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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.

 

 

TRUTH

by

Raymond Cooper

Chapter 2

** The Girls **

 

 

 

 

"RANMA!"

Ranma Saotome sighed. Surely work wasn't supposed to be quite like this... but it was. It was only the girls' second day at the Ai Sou, and already, he'd been yelled at more times than he cared to remember. First it had been hot water in the showers. In four bathrooms. Eventually, he'd simply pointed out the hot springs out the back could double as showers until he had time for the plumbing (which turned out to be approximately 3:17AM, a fact he remembered because that was the time on Rei's clock when the floor gave way when he stepped on it... and he dropped straight into her room). After the hot water, Usagi had complained about the shade of paint in her room. She wanted it a bright yellow. After Ranma had painted it in the shade she requested, nope, it didn't look right, and so as soon as it dried, it was to be stripped off and painted white, like it originally had been.

Minako had tailed him around for the first twenty four hours (she had been the reason the floor gave way - but she dodged back out of the bathroom before Ranma took his trip to an angry priestess). Makoto had mostly left him alone, but did at one point chase him around the kitchen with a rather sharp knife after he walked in shirtless looking for a cool drink. That one was still surprising, even with all the girl trouble Ranma had run into previously.

Rei had ruined two walls in arguments with Usagi, and Ranma swore Usagi herself trashed a third (least, he'd heard her yell something about punishing someone - and he was surprised, he didn't think any of these girls were into anything kinky like that). Ami had been rather quiet, but voices carried from certain rooms in the dormitory, and Ranma had heard her complaining there were no fibre optic links for her computer, and that she had to go back to using her old 56k modem, and that was just too bad.

The least trouble had been caused by Hotaru.

She was quiet, courteous, and not prone to action. Ranma guessed that was because she was often ill, or weak, or frail, or something. He wasn't sure. But she didn't look too steady on her feet, and was often pale after walking up stairs and stuff. He also noticed the other girls help her carry things around from time to time, and if she went into town, at least one would go with her.

She was the youngest of the girls, at fourteen, and attending a local school, or she would be when term started... in a scant few days.

No, Hotaru was no trouble.

But she had the curious habit of turning up near where Ranma was, with slightly wide eyes and a "Sempai..." on her lips.

"Sempai, can you help me arrange my room?"

"Sempai, can you reach the tea cups on the top shelf?"

"Sempai, could you help me find a post box?"

"Sempai... Sempai... Sempai..."

She was cute, for a young girl, and very polite, but too young for Ranma. Even if he had thoughts about her, nope, too young. He much preferred someone his age... well, in theory. He hadn't had much luck with girls his own age of late... and previous to that, he hadn't really noticed girls. But every boy hits that age on his trip to manhood where one did start to notice some friends wore skirts. And what was so special about them that needed skirts? His father had had to explain a few things on their training trip through China, like exactly why they wore skirts, and how to determine who was a good choice of a wife by their cooking skill.

That was his father, though, and Ranma had ignored that part of the conversation, preferring to choose his own wife, some day in the far, far future.

That was before the move to the Tendo's dojo.

Ranma shook his head. Back to the subject at hand. Yes, Hotaru was too young. But nice. If he'd had a younger sister, he'd have liked her to be like Hotaru.

Maybe even a younger brother.

"**RANMA!**"

Usagi's voice was louder now.

It always got louder.

So he stepped up to the doorway, took a deep breath, and opened the thin paper-in-wood-frame door, and readied himself.

But there wasn't the expected blast. Usagi stood at the doorway, and pointed at his face, looking all the while back at Rei and Minako. "He is **NOT** cuter than my Mamo-chan!"

******

After Ranma picked himself up from unconsciousness, he went back to work on the roof. None of the girls came up here much... the tiles were slippery at the best of times, and while the washing line was strung up on a flat roof in the midpoint of the three wings, just down from where Ranma was, they couldn't see him along most of that wing's roof. So he got to work.

