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 Three: The Black Dragon
Chapter One: Laughter and Tears
Doctor Tofu came out of the back room, shaking his head.
"I really don't know dragon physiology well enough to be certain, but she's exhibiting all the signs of being drunk. Other than that, she seems extremely healthy. Her over all chi signature is very strong, though it has some puzzling aspects."
"But is she okay?" Akane asked.
"She's sleeping now, after flittering around my examining room in happy bliss. I think she's rather pleased at being able to fly."
Ranma laughed. "You think? It's all she's said for a half hour."
"I doubt she's coherent enough to formulate any other thoughts, Son-in-Law," Ke Lun said as she hopped into the office on her stick. "Shan Pu mentioned Dragon Wine?"
Akane nodded. "Ai slipped it into her thermos before lunch, then challenged her to a rematch."
Ke Lun nodded. "Very well. I will look after her. You two have school. I have already sent Shan Pu back."
They both looked towards the door to the other room, then at the raised eyebrow of the old woman and bowed.
Ke Lun nodded as they went out the door. "Good. At least in a crisis they are obedient." She turned back to Tofu. "Now, where is the patient?"
"This way," Tofu said in Mandarin.
"You speak Chinese?"
"Mandarin and Cantonese. About a third of my patients are from Chinatown. They like the fact I'm not just a modern doctor, but that I also practice the old medicines."
Ke Lun nodded. "Wise man."
Zhu Shu had passed out on the examination table and was snoring loudly, sprawled in an ungainly pose with her wings and tail hanging down next to the table. Tofu had supplied her with a examination gown, but Zhu Shu had apparently ripped it in half turning in her sleep. Ke Lun examined the tear.
"I take it she's shown extraordinary strength?"
Tofu nodded. "As well as flight, and the ability to spit some form of organic napalm." He pointed to a pile of ash. "That used to be a potted palm."
Ke Lun nodded, looking at Zhu Shu's horns. "Hmm. One long horn on each side, and two smaller ones under them. And her ears are a bit longer."
"And more expressive. She can move them unconsciously, like a cat," Tofu added. "Her teeth are about the same, but they seem to be something that looks like normal enamel, but stronger. She bit right through a metal examination mirror when I was trying to get a closer look."
K Lun nodded. "And her hair's changing color. The blonde is darkening towards black. I'd say the Dragon Wine interacted with her curse. She was cursed to turn into the form of a daughter of a black dragon and a human. I suspect the Wine caused her dragon blood to stir, made it stronger, so more dragonish traits came out."
"Ah. It made repressed genes dominant." Tofu nodded. "I get you."
"You're taking this rather well for a Japanese doctor," Ke Lun noted.
"Trust me. Live in Nerima awhile and this is far from the strangest thing you'll see. Between those darn alien Oni and the Senshi " He nodded towards Zhu Shu. "Do you think this is permanent?"
Ke Lun nodded. "The Wine is already leaving her system, and she's shown no indication of reverting. What I want to know is if her curse is still active." She took Tofu's kettle from its warmer and tested the water before pouring it on Zhu Shu, sighing in relief when she reverted to normal form.
"Hmm. I've never actually watched that before," Tofu said. "Very quick, isn't it?"
"Yes. And at least she can still be herself."
"Great-grandmother?" a sleepy Mandarin voice came from the couch. Zhu Shu shook her head. "Ow. Why is my head pounding?"
"Dehydration," Tofu said. "Alcohol tends to take water out of the system." He helped the Chinese girl to sit up and handed her a large glass of water. "This will help."
Zhu Shu nodded and drank. "How did I get here? The last thing I remember is fighting Ai, and then feeling like my body was on fire."
"She had you drink Dragon Wine, Zhu Shu. It is a magical brew made for dragons. I fear it had side effects," Ke Lun said.
Zhu Shu looked down at herself. "Side effects?"
"On your cursed form."
Zhu Shu raised her eyebrow before she dumped the rest of the water on her head. Then jumped up in surprise.
"Ow." She turned to look behind her. "I have a tail?" Then she looked higher, "And wings?"
Ke Lun nodded.
Zhu Shu smiled. "Um. Does this mean I can fly?"
Both Ke Lun and Tofu looked down, to where Zhu Shu's feet had already left the floor, her wings having started up the moment she had looked away from them.
Zhu Shu noted the look and then realized what she was doing. "I can fly!"
Tofu nodded. "Yes. That's all you would say when they brought you in."
"Hmm. You seem sober enough now, Granddaughter."
Zhu Shu blinked. "I was drunk? So that's why I can't remember much. I don't have much of a head for spirits. Grandfather caught me once after I had tried some of my Aunt's wine, and he said he had to carry me to bed because I couldn't stand after one glass."
Ke Lun smiled. "I will remember that, and not serve you wine at your wedding."
Zhu Shu laughed. "Yes, Great-grandmother."
"Now put your feet on the floor."
Zhu Shu sheepishly landed.
"I take it then that you are in no way upset at this happening?" Ke Lun asked seriously.
"No, Great-grandmother. I can fly, I care not about anything else. I have dreamed of flying all my life, and for all of my skill and ability to jump, I've been tied to the ground. No price can be too great for such a wondrous gift."
Ke Lun raised her eyebrow. "That remains to be seen, young lady. Still, you seem all right for now. I will write Lo Shen and ask her about this. For now, I think you are fine, and you also have school. I've sent Ranma and Akane back already, and unless Doctor Tofu has a reason to keep you?"
Tofu shook his head. "She's recovered marvelously from the Wine."
"Very well. Do you have a spare dress?" she asked Zhu Shu.
She nodded and pulled out her pack, withdrawing one of her not-so-good dresses. "I keep one of these handy just in case. I should have changed before the fight. Ai ruined one of my favorite dresses."
"Very well. You have ten minutes to adjust that for your cursed form, then I expect you to go back to school. Even an Empress needs a good education."
Zhu Shu smiled. "Yes, Great-grandmother."
It only took Zhu Shu eight minutes to convert the dress to being backless, but she had less success trying to accommodate the tail, although she'd learned how not to sit. Apparently she was going to need to give up on chairs with solid backs when in cursed form.
The trip to school was incredibly fun, though. After all, Ke Lun hadn't forbidden her to fly there, so she'd really gotten a chance to try out her wings. The passersby in the street had had a great show of a dragon girl doing loops and twists and midair acrobatics, all while laughing gleefully.
Finally though, she had landed at Furinkan to find Ai waiting at the gate. She gave the cheerleader a wary look.
"What Ai want?"
"Wanted to make sure you were okay. We still have a score to settle, but I didn't mean for this to happen to you. I was just looking for a way to cancel out your chi abilities so we could trounce you."
Zhu Shu laughed. "You make Zhu Shu very happy dragon-girl."
"Um yeah. Well, just to let you know, my squad is still sore, Ayeka especially. And I'm not that thrilled myself. You went and kissed me in front of the entire school, and no tongues were even involved. My reputation demands payback."
Zhu Shu shrugged. "Still is game."
"Yeah, yeah. Well, just watch your back, little miss dragon-half. I will put a leash on you yet."
"Ai need watch threats. If want Zhu Shu sleep with, asking go farther."
Ai gave her a leer. "Asking isn't any fun. I want to make you worship me."
Zhu Shu sighed. "Zhu Shu not think that much fun. See how Kodachi act. No want be like her."
Ai laughed. "We'll see. One of these days, I will look down to see you smiling up at me." She turned to go, then paused and bent over slightly as she lifted her skirt to reveal she had nothing on under it. She spread her legs slightly and peered at Zhu Shu through them. Straightening up from the pose, she laughed at Zhu Shu's nosebleed and entered the school.
