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DISCLAIMER: Relatively standard stuff. Existing characters are properties of the people who made them up. Mitsuki, and several other characters are mine, and so's the story, hence ownership and copyright of them belongs to me. Contact me at domino@linksnet.nu if you want permission to use anything I've written for whatnot purposes.

NOTE: While mostly action/adventure with a light sprinkling of comedy, occasionally Truth will get a little gory, and adult in terms of situations, statements, etc. This chapter has a small amount of gore. Read at your own risk.

 

TRUTH

by

Raymond Cooper

Chapter 1

** THE JOB ***

 

 

"Boy! You're going to have to go pay for that wall now!"

Ranma could still hear his father's words echoing in his head as he trudged away from the Tendo dojo and house. Paying for the wall. It wasn't that bad, was it? Even though it was his father who'd broken it, smashed it into tiny little pieces, really, surely it wasn't that big a deal, and thusly couldn't cost quite so much.

He turned back for a moment, and checked. His face fell as he saw the entire southern section of the dojo, now existing only as rubble. The dojo's wall, the yard's wall. And all because his father... gah. Trying to teach Ranma how to combine multiple techniques into a devastating killer combo, but not letting Ranma, who knew how to use the attacks properly, and control them, Genma had attempted to do several himself. And it turned out that Genma combining the katsu tenshin amagurriken and the mouko takabisha was *not* such a good idea.

Because only Ranma was supposed to be able to do the katsu tenshin amagurriken, Ranma had been the one Genma blamed the devastation on. Hence, Soun Tendo had told him he would have to pay that back himself. And Ranma knew it wouldn't be a good idea to ask Nabiki for money... not this amount, not this time.

And so, Ranma Saotome decided he needed a job.

Maybe he could get away from his fiances? Maybe he could get away from the entire Tendo family (although Kasumi was nice, he had to admit)? Maybe he could find a place Ryoga wouldn't find him, that the Kunos wouldn't fight over his hand, that his curse might not bother him either.

Because his curse... well, it was quite embarrassing. He turned into a girl when he got wet in cold water, changed back to his male form when in splashed with hot water. No big deal. Well, after all this time, he was getting used to it. And it could be fun sometimes. Like free ice cream. His stomach grumbled in sympathy, and he was tempted to go off and get some free ice cream, but... no. He had to find a job.

And what did he have on him? A small bag, with some clothes stuffed in it, a few lunches Kasumi had, thoughtful as always, packed for him, and maybe a thousand yen that had appeared in his pockets strangely after Nabiki hugged him and given him a knowing look. He also had a bruise on his cheek, from Akane. The yen, he tried not to think about, not knowing if he was expected to pay it back - but knowing Nabiki, he would, with interest.

The road took him further south, until he was in a small prefecture on the outskirts of Tokyo. There were mountains here... well, little more than tall hills. If you wanted *real* mountains, then go to China, Ranma thought with a snort. He'd ran up enough of them there, and down them again, either being cased by, or chasing, his pop. But there seemed to be a rail line from here into the city, and a reasonable-sized suburban area, with shops, and... stairs leading up the side of one of the hills. Ranma cocked his head, eh, it was worth seeing what was up there, he guessed. At the very least, he'd be able to see the land around here a good deal further than he could at ground level.

So he began to climb, running up the stairs two at a time. About half way up, for a change, he leapt up onto the hand rail, and began running up that way. He reached the top within a few minutes, not even partly out of breath. That's good, he thought, least his fitness level's still okay.

At the top was a single property, decently sized. It looked as if it had seen better days, weatherworn roof, faded paint on the walls, rotten wood in some places. It didn't look like it could support human life, but there was an old woman out the front, sweeping dust with a straw broom away from the front doors.

She looked up at Ranma's approach, and smiled. That freaked Ranma out - after all, she did strongly resemble Cologne, and that was scary enough. "Hello, son!" the woman called out. Ranma flinched - to an extent, she even *sounded* and *spoke* like the old Amazon hag in Nerima...