One wing had been re-tiled already, and he was moving on to the front wing's roof now, determined to find and stop any possible leaks before there was any rain. He placed a row of tiles down, then performed a quick katsu tenshin amagurriken to hammer in the nails (without actually using a hammer, which made the repairs just marginaly less expensive). Then he started on the next row of tiles, setting them up and hammering the nails in.

In the midday heat, that took energy out of him - he was too proud to admit the constant problems that just mysteriously happened around the girls was wearing him out fast - and he sat down for a drink, which he'd balanced on the very centrepoint of the roof. The cool water refreshed him.

And a bottle of it on the rood didn't chase him around with a knife.

He heard something down behind him, where the small ladder up from the centre roof came up, and he turned.

A familiar bob-cut of black hair rose, slowly, unsteadily. The hair was rather glossy, actually - seeming almost to shine with a purple sheen. Ranma sighed, and stood up, capping his drink and rebalancing it before walking nimbly over to the younger girl.

"S... sempai?" Hotaru asked, hesitantly, holding on to the ladder for dear life.

He shook his head, looking a little peeved. "Hotaru. You don't have to climb up here, ya know, you could just yell." Not like I'm used to girls yelling my name out, or anything, that is...

"But I -" was all she got out before her elbow unlocked from the run it was wrapped around, and she began to fall backward. Ranma's arms darted out, and he grabbed her wrists before she could fall too far, and he leaned back to counter the overbalancing he was experiencing. For a moment, he thought they would both go down, but no, his grip held, as did his balance, and he deposited Hotaru on the roof next to him.

"What's up, Hotaru?"

She wrapped her arms around Ranma's waist, just in case she slipped and fell... it was a lot more dangerous up here than Hotaru had thought. For now, she could bear the burning cheeks, until she got somewhere a bit safer. "I thought... you might like some company, sempai... they can be... a bit much sometimes." The last few words were barely spoken in a whisper, her voice trailed off so much.

Ranma rolled his eyes. "Geeze, not like I haen't had to put up with that stuff before. I mean, my fiances -"

"Fiances?" Hotaru froze, eyes opened wide now in shock. Ranma had fiances - plural? He was engaged? To a *girl*? Engaged at all?

"Hey, not like I want to be engaged, it's what my pop did to get food." Ranma snorted. "The idiot. Not like I want to get married just yet, especially not to that uncute tomboy!" He settled down - Hotaru had frozen up completely, and misreading the situation, he thought it was because his slight show of anger was reminding her of just how high up they were. Ranma shrugged, and patted her uneasily on the shoulder. "But they yell at me all the time. And they hit me. And I'm sure they hit me harder than Rei can."

Hotaru blinked, slowly, the blush building back up. "They hit you, sempai?" She put her money on Rei being able to hit harder.

"Yeah..." One of Ranma's hands found it's way up to behind his head, and scratched idly in an unconscious nervous/embarrassed gesture. "They're all a bit violent."

The smaller girl pressed up against him tighter. "They won't hurt you while I'm here, sempai." Ranma missed the import of that, and thought it was a cute thing to say. Hotaru continued, slowly, a little louder. "I... came up to see if you needed help."

"Help?" Now Ranma thought of it, help could be kinda cool. Fun. Someone to talk to. Company. Company who didn't yell at him, or near him, or over him, or hit him. What more could a man want? "Yeah, now I think of it... I need some help putting these tiles in rows..."

******

Hotaru watched Ranma work like a madman. She was on her hands and knees, never more than an arm's reach from Ranma (so he could grab her, as he'd done twice now already, if she slipped) and she watched his hands hammer in the nails at speeds her eyes refused to make out. Far as she could tell, his hands weren't moving. But he would pause for half a second, remove one hand from the nail being held upright, then there was a small BANG of displaced air, and the nail had disappeared into the tile and board beneath. And Ranma's hand would be slightly heated afterwards, she supposed from air friction, or maybe... no, it couldn't be an energy field.

Wouldn't she pick it up? And wouldn't that mean he was part of the Negaverse?

Maybe, maybe not. Regardless, she wasn't picking anything up from him.

