Progeny
By Jeffrey Vasquez

Disclaimer:

The characters of Ranma ½ and Sailor Moon are the express property of their
respective creators, or whoever is currently holding their leases. I don't
pretend to own them.

The rest belong to me.

Author's note:

This chapter was huge (a whopping 96 mb!), so I had to break it into two parts.
I tried to get all of the formatting mistakes with this edit, but I'm sure that I've
missed some. Outside of that I hope that you enjoy this chapter.

What has gone before:

Nabiki, in the hopes to lift her spirits, goes to visit a friend, on her way
home from Tanoshii's Ice Cream shop she is abducted by a group of rather
strange people. Ami is embarrassed by her mother, and must endure her
friends gossiping about the nice boy that saved her. Ranma arrives at his
mother's home and discovers that she didn't know about Akane's death,
despite assurances from Genma. Nodoka invites her best friend, one Dr.
Yuriko Mizuno, over to ask for her advice, while Ranma works off some of his
anger in the dojo. The Musk are attacked and driven from their ancestral
home. And Rei's grandfather reveals that he knows more about what's going
on than everyone thinks. Yuriko comes up with a great plan to help her baby
girl get a life.

Enjoy!

Chapter Three Part I:

**********
Monday: Early Morning
Somewhere in the Banyankala Mountain Range.

"Mint. Lime. Take point. Caraway, take Basil and Paprika with you and
bring up the rear." Herb's clear voice called out through the misting rain
to his subjects, inspiring them into action. Mint and Lime, Herb's most
trusted companions immediately began a silent dash into the trees that
surrounded their make shift staging area. The monarch in exile gathered the
magical treasures of his people and followed them. Behind him straggled the
two thousand-some-odd refugees of the fallen Musk Dynasty.

Warriors, men that had been boys the day before, made up the majority of the
force; well over four fifths to be exact. They ranged in age from eight to
nineteen, with a few older veterans. The rest constituted a melting pot of
goods makers and farmers, along with their women. Most of the children and
elders had been slaughtered in the flight. To Herb, the worst sound in the
world was a mother crying for her dead children.

His small empire had consisted of, well over, nine thousand souls. All were
dead now, save for this sorry force.

The realization of just how easily and how quickly, they had been overrun
sickened Herb. He felt the great loss of his people, and the dishonor of
that loss weighed heavily on the boy-king's shoulders.

Their flight had been a nightmare, as the enemy descended on Herb's palace
in force. His entire guard, save for Lime and Mint had sacrificed
themselves for the sake of the few refugees that had made it to Herb in
time. Unfortunately, the people had made it to their new monarch, but the
safety that they expected to find was not to be had. The enemy walked
through the walls as if they weren't there, and chaos ensued. There was
death at every angle, and at the head of it all was a man.

The mighty Herb, faced with the imminent destruction of his people, had
called upon his heritage and destroyed a hefty amount of the castle's
foundation to create an escape route large enough for what remained of his
subjects. He had quickly led their flight, out of his beloved homeland, and
into the stark wilderness. They had walked all night, and lost more of
their number to the beasts that harrowed their escape.

Herb knew of only one place that they might be safe, but it came with a
great cost. Yet, as the young ruler looked out over his people, it wasn't
hard to swallow his pride. And if he could do it, so could his subjects.

He didn't want to think about the internal strife that his decision was
going to create. Herb simply hoped that his subjects would look beyond the
past and see that they had only one chance to survive the week. He didn't
relish the thought of working with the Amazons, but Mount Phoenix was too
far away and the Heshupet had long since closed their borders. They needed
allies, and that meant dealing with their old enemy.

It was with a sober heart that he pushed through the wet under growth. In
his mourning, he felt the rain thoroughly appropriate weather for the
occasion.

A young boy fell, exhausted, to the muddy path behind him, causing Herb to
turn with his burden and investigate. Little Pepper had fallen asleep as he
had walked, and now lay, insensate on the muddy trail. Herb didn't
hesitate; he simply knelt and lifted the boy into his arms.

Pepper had turned eight, the day before yesterday, and had been presented
before his king for admittance into the warrior's school. Herb had looked
fondly at the fiery determination in the boy's eyes and had given his royal
blessing.

When the evacuation began Pepper had attached himself to his liege's side
and would not budge. Lime had tried to return him to the other children,
but got stuck with the boy's little knife for his troubles. Herb had asked
him what he was doing, and received a proud, "Protecting my King!" as the
boy's response. Herb had smiled grimly and acquiesced to Pepper's
unsolicited offer.

Now that he held the dark-haired boy, he silently wondered what madness had
overcome him. The white highlights in Pepper's hair had come from his
mother, whose exotic black and white feathers had captivated the boy's
father. After bathing the beautiful bird in the Spring of Drowned Girl,
Pepper's father had married his bride, and three years later, Pepper had
come. Herb had made it a point to learn the story of as many refugees as
possible. The more faces that he knew, the harder he could fight. They
were his family, and a man would fight death itself to protect his family.

So why did he insist on bringing a child to the very heart of danger? Herb'
s father had taught him that any battle could be won by crushing the
opposition's leadership. "A snake without its head," he had said, "...will
flail about mindlessly. It is dead, but refuses to act like it."

His father's palace had been among the first to fall.

The displaced monarch shook his wet head. By bringing Pepper to the
forefront, he had given himself another reminder. A reminder that he wasn't
dead, and neither were his people. Pepper was a living reminder of what he
was fighting for.

