This is the sequel to A Certain Distance, which appeared on rec.arts.anime.creative during the last half of 2000.
Prologues | Chapter One | Chapter Two | Chapter Three | Chapter Four | Chapter Five | Chapter Six | Chapter Seven | Chapter Eight | Chapter Nine | Chapter Ten | Chapter Eleven | Chapter Twelve | Epilogues
Aah! Megami-sama (or Oh My Goddess!) was created by Fujishima Kosuke, and is licenced to Kodansha and AnimEigo.
Ranma ½ was created by Takahashi Rumiko, and is licenced to Shogakukan Inc., Kitty, Fuji TV, and Viz Communications Inc.
Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon (or Sailor Moon) was created by Takeuchi Naoko, and is licenced to Kodansha, TV Asahi, Toei Douga, DIC Entertainment, Optimum Productions, ADV Films, and Pioneer Entertainment.
No challenge is intended to any of these intellectual properties.
The character Dorllir was created by Larry Mann, and appears with his permission.
Dorllir was in a really, really good mood. Not only did she finally have an assignment of her own (well, except that Marller was still involved because her assignment knew the Norns), but she also had found her very own pet. "I'm back!"
"Who cares, you little pest?"
"And hello to you too, Marller. Look at the pretty black cat I found! I'm going to keep her as a pet."
Marller looked at the cat in Dorllir's arms. After a moment, she said, "At least it isn't a pig this time. Yeah, sure. Where'd you find it? And what's with the bandage on its head?"
"She was living in the same apartment as my assignment. The poor thing hasn't been getting any attention, so I decided to adopt her. And ..."
Dorllir blushed. "Well, ..."
"You are not going to keep that cat if you took pity on it! We're demons! We don't take pity on anything!"
"But I have to keep this cat! If I don't, she'll warn my assignment!"
Marller stared at Dorllir. "You expect me to believe that?"
In response, Dorllir took the bandage off the cat's forehead.
The cat looked Dorllir in the eye. "Let me go!"
"No way! You're my pet now!" Dorllir put the bandage back over the crescent moon spot on the cat's forehead. "Besides, we can't have you warning the Sailor Senshi about what I'm up to, can we, Luna?"
"That's a good girl." Dorllir put the now-helpless mooncat in her room, then closed the door to trap Luna there.
Marller grinned. Now that was how a demon was supposed to act.
"Skuld, Goddess Second Class, Limited Licence, you have been found guilty of willfully breaking a promise made to a mortal. Do you have anything to say before sentence is passed?"
She looked at Kami-sama. "I honestly thought I was abiding by the letter of the contract."
"You were not. The next time you enter into a contract with a mortal, if there is a next time, you would be well-advised to fully understand all of the terms you use."
"Your licence is suspended until you fulfill the promise you made. I Have Spoken." The goddesses on either side of the Norn of the Future (her sisters, not coincidentally) took her by the arms and escorted her back to Earth.
Kami-sama watched them leave, then turned his awareness to a watching goddess. "I trust that you will take the steps necessary to ensure this does not come to pass, Skuld-of-the-past."
Skuld awoke in a cold sweat.
That was no ordinary dream - it was a foreseeing. But she couldn't think of any promises she had made to a mortal ...
... except for the agreement she asked her eldest sister to make with Saotome Genma, in order to grant Kuonji Ukyo's wish.
Oh, bugs, cursed Skuld to herself. Akane's going to be pissed off ...
"Hello? Is anyone home?"
Hearing no answer, Skuld let herself in to the Tendo residence. She had been welcome there for years, ever since she became Ranma's "other fiancee". The fact that she didn't create havoc whenever she visited only added to the Tendos' hospitality.
"Is someone there?" Kasumi walked out of the kitchen to find out who had walked in to the house. "Oh, Skuld-chan, welcome!" (Kasumi was the only person who Skuld still allowed to call her "-chan". Nobody else tried using the dimunitive, though - Kasumi was also the only person in Nerima under retirement age who could get away with calling a 16-year-old "-chan".) "It's been a while since you last visited."
"It's only been a week ..."
"But that's a week when I haven't had a chance to pamper anyone. I enjoy taking care of people, you know that, but Ranma-kun doesn't really need my help in the dojo and both Akane and Nabiki spend most of their time at college these days."
Skuld smiled despite herself. "Kasumi-neesan, sometimes you're so much like Belldandy-oneesan that it's scary.
"And you remind me so much of my sisters when they were young, Skuld-chan." Both girls giggled in the way that only long-time friends can. "So, what brings you by?"
Skuld's smile vanished. "I need to talk to Ranma and Akane."
Kasumi noticed the younger girl's change in tone, but didn't comment on it. "Akane isn't home yet - she has an evening course tonight. Ranma-kun is in the dojo with some students right now. Do you want me to interrupt his class?"
Skuld shook her head. "No, I need to talk to both of them together. I suppose I should come back tomorrow."
"Oh, please don't go yet! We'd love to have you stay for dinner, Skuld."
"Well, if it isn't too much of a bother ..."
"It's no bother at all! Father, Nabiki, and Genma-san are visiting Nodoka-san for dinner this evening, so there's plenty of room at the table. Besides, two of Ranma-kun's students are staying for dinner as well, and I think they'd like to see you."
Skuld's eyes widened. "You mean ... Yes! I'd love to see them again! It's been months since we got to see each other last!"
"Then it's settled. One more for dinner."
Dinner started off formally, but quickly became more relaxed. Until Skuld asked the wrong question:
"Is Usagi still mad at me?"
The other two guests stopped eating.
"How can I put this ..."
"You can't - you're too polite. Yes, Skuld, you are still on Usagi's 'shit list'."
"You'd sugar-coat it too much, Ami."
"You're probably right, but there's no need to swear ..."
"Students, that's enough," interrupted Ranma in a tone remarkably similar to Tendo Soun at his most stoic. "You have answered Skuld's question, and that's all that matters." He turned to Skuld, letting himself shift from 'teacher' to 'friend'. "Yeah, you, me, Akane, Belldandy-sama, Urd-san, Ryoga, Ucchan, the Amazons - we're all on Usagi's list of people she'd rather see dead than talk to, even after all this time."
"I wouldn't say it's that bad, Ranma-san," replied Ami. "Usagi doesn't actually hate any of you."
"Maybe not, Ami, but she still ain't happy about us derailing the whole Crystal Millenium thing. Even I can see that."
"You aren't that bad at noticing things, Ranma-san."
"Sure I am, Ami. Although sometimes I'll notice something even you haven't."
Ami was surprised at her teacher's statement. "What would that be?"
"Think about it - Usagi never bothered to take her college entrance exams, Makoto says she ain't trying to cook anything any more, and she doesn't even try ta show up for her kempo lessons even once in a while any more. And when was the last time anybody saw Sailor Moon around? The rest of you are trying to find that cat burglar that's been hitting jewelry stores in Juuban lately, but Usagi's stayed outta that hunt. What you've told me and I've seen adds up to Usagi withdrawing into her own little world, and that's my fault."
"When you put it that way, I can see how you're right," replied Makoto. "But what's happening to Usagi isn't your fault, Ranma."
"Yes, it is. I know I ain't the brightest guy in the world, but I've had a couple'a years to think about this. If it wasn't for us," Ranma said while waving his hand at Skuld and towards the general direction of the Goddesses' shrine, "the five of you'd be getting ready to rule the world right now. Don't interrupt, Ami; I know I'm exaggerating. As it is, you've gotta find other things to do with your lives. Now Ami's gonna be a doctor, and Makoto's as good a cook as Ucchan or Kasumi." Both Makoto and Kasumi smiled at the compliment of being favourably compared to a professional chef. Ranma didn't notice. "Rei's finally started her singing career, and thank Kami-sama that she ain't an idol singer."
"Kami-sama had nothing to do with it," interrupted Skuld. "It was Urd-neechan and I who convinced the record agent to move Rei-san from the 'idol' list to their group of more serious singers."
Skuld looked at her lap. "I felt I owed her that much. She did help me learn how to use my gift of foresight, after all."
"Well, thank the Goddesses of the Past and Future that Rei ain't an idol singer, then."
"Anyway," continued Ranma, "Minako's in the same classes as Akane is, so she'll have that to fall back on when she stops modelling. And her older friends already had their lives planned out before they knew they were Sailor Senshi. But what's Usagi got?"
Finally, Ami spoke up. "She has Mamoru-san."
Ranma smiled for a moment. "Yeah, they've got True Love. Not a lot of people have that." His smile turned to a frown. "But that ain't enough - me and Akane know that from personal experience. What's Usagi gonna do with her life when Mamoru's at work?" The room fell silent. "Yeah. She ain't got a lot of choices, and keeping to herself ain't helping her any."
Afer a moment, Kasumi cleared her throat. "Ranma-kun, how did the classes go today?"
Happy for the change of subject, Ranma answered quickly. "The new students are doing pretty good. All except that Takahashi fella - he's got more passion than skill, and that's hurting him. I'll get Ryoga working with him to fix that when he and Akari are in town, though."
Once Skuld had figured out the tortured grammar in Ranma's answer, she turned to the woman beside her. "That reminds me - why are you learning kempo and musabetsu kakuto ryu, Ami? Are the hospitals around here that dangerous?"
Ami laughed. "No, Skuld, you're perfectly safe in any Japanese hospital. I'm learning the martial arts so I can stay in shape and protect myself without transforming in case I need to. More importantly, the musabetsu kakuto ryu style helps me focus my Senshi abilities, which should give me an edge against that cat burglar, if the thief is as good as the rumours say."
Just then, Happosai burst in, shouting "What a haul! What a haul!" He noticed the people around the table. "Pretty ladies! Hello!" He jumped at Ami's chest.
Ami quickly stood up, transformed to Sailor Mercury, fired a Shiny Aqua Illusion at Happosai, transformed back, and sat down at a different place at the table before anyone other than Ranma could react. "And it helps protect me against perverts," she said as the now-frozen Happosai continued in his arc past the table and out the door, bounced twice, and finally stopped in the koi pond.
Everyone stared at Ami for a moment. Finally, Ranma said, "Kasumi, we won't be needing those chestnuts from the store next week after all. Ami just demonstrated the kachu tenshin amaguriken to my satisfaction."
"Nabiki will be happy to hear that, Ranma-kun," replied Kasumi as she re-filled Skuld's rice bowl. "Congratulations, Ami-san."
Ami's reply was lost in the sound of steam coming from the koi pond. "That wasn't very nice ..." they heard Happosai say through his battle aura as he advanced on them all.
"My turn," said Skuld as she stood up and looked a few seconds into the future. "Akane taught me this trick," she commented as she pulled Mjolnir II from out of nowhere. Then she jumped forward and swung the hammer like a croquet mallet, right into the point in space-time where she had foreseen it would do the most good. Sure enough, Happosai ended up flying away.
Skuld sat down to a round of polite applause.
Finally, after the Juuban duo left to see an evening movie, Akane finished her evening class. "I'm home! Oh, Skuld's here! Hi, Skuld!"
"Hello, Akane. Do you have a moment? You too, Ranma."
Akane couldn't help but notice the tone of Skuld's voice. "What's wrong?" she asked as she sat down.
"Do you remember the way that I granted Ukyo's wish?"
Akane nodded. Ranma replied, "Yeah, you kept her father and Pops from making that engagement agreement by making an engagement agreement between your big sister and Pops instead."
