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By Shade

Disclaimer: Ranma ½ and affiliates are the property of Rumiko Takahashi, Rifts and Phase World are owned by Palladium. Other references belong to their respective owners.

2-D: Now the fun begins…

"WHAT?" Four voices rang out.

"Oh my." Correction, make that five.

For some reason, Kasumi wasn't feeling as adverse to the idea of the arranged marriage as might have been expected by those who knew her.

Genma looked at him, this couldn't be his son… could it? This guy looked like he could tear Genma's bear form apart without even trying. There was a faint resemblance to his boy, but this man looked older and possessed a confidence that he had never ever seen in his son before.

Then he looked into his eyes. Genma froze like a mouse staring up at a falcon diving for the kill.

This was Ranma; there was no doubt about it. An older, harder and much more dangerous Ranma, but it was him. The eyes never lied. There was no disguising the wild spirit burning within them. With terrifying certainty he knew that whatever trials his son had gone through had only made him stronger, and that Genma no longer had any hold over him. Fast on the heels of that realization was the accompanying denial. He'd used the boy before and he could do it again. After all he was Ranma's father; the boy had still respected that even after he no longer respected Genma as an individual. He owned his insolent son, and a few weeks couldn't have broken his control so easily.

Somehow, that line of reasoning wasn't as reassuring to him as it should have been.

Nabiki licked her dry lips. The room was feeling rather warm all of a sudden. This wasn't at all what she had expected. A dumb jock this was not. She was looking at some prime, grade "A" beef, here. A flash of silver from his hand caught her eye.

Well, if he could afford a trinket like that he wasn't exactly starving, she concluded.

Suddenly this engagement business didn't seem so bad after all. Worst-case scenario: she could make some money off of him. Best-case: she'd have a well-off husband that wasn't hard to look at. A win-win situation, just the way she liked it.

Akane snorted rudely. He was a guy, even if he was kind of attractive. She'd had handsome guys after her too, and she knew they were all perverted pond scum. Kuno was handsome, and look at how he behaved! This one was the same as the rest of them, she decided. Only Doctor Tofu was different from the bulk of the male gender. She HATED boys!

Although Akane was beginning to get a bit irritated that he hadn't seemed to even notice her yet. If there was one thing that Akane hated even more then boys, it was not being the center of attention. She was the most popular girl in school after all. Why else would all those stupid boys be chasing her?

Soun was confused. So he did what came naturally to him. Take the first emotion that comes along and run with it.


The Soun Tendo Glomp (™), distant cousin to the Amazon Glomp (™), was locked on target and engaged.

"Huh?" Ranma moved to the side to avoid being crushed by what appeared to be a hysterical water fountain. Soun found himself clutching only air.

"Is he always like this?" Ranma asked.

"Not all of the time." Oh dear, she hoped he would forgive Father's rude behavior.

Kasumi wondered if Ranma would think her too forward if she asked him out now.

To everyone else it appeared as if he had just vanished, and then reappeared at Kasumi's side.

There was a synchronized blink.

That finally snapped them out of their shock.


How dare he try to take advantage of her sister like that! Akane fumed, her mind lynching the mild sense of disappointment that she had unexpectedly felt.

Ranma ignored her, his attention focusing on Genma now that the immediate threat had been avoided. He did not look happy. In fact, the chilling glare he was shooting at the overweight buffoon made a Siberian blizzard look downright cozy.

"Excuse me. I'm sorry to trouble you, but is there someplace that I can have a little *talk* with my father in private? There are some things that need to be resolved before we can finish the introductions."

"Well, the dojo's available…" Maybe she could ask him after dinner. Kasumi drifted off a little as her long repressed imagination and hormones started to explore that line of thought. A harmless little daydream couldn't hurt anyone, and who knew? It might not be just a fantasy for long.

"Thanks! C'mon, Pop." He grabbed his old man by the ear and dragged him out of the room despite Genma's protests.

"Ow! Hey leggo!! This no way to treat your fath… Owowowow!!!"

"Hey! I'm talking to you! Don't you dare turn your back to me!"

Akane's temper grew, as her words had absolutely no effect on this boy. How dare he act like she wasn't even here!

Nabiki's eyebrows rose.

{So the little princess finally meets a guy who won't bow and scrape for her… interesting. This fiancé is looking better by the minute. I wonder what other goodies he's hiding.}

If there was one thing that motivated Nabiki more then money, it was her curiosity. Nothing piqued her interest faster then a mystery; knowledge meant power, and power meant control. Nabiki had been seeking control ever since her mother had passed away, and the drive for answers and the order they provided had not dimmed through the years.

A small feline smile crossed her lips.

In the Tendo Dojo, a confrontation was taking place.

A flick of Ranma's wrist sent Genma sprawling onto the hard wooden floor. Then he dropped his suitcase and backpack on the worn boards. Ranma wanted to have as much maneuverability as possible when he had it out with his Pop; even though it had been years since he'd last seen Genma, he remembered all too well how sneaky the old man could be, especially when trying to escape responsibility for his behavior.

