Progeny
By Jeffrey Vasquez

Disclaimer:

The characters of Ranma ½ and Sailor Moon are the express property of their
respective creators, or whomever is currently holding their leases. I don't
own them, but I'm practicing for when I do.

The rest belong to me.

Author's note:

Some of the early parts of this chapter will overlap, time-wise, with events
from last chapter. Things are pretty much linear, so there shouldn't be too
many loopiness.

What has gone before:

Ranma saves Ami and Usagi from a terrible fate, and briefly meets Mamoru.
Ami and Ranma have their second close encounter, and Ami learns her
benefactor's name thanks to Usagi's quick thinking (isn't that like, a
Paradox?). Nabiki remembers something from her previous life, and wishes
that she hadn't. Mother sends her on a mission to find Ranma. Xian Pu and
Herb mingled, and Tsuru's group gives the warriors their warning. Ranma
makes the decision to return to school, to prove to his mother that he can
be reliable.

Let the show begin!

Chapter Four:

**********
The Palace of Seven Clouded Heavens
China
Tuesday afternoon

Ahbrim Ur walked through the halls of his new palace, clothed only in a pair
of black silk pants and a set of black cloth slippers that made no sound as
he moved. Intricate tattoos of a spidery, serpentine design, decorated his
body; moving subtly with the motion of his strong muscles.

His newly won freedom was wonderful, but the true majesty that he felt
sprung from the well of power that was his once again. It was a heady
experience that he tried desperately to control. Yet, the thought of the
sense-deprived imprisonment that he had been subjected to, reminded him for
the need of self-discipline.

How many millennia had he been cut off, while locked away in Serenity's
damnable prison?

He'd long ago lost count.

During the first thousand years, his psyche had crumbled underneath the
passage of time. He had been stretched thing and folded over and over
again. He had thrown his spirit out into the void and reduced himself to
the very components of his being. He had seen his pride, and all of his
mistakes. He had seen his folly and embraced his sins, and then transcended
them all. He had been hammered in a cosmic crucible, and shaped into the
entity that he was today.

Ur no longer saw himself as a man, but as a step above men. Evolved human?
No. There was nothing scientific about his metamorphosis. He had been
forced to become the chrysalis, thanks to Serenity's bruised pride. It was
Ur who had changed. It was Ur that had endured. He had enough humility to
understand that he was not a god, but he could concede that he was one step
below divinity. After all, hadn't he humbled and leashed the Rhakshasa?

His shattered soul still howled at the memory of watching young mountains
grow old. But, that fiery furnace was behind him now. The dross had been
burned away, and he was free to walk the earth again. He was free, and only
two things interested him: Reclamation of all that he had lost, and the
creation of the perfect world. Anything else had been ground away by time's
maddening snail's pace.

He inspected his newly acquired palace critically. The foundation was
sound, and the location was naturally defensible. All in all, he was very
impressed with the former Musk stronghold. The Emperor of this rather
hedonistic race had fought well, but not so well as his son. Herb had
acquitted himself in the fashion of a true ruler; saving what he could, and
destroying what could not be taken with him. Ur admired that, and prayed
for the day that he might meet with the young mongrel king again.

The only distaste that the palace held for Ur was the lingering taint of
dragons. It was rife throughout the place, and Ur wondered idly what it
would take to cleanse it. Ever since the beasts had supported Serenity, all
but deifying her, Ur had come to loathe the beasts.

He would have to have the place scoured, to sanitize his new home. The
lesser Rhakshasa had already been set the task of securing the place for
habitation; searching out stragglers and suicide squads, and sealing up the
lower levels of the main palace. He just hoped that they left enough of the
rabble to serve their needs. If not, then they would be set the task of
acquiring a new Palace staff; otherwise they would serve in that capacity
themselves. Ur could already think of a few of the demons that would fit
that bill nicely. The smile on his handsome face was anything but pleasant.

It was a good beginning.

Only a handful of casualties had been suffered in the assault, and for the
most part, they had driven former the inhabitants into exile. They wouldn't
get far, and the few warnings that they spread would do the inhabitants of
Terra no good. He was awake now, and this world was his. It was his
birthright, and no one would keep it from him; not these pathetic shadows
that called themselves humanity, nor even his vaulted Queen.

He could feel the power of the Ginzuisho to the southeast, and knew that
there was only one person that could use it. Serenity, or at best one of
her descendants, would eventually stand against him. It was an inevitable
confrontation that he looked forward to. He would, of course, bless her
with the same opportunity to enlighten herself that she had given him. And
if she survived, then he would entertain the thought of taking her as his
consort. He had already felt Mars tickling about, blindly searching for
him. It was a surprise that she had been the one to dig for him. Neptune
had always been the nosey one.

Times changed, and people changed. Change itself was the only constant.
So, it came as little surprise that she wasn't as strong as he remembered,
nor as adept with her element as she once had been.

Old age, or inexperience was at work here, and Ur was bound and determined
to exploit the weakness, whichever the case. The old order was about to
fall, and a new, brighter future was destined to be reborn.

It was time for him to look into what other changes that this world had
endured. After all, knowledge was power, and he needed all the power that
he could get to reclaim what he had lost.
With a snap of his fingers, eight shapes materialized from the shadows.

"Reconnaissance and stealth are your goals. I want information on the
status of the world at large; technology, political powers, everything. You
are to find the Senshi and watch them." He paused and looked to one of his
minions. "They are to remain untouched until I call for their heads."

Ur turned to the leader of his forces and addressed him specifically.

"Set them to task Indra, then prepare your assault on Mount Phoenix.
Saffron yet lives, as do his people.I want them removed." He waited for a
moment before motioning a dismissal with his hand. The figures bowed in
unison and then silently disappeared into the shadows.

Ur calmly walked out onto a balcony over looking the valley, and smiled
lovingly at the land around him.

"Soon, you will be mine again. And I will dress you in Eden's glory anew.
Serenity and her brood will kneel before me, and forsake their arrogance. I
will heal what she tore asunder, and there will be peace again." He did not
laugh, nor did he boast. He simply continued to walk, laying plans and
weighing his resources.

*********
Joketzusoku
Tuesday afternoon

Xian Pu stood with her back to her great-grandmother, her bonbori held in a
guard position. The door that stood before her was blasted and singed
horribly, but the building itself was one of the few that had remained
intact during the assault. The strangers' warning had given them almost an
hour to prepare, but even still, it was obvious that they were outgunned
here.

Herb and Pepper flanked Xian Pu, guarding the right and left quarters.
Several other Amazons bordered their family's Matriarch as well, guarding
their leaders as they gathered and distributed the various magical artifacts
and treasures amongst each other. They worked quickly and silently out of
necessity. Old feuds were buried, and a true sisterhood had been attained
in their hour of need.

The young, purple haired Amazon watched the doorway that led out into the
chaos that was the night warily, waiting for the monsters to attack. The
fires that consumed her village were mirrored in her angry eyes; tears, made
silent tracks down her beautiful soot stained face. Herb was touched at the
emotion that he had been unable to show when his kingdom had fallen.

One day, spent mostly in an unending debate, and disaster had struck. Khu
Lon wanted to spit. She knew these enemies, or at least was more familiar
with them than any one else, and understood enough about their power to
retreat and fight another day.

When the scout parties ran across the advanced patrol of the Rhakshasa, they
did the most intelligent thing that they could think of. They ran. Their
warning had signaled the exodus that would scatter the Amazon nation to the
four corners of the globe. Khu Lon hated it when history repeated itself.
Still, all of the children and most of the elderly had departed before the
first wave struck.

Wave. Khu Lon snorted in derision. It had been the advanced scout party.
Only three of the creatures had followed their prey back to the village, and
Khu Lon had no doubt that there were more in the wings! Why send a
battalion when the enemy is untested? Better to hold their forces in
reserve, in the off hand that it would be needed later.

By the Goddess! The enemy not only showed intelligence, but also had power
to spare! She and Herb had dealt with one each, but the third had killed
twenty warriors and wounded four other elders before it had been finally
brought low.

Khu Lon's opponent had pushed the Matriarch to her limits, and beyond, and
she still barely overcame it. Her right arm was broken in three places, and
she had sprained an ankle. The indignity of having to be carried by Xian Pu
's father was almost too much to bear.