She was very impressed, though, there was no doubt of that. Just like she had no doubt the older man was the slightest bit interested in her. But hey, she was discovering boys. And Ranma was a very nice boy. Powerfully built, yet slim; fast, manoeuvrable, yet slow enough to be polite, and very graceful; always seemed to know the right thing to say to her, even if the other girls (older, and pickier) never thought he did. Everything he did seemed to be done out of consideration for others.

Like the plumbing job he'd done through the night. Okay, she could believe his protestations that he was trying to get Minako out of his hair by doing grimey work, and that he didn't want Usagi to yell at him any more than absolutely necessary, but she thought the real reason he did it was because it was inconveniencing people. People relied on hot water for showers or baths. Thus, for their comfort, he had fixed it.

He was a nice man, underneath the occasionally gruff or unconcerned exterior.

And he was extra special nice to Hotaru, something she enjoyed a lot.

In fact, she was so busy enjoying it, she didn't notice that she put her weight on a tile that hadn't been attached to the roof properly yet, and it slipped out from under her. Her chin hit the roof with enough force to knock the frail girl silly, and she tipped over backwards.

Ranma caught the sound of the tile and turned towards it, seeing Hotaru falling just a scant moment too late to catch her as he had been doing. She hit the roof with her back, bounced, and went off the roof.

Ranma went after her.

His arms wrapped around her back, then he fed one down under her knees, and only then worried about the fast approaching ground. His legs bent at the knees to allow for a softer landing, he concentrated, and managed to throw out a ki-blast through his legs - learn something new every day. The energy slammed into the ground - but the force of it leaving his body slowed his descent enough for the landing to be very gentle. In fact, Hotaru didn't notice they had yet touched the ground because there had been no jarring thud of any description.

Her unfocussed eyes gazed up at him, and she gave him her sexiest smile. "Sempai." Then she passed out completely.

Ranma was kind of glad she passed out, because that face she was pulling before she did... man, looked like she'd sustained brain damage or something.

He heard a slow clap from behind him, and he turned.

There stood a woman, who looked to be about twenty. She was taller than Ranma, with a light violet shade of hair, thin eyebrows, and eyes a deep purple. She was dressed in jeans and a loose-fitting white t-shirt, and had a smirk on her face. Two small bags lay behind her. "Impressive," she nodded at Ranma.

Behind him again, the front doors of the dorm flew open, and Usagi, Rei and Makoto rushed out. "What do you think you're doing?" Usagi howled. "Get your hands off her!"

"Uh?" Ranma said, turning back. Not sure where to look now, he just stared blankly at the blond.

The blond glared back, and took up an aggressive stance, fists bunched, held away from her body, legs apart for balance, and twin clouds of steam blowing out of both ears. "Put her down gently - or so help me-"

Makoto rolled her eyes at the theatrics. "Cool it, you could really hurt him."

"I'm wanting to."

Makoto's hand clasped Usagi's shoulder, tightly. "Back off, Princess."

The stress of the word wasn't lost on Ranma. Maybe a nickname of some kind? He didn't know. But Hotaru was stirring in his arms, and her eyes opened. "You... saved me?"

"No hard thing," Ranma brushed the thanks off, and helped Hotaru to stand up. "Just be more careful, okay? This place *is* a construction area for the moment, after all."

Hotaru's eyes glittered in adoration, but seeing as her face was lowered in embarrassment, and her face was burning with blood just under her skin, Ranma missed it completely. "Yes, sempai."

"But he was trying to hurt her!" Usagi complained, distantly, as Makoto, having made sure Hotaru was okay, dragged her off somewhere dark and quiet. The younger girl followed them at a discrete distance. Ranma turned back to the other woman.

"Wondering when you'd get back to me."

"More wondering who you are." But... he was waiting on the seventh girl. Could she be this woman? "Uh... are you...?"

"The seventh student," the woman confirmed with a slow nod. Ranma noted well-toned muscles, hidden in rather feminine lines. And then decided it might not be the best idea to openly study this woman. Something about her... seemed antagonistic. She didn't seem quite right to him, she was wrong.