Yes, the boy would be in danger of attack, but Herb would make sure that all
those who dared threaten the boy, would die before Pepper came to harm. The
resolve in his face matched the burning fire in his heart. He would overcome this
enemy like he did those that had reared up before him in the past.

Swiftly, efficiently, and without mercy.

The dark mists closed around Herb and swallowed him and his people, in a
chilling sense of foreboding. It was as if history was trying to claim an
empire that was dead, but refused to acknowledge its fate.

********
Somewhere

Nabiki groaned and propped herself up on her elbows. Her mouth felt
cottony, and her muscles ached; it felt that she had slept on the floor for
a week. Someone had been nice enough to supply her with a pillow roll and a
blanket, but not much else in the way of company or comfort.

Darkness surrounded her, rendering her large brown eyes useless. She had no
idea where she was, but did her best not to panic, in spite of how unnerved
she felt. What would panic bring her? A knot in her stomach and a
headache, both of which she didn't need at the moment. What she did need was
information. Knowledge was power, and any power that she could have over
her captors was a good thing.

Her mind immediately began to catalogue everything: sensations, smells,
textures, and sounds. The last thing that she remembered was falling into
Yoshitsune's arms, but everything after was a blank.

Typical.

On a positive note, she didn't feel sore in any of the suspect places, which
meant that tall-dark-and-handsome hadn't taken liberties. She hadn't
expected him to; one of the others perhaps, but not him. He had felt safe.

It was an odd thing to say about someone that had kidnapped her, but it was
the truth.

The darkness that surrounded her couldn't keep the damp air at bay, and when
Nabiki ran her hand through her short brown hair, it came back wet. She was
amazed at how comfortable the environment felt; she was neither cold nor
terribly hot, the temperature was just right. A drip echoed loudly
throughout the obscurity surrounding her, giving a very subterranean feel to
the space. Still, the room, if she could call it that, was relaxing. She
couldn't help but feel a little spooked by the whole ordeal, but for the
most part, she felt.warm and secure. Which was a pleasant change from the
tense, cold night air that she had been walking in when this adventure
began.

Spring had been late in coming this year, and the mild, humid warmth was
just what the doctor ordered for frayed nerves. It didn't fully appease
Nabiki. She was still in an unknown place, and for all that she knew, she
was still in danger.

What a time for some deranged martial artists to come calling! Ranma was
gone and there was no way that he could rescue her. It figured.

She should have seen this whole thing coming.

Well, there was no use in crying over spilt milk. She needed to try and
gather as much information about her environment as possible before bumbling
about. Maybe it would give her a better understanding of her captors as
well. She closed her eyes in order to organize the information that her
perceptions were feeding her.

First she needed to know if she was truly alone.

"Hey! Is any one here?" Her voice echoed loudly around her, and was soon
followed by the sound of leaves rustling above her head. An abrupt feeling
of wrongness filled her...as if she had disrupted something sacred. She
imagined that yelling and screaming while visiting a temple, or a cathedral
would have produced the same effect. This quiet, dark place was special,
and she had disturbed the peace here.

Nabiki silenced herself and waited for the inevitable reprimand, but it
never came. She quieted her mind and tried to reclaim the peace of her
surroundings. The place didn't smell like the dampness of a cave; rather,
it had a tangy pine scent. She could easily imagine herself surrounded by
tall fir trees in spite of the dampness. She stretched out her fingers to
gain a more tactile picture of the floor.

She had expected to be greeted by a cool stone surface, instead the texture
beyond the softness of her blankets reminded her more of wood than anything
else. It was warm and hard beneath her fingers and felt very smooth, but it
lacked the unforgiving, lifeless nature of stone. She couldn't really
explain the difference, but she knew that it existed.

She strained her hearing to try and filter the surrounding sounds. There was
nothing for a long period of time, save for the hushed reverence of the
dripping water. She relaxed herself fully, focusing on her breathing and
then moving outward, passed the dripping water and into.something more. She
heard air flowing, wind-like somewhere to her left. It was very faint, but
there. She focused on the wind, moving with its passage. Over and through
an invisible landscape she flowed, dancing on wings that she knew she did
not possess. Time seemed to fall away beneath her as she merged with the
wind, becoming the zephyr rather than a companion to it.

That's when she heard the voice.

It was feminine and breathtakingly beautiful, humming in time with the
breeze. No, that wasn't right; it wasn't in time with the breeze. It was
the breeze. The single voice echoed, becoming two. The two grew to become
a quartet, and then again to become an octet. Each voice became distinctly
unique, yet combined added a resounding whale-like quality to the whole
chorus. The wind was gone and she found herself beneath the sea, swimming
amidst the sounds of the voices.

Happiness pervaded her, followed by wariness and suspicion in turn. More
emotions rose and fell in the blackness, and she rode them as if they were
the swelling and ebbing tide of the sea. She added her own voice to theirs,
joining the chorus that enveloped her.

How could she deny it? The invitation was too compelling.

Her alto mixed with someone's bass, intertwining and frolicking in an
elegant display. A rich baritone joined and the bass muted itself, melding
into the background while the baritone caressed her softly. Her voice moved
in perfect symmetry with the baritone, filling the gaps where it would start
to falter. It was the most beautiful experience that she had ever had the
privilege of experiencing.

She thought she heard voices in the music; they were concerned and filled
with fear. But somewhere far away another baritone quietly sang. Separate,
yet unified. This voice was a beacon for the rest, giving them hope and
strength in amidst the darkness. Her voice rose to that hope, magnifying
it. Other voices merged, until thousands sang out the crescendo in a
majestic chorus. The bass thrummed in her heart, the baritones held her up
and she bound them together.