Ranma waited a few moments for his father to pull himself together, taking the time to study Genma through eyes hardened by knowledge and experience and compare it to what he remembered.

{Funny, I thought he was taller then that.}

His last memories had been of a man who had been an imposing master of the martial arts, to be heeded, if not respected. Despite his contempt for Genma as a parent, Ranma still had acknowledged the old man's skill as a fighter. Seeing him now was a shock, especially considering he'd only been gone a few weeks in this world's time. He hadn't realized that the years of fighting against some of the most powerful beings in the Multiverse had affected his standards. The young knight had become accustomed to beings possessing the strength of ten men as the norm, and many of his opponents had been many times stronger then even he was, and Ranma's own enhanced physical prowess was nothing to sneer at.

All he saw now was the remains of a once formidable fighter, succumbing to years of excess and sloth. The iron-corded muscles Genma had been known for were steadily degrading into fat. The once proud frame of steel that had survived so many battles was weakening as it started to submit to the first symptoms of age and gluttony.

"Ranma! You're alive!!"

"About time that fact sunk in, Pop. You looked like you didn't even recognize me for a minute, back there."

Ranma had found it surprisingly easy to fall back into the old patterns, and the roughness of his speech bore almost no resemblance to the educated voice of Captain Saotome, hero of the Alliance. It was a concession he had to make with his return home. If he used his regular voice here, it would arouse suspicions he couldn't afford.

Sooner or later, he'd have to transform, and it would be best if no one made the connection between the recently returned Saotome and Earth's newest protector.

He especially didn't want certain interested parties to find out that a certain irritating CosmoKnight was laying low in a backwater dimension that just happened to be his home. The Splugorth had long memories, and they weren't the only ones after his head. It had reached the point where he had lost count of the number of beings that wanted him dead, enslaved, or worse for ruining their nefarious little schemes. He just seemed to have a knack for pissing the wrong people off.

"At last you can fulfill the pledge made between our two schools!"

"What are you talking about?" Ranma was caught off guard by this sudden change in the topic.

Genma had decided to exploit the old chink in Ranma's emotional armor, his honor. For as long as his son had known about duty and responsibility, he'd been using that to get Ranma to do what he wanted. It was the perfect weapon for someone without scruples; the boy might complain and bluster, but in the end he always did as he was told.

{This occasion shouldn't be any different}, Genma thought as he explained the details of the engagement to his unsuspecting son.


Just when he'd thought the old man couldn't sink any lower…

"So you see, boy, it's a matter of family honor. You must marry a Tendo."


"Good, so you'll choose… NO? This is your duty as the Heir of the Anything Goes School! You can't refuse! Do you want to disgrace the Saotome name?! Oh the shame!! My son has no honor!!"

"You're the last person that should be talking to me about honor… *Dad*."

The emphasis on the last was dripping with scorn as Ranma got over his shock and got down to the business he'd dragged his father in here for.

"Impudent boy!! I need to teach you to respect your father!" For all his arrogant bluster, Genma was unsure if he could still defeat his son. There was hard streak within the boy now. He couldn't find any explanation for it, but it made him nervous. But he couldn't let him get away with that kind of disrespect!

Genma's Pride and Common Sense were at war with each other. So far it was a stalemate. Genma tended to avoid situations where he might lose, but he WAS a Saotome.

"Anytime you're ready, old man. You've got a lot of explaining to do, and one way or another I'm going to get answers from you." That cocky tone had been the doom of worse things then Genma. The pitch was calculated to cause the maximum amount of irritation and anger in Ranma's opponents, and was extremely effective, as several deceased beings could have testified to… if they hadn't been reduced to their component molecules.

Pride won out. Genma went into his ready combat stance. "This is for your own good Ranma. This will hurt me more then it will you."

{You have no idea how right you are, Pops.}

The pigtailed young man looked unconcerned as he stretched his arms behind the back of his head and yawned. Ranma had been blessed with the opportunity to study the several millenniums worth of combat techniques, developed from all over the Multiverse, and he had not wasted it. Genma had no idea what he was getting into. The only real challenge for Ranma was defeating his relatively frail parent without accidentally killing or crippling him in the process. Even a pulled punch would probably splatter the old man across the dojo. A quick review of his available styles found one that should work; advanced Tai Chi was his preferred choice when going up against normal humanoids he needed to take alive and unharmed.

Well… mostly unharmed, anyway.

Still, his careless manner wasn't quite as open as it seemed. Genma was still a master of the Anything Goes Style, after all. Ranma's seeming indifference to that was more bluff and deception than actual disregard. One of the most valuable lessons he had ever learned from his various sensei had been that sometimes a confident front was more effective then striking a blow, in achieving victory over one's opponent.

And it was working, a fine sheen of nervous sweat covered Genma's exposed brow as he tried to figure out what his son was up to.

"Your move, Oyaji."