It was something he'd noted about the other students, something he'd just put down to his abilities having gained in sensitivity through constant training, a change he'd taken for granted while around the same people day in, day out in Nerima. But with this new arrival, the feeling was even more powerful, if that was the term for it. He found his hands involuntarily bnuched in fists, tendons straining, his lungs hyperventilating. Ready for battle? Why?

She didn't feel *that* wrong, did she?

No. But then, she really didn't feel right, either, and that was something that interested Ranma.

The woman smirked at his hesitation. But other than that, she did nothing. Just stood there, waiting.

"Oh," continued Ranma, lamely. His hand found its way to the back of his head again, and he looked away from her gaze for a moment, trying to focus, sense something, anything. But no, just an overwhelming sense of danger.

Definitely something to think about.

"If you're finished considering the scenery," the woman started, "you might help me to my room."

A flat statement, spoken without the lilt of humour, with no indication of life in her eyes. That, more than any single other thing, was what sent the shiver up Ranma's spine.

He turned to lead her inside, but at that moment, there was an explosion in the distance. he whirled back, and could see the flare of... darkness?

From out on the other side of the prefecture, waves and streamers of what Ranma could only think of as dark light spewed forth from a hole in the building Ranma recognised as the local hospital. A moment later, an overwhelming feeling of evil and dread swept over him... a feeling that strangely resembled need and want, primal urges without control. Ranma stepped towards it, instinctively, then noticed Hotaru was beside him again, Usagi, Minako, Makoto, Ami and Rei as well. All staring towards the eruption of weird stuff.

Hotaru's hand clutched at Ranma's, surprisingly strong for someone he perceived to be so weak. Physically weak, he corrected himself idly. The sound from the explosion finally reached them, a dull, muffled crump and very weak screams. He supposed that was from people trapped inside whichever piece of the hospital had just collapsed.

The new arrival, Ranma noticed, had already launched into action, haring down the stairs, taking four or five at a time and not heeding her own safety. Usagi and Rei shared a look, then followed. Ami's breath had frozen.

"They're back again?" she asked, aghast. Minako grabbed her hand.

"Come on, we can worry about it on the way!" They disappeared rapidly.

It was just Makoto, Hotaru and Ranma left now. Then Makoto shook herself out of her reverie, and glanced down at the younger girl. "I don't think you'll make it there in any condition to help," she said, glancing pointedly at Ranma. Hotaru nodded, and Makoto left, also.

"Uh... there could be survivors," Ranma said, starting to move finally towards the stairs, having come to grips with what he had felt. A surprisingly strong hand still gripped his, and held him back.

"No, sempai, you'd get hurt." Hotaru's tugging was strong, insistant, yet strangely... worried. And caring. "Help me with my homework?"

The blackness was spreading out from the hospital now, running across the skies unfettered. The girls had disappeared into the growing artificial night.

"Uh..." Ranma squatted down to look up into the girl's eyes, earnestly. "Hotaru-chan. Your friends just ran off into danger. Geeze, I can't explain what it is, or what it's doing here, but I can feel it. And it feels... wrong. Even if there aren't any survivors, even if every bit of me wants to stay here... I feel if I do stay here... your friends will die."

Hotaru stared down at him for long moments. Then, realising time was of the essence, and that Ranma was going to go regardless of her thoughts, she acquiesed. "Okay, sempai... if you must." Wow, Ranma thought, she had a backbone? And what a backbone. "But you will take me with you."

The pressure from her hand didn't waver. Ranma could almost see waves of power radiating from the girl as she stared evenly at him, waiting. He knew the only way to go was through her... and he wasn't going to go through her - he suspected that could hurt him more than her. So he nodded, and before she could release her hand, swung her into his hands, and jumped up on the handrail running down the stairs. He sped down, making faster time than the girls had, but they did have a huge head start on him... he leapt up onto rooftops, and started crossing them with ease.

Hotaru's hands gripped around his neck, her head buried in his chest, but with enough view to see the speed at which they were travelling. Perhaps Ranma had some hidden talents of his own...?