The chorus softened and the bass quieted until the only voices left were the
distant baritone and hers. The distant voice quieted, allowing the sounds
of the sea to swallow it and comfort her. The love that she felt was as
deep as the ocean and growing deeper. It succored her and drew her in.

She didn't ever want to leave.

<Return to us, Nabiki.> The voice was light. Not in terms of weight, but
in terms of energy. It was bright, but not blinding. It was warm and
inviting too, but not as comforting as the love she felt. <Please Nabiki.
We need you. Return to us.>

Perhaps it was the desperation in the voice that made her turn away from the
love, perhaps it was her own fear. Whichever it was, Nabiki's heart ached
because of it. She moved with the voice, away from the unconditional love,
back toward the other voices.

<Amazing.>

Nabiki was overwhelmed by the emotions in the voices. Wonder, disbelief,
snide criticism, exasperation, pride, concern, and a spark of love flowed
around her. Her brain felt like fried oatmeal, which made just about
everything fuzzy, but the voices in her were crystal clear.

<I can't believe that a human could ->

<You never were very imaginative in the first place!>

<Why you!>

<I knew she could do it all along.>

<Yeah right! And I'm Kotei Shiroi!>

<Baka! She was only reborn human in this life! She's still the Huntress,
no matter what her body looks like!>

<I say you're both full of it!>

<Who asked you? Stupid jerk! You're always butting in where you're not
wanted!>

<And you're a whiny little brat Tsubame! There's no way that she's the
Huntress! Look at how skinny she is!>

<Tsuru you're a prig! Mother says she's the Huntress! What more do you
want?>

<Enough children. She is among us.>

The voices in general felt old, very old. But the last voice could only be
termed as ancient, and for some odd reason it reminded Nabiki of her
grandmother. She couldn't really follow what they were saying, but knew
that they were talking about her.

There was a moment of shocked discomfort from all around her as the entities
scrambled for their dignity. Nabiki couldn't suppress the girlish giggle
that escaped her throat. The feelings of humiliation grew, and an
underlying sense of agitation accompanied them.

<Welcome, Nabiki Tendo.> The ancient voice said formally.

<Thank you.> She responded mentally. It seemed like the appropriate
response to make.

<Very good. I see that you have gained some control over your thoughts.>
The voice appeared to grin with amusement in the confines of her mind. <The
others were having a great deal of fun at your expense I'm afraid.>

<Yeah! You made poor Yoshitsune blush!> Nabiki recognized the voice as the
chubby man from the kidnapping.

<Not surprising really. Especially after the love tap that she gave him
last night!> That one was the girl.the one that they called Hato. There
were sounds of laughter in her mind, situated somewhere to her left; while
on her right, she only catalogued embarrassment and frustration.

<You might want to be more careful next time Tendo-san, especially
considering some of the dreams you were having.> The fat one's voice seemed
to grin suggestively in her mind's eye. <Broken goods don't perform very
well.> There were more snickers, and then something flared with rage
nearby.

<Shut up, you!> The sexy baritone voice filled her thoughts again as it
roared implications and threats of bodily harm at the fat one. Her mind
began to wander again, remembering what it had felt like to have Yoshitsune'
s arms around her.

<Woo whee! There she goes again! Yoshitsune, I think she likes you!>

Nabiki blushed and tried to focus her thoughts on something very mundane.
Unfortunately, a picture of the young man from the night before popped into
her mind, complete with him serving her strawberries. The fact that he was
dressed in tight black pants, a little bow tie, and little else made her
bite her bottom lip.

Where the hell did that come from?

Yoshitsune squeaked.

<Looks like she's got you all dressed and ready to go little man!> More
laughter followed the cackling mental voice.

<Aaaarrrgh! I said SHUT UP! You loony old bird!> Nabiki winced and
clutched her head at the volume of Yoshitsune's mental cry.

"Whap!" The sound of flesh hitting flesh echoed in her ears, alerting her
to the beings' presence near her. She wasn't alone! Her eyes immediately
opened again and she found her body surrounded by a curtain of light.

The light had no outside source, nor was it blinding as one might expect.
It just was. It had enough power to illuminate her immediate surroundings
though. She at once found that her blind guesses were correct.

The floor was wood, a large tree trunk to be precise. It was the size of a
mature redwood in diameter and polished smooth until it resembled a rich,
wooden, marble floor. There was a small pool of water not far behind her
that she assumed was the source of the dripping water earlier. Next to the
pool was a tray of food that made her mouth water; but she reminded herself
that it might not be as wholesome as it seemed.

Best to wait a little longer, and learn a little more before taking any
unnecessary risks. Nabiki continued to scan her surroundings, hoping to
find a weakness that she could exploit.

She was surrounded on all sides by tall conifers that towered over the
twenty-foot curtain of light like some sort of jury. It made her a little
nervous to be beneath their combined gaze. Beyond their canopy she could see
a bright expanse of blue sky, taunting her with the promise of freedom.

"Who are you? What do you want with me?" She inquired. The sound of her
voice echoed loudly back at her. Again, she felt as if she had violated
some profound tranquility, but this time she cared little for the primal
sacredness. All she wanted were answers.

<Now look what you made me do stupid! She's talking again!> Yoshitsune
said angrily from somewhere off to her right.

<Yoshitsune, Washi!> The ancient voice scolded from up above Nabiki. <Behave
yourselves!>

<Yes, Mother.> Both voices cowed at the disapproval in Mother's voice.

<Now then, Nabiki-chan.> Mother began affectionately. <If you could please
refrain from speaking here, it really would be for the best. The other
trees like to be able to hear the Worldsong without any interruptions.>
Mother's mental voice dropped to a whisper. <They can get awful cranky you
know.>

The trees above Nabiki seemed to bristle and squirm indignantly.