"That's almost right, Ranma. The exact agreement was this: 'Saotome Genma and Urd Odinsdotter agree that a son of Saotome and a sister of Odinsdotter shall become affianced. This shall take effect on the day that either of them turns sixteen.'"
"So, 'affianced' doesn't exactly mean 'engaged'."
Akane's eyes grew wide. "You don't mean ..."
"I'm afraid so, Akane. Goddesses must always keep their promises, and I promised to promise to marry Ranma. I'm sorry."
Both of the humans in the room were shocked.
Finally, Akane asked, "Isn't there any way out of this?"
Skuld shook her head. "Unless Genma has another son ..."
"Which he doesn't," interrupted Ranma.
"... either I or Belldandy-oneesan has to marry Ranma. And Belldandy-oneesan has to stay with Keiichi-san for the rest of his life. So that leaves me." A single tear escaped from Skuld's eye as she said this. "I know you two have True Love. But I made a promise! It isn't fair! Kami-sama, it isn't fair!!!"
Skuld's celphone rang.
Everyone looked at it for a moment. "You don't suppose ..." began Akane.
"The only people who have that number are you two, Kasumi-neesan, Belldandy-oneesan, and Kami-sama. And Belldandy-oneesan is on a date with Keiichi-san tonight."
The celphone kept ringing.
"Well, you don't want to keep Him waiting, do ya?" Ranma asked.
"No! No, of course not!" Skuld answered the phone. "Hello? ... Yes ... Yes, we thought it might be You calling ... Yes, I did just tell them ... Really? ... We can do that? ... No, I'm not doubting Your word, it just took me by surprise, that's all ... Thank You, Kami-sama! 'Bye!"
Ranma was the first to ask. "So, what did He want?"
"I can't tell you yet," replied Skuld with a smile on her face. "But I think He hinted that there's a way that everybody can end up happy ..."
Dorllir was in the market, returning from the pet shop with a bag of cat food for her pet/hostage, when she saw him.
As soon as she saw the mortal, Dorllir knew he was Mister Right. Those beautiful eyes, those strong muscles, that hint of magic about him (no, more than just a hint!) ... Yes, he was definitely the man for her, even if he wasn't a demon!
She saw that he was holding hands with a girl, but that didn't matter - how could any mortal girl compete with her? Then she saw the person they were waiting for come out of the ice cream parlor and join them.
"What on Earth?" Her very own Mister Right was waiting for a Norn? Whatever was going on here, it was probably something either she or Marller needed to know about. She turned invisible and followed the trio.
Soon she was close enough to hear what they were saying.
"... really think that's going to work? Kasumi told me that someone acting that way was probably suffering from clinical depression. That isn't something you can cure with a martial arts move, Ranma."
So his name was Ranma. Such a wonderful name ...
"Kasumi ain't a doctor, Akane."
And the girl was named Akane ... Now she remembered! These two were directly responsible for delaying the Crystal Millenium! If Dorllir wasn't very careful, she risked re-starting the process that would put demonkind out of business for a long, long time ... Reluctantly, she decided Ranma was off-limits.
"Maybe Kasumi never went to medical school, but she's read most of Toufuu-sensei's books!"
"Yeah, and Gosunkugi's read every book he can find about magic. That don't make him a magician."
"Thank Kami-sama for that ..."
Ranma ignored Skuld's remark. "Look, we gotta do something for her. My idea's worth a try, ain't it?"
"I don't think so, Ranma," replied Skuld. "Even if there is a 'cheer up moxibustion technique', which I seriously doubt exists, how are you of all people going to get close enough to Usagi to apply it?"
Did she say "Usagi"? She did! This was bad - they were planning on interfering with her assignment! She had to do something! Since she was invisible, she could use her power to make people think her whispered phrases were their own ideas, but what could she whisper? And in whose ear?
"Of course it exists, Skuld! I read the scroll in Happosai's room myself!"
A-ha! Every demon, even Dorllir, had heard of Happosai! She whispered in Akane's ear, "A technique from that pervert's collection would probably turn her into a sex fiend!"
"A technique from that pervert's collection would probably turn her into a sex fiend!!" Suddenly, Akane's mallet was in her hands, then Ranma was embedded in the nearest wall. "Ranma no baka!!!"
Dorllir was appaled at Akane's use of her mallet. How could a mortal know that technique?
"Akane, you haven't done that in years! Why did you hit Ranma now?"
"Skuld, he was planning on using one of Happosai's techniques! You know how dangerous those are!"
"That's no reason to hit him, Akane. You could have talked to him instead. That's what I was about to do."
Dorllir couldn't resist whispering in Akane's ear again. "You just want Ranma for yourself!"
"You just want Ranma for yourself! I thought we were friends ..." And Akane ran off crying.
There was nothing quite as satisfying as using a person's friends to make the person squirm, and making a Norn squirm that way was even sweeter. Dorllir was quite happy with her trip to the market.
Belldandy heard the door open and close, but almost didn't hear Skuld say she was home. That wasn't like her younger sister - Whatever could be the matter? Dinner could wait for a moment.
Stepping into the front hall, she saw Skuld sitting in the front hall, not bothering to remove her shoes. While she couldn't see her sister's face, Belldandy knew from Skuld's posture that she was unhappy. "What's wrong, Skuld?"
The youngest Norn turned to her sister. Belldandy was shocked to see tears on Skuld's cheeks. "Oh, Belldandy-oneechan ... I think maybe ... I did ... something wrong, ... and ... and now Akane hates me!" The floodgates burst, and the tears streamed down Skuld's face.
Belldandy didn't say anything; she held her sister close.
After a while, Skuld stopped crying. Belldandy helped her take her shoes off, then lent her her support while they moved into the kitchen.
"Why do you think Akane hates you, Skuld?"
"She ... she thinks I want to take Ranma away from her."
Skuld smiled a bit at Belldandy's comment. "Have you been talking with Kasumi-neechan again, Belldandy-oneechan?"
Belldandy returned the smile. "Not recently, no. Why does Akane think you want to take Ranma away from her?"
Skuld slowly described what she had seen happen that afternoon, starting when she met Ranma and Akane outside the ice cream parlor and continuing to when Akane ran off crying. "And when I called the Tendo residence after helping Ranma get out of the wall Akane pushed him into, Nabiki-san answered the phone and said that Akane didn't want to talk to me."
"Did you try visiting Akane-san?"
Skuld shook her head. "She ... frightened me a bit, oneechan. She had her 'Mallet-sama' out."
"I see. Skuld, would you mind making dinner for the family tonight? I think that I need to visit Kasumi-san this afternoon."
Skuld's smile was back, if only slightly. "Thank you, oneechan."
It had been a while since Belldandy had visited with the Tendos. After hearing what Skuld had told Belldandy, Kasumi invited her to stay for dinner. Both women felt that the friendship between Skuld and Akane was too precious to throw away over a misunderstanding, and they hoped Belldandy would be able to play peacemaker.
Akane had other ideas.
"No, I am not going to talk to that fiancee-stealer! She's been after Ranma all week because of some stupid promise, and I've had enough of it!"
Everyone looked at Kasumi and Belldandy for a moment. Their saying the same thing at the same time had to have been planned. Hadn't it?
Belldandy continued alone. "Akane-san, a promise may be ill-advised, or hastily-considered, but it is never 'stupid'. Doesn't a promise reflect on the person making it?"
Akane thought about that for a moment. "I guess ... But Ranma's supposed to be my fiancee! Why is Skuld so interested in him all of the sudden?"
"She won't tell me that, Akane-san. All she said was that it was something between her and Kami-sama."
"Then why doesn't she marry Kami-sama?!?"
Belldandy smiled at that mental image. "Actually, I think Kami-sama should get out of the office more often, and that might be a good way to get Him to do so. But Skuld's promise isn't with Him, it's with Ranma. She doesn't have a choice in the matter."
"Everybody has a choice!"
"Every human has a choice, yes. But Goddesses and Demons don't - we must keep any promises that we make. If we don't, then ... well, I'll just say that bad things happen to us."
"Really," came the comment from down the table.
"Yes, Nabiki-san. But I don't know of any mortal who's learned that fact and been able to profit from it. Even Keiichi sometimes suffers because of the promise I made to him."
"Oh." Nabiki turned her attention back to her rice bowl.
Belldandy turned back to Akane, who was thinking about what Belldandy had just said.
"I guess the promise wasn't stupid, Belldandy-san. But I still don't know why Kami-sama allowed a promise like that to be made."
Belldandy sighed. Having looked in the Yggdrasil records, she knew exactly why the promise had been allowed, but she didn't dare tell Akane the reason.
Luckily, Akane wasn't waiting for an answer. "But what I want to know is why Skuld took Ranma's side in the market today!"
"From what she told me, I thought she was taking your side, Akane-san," replied the Norn. "I don't think anyone deserves to be the subject of one of Happosai's techniques, no matter how much good it might do her."
Genma cleared his throat. "Excuse me, but what's the problem with the Master's techniques?"
Belldandy turned to the elder Saotome, who wilted under her gaze. After a moment, she answered him with a question of her own. "Did you get the instructions for the Neko-ken from your 'master'?"
Genma thought for a moment. "Why, yes, I think I did get that Advanced Combat manual from the Master's pack after we sealed him away ..." He looked at everyone else at the table staring at him. "What's wrong?"
"'What's wrong', he asks," replied Nabiki. "Sometimes your level of intellect amazes even me, Saotome-san."
"Why, thank you, child."
"That wasn't a compliment." Nabiki turned her attention back to her dinner.
Belldandy turned back to Akane. "I think almost all of us agree that Happosai's techniques should never be used. Skuld was agreeing with you. She took your side against your fiancee."
"I guess ... Yeah, she was! So why did I get so upset with her?"
"I don't know, Akane-san. But I can find out, if you'll allow me to look into your soul."
Akane paled. "You can do that?"
Belldandy smiled. "Yes, but it can be dangerous."
After a moment, Akane asked, "I'm a martial artist - I won't run from the danger. When do you want to start?"
"I'd suggest we do this after dinner."
The two women made themselves comfortable in Akane's bedroom. Nabiki watched from the doorway - Akane wanted her there in case something went wrong, but Belldandy didn't want anyone to be close enough to accidentally hurt either of them.
A touch on the proper shiatsu spot put Akane to sleep. Belldandy looked Akane in the eyes, and suddenly wasn't there ...
... because she was inside Akane's mind. "Hello?"
"Hi, Belldandy-san. This is ... different."
Belldandy smiled. "Yes, it is. Can you show me to your memories of today, please?"
Akane took Belldandy's hand and lead the Norn through her mind. They quickly reached that afternoon's memories. "Here we are, Belldandy-san."
"Thank you, Akane-san." Belldandy looked at the memories for a while from many different perspectives. She abruptly stopped, startling Akane.
"This." Belldandy pointed at a memory. Unlike the other memories, which were all tinted scarlet, this one was a deep black. "You didn't think this - someone else thought it for you."
Akane touched the memory. They both heard the words "You just want Ranma for yourself! You just want Ranma for yourself!"
Akane turned to Belldandy. "That's what I said to Skuld after she said I shouldn't have hit Ranma. But who said it before I did?"
"I don't know, Akane. I do know that it wasn't anyone who cares about your welfare."
"Then ... whoever that was made me hate Ranma and Skuld? Oh, no!"