Zhu Shu wiped her nose and sighed. That girl was such a tease. It would be so much simpler if she would get over her obsession with dominating her and just ask her out or something. Glad as she was with the results of this last fight, this needed to be settled one way or another.
Finally making her way to her class, she sighed again when the teacher sent her to the hall with buckets for being late — her only consolation being that Ai was down the hall doing the same thing.
After the fight at lunch, the entire school wasn't about to miss the challenge to Ranma. Everyone waited with baited breath as the seconds ticked down to the final bell, then poured out to the athletic field.
What they found was a little puzzling. At some point after lunch a ring had been erected, like a normal wrestling ring but the edges had been made of a metal that shimmered strangely. The challenger, Ukyo, stood in the center silently, ignoring the crowd as they filtered in.
Ranma was waiting outside of the gate for everyone to get seated before making an entrance. Akane was peering through the gate to the field.
"Hmm. He's got some kind of ring set up, and he looks rather pissed. What did you do to him, Ranma?"
"Nuthin! I ain't seen him in almost ten years. We used to be best friends."
Shan Pu and Zhu Shu finally arrived. "Sorry late. Teacher make clean class. Shan Pu help," Zhu Shu explained.
Ranma looked at her wings still fluttering, keeping her at eye level. "You really like being able to fly, huh?"
Zhu Shu nodded happily. "First time since Zhu Shu be cursed not care be cursed."
Ranma shook his head. "At least you're happier than I've seen you. Almost bubbly."
Zhu Shu giggled. "Zhu Shu can fly!"
Ranma rolled his eyes.
Shan Pu had already joined Akane peeking around the gate. "Hmm. Ranma fight person with big spatula?"
Zhu Shu blinked. "What Shan Pu say?"
The Amazon looked at her. "Person Ranma fight. Have big spatula. Cute, too."
Zhu Shu's feet touched the ground as she stepped towards the gate, almost like she was afraid of what she'd see.
She stood there transfixed, looking through the gate as the others began to worry.
"Zhu-chan?" Akane asked. "What is it?"
Zhu Shu's eyes didn't leave the ring, but her wings shifted and her tattoo faded into view. Shan Pu and Ranma looked at each other, puzzled.
Shan Pu's breath caught. "Is exact same."
"What?" Ranma asked.
Shan Pu pointed to Zhu Shu's tattoo. "That."
It took a second for Ranma's eyes to focus on just the spatula, since Zhu Shu so rarely showed her tattoo. "Okay." He looked over her shoulder to where Ukyo was still waiting impassively. "You're right. It is the same. So?"
Akane bapped him lightly against the back of the head. "Dummy."
Ranma looked at her. "What?"
"Her tattoo shows things." Akane said. "Don't you remember Oh, wait, that was what she told me and Rei." Akane looked sheepish. "Sorry. I thought you knew."
Ranma shook his head. "Nobody tells me nothin'. So what does this tattoo show?"
Akane pointed to the flower. "Ying-Ying, her first love, is symbolized by the cherry blossom. I'm symbolized by the tiger." She smiled. "Ergo the swords the she just gave me. These other two items I think are who else she's going to be in love with."
"Marry," Zhu Shu said softly. "Ying-Ying say marry."
Ranma, Shan Pu and Akane looked down at the boy in disbelief. "But you hate boys," Ranma said to Zhu Shu.
Zhu Shu nodded. "Yes. Zhu Shu hate boy," she said sadly, her eyes never leaving Ukyo
"Hey, no one's making you marry anyone you don't want too, Zhu-chan," Ranma said firmly. "If you ain't marrying us, you're going to have the best person we can find."
Akane and Shan Pu nodded.
Zhu Shu's eyes finally closed as she lowered her head and sighed. "Zhu Shu thanks, but does not think Ranma can stop what Dragon do." She took a step forward. "For now, Ranma must answer challenge."
They walked into the athletic field to cheers and whistles of appreciation, Ranma proceeding to the ring as the girls set down in the front row. Ukyo's glare never left him the entire time.
"Well, you two-timing womanizer," Ukyo said as Ranma entered the ring. "Are you prepared to die for your crimes against women?"
Ranma raised his eyebrow. "Huh? What crimes?"
Ukyo pointed to the girls. "You force your fiancée to sit with your mistress? 'What crimes' indeed. You have a long history of such crimes."
Ranma gave Ukyo a questioning look. "I don't get you. Akane and Shan are both my fiancées. Gramps set it up. I ain't got no choice about it."
Zhu Shu groaned as both Akane and Shan Pu glared at the oblivious boy.
"So, you even admit you care nothing for them. Smashing the life from you will be a pleasure." Ukyo took a stance with his spatula.
"Hey, I never said I didn't care," Ranma spat back. "What is up with you? We used to be friends. Why are you so angry?"
Ukyo's eyes glittered. "You ran off and left me behind!"
Ranma scratched his head. "Huh?"
"I've hunted you for ten years. Now I find that you haven't changed a bit. Defend yourself!"
Ukyo lunged forward with the spatula, coming nowhere close to Ranma. He sighed. "Look, I don't know what you think I did, but I don't really want to have to fight you." He dodged another strike just as easily.
"You think words will make up for what I have suffered?!" Ukyo screamed. "I want blood!" In a blur, he pulled a handful of smaller spatulas from his bandolier and launched them at Ranma.
Shifting momentary into combat time, Ranma caught them and tossed them back. "You don't have anywhere near the speed to really hurt me, Ucchan."
"Stop calling me that! You lost the right to call me that ten years ago when you left me behind!"
Shan Pu was watching the fight with a curious look. Akane finally noticed it and nudged her. "What's up?"
Shan Pu shook her head. "Boy not move right," she said.
Ukyo, meanwhile, had changed tactics and had tossed a bag down, filling the ring with a cloud of flour. Caught unawares, Ranma fell into a coughing fit. Ukyo took advantage of it to catch him in what at first appeared to be a blanket, but was revealed to be okonomiyaki dough. With a laugh, Ukyo tossed him onto the metal rim of the ring. The immediate hissing revealed that it was a giant griddle.
"Hey!" Akane yelled. "You hurt him too bad, you gotta deal with us!" She looked over at Shan Pu and Zhu Shu, "Right?"
Shan Pu glared at Ukyo, but Zhu Shu was just looking at her feet. Akane raised an eyebrow. "Hey, Zhu-chan. You okay?"
She got a small nod in reply, but it was easy to see the dragon girl was depressed. Akane resolved to talk to her after the fight, and turned back just in time to see Ranma shred the dough he was being cooked in.
"Okay, Ucchan, you keep this up, you're going to make me angry. Why are you so mad?"
"You should know! You were the one who left! You just waved and laughed as I ran after you begging you to stop. You ruined my life!"
Ranma blinked. "Huh? I don't remember that. I I mean, I remember us leaving, Dad pulling your yattai while you ran after us waving, but dad said you were waving goodbye. I couldn't hear you." He stopped, struck by a thought. "Why was my dad dragging your dad's yattai?"
"That was the price, you idiot!"
Shan Pu nodded. "Know what wrong." She jumped up and landed between Ranma and Ukyo. "Shan Pu watch fight. Ukyo not move right. Want know, why Ukyo pretend be boy!"
"What? I " Ukyo eyes narrowed. "I don't know what you mean!"
Shan Pu growled and before Ukyo could move, she reached out and tore open the front of Ukyo's tunic, revealing well developed breasts that had been hidden under a bandage. "You girl! Why try hide?"
The entire school gasped. Two sets of bare breasts in one day was unheard of. Most of the boys fainted, having already lost so much blood earlier. The rest of the school started buzzing.
Ukyo covered her breasts. "Because I have to! Because of him! He's made me live my life as a man ever since he ran out on our engagement!"
Dead silence descended across the field as everyone's jaw dropped.
"En en.. engagement?" Ranma finally choked out.