"Um." She began, but quickly switched to thinking again. <Is this better?>

<Much. Thank you.> Nabiki couldn't help but smile at the pleasure in Mother
's tone. <Now then, how do you feel?> It was a rhetorical question; Mother
knew exactly how Nabiki was feeling. But Nabiki didn't need to know that.

<A little disoriented.> she said honestly.

<Only a little?> The mirth and incredulity in Mother's voice made Nabiki
smile again. She felt like a young girl, being fussed over by her
grandmother.

<Well, okay, more than a little.> she admitted. It was obvious that the
ancient voice was staring right through her soul in that moment. Nabiki
could feel her weighing and gauging everything that the young woman had ever
done. It made Soun Tendo's daughter feel very self-conscious.

<It is to be expected.> The ancient voice said.

Nabiki wasn't sure what Mother meant by that statement, but she was sure
that she didn't like being so exposed. All of her mistakes, all of her sins
were open for perusal by the ancient voice. She felt violated in a way,
waiting to hear the ancient voice call down the wrath of Heaven and judge
her.

Judgement never came.

<Relax child.> Mother urged. Nabiki was almost certain that she was
looking for something specific.

<Why am I here? What do you want with me?> She repeated her earlier
questions again, this time more forcefully, while trying to push Mother out
of her mind. It didn't work, so Nabiki tried again.and again.and again. At
first Mother seemed to think of it as a game, which aggravated Nabiki. The
game became a competition that steadily escalated into something more
serious. Nabiki tapped into the well of her soul and lashed out at Mother
with everything she had.

<GET OUT!> A collective gasp rang through Nabiki's mind, and the trees
above her rustled disapprovingly.

A sharp pain lanced through Nabiki's brain, causing her to fall to her
knees. She bit her lip to keep from crying out, when Yoshitsune's voice cut
through the haze. She could tell that she wasn't the only one that had
experienced the pain. Above her the trees groaned and rustled mournfully in
a solemn wind.

<Mother!>

<I am fine Yoshitsune.> The voice was soft, and breathless, but not weak.
<Nabiki is just stretching her muscles a bit.>

"Like Hell I am!" Nabiki shouted. The grove's peace was shattered, and
Nabiki knew that she had overstepped her bounds.

<SHE HAS FORGOTTEN TOO MUCH MOTHER!>

<DISCIPLINE HER.>

<REMIND HER OF HER PACT!>

Nabiki looked up, into the canopy of the trees and saw the great pines
bending over her. On the face of their trunks, the bark ran like water
creating stern, disapproving faces. Their branches rustled threateningly,
but the images projected in her mind were more embarrassing than
frightening. Who would have thought that a tree would want to spank a human
as a punishment?

<Be at peace. All of you.> Mother's voice cut through the grove, silencing
everyone and drawing attention back to her. The trees looked away from
Nabiki, craning their trunks as they looked upward. Nabiki spun around and
followed their gaze.

She had seen pictures of redwoods before, and was humbled by their majesty.
She had visited a shrine in the country that had been built at the base of a
giant Chamfer tree, and felt peace. But in all of her studies, and in all
of her experience, she had never seen a tree quite like the one that loomed
above her. It was easily two hundred stories tall, with a trunk that could
have been made from at least twelve of the redwood stumps that she found
herself standing on.

"Mother." Nabiki's whispered voice was barely heard on the wind.

<I must apologize to you Nabiki.> Mother's voice was soothing and
apologetic. <Believe it or not, but there was a time when you shared unity
with me willingly.>

"What do you mean?" Nabiki was still upset, but Mother's towering presence
dulled the edge of her bite.

<Please Nabiki. We must respect the others.>

The Tendo girl coughed and shuffled nervously as the other trees stared down
at her. She repressed a shudder and took a deep breath.

<Fine. Satisfied?>

<Infinitely.> Mother's voice seemed to smile crookedly at the young woman,
making Nabiki fidget; but she didn't back down.

<Kid's got guts Yoshi-kun. You sure you're not interested?>

Nabiki ignored the sounds of violence that slowly drifted away from the
grove; instead, she focused her attention on the great tree above her.

<I want answers.>

Mother's crooked smile became real, as a face appeared on the trunk of the
colossal tree.

<Are you willing to pay for it?>

A long line of curses landed on the tip of Nabiki's tongue, threatening to
spill forth at any moment. She hated playing games with people; she was too
used to being on the other end of the stick.

<Look, you're the one that dragged me here; against my will I might add. As
far as I see it, you owe me an explanation.>

<Fair enough.>

The curtain of light surrounding Nabiki flared to life. Sights and sounds
exploded on all side, and a multitude of images seemingly began to rewind.

<Behold the flow of time, from the perspective of my children. A very long
time ago, there existed a majestic kingdom. And the capital of this kingdom
resided on Terra's Moon.>

Nabiki's eyes bulged in wonder as Mother unfolded the founding of the Moon
Kingdom. The walls of light danced with imagery, as she watched the
progress of history. Her heart swelled at the beauty and mystery that
thrived during the Moon Kingdom's peaceful reign, and she wept bitter tears
as she watched its fall. The telling of the story took quite some time, and
by the time Mother finished, Nabiki was thoroughly drained.

<You wanted to know why I brought you here Nabiki?> Mother's voice was
quiet again, and Nabiki was filled with a sense of love that she had never
before felt. <Is it such an odd thing for a mother to want to see her
daughter again?>

There was no escaping the truth of Mother's words. Something clicked inside
of Nabiki and a door swung open, and a flood of memories spilled forth. Her
eyes grew wide as her heart and mind relived a forgotten life.

