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:

The Musk are driven from their homeland, and Herb is forced to make a tough
decision. In order to save the remnant of his people. He makes a pact with the
Amazon nation, despite the bad blood that exists between the two civilizations.
Nabiki wakes to find herself in a magical place, yet still captive to some very
odd people. Mother, an ancient tree, reveals some interesting things about the
past, and unlocks Nabiki's memory. It is revealed that she was the vanguard of
the Fey, and was called the Huntress.

Ranma continues to adjust to his new surroundings, and his choices. He finds
himself haunted by Akane's memory at every turn, so he decides to explore
the neighborhood. In the meantime, three unruly young men take interest in
Usagi and Ami, and attack the girls with devilish intent.

And now...On With The Show!

 

Chapter 3 Part II

**********
Juuban

Ranma watched the thugs make their move and scowled. They didn't look like
much, but he had seen one with a knife. He didn't hesitate to start making
his way down to the street from his perch atop the library's roof.

***********

Ami jumped in horror as she and Usagi were pushed into the narrow alley
beside the dress shop. She tried to scream but a hand was already clasped
over her mouth, while another pinned her arms to her sides. She didn't
panic, at least not for herself. She was more worried about Usagi's safety
than anything else.

She caught a glance of blonde hair struggling amidst two other bodies, but
that was all. There was plenty of sound as both girls tried to scream and
work their way free, but not enough of it escaped the alleyway to make a
difference.

Ami managed to turn, and was met with a face that she had seen once or twice
at school. Everything that she had heard about him flashed through her mind
in an instant: the story about Umi-chan and the locker room, the rumor about
Ms. Totetsu, and other things more frightening still. Umi-chan had
transferred to another school, and Ms. Totetsu had up and quit one day. The
scene that she had made when leaving was still cause for talk around the
school, and it all revolved around the whispered rumor of a boy who liked
sharp objects and pretty women.

Panic flooded Ami's heart as she saw the knife slide into his other hand.
She looked into his face, frantically shaking her head.

This couldn't be happening! It couldn't!

She couldn't escape the mad lust in his eyes. It was so overwhelmingly
hungry, and she knew that it wouldn't be satisfied until Itamu had been
sated. Ami started to cry.

***********

Usagi growled, kicked, bit, and punched like a pro. Butsu's lip was split
and bleeding, and a lucky kick had brought Kinyobi to his knees for a
moment. Usagi sneered uncharacteristically; at least the jerk had a reason
to squeak now. Butsu punched her in the stomach, driving the air from Usagi
's lungs and causing every limb to go suddenly lax.

"I love it when they fight back." He panted, wiping the blood from his
mouth. "It makes the whole thing so much more.delectable."

Kinyobi groaned and tried to steady himself. He was going to break every
bone in her body after he took her...every last one!

*********

Mamoru studied the latest batch of data from his team's genetics project.
The crunch of finals hung over everyone's, and it was Mamoru's job as the
team's director to make sure that everyone passed. There was only one
variable missing, and he couldn't quite put his finger on it. Maybe he
could get Ami's help with it.

He sighed and slipped his palm pilot back into his jacket pocket. He had at
least three more stops before her stop. Three more stops of sleep..

Usagi's terror washed over him like a wave of icy water.

This wasn't like the times that she had battled youma or anything else for
that matter. It was a fear filled with shame. He didn't think about what
he was doing. All that mattered at the moment was Usagi.

Imagine the surprise of everyone in his car of the train when the young man
began to glow with a bright golden light. When he vanished without a trace,
more than a few people wondered if they had imagined it. The rest chalked
it up to lack of sleep and passing through Juuban.

**********

Ami was having a hard time breathing, and her fear robbed her of her
strength. She thrashed as best she could, trying to make as much noise as
possible to no effect. She could feel her lungs starting to burn with the
need for air.

What was she going to tell her mother? What would she tell the others?
Usagi was on the ground now, and from the look of things, was pinned. What
was she going to do?

The air around her started to freeze and the moisture that clung to the
walls was rapidly turning to ice. The sign of Mercury began to glow beneath
her bangs, when a powerful hand shot out and closed around Itamu's throat.

It was the other boy's turn to look surprised as he struggled for air.

Ami looked up into a cold, hard, yet very handsome face as Itamu's hand fell
away from her throat. She had seen that face not two days before, and (as
hard as it was to admit) in her dreams as well. She gasped and panted,
trying to regain her breath, as the boy's eyes looked her over critically.
He steadied her with a strong, calloused hand, and she couldn't help but
lean into him for support and comfort.

"...please...help Usagi."

The young man complied with her request by throwing Itamu, one handed, the
length of the narrow alley into his oblivious partners.

***********

Butsu had almost pinned Usagi's legs when a heavy weight bowled him over,
causing him to crash into Kinyobi. There was a moment of pain, then
everything settled, and Butsu was at the bottom of a pile of heavy bodies.
Then the pain returned.