"Engagement! My Dad arranged it with your Dad, and gave up our family yattai as dowry! Then you stole it and left me behind!"
Shan Pu raised an eyebrow. Then turned to Ranma. "You do this?"
"No! I mean I remember the yattai but but I mean Jeez, Ucchan, I always thought you were a boy!"
Shan Pu gave him a half lidded gaze and didn't stop Ukyo as she brained him with the spatula.
"How could you have thought I was a boy?!!!!"
Akane grabbed the spatula. "Because he's rather unobservant. Now would you please stop hitting my fiancée?" She looked at Shan Pu. "And you let her?"
Shan Pu sniffed. "Ranma not know is girl? Shan Pu tell after just watch few minute. How Ranma not tell?"
"I was only six!"
"I think I can explain." a voice said behind them, and they all turned to see Genma. "Son, there's someone I think you should meet." He indicated Ukyo. "This is Ukyo, and she's your fiancée."
There was the sound of a foot impacting flesh loudly as Genma began ascending towards orbit, followed by a nearly homicidal Ranma.
"YOU KNEW AND YOU DIDN'T TELL ME!" he screamed, the sound fading as he passed behind the fence around the field. Akane and Shan Pu looked at each other. "He is so dead. If Ranma doesn't kill him, we should," Akane noted.
Shan Pu nodded. Then turned to Ukyo. "Ranma is Shan Pu and Akane fiancée."
Ukyo fixed her with a glare. "He's mine! I've spent ten years trying to find him! The only way I can be free to be a girl again is if he marries me!"
Shan Pu picked her up by the remains of her shirt. "Shan Pu say this once. Ranma and Akane is hers. You no try interfere, or may have to get violent."
Ukyo glared. "Better watch the threats, sugar. Ranma is mine. I've spent too long hunting him to just give up! He's going to marry me or die!"
She ripped her shirt free and jumped out of the ring, landing right in front of Zhu Shu. Her eyes met the golden eyes of the dragon girl and for a long second, she couldn't look away. Then she blinked, and turned away, uncertain of what had just happened.
As she walked away, Zhu Shu sighed sadly.
Akane looked at her. "Are you okay?"
Zhu Shu nodded. "Zhu Shu knew she girl when first lay eyes on. Aura not lie. Know she some how connected to Zhu Shu. Not know how. Hope be one could marry, but is girl." She looked into Akane's eyes, and all the despair that had once been there was back. "And yet, Zhu Shu see into soul. Not know how, but somehow, Ukyo see right back into to Zhu Shu too. Somehow, Ukyo see all Zhu Shu is and she turn away "
"Okay, yes, I know she's a new goddess."
"No, she used to be our nemesis."
"No, I don't know how she got reassigned."
"But I already have an assignment!"
"Okay, okay! All right!"
Urd slammed the phone down in disgust, eliciting a raised eyebrow from Mara. "What was that about?"
"Licensing just assigned me as your mentor while you're on probation. Said being the goddess who's on probation the most, I should be a good example of what not to do," Urd said disgustedly.
Mara laughed. "That's funny. Don't worry, Urd. I'll try not to be excess baggage. And at least I won't be an obstacle anymore."
Urd sighed. "I don't mind you hanging around, Mara or trying to help; but I've got this really important assignment, and if I fail
"Demon Third Class. I know, I snuck a look at your assignment at least, I vaguely remember doing it. I also remember gloating at the time. The tables are definitely turned. I get made a goddess under you instead."
"I still wish I knew how Legend did it. I've heard of gods falling, but I've never heard of a demon becoming a goddess."
Mara shrugged. "I don't know. All I remember is his offering the choice. He knew everything about me, Urd. He looked right through me and knew my every thought and desire. He he took the best part of me and allowed me to see it, and choose between that and and "
Urd nodded. "It's okay, Mara. I'm really sorta glad not to have to fight you anymore, though it's gonna be weird dealing with whoever replaces you. For now, though, I really need to know what you did to thwart me."
Mara nodded, thinking really hard. "I remember a Chinese Sorcerer, named Xi'an Chi. He's the leader of a tong um I think it's Clan Skorpion? I don't remember all the details, but he has some sort of grudge against the Dragon's Child."
"That's a start." Urd seemed to come to some sort of decision. "Well, you're assigned to me, so I guess you may as well come with me. I have to go see what I can find out about this wizard."
Mara smiled. "You don't have to drag me around if you don't want, Urd. That's not saying I won't be happy to be near you, but you don't need to feel obligated."
Urd sighed. "Look, Mara, I know you're in love with me. I don't know how I feel about that yet, all right? I don't mind you being around, and I'm certainly not worried about the fact we're both girls. It's more I don't know if I'm really ready for a relationship yet. I'm "
Urd stopped as Mara laid her finger against her lips. "Shhhh. Don't try to explain, Urd. Let's just see what happens, okay?"
Urd nodded. "Okay." She turned towards the TV. "Jeez, I'm so much better at this when it's someone else."
Mara laughed. "I've seen a few of your 'successes' Urd. No, you're not."
Urd stuck out her tongue. Mara stuck hers out right back, and they both started laughing.
"All right, already," Urd said when she regained her composure. "Let's go."
The transition through the TV was quick, but Mara was dumbstruck when they arrived at Yggdrasil.
"I had no idea it was so "
"Big?" Urd supplied.
"Pretty," Mara corrected. "I've never been here before. Most of heaven is off-limits to demons."
"Well you're a goddess now, so you're allowed here."
"Against my better judgment," Peorth's voice broke in. "But she is technically a goddess."
Urd looked over to the sysop station. "Well, she's assigned to me, so where I go, so does she."
Peorth raised her eyebrow. "Of course, mon chère. I would never come between a master and her pet."
Mara glared. "Good to see you too, Peorth. Did you ever get the smell out of your apartment?"
Urd laughed. "Come on, we need to go over here."
Peorth glared after them as Urd made her way to the substation and closed the privacy shield. Mara looked at the shimmering curtain. "I'm surprised the nosy bitch lets you get away with this."
"She doesn't have a choice," Urd said smugly as she typed away on the keyboard. She hit the enter key and leaned back as a speaker activated.
"Greetings, Goddess Urd. How are you today?"
"Feeling a bit like you left things out again," Urd grumbled.
"I am limited in what I information I can give you, Goddess Urd. I do apologize for that, but I must do as my maker bade me. Greetings to you as well, Goddess Mara. It has been a very long time."
Mara blinked. "Umm. Hi?"
Urd looked at the computer. "You know her?"
"You introduced her to me in the past."
"I haven't done that yet!" Urd muttered. "And you won't ever answer any questions on it!"
Mara blinked. "Am I missing something here?"
Urd scowled. "Just this damn assignment I'm on. Somehow, the me from the future has done things in the past, and what she did is hidden from me, by her orders!" she gestured to the computer. "And this piece of annoying code is one of her 'gifts'."
Mara nodded. "Ah."
Urd sighed. "All right, Phoenixmoon, give me whatever you know about Xi'an Chi."
The computer hesitated, something Urd had come to realize meant something had been unlocked by a trigger phrase, then the privacy screen went dead black as a hologram shimmered before the computer, resolving into Urd.
But it was a much older Urd, her hair as long as her ankles, and ages upon ages in her eyes. The hologram focused on the chair where Urd sat and a faint smile crossed its lips.
"If you are seeing this, then you have finally come here with Mara, and she is no longer working against you. It also means that time is short."
"The wizard Xi'an Chi is the brother of Song Lin Tzu, Chosen of the Dragon. When Legend favored Song Lin Tzu, he grew jealous of the power of the Dragon and became a willing pawn of Chaos. He is the tool of Chaos, and you cannot prevail against him in direct combat. He has powers granted him by Chaos that would kill even you, Urd.