********
The Joketsuzoku village

It was a rare day indeed that Cologne was anxious. Three hundred years of
experience had taught her the secrets of patience. But the sight across the
field unnerved her to the core. The mighty Herb, Prince of the Musk
Dynasty, stood before her with the rag-tag remnants of his nation
surrounding him.

She was amazed at how few Herb's band contained.

Herb had once told her that the Musk were dead. She had known his words to be
lies, but she understood why he had chosen to decieve her. Two hudred years of
peace and mutual seclusion had protected both of their peoples. It was easier to
pretend that someone wasn't there, than risk an all out war that neither side could
ever hope to win. So she accepted the lie, despite the fact that both she and the
Prince knew the truth.

And now this....

Her runners had come early that morning, bearing the news that the Musk had
come to war against the Amazons. Cologne thought this highly unlikely, and
said as much openly. When an emissary from the Musk approached under a
white flag, alarms went off in the old woman's mind. But, not for the same
reasons her sisters were entertaining. It was true that there was enough
bad blood remaining between her people and the Musk that the offer was met
with open skepticism, but Cologne had studied the man carefully.

The fear and pain in his eyes had left her little doubt that something
horrific had befallen the boy. He seemed unnaturally skittish, and did not
hide his fear of shadows. In fact, he stood openly before the Council of
Matriarchs and demanded that they deal with him under the light of the
morning sun. Cologne heard someone mutter something about bedtime stories
told about the Amazons. The jest had been met with open laughter, but the
boy stood his ground.

He didn't fear the Amazons; respected them perhaps, but the steel in his
stance told the wizened Cologne that he did not fear them. This brought the
question of what the boy did fear to the fore. When questioned, the boy
simply answered that his king would parley if, and only if he was guaranteed
safe passage to meet with the Council of Matriarchs. Cologne didn't have to
brow beat any of her sisters on the council. Their curiosity was just as
piqued as hers, and so the meeting was set. Bringing them to this place and
time.

She had dealt with Herb before and knew him to be a strong leader. Cologne
could not deny the offered truce between the two nations lightly, and
neither could her sisters. Many of the families had started to murmur about
the Beastmen soiling their land, but it would take more than a few
slanderous insults to provoke a conflict under these circumstances.

And so it was with a great deal of trepidation that the two groups agreed to
meet. The small field was large enough to discourage archers, but small
enough to contain no more than a thousand warriors on each side. Considering
what her scouts had reported, that was about all that was left of the Musk.

If the young man before her was bedraggled, his people were pathetic. She
had known war in her long lifetime, but these refugees were haunted.and it
wasn't by the actions of men. Cologne felt the pit of her stomach tighten
as she watched Herb move ahead of his group, alone and unafraid. The terror
that his people were demonstrating was hidden behind a stoic mask. His
robes and armor were eternally stained with the mud of travel, and a fair
amount of blood. The humility in his stance, combined with his war torn
appearance distinguished him, and augmented his natural beauty. He had been
handsome before, but now the prince was dashing. The sleeping child in his
arms only served to heighten the look on the boy-king.

Herb stood before the Council of Matriarchs humbled, yet retaining his
dignity. It was a good thing. She would want no less for such a powerful
warrior.

"I bring you greetings, noble Matriarchs of Joketsuzoku." Herb called out
across the field.

"May the Goddess smile upon you this day...King Herb."

Herb shook his head and handed the boy off to the giant in tiger skins,
before continuing. "I am King Herb no longer, Matriarch. My father has
fallen, and I have assumed what is left of his throne. The title of Emperor
is now mine.for all that it is worth. I come here to you this day to bring
the Amazon nation a dire warning."

"Oh?" Cologne asked in polite surprise despite the growling murmur that
rippled through the Amazons behind her. Couldn't they see that this man was
of no threat to them? "What could be so dire that it would bring the new
Emperor of the Musk and a host of his finest, to the Joketzuzoku?"

Herb grimaced at the barbed comment, but understood this political game that
they played. Cologne couldn't support him out right; she had to make at
least a few attempts to appease the warmongers amongst her people. A few
barbed insults was better than being slaughtered by the women before him, or
the beasts that followed him. He could stand to take a few insults if it
gave him what he wanted.

Herb crooked his finger to one of his subordinates, a man in a leather and
silk shirt that was decorated with eagle feathers. His noble face was stoic,
showing little emotion as he dragged the large bundle wrapped in tent
canvas before her. He sketched a bow and returned to his post behind his
lord.

Herb motioned disgustedly at the bundle.

"That, venerable Matriarch." He spat the words in his anger and
frustration. The stench coming from the canvas was over powering. It
smelled like week old carrion that had fermented in a hot, summer sun.
"That is what brings me to your doorstep, a vagabond, bereft of my home and
kin. My nation is lost to me due in totality to...that!"

With great care, Cologne flipped her staff forward to unravel the bundle.
Her escorts watched warily for any treachery. The canvas unraveled, rapidly
depositing its putrid cargo between the Amazons and the Musk.

The Matriarch had thought herself above a great many things; shock and a
weak stomach were among the long list. Unfortunately for her, the sight at
her feet defeated that notion, forcing her breakfast to expel itself
violently.

She wasn't alone.

The body before her would never be mistaken for human. Black, oozing flesh
covered the tiger's head in a grotesque, mottled patchwork. It wasn't the
sight of the thing that upset her so, but rather the stench of evil that
hung about its putrid form.