Belldandy held Akane close, paying close attention to the tears running down her face. When Akane stopped crying, Belldandy let her go. "I know it seems like I've only been here a few minutes, but it's been hours since we started. I have to leave now, Akane-san, or you might begin to suffer because of my presence. Please talk with Skuld tomorrow."
Akane nodded her head quickly. "There's another person who might be able to help us, too. I think Skuld and I should visit Rei-san tomorrow, too."
Belldandy smiled as she left Akane's soul. There was hope for Akane yet ...
It was after midnight when Belldandy let herself into her home. Sensing that everyone else was already asleep, she quietly made her way to her own bedroom. As she passed the kitchen, she took a quick look inside.
Her shriek woke everyone in the building.
When Skuld reached the kitchen door, Belldandy grabbed the front of her pyjamas. "What ... what did you do to my kitchen?!?"
Skuld looked like she was about to cry. "I wanted to give you a thank-you present ... don't you like the new kitchen gadgets I made for you?"
"No, and don't try that look on me, young lady! I want this kitchen back the way it was when I left this afternoon! And I want it back before I wake up to make breakfast!"
"All right, oneechan ..."
Skuld was up all night removing the dozens of mini-Banpei kitchen gadgets she had installed.
"Hino-san! You have a visitor!"
Rei put down the sheet music she was reading and turned to the security guard. "If it's another autograph hound, tell him I'm busy."
"I don't think she's looking for an autograph, ma'am. She said to tell you her name was Tendo ..."
"Send her in!"
A few minutes later, Akane was telling Rei what had happened to her yesterday. "And when Belldandy-sama suggested I talk to Skuld about whoever changed my mind, I thought that you might be able to help us out, too. I know you have no reason to do me any favours ..."
Rei smiled at Akane. "Akane-san, I do have a reason to do you a favour. You, Skuld-kun, Ranma-san, and your friends prevented the Crystal Millenium, and that gave me the chance to become what I am today. I'm sure that I wouldn't have been as happy being a princess as I am when I'm on stage or in the recording studio."
Akane sighed with relief. "I'm happy you feel that way, Rei-san. Sometimes when I'm in class, I can almost sense the resentment that Minako-san has for me, and that makes it difficult to concentrate on the lectures."
"Well, I'll have to have a talk with Minako some time, then. How are your studies coming along, anyway?"
"Wonderfully! The children all like me almost as much as they like Minako-san."
"I didn't realize that you were already getting work experience, Akane-san. Are the children giving you any trouble?"
Akane smiled. "After living with Ranma for this long, anything a room full of preschool children could do would be sane in comparison!"
Rei laughed at Akane's answer. "Yes, I suppose Ranma's lifestyle would toughen everyone around him, too."
"That's for sure! But we've gotten away from why I came to see you ..."
Rei stopped smiling. "Right. You and Belldandy-sama think that someone, or something, is interfering with your life. If you can meet me at the shrine after dinner tonight, I'll do a Fire reading for you. Maybe that'll help."
"Thanks, Rei-san. I'll see you this evening, then."
When the Sacred Fire died down, the room was as dark as Rei's mood.
"I'm sorry, Akane-san."
"It's all right, Rei-san. I'm sure that you did your best."
"It isn't that! I'm being blocked!"
Rei took a deep breath in order to calm herself. "Whatever it was that made you think the way you did, it's able to hide itself from the Sacred Fire. I don't know what to do now ..."
Akane thought for a moment. "Maybe if you had some help?"
"I don't know about this, Akane."
"Rei-san think's it's a good idea, Skuld."
Skuld thought for a moment. "Okay, I guess ..."
The two girls go off the bus and started climbing the steps to the shrine. When they reached the top, Rei's grandfather saw them and made his way over to them. "Ladies! How nice of you to grace us with your presence again! Are you sure you don't want to become a shrine maiden, Akane-chan?"
Akane smiled at the old priest. "Thank you for offering yet again, but I must still decline. You know that my family's honour depends on me marrying Ranma. Why don't you ask Skuld if she wants to be a shrine maiden?"
"Now why would I want to offer megami-sama a demotion?"
Skuld looked at him in shock. "You know?"
"You don't get to be my age without learning to notice a few things, Skuld-sama. Oh, but I'm keeping you from seeing my granddaughter. I'll let you go inside now. It was good to see you again, ladies!"
As the two women entered the shrine, Skuld shook her head in amazement. "That was ... unsettling. I wonder what else he knows?"
"Does it matter, Skuld?"
"It might matter to Rei-sempai."
"What might matter to me?" came the question from the doorway.
"Rei-sempai! Hello! Your grandfather knew that I'm a Goddess, and I was just wondering what else he knew."
"Oh, is that all?" Rei smiled. "Grandfather has been a priest for longer than I've been alive, Skuld-san. Of course he's going to be able to notice things like that."
Skuld shook her head quickly. "That isn't what I meant. If he knows my secret, who else's secrets has he also figured out?"
"I'm not worried about that," replied Rei before Skuld could continue. "If he has figured out anyone else's secrets, he hasn't told anybody. That's good enough for me."
The three women entered the chamber of the Sacred Fire. "I've never been in here before," commented Skuld. "It's ... relaxing."
"This is the Sacred Fire," Rei said as she led Skuld to it.
"Yes, I can see that. It's the only thing here with a resident kami."
"You can sense the kami of the Fire?" both Rei and Akane asked in awe.
Skuld rolled her eyes. "Guys ... I am a Goddess." She turned to the Sacred Fire. "Hello!"
"Hello!" it answered back.
Both Rei's and Akane's jaws hit the floor.
Skuld looked back at them, stared for a moment, then smiled. "Oh, yeah - I forgot that mortals can see and hear the kami when we're talking with them. I remember Urd-neechan mentioned that Keiichi-san reacted the same way the first time she talked to the trolls that live in the engine of the car he was driving." She turned back to the Fire. "Would you come out and join us, please?"
The flame flickered for a moment, then a shape emerged from it. The kami was definitely female - she looked something like Rei, and something like Ukyo, except that she was only six inches tall and she had firey red hair and eyes. She bowed to Skuld. "You honour me with your presence, my patron."
"And you honour me with yours," replied Skuld. "Now, what's this that Akane tells me about Rei being blocked last night?"
"Alas, Skuld-sama, I am not allowed to pass information to Rei-dono about the demon she was investigating. The demon has forbidden it."
"So it was a demon." Skuld turned to Akane. "You and Belldandy-oneesan were right."
"Can we find out which demon it was?"
Skuld turned back to the kami of the Sacred Flame. "Well?"
"I'm sorry, Skuld-sama. Marller has told me not to reveal that to anyone who does not speak the proper password."
"Marller? I'd better call Urd-neechan and Belldandy-oneesan - they're going to want to know about this."
"Oh, great," commented Rei. "Kami-sama, is Marller interfering with anyone else's life?"
The kami of the Fire nodded her head. "I was wondering when you were going to ask me about that. She and Dorllir are making life miserable for both Usagi and Luna."
"Dorllir? Who's Dorllir?" asked Akane.
"She's ... I'm sorry, but I'm not allowed to talk about that without the proper password." The kami looked sad as she said that.
Skuld looked straight at the kami of the Fire. "This is more along Urd-neesan's specialty ... Kami-san, has this Dorllir done anything to Akane, or anyone else I know?"
Tears of fire ran down the kami's cheeks. "I can't tell you that without the proper password."
"What does Dorllir look like?"
"I can't tell you that without the proper password."
"Is Dorllir male or female?"
"I can't tell you that without the proper password."
Akane interrupted. "Well, what is the proper password?"
Skuld turned to Akane. "She probably can't answer that question,either."
"Actually, Skuld-sama, ..." The kami's frown was gone. "Dorllir never told me to keep the password secret. The password is 'Serenity'."
Skuld's jaw dropped. "What kind of demon is this Dorllir?"
"I can't tell you that without ..."
"She's a novice who's only been in Earthrealm for a couple of years. Her mission to demoralize Usagi is her first solo assignment - she's been working as Marller's assistant up to now. She only messed with Akane's mind because it was an easy way to cause you some grief, Skuld-sama. She has the power to become invisible, and to whisper thoughts into people's minds when she's invisible. She's a Demon Second-class, Limited, and she came to Earthrealm through the 'Demon Fashion Quarterly' magazine. She has blonde hair, she usually dresses in black, her chest is flatter than ..."
Shuld held up a hand. "I think that's enough."
"Sorry. I'm not used to being able to communicate directly; I guess I was babbling."
"That's all right," replied Rei. "It's nice to be able to hear you clearly for a change. Where can we find Dorllir?"
"I don't know. I'm sorry, Rei-dono."
After a moment of silence, Skuld smiled at the kami of the Sacred Fire. "Thank you for joining us here. I know it can be unpleasant for you to leave your Fire."
"It is cold out here, yes. May I return now, Skuld-sama?"
"Of course. You have done well."
The kami smiled at the compliment as she returned to the flames.
Rei watched as Skuld's latest Banpei put a protective covering over the last of eight spirit wards she had set up on the inside of the wall around the Tendo estate. "That should keep Ranma-san and Akane-san safe, along with the rest of the Tendos."
"True, but they're not the biggest problem we have right now."
Rei nodded in agreement. "Would you help me set up wards around Usagi, please?"
"If she'll tolerate our presence, I'd be glad to help, Rei-sempai."
Rei scowled at the thought that Usagi might not let them in. "You're right - we're going to have to get into her home before we can help her."
"And she isn't seeing anyone any more, is she?"
Rei thought for a moment. "There is one person she'll see. We're just going to have to get his help, too."
Just then, Skuld's celphone rang. "Hello? ... Keiichi-san, what's wrong? ... She's where?!? ... I'll meet you there. 'Bye."
Skuld's face was pale. "My friend Sora is being held by the police."
"Tell us one more time, miss."
Sora sighed. It was bad enough that the police thought she was lying, but what was worse was that she wasn't sure that they weren't right. What she had seen was ... unbelievable ... even to her, and she was there.
"Could I speak to a lawyer, please?"
The police officer sighed. "We still haven't charged you with anything yet. So, one more time, please, Hasegawa-san."
Sora took a deep breath to steady her nerves. "I was shopping with my friend Megumi ..."
"That would be Morisato Megumi, correct?"
"Yes, sir. We were shopping, and Megumi suggested that we take a look in the jewelry store that we were passing. We went in, took a look around, and Megumi bought a wristwatch."
"But you didn't buy anything."
"That's right, sir. We were about to leave when another woman came in. Then for some reason we fainted. When we woke up, the woman was gone, and so was every diamond in the store."
The officer looked at his notes. "That matches what the shopkeeper said, so you probably didn't steal the diamonds. Can you describe the woman who walked into the store just before you fainted?"
"I didn't really get a good look at her. I'm sorry. Oh, wait; she was wearing a bandage on her forehead. Does that help?"
"Probably not, but it's better than nothing. Thank you, Hasegawa-san; you're free to go."
"Sora! Over here!"
She turned to the person calling her name. "Skuld? Did Chihiro-san send you to get me?"
Skuld shook her head. "She asked Keiichi-san to come over, but Megumi asked him to take her home when the police let her go. I stayed to wait for you."
"Oh, yes, I can understand why he'd be worried about his sister. Thank you for waiting, Skuld."
"What are friends for?" The two women left the police station and made their way to the subway station.
"So, what happened at the jewelry store?"
"Don't ask me that, please. That's all that I've been talking about for the last three hours."