"Get the Hell off of me!"

Scrambling. More pain.

The leader of the Sharks finally freed himself and viciously punched Kinyobi
in the kidneys. The taller boy grunted, but otherwise showed no signs of
noticing. He and Itamu were too busy looking at the young man in a Chinese
outfit.

"Well? Don't just stand there! Kill him!"

Butsu realized his mistake too late as the young man walking towards them
started glowing.

********

Ranma felt like he was going crazy. Looking upon the young woman before
him, he was sure that she was the same girl from the train station. If she
wasn't, then he knew that he was going crazy.

He put a hand on her shoulder to keep her from falling over, when she leaned
into him. Tingles danced up and down his spine at the action. It was
almost like having Akane back. Almost like heaven. That was until the girl
asked him something.something about Usagi.

Ranma looked up and saw the second girl, and did the only thing that he
could think of. He threw the sick bastard that he was holding at the whole
group.

It was nice to see that his aim was improving.

He was slightly disappointed at having to break away from the young woman,
but he forcefully berated himself. She wasn't Akane. Period. When he
finally got a good look at the blonde girl from the train station, something
in him clicked. There was definitely something familiar about her, and he
felt this undeniable urge to protect her. She was important.special. He
saw her tears, and the way that she tried to straighten her skirt, and
something in him snapped.

These guys had been trying to...tried to.!

"Well? Don't just stand there! Kill him!"

It was easy to guess what was going to happen next. The only question in
his mind was how long he wanted to keep the bastards in the hospital for.
Ranma felt the floodgates open, and his chi spilled forth in an angry blue
haze. Had he been able to see himself, he might have wondered why there was
a white glowing crescent on his forehead.

*********

Ami was astonished when the young man from the train station started
glowing. Imagine her surprise when she and Usagi saw the blazing crescent on
his forehead! The two huddled together, finding comfort in each other's
presence as they watched the inevitable battle unfold.

*********

Itamu had seen the fiend holding his Ami. HIS AMI! That was all the
motivation that he needed. He sprang forward with a caterwaul and a series
of vicious slashes. His rage blinded him and fueled his speed, but not one
blow got through his opponent's defenses.

He received a bone crushing kick to his ribs that sent him into the wall for
his trouble. Kinyobi threw a punch at the man's head, only to have the runt
catch it in mid swing.

He wouldn't let him have his Ami! He wouldn't! If Itamu couldn't have her,
then no one could!

*********

The knife moved in slow motion for Ranma as it approached Ami's throat. To
her credit, she didn't flinch or scream. All that she wanted to do was
freeze a vital part of this Itamu's anatomy, before she died. In response
to her desire the air temperature seemed to drop a few degrees.

She fixed Ranma with a worried look, hoping that he could do something.

She wasn't prepared for the fearful look that entered the other boy's eyes
as he tracked the knife's trajectory.

**********

He wasn't going to make it in time! That was the only thought that Ranma
had while watching the knife. Another death for his carelessness!

A red blur, followed by a loud clang, sent the knife careening away from its
intended target. Everyone's gazes were drawn up to the man standing on the
roof of the building, and both girls seemed to sag in relief.

If they knew the new guy, he was safe.

Ranma nodded to the man gratefully then turned his attention back to the
task at hand. He had almost failed again. No, he had failed. If it hadn't
been for the other guy, Akane's look alike would be dead.

Akane...dead.

The deadly look that entered Ranma's eyes was the last thing anyone was
expecting. Anger, rage, and worry were all very acceptable reactions to the
situation, but the murderous look that Itamu was receiving was completely
out of the ordinary.

Itamu gulped loudly and began trembling as Ranma's body began to glow again.

"You are so screwed." His voice was little more than a whisper, but
everyone heard it.

**********

When the boy's eyes began to glow, Butsu began to wonder if maybe he had
made a mistake. When Itamu went after the pigtailed boy again, this time
with a larger knife, Butsu winced. When the pigtailed boy relieved Itamu of
his weapon and proceeded to snap the blade off with his bare hands, Butsu
was sure that he had screwed up big time.

He had never known fear like this before, and idly wondered if perhaps this
was what his victims felt when he stalked them. It wasn't a very pleasant
feeling. He was certain that Kinyobi was feeling the same thing, if the
large wet stain on the front of his pants was any indication.

Itamu...well, Itamu was getting the crap beat out of him. Butsu had never
seen anyone get worked over like the knife-wielding miscreant. Nothing was
broken yet, but the boy's face was one giant bruise.

A third knife appeared, and was lost just as easily. The pigtailed boy made
sure that Itamu saw him break the blade this time. Then he proceeded to
toss what was left of the knife into the trash; Itamu's face drained of
color and the boy began to back away. Butsu was glad to see that his
compatriot was starting to see their predicament for what it was.