-Dimensional Lab Pocket

Washuu frowned thoughtfully as her fingers danced on her Hyper-dimensional terminal. That rip in the space-time continuum she'd detected earlier had occurred in exactly the same spot where an unusual energy phenomenon had taken place, only a few weeks before the Rift had appeared. She'd only found that now while cross-referencing her backup files. Her main system was still repairing itself from damage caused last month after Mihoshi had dragged Tenchi off to a picnic, and somehow managed to get the two of them lost in her lab instead.

That ditzy detective was just… inexplicable!!

The genius scientist in a twelve-year-old body decided to stop thinking about that. It only made her head hurt. This new mystery was more of a concern. Washuu didn't believe in coincidence; she was the one who'd disproved its existence seven thousand years ago.

Any doubt she'd had about their visitor's existence was laid to rest the minute her satellites had picked up a small object, moving faster then Ryo-Ohki's ship form, traveling across the Sea of Japan. Unfortunately, her equipment had lost track of the intruder soon after it had landed somewhere in Tokyo. This was going to take awhile, but she was WASHUU!! The greatest genius scientist in the Universe!!! Whoever had entered this dimensional plane of reality didn't stand a chance against her.

Ryoko and Ayeka shivered as the sound of fiendish laughter rung throughout the house. Hadn't Washuu promised that her door was soundproofed?

-Juuban District

"The time stream has been disrupted."


The Inners looked like they were about to have a collective heart attack. Couldn't the Guardian of Time ever make a *normal* entrance for once?!

"I see the gang's all here." A handsome mannish blonde leaned against the temple door. Beside her were two other girls.

"Haruka! Michiru! Hotaru!" Usagi looked happy to see her friends, despite the situation that had brought them all together again.

"What's happened? How has the time stream been altered?" Ami went straight for the heart of the matter.

"A Rift has opened and let *something * into our Universe. Whatever it is, it's good at hiding and possesses an extraordinary strength. Its very existence has already sent ripples along the very fabric of reality, I can attempt to minimize the damage but this invader must be found an destroyed quickly before the effects of its presence become permanent."

"Huh? Could you repeat that in simple Japanese?"

Makoto and Minako had gotten lost somewhere around the second sentence of Setsuna's speech. Their leader hadn't fared much better. Usagi's eyes had crossed from the sheer effort of trying to break down that giant mouthful into something she could understand.

Setsuna sighed. She sometimes forgot that they were just high school girls now, not the educated princesses from the Silver Millennium who had been well tutored on the subjects of Magic and Dimensional Travel.

"Masaka…." Luna turned deathly pale as the meaning of those words sank in.

Artemis was already white as a sheet so it was hard to tell how much of it was natural and how much was pure unadulterated fear.

They remembered all too well what the potential consequences of this could be.

The shattered remains of the Moon Kingdom were a grim reminder of what had happened the last time a Rift had appeared on Earth…

In darkness beyond any hope of light, three presences stirred. Their mistress had finally returned.

A chill filled the dimensions of the chamber, one that caused the blood to freeze and the soul to gibber in fear.

Metall'a was here. Bery'l dropped to her knees before her lord and master.

Zois'te and Malach'te both stiffened. They secretly feared that this was only the prelude to a fate far worse then death. Alien

Intelligences weren't known for mercy. Their capacity of cruelty and sadism was infamous throughout the Megaverse as being on a par with most Greater Demons and Diabolic Gods. Metall'a in particular had little use for those who failed her, even though they might be her own life essences. The generals had been absorbed by the malevolent entity over a thousand years ago, and their souls now belonged to it forever.


The psychic backlash from the entity's telepathic temper tantrum caused barbed lances of icy hot pain to shoot through its minions' temples, an agony they bore silently less they attract her attention.

How long had they been trapped here? Time seemed meaningless in the Negaverse. No sun lit the desolate skies. The denizens of this eternally static realm of dark nightmares were ageless, living only to feed and to hate.

It seemed as if only yesterday that their physical bodies had been destroyed, banishing the life essences animating them back to the dimension they originated from. It had always been that way. Queen Serenity had never realized that all the evil threats that had appeared time and time again within the Silver Millennium had actually been only a single one that kept returning time and time again. Each and every Youma, even the Generals and Bery'l herself, were mere tiny fragments of Metall'a's very life force. They could not be truly killed except here in the darkness that had spawned them. Anything else merely sent them back to the Negaverse where their creator awaited.

"You cost me dearly, Bery'l."

The mighty self-proclaimed queen of evil paled as she was singled out. Metall'a had been raging ever since their defeat in the Arctic, and her wrath had been truly terrifying to behold. It appeared that she was finally finished, and ready to at last renew her eons long assault against that pitiful third class dimension that had thwarted her at every turn.

The issue that interested Bery'l more was whether or not a certain red-haired villainess would live long enough to be a part of those plans. She had sacrificed her soul to this malevolent being, and there was no turning back, now or ever.