"However, you are fortunate that Chaos shares her power grudgingly. To attain his full power, Xi'an Chi must evoke Chaos. Without this, he is merely a wizard of enormous power. Do what you can to avoid direct confrontation, as his proxies and servants are far less dangerous.
"However, you will not be able to avoid him entirely. So long as Song Zhu Shu lives, he will hunt her. She is the heir to the Dragon, and linked to him. If Xi'an Chi controls her or slays her, he can wrest the link from her and draw on Legend's power."
The hologram closed its eyes and rubbed its temples. "I don't know how best to stress this, Urd, but regardless of the cost, this must not be allowed to happen." The hologram's eyes reopened to look into Urd's. "I have given even my life to see to this. Indeed, I have given many others lives to see to it as well. I cannot tell you all I have done, but if you are viewing this, then I no longer exist, and there is only you, my younger self."
"History has a momentum, Urd. And the butterfly has to flap its wings at the exact right time to make a hurricane. I have flapped for the last time, and I have no choice but to lay this burden on you. Your test is my last-ditch effort to change what will be. Phoenixmoon was designed to help you, but there are limits on what it can tell you. You do not stand against just Hild or Xi'an Chi, but against Chaos herself. If you know too much, you will become too large a target, as I have become. It is the only chance at safety I can give you."
The hologram turned towards where Mara was standing. "I wish that I was truly there, instead of a hologram, I wish that you were truly here instead of only in my memories. I have nothing to offer you but a chance that the future may be better than the past." Her eyes returned to Urd. "There are many regrets I have, my younger self. Many regrets. It took me far too long to know my heart. Whatever you do, I pray you listen to yours better."
With a last flare, the hologram faded. Urd drew a long shaky breath.
"Okay. It's one thing to suspect your future self is meddling in the past. It's something else again to have visual proof," she said finally.
Mara nodded. "At least we know you age well."
Urd gave her an evil eye. "Thanks." She threw her face into her hands. "What the hell did I get myself into?"
Mara laid her hand on Urd's shoulder. "I'm sorry for what I did. Perhaps if I had not gone to Xi'an Chi "
"No. You heard her me. He's after Zhu Shu no matter what. Sooner or later he'd have showed up. I just wish I understood what was going on. Who is Chaos? What is this all about? And what does Shan Pu's wish have to do with it all?"
Mara gave her a strange look. "You don't know who Chaos is?"
Urd shook her head.
Mara sighed. "Among demons, from the youngest to the oldest, Chaos is a name spoken with fear. She's the embodiment of oblivion. Negation. The Terrible Master was simply an avatar."
Urd blinked. "And Hild? My mom?"
Mara looked away. "She is Chaos's servant. She rules Niffelheim, but it is Chaos who rules her."
"So what does the embodiment of oblivion want with the Dragon's child?"
Mara shrugged. "No one ever asks Chaos anything. Inviting her attention is like asking to be killed. Some legends say she is a prisoner, and seeks to destroy the universe so that she can finally be free. Death and destruction are her hallmarks."
Urd sighed again, not resisting as Mara started kneading her back. "Great. Just great. As if I didn't already have enough to worry about." She sat for a few moments letting the ex-demoness work on her shoulders. "Well, at least I guess I know the answer to one thing after all of that."
"Mm-hmm?" Mara questioned.
Urd look back over her shoulder. "She at least seemed to return your love, so I guess eventually I will too."
Mara shook her head. "I don't know. All she offered was a chance, same as Legend. I think, if she did, she discovered it too late."
Urd sighed. "I think so too." She looked back to where the hologram had been. "She didn't want me to make the same mistake."
"So are you going to listen to her?" Mara asked, the faintest hint of wistfulness in her voice.
"Considering everything else in my life is going wrong, maybe I should." Urd frowned. "Are you still here, Phoenixmoon?"
"Yes, Goddess Urd. I was simply allowing you privacy."
"What can you add to what Mara here just said about Chaos?"
"That you should avoid her attention at all costs, Goddess Urd. She is a force akin to the Ultimate, and outside of it. Fortunately, she seems limited to having to work through pawns. I feel you should be aware, though, that I suspect her influence in a recent happening involving the object of your recent conversation. Were you aware that Song Zhu Shu's dragon heritage has been strengthened? And I believe she just met one of her future mates."
"WHAT?! Why didn't you tell me this when it happened?!"
"You were occupied helping Mara," The disembodied voice replied.
"Friggin' computer!" Urd growled as she shut down the terminal and released the privacy screen. "Come on, we gotta go see what's up."
"Are you sure you're okay?" Akane asked yet again.
"I'm fine, Akane," Zhu Shu replied in Mandarin, unable to even find the energy to try Japanese.
Akane looked at the newly-transformed dragon-girl, and begged to differ. From her drooping ears to dragging tail, Zhu Shu looked far from "fine". She looked toward Shan Pu for support.
"I don't even know why you're upset over that girl, sister," Shan Pu said, still aggravated over the whole thing. "She's not worth your time. You deserve better."
Zhu Shu sighed, her ears dropping even further. Akane glared at Shan Pu.
"I know you're upset over her claiming to be Ranma's fiancée, Shan Pu, but that's no reason to be so vehement," she said, accepting the usage of Mandarin for the conversation.
"She's trying to take our Ranma! Why aren't you more upset?!"
Akane gave her a look of disbelief. "Because he is our Ranma, Shan Pu. Look, I know we're still working things out, but I love Ranma, and I know he loves me. I know you love both of us. Considering all that, Ukyo doesn't have a chance."
Shan Pu gave her a half lidded gaze. "I see." She gave a slow smile. "I guess I will try to have faith then, beloved."
Akane gave her a sidelong glance, and noted the smug look Shan Pu had at her words. She let the Amazon have her little victory and turned back to Zhu Shu. "Is there any way that Ukyo isn't the one your tattoo is indicating?"
Zhu Shu shook her head. "I looked into her soul, Akane, and she looked into mine. I know she's one of them." She sighed heavily. "And yet, once more, I cannot marry her, because she is a woman. I have to marry a man and bear an heir. Neither my grandfather nor the Amazons will allow anything else. And I've already gone over why I can't marry the three of you."
"So what exactly happened when you looked at her?" Akane asked. "I still am not sure why you're so depressed."
"She rejected me, Akane," Zhu Shu said softly. "She looked into my soul, and she turned away. She rejected the connection, rejected me. The very attraction she felt for me was unacceptable."
"Aren't you reading a little much into a few seconds of eye contact?" Akane asked.
Zhu Shu shook her head. "You know how I see auras. Auras don't lie."
Akane nodded. "Okay. But your tattoo hasn't lied either. Maybe we just have to give it time."
Zhu Shu sighed again. "Probably. But what about Rei? What do I tell her?"
Akane frowned. "I don't know. But surely there's no hurry."
Zhu Shu shook her head. "I can't lie to her, Akane."
Shan Pu laid her hand on Zhu Shu's shoulder. "Don't be so sad, sister. Somehow, we'll work it out."
Zhu Shu nodded, and tried to smile, but her ears and tail betrayed her. Shan Pu sighed and stopped at the corner. "Well, great-grandmother is still setting up the cafe, and she will want to know what happened."
Akane and Zhu Shu nodded. Shan Pu stepped up to Akane and gave her a hug and a kiss before she turned and headed off. Zhu Shu waited till her sister was out of earshot before commenting.
"I see you're not fighting her affections."
Akane nodded. "I've done a lot of thinking the last few weeks. And Well, I discovered I like physical affection. Being a bunny-girl has its downsides, but I've spent the last week playing with Ranma almost every day, and I rather enjoy cuddles. And Shan Pu is incredibly cuddly. I'm still getting used to being her fiancée, but at least I've stopped viewing her as a rival for Ranma."