The guy was a monster, and they were blocked in by the dead end that had
before hand worked in their favor. Kinyobi started to scream, very much
like a girl Butsu noted, and was immediately silenced by the pigtailed boy's
hand over his mouth. Butsu blinked twice before he began dry washing his
hands on his shirt. How had the guy moved so fast?

The pigtailed boy smirked cruelly and wagged a finger in front of Kinyobi's
face. Butsu watched the giant's eyes roll up into his head, and his body
simply went slack. Itamu, after reviewing everything looked from the boy,
to his broken knives, then back at the boy...then studied the knives for a
long time.

Butsu moved up to Itamu's side and watched the pigtailed boy continue his
approach. They felt themselves being backed into the alley, further from
the safety of the street. The look in their stalker's eyes promised
pain...lots of pain.

He was going to kill them. Butsu just knew it! They were going to die here
in this alley and no one would know! He couldn't stay here! He had to get
out! But where would he go? Where would he hide?

The pigtailed boy cracked his knuckles, and then made a lunge. Both Butsu
and Itamu screamed and turned to run, only to come face to face with a very
immobile brick wall. As the darkness claimed them, both were glad that they
wouldn't be awake to see the end.

*********
Somewhere

Nabiki ran through the branches of the trees, laughing at their indignation,
and reveling in the feel of the wind playing with her hair. Somewhere
behind her, someone was following, and cursing a blue streak at his
inability to keep up.

"Aramas! Catch her!"

"Right!"

Nabiki smiled. The Bastian and the half-breed were outclassed, why couldn't
they see that? All she had to do was get to Mother's trunk, and the whelp
would be cast out of the Fey.

She launched herself at the next branch, celebrating her strength and
agility. The fools had no business here, polluting her Mother's forest. She didn't
care if the boy was a prince, he didn't belong among the tribes. He had never
had been welcome among them, and by Terobus she would see that the
arrogant bastard was thrown out on his ears!

She remembered being saddled with the screaming whelp when he was a baby,
and she meant to pay him back for all of the grief that he had given her!

Nabiki's long, pointed ears twitched, and she turned in time to see a branch
swinging at her from the side. How in the name of the Great Moon had he
gotten that close, let alone set up a pitfall? The trap was easily dodged,
but three more were tripped in the process.

Nabiki cursed and spun her short spear in a wide arc to deflect the incoming
branches and other projectiles. She screamed in frustration as they
continued to rain down on her, seemingly at every turn. Someone laughed
behind her, and Nabiki found herself cursing Artemis.

The traitorous were-cat had been spending too much time with the Kenku. She
vowed to pluck Washi's head feathers bald the next time that she saw him!
Something blurred in front of her, forcing her to pull up short on a thick
branch.

Nabiki gasped as a familiar young man landed before her. His wild blue-gray
eyes smiled back at her mischievously, as he leaned casually against the
tree in which he stood. Everything about him reeked of arrogance, so much
so that all she wanted to do was pound his smug grin into a fine red paste.

She growled and brought her spear to bear. Aramas flipped his long, braided
pigtail over his bare shoulder, and wagged a finger at her. There were a
hundred different ways to circumvent her opponent, but Nabiki knew that
going through him would be the most satisfying. Not to mention the most
expedient.she had a timetable to consider after all.

Aramas sighed noisily, as if put off that she was going to waste his time!
The very thought boiled her blood. She was going to wipe that smug grin off
his face! She WAS!

Nabiki launched herself at the man before her. She had expected him to
move, but to her surprise, he merely dodged slightly and brought her into a
tight bear hug. She had gotten free of worse, but she found herself unable
to move!

<What have you done to me!> She demanded.

In response Aramas simply kissed Nabiki's nose, and grinned. Oh! That
infuriating grin! Again and again, with that damnable grin! She tried to
move, but found her muscles rigid, locked in their last move.

Hato-chan. It had to have been Hato-chan. Her family specialized in
pressure points.

Nabiki wanted to scream! The injustice of it all!

"I believe your terms were 'stripped naked and carried to my Mother's roots.'
Am I correct?"

<You wouldn't dare!> Nabiki would have bit him had her mouth worked.

<Don't blame me Huntress. You set the terms. I'm merely honoring your
rules.>

<I hate you Aramas.>

<So you said yesterday...and the day before.and the day before that. Be a
good girl now, and take your medicine.> Nabiki blushed as the handsome
young man began to undress her. She would find a way to get back at all of
them! She would!

*********

Nabiki shook herself free of the memory, only to find herself in the middle
of a nightmare. All about her there was death. Screams of the dying echoed
at her back and the smell of smoke penetrated her senses. It took her
another full moment before she realized that the destruction was being wrote
on the giant screen of light.

A great shadowy beast leapt from the trees at a familiar figure, only to be
consumed by what Nabiki thought to be a chi blast. The bestial hawk's head
was sheared off of the monster's body, and fell blackened to the hard packed
earth. Nabiki drew her attention back to the man, and was surprised to see
two very familiar women flanking him. Cologne and Shampoo looked fierce
next to the man, and the amount of bodies that lay at their feet was
testament to their fighting skill.

