of the light.
"I don't know what Clan Skorpion wants with you, Zhu-chan, but Dad thinks of you as a daughter, and… well, if you tell anyone this, I'll have to strangle you, but I care about you like a sister. I'll see what else I can find out. All I know now is that the three you dealt with were from Hong Kong."
"Nabiki should not endanger self for Zhu Shu."
Nabiki laughed. "I won't. I have too much respect for an intact skin to put myself in harm's way." She closed the notebook, and looked down at her unopened Bento. "Well, I guess I should eat. Care to join me for lunch?"
Zhu Shu eyed the boxed lunch and reached behind her back to pull out her small grill. "Only if let Zhu Shu cook…"
Nabiki handed her the bento. "You're on. Kasumi's a great cook, but it tastes so much better hot."
Urd was diffident as she walked up the carpet to the dais. Being before her father tended to make everyone but her brother Thor humble.
"I cannot give you the answers you seek, Urd," Kami-sama said before she had a chance to ask. "You must find them on your own, daughter. Those are the conditions of the test."
"B-but… Sir! Every time I turn around, this test grows harder! This one wish has escalated into a web of conditions and entanglements that one goddess simply can't handle!"
"I have faith in you, Urd," Kami-sama said simply.
"But how can I pass this test when I don't even understand it anymore? The Ultimate Force seems to have suspended itself, and everywhere I turn, I find things I had once thought true are but misdirection and lies. I am the Goddess of the Past, yet history itself has been denied me! How can I do anything if the truth is hidden from me? Why all the smoke and fog? You tell me to grant Shan Pu's wish, yet the fact that her blood-sister was the Dragon's Child was hidden from me. My own records have been sealed against me by myself from the future, and my efforts have been undermined. How can anyone be expected to succeed at a test like this?"
"You must, Urd. The conditions for this test were set before you were born, and they are fair, though that may not seem true to you. You are the only one who may resolve this challenge. I cannot aid you."
A chill laughter echoed through the throne room, sending a shiver through Urd's spine. "Because that is what was agreed upon, Daughter."
Urd turned as a tall, beautiful woman with almost luminous pale skin and white hair approached the dais. A cold aura surrounded her, and the jet black stars on her cheeks and forehead looked like bottomless abysses against her white skin.
Only one demon was allowed in Kami-Sama's presence, and she had just called Urd her daughter. The words echoed over and over in her head, and no matter how much she wanted to deny them, she knew they were true.
"Hild," Kami-sama acknowledged. "You are forbidden to interfere in Urd's test either."
Chill laughter echoed once again. "Interfere? I? I'm merely here to make sure that your 'Fatherly love' doesn't cause you to overstep."
Kami-Sama blue eye fixed the goddess of death with a penetrating stare. "Be careful, Hild. The test is not finished. The decision has not yet been made," he said ominously. "I yet abide by my oath."
The tall woman walked around Urd, giving her a look like a snake sizing up a mouse. "Yes." She stopped in front of Urd. "I was so disappointed, daughter, when you chose to side with these pitiful do-gooders. I so looked forward to educating you on how to be a proper demon." She smiled, her teeth showing at the corners of her mouth. "Well, I'm sure I'll have you under my wing soon enough." She laughed as Urd finally broke and ran.
Nabiki sat beneath her tree at the end of the day, waiting for Kuno. She had worried all afternoon about what to tell him, and had finally settled on a story which would keep him busy, and maybe, just maybe, protect Zhu Shu and Akane from his romantic attentions — at least for a while — while still allowing her to capitalize on his obsession.
Predictably, Kuno contrived to arrive with the sun behind him. "Nabiki Tendo. I have come as promised to hear your tidings. Pray tell me the name of this vile sorcerer who hath enchanted mine sister, and how this foul spell may be broken."
Nabiki stood and played to Kuno's sense of drama by clasping her hands before her and mimicking his speech. "Oh, Kuno. I have indeed tidings of a most dire nature, and I fear for you should you seek to act on that which I shall tell you. This enchantment is indeed the work of a most vile and evil wizard. This vile beast is an ancient and evil man who has destroyed many lives for his twisted amusement, yet I fear his bewitchment of your sister is but the first step of a plot against you, oh noble samurai."
Kuno was mesmerized. "Against I? Why would— Nay! Am I not Blue Thunder? Am I not the finest swordsman in all Japan? He must know he wouldst need to best me ere his foul plots could succeed!"
Nabiki managed to keep a straight face. "Indeed, for you are to be the champion of the one he doth desire to posses above all others. 'Twas for her sake that you have received the enmity of this wizard, and your fair sister hath been bewitched!"
Kuno stood straight and tall, his conception of a noble samurai receiving his quest. "Tell me, fair Nabiki, who is this wondrous maiden who is threatened. I must hurry to her forthwith to offer her the protection of my sword, and to smite her foes!"
Oops… better nip that in the bud. "Nay! If you reveal to her your mission, it will surely fail, and you shall gain naught. You must be her secret defender. You must watch o'er her and bide thy time till the sorcerer grows bold enough to reveal himself, believing you to be no longer a threat. Then thou must strike without mercy!"
Kuno's eyes shone with righteous enthusiasm. "I shall! But name to me this wondrous maiden who doth so need my sword arm!"
"'Tis Zhu Shu, thy classmate."
"My fair forest goddess! Ah, what vileness must rest within this fiend's heart that he would threaten such pure and wondrous beauty!"
Nabiki avoided the laugh that wanted to erupt. "Aye! And if thou wouldst protect her, thou must pretend to have no interest, for if the sorcerer doth see you vie for her hand, he will never reveal himself. Nor must you show your love for my sister Akane, or he will surely try to use your heart against you!" There. That should handle two birds with one stone.