A giant dark crystal materialized in front of the black cloud that was the intelligence's true form. Within it was imprisoned a figure that was familiar to all.

"Jedi'te!!" The three gasped as they looked up from where they knelt, surprise momentarily overcoming their fear.

"I do not appreciate losing my servants, more so when their loss costs me power!!!"

Bery'l screamed as her mind was systematically flayed alive. The pain was excruciating, yet left no physical marks on her. The fact that it only felt real was no comfort, however. The mental rape was intense enough to make her want to die; yet it always remained just below the point of driving her totally insane. Torture was an art after all, and Metall'a was enjoying her meal with the finesse of a gourmet diner.

The diabolic entity was a Psychic Vampire, to whom pain and fear were meat and drink. The stronger the emotions were, the sweeter they tasted, and she proceeded to squeeze every last drop from her servant. Every cry of agony was a choice morsel that she greedily devoured; the bursts of unremitting terror only whet her appetite for more, always more…

At last the malicious cloud released its captive. Bery'l slumped bonelessly to the ground, too weak to even roll with the impact.

"You shall live, foolish Queen. I have invested too much time and energy into you to just destroy you now; that would only hamper my efforts. But make no mistake, Bery'l; I will tolerate your bungling NO LONGER!!! You will heed my every command, or else what you have just felt will pale in comparison to what I will do to you. If you can not serve me in one form, you will serve me in another."

Bery'l's eyes widened in stark horror at the sight of the jeweled sword that was revealed within the smoky tendrils of her Master.

It was a nearly complete Rune weapon, which was lacking only its source of power…

… a soul.

The crystal prison shattered. The last of the three Dark Generals was free once more.

Once there had been four of them, cruel and merciless agents of chaos and destruction.

Then the unthinkable had happened.

Somehow, Nephl'te had broken free from the Master. Instead of returning to Metall'a and a suitable punishment, the traitor had actually managed to escape and return to being just a human soul.

A free human soul…

The Generals found themselves envying Nephl'te.

"How'd I get stuck with this?!" A tall, bronzed and well built white-blonde Goddess of the Past (On probation) asked herself as she walked around the streets of Tokyo, already bored out of her mind. She had better things to do then search for some mysterious visitor from another dimension. Her favorite soaps were on now!


"Jan, Ken, Po!" Two hands swung back and forth to finally reveal an open palm and a closed fist respectfully.

"Hah, hah! Paper beats rock!! Have fun Urd!!"


"Now Urd, Kami-sama needs one of us to investigate this."

"Easy for you to say, Belldandy. You're not the one whose powers have been suspended. It'll take me forever!! "

"Tough luck, sis!" Skuld raspberried her older sister in victory.

"I want a rematch!!"

"No way, old lady!! You lost!!"

"WHAT did you call me?! Grrrr… I'll get you!!!"

"Oh, dear."



-End Flashback

{Stupid anomaly! Unless the being that came through that rip is tall, handsome and knows how to show a girl a good time, I'm gonna blast it into a million little pieces when I find it, for getting me into this.}

"Hmm? I could have sworn I heard thunder…"

{Must just be all those men collapsing when they see me, I guess.}

The strained silence stretched out between the two combatants.

A koi briefly broke the surface of the pond.

"OI TO SHA!" Genma opened with high punch-sweep-kick combo that would have caught the old Ranma flatfooted and given him one heck of a bruising. This wiser and much more experienced Ranma tilted his upper body a fraction of a degree to the side, and the punch missed his face by a hair. A subtle shift of his shoulders, and a redirection of Genma's forward momentum, sent the older man tumbling to the right, his aggressive style turned against him. This would be Ranma's only freebie; an unexpected and unwelcome discovery had been made him in those first crucial seconds. A tingle of danger that had started the moment his father had launched his attack, and that had been followed by the shock of actually feeling the impact of the deflected kick he'd countered. That should not have been possible unless…

The young CosmoKnight realized that the damn curse must have somehow altered his father into a creature of magic in both forms, and unfortunately that was one of the few things that could actually injure or even kill him.

{Damn! So much for just a simple takedown; he's got no compunctions about beating the crap out of me, but I can't use anything except my most passive styles. Well, I wanted a challenge. Looks like I got one.}

A few more testing strikes from Genma were all avoided or blocked. In return the bald man was slammed into the floor a few times, but escaped relatively unscathed.

"Do you know why I tracked you here Pops? Haven't you wondered why I simply didn't just leave and go off on my own when you left Jusenkyo? I certainly would have been better off."

Father and son circled each other warily, looking for any sign of an opening. Ranma had dropped his careless act and taken his old fighting stance with a few modifications.

"You're my boy! You'd never desert your old man!!!"

"Hmph. Tell me Pops, does the name Li Zang ring a bell? Or how about Kisaragi, Daikokuji, or the other dozen or so families that I can name offhand that you swindled? Not counting of course the several hundred stores and restaurants where you used *ME* as collateral to pay for your debts!"