"Sorry!" Skuld blushed. "I guess you told them everything you saw, right?"
"Everything that made any sense ..."
When it became apparent that Sora wasn't going to continue on her own, Skuld promped her. "What did you see that didn't make sense?"
"Promise you won't laugh?"
"I won't laugh, Sora."
"Okay ... When I was waking up after we all fainted, I thought I saw the woman outside the store. But I couldn't have, because she disappeared right in front of me."
"I think so ... but maybe I was just seeing things. I did just faint, after all."
"Actually, that sounds like something I heard about one time that I visited Ranma and Akane." Skuld added to herself, Something that Belldandy-oneesan was telling the two of them, about us.
"You think that the person was someone from the crazier part of Nerima?"
"I don't know, Sora. Was she standing beside or above anything unusual, like a puddle of water or a mirror?"
"I don't think so. All I remember seeing after she disappeared was a cat walking away."
"... and that's what Sora said about the jewel thief, neesan."
Urd frowned. "I don't know of any god or demon who has cats as a travel medium, Skuld. But it might be a human. There's a maoniichunan at Jyusenko ..."
Skuld's eyes widened. "Don't tell me that you think that your friend Shampoo is the thief?"
"Of course she isn't; she's still in China. But somebdy else could have fallen into that spring."
"Could you find out for me, please? I promised Rei-sempai that I'd help her talk to Usagi-san, and I'd like to help Ami and Makoto find that cat burglar they've been chasing, especially since Megumi and Sora spent an afternoon at the police station because of her."
"Of course I'll help. Megumi is practically family, and we three sisters have always stood with our family."
Elsewhere, if that's the right term:
"This isn't good."
"What isn't good?"
"Take a look at this."
The two watched the images for a few minutes. "You're right; this isn't good. If that thing hits Tokyo, then all of our friends are going to die."
"What can we do about it, though? We have to stay here ..."
"No, you don't," interrupted a third voice.
The two turned around. "Peorth? What are you doing here?"
"I'm here on the Almighty's business. None of us foresaw anything like that happening," Peorth gestured toward the images, "so one of you gets to go help. But somebody has to stay here, and I'm needed at Yggdrasil right now."
"Peorth, why aren't you mixing languages?"
"There's no time for that now. Which of you is going to help Ranma, Skuld, and the others?"
Mamoru hadn't been expecting anyone to call that evening. He certainly hadn't been expecting her to call, ever. But she had.
"I know you never expected to hear my voice again, but it's really me. Honest!"
"But ... but ..." he stuttered into the telephone.
"It's too long a story to explain over the phone. I need to see you and Rei in person, anyway. Where can you meet me?"
Mamoru thought for a moment. "Well ... I think Rei is in town right now. If she is, I'll ask her to meet me at the shrine."
"Okay! I'll see you there in an hour!"
As the connection cut off, Mamoru shook his head. "It can't be her. This has to be some kind of trick. And I'm talking to myself. I'd better call Rei ..."
"... not that I need an excuse to help an old friend, you understand. But what you've told me is ... well, it's unbelievable. Are you sure it was her voice?"
Mamoru shook his head. "It sounded like it could have been her, Rei, but you know as well as I do that that's impossible."
The two continued to the top of the steps in silence.
Finally, Rei spoke. "If it is a trap, then whoever it is likely knows who we are. I asked someone to come over and give us some help if this turns into a fight."
Mamoru smiled slightly. "Who else is here? Ami? Makoto? Minako? Michiru? Haruka?"
"None of them, I'm afraid."
"Who else could you have ..." His smile turned into a frown. "Please tell me you didn't call one of them."
Rei stopped walking and grabbed Mamoru by the shoulder, forcing him to turn to look at her. "Yes, I did. You have to stop hating them, Mamoru. They're good people, well, most of them are good people, and they've done a lot of good for the world. They may have done more for the world than we have."
"I know that. But it's what they did to Usako that I can't forgive."
"You're going to have to forgive it, if you ever want to see Usagi return to her old self ..." By the time Rei had finished explaining what she knew about the demons Marller and Dorllir, she and Mamoru had reached the temple.
"Poor Usako. Nobody should be manipulated like that." Mamoru looked Rei straight in the eye. "What can I do to stop it?"
"You can help me drive away the demons while Skuld-san puts wards around Usagi's house. But you're going to have to trust Skuld-san to act in Usagi's best interests. Can you do that?"
Mamoru thought for a moment. Finally he answered, "I don't know."
"Please, try. For Usagi's sake, you have to trust Skuld-san to do her part of the job."
Just then, a voice came from the shrine. "Did somebody mention my name?"
Rei turned and smiled. "Skuld-san, hello. You're right on time. I believe you've met Mamoru?"
Skuld frowned. "I don't think so ... Oh, wait. You're Tuxedo Kamen, aren't you? I suppose we have met after all." She bowed, then held out her hand. "I'm pleased to meet you properly, Chiba-san. Can you find it within you to call me 'friend'?"
Mamoru bowed slightly, but didn't take Skuld's hand. "I want to make one thing clear, Odinsdottor. I'm only working with you because Rei tells me it will help Usako. I don't like you, and I doubt I ever will."
Skuld lowered her hand to her side. "I see." She turned back to Rei. "Where do you want me to wait, Rei-sensei?"
"Here would be good, Skuld-san. Mamoru and I will be just outside, so come running if you hear either of us call for help."
"Okay!" Skuld started inventorying her weapons while Rei closed the door in front of her.
"Why did she call you 'sensei', Rei?"
Rei sighed. "Could you ask me that again, without the disapproval in your voice?" Mamoru didn't respond. "Oh, all right. I taught her the basics of how to see the future. She's never stopped calling me 'sensei', even after her ability surpassed mine."
"You helped her?"
"That was before the fight, Mamoru! I didn't see any problem with helping out somebody who might have become an ally!"
"Your help let her defeat Sailor Pluto! How do you feel about that?"
"Considering the future Pluto had in mind for us didn't include me being a singer, I feel just fine!"
Off to the side, the person they were expecting to meet cleared her throat. "Hello?"
"How can you put your own desires before Usako's needs?"
"Usagi told me to train her!"
The third person waved her hand. "Hello!"
"I don't think Usako meant for you to help destroy Crystal Tokyo!"
"I don't think Usagi wanted me to disobey her, either!"
The newcomer reached behind her back. "This is ridiculous!" Drawing a wand and pointing it at Mamoru and Rei, she shouted "Pink Sugar Heart Attack!"
Rei and Mamoru picked themselves off the ground. "I think that's proof that she really is who she said she is, Mamoru," muttered Rei. She turned to Chibi-Usa. "You didn't have to attack us."
"Yes, I did," interrupted the girl. "You were so busy arguing that you ignored everything else I did to get your attention. You should be glad I didn't use a New Twinkle Yell or a Moon Spiral Heart Attack or a Dead Scream ..."
Mamoru didn't let her continue. "Chibi-Usa! It is you! You're alive!" He stopped as he realized that his daughter looked to be sixteen years old. "You're a lot older than you were when you left. How did you grow up so quickly? And what did you mean, 'use a Dead Scream'?"
"It's good to see you, too, Dad." Mamoru blushed as Chibi-Usa continued. "I've been with Plu at the Time Gate since Crystal Tokyo disappeared. The two of us have been there for years, going by how time flows there. We haven't had much else to do except learn each other's techniques. Can we go inside and sit down, please?" Turning to the temple and raising her voice, Chibi-Usa added, "Skuld-san, Peorth-san said to say 'hello'."
The temple door opened. "How did you know that I was in here?" asked the Norn.
"I saw that you'd be here when I looked in the Time Gate before I left."
"But nobody's supposed to be able to see my future!"
Chibi-Usa smiled. "I'm an artifact of the timestream; the normal rules don't apply to me, Skuld-san. You, Ranma-san, and Akane-san have got a very interesting future to look forward to!" She turned back to Mamoru and Rei, and stopped smiling. "But that'll have to wait. The four of us, and one other person, have to rescue Mom from the demons that are tormenting her. We need her in full control of the Silver Crystal as soon as possible ..."
"Sure, I can help you out, Skuld. I'll meet you at Usagi's place in an hour... Um, what was the address, again?"
"... so that's the plan. Any questions?"
"Yes," replied Mamoru. "Why does he have to be involved at all?"
"Because I said so," replied Chibi-Usa. "Do you want to help Mom or not? If you don't want Mom to get free of those demons, then we can just send him home..."
"Hey! I do have a name, y'know!"
"Quiet! We don't want those demons to know that you're here, so please just stay behind the house until you're needed."
"Fine, fine ... If it wasn't for Skuld askin' me, I wouldn't even bother being here ..." The group split up, with everyone going to their assigned positions.
Mamoru, Rei, and Chibi-Usa went to the Tsukinos' front door and rang the doorbell. After a moment, Shingo opened the door. "Hello? Oh, hello Rei, hello Mamoru! Come on in. Who's your friend?"
"Don't you remember me, cousin?"
"Chibi-Usa? It is you! I'm sorry I didn't recognize you, but you've changed a lot. How did you grow up so fast?"
Chibi-Usa thought for a moment, but Rei answered before she could come up with anything. "You know how weird it is in Nerima, and what happens when a youma shows up, Shingo-kun? Chibi-Usa got caught in some weirdness like that."
Shingo nodded. "I guess strange things happen to all of you sometimes. Do you still fit in the Chibi-Moon seifuku, Chibi-Usa?"
All three of the visitors stared at Shingo, their mouths agape.
He looked at them for a moment. "What, it was supposed to be a secret? It isn't as if very many people had the same hairstyle as neesan and Sailor Moon, or Chibi-Usa and Sailor Chibi-Moon. Besides, Naru-san figured out who all of you are when she and neesan were still in junior high, and she told me."
Chibi-Usa blushed. "Oh, yeah. It is a unique hairdo, isn't it?"
"Well, let's just get back to the plan to help Usako," interrupted Mamoru. "Ladies?"
Rei and Chibi-Usa made themselves comfortable on the sofa. "She's lucky she didn't turn into an old maid ..." said Rei, loudly.
"You just wish I would have, because I'm prettier than you are!" Chibi-Usa answered just as loudly. "You wouldn't be able to handle the competition ..."
"As if you'd ever be competition for me!" Rei reaised her voice a bit more.
While the two girls traded insults, Mamoru asked Shingo, "How is Usako today?"
"The same as always, I'm afraid."
"It's that bad?" Mamoru winced as Shingo nodded. "I'm going to have to see her alone."
Shingo nodded. "Don't be surprised if she doesn't let you in."
Mamoru headed towards Usagi's room. As he was halfway up the stairs, he heard Chibi-Usa shout, "I am not flat-chested! You're so mean, Rei!"
That's going too far, Rei, thought Mamoru. But if that doesn't get Usako to come out of her room, nothing they say will. He stopped just shy of the door, just in case it was to open, but it remained closed. Oh, well, he thought as he knocked quietly on the door. "Usako, it's Mamoru. May I come in?"
After a moment, he heard a quiet reply. "Whatever."
Mamoru opened the door and stepped inside, then stopped. The room was a mess, and Usagi was simply laying on the bed. She hadn't even bothered to get dressed - she was in a rumpled nightgown and her hair was loose.
"Usako ..." She turned her head to look at Mamoru, but didn't otherwise acknowledge his presence. "How are you today, Usako?"
It was only one word, but it was a reply. Mamoru took that as a good sign. "I brought some of our friends with me today, Usako. Would you like to come downstairs and meet them?"