Herb for his part, looked fresh, but Khu Lon could tell he was tired. The
last two days had left their mark on the boy, and it had shown in the
battle. He had lost control of himself early on and gone berserk. The
collateral damage that his power had caused equaled that of the Rhakshasa.
She shook her head. So much rage, and so little control. If they got out
of this alive, she would have to see if she could remedy that.

So many "ifs." Khu Lon shook her head and resumed her gathering. Khu Lor
and Lo Xion had finished their packing and prepared themselves to depart.

"We will travel to Phoenix Mountain, Matriarch." Lo Xion said quietly. "We
will do our best to negotiate a truce and secure a place for our people
there."

"Do not bother." Every head with the exception of Xian Pu, turned to their
Matriarch in shock.

"I pray to the Goddess that you are joking Khu Lon." Lo Xion eyed her
leader and rival with open disbelief.

"I wish that I were Lo Xion. I wish that I were." Cologne placed the last
treasure in a satchel before handing it off to Shampoo. "Saffron is an
infant, and while the people of Phoenix Mountain are great warriors; it is
inevitable that their mighty realm will fall to the Rhakshasa."

"How can you be so sure?" Khu Lor asked skeptically.

"Because, you foolish old crone!" Cologne snapped. "In less than two days
time, two of the most formidable kingdoms that this world has ever known
fell before the might of the beasts! What makes you think that one mountain
will ward them away!" Khu Lor held in her rage. Khu Lon was right of
course, but she didn't have to like it.

"The Rhakshasa will eat Phoenix Mountain alive, and then turn its voracious
appetite to the rest of the world. We were the first line of defense
against them, and they brushed us aside like paper dolls." She looked at
each person huddled in the room directly in the eye, weighing and measuring
them each in turn. When she was satisfied, she handed the two elders a set
of scrolls.

"We have no time for bickering." She pointed to Ban Dait, the leader of the
scouting parties. "You will send ten of our nation's fastest runners to
Mount Phoenix, along different routes. They are to contact Kiima, Saffron's
seneschal and report of the events that have transpired. They will then
rendezvous with one of our groups as soon as they are able."

"Groups?" Khu Lor queried.

"Yes. We will scatter our forces and gather them anew as quickly as
possible. The refugees will continue their journey to Brazil, and the other
Amazon holdings. It will make it harder for the Rhakshasa to hunt us, and
at best we will have the opportunity to gather the necessary resources to
reclaim our home land." Both elders nodded at the strategy. "At worst, a
remnant will be saved, and our people will not be forgotten. The scrolls
contain instructions and the location of our chief encampment. Memorize
them and destroy them before you leave."

The wizened women nodded and glanced over the maps that they were given.
When their perusal was complete, and the information committed to memory,
each ignited their map with their Ki. Khu Lon was not quick enough to stop
them, and turned her worried gaze to the doorway.

"Fools! You have killed us!" She hissed.

Xian Pu smiled grimly as a single shape detached itself from the shadows of
a building and loped toward them. She loosened her sword in its scabbard,
and set herself to break the thing's charge. The time had come for a little
more payback for her sisters deaths; an action that Xian Pu was all too
eager to perform.

Khu Lon's throat clenched as she glimpsed the beast for the first time. It
was clearly twice as big as the scouts that they had dispatched earlier, and
the power that she felt rolling off it easily tripled what they had faced
before. She wondered just how many of these things were waiting for them in
he shadows of the forest.

For the first time in over a century, Khu Lon, Matriarch of the Amazons,
felt terror grip her. A sharp pain crashed into her from behind, followed by
an inhuman scream. The last thing that she saw before the blackness of
unconsciousness took her, was the sight of her beloved granddaughter shoving
her sword to its hilt through the beast's head.

*********
Hikawa Jinja

 

Rei had spent the entire day worrying about what her Grandfather knew and
didn't know. So much so, that three different teachers had pulled her aside
to speak to her. She had begged out of each confrontation, and afterwards
decided that she was going to have to confront her grandfather. She needed
to know the truth, and that meant she was going to be breaking one of Luna's
biggest rules. But if Grandpa already knew her secret, it wasn't like she
was telling him.right?

By the time that she had gotten back to the shrine, both Grandpa and
Yuichiro were gone. The note said that he was going to introduce his
apprentice to "the wonders of nature." Rei had found the advertisement for
the hot springs stuffed in one of Grandpa's pockets soon after reading the
note.

She sighed and absently pulled her hair behind one ear. The idea of being
here alone was creepy, but a part of her was relieved that she didn't have
to confront the old man. Maybe she could call Makoto and spend the weekend
with her. It would leave the shrine untended, which automatically shot that
idea down. Maybe Makoto would come and stay with her?

It was worth a shot.

Rei entered the kitchen and immediately picked up the phone to make the
call. She had dialed two numbers when she heard a teacup quietly meet its
saucer. She whirled and threw the receiver at the noise; only to watch as a
long slender hand shot out and plucked the telephone out of the air and set
it down on the table next to her. The elegant, yet aloof woman that sat at
the kitchen table simply stared at Rei through her timeless stare.

"Setsuna! What in the world do you think you're doing? You scare me half
to death!"

"Good. Maybe you've learned a valuable lesson then." The green haired
woman picked up her tea and took a sip. Her casual criticism bit deeply
into Rei's pride. But the serious gaze that Setsuna leveled at Rei showed
more concern than the shrine maiden had ever seen before.

"You should pay more attention to your surroundings Rei. Now more than
ever."

What was that supposed to mean? Setsuna however, didn't seem too
forthcoming with information.as usual.

"Since you don't usually make social visits, I'm assuming that you're here
on business." A flash of pain and loneliness crossed Setsuna's eyes,
causing Rei to blink and wonder if she hadn't imagined the whole thing. She
hadn't meant for her reply to be so caustic, but her nerves were shot and
what little sleep she'd been able to get wasn't very restful.

"A woman is entitled to change now and then." Setsuna said after a moment,
refreshing her tea and pouring Rei a cup. "I came to check on you and to
answer some questions that you will have."

Rei nearly spewed her tea all over the woman before her.

"Who are you and what have you done with the real Setsuna?"

"Cute." The green haired woman deadpanned. She brought her cup to her lips
never taking her eyes off of the shrine maiden across from her. Rei
squirmed a bit under the woman's gaze then picked up her own tea to cover
her agitation.

"Okay, so you're the real deal. This is just so out of character for you,
that it makes it hard to believe."

Setsuna smirked behind her cup. "Maybe that's the whole point." This got
her a raised eyebrow from Rei. "Then again, maybe I'm checking up on a
friend."

Rei's other eyebrow climbed her forehead, and she simply stared at Setsuna
for a very long moment. The woman had always been so distant, but it wasn't
hard to see the weight of loneliness that she tried to hide behind the
veneer of stoicism.

Setsuna shook off the moment of weakness and focused her attention back on
the young woman before her. "So. Tell me about your dreams."

It was Rei's turn to fidget, and look nervous. The look that she gave
Setsuna was fearful and frustrated. It had been more than a dream, but it
galled her that some bozo could make her feel so vulnerable. She was
surprised when Setsuna's hand covered her own.

"It's okay to be afraid of him Rei." Somehow that didn't seem to make Rei
feel any better. "He's the reason that I urged the Queen to institute
capital punishment."

The shrine maiden looked at Setsuna in shock.

"How do you know about.?"

Setsuna waved her hand and smiled gently. "I know a great deal, but somehow
it's never quite enough. That's partly why I'm here I suppose." She paused
looking down at her reflection in her tea.

"I can see potential futures, and what causes them. Some things can be
avoided, while others are self-fulfilling prophecies that don't change, no
matter how many things that you attempt. Take Hitler for example. I looked
for something, anything, to divert the atrocities that he inspired; but in
the end, any course that I would have taken, would have delayed your
revival. Even had I intervened, and averted that tragedy, someone else
would have surely taken his place. There was a man in the United States
that would have made Hitler look like a saint."

Rei's eyes bugged, but she was held captivated by Setsuna's story.

"I learned that there was a measure of suffering that had to occur in order
to bring about the greater good. Hiroshima for example: Without it, the
Japanese would never have been humbled. Their war machine would have
continued forward, and hundreds of millions of lives would have been lost
over the course of a decade. And the rest of the world would have ground
the Japanese under their collective boots. It was a terrible, but necessary
tragedy."

Rei digested this and nodded. She didn't like it, but she could accept it.