<Tsuru-kun.> Mother's urgent voice slid through the chaotic battle scenes.
Nabiki looked up at the great tree and found herself yearning to step
forward.

<Yes Mother.>

<Take Suzume-chan and Taka-kun with you to investigate, but do not interfere
unless absolutely necessary. The Rhakshasa must not know that we are aware
of them yet. Observe and report back to me swiftly. The Musk are fallen,
but they are not lost to us.> Tsuru seemed to nod in Nabiki's mind and then
his presence along with two others was suddenly very far away.

<Wh...what was that?> Nabiki asked.

<Something very old and very dark Nabiki-chan.> Mother replied
enigmatically.

<I don't think that I understand.> She had hoped for more clarity, but knew
that getting a straight answer from the ancient tree was going to be more
than difficult.

<Nor are you meant to at this time child. You will bear the burden of
knowledge soon enough. Be content with the questions that cost you very
little, Small One.> There was no reproach in the voice, only mature advice.
Apparently, there were more important questions to be asked anyway.

<What do you want me to do?> She inquired hopefully, yet fearfully.

<That, Nabiki-chan is a good question. One that will cost you very little
in the long run.> There seemed to be a mischievous smirk in the venerable
voice, and Nabiki could readily see her own smile looking back at her in her
mind's eye.

It was eerie.

<You are my Huntress, and I need you to find a very special man for me.>

Nabiki's stomach clenched in anticipation, and she knew that she wasn't
going to like what came next. Still, it didn't sound so bad. At least she
wouldn't have to face those creatures.right?

<Okay. Who is it?>

The curtain of light rippled and Nabiki gasped. The man from her memories
surrounded her, wearing a black uniform with silvery, crescent shaped
ornaments on his collar. She had to be dreaming! It couldn't be him!

<I need you to find me a king. I need you to find Aramas Drumheller, the man
you call Ranma Saotome.>

Nabiki swallowed and nodded her consent. What else could she do?

<You will need a few things to help you along the way.> The wooden floor at
her feet rippled and a familiar spear rose to the surface, along with a pair
of ornate silver bracers. Nabiki's mind immediately began calculating their
value, but stopped herself immediately. They were probably worth infinitely
more than she suspected; especially where her life was concerned.

The curtain of light parted revealing Yoshitsune and Hato-chan. Washi
lounged nearby, sporting a rather large black eye and an equally large grin.
Hato had a carefully wrapped package in her arms, while Yoshitsune was
strapping on a pair of Katana. Washi simply sat and picked his nose.

<Be swift daughter. The world is in dire need of Drumheller's light.>

Nabiki felt that she hadn't been told the whole story, but nodded anyway.
She had too much on her plate as it was, and asking for more was just asking
for trouble. With a sense of foreboding, she knelt and retrieved the spear
and bracers.

Hato-chan smiled as she gestured with one hand, then Nabiki's world folded
in on itself.

**********

Usagi was disappointed that all three of the bad guys had passed out before
getting their due, and from the disgusted look on the pigtailed boy, he was
feeling the same. He piled them in a heap of garbage bags and took anything
resembling a weapon from their bodies.

The large pile that he made caused Usagi to shiver. Any one of those could
have hurt her, had they been used. Mamoru felt her and wrapped his jacket
around her shoulders. Neither could take their eyes off of the boy as he
casually threw the weapons in a large trashcan near a side door. He had
done impossible things, and Usagi hadn't forgotten the emblem that she had
seen blazing on his forehead. It was just too much to take in all at once,
so she leaned into Mamoru for support.

"Are you okay?" He asked in a quiet voice.

Usagi nodded absently, watching as the other boy walked near.

Ami on the other hand merited more concern. Her throat was bruised, and she
didn't look at all too stable. She was in shock from the whole ordeal.

"Ami-chan? Are you going to be alright?" Usagi watched worriedly as her
friend simply stared off into space.

"She's in shock." Mamoru whispered. He started to wrap an arm around Ami,
when Usagi reached up and stopped him. His brows knit together slightly.
This wasn't a time for jealousy! He looked down at his future bride and was
amazed to see her staring at the pigtailed boy. He stood arm's length in
front of Ami, staring at her face sorrowfully.

The remorse and pain that Mamoru found there hurt to look at; and he could
tell that this young man was carrying a mountain of guilt that was slowly
eating him alive. But what did that have to do with Ami? Did he have a
history with her? Mamoru looked to Usagi questioningly, hoping that she
could shed some light on the mystery.

She motioned for Mamoru to wait until this played itself out. The tension
in the air was so thick that Usagi couldn't help but feel that something
important was about to happen.