{Uh oh, looks like he's found out about them.}

"Uh… I can explain!!"

"Oh you're going to be doing a lot more then just telling. You're going to be making amends for a LONG time. I'll make sure of that."

Genma started to sweat again. This was not good. That was enough of a distraction for Ranma to close the distance between them before he realized it. The fight ended rather quickly after that.

The Tendos' curiosity grew as the sounds of a scuffle drifted from the Dojo. They could hear some shouting and heated conversation, but the distance and walls of the building in between made the exact words the two were saying indecipherable. Several suspicious thumps came a few moments later, followed by complete silence.

Somehow the absence of sound was worse then the shouting. The seconds stretched into minutes, the curiosity of Soun and his daughters had just reached its peak when the door slid open.

A smiling Ranma dragged his semiconscious father back into the house.

-A little later

"Once again, this is my dear old friend…

"Genma Saotome." The bald, slightly overweight martial artist's voice was subdued when he spoke this time.

"And his son…"

"Ranma Saotome. Pleased to meet you."

He smiled politely from his seated position, trying to make a good impression. It would make things easier when Ranma explained that he couldn't accept the engagement. At least that was what the Martial Artist and occasional Savior of the Galaxy hoped; he still had a nagging suspicion that stopping this would be more difficult then just a simple "no".

None of the girls met his eye; Kasumi was staring down at her hands with a slight blush on her rosy face. Nabiki was observing her younger sister while occasionally stealing a glance at Ranma, trying for the *meek and proper prospective wife* impression. Akane was still irked over being ignored earlier and pointedly refused to even look in his general direction.

{Oops, have I committed a social blunder?}

Ranma hoped not. His memory of proper Japanese manners was rather fuzzy, though. The closest thing to it that he'd encountered had been among the Bushido Federation of the Onis, and he doubted that those customs would be well received here. (1)

"Ah well then, these are my daughters."

Soun could barely restrain himself, as the dream that had sustained him through the master's training and his wife's death was at last being fulfilled. The Schools would be joined at last!

"Kasumi, she's nineteen."

"Oh my." Kasumi hoped that she would be picked. Her expectations weren't high, though. Nabiki or Akane would probably be the one chosen since they were so popular. (2)

"Nabiki, she's seventeen."

{Pick me! Pick me!!}

"And Akane, she's sixteen. Pick any one you want and she'll be your new fiancée."

"Hmph! You better not choose me!"

Akane finally glared at this guy who she'd probably wind up engaged to anyway, since neither of her older sisters had her good looks. Only Doctor Tofu hadn't noticed that she was in the full bloom of womanhood, and she was working on changing that.

"Um… I've got just one question for you Mr. Tendo."


"Exactly how drunk were you and my father when the two of you made this promise?"

"Uh…" Stammered the mustached father of three.

{How'd he know about that?!}

"I'm really sorry, but I'm afraid I've got to refuse your generous offer. See, I never agreed to this engagement business and Pops…"

A slightly irritated look was shot at the instigator of this mess.

"… well, I finally convinced him that I'm not going to be the one paying for *his* mistakes."

"What?!!" Of all the responses they'd been expecting, this wasn't one of them. Today seemed to be just full of surprises for the Tendo family.

"But this is a matter of family honor!!" Soun wailed, his dreams crashing around him like expensive pottery at terminal velocity.

"I don't care. If I ever marry, it'll be for love. Not for honor, not for duty, and sure as heck not because my pitiful excuse for a parent thinks I'm some kind of merchandise to bartered away to the highest bidder. Hell, if I'd wanted a bride I could've gotten hitched a long time ago to any number of girls that asked, but I haven't met the right one yet." (3)

{Though not for the lack of them trying…}

The sound of crashing cash registers echoed loudly in Nabiki's head.

{No! No!! NO!!! This can't be happening!! I finally meet a prospective fiancé and he's NOT interested in the engagement!?}

Akane's mood improved slightly; at least this guy didn't want the engagement either. Although that last comment about all the girls chasing him was rubbing a few of her nerves the wrong way. The nerve of him! What did he think he was? God's gift to women?

Kasumi had yet to make a response.

Ranma studied the eldest daughter carefully. He really didn't want to hurt anyone, but an arranged marriage was where he drew the line. So far Kasumi had been the only one to make him feel welcome, and the tea had been just the thing he'd needed after that match with his father. He admitted to himself that he probably could let himself fall for someone like her. Ranma was sometimes dense, but he wasn't blind. Even covered in that housedress, he could tell that Kasumi's beauty would be a rare and precious treasure once it was revealed. Add that to the mild psychic abilities his partner had picked up, and the genuine compassion he saw in her eyes, and you had a woman that made going home something to look forward to. (4)

If he'd been anything else except a CosmoKnight, Ranma might have just gone along with this engagement nonsense and picked the eldest daughter to live happily ever after with. But his duties made it too dangerous. No girl deserved to be put through the kind of chaos that Ranma routinely danced around with. He didn't want to one day find out that one of his many enemies had killed (or even worse, captured) someone he loved to use as a pawn against him. Ranma had seen it happen to a few other Knights before, and it wasn't pretty. Most of them had Fallen. In two cases Ranma had been forced to kill the Knights for succumbing to the darkness and the madness of revenge when their loved ones had been slain. It was one thing to strike down an inhuman demon that you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt was evil and deserving of death, it was another story entirely to raise your weapon against someone whom you'd called friend and worked alongside just hours before.