"Why not?" he asked.
"I'd have to get up."
Mamoru sighed. This wasn't normal, even for how Usagi had been acting lately. As much as he hated the idea, he was left with no choice but to go ahead with the plan. "Usako, I need to ask for a big favour from you." When she didn't reply, he continued. "I need to borrow the Ginzuishou." She didn't reply again, which worried Mamoru. "May I have it for a while, please?"
"Thank you, Usako," he said with a bit of worry in his voice. After a moment, he asked "Where is it?"
"On the dresser."
Mamoru walked over to Usagi's dressing table, and found the brooch that held the Ginzuishou after a few minutes of rummaging through the mess. He opened the brooch, saw that the Ginzuishou was still there, and sighed in relief. After pocketing the brooch, he walked over to Usagi's bed. "I brought some tea, Usako," he said while drawing a thermos flask from his pocket.
(In the front room, Rei and Chibi-Usa stopped fighting as they heard Mamoru's voice from the miniature speaker Chibi-Usa was wearing on her wristwatch. "About time," muttered Rei as they raced for the stairs, both taking their transformation wands in hand. Shingo decided that this was a good time to take a walk, and left so fast that he forgot to close the door.)
"Would you like some?" he asked as he opened the flask.
Mamoru sighed again, then put the flask on the floor. "It's ready," he said.
At that, there was a blinding light from the thermos, and he could hear from the hallway the cries of "Mars Crystal Power, Makeup!" and "Moon Crisis Power, Makeup!" Mamoru began his own transformation to Tuxedo Mask, which finished as Sailor Mars, Super Sailor Chibi-Moon, and Skuld entered the room.
Skuld quickly put on a pair of glasses as Tuxedo Mask tossed the Ginzuishou to Chibi-Moon. Sailor Mars took the opportunity to draw a spirit ward from her pocket, energizing it and attaching it to Usagi's forehead. At this, Usagi fainted.
"I didn't expect that," said Mars worriedly.
"She's too far gone," replied Skuld as she looked around the room. "I hope we can help her ... The demon's there!" Skuld pointed at an apparently-empty patch of air.
"New Twinkle Yell!" cried Chibi-Moon as she pointed a wand at the same spot. Golden heart-shaped bells blanketed the area, outlining a female form which was unfamiliar to everyone present. The demon screamed in pain and doubled over.
Skuld walked over to the demon while drawing Mjolnir II from its place at her back. "Dorllir, I presume."
Dorllir nodded. "How did you know?" she whispered through clenched teeth.
"Don't answer, Skuld!"
Skuld turned to look at Sailor Mars. "I wasn't planning to."
As soon as Skuld's eyes left her, Dorllir turned invisible, stood up, and grabbed Skuld's glasses from her face. She knew she was outclassed, and had to run away, but she knew the debugger's glasses Skuld wore would make her invisibility useless.
When the glasses left her face and disappeared, Skuld jumped in surprise. "Oh, bugs," she swore. "Can any of you see Dorllir?" All three of the senshi shook their heads. "Then she's going to get away - I didn't get all of the wards up in time. You were too early with the plan, Chiba-san."
"Maybe I could get her if I used a wide-angle attack ..." started Sailor Mars, just before the bedroom window broke. Tuxedo Mask threw a rose out the window.
Dorllir ducked her head below the thrown rose and hit the ground running. If she could just get off the Tsukino property, she could get back to Marller easily. She just had to get past the mortal at the end of the walk ... She stopped as she realized who the mortal was - it was him, the man of her dreams. Oddly, he seemed to be looking at her.
"That's a really weird aura you're giving off there, demon," said Ranma as he brought his hands together. "Moko Takabisha!"
Dorllir barely dodged the attack. What kind of person was he? How could he know a technique like that? Then she remembered the day she first saw him, and her reaction to the technique Ranma's girlfriend had used. These people were too dangerous to be around!
"Did I hit you, demon?" Ranma brought his hands together again. "Just in case ..."
Dorllir ran past Ranma as fast as she could, hoping against hope that she'd be able to get away from him. As Ranma turned on his heel and aimed at her, she leapt over the wall and ran in a zigzag pattern for the closest magazine stand.
Ranma grinned as he "watched" he aura fade in the distance. Once he was sure she was gone, he took a wireless microphone out of his pocket and turned it on.
Rei and Mamoru had transformed back to their usual forms, but Chibi-Usa was still in her Super form. "Mom ... Hang in there, Mom. I'll help you." Chibi-Moon opened her mother's brooch and tightly held the Ginzuishou over Usagi's forehead. "Moon healing escalation," she whispered.
A soft, gentle, silver glow filled the room for a few moments. When it faded, Usagi's eyes opened slowly. "What happened?"
"Mamo-chan? Why are you in my bedroom?" As Usagi sat up, she saw another familiar face. "Rei? What are you doing here?"
Everyone smiled. "Usako! You're all right!"
"It's good to hear you asking questions again, Usagi!"
"Oh, Rei! Mamo-chan! It feels like I just woke up from a nightmare!" Usagi started crying.
Chibi-Moon quietly made her way to the hallway before transforming back to Chibi-Usa. Mom doesn't need another shock just yet, even a happy one, she thought. As she made her way back downstairs, Ranma's voice came from the speaker on her wristwatch. "The demon's gone. What's next?"
"You'd better go home now, Saotome-san," replied Chibi-Usa, speaking into her watch. "I have to find Luna and make sure she's all right."
"Usagi's pet cat."
"I'm outta here!" And with that, the connection went silent.
Chibi-Usa smiled as she continued to look for Luna. Sometimes, Ranma could be quite predictable ... After a search of the house, she frowned and went back to Usagi's room, where she met Rei and Mamoru closing the door.
"Let Usako sleep," whispered Mamoru. "She's exhausted."
"All right," replied Chibi-Usa, "but we have a problem."
"What's wrong?" asked Rei.
"I can't find Luna."
It didn't take long for Usagi to start visiting her friends - in fact, she couldn't be found at home most of the time. When anyone asked her why she insisted on staying away from home so much, her answer was always the same. "That's where the demon made me want to stay. I'm sick and tired of staying in my room."
Thus it was that Usagi attended the next meeting of the people who were tracking down the cat burglar who had been stealing from the jewelry stores around the city. The two surprises she got there almost sent her back home to hide in her room again.
"You're working with her? How could you?"
Ami looked up from her computer. "You know what happened to us when we fought off Galaxia, Usagi. You're the only one of the Sailor Team who can still use an advanced attack or a super attack without some source of energy. Rei, Makoto, and I learned how to draw energy from Skuld's divine aura a couple of months ago, but she has to be nearby. Either she leaves and we're stuck with Bubble Spray, Burning Mandala and Supreme Thunder, or she stays and we can use all of our attacks."
"Ami ... You've changed since the last time I talked with you."
Rei put her hand on Usagi's shoulder. "We've all changed, Usagi. It has been nearly half a year since Dorllir got hold of your mind and forced you away from the rest of us. We've figured how to struggle along without you, but we could never work as well as a team without you leading us. I'm glad you're back."
"I'm happy to be back, Rei," replied Usagi. "But where's Minako?"
Everyone remained quiet for a moment. Finally, Skuld spoke up. "Tsukino-san, I'm afraid that it's because of me that Aino-san isn't here. She never forgave us for what we did to all of you that day."
"I'm not sure that I can forgive you either, Odinsdottor-san. Because of what you did, Crystal Tokyo won't come into existance, and that means that I'll never again see the daughter I would have had if I was to live in that future ... Why is everyone looking at me like that?"
Rei looked Usagi in the eye. "Don't you remember what happened when we came to your house last week?"
"Of course I do - you drove off that demon! But the rest of what happened is still a blur. I don't even remember who was there, except for you and Mamo-chan ... There were ... two other people there?"
"That's right, Tsukino-san," replied Skuld. "I was one of the other two people. I left your room somewhat quickly - I still had to place wards around your house, to protect you and your family from the demons ... Oh, bugs!"
"What's wrong, Skuld?"
"Rei-sempai, we need to put together more wards as quickly as possible! Dorllir probably read every word in Usagi's diary ..."
"... so she knows who all of Usagi's friends are. You're right, Skuld, but that can wait until we re-introduce the other member of Usagi's rescue team to her."
Usagi was puzzled. "Re-introduce?"
Makoto smiled as she stood up and walked to the door. "Neo-Queen Serenity, please allow me to present to you the final member of the team that rescued you from the demon that was plaguing you, an emissary from a kingdom which will now never come to pass, the princess and senshi Chiba Usagi."
Makoto opened the door to reveal Chibi-Usa waiting. "Hi, mom."
"... and that's what's been happening around the city while you were trapped in your house," said Ami.
"A jewel thief has been stealing from all the stores around here? How did Naru handle it when her family's store was robbed?"
Everyone thought for a moment. "I don't think that it has been robbed, actually," replied Makoto.
"Why is that, Tsukino-san?"
"Please call me Usagi, Skuld-san," replied Usagi as Chibi-Usa smiled at her. "It's odd because everything bad happens to Naru first. She was the first to be attacked by a youma, she was the first to fall in love with an enemy leader, ..."
"She wasn't the first to have her heart crystal pulled out of her body," interrupted Rei.
"All right, almost everything bad happens to Naru first," replied Usagi. "It's practically a law of nature. So why hasn't she been robbed yet?"
"It does seem odd that the OSA-P store hasn't been robbed yet," said Ami, "but that means we can use it as a trap, if we had a jewel that the thief couldn't possibly ignore."
Usagi opened her locket.
"NO!!!" shouted everyone else.
"We are not using the Silver Crystal as bait!" continued Chibi-Usa. "If you don't feel up to using it to transform to Sailor Moon, then put it away someplace safe until you are ready! It's too dangerous to let anyone other than one of us even touch the Ginzuishou, let alone risk losing it to a cat burglar."
"All right," said Usagi as she closed the locket. "I think you'd better take over as Sailor Moon, Chibi-Usa. If I can make a mistake that big, then I'm not ready to go back to being a hero just yet." She handed the locket to her daughter. "I hope you're ready for this, because I don't think I am."
Chibi-Usa took the locket with trembling hands. "Mom ... All right, Mom. I'll fill in for you until you're ready to take over again."
Elsewhere, if that's the right word ...
"It can't be helped, ma cherie."
"I'll thank you not to parody my style, Setsuna."
"Sorry, Peorth. What's wrong with Small Lady taking over for Usagi for a few weeks?"
"This is what's wrong." Peorth turned to the Time Gate and used it to show the most probable future. "Regardez-la."
"Oh, dear ... That is bad."
"Maybe, maybe not. We're going to have to intervene at some point, but we can probably salvage the future that must come about. Let's find out just when and where we'll have to intervene ..."
"... and the only lead we have so far is from my friend Sora, who actually saw the burglar. She said that the thief is female, and was able to disappear right in front of her."
"I don't think so, Ami," replied Skuld. "From the way she described what happened, it sounded to me as if it might be a Jusenkyo curse. A friend of my sister is checking into that right now ..." Just then, Skuld's celphone rang. "Hello? ... Urd-neesan, I was just talking about you ... That's right ... He's been there and back already? ... Oh, right - I forgot that he can fly ... He did? Bugs ... Yes, yes, I know polite young ladies don't swear, but that just ruined my theory ... No, I don't think that I'll be home for dinner tonight, sorry. 'Bye!" She hung up, then turned back to the rest of the group. "That was my sister Urd; she's heard back from her friend Mousse."