The long deadly claws extended from the tips of massive human-like paws. And
there was a cold sanity in the lifeless eyes that bore a cunning intelligence. But,
that was where the resemblance to any living creature ended. The rest was too
horrifying to comprehend, and her mind did its best to shut the sight out.

*Its smell alone could probably kill.* Cologne thought distastefully as she
wiped the spittle from the corners of her mouth.

Herb didn't react to the beast at all. His calm, clear gaze focused on
Cologne, boring into her. She returned it intently. When Herb spoke again,
Cologne could hear the emotion that threatened to surface.

"It alone killed over one hundred and fifty of my men and women last night
as we marched. Twenty-five children met their doom in the jaws of
this...Thing."

He shook with barely restrained anger, and all gathered watched as his
battle aura flared brilliantly. Cologne was impressed at the corona that
the boy was producing. He had been practicing. "It took fifty of the
finest warriors to bring the demon down!" Herb released the energy that he
had built, into the corpse setting it aflame, but not destroying it
completely.

The concussive blast knocked two of the stunned Matriarchs off their feet,
which caused a wave of commotion to surge through the Amazons that were
behind her, many of which included women from the Elder's council who knew
better. The Musk, already spooked and tired began drawing their weapons
too.

This was no good. Herb had done them a favor; a self-serving favor, but one
that might have very well saved the Amazons. She was not about to let this
shaky alliance fall apart around their ears, just because two of her sisters
were too clumsy to stand upright. She tapped her staff once on the ground,
creating a great reverberating sound to echo across the field. The action
got the desired results, silencing the gathered throng so that Cologne could
speak.

"I am Khu Lon, Matriarch of the Elder's Council. I speak on behalf of my
nation. I set aside the old haunts, in light of the new. We offer you the
hospitality of our homes young Emperor, and would share our salt with you
and yours. Be welcome as friends." There was a collective gasp from the
Amazon camp, followed by murmuring. Yet, Cologne's authority washed over
all present, and she hoped that what she did next would minimize the amount
of bloodshed that was inevitable.

"It is my decree that there shall be no battle fought during the time our
guests reside in our nation. Any challenges issued, save they be formal
challenges of marriage, may not be answered until the Musk leave our
borders." She paused dramatically and turned to her sisters who nodded
their consent. What choice did they have? "Any disobedience to this edict
will be severely punished. No excuses will be heard or tolerated."

Herb nodded and repeated her edict for the benefit of his people. A peace
of necessity had been hammered out here, and he would be damned if he let
heated tempers jeopardize it.

Runners from both nations sped off to spread the word to those that could
not attend the summit. Herb smiled at Cologne faintly. It wasn't much, but
in light of what they were facing, it was a definite beginning.

Cologne could already hear the whispers starting to circulate about having
to house the filthy Musk, and she wondered how long she could keep the
tribal politics at bay. In light of what they faced, she prayed that it
would be for a very long time.

The Matriarchs motioned for Herb and his councilors to approach. The story
that he told them sent shivers down their spines and left more than a few
wide-eyed and afraid.

It had been a long time since the Amazons had known fear.

********
Tuesday, late afternoon
Saotome Dojo, Juuban

Boredom.

It was the bane of freedom, and the wicked stepmother of invention. For
Ranma, it was a state of mind to be avoided at all costs. That was when her
ghost came to haunt him most; even more so than at night, before he fell
asleep.

The memory of holding her would cause his arms to ache, and he could almost
smell the fruity scent of her shampoo in the air. It was then that he would
throw himself into his training; pushing himself to newer heights in order
to keep Akane's shade appeased. Yet, Ranma learned early on that there was
only so much training that a man could do in a day. The mind would grow
weary, and the limbs weak; even the spirit would falter.

Which was where Ranma found himself now: mentally wiped and totally unable
to practice. It wasn't that he was physically exhausted, it had been a long time
since he'd been able to wear himself out in the course of a day; no, the true
problem came from burn out. How many times could he throw the same punch,
before the exercise became meaningless?

He had pushed himself through the all day yesterday, and he felt reluctant
to push himself further. Nodoka had watched him with concern, but had been
forced to leave for work. Today she had made it a point to invite him to go
with her, but Ranma couldn't bring himself to go with his mother to the
orphanage. To be surrounded by so many kids.he could already see Akane in
his mind's eye, playing with some little girl that had her smile and his
gray eyes.

He had politely declined his mother's offer, which meant that he was again
left to his devices. Nodoka had subtly hinted at him going back to school
at breakfast, but for some reason Ranma felt reluctant to make a commitment
either way. He wanted to take things slowly, so that he could ease into
things, rather than be thrown head long into anything. Nodoka had to agree
that Ranma had a valid point, especially after spending ten years on the
road with Genma.

So he had spent some time after his morning work out soaking in the furo,
and then explored the rest of the house. He had been surprised at the state
of his room when Nodoka showed him to it the night of his arrival. It was
tastefully decorated, with a single dresser, a bookshelf, a writing desk,
and a western style bed like the Nabiki had in her room. There were also a
number of traditional Ukyoe wall hangings of samurai that were pretty cool.

He even had a bonsai sitting atop the writing desk. Ranma had always wanted
one, regardless of how "wussy" Genma made them out to be. It took
discipline to shape a tree, and Ranma respected discipline.

He hadn't asked outright, but Nodoka had confessed to redecorating his room
every year on his birthday. Ranma had all but cringed when she had told
him, but she hadn't noticed. Instead, she had busied herself in turning
down Ranma's bed and setting his backpack next to the dresser. She had been
so nervous and excited about having her son home, that she had fluffed his
pillow some twenty times before Ranma finally convinced her that everything
was indeed perfect. He was glad that she seemed happy. After so long
without anyone, she deserved all that he could give.