"So what does this have to do with me?"

Setsuna shrugged. "The future is a funny thing. It's constrained by so
many different variables, that there are times that I cannot make sense of
what I see." She sighed. "It makes it very hard to prepare any plans."

"And you're going through one of these blind periods now." Rei hoped that
she was wrong, but intuitively knew that she wasn't. When Setsuna nodded,
Rei's heart sank. One of their most valuable assets had just been crippled
in the face of a major enemy.

"It's not so much as a blind period, as a period of information over load.
There are too many variables, and too much potentials for me to guide.
Which was why I was hoping for a more intuitive approach." She weighed Rei
for a moment before draining the rest of her tea.

Rei wasn't sure what she had just heard, but it had sounded a lot like a
request for help. By the way that Setsuna refused to look directly at her,
she knew that she had guessed right. She also had enough sense not to be
smug about this.

"So you need more information, is that it?"

Setsuna shook her head. "If only it were that simple." She swallowed and
set her hands on the tabletop. Rei started to feel her stomach twist in
knots. "I am bound by too much dogma and too many doubts to guide us
through this alone Rei."

Rei's shock meter went through the roof. She knew that she hadn't just
heard what she thought she did.

"You were the first among us to be contacted by Ur. You saw what he and the
army that he leads are capable of, and I believe that you can uncover his
motivations. That is something that I cannot do. I can only see events
unfold, not the impetus that drives them."

Rei nodded. It made sense, but the thought of even looking for this type of
information made her blood run cold.

"You won't be alone in this Rei. I promise." Setsuna's smile was soft,
encouraging, and a bit stiff. "Now tell me about your dreams."

Rei nodded and sighed. Setsuna had a plan it seemed, and the fact that she
was sharing it at all was a sign of just how serious this business was.

"Well, it was kind of weird. Ami was riding this wild horse bare back
through a field of shadows. They were heading towards this giant tree, and
one of the oddest things was, half way through the field, the horse was
wearing a crown." Rei hesitated and looked up at Setsuna, only to find the
woman smiling back at her. She could just see the pieces falling into place
behind the green haired woman's eyes. Rei could just tell that her
"partner" wasn't going to give up the goods any time soon either.

"Go on." The older woman's voice was encouraging, which gave Rei hope that
the Senshi of Time might just let her in on what was going on.

"Well, the horse.." Rei pressed forward, answering Setsuna's questions and
having her own brushed aside without her realizing it. It was a long night,
and the way that Setsuna continued to grill her, Rei knew that she wasn't
going to be getting much sleep.

*********
Juuban
Dusk

With the sun barely hanging above the horizon, a solitary wind blew through
desolate streets in the lower part of the Juuban ward. Somewhere nearby a
dog's barking echoed gauntly, and was soon joined by another.

The desolate mood of the neighborhood would have unnerved Youta Fumikake, if
he hadn't been so drunk. The five shadows that detached themselves from the
walls of the alley would have driven him screaming in any available
direction too, had he been sober. As it was, he could barely lift his head
without the world spiraling hopelessly out of control. The shadows
coalesced into five blurred shapes, yet in his stupor he could tell very
little about them.

In a moment of uncanny clarity, Youta remembered something that his ex-wife
had said. It had been one of the last things that they had said to each
other. One of the larger blurs asked one of the smaller blurs a question.
The smaller blur motioned with one of its hands nonchalantly.

"Youta. Your drinking will be the death of you yet."

He thought it strange that one memory would stand out among the clouded fuzz
of all the rest. But then again, he thought it truly appropriate when the
large figure tore his throat out. He remained conscious only long enough
for the other figures to join in the feast. His last thought was of how
thankful he was that the alcohol had numbed the pain.

*********

Indra looked up from the gored body of the human that they had dined on. It
was an appetizer for what was to come, which made the leader of this
Rhakshasa scout party very hungry. Sadly though, they would have to be
disciplined in how they feasted. Ur had made it quite clear that this was
to be a silent mission, and Indra knew enough about the man's power to be
wary of crossing him.

Indra himself was an impressive figure, standing over six and one half feet
tall. His broad shoulders carried a Siberian tiger's head that looked both
noble and nightmarish to the few humans that had been unfortunate enough to
lay eyes on him.

"Dispose of the remains. Prepare yourselves to leave." His gruff voice
left no room for argument, not that anyone would have been stupid enough to
challenge him.

Agni, a small red-eyed woman smiled intensely. Flames burned where her
teeth should have been. A whip of white flames appeared in her hands, which
she snapped at what remained of the corpse, igniting it. Within moments it
was nothing more than tiny gray ashes floating on a fetid wind. She smiled
seductively at her leader. Hope - or some twisted thing akin to it - lit
her eyes.

Indra took no notice.

"Split up. We look for a base of operations." He looked at each in turn,
holding their gaze until each bowed their heads meekly. "No confrontations,
no killing." He looked directly at the large man to his right. "Is that
understood Marut? Karttikeya?" A set of deferring nods was his only
response. "Good. Return here within an hour's time."

The group melded once again into the shadows, and all was as it had been.

 

*********
Somewhere
Wednesday, Pre-dawn

Nabiki had seen quite a lot in her time, mostly because of a certain martial
artist that had come to live with her and her family. She had been privy to
the machinations of an ancient Amazon tribe, watched feats of martial skill
that should have been impossible, and participated in some of the most
exotic and fantastic adventures that a human could imagine...and that was in
the first few months of Ranma's stay.

To say that she was familiar with legendary figures, and at ease around
powerful characters was a given. She had seen and done things that most
people only dreamed of. So dealing with the likes of Mother and the rest of
the Clan wasn't all that bad. Sure, the had kidnapped her, danced around
her mind without so much as a "how do you do?", and told her that she was
the reincarnation of "The Huntress", Mother's number one daughter.

No problem.

Who the Hell was she kidding? The whole thing was driving her nuts! The
kidnapping she was used to. It had happened enough around here that Nabiki
had long ago worked out what she would do if it happened to her. She hadn't
gotten them to ransom her, nor had Ranma come charging in on his might white
horse, but she had adapted easy enough.

The idea of having telepathy was cool, but having it used on you was creepy,
not to mention down right embarrassing! The thoughts of that
Washi-character were down right hedonistic, and the others weren't all that
chaste either. The only ones that she even remotely could stand were Hato
and Tsubame; they seemed more interested in romantic fluff than "getting it
on" as Washi-san had so politely put it. They reminded her of inexperienced
schoolgirls more than anything else. That Tsuru guy was nothing but doom
and gloom. Every time he spoke, she felt like someone was sharpening the
executioner's axe. She had to suppress shivers just thinking about him.
Then of course there was that other guy.Yoshitsune. Cute as Hell, with a
body to die for, and eyes that made her knees swim; but as stoic and grumpy
as they got.

All in all, things seemed manageable enough; that was, until she had started
remembering her past life. There had been so many images, and feelings, and
losses. Her head still felt like Swiss cheese, and the migraine that she
was fighting wasn't helping things either. Her heart ached at all the faces
that would flitter in and out of focus; remembered one moment and then
forgotten the next. Everything was experienced in a haze, and she was
having troubles sorting out the tangled warren that her mind had become.

She remembered a face that was and was not hers, she remembered discovering
Ranma's note and feeling a deep loss, and she remembered hating that two
timing rat Aramas! Dumping her for that Senshi hussy Isis! Of all the
nerve! Now if only she could remember who in the Hell Isis was, she might
be able to get some dirt on her!

Nabiki groaned and rolled over onto her side. Everything was topsy turvy
for her and no one was there to help get her through it. To make matters
worse, her nose felt stopped up and she was burning up inside.

In spite of her cavalier attitude, this little adventure had pushed her to
her proverbial limits. Normally she would have been very aloof, keeping her
distance and remaining objective, while the world did its best to pummel
Ranma. But it wasn't Ranma that was getting pummeled this time around. Due
to her current position as number one (and only so far as she knew) fiancée,
she wasn't sure that she was going to be able to be on the sidelines any
more

Nabiki wasn't all that sure that she wanted to either.

Her head throbbed and she groaned, clutching something to her chest for
comfort. It was warm, and shaggy, just like her old teddy bear.

Teddy.