*********

Ami saw a vaguely man-shaped blur materialize before her through her tears,
and blindly lashed out. She felt her fists impact, and so she added her
feet into the equation. Each kick held power, and every strike seemed to
find something. She wasn't sure if it was a vulnerable spot or if she was
hitting something else. It really didn't matter. She had been hurt, and
now it was time to hurt back.

Someone was saying something, speaking to her with a soothing voice. He
coaxed her to let it all out, to let the fear and anger play itself out.
Ami complied. When she was empty she looked up at the source of the voice
and wiped away her tears.

There, before her was the young man that had come to their rescue. The
young man from the train station.her knight in Chinese togs? The thought
was so.off that Ami found herself giggling. The giggles became laughter,
and then immediately moved into tears. She threw herself into his strong,
protective arms and wept.

He let her vent, stroking her hair and murmuring soft, unintelligible words.
It was awkward for her after a moment, to be in a complete stranger's arms
like this; awkward, yet so very right. She felt so safe; so safe and warm.
How could it be wrong?

She swallowed nervously and looked up at her hero's handsome face. Then she
swallowed again. She didn't even know his name! She knew nothing about
him, and here she was throwing herself all over him. For all that she knew
he could be like.them. Ami reluctantly looked over at the pile of
unconscious boys and shivered.

"You okay?" He asked uncomfortably.

Ami only nodded once before swallowing a third time. He couldn't be like
them. His voice was soft, and his eyes were nice. Itamu's eyes weren't
nice. Those brown eyes had been filled with lust and the promise of pain.
This boy's eyes were the color of winter clouds; the kind that brought the
first snows. He wouldn't hurt her. Right?

"Good." He relaxed visibly and pushed her out to arm's length again. Ami
watched him examine her from head to toe.

What was he looking at? Ami felt her arms wrap themselves around her body
in a self-conscious hug. Maybe he was like Itamu. Maybe he had been doing
this just to set her at ease. She looked back at Usagi and Mamoru, begging
for them to get her out of this situation. Mamoru, bless him, looked ready
to pounce on the boy; but Usagi was smiling gently at Ami. It was that
reassuring smile that seemed to make everything seem okay.

Maybe Usagi saw something in this boy that Ami didn't. Maybe she was just
being paranoid. She sighed and looked back at the boy, letting her logic
centers work through the problem. He looked safe, he had done everything
right, and there was nothing about him that truly made her uncomfortable.
Ami relaxed and simply stared at the brick wall for a time, trying to
process everything.

The pigtailed boy's hand came up to gently touch her throat, and Ami reacted
instinctively by grabbing his wrist. She looked up at him fearfully, and
they locked gazes for a time.

There was such a casual strength in his arm. She remembered him throwing
Itamu so thoughtlessly, that she knew he could easily do anything he wanted,
anything at all. The thought was terrifying.

He could do anything, but he wasn't. He just waited and watched her.

Ami searched his eyes for anything that might have been put of place, but
saw only deep concern in their stormy gray depths. He was only going to
look at her bruise. She smiled weakly then nodded.

His touch was delicate, yet commanding. Fingers that had so nonchalantly
rent a steel blade now skittered across her throat like a whispering wind.
They were calloused from the abuse that he had put them through, soft enough
that her skin began to heat and prickle beneath his touch. It made her
thankful for the shadowy alley. She knew she must be as red as a tomato.

She watched every subtle motion of his face as he examined her, and finally
focused on his mouth. His lips looked soft, and the way his intense eyes
seemed to envelop her made her knees weak. She tottered unsteadily for a
moment, falling forward again. Her right arm came up immediately, seeking
to support her, and Ami found her hand directly over the boy's heart. The
silk was supple against his sculpted chest, but that wasn't what captivated
her.

It was his heart. It was beating so strong, so fast!

Ami looked up at the young man, and saw that his face was flushed, and that
his breathing was shallow. And his eyes! They were filled with such a need
for someone to love, and someone to love him in return. They were so
lonely, that Ami immediately found herself yearning to fill the void that
she saw there.

Her logic centers exploded, crying out in alarm at the loss of control. The
libido became a mad cheering section.

She numbly felt his strong arms wrap around her protectively, and her head
rested squarely over his heart. The strong, quick, beat resounded in her
ears enchanting her. Time fell away, and a warm, comfortable, rightness
descended on her.

Somewhere in the distance a bell chimed causing Ranma to jerk. It was
enough to snap Ami out of her trance. She blushed and looked up at her
knight, knowing that the dream had just come to an end.

**********

Ranma didn't understand anything that was happening. He just went with the
flow, following his instincts until they told him differently. The bell reminded
him that they were supposed to have guests tonight. His mom was going to
upset if he was late.

Scratch that. He was already late.

"Crap!" He muttered under his breath. He looked at Ami, then at Mamoru.
"I 'm late. Do you think.?" He hated to leave the girl, but he had obligations.
This guy seemed to be her friend, and judging by his entrance, was capable
of protecting her.