"Uh... hi!" he called back, walking up towards her, looking around with interest. Maybe he could get a better view from the top of the building...? But it wasn't good manners to leap directly up to someone's roof, so Ranma was about to ask first, when she cut him off.

"Are you here to apply for the job?"

"Job?" Ranma echoed, dumbly.

"My, yes." The woman turned to face the building, which Ranma noticed for the first time had the words Ai Sou engraved into a wooden name plate above the door. The Love Inn? Er... yeah. The old woman continued. "This is an old dormatory, opened a century ago. Alas, it has seen better days. And it needs some love and care. I am too old to continue working here, and have tickets to fly overseas for some sun and sand."

That was a frightening thought. Ranma made a mental note to stay away from beaches.

The old woman continued. "I need a manager to take over the running of the dorm for me, for this year's Tokyo University entrants, and to act as a caretaker, fixing up the building to something that doesn't look as if it is about to collapse." She sighed. "I advertised for a strapping young man, capable in construction, to take care of the inn for me."

Well, Ranma had often participated in the reconstructions of the Tendo's home from its numerous beatings - mostly at his father's, or the Tendo patriarch's insistance, or even just to score some yen to pay Nabiki back for whatever money he had outstanding at the time. He gave the building another look, and decided he could do it.

"There will be money left for the materials, and the pay is decent, rent and food are free," the woman added nervously.

"I'll take it," Ranma said, confidently.

One instant, the woman was there, the next she wasn't. And the next again, she was, dressed in a floral-print dress with a big, wide straw hat and several suitcases. "You'll find the students who will be staying here should be turning up tomorrow. Feel free to use the men's hot springs whenever. There will be seven of them. But watch a couple of these girls... they seem... weird."

"G... g... girls?" Ranma asked, feeling icicles trickle up and down his back. He thought he'd get away from... oh well. He didn't think any would be his fiances, so that could work out okay. Unless there was more his pop wasn't telling him about... He banished that thought from his head. Wait - you said -"

But the old woman was already gone. Ranma was left, standing by the door, with a key in his hand. He stared at the receeding dustcloud as it vanished down the stairs... then shrugged. He could handle girls. That's one thing his fiances had taught him. He headed inside, to start the work of getting the inn up to livable standards before the students arrived.

******

In the small (but bustling) hospital, on the other side of the prefecture, a new life was about to come into the world. The woman, soon to be a mother, had her legs up in stirrups, and was practising the breathing the nice doctor had proscribed. The pains of contractions were coming closer together now, and the doctor hovered over the end of her covered in the sheet.

Oh, there was another contraction. But the gas one of the kind nurses was giving her was very nice, and she was drifti. n.. g...

"She's out, doctor," the nurse said, not looking down.

Which was a good thing, because the doctor had in his hands a smallish crystal, glowing black in a way that appeared most evil, not least of which because it wasn't supposed to be possible for something to glow black. The crystal exuded something, and the doctor had it posed, ready, waiting.

And there was the head. Before the nose cleared the mother, the doctor's hand darted forward, the crystal flaring momentarily before sinking into the soft skull of the baby, which jerked like a puppet with its strings cut. Then the nose cleared, and the baby slithered into his waiting hands.

It didn't move.

The doctor was expecting this, and sighed theatrically. "Child is stillborn. Take him to the morgue, awaiting disposal."

The nurse blinked. That wasn't standard procedure, not in this hospital, at any rate (although she'd heard some of the hospitals in metropolitan Tokyo just cremated stillborns because they had no room). But she nodded, used to doctors knowing best, took the baby and wrapped it in a sheet, took it out and headed for the service elevator.

The lift doors closed behind her, and she pressed the basement button. It would drop her down towards the level the morgue was housed in, and there she would traverse two corridors. She looked down at the bundle in her arms, feeling sorry for it. And even more so for the mother. Professional detachment was something that Umiko Hayasagawa had yet to learn, only having been working in the hospital for a few months since leaving training. Several of the nurses she had trained with had that detachment already... but Umiko didn't.