She imagined the lumpiness of his body and the comfort he would give her
when she was sick. He had that one eye missing, and then there was the
chocolate milk stain that Akane had spilled on him when she was six. You
couldn't really tell, since his fur was brown, but she knew where to look.

>From somewhere beyond her, she heard something. It was mumbled at first, but
seemed to grow more distinct with each passing moment.

"...ik....p...."

She squirmed, and hugged the warm, lumpy, shaggy.thing closer for comfort.
When it tried to wiggle free, she frowned and clutched it tighter.

"Nab... ae... p!" That was odd, it sounded like Kasumi. But why was Kasumi
visiting Mother's grove? Nabiki stated to work through that puzzle, when a
ghostly memory of her older sister riding a dragon distracted her. Since
when had Kasumi stared hanging out with dragons? Didn't she know that they
were really stuck up? She'd have to have a talk with her big sister later,
and warn her. The last thing that Kasumi needed right now was that type of
reputation. The image of Kasumi dating a dragon wasn't proper at all. Now
the image of Nabiki dating Yoshitsune wasn't a bad thing. She wondered if
Ranma wouldn't mind sharing her.

"Nabiki! Stop that this instant!" Kasumi's stern voice finally roused her
sister from the depths of her dream.

********

Kasumi tugged at the poor young man still clutched to Nabiki's bosom, and
was amazed at how strong her little sister had become. The young woman
behind her snickered and sent yet another improper image of Nabiki, Ranma,
and poor Mr. Yoshitsune doing something that they really shouldn't have been
doing.

The scene that followed was even worse. Poor Kasumi couldn't take it any
more.

"Nabiki! Stop that this instant!"

"Kasumi?" The eldest Tendo shook her head, and finally let go of Yoshitsune'
s arm. "What are you doing here?"

"Don't be silly Nabiki. I live here!" Kasumi grew very concerned fore her
younger sister. First she had found that Nabiki hadn't returned home the
night before, and then she found all of these people in her bedroom. "Now,
if you would please release Mr. Yoshitsune, I would really like an
explanation."

"Where am I?" The question was definitely out of character for Nabiki, which
worried Kasumi all the more.

"You're home Nabiki. You arrived early this morning with your guests."
Kasumi had never before witnessed the miracle of Nabiki coming fully awake
in such a short period of time. But she refused to release her hold on her
captive. Poor Mr. Yoshitsune was bent nearly in half as Nabiki sat upright.

The poor man had every right to groan in Kasumi's opinion. To think that
her little sister was treating a guest in such a scandalous and insensitive
manner!

The groan must have pushed through Nabiki's disorientation. Kasumi watched
her gaze slowly fall, to where she had poor Mr. Yoshitsune's face pressed
firmly between her breasts. Kasumi watched the interplay with some
curiosity, but was surprised that the man's eyes narrowed.

"You were projecting." He mumbled clearly enough for everyone in the room
to hear, and Nabiki's face drained of color.

The one that had introduced herself as Hato-chan, tried very hard not to
snicker, but failed miserably. Her friend, Tsubame, had a very distant,
shocked expression plastered to her flushed face. From somewhere in the
house, Kasumi hear Mr. Washi laughing and banging his fist against something
wooden; the floor or table perhaps. Nabiki blinked twice, then looked from
Kasumi to the man in her arms.

"Do you mind." His voice was muffled in the soft silk of Nabiki's silky
green pajama top.

Washi's laughter howled, and poor Ms. Tsubame seemed to be breathing rather
hard. Hato-chan's own laughter broke free of its dam and filled the room;
although Kasumi couldn't see what the joke was.

"Really Nabiki! I don't think it's fair of you to play with such a nice
young man's feelings like this." Hato-chan's laughter drifted to a halt,
and Tsubame turned her head towards Kasumi blankly. "Here you are engaged
to Ranma, and leading this young man on! I am very disappointed. Ranma
will be crushed!"

Yoshitsune went flying across the room, to crash into the wall.

"You're engaged to Aramas Drumheller!" Hato-chan looked pole-axed. The
brunette's long hair seemed to 'toing' out in every direction, revealing a
set of elfin ears.

"Oh! How fickle the Huntress is!" Tsubame lamented. Her silky blonde
braids swished backs and forth as she shook her head in disappointment.

Yoshitsune groaned from where he had slumped; his poor body little more than
a heap of stunned flesh. Nabiki sprang to her feet and grabbed Kasumi's
shoulders.

"It's not what it looks like! Really!" Her eyes were huge with panic.

Kasumi shook her head. "Really Nabiki, just because Ranma had a harem,
doesn't mean that you should too." She frowned ever so slightly. "You're
all that he has left now."

Nabiki was about to protest further, when she caught a glimpse of herself in
the mirror; long tapered ears, the kind that the elves from "Record of
Lodoss War" had, climbed out from underneath her hair.

She blinked and fingered them.

Kasumi sighed and shook her head, then gathered the laundry that she had
come for and left.

Tsubame continued to lament the indecisive heart of her idol.

Hato-chan kept shaking her head, mumbling something about "Never thought she
'd actually catch him." before sitting down.on top of Yoshitsune.

Yoshitsune groaned, and Washi continued to laugh.

The house seemed more alive than it had since Akane's death; more so when
Nabiki's window shattering scream woke the rest of the neighborhood.

********
A Dream....

He floated in a black morass, drifting aimlessly from one jumbled set of
memories to another.
Each scene was his, and yet not. He remembered everything associated with
the experiences, but knew that he hadn't lived them.

At least not in this life.

Those words echoed in his mind as he fought to make sense of what he saw
around him. Images and scenes that were familiar... and yet entirely foreign
at the same time flashed before him, settling into something more solid, for
a lack of a better term. He was back at the Tendos', sitting on the roof
looking out at an ocean sunset.

**Since when did the Tendos own a beach house?** The thought evaporated like
so much fog, as he felt someone shift in his arms. That was odd. He'd
never let anyone get this close to him.

It was too "mushy" for a tough guy like him. It wasn't like the closeness of
the feminine body next to him made Ranma nervous or anything. He never got
nervous except where cats were concerned of course. Ranma looked down and
was pleasantly surprised to see a head of blue-black hair nestled against
his chest.

"How long will you be away?" A quiet voice asked.

"Not long. Two days at most."

He couldn't connect the tone and pitch of that soft whisper to a face, but
an image of a vast library filled his mind's eye. He remembered shelves;
towering thirty foot shelves, that dominated the vision, and were topped by
a second level of stacks that rose another thirty feet in the air. A part of
his mind named the place as his mother's library. And in an isolated corner
next to a window, a young woman with short dark hair was curled up on a
bench, reading in the golden light of the afternoon.

But Nodoka had never owned anything like this. Ever. The young woman
looked up and he could almost make out her smile. A smile that he would die
for a thousand times over.

**She was always so cute when she smiled.**

The image faded and was replaced by a dojo; a mad conglomeration of marble
pillars and the humble mats of the Tendo training hall. Somewhere behind
him, the soft shuffling of feet played across the room, punctuated every so
often by the sharp rustling of cloth or a powerful kiai. He loved the feel
of the place. There was something about the sweat stained wood floor and the
vaulting marble arches that whispered "perfection" into his soul. The smell
of activity was heavy in the air, causing Ranma to want to move. The call
was so great, that he buckled and began flowing through a complex kata that
he had never before practiced; but remembered performing a thousand times.
A flurry of punches flowed into a majestic reversed crescent kick. Each move
was performed with a perfection that he had only dreamed of.

**A dream. That's what this is.** his mind rationalized. Yet the familiarity
of the images couldn't be denied. He continued to move unconsciously,
flowing from one powerful form to another; knowing without a doubt that he
had never learned the moves from Genma. Confusion tugged at him as he
executed a complex, aerial kick combo, and rolled midway through the
maneuver into a blazing set of punches that made his Amaguriken technique
look slow and weak. Power roared through his limbs, and he could hear the
Song of the Earth coursing through his veins.

It was beautiful.

A new form grew from the old when Ranma noticed that the room had become
filled with mirrors. Hundreds of reflections stared back at him as he moved
through the kata. Many looked like him but he knew, that on some fundamental
level they were different. That one had a scar on his chin. This one wore
glasses and carried a stack of books. Those two had a positively evil look
about them. While the guy to his right wore a black uniform with some
military insignia stitched in silver thread at the throat of his jacket.
They were all Ranma... but not.

"What the hell's goin' on here?"