Mamoru nodded and Usagi, her eyes full of unshed tears, sniffled. Ranma
looked at her quizzically and shook his head. He didn't understand girls at
all. Nodding his thanks to Mamoru he turned his attention back to Ami.

"You gonna be okay?" She was blushing and looking at her feet, but she
nodded. He wanted to be sure, after all that she had been through, she
might still be out of it.

He tilted his head so that he could see her eyes. You could always tell if
someone was lying or not if you looked in his or her eyes. Nabiki had
taught him that. He smiled at the fact that her face seemed to get redder
under his scrutiny. But she smiled all the same; a smile that was worth a
thousand words.

It wasn't Akane's soft smile, the one that had made his guts turn into
butterflies. It was a smile that warmed him from the inside out. Ranma
wasn't sure what happened in that moment, but he found that the pain of
Akane's death had lost a little bit of its sting.

*********

Ami felt some of that invisible weight that she had noted earlier, start to
lift from the boy's shoulders; and she found herself extremely happy for
him. He stood straight, and drew her face with him. She just couldn't take
her eyes off of those beautiful eyes!

"Look. I'm sorry that I can't walk you home or nothin'." He started to
fidget nervously and scratch the back of his head. "I got this thing with
my mom.and I'm already late and all."

Ami felt embarrassed. She had made him late.

"Please. Go ahead and go we'll be fine. Mamoru-san can walk us home." She
tried to set him at ease but saw his reluctance to leave.

"You sure?"

*No.* Ami bit her lip to keep herself from speaking, and simply nodded.
From somewhere behind her Ami heard Usagi slap her forehead.

The boy looked skeptical, but nodded. He smiled, a gesture that Ami found
terribly roguish, then gave them a half wave. He turned to go, and Ami lost
herself in the graceful way that his body seemed to glide down the alley.

"Wait!" Usagi's voice tore through Ami's fuzzy bliss. "What's your name?"

The boy turned and smiled again.

"Ranma."

Ami watched in amazement as her rescuer jumped straight up, tow full stories
to land comfortably on the roof.

"Ranma Saotome."

Then he vanished from her sight completely.

It took her a full minute to realize that she hadn't thanked him. It took
another two for her to make the connection with his name. She blinked twice
before turning to Usagi and Mamoru. Both were staring after Ranma, amazed
at his casual defiance of gravity.

Usagi's gaze slowly came to rest on Ami, and twin smiles split their faces.
Both screamed giddily at the same time and came together in a hug.

Mamoru was left to scratch his head as the two young women began a
rapid-fire conversation that he was totally excluded from. He could make
out the words "cute" and "Sooo romantic" every now and then, but for the
most part, the conversation was lost on him. He escorted the girls to their
homes, walking casually at Usagi's side. Thoughts of strange boys with
crescent were forgotten as he picked up his earlier problem.

If he could just isolate a certain variable in the test strain, then
everything should fall into place.

********
The Joketsuzoku village

Xian Pu's stony face warded off more than a few of her sisters as she
stormed through the village square. None of them could blame her for the
onerous task of escorting the very personification of bestiality. Had that
been the only insult, they wouldn't have so much as blinked, after all,
everyone was being saddled with a perversion. No, the thing that they
pitied most of all was the fact that Xian Pu had to host this beastman, and
the young pup that the Lord of the Musk insisted on keeping near him.

The purple haired Amazon had come to hate those stares very much over the
last four months. She had come to hate everything about this way of life,
and it's stagnant perfection. Xian Pu had fallen from her pinnacle and her
honor had been tarnished, all because of a wild, weak, man.

Xian Pu had snorted at the thought of anyone calling Ranma weak. Had any of
these petulant Xena-wannabes ever seen true battle, they would weep for
their mothers! They trained their skills, and on occasion had been forced
into a skirmish with the Musk that they so hated; but the majority of her
sisters, old and young had never had to make a true sacrifice.

They had never fallen in love with a man who loved as purely as Ranma
Saotome.

That had been the sticking point with her in the first month back amongst
her sisters. She had been punished for not bringing Ranma into the tribe,
despite her great-grandmother's report on the proceedings. There had been
outright skepticism about Ranma's role in defeating Saffron, which was
understandable. How could a mere human defeat an immortal demigod?

Had Xian Pu not seen it with her own eyes, she would never have believed it.
No matter how good Ranma had been. Had she not seen a mountain sundered by
the same man, she would have even questioned her own eyes. The problem was
that she had seen. She had seen everything: his battle, his victory, his loss, and in
the end his consuming grief. How could she have been expected to compete with that?

The memory of a dead woman is hard enough to battle; the memory of someone's
true love is an impossible campaign to wage. Great grandmother herself
conceded that fact. It was the only reason that Xian Pu had returned to the
village. If she couldn't win, then there was no reason to fight.