Whatever. For now, she concentrated on the waves of power emanating from the direction of the hospital... weak, but growing ever stronger... waves of darkness... Negaverse power.

******

In the ruins of the hospital wing, something stirred, and pushed rubble up. It was small, child-sized, spiny and coated in a glossy black. White glowing eyes pulsed from the centre of the head. Crouched below it in the tatters of a nurse's uniform, were the slightly altered remains of Umiko Hayasagawa, glaring about with cat-like intensity.

"Do we eat the rest now, master?" she asked.

The child-sized thing shook its head. "Eat. Yes. Eat."

Umiko bounded off on all fours to scavage something to eat, while the black thing continued to stand, and glare about itself with what appeared to be hunger and anger. They had tried to stop it from feeding. It wanted to feed. It *need* to feed. And feed it would.

Now. Starting with this pitiful excuse for a human, partly squashed under rubble, but protected by his toppled hospital bed. He tried to push the thing away, but the thing didn't even pay the resistance attention, spines punching through the man's stomach. The explosion of gore was absorbed before it could coat anything, and it fed.

There was a footstep behind him...

******

THIRTY SECONDS LATER:

Ranma leaped from one rooftop. At the top of his flight arc, there was an explosion. The shockwave impacted upon his shoulder, snapping Hotaru's head forward. She opened her eyes in shock, and made a decision as they plumeted groundward.

Ranma heard Hotaru say something, felt her move, but thought it was panic from the drop. Ranma was worried more about the pool of cold-looking water they were now flying towards. He wasn't sure if he wanted Hotaru knowing about his little "problem", but decided that her safety was more important than keeping his curse a secret. He turned his shoulder towards the pool, and held his breath.

He put the flash of light seemingly in his arms down to the shock of hitting the very cold water, and the sudden surge or power he pinned down as another explosion... incorrectly, he found out, as he stood from the water, his body shifting into his female form.

There was someone else sitting in the pool with him. It looked... well, Ranma was having problems with that. She looked very familiar. Something about her hair, her eyes, her face, her size, build, everything about her. But he just couldn't place the girl. She was wearing a sailor-style fuku, with a sash that appeared to be brown while wet. She was holding something on the bottom of the pool, as well, something long that Ranma couldn't quite make out. She looked over at Ranma, nervous about something, but Ranma couldn't tell about what.

It was when he started looking about for Hotaru that it occurred to him what the girl was nervous about. He peered at the girl... "Hotaru-chan?"

The senshi peered back, nervously. "Ranma?"

Oh dear.

TO BE CONTINUED...

 

 

 

SAILOR MOON SAYS:

Firstly, a big thank you to all those who have continued to review, it's very encouraging :) An extra special thanks to Mauricio Chung, who was nice enough to send me reference material that will come in handy soon enough.

Secondly, a rather humourous sidenote that occurred to me while writing, and had I found a place to put it in, it would have been mentioned (it still might make a mention in a later chapter;): why did everyone see the dark light before feeling the evil? Well, evil only travels at the speed of light... and dark light travels at the speed of dark, which as we all know is much faster than the speed of light... else we could see it. (I think the original quote, which I'm sure I've mangled, comes from the Diskworld books... I think.)

Thirdly. I'm not sure on Saturn's sash colours for the moment... I haven't had time to check additional references, but the two pictures I have of Saturn show a brownish colour... considering that the non-blue bits are rather shadowed, that makes determining that colour difficult... also not sure what the weapon she has is... gonna check up on that ;)

I originally was going to have this last part happen in a few chapter's time. That is, the explosion at the hospital. But hey, I'd got enough out about the girls and how they were interacting with Ranma, I think. And I introduced Mitsuki, which I wanted to do. Yes, she arrived at the dorm a day after arriving at the bottom of the stairs... why? She was nervous, and more than a little angry. You'll see what I mean.

Anyway, next part: the first fight! The senshi and Ranma tackle the beast for the first time, and maybe, just maybe find out some really weird stuff. Maybe :) Anyway, check back in a few days for Chapter 3...