The rest of his mother's house was very much the same as his bedroom.
Tastefully, if not traditionally decorated, but leaning towards a more
masculine motif; no doubt to impress and please Genma when he returned.

During his exploration, Ranma's mind boggled at just how much his mother had
sacrificed for her family. Her whole life seemed to revolve around two
ghosts that she barely knew, and she did so without complaint or murmuring.
He had never met anyone so devoted to her family.well, maybe Kasumi. But
where Kasumi's devotion was measured in her propensity to give, Nodoka's
dedication was measured in her lonely endurance.

Could Kasumi have survived as Nodoka had? Assuredly. Ranma was sure of
that. But, what of Nabiki? Ranma was ashamed to admit that he wasn't sure.
Before akane's passing, he would have said no, but now.Nabiki just wasn't
the same person that she had been six months ago. Akane on the other hand
would have poisoned herself in the first week. Ranma chuckled, but the
sound died on his lips.

Akane.

He always came back to her, even when he was trying his best to let her
ghost rest in peace. That was when Ranma decided that it was time to leave
the house. Every room was starting to remind him of her, and he was
starting to hurt.

Now he found himself exploring the neighborhood from the safety of the
rooftops, mapping out the major landmarks and trying to catch the pulse of
the Ward. The roof he had chosen to stop on over looked a street of shops
and restaurants, with Tokyo Tower not two blocks east.

Maybe his mother had been right about this whole school thing. She had
brought it up at breakfast as an option for Ranma to think about. He told
her that he wasn't sure how long he would be staying, and immediately
regretted it. Her carefully controlled response had been neutral, but her
eyes held enough sadness to fill the Sea of Japan. He didn't want to be tied
down to anyone place, but he couldn't just leave his mother. It would break
her heart.

If he stayed, let alone registered for school, it gave his old man and Mr.
Tendo the chance to find him again. They would continue pushing Nabiki down
his throat, and making both his and her lives miserable. On the other hand,
he knew that he needed to stay with his mom, which meant that he needed
something to divert his attention until he could finally bury Akane.

Ranma stared down at the people milling below and silently wished that he
could have had their lives: no curses, no crazed challengers, no arranged
marriages.no dead fiancées. Just the same mundane, day-to-day grind that
made their lives.normal. With a heavy sigh Ranma launched himself to the
next rooftop and continued on his way.

********

"So let me get this straight. Your Mom's best friend's son just returned
from some sort of Martial Arts training thingy, that he's been on for almost
eleven years now, and she wants you to go with her tonight to meet him?"

Ami looked at Usagi with amused bewilderment. How the girl could get all of
that out in just one breath boggled the mind.

"Yes. Apparently he'll be staying in town for a while, and she would like
me to show him some of the sights and introduce him to people." Ami didn't
look at all happy about the arrangement, but how could she deny her mother?
The woman asked for so little, and provided so much, that Ami was starting
to feel guilty for not doing more for her mother.

"Is he cute?"

Ami snorted and tossed an incredulous look Usagi's way. "Honestly! Is that
all that you can think about?"

Usagi simply smiled and shook her head. "Nope! I think about Mamo-chan,
and food, and that really cute skirt that was in the display window two
stores back." Usagi looked totally prepared to continue, so Ami cut her
short.

"Is that so?" Ami deadpanned.

Usagi nodded again, while Ami shook her head.

"Now, don't change the subject. Is he cute?"

Ami sighed affectedly. "I don't know. Besides you, of all people, know that
I don't have time for that. Exams are right around the corner, and."

Usagi mimicked Ami's sigh and stopped just outside an alleyway. "And you
could ace them blindfolded! Aaaaamiiii! You need to get out more!" Ami's
blonde friend tossed her hands in the air. "Live! Get out of these books
and find something else to care about!"

"I do!" Ami said defensively, clutching her book bag close to her chest.

"Senshi business aside." Usagi's eyes narrowed. "What else do you have in
your life?"

Ami chewed her lip self-consciously and looked at her feet. "Well, I have
my mother."

"And?" Usagi's foot was tapping.

"And you and the others!" The girl was desperately scrambling for any
foothold she could find. This whole conversation was beginning to sound
like the one she'd had with her mother last night at dinner. By the way
that Usagi shook her head, Ami knew that she had failed to find what she
needed. She just wasn't very good at social debate, no matter how hard she
practiced in her mirror.

"Come on Ami-chan! We don't count and you know it!"

"Uwara-kun?" She asked hopefully.

"When was the last time that you saw him?"

Ami shrugged and smiled sheepishly. "Eleven months, seventeen days, four
hours, and twenty seven minutes ago?" She paused to re-calculate her
numbers, and nodded. Usagi landed face first on the sidewalk before her
friend.

By the time that she had picked herself up off the pavement, Ami was looking
studiously at a dress in a shop window. It was one of the most beautiful
wedding dresses that Usagi had ever seen, and it took all of her will power
not to get caught up into a wonderful daydream about her Mamo-chan.

"Nice try." She deadpanned. Ami's shoulders slumped in defeat. Usagi
memorized the shop's name and location before dragging Ami away; she would
have to stop by there on the way home.

"So answer the question already! Is he cute?"