Yet, upon her return she had been met with derision, and worse still pity.
Nothing grated more than the sad, sympathetic looks on her sister's faces.
And when they made assumptions about what had happened, or barbed remarks
about her stature as a woman, she could not fight back. That was her
punishment for failure. She could not speak a word about what had happened,
nor could she respond in her defense for a full year.

It was, so she was told, "a lesson in endurance."

In one year she was to be given a chance to redeem herself, either by
claiming Ranma for her husband, or by enduring public dishonor through
ritual defacement or public humiliation. Either way her personal status
would be in question, with or without Ranma. She didn't know whether to
hate him, or love him still.

"I am sorry for becoming your burden." Herb's quiet voice somehow snaked
its way into her ears.

"Don't be." She replied gruffly. "You're not to blame for their close
mindedness and stupidity."

Herb remained silent for a time, mulling over this unexpected response.
Pepper walked at his master's side, taking three steps to Herb's every one.

"You are not like the others." His statement was both a compliment and a
barb in Xian Pu's side.

"I guess not." She said stiffly. Three months of bitterness became clear
in an instant. She was happy not to be like these narrow-minded bigots, but
at the same time, she wasn't sure what she was any more. If her sisters were
Amazons, and she was not like them, then she was no longer an Amazon.

So what did that make her?

That was a problem for another time, so she decided to change the subject.

"You are not what I remember, Herb of the Musk."

It was Herb's turn to become introspective. He didn't remember meeting Xian
Pu before today; the one named Mu Tsu and Elder Khu Lon yes, but Xian
Pu...he couldn't remember. He opened his mouth to say so, but remembered a
rather indignant young woman being carried away by Mint. He smiled at the
memory and shook his head.

"We all change." He admitted.

Xian Pu stopped and began to scrutinize the man, uncertain of his meaning.
His pointy ears, cat eyes, and light purple hair coloring were at odds with
the strong, masculine body and the massive amount of Chi that he projected.
He was so very like Ranma in many ways: an excellent fighter, cursed from
the same pool at Jusenkyo, and both carrying the guilt of their mortality.
Xian Pu could easily see the weight of failure that rested behind his eyes,
yet unlike Ranma, the man moved on. Not for himself, but for those that
depended on him.

"You have changed as well." His voice shook her from her thoughts. She
raised an eyebrow before turning on her heel and starting off again.

"Oh? How so?"

Herb pondered his response as they neared Xian Pu's home. How could he word
this so as to not offend her? Pepper, not really paying attention to the direction of
the conversation paused to pick a small yellow flower from someone's garden.
Herb plucked the flower from Pepper's hands and motioned for him not to pick
any more. They were in enough trouble as it was. The flower gave him an idea though.

"When last I saw you, you were a flower newly opened to the sun. But now, you are
a woman fully bloomed."

Xian Pu stiffened at the sweet words and spun angrily on the man, only to be greeted
by a small flower in full bloom. The sweet smell tickled her nose, and made eased her
anger some.

"Peace Xian Pu." Herb's voice was calm and even. "I have found it best to
speak plainly and truthfully. You asked and I responded, nothing more was
intended."

Xian Pu wasn't sure how to take that either. Luckily someone made sure that
she didn't have to think about it long. A woman and two men materialized
behind Herb, causing Pepper to immediately draw his small knife.

One of the men seemed amused by this, while the stony faced one slid
carefully into a ready position. Herb and Xian Pu followed suit. The woman
Xian Pu noted with a smile sighed in exasperation and smacked the serious
man in the back of the head; earning her a scathing look from the stony
faced man.

"Be at ease little cousin." She soothed. "We bring news of danger to your
Lord. May we approach?" She never took her eyes from Pepper, but the
message was clearly directed to Herb. When Pepper looked up at his King,
Herb nodded and motioned the trio forward. Pepper moved slightly in front
of Herb, knife still drawn, and Xian Pu flanked him coiled and ready to move
in an instant.

"Who are you to come upon the Amazon nation unannounced?" Herb admired Xian
Pu's bravado, but prayed that anyone capable of teleportation was also
capable of overlooking her aggressiveness.

"Friends to the Amazons and the Musk, Princess." The woman bowed deeply to
Xian Pu, then turned and repeated her bow to Herb.

"I am no Princess." Xian Pu growled.

The stony faced one smirked and his other companion had the audacity to
chuckle! Something unspoken seemed to pass between the trio, but the woman
kept her smile constrained to her eyes.

"Who can say what the distant past holds?" The woman said mysteriously.
"We all change...some of us more than others, no?" She smirked as she
looked from Herb to Xian Pu then back again.

Herb shivered at the words, but for the life of him, couldn't understand
why. What did this woman know? Why was she here? The stony faced man
stepped forward then, and as if reading Herb's mind answered the king's
unspoken thought.

"The demons that sundered your homeland come Emperor Herb. The Rhakshasa
will not end the Hunt until you, and the last of your people are consumed."