"Mousse? Why does that name sound familiar?"
"He's the boy that you healed back when Ranma, Akane, Ukyo-san, and I started going to school with you, Usagi-san."
"Oh, right. Sorry to interrupt."
Skuld decided against mentioning that Urd had to fix Usagi's work - it wouldn't be right to send Usagi back into a depressive state. She went on relaying what Urd had told her. "Mousse visited Jusenkyo and looked at the records, and discovered that nobody has fallen into the maoniichunan in the last seven decades except for Shampoo, and she's currently in China. Jusenkyo Products doesn't make instant maoniichunan, either. So it can't be a Jusenkyo-cursed person who's behind these robberies."
"It's a company that mass-produces one-use magic items that are related to Jusenkyo. Nobody knows who's behind it, but I think that one of Marller's associates might be in charge of the organization. But that's not important right now. What is important is that I'm stumped - if it isn't Jusenkyo, and if Urd-neesan is right and it isn't a demon or a goddess, then who could possibly turn into a cat in order to get away?"
Skuld looked at everyone. "That's what Sora said ... Why? Do you have an idea of who it could be?"
"Maybe," replied Ami. "Help me get into the police records, please, Skuld," she asked as she drew the Mercury Computer from her pocket.
A few moments later, they were looking at the police record of the robbery Sora had witnessed. Everyone but Skuld was staring in shock at the artist's sketck of the suspect. Makoto was the first to speak.
"Well, at least now we know what happened to Luna ..."
Usagi, Skuld, and Rei approached USA-P Jewelry. Skuld was carrying very carefully a small bag, making sure that nobody else could possibly take it from her.
"What are those called, Skuld?" asked Rei, gesturing toward the bag. "They're very pretty."
"They don't have a name yet, Rei-sensei," replied the goddess. "Natural stones like these ones that I made last night have only been found in one place in northern Canada, and the people who found them don't yet realize that they've found an unknown kind of gemstone. I foretell that they'll figure out what they've got sometime in the next decade, though. But for now, these will cause enough of a commotion that Luna will probably come looking for them, and when she does ..."
"We grab her," finished Usagi. "Or, rather, you grab her."
"It isn't too late to take the Ginzuishou back from Chibi-Usa, you know."
"You're right, Rei. It can't be too late, because it's still too early."
Rei looked as if she was about to argue that with Usagi, but she stopped as she realized they had arrived. "It's too late to go get it now, anyway - we're here."
Before Skuld could step on the pad that would open the door, though, Rei grabbed her arm. "Something's wrong. Something feels wrong."
Skuld stood quietly, staring at the building. "You're right," she replied after a moment. "Why didn't we feel this before we got here, though?"
"Maybe they were trying to hide from you," suggested Usagi.
Rei and Skuld nodded in unison. "That would make the most sense," said Skuld. "Do you think that this is where they've been hiding all along?"
Usagi frowned. "That would explain why they haven't been robbed. They've been here all along. I wonder whether Naru knows ..."
"Knows what?" asked the person in question, from behind them.
Once the three girls had calmed down, Rei replied, "We sensed a presence here, and we thought maybe you had fallen victim to it, Naru."
"A presence?" Naru shook her head. "I don't know what you could be talking about ... unless it's something about the boarders that mother took in a few months ago."
"That could be it. What are these boarders like?"
"They're very nice people, Usagi," replied Naru. "There's two of them, both women, and they're very quiet most of the time."
"Did they mention their names?" asked Skuld.
"Well ... I'm sorry, but I don't think I've heard your name, miss."
Usagi quickly moved to a position between the two girls. "Allow me. Skuld, this is my dear friend from junior high school, Osaka Naru. Naru, this is one of my newest friends, Skuld Odinsdottor. Skuld, Naru knows my big secret, so you can speak freely in front of her."
While the three others went through the formalities of introductions, Rei took the opportunity to walk around the building. She was back before anyone noticed that she was gone. "The presence is much stronger at the back of the building, everyone," she reported. "I don't know whether we can get in without being noticed unless Skuld waits here and Usagi and I walk in the way we are now, and judging from the strength of the presence, that would probably be like committing suicide."
"I'll take Naru out for some ice cream, then," replied Usagi. "That'll keep her and me out of your way while you work. If that's okay with you, Naru ...?"
"Sure, Usagi. It's been too long since we had a chance to talk, anyway. I want to find out what's been happening between you and Mamoru!"
"And I want to know what you and Umino have been up to, too ..." The two girls walked off, leaving Rei and Skuld alone.
Skuld pulled a replacement pair of debugging glasses from her pocket and put them on, then turned to look at the building. "Hmmm ... Hummm ... Ermmm ... It's no good," she said as she removed the glasses. "There's no way that either of us can walk in there, no matter how we approach. It isn't a presence - it's a barrier that drives people away from it, and fries any human or goddess that tries to cross it. Only a demon could get through it safely."
Rei frowned. "Could you teleport inside without being hurt, Skuld?"
"Only if there was some open water somewhere in there, Rei-sensei. I've been trying to sense some water, but there isn't enough inside the field for me to use as a travel medium."
"But ... I could take some with me if I went inside."
"Didn't you hear what I said, Rei-sensei? Only a demon can walk through that field safely!"
Rei looked Skuld in the eye. "Skuld, what I'm about to tell you stays strictly between you and me. Usagi knows, Ami might remember, and Makoto may have figured it out, but the others don't have a clue, and I want it to stay that way. A few years ago, before Minako joined the Sailor Team, we discovered that my grandfather is the reincarnation of a very powerful youma."
"That nice old man at the shrine is ... Oh, my. So, that means that you're ... Oh, my! Well, that explains why you have psychic powers."
"I knew you'd realize it, Skuld. I don't think that any of the others have made the connection yet."
Skuld put her debugging glasses back on and, for the first time, looked closely at Rei. Finally, she removed the glasses. "I think that you just might be able to get across that barrier, Rei-sensei, but it'll hurt you. It might kill you anyway - being one-quarter youma isn't quite the same as being one-quarter demon. But it's the only chance we've got."
"It also means that we can't call for reinforcements," added Rei. "If they know enough to keep water to a minimum, then they aren't going to have any mirrors or television sets in there, either, and it takes five senshi to teleport."
"So it's just you and me, and you're going to be badly hurt before the fight even starts. Do you want to call it off?"
"After we've come this far?" asked Rei as she walked toward the door to the private apartments in the back of the building. "Not a chance!"
Rei stopped in her tracks. "What's wrong?"
"You forgot to take some water with you. Hey, as long as we need to get some water ..."
After a quick detour to get a container of water and a small mirror from a nearby shop, and a delay for Skuld to call her sisters, the two brunettes made their way into the OSA-P building and up to the edge of the barrier.
"Here goes ..." muttered Rei as she stepped up to the barrier. Her mutter turned to a scream of agony when she took her next step, but she kept going. "I ... will ... not ... be ... stopped ... by ... a ... demon!" Suddenly the pain was gone, and Rei fell forward onto the floor. "Where's Hotaru when you really need her ..." she muttered as she passed out, the container of water falling from her hand and spilling onto the floor.
My turn now, thought Skuld as she teleported from the thermos she carried to the spilled water inside the barrier. She then walked up to the door and opened it, only to be set upon by a black cat with a bandage on its forehead. "Ouch! Hey, stop that! I'm here to rescue you!" She finally got the cat under control by hitting it lightly with Mjolnir II. After making sure it was still alive, she removed the bandage from its forehead.
The words, "Very impressive, little goddess," came from behind her.
"Unless you want me to do something throughly nasty to your mortal friend," said the demon as she gestured to Rei, "you'll tell me what you did to Tsukino Usagi."
"All I did was put some wards up, so you and Dorllir couldn't interfere with her life any more, Marller. The humans did everything else."
"You expect me to believe that?"
"You know I don't lie, demon."
Marller thought for a moment. "Well, I've never caught you lying. So you know about Dorllir ... What did you do with her?"
"We drove her off, that's all."
"Then why hasn't she been back in over a week?"
Skuld smiled - it was obvious to her that Dorllir had run away. She hoped that the other demon had left for good. "How should I know? You're the demon, not me."
"You're right. Since you didn't do anything to Tsukino, I'll just have to do something throughly nasty to your friend. Hey, you!" Marller kicked Rei in the ribs, bringing her back to consciousness. "What should I do to you ... And how did you get past the barrier?" Marller took a good look at Rei as the woman forced herself to stand. "O-ho! You're part demon! I'll just strengthen that part of you, and I'll have a new assistant! Do you have any last words as a human, girl?"
"Two things ... First, I'm part youma, not part demon ... Second ... and more importantly ... Mars Crystal Power Make-up!"
"Why does this kind of thing always happen to me?" Marller started running, and was gone before Rei finished transforming.
"That was too easy," remarked Sailor Mars.
"Oh, she always runs away when she's confronted. Is this Luna?" Skuld held the unconscious cat in her arms out.
"That's her - the crescent mark is unmistakable. Hold her there for a moment, please ..." Rei pulled out a spirit ward, energized it, and touched it to Luna's forehead. Luna twitched slightly in her sleep. "Okay, she's not posessed. Can you dispel this field, Skuld?" Rei transformed back to her normal form and collapsed again.
"With some help, and it'll destroy these gems ... but only after you're better." Skuld pulled her celphone out of her pocket while she got the mirror from Rei's handbag. "Hello, oneesan? I need your help to clean up one of Marller's messes ..."
Later, and across town ...
"I understand that it wasn't your fault, Usagi-san, but you've missed quite a few sessions. I'm going to have to test you, to find out how much you still know how to do."
While Akane put Usagi through some kempo katas, another girl was speaking to the head of the dojo.
"I'd very much like to learn from you, Saotome-sensei. You're already teaching my friends and one of my relatives ..."
"And you wanna be at the same level as them," finished Ranma. "All right, Chiba-san, I'll take you on as a student. Don't expect to learn any special techniques, though - they can only be mastered by people who've trained for their entire lives in the Art."
"Or by Sailor Senshi, like me," replied Chibi-Usa.
"Oh ... Well, in that case, I'll put you in Ami's class. Is that okay with you?"
"Sure!" Chibi-Usa wasn't sure why she was so happy to be Ranma's student, but it certainly felt good ...
"You have no right to be here, whoever you are. It's bad enough that you interrupted the concert."
"Maybe it escaped your attention, lady, but it wasn't me who groped you on-stage. I'm just looking for the man who did. Now you can help me find him, or you can get out of the way."
She didn't move. He pushed her out of the way, knocking her to the ground.
She got up and grabbed his shoulder. "I really don't like being treated that way."
Without looking, he grabbed her hand and flicked his wrist slightly, sending her into the bushes. He looked around for a moment, then realized that the man he was looking for had left long ago. "Damn him. He's gone again." Then he heard the woman he had tossed aside say something about makeup. He didn't care about makeup, so he ignored her.
She knew that he was dangerous, but she was sure she had the edge now that she had transformed. "Deep Submerge!"
The blast of water hit him in the chest. But, instead of falling, he changed ...
"What -?" was all Sailor Neptune could say before he knocked her unconscious.
The next morning ...
"You're the only one of us who still refuses to have anything to do with them, Minako. Why?"