Or worse yet… Even if by some miracle his spouse was able to avoid all the troubles and dangers that were as much a part of him as his Cosmic Armor, he would still be forced to watch as the girl he chose grew old and died peacefully, while Ranma lived on physically unchanged by the years and decades, as they rolled ever onward long after her remains had crumbled into dust.

Ranma had decided it was better to simply wait until he knew he could take that risk. He still wasn't ready for a relationship of that magnitude.

The Tendo patriarch was finally coming out of his shock as the younger Saotome became lost in his deep thoughts. Since tears and pleading hadn't worked, it was time to switch tactics.


Aside from making Ranma wish that Mr. Tendo had paid more attention to his oral hygiene, the shouting had no effect.


"Are you saying my daughters aren't good enough for you?!!!"

The first stages of the Dreaded Demon God Of Terror Giant Head Attack started to emerge. The older man's eyes started to glow like yellow coals as his tongue blackened and forked out

"No, I'm just not going to be forced to marry them."

He tried to keep calm, how many times was he going to have to repeat these same words before it sunk in that Ranma was NOT going to be pushed into this?

"WHY, YOU… !!!"

The terrifying image appeared overhead as Soun unleashed his ultimate attack to cow the boy into submission. This dreaded technique had even defeated the dreaded master. A mere teenager didn't stand a chance. The schools would be united by noon tomorrow!

Except that this young man's sky blue eyes hardened and returned the manifested projected outrage glare for glare.

It was an attack and Ranma treated it like one. Offended pride met solid control and unshakable confidence. The air around him chilled as the Knight briefly let a glimpse of the person lying within him show in his eyes. For the span of a heartbeat, Soun saw a man capable of tearing apart titanium steel girders like folder paper, and who knew exactly what he was capable of and how to use it with deadly precision. It was like looking into the eyes of a giant predator, one that was safe as long as it was left alone, but quite able to make the idiot that disturbed him regret it. Ranma had experienced worse things then this simple scare tactic. Mr. Tendo would have to do a lot better then that!

Soun was locked in a staring match that would determine the decision of the Tendo-Saotome union.

He flinched, unable to meet that overwhelming gaze any longer.

Ranma grinned, there had never been any doubt in his mind as to what the outcome would be.

"Won't you please stay for awhile at least?" Kasumi finally spoke up.

{Oh, no.} That familiar sinking feeling was back. Ranma swallowed hard as he looked at her silently pleading expression.

The region just below his ribs turned to jelly and the young knight was suffering the oddest sensations in the vicinity of his brain as his logic centers melted.

Common sense lost to big brown eyes.

"Ah… sure, okay."

"He has no backbone when it comes to women."

"You're one to talk, Mr. "Yes Minako-chan, I'll be happy to do the cleaning and the cooking"."

"Have you ever tasted my wife's cooking or seen a room after she's cleaned it?"

"Uh, no. Actually I can't say that I have."

"Trust me, I love her with all my heart, but some things are better left alone."

"That bad?"

"I'd rather not say."

"Ah, I see. That bad, huh."

"Let's get back to the story."

-Actually not that far away

Panther Zo'a had struck again.

Cutey Honey looked up to see the shining full moon hanging overhead and as if mocking her a faint image of her eternal foe grinned back evilly at the lovely warrior.

{"As long as mankind exists, so shall we!"} Those were the words Dolmeck had taunted her with.

{"Then I will fight you each time you come back! Cutey Honey will not lose!! Even if I have to return again and again, I will defeat you!!!"}

She'd lived by that promise ever since she sent Dolmeck and Panther Zo'a back to the Hell that had spawned them. But Evil refused to die so easily; instead, it took a different route. The weak-minded and the easily corrupted were first seduced by Zo'a's whispered promises, then transformed into twisted and powerful monsters when they succumbed to the darkness within.

No sooner had the city been freed from a one menace then it had found itself threatened by an even more insidious threat. This night had been just another in a long series of running battles, and once again the only real winner had been Panther Zo'a. Honey could do nothing for the people that had been killed by Diamond Tarantula tonight, nor could she say anything that would ease the suffering of those who had lost family and loved ones. Even when she finally killed the misguided fool that had taken Zo'a's offer of power, the villain's soul was only sent to the Dimension of Darkness to feed the Dark Specter.

Cutey Honey was a Battle Android; the most advanced one on the planet.

But even her indomitable spirit was starting to flag as the never-ending tide of youma continued to come…

Only a miracle could stop the slow but steady losses the forces of Light were taking in this War, which could have only one eventual conclusion.