His kata slowed to a halt as more and more mirrors made themselves known.
They seemed to go on forever. A mist rose from the floor, carpeting
everything within the scope of his vision, in a white fog from the knees
down. The mirrors stared back at him, watching him mutely as he struggled to
make sense of the images.

"Answer me damnit! What do you want from me?"

"I want you to remember."

Ranma turned at the sound of his own voice, to gape at the black
uniformed...Ranma, as he stepped from a mirror.

"I want you to remember who you really are." The black clad figure wore a
tired, but mischievous smile as he circled his twin. Ranma slid easily into
a loose defensive stance, ready to take what ever this shadow had to offer.

"Oh, please Ranma!" The black clothed figure groused. "Don't be an idiot!
I'm you. Do you really expect to fight yourself?"

"You ain't me, man! I'm me!" Ranma growled, hoping that he had said that
right. There was nothing worse than looking like a fool in front of an
opponent.

The other figure halted directly in front of his twin, and shook his head.
In mild annoyance.

"By Saturn's rings! You really like to make things difficult on yourself,
don't you?" Ranma shrugged in a very noncommittal fashion. "Fine. Whatever."
The other said with a wave of his hand. "If you want to make this harder on
yourself, I'm game. Just know that it could have been a whole lot easier."

Ranma wisely kept his mouth shut, waiting for the other to continue. "I'm
Aramas Drumheller. First Lieutenant of the Queen's Royal Guard, and knight
protector of the crown princess Serenity." Ranma's eyes widened with
recognition as memories started to flood his mind.

"Who the hell are you?" His trembling finger stabbed at Aramas' broad chest.

"I just told you." Aramas sighed exasperated.

"That's not what I meant damnit!"

"Then," Aramas rolled his eyes in long suffering. ".Might I suggest, that
you say exactly what you mean? It will save you considerable grief from the
opposite sex. Besides, I don't like the reputation that you're giving us."

The young martial artist shook his head in denial. This was starting to get
on his nerves. "Would you cut that out!"

"What?" his black clothed twin asked with a smirk.

"All this 'you-being-me-being-you' crap!" Ranma had to pause a moment to be
sure that everything had come out correctly. He hated conversations like
this. They were so confusing.

"You should listen to him you know." Ranma's body stiffened at the sound of
that beautiful voice. "...Akane?" He turned towards the sound; pain and
longing to hold her filled him. She rose from the mist, clad in a white gown
that shimmered in the half-light. He never understood how he could have
called her uncute.

"You really should hear him out Ranma." Another voice filled his heart,
sending conflicting emotions surging through him. He couldn't describe the
peace and joy that he felt at hearing the new voice. It was like being
reunited with Akane, more intense.

If that was even possible.

He turned, unsure of what sight would greet him, to see another woman rise
from the mist. She wore a gauzy white dress that glowed like gossamer
around her. Her hair was short, crowned with a band of gold that was
fashioned to resemble a hooded cobra. She had black kohl lining her eyes,
making her look exotic.

The two could have been sisters for the resemblance that they shared.

And he knew her. He couldn't say how, but he did. It was one of them Déjà
vu thingies that Akane used to talk about all the time.

"Who are you?"

"Isis."

Ranma felt very uncomfortable, as if the act of even looking at this
beautiful woman was a sin. He tried to look away, to find Akane again, but
everywhere that he looked, Isis was there, walking towards him. He tried
not to feel anything, but something in his heart would not be denied.

She came up behind him, and gently wrapped her arms around his waist. It
felt so familiar, so real, that he could almost smell her jasmine perfume.
How did he know that she wore jasmine perfume? Her hands snaked up his
chest to rest perfectly over his heart.

"Or at least the memory of Isis." she whispered playfully in Ranma's ear.

"Isis..." he repeated. Images started to surface around him, something
about a library and sitting by a window.. The feeling of peaceful moments
passing filled him.

Isis rested her chin on his shoulder and watched Akane from afar as the
young woman mimicked her action with Aramas.

Ranma's eyes slowly opened and he flinched at the perceived betrayal, and
his own roaring guilt.

"I've never seen you smile like that Ranma." Akane said from where she held
Ranma's twin.

"It's too soon for this." Aramas said, dejectedly shaking his head. "He's
not ready to accept...."

"Don't worry." Isis nuzzled Ranma's neck in a familiar way. Memories of
Isis cuddling up to him...no that other him.Aramas, in the same manner,
flittered through his head like a swarm of bees. "He will."

The martial artist shrugged free of the woman's arms and backed away from
the group, keeping them all in his line of vision.

"Like HELL I will!"

Aramas tossed his hands, and shot an "I-told-you-so" look in Isis'
direction. Isis, for her part, simply crossed her arms in a way that Ranma
remembered meant big trouble for him...er...Aramas.

Damn this was messed up! He sought out Akane, to see her mirroring Isis
perfectly. She shook her head in disappointment. Her eyes were filled with
a mixture of worry and impatience; and he thought that he heard her mumble
something.... 'Baka'. As she faded into a sudden brightness that enveloped
everyone, including him. Ranma reached out for her longingly.

********
Mount Phoenix

Indra materialized in the shadows of a deep cavern. All about him, his
brethren and sisters, his legion waited. Ur had given him fine warriors,
and with good reason; they faced the Phoenix Lord, the Immortal King. If
half of them survived, Indra would consider them lucky. He had faced
Saffron before, and had nearly been killed in the battle. Those that had
gone with him hadn't returned.

But that was a long time ago, and Indra was no longer the pup that he had
been.

"Savitri, Surya..." Two horse headed Rhakshasa stood from the group, one
white and one gray.

"Ansa, Aryman, Bhaga." More creatures stood and walked forward. "Take your
troops and work your way up from the bottom. Purge everything." The
creatures nodded and melted into the shadows. "Daksha, Varuna, Ravi. You
will attack the vaults. Do not tarry. The Dread Lord requires the
artifacts." The second group nodded and vanished.

"Dhatri, Mitra." Indra trailed off searching for the last of his brothers.
His eyes narrowed, and a low, angry growl escaped his throat. He looked to
Mitra, his snake headed brother and snarled.

"Where is Yama?"

"Already on the hunt." Mitra's voice held a duality that even most
Rhashasa found disconcerting, as if two souls were speaking as one. "He
tired of waiting for your return." There was no challenge in Mitra's voice,
just simple fact. The snake headed beast felt that lies and challenges were
for weaker minds. Why lie when the truth hurt more? Why challenge, when
you could just as easily manipulate?

Indra wondered if his brother had set Yama up to this. Either way, it was a
winning scenario for Mitra; if Yama found Saffron first, he would be killed
(of that there was no doubt), but if somehow Indra found Yama first.well,
the ensuing battle between siblings would leave two holes in the
ranks.leaving Mitra fewer steps between himself and leadership of the
Adityas.

"Gather your troops. We hunt the Immortal King."

Indra idly wondered, as he and his faction melted into the shadows, if there
might be a way to direct Mitra against himself in the coming battle.
Accidents were known to happen after all.

********
Satome home
Juuban

Nodoka sighed as she stepped through the door to her home. Ranma came in
quietly behind her, setting their packages down distractedly. The entire
day had been spent replacing old clothes and getting Ranma other necessities
that he would need for school. They had stopped by and had him fitted for a
uniform, much to his dismay. She had to admit that he endured the poking
and prodding stoically, and had only blushed once when the woman measured
his in-seam. They had passed by Juuban High school and inquired after
transferring him from Furinkan. The counselor had smiled knowingly, and
simply scheduled a placement test for Ranma.

Two weeks and the school would know if Ranma was qualified to attend.
Nodoka's son seemed relieved for some reason, and had worn a determined look
all the way to their next stop. It was here that Nodoka started to notice
her son's distraction. He had become so distant that she had bought two
skirts and four sets of girl's underwear for his "other half" without him
even realizing it. He had even picked out the colors! Nodoka was glad that
Yuriko was coming over. She needed a better understanding of what she
should expect from Ranma in the days ahead.

"I'm going to get dinner started Ranma."

Ranma seemed to jerk out of his thoughts. "Oh.uh, need any help?"

Nodoka reached up and felt his forehead. "Are you feeling alright? You're
not coming down with anything are you?"

Ranma smiled softly and set her hands aside. "Just thinkin' mom. That's
all."