"I don't know. I saw a cute picture of him once in Auntie's house, but he
must have been six or seven at the time. He was holding this really fat cat
and smiling." Ami left out the sugary cuteness of the picture. Ranma's
front two teeth had been missing, and he had been wearing a dirty, torn
shirt and shorts. The leaves in his hair had made Ranma look adorable, and
with the story about getting his cat out of the tree, Ami believed that
Ranma was a rather impetuous young man.

But people changed over time. What could you know about a person after ten
or eleven years? She didn't remember Ranma very clearly, but from the
stories that her mother told, they had been inseparable. Ami decided not to
tell Usagi that little tidbit. She was likely to go on about fated romances
and star-crossed love affairs.

It wasn't that she didn't sometimes dream about that type of thing. She
did. But the whole idea was just so impractical. The last thing that she
needed right now, was a boy interfering with her studies. She had other
dreams that were more realistic than meeting "Prince Charming" or have a
knight in shining armor come charging to her rescue. That only happened to
Usagi.

Lucky devil.

**********

Butsukaru, Itamu, and Kinyobi were known as the "Same no Juuban" - the
Sharks of Juuban. It was a name that they had earned at a very young age,
and for very good reasons.

Butsukaru had put his fourth grade teacher in the hospital by tripping her
"accidentally" while she descended a flight of stairs. Multiple fractures
and a serious concision had resulted in the fall, all because she wouldn't
let him play with a certain toy.

Itamu had a fetish for sharp pointy objects, and would be endlessly
sharpening his pencils. It was an obsession, and every ten minutes without
fail he would stand before the pencil sharpener, grinding away wood and
graphite until the point could draw blood with a just a prick.

An impatient young girl named Mae had cut in front of him one day. She had
paid for her intrusion by having her hand pinned to the wall with her own
sharpened pencil.

And then there was Kinyobi: a simpleton, with the sadistic love of beating
the crap out of people. There was no other reason; he simply enjoyed the
sound that bones made when they broke, and the color of blood on skin. When
he was seven he beat his older brother into the ICU. There had been no
warning, no rhyme or reason; and when confronted about the incident, the
simply shrugged his shoulders said that he didn't know why he did it.

Many of the other parents wondered why the violent delinquents weren't
expelled outright. The answer was simple: Money, could buy anything, and
anyone.

And the families of the trio were wealthy enough to do just that.
Unfortunately, by the time that the three young men were ready for high
school, there were only two schools in all of Tokyo that didn't know about
their reputations, or didn't care: Furinkan and Juuban. The parents knew
the reputation of Furinkan, which made the choice obvious.

Lucky Juuban.

The motley band lounged on the steps of the local library, on the main
thoroughfare that students used to get to and from school. It was an odd
place for their type to be, but Butsu had a fetish for classical literature.

"I'm bored Butsu!" Kinyobi whined girlishly. Itamu snickered stupidly at
the largish young man seated on the steps beneath him.

"Anything that doesn't involve bloodying someone bores you Kinyobi." Butsu
replied caustically as he looked up from his book. The Nanso Satomi
Hakkenden wasn't exactly Butsu's normal fare, but it had some interesting
parts, none of them particularly heroic either.

Butsu was rooting for the villains.

"C'mon Butsu!" Kinyobi's voice squeaked shrilly, causing Itamu to fall over
in hysterics. Puberty had come late to the burly thug, cursing him with a
man's body, and all but a woman's voice. He hated it; how could anyone
inspire terror with a girly voice like his?

Butsu growled in disgust. Slamming the book closed he rounded on Kinyobi
angrily. "What do you want me to do 'Kin-chan'?" He said cruelly twisting
the feminine honorific in his mouth. Kinyobi growled fiercely, but made no
move against the smaller boy. The oddity of this twisted David and Goliath
scenario made Itamu laugh all the harder.

Kinyobi wanted nothing more than to grind Butsu into so much paste.
Unfortunately, the dim-witted giant knew that he would have to kill his
opponent. If Butsu lived, Kinyobi would spend the rest of his life looking
over his shoulder. The smaller boy may have been a weakling in body, but he
more than made up for it in intelligence and a viciousness that scared the
Hell out of Kinyobi.

Butsu stiffened noticeably for a moment and then smiled in a manner that
would give the Devil himself pause. Kinyobi followed his gaze, watching as
a pair of cute girls walked towards them, not a block away. A sudden smile
graced his big face. He "nudged" Itamu roughly; the blow would leave a
wonderfully purple bruise.

A blade was instantly in Itamu's hand, prepared to deal a blow in
retribution. Butsu held up his hand and pointed, forcing the knife-wielding
boy to follow the gesture. Both girls had paused in front of a shop, and
Itamu was graced with a clear vision of a girl that he worshiped above all
others.

Ami-chan.

He looked at Butsu hopefully. Kinyobi and Butsu could share the Tsukino
girl, but Ami was special. No one would touch her but him. No one.

Butsu studied the feverish look in Itamu's eyes and was forced to nod his
assent. He had known the instant he had spotted her, that this would be the
outcome. Butsu looked longingly at Mizuno-san and sighed. Intelligent
women were such a turn on.

It was too bad really; she was pretty and would have been fun to break. The
Tsukino girl, at least that was what he thought her name was, would have to
do. Such was the hazard when working with a rabid psychopath; a man had to
give into their passions lest the fire that drove them consume him. Itamu
was too valuable to Butsu's security to let something like that happen.

Ah well, such was the gamble of fools and mad men. At least this would get
Kinyobi to shut up. The three boys broke away from their perch and silently
began to stalk their prey. Their rapid pace ate up the ground, forcing men
and women to step around them or be run down themselves.

Ami didn't see them coming until they were right on top of her.

**********

End Chapter 3 Part I

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