A miracle called Ranma Saotome…

But was it already too late?

-Back at the Betting Plane


Shadow was the first one to pick himself up from the massive group facefault.

"Phaseworld Technology… a CosmoKnight… and now MAGIC TATTOOS?! Are you out of your mind?!!"

The CosmoKnight he was addressing just looked smug.

"Is that even possible?!" The Guardian asked as Rowan pulled out his sourcebook.

"I'm afraid so. There's nothing here that says he can't get them, since Ranma is *technically* still human."

"You're hiding something from us, aren't you?"

"Yup" Zora finally answered.

Shadow pulled out his own sourcebook and rubbed his eyes, the beginnings of a killer headache starting to form.

Surely *THAT* couldn't be legal.

(1) The Kunos would probably be the only ones who'd *like* it.

(2) *Shrugs* She's been working to keep the family in one piece; can you blame her for lack of confidence in her ability to catch a guy?

(3) How many of us have used this excuse before? Ranma's not as confident with the ladies as he sounds.

(4) If you're wondering what the heck I'm talking about, you are obviously too young to be reading this.

Ranma sighed as he scrubbed himself in preparation for a long hot soak the Tendo's bath.

{How do I end up in these situations?}

Somehow during that brief period of temporary insanity he'd wound up agreeing to stay at the Tendo home as a guest for an undetermined length of time. It hadn't helped any that every time he'd tried to raise an objection either Kasumi or Nabiki had given him that *look*, the one that twisted his tongue around into saying "yes" instead of "no". It was just too humiliating. After finally getting out of the whole fiancée mess, he wound up stuck here anyway.

After rinsing off with a bucket of cold water, the young man proceeded to enter the bath proper.

A low hiss of pleasure escaped Ranma's lips as he stepped into the welcoming warmth, the water starting to relax the tension in his muscles that the last few hours had built up.

{At least this isn't too bad, things could be worse.}

[You're hopeless.]

{Ishtar, you're too much of a cynic. Nothing has exploded, no assassins are running around trying to cut my head off, and the only magic for several miles in any direction is the stuff I brought back with me. Trust me, there's nothing to worry about.}

[That you know about, you mean.]

{It'll be a piece of cake.}

[So says the man beguiled by a pair of puppy dog eyes.]

{It's not my fault! Dad's the one responsible for this!!}

[Fine, be that way. I'm not jealous. Oh no, I'm just your weapon and sometime partner, so I couldn't dream of…]

{Ishtar! It's not like that!! You know I'd free you if…}

[It's okay… I'm sorry Ranma; that was uncalled for. But it's just that…]

{I know… believe me, I know. *Sigh*. My life is changing so fast, that I can't get stuck dwelling on everything that goes wrong. Even though I came from this world, it seems so alien now. I'm not sure if there's anyplace that feels like home anymore.}

[The Great Saotome, Pirate Extraordinaire and Most Eligible Bachelor in six quadrants is feeling sorry for himself? The sky must be falling. Someone notify the Galactic Inquirer!!]

{That's not funny!!}

[Yes it is!]

{No it's not!!}

[Is too!]

{Is not!}

[Is too!]

-Phase World, Rifts Earth, Wormwood, and Various Other Places

The same phrase was uttered a thousand different ways in a hundred various languages in over a dozen different dimensions, but the meaning was always the same: "Find Ranma Saotome and kill him!".

Word of the infamous troubleshooter's mysterious vanishing act had spread across the Multiverse faster then you could say "Splugorth suck slime", despite the best efforts of the Alliance to keep their officer's sudden leave of absence a secret.

Needless to say this did not bode well for our hero…

-Kreeghor Imperial Center

"So the Untamed Stallion is without her captain?"

"Yes, Admiral."

"You've faced the Wild Horse before, haven't you, Captain Jarenz?"

"I've confronted him sixteen times in the past two years, sir."

"So you feel that you have some insight as to how the man thinks?"


"Tell me, do you think that the rumors are true, and that this Rebel has run off to hide in fear?"

"No Sir!"

"Oh? Explain your reasoning Captain."

"Saotome isn't a coward. He's never lost a fight against our forces or anyone else's. He is the enemy, but most of our officers hold a grudging respect for his skill. The only man that is possibly his military equal is Captain Tylor of the CCW Space Force. If the Wild Horse has indeed left this dimension of his own free will, it is because he is following a higher plan, one that could possibly threaten the Empire itself."

"Are you sure of that assessment, Captain?"

"I'd stake my life on it."

"Then you will."


"Congratulations, Captain. You are now appointed commander of our Imperial Operation, code-named "Broken Mustang". Capture Captain Ranma Saotome for his public execution by an Imperial Firing Squad. Here is where you will meet your Task Force. Serve the Empire well."

"As you command, Admiral."