"Care to share?" She asked hopefully. The look on his face seemed
perplexed, and she could tell that he really wanted to open up.

"Well.I guess. You won't laugh or think I'm weird will you?"

Nodoka frowned and crossed her arms under her breasts. "Ranma I am your
mother. Mothers' do not think their sons are weird."

"Even when they turn into girls?"

Nodoka chuckled.

"How can I when I have the best of both worlds?" She saw Ranma's face look
skeptical. "Son or Daughter it is the same. You are my child. I gave
birth to you, I changed your diapers, and fed you." Nodoka seemed to lose
herself for a moment in her memories, and so didn't notice the guilt
building behind Ranma's eyes.

"You are a part of me Ranma." She said at last. "A part of my soul." She
grasped her son's hand and held it tight. "How could I ever make fun of the
best part of my own soul?"

Ranma seemed taken back by this. How did you react to something like that?

You couldn't.

So he didn't. He simply smiled and nodded.

"Well, I had this really weird dream.." He told her everything, from the
weird mirror thing down to the whole confrontation between Akane and Isis.
He described in detail the conversations, and the imagery, all the while
helping her prepare the meal. And for Nodoka's part, and to her credit, she
didn't laugh once. Nor did she think of her son as weird.

And for that Ranma was glad.

"What do you think?" He finally asked. He had never talked so much about
personal stuff like this before. Not to his father, or Akane, or even
Kasumi. It was nice to be able to be able to open up without being
interrupted or scoffed at.

His mother was silent for a very long time before she set her stirring spoon
down. She had a ponderous expression on her face, and Ranma was happy that
she was taking this so seriously.

"If I tell you something Ranma," she began, ".will you promise to listen to
everything I have to say, even if it is upsetting?" Ranma wasn't sure he
liked the sound of that, but he nodded anyway.

"While you were gone, with your father, my mother came to me." She picked
up her spoon and began stirring something in a bowl again. "It had been
three years since your father had last written, and I was terribly
depressed. I thought that you were both dead, and so I called my mother and
asked her advice."

Ranma felt his heart ache for the loneliness that he heard in her voice. He
wanted her to stop; not to say anything more, but he forced himself to
listen anyway. He had caused this pain, at least partially. He owed it to
his mother to listen.

"Your grandmother was a beautiful and wise woman. I think that you would
have liked her very much."

Ranma had no trouble believing that in the least.

"She came to me on your eleventh birthday, to help me through the.the."
Ranma cringed, trying to keep the pain hidden, and failing. He was going to
pound Genma flat the next time he saw him. He was going to make the fat old
bloat feel every heartache and every lonely night that his mother had
endured.

Nodoka sighed and continued.

"You have to understand how difficult it was for me then. It had been
almost six years since he had taken you, and in that time I had never once
lost hope of you returning. Then a young girl at the orphanage, who had
recently lost her own parents, asked me if she could come home to live with
me."

Ranma looked up in surprise. "What did you do?"

Nodoka smiled sadly at her son.

"I came home and cried." Shame crashed down on Ranma like a mallet;
flattening his spirit and self worth. Nodoka seemed to realize this and set
her spoon aside. She walked the five paces over to her son and wrapped her
arms around him.

"I want you to understand something before I continue." He couldn't look
her in the eye, so she gently took his face in her hands and forced him to
gaze upon her. "I do not blame you. Not in the least, so don't think that
my telling you this is to make you feel guilty. I blame your father's
pride, and my own stupidity for what happened. Do you understand."

The shame didn't fade completely, but Ranma nodded his head silently.

"Good. Now then, this young girl; I called her Ayame-chan. This young girl
asked to be my daughter; she gave me the opportunity to fill the void in
both of our hearts. But I couldn't take her."

"Why not? It sounds like you liked the kid a lot."

Nodoka sighed and returned to her stirring.

"I loved her Ranma. She was a sweet child, but she could never replace
you." Nodoka hid her face for a moment, pretending to read a recipe.
"Mother said that I should go ahead and adopt her, that you weren't coming
back, and that it was past time to bury the dead."

Ranma winced yet again.

"I threw her out and told her never to come back." Ranma nearly dropped the
plate of fish he had been holding.

"Mom.."

"I couldn't accept it Ranma. I couldn't accept that you and your father
might have been killed." She ran the back of her hand over her eyes, but
didn't stop stirring her pot.

After a moment of silence, Ranma gathered the courage to ask the next
question.

"What ever happened to her?"

Ranma's mother sniffled, then turned to him. "Who? Your Grandmother, or
Ayame-chan?"

He shrugged. "Both, I guess."

"Your Grandmother, bless her, came back the very next day.and the next.and
the next. Her advice never changed, nor did she relent. She said:" Nodoka
puffed herself up and pushed her chin down to touch her chest. When she
spoke again, it was with a very authoritative voice.

"'The dead are meant to be buried, and the living are meant to live. Live
No-chan. Live!'."

Nodoka shrugged, and Ranma looked uncomfortable.

"I went to the director of the Orphanage the next day, and was told that
Ayame-cha had been placed in a home." Nodoka smirked. "She had a temper
that one, and apparently had broken one too many noses." There was a
wistful, dreamy look in her eyes as she remembered the little girl.

When she returned her gaze to Ranma, he looked more distracted than before.
She took the plate from him and set it down; then she picked up his hands in
hers and drew him to sit at the kitchen table.

"Your Grandmother was right Ranma. I should have adopted that little girl.
If I had, then you would have had a sister. If I had, I wouldn't have been
so very lonely all those years. The fact remains, that I didn't, and I
suffered for it."

She patted his hands and smiled.

"The dead are meant to be buried, and the living are meant to live. Live
Ranma. Live!"

Nodoka couldn't tell if she had gotten through or not, but she did at least
expect the seed to be planted. She let him digest it all for a moment,
before returning to making dinner. Their guests would be here soon, and she
hoped that they could have everything ready to go before then.

Ranma simply sat at the table, staring off into space, pondering his mother'
s words.

********
Juuban
Near the Saotome Dojo

"Are you sure this is okay Mizuno-sensei?" Usagi couldn't believe her luck!
Not only was she going to get the chance to try and fix Ami up with a cute
boy, but Ami's mom had all but begged her to come; going so far as to
promise to take Usagi out for ice cream after wards!

Ami had said that her mom had vowed never to do that again!

"Usagi-chan, I wish that you would call me Yuriko." Ami's mother smiled at
the blonde. "You make me feel so old when you call me 'Mizuno-sensei.'
Besides we have a deal. You keep Ami company tonight and help her make this
boy feel comfortable here, and I buy the ice cream."

Ami groaned and tried not think about her mother bribing one of her best
friends.

"Who can withstand that kind of invitation?" Makoto said from her position
on Usagi's left.

Make that two of her best friends.

"Not me!" Usagi chirped, and everyone laughed; everyone that was, except
Ami. She simply walked stiffly in the long, indigo skirt and the clutched
the small "thank you" gift that her mother had forced her to buy, to her
chest. The long sleeved, white blouse was very flattering, and made the
skirt seem darker than it was. Usagi and Makoto couldn't stop talking about
how beautiful she looked, and how she was going to knock the sock off of
Ranma when he saw her.

For some reason, Ami didn't know if that was a good thing or not. She
certainly couldn't stop thinking about the dashing young man, which was
disconcerting. It was just as she had predicted: boys were a distraction
that she didn't need in her life right now.

If this indeed was the same Ranma that had helped them yesterday, then maybe
she could somehow get him interested in Makoto. The thought wasn't very
appealing, but Ami had a future to think about. Yes. Being a doctor
outweighed being lavished with more of a handsome, well-built, young man's
attention. She certainly could do without looking into those soulful gray
eyes, or being subject to his.electric.touches.

Ami sighed and lost herself in the memory of Ranma's touch.

Makoto waved a hand in front of her friend's face and shook her head. Usagi
giggled and Yuriko smiled. Things were going perfectly, and she hadn't
even stepped in yet! This was great!

"You know, I would have come just see if this boy is as cute as Usagi
claims." From the look in Makoto's eyes, Yuriko suddenly felt a little
worried.

********
Mount Phoenix

Kiima ran through the warrens of Mount Phoenix surrounded by five of her
most powerful guard. The mountain was already falling apart from the
inside, and if she didn't get away soon, the young child in her arms wouldn'
t grow to revenge himself on the devils that had all but slaughtered their
people.