"Oh? When did this occur?"
Akane blushed. "Um a few nights ago, when I found myself fantasizing about a threesome with her as the centerpiece." Akane shrugged. "I promised Ke Lun I'd stick to my promise and try to learn to love her, so I guess I just got used to the fact that she is my fiancée. At least I'm trying not be as dense as I was with Ranma." She laughed. "Of course, the fact that she's nowhere near as insulting helps."
Zhu Shu smiled, her ears actually perking up a little. Akane smiled herself. "Tell you what. Why don't you let me get the class started. You go up to your room, and I'll send Rei up to see you. That way, you won't have to deal with all of them pestering you with questions about why you now have wings."
Zhu Shu smiled gratefully.
Neither Ranma nor Genma had made it back to the Tendo's by the time they got home, so the house was actually quiet. Kasumi showed no surprise when they came in, saying that Ke Lun had stopped by earlier. She already had a pile of Zhu Shu's dresses altered and a tea set waiting for her in her room.
Zhu Shu put the dresses away, making a mental note to thank Kasumi for being so thoughtful. She had just poured two cups when there was a gentle knock on the door. She arose and let Rei in, standing behind the door until she had entered, and then closed the door.
Rei had been looking at her concernedly, but when she got a good look, her jaw dropped.
"Wow. What happened to you?"
"Zhu Shu have small accident. Drink Dragon Wine. Make dragon side stronger."
"Really? Oh wow You have wings? Can you fly?"
Zhu Shu nodded. She turned to let Rei see all of her.
"Oh cool, and a tail?" Rei laughed. "Cute. You look like one of those girls from a Hentai video, but you're real."
Zhu Shu raised an eyebrow. "Rei like?"
The Shinto priestess nodded. "I like you, Zhu-chan. And I do think it's sexy. A little weird, and it'll take getting used to, but sexy."
Zhu Shu smiled softly. "Thank you. But Zhu Shu needs talk to Rei."
Rei sensed the seriousness. "Oh gods. You're dumping me, right? We screwed up so bad in Hong Kong, and " She looked at Zhu Shu over the hand the Chinese girl had covered her mouth with.
"Zhu Shu not dump Rei. Promise Rei she be available as long as Rei want to chase. But Zhu Shu not want see Rei be hurt."
Rei blinked at her, then pulled her head back. "What's going on?" she asked.
Zhu Shu sighed and set down on the futon. "Zhu Shu meet someone today did not expect."
Rei raised an eyebrow. "Oh? Who?"
"One Zhu Shu not think meet so soon."
Rei's eyes widened. "Did you met him?"
Zhu Shu nodded. "But is problem. 'Him' is 'her', and her not seem want Zhu Shu."
Rei blinked several times while she translated that. "It's a girl? Which symbol?"
"Spatula. Ukyo Kuonji."
Rei's eyes widened. "Ukyo Kuonji? Makes okonomiyaki?"
Zhu Shu nodded. "She hunt Ranma. Finally find and fought him today."
Rei's eyes turned towards the dojo. "I AM GOING TO KILL HER!" she growled. "I told Usagi not to talk about Ranma with him I mean her! I mean " She stopped. "He's really a girl? And he was so cute, too! Oh, wait till Mina finds out!"
Zhu Shu blinked. "You know Ukyo?"
Rei nodded. "He She used to run a restaurant in Juuban, called Ucchan's. We had lunch there a couple of weeks ago, and Usagi was running her mouth. Ukyo seemed awfully interested in Ranma."
Zhu Shu nodded, looking downcast. "She hunt Ranma because she fiancée."
Rei facefaulted. "She's what?!"
"When Ranma six, Genma arrange marriage."
"Wait a minute! I thought the engagement with Akane took place when they were born?"
Zhu Shu nodded. "But see problem? Ukyo is not only girl, but engaged to Ranma."
Rei blinked a few more times as she caught the note of melancholy, then her face grew sad as well. "Oh, Zhu-chan. I'm sorry. I-I know you have to do your duty." She sat down by Zhu Shu and reached out for her hand. "I-I hope you won't take this the wrong way, but I'm kinda glad you finally found one of them. I-I've been dreading this, but now that it's happened, I'm kinda excited for you. However, I'm not giving you up yet."
Zhu Shu looked at her. "Rei not angry?"
"No. I mean, I'm having fun dating you Well, I had fun on our one date until well. But I'm not letting you go until I'm sure you're ready, and I'm sure this Ukyo loves you," Rei said firmly.
Zhu Shu smiled, her ears perking up. "Zhu Shu glad to hear that."
Rei put her arm around her. "Hey, I haven't had the best track record with dates, but you're my friend first. And I went into this knowing I'd eventually have to give you up. I'm not ready too yet, but I resigned myself to it at least several minutes ago."
Zhu Shu laughed at Rei's infectious grin. Rei grinned even further.
"I don't think you're happy enough," she said, then pounced, taking advantage of Zhu Shu's backless dress to tickle her ribs.
The dragon girl collapsed in a helpless heap of giggles, begging Rei to stop, but the younger girl was merciless. They rolled around the futon until finally Rei had Zhu Shu pinned to the bed, her body stretched out on top of the other girl. She held Zhu Shu's hand pinned as she caught her breath, a small smile playing across her lips.
Zhu Shu looked up into Rei's face and thought about how beautiful the priestess was, and how nice it was to feel her pressed against her. On top of that, she could smell that Rei was aroused.
And Rei had just had to tickle her. Ying-Ying had made a habit of that too, and
Rei caught her half-lidded gaze and leaned closer. "Well, now that I've conquered you, what should I do?" she asked softly.
Zhu Shu took a deep breath and fought against the first several replies. Finally she said, "Not tease Zhu Shu. She need cold shower."
Rei bent down and nuzzled her neck. "Who says I'm teasing?" she whispered in Zhu Shu' ear.
Zhu Shu shuddered as she struggled to control the rising desire. "Rei not tease. Zhu Shu "
Rei stopped her with a kiss. "I've wanted to do this since I saw you doing kata. And I've seen you struggle with being around Akane and Shan Pu." She leaned down and nuzzled Zhu Shu's neck again. "I had contemplated doing this after our date."
Zhu Shu gasped as Rei's kisses traveled down her neck. "Is is Rei certain wish do this?" she protested faintly.
Rei answered her by releasing the knots on Zhu Shu's dress.
As the priestess's kiss continued downwards, Zhu Shu resistance crumbled. She moaned softly as Rei released the last tie and drew the dress off of her, holding it up like a trophy. She smiled and draped it over the side table, then unbelted and drew off her own top. She grinned. "I'm not as well built as you, and I have to wear a bra, why don't you ever wear one?" she asked as she reached behind her to undo the aforementioned device.
Zhu Shu stretched. "Have exercises. When Rei learn more, will teach."
Rei tossed the bra aside, revealing her pert breasts, and stood to remove her skirts. Zhu Shu watched her admiringly. As the panties joined the growing pile of clothes, she asked, "Why Rei do this?"
Rei nestled back on the bed. "Because you need it. Because I need to answer some questions for myself. And because this may be my only chance. For right now, you're still mine." She ran her hand along Zhu Shu's stomach. "Let me enjoy that while I can."
Zhu Shu's answer was to draw her down for a long kiss.
The Chibi-Urd jumped down from the window ledge and dusted her hands off. That had taken an unexpected turn, though not an unwelcome one. She looked at Mara, who'd been waiting under a tree.
"Well, it seems our little priestess has her own ideas of appropriate therapy."
Mara nodded. "That's to be expected. I could tell the girl had the hots for Zhu Shu the first time I saw her."