{Soon Saotome… You will face the Ironclaw again and this time *I* shall be victorious!!!}


"But Lord Splynncryth has forbidden any direct action against the one called Ranma without his personal permission… NO! Please, have mercy!! AAAAGHHAAAIIIiiiieee…"


The other advisers watched as the tentacled horror that they called master proceeded to twist off the head of the unfortunate soul that had contradicted him as easily as a normal man would twist the cap off a bottle of beer.

Sluggar'n popped the head into its main feeding orifice and crunched gruesomely down on the tasty tidbit. The rest of the body was stuffed in bit by bit. Drool and other less savory fluids, dripped down to coat the corpse and make it easier to slide in.

As the Splugorth Intelligence finished its impromptu snack, it shot a dangerous look at its minions, now minus one.

"Does anyone *else* have an objection to raise?"

The bipeds all shook their heads in negation enthusiastically; their vocal cords weren't working at the moment.


{Good help is so hard to find. I'll have to remember this loss when I finally get my appendages on that cursed do-gooder. He has much to answer for…}

-Phase World, The Center

"They won't take it."

"What?! The Galactic Assassin's Guild turned this job DOWN?!!! Did they at least say why?"

"Apparently the man has made too many friends in the wrong places. The Guild wants no trouble with Justin Tylor or Vash the Stampede, let alone the rest of Saotome's allies and contacts. Besides which, they already tried; apparently after losing nearly three-quarters of their best agents as well as several of their High Council members they decided to cut their losses and run. Ranma is permanently exempt from them. None of the professionals could be persuaded to go after him either. They just told me that it couldn't be done."

"Damn! That means we have to use company assets!! Which means a loss of revenue!!! Damn that Saotome's hide!!! Why couldn't he die cheaply!!!!"

"Shall I contact our people in public relations, then?"

"OF COURSE!!! Naruni Enterprises never lets someone who's interfered in its deals go!! It's bad for business!!!"

-I send you into Another Dimension

Kasumi was busy in the kitchen preparing the evening meal. She was paying even more special attention to the food then was normal, even for her. She wanted everything to be perfect for their guest… er… guests.

Delicious smells emanated outward as the eldest daughter went all out, cooking up a feast that would be able to feed twenty people… and just might be enough for the entire household and the Saotomes.

"A man's heart is won through his stomach." That was how it went in the novels, followed by the heroine being taken away for steamy passionate…

A slightly dazed gleam filled the cooking girl's eyes. One spilled bottle of soy sauce later (which went all over the front of her apron and dress) she was reminded that now was not the time to be having naughty daydreams.

"Oh dear, what a mess! I need to clean up. It would be rude to meet

Ranma… uh I mean the Saotomes, in this."

In her distraction, Kasumi promptly forgot a few things. Like the fact that someone else was already using the bath, or that she'd meant to warn her sisters that Ranma was in the bath…

Dinner was fine, though; nothing short of Demonic Possession could cause Kasumi Tendo to ruin a meal.


Nabiki Tendo was scheming.

That was nothing new.

{I have to somehow persuade this hunk that I'm his best choice… but how?! Maybe a quick soak will clear my head…}

Now this, on the other hand…

Akane was fuming. This wasn't unusual.

"That… that… THAT JERK!!!"

Nor was this.

Her fist smacked into the well-worn punching bag as she worked off her anger in the Dojo.

Or this.

She'd tried to be nice after it turned out that the Saotomes would be staying for a while. She'd offering to spar with him and see how good of a martial artist (not as good as her of course) he was. That BAKA had smiled weakly and…


That arrogant, condescending, chauvinistic… BOY!!!

As her anger cooled slightly from the physical exertion, Akane realized that her stained gi was getting a little… rank.

"I guess I need a bath."

That always helped to relax her. Then she could figure out a way to deal with that sexist attitude of Ranma's. She would get him to fight her even if it killed him!!

-Watching you from afar

Rowan started counting.

"3… 2… 1… now."

-And we're back

Just as Ranma was toweling off his head the door to the bath slid open. He was so involved in his telepathic argument that he missed it entirely.

Three pairs of female eyes widened…


To be continued.

Author's notes:

Captain Rashul "Ironclaw" Jarenz:

The true Atlantian who commands the Imperial Battle Cruiser "INS Dark Impaler". He is Saotome's deadliest rival in the Three Galaxies, and they've clashed repeatedly over the years. His nickname comes from his oversized bionic left hand, which is built to look like a Dragon's talon. The original hand was initially in a armored gauntlet until Ranma cut it off during a daring rescue mission inside the Impaler. This event left the officer nearly dead from blood loss, and a created a thirst for vengeance that has only burned hotter as time passed. He's a villain, but one with a code of honor. In Rift's terms he's got an aberrant alignment (Lawful Evil for the AD&D people). Possesses a fair amount of magical skill and owns an Impaler Rune weapon, which his ship is named after. Both serve to make him extremely dangerous to the brave CosmoKnight. The bionic hand is gimmicked too, of course. Vibroblades and laser fingers make this one hand you do not want to shake!

Part 2-E
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