"That's not true, Makoto. Mamoru thinks the same way that I do. And we haven't heard from the senshi of the outer planets since the day after everything went wrong. They might agree with me."
"That isn't what I meant, and you know it. Why won't you come with us to the Tendo dojo?"
"Because I can't ..."
After a moment, Makoto asked, "You can't what?"
The look in Minako's eyes frightened Makoto. "I can't stand to look at them! There! I said it! Are you happy now?"
"I'm the senshi of love, right? But those two used their love to defeat me! How can I stand to be anywhere near them, knowing that they make a mockery of everything I stand for?"
Makoto shook her head. "I don't think that's how it works, Mi-"
"I don't care!" interrupted the blonde. "Just ... I just can't. Okay?"
Minkao stood up. "No buts, Makoto. I'm not going to meet them now, and there's nothing you can say to change my mind."
"... and then she left. I'm sorry."
"That's okay, Makoto," replied Ranma. "Ya tried to get her to come by. That's more than we asked ya to do."
"But she's being irrational!" Chibi-Usa put her teacup down and stood up. "Minako's not really the senshi of love; she's the senshi of Venus! And being defeated by someone isn't a good reason to avoid that person!"
"Sit down, please, Chibi-Usa," replied Akane. "Now you're being irrational. Being defeated by someone is a very good reason to avoid that person, until you're good enough to hold your own in a rematch."
"Uh-uh, Akane - until you're good enough to win a rematch."
"Yes, Ranma," sighed Akane. "But anyway, Minako isn't going to be that good until she gets her stronger attacks back, right? And that isn't going to happen until after she makes peace with us, and that would make her grudge pointless."
"So she can either swallow her pride and make peace with us, or stay away. I ain't expecting the first of those to happen any time soon, so she ain't about to come visit," concluded Ranma.
"Oh," was Chibi-Usa's only comment.
"Now I got somethin' else to ask you," Ranma said. "Why do they all call you 'Chibi-Usa'?"
"Because when we first met her a few years ago, she was almost a decade younger than she is now," replied Ami as she walked in. "I'm sorry I'm late."
"That's okay, Ami," said Ranma as he passed her a teacup. "We ain't started the practice yet. So, you grew up fast, did ya?" Chibi-Usa blushed as she nodded. "Since you're older now, you deserve an older nickname, right?"
"I have to agree with Ranma," added Akane. "When I call you 'Chibi-Usa', I think you're one of the preschoolers that I've been taking care of. Should we call you 'Usagi'?"
"No," replied Chibi-Usa. "That's my mother's name."
Ranma thought for a moment. "Well, how about calling ya just 'Usa'?"
"That might cause some confusion ..." began Ami.
"I like it," interrupted Chibi-Usa, her blush going deeper.
"Okay, 'Usa' it is," announced Ranma. "Now that that's settled, I'm gonna go do a kata or two 'till Skuld gets here." Ranma stood up and walked out, closing the door behind him.
Once they were sure that the door was closed, the three older girls turned to Usa. "What's with that blush, Chibi-U... Usa?" asked Makoto.
"Am I blushing?", Usa asked.
"Yes, you are," answered Akane. "If I didn't know better, I'd think that you were a long-lost fiancee of Ranma's, back in his life and back in love with him. I remember seeing Ukyo like that when she first showed up, back before Skuld granted her wish and changed the timestream."
"But you don't know Ranma-sensei that well," added Ami.
"well, ... not directly, no," replied Usa. "But Plu and I spent years looking at all of you in the Time Gate, trying to keep up with what was going on here. I spent so much time looking at Ranma-sensei ..." Usa sighed.
Makoto looked at Ami, then they both looked at Akane. Akane kept her eyes on Usa.
The pink-haired teenager didn't notice. "He's such a great fighter, and he's a good man, too," she continued. "So strong, and handsome, and ... well, so manly ... At least, when he isn't a girl. But I've learned to look past the surface and see the man inside the woman that he sometimes is ..."
Makoto and Ami moved to either side of Akane.
"... which I'd have to do anyway because I can't remove a Jusenkyo curse even with the Ginzuishou. But he's such a wonderful person, and I'd really like it if he was to notice me as more than just his student ..."
Akane tried to leap at Usa, only to discover that Ami and Makoto were holding her by the arms. "You are in love with him! Stay away from my fiancee, you ... you little brat!"
Usa stood in shock for a moment as her two friends kept Akane from attacking her. Finally, she spoke. "Is that what this feeling is? I'm in love?"
"I think so," replied Ami as she twisted Akane's arm enough to hold her in place. "The question is, does he feel the same way about you?"
"Hey, what's goin' on in there?" Ranma walked up to the window.
"I'm sorry, sensei!" Ami quickly bowed, then fell to the floor as Akane pushed her the rest of the way down. Usa finally realized how much danger she was in, and took the chance to run.
"Ranma! Get in here right now!"
"So what are we going to do about this?"
"Didn't you hear a word that I said, Ranma?"
"I heard ya, Akane. But it ain't as if I'm in love with her or anything. I love you. I like Skuld, and if I could marry both of you, I would. But I can't, so we're stuck. There ain't anyone else I can see myself spending the rest of my life with. Heck, I barely know Usa. I'd be more likely to marry Ucchan than her!"
When she heard those words, Usa felt as though she'd been hit in the stomach. Then she remembered some of the possible outcomes she'd seen in alternate timelines where Skuld hadn't granted Ukyo's wish, and felt a bit of hope.
"She's a nice girl, and all ..."
The bit of hope grew.
"... but she's still younger than we are. And I've never seen her fight. Maybe she can't keep up with us. If she can't, then it wouldn't be safe for her to marry me, right?"
"Ranma-sensei, I am a Sailor Senshi ..."
"Which means nothing, Usa," interrupted Ranma. "My best friend Ryoga is a match for Makoto, even when she's got her full power, and I'm better than Ryoga."
Akane shook her head. "No, you're not, and you know it. The two of you are evenly matched. The only thing you have that he doesn't is a Jusenkyo curse."
Usa stared at Akane for a moment. "You don't know?"
"Ryoga doesn't have a Jusenkyo curse, no matter what Akari told me on their wedding day," insisted Akane. "If he did, then I'd have to kill him for abusing my trust. So he doesn't."
Usa nodded her head as Ami and Makoto shook theirs. "What does a Jusenkyo curse have to do with Akane and Ryouga?" asked Makoto.
"That ain't important right now," interrupted Ranma. "Anyways, it don't matter, 'cause there's no way that a Jusenkyo curse can mean a thing in a fight."
Just as Ranma said that, the wall exploded.
Everyone turned to see a man standing in the yard. Ranma sighed. "No, I'm wrong." He stood up and faced the intruder. "Happosai ain't here, Tarou."
"You're lying, girly-man. Happosai always comes back here after he does something truly perverted, and he groped a violinist and stole her underwear on stage last night. Where is he?"
"Don't you call my sensei a liar!" Usa stepped between Ranma and Tarou.
"Oh, no ..." whispered Akane.
Tarou walked up to Usa. "Don't get in my way, girl." He reached up to push her aside, but was stopped by Makoto.
"Don't touch her." Makoto grabbed Tarou's wrist.
"I wouldn't recommend attacking either of them," added Ami from the sidelines.
Tarou moved his arm to the side, forcing Makoto off-balance and out the hole in the wall. But Usa had her hand on her mother's locket, and quickly said the words Ranma least wanted to hear: "Moon Crisis Make Up!"
Ranma quickly rushed at Usa and knocked her through the hole in the wall during her transformation. "Sorry about that, er ..."
"Call me Sailor Neo-Moon when I'm like this."
"... Sailor Neo-Moon, but I don't want to haveta fix the dojo again this month."
Sailor Jupiter jumped to Sailor Neo-Moon's side and helped her stand up. "Are you going to do the speech, or do you want me to?"
"I guess I should. Hey, you!" Neo-Moon pointed at Tarou. "For trying to destroy this dojo and for calling its sensei a liar, the beautiful sailor suited senshi, Sailor Neo-Moon!"
"And Sailor Jupiter!" from the woman at her side.
"And Sailor Mercury!" from the woman standing behind Tarou.
In unison, they finished, "In the name of the Moon, we will punish you!"
Tarou stood completely still for a moment. Then he started laughing. Through his laughs, he asked "Are these three serious, girly-boy?" He jumped out of the dojo through the hole in the wall and started advancing toward Ranma, Neo-Moon and Jupiter.
Since his attention was off of her, Mercury took the chance to act. "Bubble ..."
"No!" shouted Ranma and Akane together.
"...Spray!" Mercury let loose with her cold-water fog, completely surrounding the combatants. Ranma changed into his female form. Tarou changed, as well ...
"What have I done?" whispered Mercury.
"It's his Jusenkyo curse," replied Akane. "Can you use your stronger attacks without Skuld here?"
"Then we had better run!" Akane was already halfway out the door. Mercury quickly followed her - if one of her sensei was running from a fight, she knew she wasn't ready to join in.
Meanwhile, in the yard, Tarou-monster had reached his three opponents. The fog cleared enough to show Ranma that Tarou had been back to Jusenkyo since the last time he had visited the dojo. "What did you do, ya big idiot - take a bath in the Spring of Drowned Hedgehog?"
Tarou nodded his head as his octopus tentacles rushed out from amongst the brand-new quills on his back and wrapped around Sailor Jupiter. He then roared at his captive as he brought her closer to his body. "Ewwwwwwwwww!!!!!" Sailor Jupiter was not taking this at all well. "Let me go! Supreme Thunder!" The lightning blast barely tickled Tarou, although the backwash from it knocked Jupiter out. He tossed her body aside and grabbed for Ranma.
Ranma grabbed Neo-Moon and quickly jumped out of the way. "You won't catch us that way, slowpoke!" jeered Ranma.
Tarou bellowed, then reached back and pulled some of his quills out. He then threw them at Ranma and Neo-Moon, hitting the latter target in the leg.
"Ow! That hurt!" Neo-Moon got a steeley look in her eye as she pulled a short staff from ... someplace. The unexpected extra load caused Ranma to let her go, and she dropped to the ground.
Freed of his burden, Ranma quickly fired off a Moko Takabisha, hitting the koi pond. He then jumped into the pond, regaining his male form, but was hit by one of Tarou's quills as soon as he came up for air.
Tarou fired off another handful of quills toward Neo-Moon, to stop her from doing whatever it was she was planning, and closed on Ranma. Ranma stepped back and smiled. "Come get me, Pantsu, if you're not afraid of a little hot water."
Tarou bellowed, then squirted ink onto Ranma's face. A drop of the ink got into the wound that the quill opened up, causing Ranma to double over in pain.
Neo-Moon took the chance to act. "Dead Scream." A blast of energy hit Tarou in the back, knocking him into the koi pond.
By the time Neo-Moon had put het short staff back ... somewhere ..., both Ranma and Tarou had climbed out of the pond. "Do ya want to fight some more, Tarou?"
"Only if that girl isn't involved. That blast of hers actually hurt me." Tarou rubbed the small of his back. "You're sure that Happosai isn't here, girly-man?"
"Oh, yeah, I'm sure," replied Ranma. "He doesn't come over any time he knows Skuld is due to show up - he can't stand her aura, and she tends to knock him into orbit."
Tarou actually looked impressed. "If this Skuld person is that good a martial artist, maybe I should have a match with her. Heh."
"She ain't a martial artist. She's a Goddess."