The bundle moved.

Nurse Hayasagawa stopped, and looked down at it. It was alive? Maybe the doctor was wrong! She reached for the button to stop the elevator, and return it to the doctor, in the delivery room. But as she did so, the mass of the bundle doubled, and she almost dropped it. It also swelled in size, something that would normally have panicked the young nurse - but her mind had frozen on pressing the button to stop the lift and reverse its direction.

A fatal mistake.

Black spines and tendrils burst from the bundle, and speared Umiko throw her midsection. Blood spurted forth from the punctures, but didn't reach the walls. The bundle soaked it up. Umiko's hands loosened, and the bundle dropped to the ground, blankets unfurling around the creature now standing on the floor. It looked around, then up at the woman only standing because of the spines still poking through her.

"Ma... ma?"

******

Usagi Tsukino dropped her numerous bags at the top of the stairs, sweating heavily. "Oooh that was a tough walk."

Rei Hino, clad in jeans and a short-sleeve shirt glanced over. "Maybe if you hadn't brought the entire contents of your room with you, you wouldn't be so exhausted."

"What? What are you implying, Rei?" Usagi demanded, up on her toes now with hair flying out the back of her head. Rei smiled.

Makoto stepped in between the two girls. Really, they'd both been this way since summer began, and they'd got their acceptances to Tokyo University. Strange how they'd all been accepted. And moving here... well, with the end of the threats from the Negaverse, a nice quiet life was just what the doctor ordered.

Or in this case, Sailor Pluto, who had popped in six months ago, and told them they all had to attend Tokyo University, and live in this place. Why, Makoto wasn't sure. But the thinking wasn't actually part of her thoughts these days. She was just looking forward to a normal life. If Pluto said jump, though, the girls jumped.

Of course, she couldn't quite figure out why Hotaru had been sent here as well, seeing as she was still in high school. But Pluto must have seen something good for her here. Had to have. Why Pluto had then turned around and taken Haruka and Michiru with her, that was well beyond Makoto's understanding.

She gave a glance back, to make sure Hotaru and Ami were coming up the stairs all right, then glared at Rei and Usagi each in turn. "Calm down for a change, eh? Let's try and have at least one nice day here."

Minako flounced up next to Usagi, and whispered in her ear, and pointed upwards. Usagi cranked her head back. Rei and Makoto did the same. There was a man on the roof. Maybe about their age, eighteen-ish or so. Who was fixing the roof. Pulling up old tiles, and replacing them. And doing it at speed! Minako's eyes were big. Usagi stared, then pfft, making a waving motion with her hands. "He's not Mamoru."

"Of course he's not!" Minako replied, stars shining brightly around her head. "He's so cute!"

"Are you implying Mamoru isn't cute? Why, I'll let you know -" Usagi fell silent at the weird look she got from Minako, and decided perhaps the Senshi of Venus might know more about that than she was letting on.

There was an excited gasp from behind them, and they turned. Hotaru had finally reached the top of the stairs, and was gazing at the dorm with happiness in her eyes. "It looks so... beautiful!" she announced. Ami, standing beside her, dropped both her bag and Hotaru's on the ground, and straightened up, admiring the old building.

And it really was something fantastic. From the forward section, it ran back two dozen metres, before lancing out to both sides with separate wings. The whole building was about three floors high, and a rear area could be seen fenced off with an old-style bamboo fence. Occasional waves of steam from that direction suggested a hot springs in the immediate vicinity. That, more than anything else, attracted Hotaru.

By that time, though, Minako's gaze had turned back up to the guy on the roof.

"But he's still not cuter than Mamoru," Usagi grumped before grabbing her bags and hauling them inside.

Hotaru waved to the black-haired boy on the roof. Makoto called out to him. Finally, he noticed them, and turned to look down, wiping sweat off his forehead with the back of an arm.

"Hang on!" he called down, "I'll be right there!"