Urd shrugged. "At least it should help release some tensions. Still, I think I need to get some more info. From what Zhu Shu was just saying, it seems the Dragon's Child has some connection to Ukyo. My briefing only said she was another fiancée of Ranma, a loose end that I needed to resolve. That's part of the reason I got the elders involved. Ukyo's claim is based on just Genma's deal, without the approval of his father-in-law or his wife, unlike the engagements to Shan Pu and Akane. Nodoka is unlikely to accept the engagement since it's illegitimate, and her father has nothing to gain by the marriage and in fact dislikes the Kuonji clan, since Ukyo's great-uncle is an old rival. That basically puts Ukyo's claim to an end, which should free her finally from having to hunt after Ranma and let her go and find another husband."
Mara raised an eyebrow. "Um That's your plan?"
Urd nodded. "Yeah, why?"
Mara sighed. "You're right, you need more info. Let's go back to my old place. I think there's something else I tracked down that you might need. Let's see if my notes survived, or even if they're coherent."
"When is Rei coming back?" Usagi whined for the umpteenth time. "And Zhu Shu? I wanted to tell everyone what happened."
Akane sighed. "When they're done talking. Now try that move again."
Usagi did the kata in slow motion again, attempting to imitate Akane's motions. Akane nodded. "That's good. Now try it full speed." She motioned to the practice dummy, the one still dressed in a tattered Chinese shirt and a pigtail. "Just imagine that's Ranma, and try to hit him."
"With pleasure." Usagi visualized Ranma standing there calling her "odango-atama" and moved. The heel of her hand hit the dummy with satisfying force.
"Not bad, but you're making the same mistake Akane always used to make." Ranma's voice chirped in as he came into the dojo. "You don't need to pack so much force behind the punch. The secret is precision."
He demonstrated with the same move, hitting the dummy just an inch from where Usagi had, and with a loud crack, the support post broke. Usagi grumbled "showoff" to herself as he turned back to Akane.
"Sorry I'm late. I had to chase the panda down and drag him to mom. She's going over this 'engagement' with him right now."
Akane nodded and smiled. "Good. I don't think your mom is going to put up with any nonsense from Genma, not after this whole nekoken stuff."
Ranma looked around. "So where's our butterfly?"
"Zhu Shu is talking to Rei. You missed the end of your fight. Zhu Shu was a little upset."
"Oh? What's wrong?"
"She "Akane stopped and looked at the scouts, who had all stopped what they were doing to listen.
"All right guys, back to practice. If Zhu Shu wants to tell you, she can."
Ranma shrugged and went back over to help Usagi. They were just finishing up and about to send the girls to get changed when Rei finally came back, her hair slightly disheveled, and wearing a canary-eating grin. Zhu Shu followed her, in her normal form, and rather obviously in a better mood. Akane blinked, but the very faint traces of gold still clung to the edges of Rei's violet aura, matched by the faintest hints of purple around Zhu Shu's. Then comprehension dawned and she laughed.
Zhu Shu blushed crimson from her hairline to her toes. She gave Akane a sheepish look. Usagi looked between Akane, and Rei and Zhu Shu, finally just asking "What?"
Akane laughed. "Nothing, Usagi."
Rei almost bounced over to the other girls. "This is so cool. You've got to see what happened to Zhu Shu!"
She grabbed a bucket of water from the dressing room and scurried back over to Zhu Shu, who good-naturedly allowed Rei to dump the water on her. The other girls gasped as Zhu Shu transformed.
"Wow, what happened to you?" Usagi asked.
"Zhu Shu accidentally drink Dragon Wine."
"Accident my ass," Akane interjected. "Ai snuck it into her thermos before challenging her to a fight at lunch."
"Ai did this?" Makoto asked. "That cheerleader who's been giving Zhu-chan a hard time?"
"Zhu Shu is fine. No upset at Ai. She not know would affect Zhu Shu this way. Besides—" She fluttered her wings and lifted off the ground.
"—Zhu Shu can fly," Akane and Ranma Greek Chorused.
Zhu Shu stuck out her tongue at them.
Ami had pulled out her minicomp and was scratching her head. Zhu Shu fluttered over. "What do?"
"Trying to figure out how those small wings can lift your mass. The lift-to-weight ratios are just not making sense. By my calculations, your wings are flapping way too slowly to keep you airborne, but I'm also showing a field effect in the magical fields around you." She tapped the computer screen. "So you're flying by magic. That's a relief. I was worried for a second you were violating the laws of physics. Magic's something else."
Zhu Shu blinked. "Is good?"
Ami nodded. "Yes, sensei. At least for my own peace of mind."
Mina laughed. "Be glad my special effects technician isn't here, Zhu-chan. She'd be all over you looking for wires."
"She doesn't have any wires." Rei smirked. "I can verify that."
Mina gave her a sidelong look, then draped herself over her shoulder. "Oh? Really? Do tell!"
Rei just gave her a grin.
Makoto looked between Rei and Zhu Shu and smiled. "Oh, I get it. You just took our sensei for a test drive."
"What? You come in here grinning like a cat, and our sensei is blushing to her toes. As smug as you are, you two had to be up to something."
"Rei slept with Zhu Shu?" Usagi blurted out. Rei kicked her in the shin.
"What business is it of yours?" She asked overly sweetly.
Usagi rubbed her leg. "Ow! I was just surprised you were a pervert."
Rei started to glow, but Makoto held up her hand. Rei paused, still glowing, but let her continue.
"Usagi? Let me ask you this. Our sensei likes girls, our assistant sensei is engaged to a girl, as well as a boy who turns into a girl, and it's only Rei you ask if she's a pervert because we suspect she might have been out playing with our sensei?" Makoto shook her head. "Sometimes I just can't figure you out, princess."
Usagi looked at the hard stares from Rei, and Akane and blushed. "Okay, okay, I'm sorry. I was surprised. After the fight I had with her for Mamoru, I thought Rei liked boys."
Rei lost her glow, but still looked miffed. "I do. I also like Zhu Shu. And she's certainly treated me nicer than any guy I've dated. Even nicer than Mamoru did, though he's a close call. Now, if I choose to date Zhu Shu for a while, what's wrong with that?"
Usagi held up her hands in submission. "Nothing, okay. I'm sorry Rei. It just seems everybody else here suspected except me."
"We can't help it if you're not very observant," Mina chimed in. "Hell, if Rei hadn't already claimed her, I might have been tempted to chase our sensei. Only girl I know I'd ever say that about."
Usagi blinked. "Okay, then I guess I don't feel so weird."
"Of course, the questions still remains. Did you go off to play with Zhu-chan?" Mina asked Rei.
Rei sniffed. "Like I'd tell. That's my business."
"Oh, come on, you can trust us," Mina prodded. Rei gave her a warning glare, and Mina held up her hands, "Okay, okay."
Usagi suddenly smiled. "Hey! That means you were on a date that night!"
Rei rolled her eyes. "So? You go on dates all the time."
"Yeah," Makoto added. "You even skipped school today to go out with " dramatic pause followed by a mock dreamy sigh of, "Mamoru."
Usagi nodded, then blinked. "Hey, that reminds me. I had something weird happen today. Some little girl showed up and demanded the Silver Crystal! She had a toy gun — well I didn't know it was a toy gun at the time — but she knocked me down and wanted the Crystal." Usagi shook her head. "And she had pink hair pulled into odango like mine. And she seemed to know that I had the Crystal."
"So what did you do with her?" Mina asked.
"She disappeared. Mamoru and I looked around the park, but we couldn't find her."
"Humph. Sounds like you were talking to loud and the kid was playing robbers." Rei sniffed.
"Not know, Rei. Should not dismiss until checked," Zhu Shu said.
"All right. If you see this girl again, let us know," Rei said, only marginally gracefully.