Kuno wept. "Verily, 'twill be the hardest task I have ever set myself, yet for their sake, and the sake of the love I bear them, I shall!"
"You must, or all is lost, for only with the defeat of this sorcerer will the spell o'er you sister be weakened enough to allow the cure to be applied."
"Thou hast news of that as well? Tell me!"
"Only the kiss of her one true love will break the spell that binds her, and that only once the sorcerer has been laid low."
"Kodachi has kissed many boys, and she loves each with all her heart. 'Twill be an easy spell to break," Kuno stated with a nod.
"Nay. It must be the kiss of one who doth truly love her."
Kuno paled. "Oh, how cruel are the fates, that my sister must forever suffer this vile curse! Yet even I cannot go against the will of the gods! I must acknowledge the cruel fact that my sister shall never be free, yet for this, the foul villain will pay most dearly!"
Nabiki blinked. "You're just giving up on her?"
Kuno lowered his eyes from heaven to look at her. "Nabiki, thou knowest not my sister."
To that, Nabiki had no answer.
Mara could feel the situation slipping out of her control.
She hadn't rested all week, not since the night of Zhu Shu's death and revival. Learning that Zhu Shu was Legend's Child had been the first sign of the disaster she'd created for herself. The Dragon wasn't bound to the doublet system that held between Asgard and Niffelheim. She'd expected at any time to turn around and see the jaws of the Dragon closing on her for causing Zhu Shu's death. She still did.
But she was still alive. Only her carefully woven plots were dying… but not quickly enough. Xi'an Chi was ignoring all her attempts to call off the attack in China, Herb had been shielded against her scrying, and she had barely escaped the abomination the old wizard had left in charge in China when she had attempted to call it off in person. Somehow, she had grievously underestimated the powers of the wizard, and had found herself powerless to defend herself against the shadow beast that had spouted an endless stream of rock and roll music.
Fool she was, but she now knew why the wizard wanted the Dragon's Heir.
So she sat and watched as her carefully engineered plans unraveled themselves, knowing she was doomed.
What had she been thinking? She had never been so vicious, so… driven.
If only Urd hadn't…
The footstep was faint, but in her present state of paranoia, Mara reacted. She spun, energy balls ready to blast the intruder, when black lightning hurled her against the wall and pinned her there. Through eyes barely able to see from the agony, Mara watched as Hild sauntered up to her and allowed the lightning streaming from her hand to cease. Mara fell to the ground in a heap, gasping for air as she vainly tried to move. A hand wrapped itself in her hair and drew her up to dangle a foot off the ground.
"Mara, Mara, Mara. What ever am I to do with you?"
"M-mistress?" Mara's whisper was agonized.
"Here you are, a Demon First Class, Unlimited, and you can't even handle the foiling of one goddess on probation? And to find out you tried to stop one of your own plots? Are you trying to stop Armageddon?" A casual flick tossed Mara against the wall again.
Mara tried to breathe. "B-but, the D-Dragon…"
"What care I for the plans of the Dragon? He is old and feeble and senile. So his child is part of the All-Father's game? I care not! I have been content to let you play with my daughter so far, but she is succeeding! I will not have that, Mara! Urd must fail this test, or all I have worked for for millennia will be for naught! I have planned for Ragnarok for too long to allow your ineptness to ruin everything!"
The lightning bolt that erupted from her hand flung Mara against the wall spread-eagled, as slivers of wood wrenched free from the floor and speared through her wrists. Mara screamed.
"I had such hope for you, Mara. Your anger after the Fenrir affair was perfect; all it needed was a little push to make it an obsession. But all you have done is fail!" Hild stepped up to her and ripped open her blouse, making Mara scream again as she was pulled against the spears in her wrists. Blood trickled down from where she'd bitten her lip, making a trail that Hild's fingernail traced down her breast bone. Then, she set her nails over Mara's heart, the points drawing blood.
"One last chance, Mara. If I am forced to return, I will rip out your heart. That would be a pity, since you once showed such promise." Hild kissed her as her nails dug deeper, then she released the barely-conscious demon.
"My daughter must fail if Ragnarok is to come. Succeed, and I will give her to you as you desire. Fail me again…" She left the threat hanging as she turned away and faded into the shadows beyond the door.
Mara let out a sob when her mistress had gone, and in a miserable whisper said to the air. "Forgive me, Urd. I never desired Ragnarok…" She closed her eyes, and tried to believe the damage Hild had done her was fatal as she cried.
It had been a game. She had always been a rival with Urd in school, as well as best friends, but she was a demon, and Urd had chosen to be a goddess. She had felt betrayed by that choice, and had done everything she could to foil the three sisters, short of anything that would actually hurt them… despite it all, they were still her childhood friends…
Even after Urd had been possessed by the Master of Terror, freed by Mara's own hand, she had tried to keep the destruction down, until Urd had ordered her to give all her energy to Fenrir. Now she could see how Hild had taken her anger and used it to drive her crazy.
But she didn't want the world to end. She just wanted her friend back.
Hild had hurt her just enough to ensure obedience. Mara could free herself from the wall, at the cost of enormous pain, and Hild knew once she had, she would be broken, willing to do whatever it took to avoid a repeat lesson. Only death would free her from Hild's leash.
She would be forced to destroy those she had only wanted to call friends.
A golden light poured into the room and Mara opened her eyes. Salvation had come.
She laughed as the Dragon opened his jaws.
To be continued.
|Book 2, Chapter 4|
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