The young man picked up a red shirt, and wandered off the roof to what would likely have been stairs or somesuch, putting his shirt on as he went. A minute or so later, he was at the front door, opening it wide for Usagi, who pushed past. "I get the first room!" she yelled, and disappeared somewhere inside the building.

Rei sighed. Hefted her bags, and likewise pushed past the man. Makoto sighed, and headed past him with a muttered, "Sorry," on his way to make sure they wouldn't kill each other just yet. Ami was the first who stopped to talk with him.

"We're very sorry we didn't call before we arrived," she explained. "But it looked to be a long walk. I'm Ami Mizuno."

The man shrugged, not accepting her hand, but eyeing it as something dangerous, like a snake. That was weird. "Ranma," he replied. "Ranma Saotome. I'm the manager of the... the dorm for now. The owner left for overseas."

"Oh?" Ami asked. She hadn't heard the owner was leaving.

Minako peered over Ami's shoulder. "She told me that." Somehow, Ranma didn't quite see how she did it, but the next moment Ami was standing off to one side, and this blond girl was standing before him. "Hi. I'm Minako Aino!"

"Uh... Ranma." His hand was pumped repeatedly by this strange girl, and he was a little too shocked to realise. belatedly, he pulled his hand away. He recognised the signs in this girl of a fiance... just like Shampoo. Or Ukyou, for that matter. At least Akane never got this bad. But she still gave him troubles occasionaly like that. He stepped back to give himself some room. Minako then flounced inside, happily.

Ami apologised and headed inside also, to pick a room and place her things away.

That left... Ranma turned back to see a younger girl staring at him. She was pale, a little wan-looking, but had a nice smile on her face. When she noticed Ranma was looking at her, she blushed, and dropped her eyes. "H... H... Hello, sempai," she murmured. Ranma blinked. Sempai? Oh well, she had to be younger than the others. Maybe that was what she was referring to? Yeah, had to be.

He noticed she hadn't picked up her bags. It also looked as if she wouldn't be able to lift them. So Ranma stepped forward, and held out a hand. "Would you like me tot ake your bags up to a room?" he asked.

The girl's eyes opened a bit wider, and her blush deeper. "Yes. Yes, thank you!"

Weird. Anyway, Ranma shrugged, and grabbed her bags, hefted them on a shoulder, and headed inside. "Where do you want to stay? What floor? What wing? Erm... and who are you?"

"Hotaru Tomoe, sempai," she replied, after a moment's hesitation. "I can stay wherever you can fit me. I don't want to trouble you."

"Nonsense," Ranma sighed. "I'm the manager/caretaker of this place. You want anything, you come to me. You need help, come to me." Yeah, this job might not be so hard. He became aware as he was heading towards the stairs that Hotaru had stopped, and was pointing at a room.

"I would like this room, sempai."

Right across from his room. Okay. He could live with that. He dumped her bags on the bed, and pointed her to the springs, and the nearest bathroom, before heading back up to the roof for work.

Maybe this wouldn't be such a bad job after all.

But, hmm. That was six girls. Where was the seventh?

******

At the bottom of the stairs, Mitsuki Matsuda stared upwards, towards the place she would now be living. For the next few years, anyway. The two bags she had on her shoulders were small, barely containing anything, but that was her life's accumulation of items.

Maybe... just maybe... this could be the beginning of a new start. Maybe... here... she would find the peace she had been searching for.

 

 

SAILOR MOON SAYS:

Yes, she might. And pigs might fly ;)

Yeah, Ranma's about 18 here. Why? Well, it just fits the story. Same with the senshi... they'll mostly be the 17-18 mark. Hotaru I'm not sure on yet, but I'm pretty sure she's younger than the other senshi... I'm guessing 16 or under. Maybe a lot more than that ;) I'll patch up ages once I can find something on it... until then, I'm being very circumspect in that regard.

Apologies for what may be disjointed, was rather ill during the writing. Better now, so expect chapter 2 as soon as I can write it J

Until chapter 2...