Ami, meanwhile, had been scanning Zhu Shu, and finally lowered her minicomp. "Okay, I've got complete readings. I'll see if I can make heads or tails of them."
Zhu Shu nodded. "Is really okay. Zhu Shu not mind be dragon-girl. Like be able to fly."
Ami smiled. "Of course; but I just want to make sure you're stable, and not going to change any further. Magic is unpredictable at times. The scientist in me just wants to be sure you're okay."
Zhu Shu nodded. She turned and asked Akane how the class had gone, and let her give the end-of-class pointers, then apologized to the girls for having been absent, blushing furiously when Makoto assured her that making out with Rei was much more important. Rei sighed, but didn't say anything. As the girls left, Zhu Shu's sharp ears caught Makoto complimenting Rei on her good taste. She smiled. At least none of the girls was doing more than friendly hazing.
That was definitely reassuring. Despite the fact that female-to-female relationships seemed far more acceptable here in Japan, she had been worried Rei would have trouble with her friends over their relationship.
She turned to Akane and Ranma. "Zhu Shu thanks Akane for teaching."
Akane gave her a mischievous grin. "I'm glad to see she took my suggestion to 'cheer you up' so literally."
Zhu Shu smiled. "Will admit, did make feel better. Told Rei about Ukyo. Seem Usagi is how Ukyo find Ranma."
Ranma raised an eyebrow. "Why doesn't that surprise me? What'd the ditz do?"
"Mention name when at Ukyo's restaurant. Name Ucchan's."
"She named a restaurant after my nickname for her? I thought she hated that name now."
Zhu Shu shook her head. "No. When Zhu Shu look inside her, see Ranma be all she think about for years."
Ranma shook his head. "That's the part I don't get. Why didn't she just go on with her life? Why be so focused on something that occurred when we were children?"
Akane shook her head. "I don't know. I think I remember her saying something about having to be a boy because of you."
"That makes no sense."
Zhu Shu cocked her head, then motioned for Ranma and Akane to wait. She blurred and there was a sound of a crash from outside, along with a startled yelp, then Ukyo's spatula fell to the ground in front of the dojo. The girl herself was brought in a few seconds later, casually wrapped up in Zhu Shu's ribbons. The dragon girl set her down and did her best to ignore the other girl's glare.
Ranma sighed. "So how long you been out there?"
Ukyo turned her glare on him. "Long enough to hear how utterly clueless you are."
"Care to clue me in then? I really don't want to fight you, Ucchan. It don't matter how good you are, you can't beat me. I'm almost as fast at Zhu Shu here, and you just got shown how fast that is. Just tell me why you're so upset."
Ukyo's eyes narrowed. "Because you ruined my life, you ass! You left me behind!"
"I didn't know anything about an engagement! I was only six!"
"That doesn't matter! You left me, and because you left me, you stole my femininity! I haven't been able to be a woman since you ran out on me!"
Akane and Zhu Shu looked at each other and blinked in confusion. Ranma scratched his head as well. "I don't get that, Ucchan. You're still a girl, right? You didn't get hit with a curse that changes you into a boy or something, did you?"
"What kind of idiotic question is that?"
Ranma sighed and looked over at Akane, who promptly got the bucket again and dumped it over Ranma.
Ukyo stared in disbelief. Then Akane poured it on her own head, her pink bunny ears popping up. Ukyo turned her eyes on Zhu Shu, who produced a kettle and changed back to her normal form.
And blinked again.
"OOOOOkaaaay," she finally said. "I take it then that you all have that curse. And no, I don't have that curse. Yes, I am female in body. I just can't be one."
Ranma crouched down to be at eye level with the bound girl. "That's what I don't understand. Why?"
"Because I can't, okay?! Because my dad refuses to acknowledge he has a daughter! Once you ran off, he swore I would never be a daughter in his eyes again! I either have to marry you or spend the rest of my life legally male!"
Ranma blinked. "But but that's idiotic!"
"You're telling me?! I've had to live this way for ten years because of you!"
Ranma sighed. "Look, Ukyo, I'm sorry about that, but I never knew you were female, and I never knew about the engagement. Dad is being raked over the coals right now by my mother, and I can guarantee gramps sure as hell won't agree to another betrothal. If it hadn't been such an advantage to him, the betrothal to Shan Pu wouldn't have happened. I can't marry you, I'm sorry. I hope we can be friends again, but I don't know what else to tell you."
Ukyo glared, but only for a few more minutes before she finally deflated and sighed. "You have to."
"I can't. I'm sorry, Ukyo, but I love Akane, and I have to marry her and Shan Pu."
Akane smiled. "Nice of you to finally admit that. Now maybe you could say it to me every so often?"
Ranma blushed. "Um "
Akane laughed. "Just kidding, 'Ranma-chan'."
Ranma sighed. "Anyway, you're a really cute girl. You shouldn't let my pop's idiocy continue to mess up your life."
Ukyo smiled sadly. "It's nice of you to say that, but you just don't understand. You're the only man I can marry. If I don't marry you by the time I turn eighteen, my dad will arrange a marriage for his son. I'll get foisted off on some silly girl. It's even in his will. Legally, I am his son now, and I can only inherit if I'm married. You're my one escape clause."
Ranma blinked. "That's just " words failed him.
"Idiotic? Supremely stupid?" Akane chimed in. "Like arranging a marriage between two infants, or marriage by conquest?"
Ranma sighed. "Okay, okay. But I'm still not sure what can be done."
"Nothing, son," Nodoka said as she entered. "Genma had no authority to make the engagement."
Ranma sighed. "Hi, mom. Have you been listening too?"
"No. I just came out here after your father finished pleading for his life and I called my father. Is this the girl in question?"
"Yeah. Mom, this is Ukyo. Ukyo, my mom."
Ukyo attempted to bow. Zhu Shu twisted her wrist and the ribbons unwrapped as she replaced her sword behind her back. Ukyo shook herself and stood to bow. "Hello, Mrs. Saotome."
Nodoka bowed back. "Greetings. I fear I must apologize for my husband, but he had no authority to make any arrangements regarding my son's marriage. The terms of our prenuptial expressly exclude that right. I felt father was a trifle paranoid in thinking Genma would try to 'pawn my son off for a loaf of bread', as he put it, but in retrospect, I see his wisdom. My father was behind the approval of the Saotome-Tendo marriage, and he approved the marriage alliance with the Joketsuzoku. He does not, and will not, approve the deal Genma made with your father. I'm sorry child, but your claim has no legal standing."
Ukyo's shoulders slumped in defeat. "I I "
Nodoka's eyes were full of sympathy, but it was obvious the decision was final. Ukyo' eyes closed as she let it sink in, and finally, she turned and fled the dojo. Ranma started after her, but Nodoka held the redhead back. "I know it's not your fault son, but I think you've caused her enough pain for right now."
Ranma sighed. "Yeah, I guess you're right, mom. I just hate this kinda stuff. She used to be my best friend."
Akane hugged her from behind. "And you wonder why I love you. You may be an idiot in a lot of ways, but you really care about what counts." She kissed Ranma on the ear. "Come on, let's go get some dinner. I just heard Kasumi calling."
Ranma shook her head. "I can't believe how sensitive your rabbit ears are."
Nodoka smiled. "Yes, indeed. Among other things. Though it may be a while before your father gets to enjoy any of that again."
"Mom! I don't need to know stuff like that!"
Nodoka laughed at the blush her comment elicited. Akane smiled and turned to ask if Zhu Shu was coming.
But the Chinese girl was nowhere to be seen.
It had all gone wrong.
It wasn't supposed to happen this way!
It was supposed to end with a beaten and bruised Ranma begging her forgiveness for having caused her such pain, begging to be allowed to make up for hurting her. Begging to be allowed to carry out the vow he had run out on so long ago
But that hadn't happened.