Young Saffron had aged four human years since that Saotome boy had left.
Which not only surprised the people of Phoenix Mountain, but also bolstered
their faith in the God-King. It was as if Lord Saffron hungered for another
battle with Ranma Saotome, to revenge himself on the human.

Kiima wondered silently if her Lord had not for seen the disaster that was
now befalling his people, and in a desperate attempt to save them tried to
regain what he had foolishly lost. Whichever the case, Saffron had been the
one to save her little band each time they ran across the Rhakshasa.

The thought of the Devourers loose again in the world terrified her. The
legends had spoken of their banishment long ago, and the memory of the
carnage that they left in their wake seemed very real now that she had seen
the beasts with her own eyes.

She had to get her Lord away from here. Saffron would continue to grow in
power and he would seal these monsters back in the shadows from whence they
came.

"Stop." Kiima looked down at the child in her arms, and noted the intense
look on his cherubic face. She would never get used to the adult voice
coming from that toddler's body. "Stop Kiima." She complied instantly, with
the guard forming up around her in a tight circle.

"Lift me onto your shoulders."

"Yes Lord." She complied with his wish without question. A cold, sick
feeling fell over her; the sensation left her feeling unclean, as if she
hadn't bathed in years.

"I am glad to see you again Saffron." A hideous voice slithered from the
shadows, echoing madly and reeking of evil and violence. Fear gripped her
heart as a hundred pair of shining, green eyes lit up the shadows around
them. "It is good that you remember me Lord Phoenix. Can you remember what
I did the last time I was free?"

The toddler-king made no response; he simply stared into some distant place
and wreathed his small group in protective dome of flames.

There was a collective hiss from the shadows, and the darkness seemed to
recoil a bit. "I see that you do." The smugness in the voice angered Kiima
to the point of action, but Saffron's hand on her cheek halted her. "A pity
that you are not at your full strength. It would have been a monumental
battle." The warriors surrounding Saffron and his seneschal raised their
blades in a protective ring of steel. The men and women knew that their
lives were forfeit, yet they prepared themselves to sell their lives dearly
regardless.

"You are a fool Indra." Kiima couldn't believe the age that had suddenly
entered her monarch's voice.

"Am I now? There is no Serenity to save you this time." The unspoken
promises that hid in the unseen thing's words, combined with one hundred
laughing voices, leached the hope from Kiima's limbs. If she had not had
Saffron with her, she would have crumpled to the floor in despair.

"You are mistaken beast." Saffron smiled viciously into the shadows and
increased the diameter of his flaming circle by another two feet. "The Moon
Kingdom yet lives, as does its Queen, the Ginzishou has sung many times in
the past year." The young king closed his eyes and the flames changed
color, from red and orange to a whitish blue.

The darkness hissed and retreated further.

"I will have your head for a trophy Saffron!" The shadows boiled, vomiting
forth hideously misshapen bodies. Saffron didn't notice. His eyes had
turned south and east of his mountain home, and a small grin deepened his
smile even more.

"Not today, I should think. No Indra, definitely not today." The world
went white and from deep within the granite of the mountain's heart, a
phoenix cried out in rapturous joy.

Right before the mountain itself exploded.

********
Tendo Dojo
Nerima

"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME!?!"

CRASH!

All across Nerima people celebrated and cringed, as a very familiar sound
returned to the neighborhood. Many wondered if Ranma had finally put Akane'
s death behind him. There were ten to one odds that Nabiki would actually
be able to bring some sense of normalcy back to the ghost town that Nerima
had become.

BOOM!

Having seen the level of depression that hung over poor Ranma, many of the
shop owners put down serious money against the prospect of ".insanity ever
returning to the streets of Nerima."

"Ididn'tdoanythingtoyou!"

They cursed themselves for not being more specific with the bet.

"YOU TURNED ME INTO A #^%^#& ELF! HOW DOES THAT QUALIFY AS NOTHING?"

BASH!

"What's wrong with being an elf? I happen to know a lot of really nice
elves."

It was an innocent question, spoken from a sweet, and innocent voice. The
explosion that followed really didn't seem all that necessary at all. But
then again none of the neighbors could see just how much Nabiki had changed.

Hato-chan hid behind Washi who was simply drinking sake straight from the
bottle. Nabiki and Tsubame-chan were running around the yard in a fair
imitation of Ranma and Akane from long ago. Soun hid behind his newspaper,
and Genma hid with him; both where doing their best to ignore the small
craters that Nabiki kept making.

Neither man knew where she was getting the lightning, but it was truly
frightening. They couldn't keep their eyes off of Yoshitsune's smoking body
that was crumpled and twitching in the corner.

"How long has she been at this now?" Hato-chan whispered.

Washi looked at the little clock on the VCR and took another swig. "Eight,
nine hours maybe?"

"She has stamina." Hato-chan shook her head and tiptoed toward the kitchen.
Had she seen the leering grin on Washi's chubby face, she would have been
running.

"Yeah.makes you wonder don't it?" Washi started to daydream, not bothering
to shield his thoughts from everyone in the house. Soun's paper was slowly
shredded, Genma ran to the bathroom, followed closely by Kasumi, Hato-chan,
and Tsubame. Yoshitsune thankfully, was totally oblivious.

Had Washi not been so drunk, he might have noticed the dark shadow slowly
creeping up from behind him. Had he not been so sloshed, he might have felt
the burning cold that seemed to appear out of nowhere.

Soun fearfully crept away from the table and hid himself in the kitchen.

WHAM!

Nabiki stalked away from the comatose form of Washi, growling very much like
a grizzly bear. What the hell was he thinking? Did he think that she
wouldn't hear him with these ears? A trail of foul swearing followed the
young woman as she made her way up to her room. She didn't even realize
that she was cursing in the language of the Fey.

One thing all of the Clan would agree on: their Huntress had returned.with a
vengeance.

********
Near Phoenix Mountain

Ryouga and Mousse ran for their fool lives.

Not for the first, nor the last time, Mousse wondered how they had gotten to
China without crossing a major body of water. They had been going to the
Tendo dojo to say their farewells to Ranma before going their separate ways.

Mousse had the misfortune of walking into a telephone pole and breaking his
last pair of glasses. But his true folly had been to ask Ryouga to help him
find his way to the dojo from there.

They had been traveling for more than a month, through a thick wilderness
that had been both icy cold, and unbearably hot. And not once in all that
time, had Mousse found another pair of glasses....

He often wondered which of his ancestors had cursed him so.

"I thought you said that we were going to be safe!" Ryouga's angry voice
floated back to him. "'Amazons!' you said! 'We can go to Joketsuzoku,' you
said!" The rope that was tied to Mousse's wrist gave a sharp tug as it
snagged on a tree branch.

"Hey! How was I supposed to know that they were running away from the
village?" Something very blunt impacted his head very hard.

"We no run stupid Mans! We on too, too secret mission for Elder Cologne!"
Mousse groaned, not from the blow to his head, but from the ache to his
pride. Out of all the Amazons that he could have been stuck with, why did
it have to be Phau Set?

She had been one of the many girls growing up that he had spurned in his
pursuit of Shampoo, and she was dedicated to making his life miserable for
it.

"'Hell hath no fury...'" he mumbled.

"Shut up, you!" Phau Set's older sister, Xi Fu had a better handle on
languages but no personality to back that gift up. She was pretty in her
own way, but waaay too stuffy and traditional for his tastes.

At least she didn't hit him as much as Phau Set did.

"Because of you two, we never made it to the mountain on time!" Mousse
could feel Ryouga bristle with outrage.

"So? You should be thanking us! We kept you alive from whatever...those
things were didn't we?"

Xi Fu snorted derisively, but held her tongue. She knew that Ryouga was
right, but she didn't have to like it. Who cares if these two weakling
(well maybe not weakling) males had been lucky enough to defeat the
Rhakshasa scout? Luck could carry you only so far before it dumped you flat
on your face.

Truth to tell though, she was thankful. Especially after coming upon
Phoenix Mountain. Mousse was too. They had come over a rise five miles
south of the mountain, only to watch it burn from the inside out. The
stench had been terrible for Mousse; a blending of wood smoke and burnt
flesh that laced the wind with a sickeningly sweet blend of decay and
destruction.