The woman hit her companion hard in the shoulder, causing him to rub his
sore arm for a long time afterwards. Herb hardly noticed. All that he saw
was the enemy falling upon them and wiping them both out.

He scooped Pepper into his arms and started running back to the Hall of
Matriarchs. Xian Pu took off after him, pausing only once to look back over
her shoulder to see if the trio was following them. Somehow, she wasn't
surprised to see that no one remained on the path.

************
Saotome Home
Juuban

Nodoka was appalled and elated at what she heard over the telephone.
Ami-chan and her friend being attacked in broad daylight was horrible, but
Ranma saving her.. How could Nodoka not be proud of that?

"Are you sure it was him?" Yuriko gave a perfect description of her son,
down to the colored trim on his shirt. There was no doubt that it was
Ranma.

"Will you still be coming over tonight?" Nodoka was somewhat disappointed
that Yuriko declined, but understood the hesitation. Ami-chan had gone
through a horrible ordeal, and it would be best if she stayed home for the
night.

"Tomorrow will be fine Yuriko. I'll tell Ranma. Give Ami-chan a hug from
me." She nodded and smiled. "I'll see you both tomorrow afternoon."
Nodoka hung up the phone and leaned back against the wall. How was she
supposed to convince him to go to school now? Without Yuriko there to
weight the discussion, Nodoka feared that Ranma would brush her off again.

"Tadaima!"

Ranma's voice resounded throughout the house, and Nodoka couldn't help but
hug herself. How long had she dreamed of hearing those very words? Tears
of happiness rolled down her cheeks, and she made no move to stop them. She
tracked Ranma's progress, as he searched for her, but Nodoka couldn't bring
herself to call out to him.

She lost track of him for a moment, and she strained to catch the slightest
creek that might give him away.

"Mom?" Ranma's concerned voice made her jump and yelp in surprise. She
couldn't help but laugh happily at his concern, and the silliness of being
caught unaware. "You okay Mom?"

Nodoka threw her arms around her son and hugged him in a bone-crushing
embrace. "You are such a good son!"

Ranma grunted, and smiled at her enthusiastic reception. He wasn't sure
that he agreed with her. He had a lot to atone for; first and foremost was
his absence from her life, then there were the lies, and the heartache that
they had caused. Ranma's mind went through all of his sins against the
woman that had given him life, and felt about an inch tall. His heart felt
like it would break beneath the weight of all that guilt.

He had to make amends some how. He had to make it all up to her.

"Sorry I'm late. I ran into some jerks picking on a pair of girls." He had
the air driven from his lungs as Nodoka squeezed him again even harder this
time. Grunted again, but this time at the sudden need for air. Nodoka
relented, but only grudgingly; the smile never left her face.

Which made Ranma's chest hurt. How could he have ever doubted this woman's
love? Stupid old man! Nodoka must have felt the turn of his thoughts,
because she released him and stepped away, smoothing his silk shirt as she
went.

"Our guests won't be coming tonight, but dinner's almost ready. Go ahead
wash up while I set the table." She turned to go, but Ranma caught up her
hand before she could get far.

"Uhm, I've been thinkin' a lot.you know about what you said this mornin'..."
He looked at his feet for a moment and scratched the back of his head before
continuing. "...about going to school and all..."

Nodoka's heart leapt.

"Well, you've been alone for so long and I got no where else ta be and all,
not to mention that it wouldn't be right for me to stay here and not go to
school. I mean, who wants a drop out Ronin for a son?"

Tears started to well in Nodoka's eyes again, causing Ranma to panic. What
had he said? He had screwed up somehow. He cast back over his words and
settled on the only thing that he could think of that might hurt his mother'
s feelings.

...who wants a drop out Ronin for a son...

He watched Nodoka lower her head, apparently to hide her shame.

Was that how she saw him, a drop out and a quitter? No way!

"I'm gonna make you proud of me Mom." Desperate passion welled in his
voice. He wouldn't lose this fight; he wouldn't!

"You'll see! I'll go to school and make you proud!" He kissed her forehead
awkwardly and took off up the stairs, unable to look her in the eyes. After
all the lies and pain that he had caused her, he just couldn't stand the
thought of seeing that disappointment staring back at him. He didn't know
how he was going to pull it off, but he was going to keep his promise.

Nodoka followed his path and shook her head in confusion. Her throat
clenched as she heard his door open and close, followed closely by a chair
being pulled out.

"But Ranma. You've already made me proud." She watched the stairs for a
long time before going into the kitchen. She fixed herself a small dinner
and a traditionally proportioned Saotome dinner, before putting the rest
away for later. Somehow, she didn't think that Ranma would down anytime
soon.

Nodoka sighed and settled into the familiar routine of eating alone at the
kitchen table. She would take his dinner up in a bit. Best to let him do
what he thought was necessary. Besides, it wasn't like they wouldn't have
more time in the future.

************

End Part Three

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