Instead, he had rebuffed her. She'd been unable to even come close to hitting him, and he'd escaped her revenge almost casually! Then, even when she'd broken down and told him the whole mad story, he'd still refused her! Clinging to that other girl, with her ridiculous bobbed hair and that long braid! What did she think she was, an American surfer?
She sat on the concrete slope under the bridge where she'd found refuge and cried for the first time since she had turned twelve. It wasn't supposed to be this way!
"Is very hard to have dreams die, yes no?"
"Makes one wish die."
Ukyo nodded again, unable to stop crying.
"When dreams die, seem like whole world end. But world goes on."
"How can it?'
"Because life does. And in life, sometimes are second chances."
"You heard him and his mother! There is no chance!"
"Not with Ranma. In time, perhaps someone else."
Ukyo buried her face in her arms. "What do you know anyway?"
"Much. When young, lose first love. Feel like whole world lose all color. Go through life like it a dream, thinking only of loss and pain. Hurt so bad, think only want to join with lost love, that life hurt too much without. Try commit suicide. That four years ago."
Ukyo finally looked up into Zhu Shu's jade-green eyes. "You can't be that much older than I am."
"Seventeen. Lose Ying-Ying when only thirteen. Take Zhu Shu four years finally learn life go on. That death of one dream not mean new dream can never come."
"How can it? Everything is against me! If he won't marry me, I'm stuck playing being a man for the rest of my life!"
"So? Zhu Shu only be in Japan for few months, but see males have better freedom and privileges. Is better than China, but still true."
"But if I'm stuck being male " Ukyo shook her head. "I know you heard me before. I don't want to have an arranged marriage to a girl!"
Zhu Shu looked down. "Is because is arranged? Or because is to girl?"
"BOTH! I'm sick and tired of being forced to do things because of my father!"
"Ranma's father force train all life. Force move all life. Force leave Ukyo. Ranma forced whole life too. Only recently he find he can choose."
"And he chooses the butch chick and the psychotic."
"Shan Pu is Sister. Akane is best friend. Neither one is bad person."
"Then why are you here? Why aren't you threatening me, or pitying me like they do?"
Zhu Shu looked back at her. "Because of what see when Ukyo first look into eyes."
Ukyo looked away. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Zhu Shu sighed. "Very well. Because Zhu Shu have lived through pain, and not want see Ukyo hurt like Zhu Shu hurt for so long."
Ukyo shrugged. "It doesn't matter."
"It does to Zhu Shu."
Ukyo stared into the water. "And I suppose if I asked you why, I'd just get some strange answer I don't want."
Zhu Shu was silent.
Ukyo lowered her head onto her arms, eyes never leaving the water. "And why do I feel like I've known you all my life?"
Zhu Shu tilted her head, but still said nothing.
Ukyo sighed. "Do you know I haven't been able to get you out of my head since I saw you at the fight. There was just something about your eyes, and the way they caught the light and looked like pure gold. It was like you could see right through me, like you knew every thought, every memory, every secret. You terrify me, and yet, you feel like somehow, you're part of me. I don't even know you, and that scares me."
"And so, Ukyo turn away."
"Yes. You scare me like no one ever has in my entire life, and yet " Ukyo sighed. "Gods, You confuse the hell out of me! It's like you're inside my mind, just standing there, waiting. And I don't know what for!"
Still, Zhu Shu said nothing.
"How can you do this to me? Why do I feel so scared?"
"Zhu Shu not know. Only meant to comfort."
Ukyo buried her face in her arms again. "Please, just go."
There wasn't even a whisper of wind, but still, she could feel that Zhu Shu had gone.
And somehow that scared her even more.
Urd paused the image on the screen and stared at the tattoo.
"I've never seen this. You say it's on her back?"
Mara nodded. "It seems to fade in an out. And it's far more disturbing in person. You can feel Legend's eyes on you through it."
"It's certainly intricate."
"Yes. But there's more." Mara handed Urd another tape. "It's a pity my camera imp won't come near me anymore. Being a goddess has its drawbacks when you used to be a demon, and most of your servants are demonic in origin."
Urd smiled. "Yeah. At least we got the tapes before it ate them."
"And most of my notes."
Urd popped the tape in and watched a recording of Zhu Shu, Akane and Rei. They were riding in a subway, with a couple of bags, talking to keep the boredom away.
"The kicker is a few minutes in." Mara took the remote and fast forwarded. "Here."
Urd listened as Zhu Shu told Rei and Akane about a dream she'd had the day she got killed, about how her former love, Ying-Ying, had come to her and explained the meanings of the four items the Dragon held in it's claws. When it was done, Urd sat back and whistled.
"Okay. So on top of everything else, I have to match Zhu Shu up with specific people?" Urd rubbed her temple. "What I wouldn't give for a guidebook here, so I can keep all the players straight!"
Mara gave her an amused look. "No, what you need is a list of what-all your other self prearranged. Of all the stories I've heard of the Dragon, I've never heard of one where he's foretold the future."
"No. Even Kami-sama says the future is not set. Broad possibilities can be mapped out, but until the Absolute Now crystallizes the present, no one can know the absolute future. And even the past can be changed if one is willing to alter the time stream that lies between the past and the Absolute Now. The trouble is that doing so is essentially playing dice with the universe. The effect may be minor, or catastrophic. I mean, the only reason I would do it is to " Urd trailed off.
"Well when the Terrible Master cut the superstring, I was panicked, but it occurred to me later, that had the universe actually started ending as the Norn of the Past, if I could have gotten to the Gate of Time and convinced Pluto of the need, I could have gone back and made sure that it had never happened. I could have kept you from awakening the Terrible Master."
Mara colored in shame. "I'm sorry I did, Urd. I certainly never expected him to possess you."
Urd waved her off. "My point is that only something that threatened reality itself would have convinced Pluto to let me go back in time. She's only rarely allowed anyone to go through for any reason, let alone a goddess. And to have allowed me, the goddess who monitors the past, to have gone through, it would take a reality-threatening event."
"A reality-threatening event?"
"Yeah. Like the end of the Universe itself. And considering how much emphasis she put on not letting Chaos get a hold of Zhu Shu, I wonder if some how it's like the start of a string of events that lead to the destruction of everything." Urd sighed. "The deeper into this mess I get, the more frustrating it gets, and the more worried I get. I'm starting to think that some how I'm dealing with a reality nexus here."
Mara raised her eyebrow. "I thought reality nexi were just a story."
"So did I."
"So, suppose that reality nexi are real, suppose that somehow, our entire reality is dependant on one person, or group how would we know, and how would we deal with it?"
Urd held her hands in her face. "That's just it, Mara. I don't know."
Dinner at the Tendo's was a little quieter than usual, the war between Ranma and Genma for food tempered by Nodoka's stern looks whenever Genma got too enthusiastic. Midway through, China announced her presence by leaping into Akane's lap and demanding small slivers of Akane's fish. Ranma was too distracted to notice.
After dinner, while Akane was finishing her homework, Ranma wondered up to the roof, looking for a quiet place to think about the day, and found Zhu Shu already sitting up there, staring sadly off into the distance. He sat down next to her and waited, finally asking, "Do you want to talk?"
"Zhu Shu not know," was the faint answer.
"Where'd you go?"
Ranma nodded. A few minutes passed as the silence grew oppressive.
"She hates me, doesn't she?"
"Zhu Shu not know."
More time passed as crickets began to chirrup in the garden. The air grew cooler as the last traces of sunset faded.
"Did you talk?"
Ranma closed his eyes at the barely suppressed sob.
"What did she say?"
"Ask Zhu Shu to go. Say Zhu Shu terrify her."
Ranma put his arm around her and held her to his shoulder, doing his best to comfort her through the tears.
To be continued.
|Book 3, Chapter 2|
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