A howl from behind him caused the group to double their pace. They had been
running for two days now, and Mousse had insisted that Ryouga take point; in
the hopes that the Lost Boy would somehow lose their pursuers.

Both the monsters and the Amazons.

Thus far Ryouga had little or no luck in either endeavor. Par for course in
both of the misfits' lives. The moment that they needed a break, they were
dealt the worst possible luck.

Life sucked.

A moment later the blind martial artist ran into Ryouga's stationary back,
and was sent sprawling. "What are you doing!?!" The crashing underbrush
was the only warning that he received, as a black blur swept passed them.
Pain bloomed across his back, like some blossoming inferno.

He could feel the blood oozing down his back, mixing with the salty sweat
and grime that coated his back. A scimitar leapt into his hands
instinctively as he moved back to back with Ryouga. The Amazons entered the
scene an instant later, weapons drawn.

"A good chase Meat." Gods! The thing's voice was like oil creeping over
dry leaves. "But every hunt has an end." He didn't know what would be
worse, enduring the thing's voice, or being forced to look at it and listen
to it speak.

For once in his life, he was glad to have poor sight.

"No use running." Ryouga sounded detached and void of hope. Mousse almost
smiled happily.

"I'm glad that you see this. The hunt is boring if the chase lasts too
long."

Xi Fu's sweat laden scent entered Mousse's nostrils and a slight shift in
the undergrowth told him that she was settling into a better position.
Thankfully the thing was in front of them and not behind. It made Ryouga's
job easier.

"You killed all those people in the Amazon village."

"As I will kill you." Mousse could here the sneer in the thing's voice.
Ryouga was growing more depressed.

"...and at Phoenix Mountain..."

"Yessssss." The monster's purr set the hairs on the back of his neck,
standing on end.

"Why am I so cursed?" Mousse could see the glow surrounding Ryouga now, and
it was steadily growing brighter by the second. From what he remembered of
the technique, Mousse knew that he was probably going to get fried too.

How utterly fitting...a meaningless death, for a meaningless life. Had he
been able to step outside of himself, Mousse would have been surprised. His
body had taken on the same sickly green glow as Ryouga's.

"Why must people always die? Oh, Akane."

**Xian Pu...**

The monster growled and launched itself at Ryouga. Mousse tensed, waiting
for the blow to fall.

"SHI SHI HOKODAN!"

********
Somewhere near Nanking, China

They had traveled far, and lost many, but a group of refugees from the
fallen Musk and Amazon kingdoms finally found rest in a small village two
days North and East of one of China's largest cities.

Shampoo and Herb sat in a dark room, guarding one of the last Matriarchs of
the Amazons, and in truth their only hope for survival. Herb sat in a chair
that over looked the tiny cot that held the future of his once mighty
dynasty.

The small, weary, body of Pepper slept soundly. He shook his head, in
wonder as he thought of the flight from Joketsuzoku. The boy had carried
matriarch Cologne on his back for over twenty miles before finally passing
out due to fatigue. Herb and his generals had lost many more of
their straggling band before all was said and done, but midway through the
night an eerie mist sprang up around the refugees.

Herb wasn't sure how long they had bumbled around in the mists, yet as the
first light of the sun touched the mists, the exhausted army had found
themselves on the outskirts of a small valley just north of where the
village they were in now.

How they had traveled so far in one night, Herb would never know; providence
to be sure, but he was grateful all the same. It had saved the fifteen
hundred men and women of the remaining Musk from extinction. He silently
wondered how many of his people would be left to rebuild the kingdom when
the enemy was defeated. He chanced a glance in Khu Lon's bed and his hope
fell.

If they could be defeated.

Xian Pu caught his gaze in her own large, beautiful, eyes, pinning the young
king to his chair. She was so beautiful, filled with the grace of a tiger,
and the undying fire of a phoenix. All that she had known had been
destroyed, and yet she fought on. Either she was too stupid and stubborn to
know when to quit, or her hope truly sprang eternal.

Since he knew her to be intelligent, it had to be the latter; or a
combination of the two.

He envied her.

"You should get some sleep." She said quietly. "We don't know how long we
will be here."

"I'll be fine." He said nonchalantly, waving off her concern.

"Just like an idiot male!" Shampoo snorted in derision. "Full of piss and
wind!" The Amazon maiden stood with her fists resting forcefully on her
hips. "Take what you can, when you can Warrior! You'll never know when it's
lost to you until long after it's gone!"

*********
Somewhere in China...I think.

By the time Mousse's ears stopped ringing, and he could open his eyes
without a stabbing headache assaulting his brain, it was dark. It wasn't so
much the lack of light that tipped him off, it was the voices of night
creatures singing to each other. The odd way that the sounds echoed
spoke of a shelter of some kind, which by the musty dampness, was a cave or
over hang of some sort.

A crackling nearby spoke of a camp fire, but the abundant smell of wood
smoke, that hung heavily in the air, was far more than the small fire could
produce. He moaned softly as he sat up, clutching his head against the
throbbing that beset him.

"Lie down Mousse." Phau Set's soft command set his teeth on edge. Why did
all women find it within themselves to order a man about?

"I am tired of lying down." He propped himself up onto his elbows,
desperately fighting off the vertigo that fell upon him.

He would have made it farther, had it not been for a strong, yet petite,
hand impeding his progress. "Let me up." his voice was filled with impatient
petulance. It was then that he noticed that he was only covered with a
small blanket covering his waist. He blushed and narrowed his eyes
dangerously. "Where Are my clothes?"

"You're even more dense now, than before you left the village." She said in
exasperation, ignoring his demand and his question with equal fervor. "And
worse company."

"Look you!" he bristled, "I didn't ask for your repugnant company! So you
can just go to."

WHAM!

Phau Set shook her aching hand, and watched as Mousse stared back at her
blankly. His eyes had this funny, glazed, look about them as the large welt
slowly grew from the top of his head where she made contact.

"I've had worse you know." He said calmly before passing into a dreamless
slumber.

"He's grown stronger." The younger Amazon said fondly.

"And more insolent." Her sister snapped from where she sat next to Ryouga.
"We should leave them here and be on our way."

"After they saved us Xi Fu?" Phau Set said incredulously. "Twice? I
thought that you above all would honor a blood debt." Xi Fu grumbled
darkly, but said nothing in return. The large stick that she was stirring
the coals with stabbed more than stirred.

"I helped carry this great oaf didn't I?" She said defensively. "I could
have left him. I should have, he weighs a ton!"

"If you say so." Phau Set didn't try to hide the smile that lit up her face
in the soft firelight. Xi Fu grumbled more, and her stabbing increased
vigorously.

The sisters sat in silence for a time, Phau Set cleaning Mousse's many
wounds and Xi Fu trying her level best to ignore Ryouga's naked chest, and
failing considerably.

They both had been amazed at the sheer devastation that Ryouga's attack had
caused, and even more so that both men had survived with only a few bruises.
Their clothing however, had been another story altogether. Not that the two
were complaining...really.

"So what are we going to do now?" Xi Fu demanded angrily.

"Wait for them to recover I suppose. We can't risk carrying them again,"
she swallowed hard, "...not if we want to live at any rate."

Xi Fu removed the burning stick from the flames and stared at it harshly for
a long time. "That's what I thought you'd say." She plunged the stick deep
into the coals wrathfully, and then cuddled up next to Ryouga. With little
reluctance at all Phau Set observed. "You've got first watch. Wake me in
four hours."

Ryouga snored loudly in his sleep and threw an arm over Xi Fu, causing the
Amazon to squawk in protest and punch Ryouga in the small of his ribs. It
felt like hitting stone, but the Lost Boy grunted and removed the offending
appendage.

Phau Set couldn't help but giggle, earning a scathing look from her sister.
"You find something amusing sister?" The tone of her speech was measured,
but sending off more menace than their mother's yelling ever had.

"No. No, no, no." She protested. "Not at all." The small smile, and the
mirthful snort that escaped her lips gave away the lie.

"That's good." Xi Fu said sweetly. "Because you get to keep "Stony" here,
warm tomorrow night." Phau Set's laughter was severed quite nicely, allowing
Xi Fu to work herself into a more comfortable spot.

If the Outsider lived through this, she was going to make sure that he
suffered for it. Ryouga snorted again and threw an arm over the Amazon, who
growled fiercely under her breath.

No man had the right to do this to her... No matter how good it felt.

***********

End Chapter 4

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