"You're kidding." After a moment, Tarou continued. "You aren't kidding. She's another person who took a dive into the Spring of Drowned Ashura?"
"Nope - she's a real Goddess."
"That's even worse. Goodbye for now, girly-man - I'll be back." Tarou leapt over the wall without looking back.
Ranma sighed, then gasped as he was tackled by Usa. "Sensei! Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, Usa ... but could you let go of me, please?"
Usa looked downcast. "But I like hugging you ..."
Ami, who had just knelt beside Sailor Jupiter to get a better look at her wounds, looked up. "Usa, do you really want to get Akane-sensei upset again?"
Usa quickly let go of Ranma, who stepped back and bumped into Akane. "Please tell me you ain't going to hit me."
"Of course not, Ranma. It isn't your fault." Akane glared at Usa. "It's hers."
Just then, there was a glow from the koi pond. When the light died down, Skuld stepped onto the lawn. "Sorry I'm late. Did I miss anything important?"
Elsewhere, if that's the right word ...
"This is the perfect time to intervene, ma cherie."
"I agree, Peorth. I'll be right back."
"No, Setsuna, you have to stay here. I'll be right back." Peorth stepped through the Time Gate.
Minako sighed. "How can I possibly be the senshi of love if I can't face two lovers?"
"It's because you don't have a love of your own, ma cherie," came the answer from behind her. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Peorth, rival to Belldandy."
"I have nothing to say to a ... did you say 'rival to Belldandy'?"
"Oui, ma cherie. Would you like to be able to become a great warrior, just like your friends are becoming under their training with Saotome and Tendo?"
Minako scowled. "Don't mention those two names to me! I hate Ranma Saotome and Akane Tendo!" She turned on her heel to face Peorth ...
... only to discover that she was alone. "Did I just imagine all that?"
Minako turned again, to find a handsome young man she'd never seen before standing in front of her. He continued speaking. "I'm sorry, but I couldn't help but overhear you say you hate girly-man ... Saotome and his fiancee."
"I get the feeling you don't like them, either. Do you want to tell me about it?"
He thought for a moment. "Sure, why not?"
"Great! I'm Aino Minako; what's your name?"
"Call me Tarou."
What luck, thought Minako happily a few hours later. The old saying is right, the enemy of my enemy is my boyfriend ...
Peorth stepped back through the Time Gate. "Intervention complete."
Both Peorth and Sailor Pluto smiled. The plan was back on schedule.
The class was finally over, and Usa, Ami, and Makoto were relaxing at the Crown. None of them wanted to get Akane any angrier than she already was.
"... and then she hit me for real! That isn't fair, is it, Makoto?"
"Sure it is, Usa. She's your sensei."
"I guess so. But it felt like I was being hit with a ten-ton boulder ... Oh, no! How could I have forgotten?"
"Forgotten what, Usa?"
"The whole reason why I'm here!" Usa worte some numbers onto a napkin, then handed the napkin to Ami. "That's a set of times, right ascensions, and declinations. Please, find out tonight whether anything's on that course."
Ami looked at the numbers. "All right, Usa, but why?"
"Work out the course, Ami."
Ami pulled out the Mercury Computer and did so. After a moment, she went pale.
"Exactly. Now you know why I need to know whether there's actually an asteroid on that course ..."
"Hello, Skuld speaking ... Oh, hello, Ami ... No, I'm not busy right now ... Sure, I can come over. Where are you? ... Oh, I was planning on visiting them today anyway. I'm on my way. 'Bye!" Skuld hung up the temple's telephone and turned to Belldandy. "I have to head over to the Tendo dojo, oneesan. I don't know when I'm going to be back."
"I thought that you were waiting until Megumi-san visited before you were going to leave, Skuld," replied her sister.
"That's okay, I can wait for a while before I ask her to return my multitester. This sounded important."
"Your extended family is important, too, Skuld. As long as we live with Keiichi, his family is part of our family."
"Oneesan ..." Skuld sighed.
"Besides, I can hear her motorcycle driving up the laneway. I'm sure that whatever Ami-san wants can wait for a moment."
Skuld rolled her eyes, but stopped arguing. A moment later, Megumi walked through the door. "Hello, Belldandy, Skuld! Oh, Skuld, here's your multitester back. Thanks for lending it to me."
"Oh, good - I needed it for something I'm working on. Thanks, gotta go!"
"Where are you going now, Skuld-kun?"
"I have to meet some friends in Nerima."
Megumi smiled. "I've heard about you and this Saotome-san, Skuld. He sounds interesting. How about I give you a ride?"
Skuld thought quickly, but couldn't come up with a way to say no without giving away the secret that she could teleport. "Sure, Megumi. Thanks."
Conversation was a bit difficult while on the motorcycle, but they managed it anyway.
"He's your what??"
"I said, he's my fiancée!"
"Does Belldandy know??"
"Hey, didn't you say he already had a fiancée??"
"Oh, boy! Does she know??"
"What does she think of this??"
"The same as me!"
"So, this is the Tendo dojo. Nice place." Megumi took a closer look, and whistled. "I can see why your so-called fiancée hasn't broken off his engagement with his other fiancée. The Tendo family must be rich if they can afford a place this big in this part of Tokyo."
"That's not fair! Ranma and Akane love each other!"
Megumi looked straight into Skuld's eyes. "Do you really believe that?"
"Yes. I've seen the way they act around each other."
"All right. So why are you engaged to him? Do you want to force the two of them apart?"
"No! No, it isn't that ..."
Just then, a red sports car pulled up and stopped at the front gate. The passenger opened the door and stepped out of the car. "Thanks for the ride, Haruka. I'll let you know if Tarou shows up again."
"Be sure you do, Ami - I promised Michiru that I'd deal with him." She noticed the two women at the front gate. "Do you know them?"
Ami turned to look. "I know Skuld, but the older woman is a stranger to me. Hello, Skuld!"
"Hi, Ami! This is my sister's fiancée's sister, Morisato Megumi."
"Hello," said Megumi as she bowed.
Skuld continued. "Megumi, this is a friend of mine who I met at high school, Mizuno Ami."
"Pleased to meet you," replied Ami as she returned Megumi's bow. She continued the introductions. "This is a person who I've trusted with my life in the past, Ten'ou Haruka."
"Ami ..." whispered Haruka, but too quietly for her to hear.
Ami continued, "And this is Skuld, our group's patron megami."
Skuld blanched. Haruka groaned. Megumi saw the others' reactions, stood in shock for a moment, and finally managed to say, "She's your what?"
Haruka got out of the car and walked over to Megumi. "She never told you, did she, Morisato-san?" Taking Megumi's silence as confirmation, Haruka placed her hands on Megumi's shoulders and started guiding her to the dojo's gate. "Some secrets aren't meant to be discussed in public. Let's go inside."
"Am I the only person who didn't know about all this?"
Skuld looked at the floor. "Sora doesn't know either. Neither does Chihiro-san, or anyone in the Motor Club, or any of the senshi's families. I'm sorry that I had to keep these secrets from you, Megumi."
"Does Keiichi know?"
Skuld nodded. "He knew about Belldandy-oneesan being a megami since the day she arrived on Earth."
Megumi started laughing. "It really is a match made in Heaven ..." Her laughs became more hysterical, but stopped when Ami slapped her cheek. "Thanks. I needed that."
"It's my fault that you were shocked. I shouldn't have said anything outside. Please forgive me for causing you emotional distress."
"Oh, it isn't your fault, Mizuno-san," replied Megumi. "It's the fault of someone who couldn't trust me enough to tell me who she really was."
Skuld whispered, "Would you have believed me?"
Megumi thought for a moment. "No, I suppose I wouldn't have believed you. I'm sorry."
Just then, the door opened. "Hi, everyone, Kasumi told me you were here. Who're your friends?"
"Hello, Ranma," replied Skuld. "Your timing is excellent. This is Morisato Megumi, my sister's fiancée's sister. You've already met Ten'ou Haruka."
"Really? I think I would'a remembered her if I'd met her before ..."
"I was dressed differently at the time, Saotome-san."
"I really think I would'a remembered you ..."
"You were surprised that I didn't make a 'fancy speech'."
"Oh! You're ... Uh, does Megumi know?"
Ami, Skuld, and Megumi sighed in exasperation.
Haruka frowned. "If she didn't know, she'd ask because of what you just said, Saotome-san. Yes, we just told Morisato-san that I'm Sailor Uranus." She turned to Skuld. "What do you see in this idiot, anyway?"
Ami stood up. "Can we stop talking about ourselves, please? There's something more important that we have to discuss."
"More important that this?"
Ranma leaned over to Megumi. "When Ami or Skuld says something's more important, then it's more important. Let her talk."
"Thank you, Ranma. Over the last two weeks, Artemis and I have made some observations of a part of the sky that Usa wanted us to examine."
"Usa? How is dumpling-head, anyway?"
Ami looked at Haruka. "I'm sorry, I should have used her old nickname. Usa is the name that Chibi-Usa is using now."
The door opened again, and Usa stepped through. "Hi! Sorry I'm late. Oh, hello, Haruka! Setsuna said to say hello to you if I saw you."
"Chibi-Usa? It is you! You've ... grown."
Ami stomped her foot, taking everyone by surprise. "Can we please stay on-topic?"
"That's a lot to ask, considering who just walked through the door," replied Haruka.
"There's an asteroid on a collision course with Earth."
After a moment, Haruka found her voice. "Okay, I can see why you want to stay on-topic. Please continue."
Ami handed the Mercury Computer to Skuld. "It appears to be a dark asteroid, and it's larger than Ceres, the largest asteroid in the Solar System."
Skuld cleared her throat. "The largest one that you know about yet, Ami. There are larger asteroids in the Kuiper Belt." She looked at the data on the computer. "And I think that this is one of them. The spectrographic data you recorded indicates that this is an enstatite asteroid, heavy in magnesium and complex carbon molecules." She pulled out her own computer and typed for a few minutes. "That's odd. Yggdrasil doesn't have any record of humanity ever giving this asteroid a name."
"It's the master computer up in Heaven, Megumi."
"You use computers in Heaven?" Megumi chuckled. "I'll bet you don't have to worry about fixing the Y2K bug on that!"
"You don't want to see the Bugs that pop up in Yggdrasil, Megumi. A-ha! This is why there's no record of it ever getting a name. It won't exist in a couple of months."
Ami frowned. "It won't be close enough to hit Earth for another year, Skuld."
Skuld smiled. "No, but it'll be crossing Mars' orbit in six weeks."
Megumi looked up. "What if we blow it up and let the pieces hit Mars? It can't hurt anyone if we do that. Can it?"
Skuld and Ami looked at each other for a moment, then started typing on their computers. "This is going to take a while, everyone," said Ami. "Go do something for ..."
"... seventy-three minutes and fourteen seconds," finished Skuld.
"How can she be so precise?" asked Megumi.
"She is the Goddess of the Future," replied Ranma. "So, do you practice martial arts?"
"Would you like some more tea, Megumi-san?"
"Yes, thank you, Kasumi-san." She watched the others spar while Kasumi refilled her cup. "Is Ranma-san always like this?"
"Oh, yes," replied the eldest Tendo sister. "Ranma loves martial arts as much as he loves my sister Akane."
"That's something that's been puzzling me, actually. Why is he engaged to two girls?"
"His engagement to Akane was arranged by their fathers, and they've grown to love each other very much. His engagement to Skuld is something that is required by Kami-sama, as far as I can tell."
"Kami-sama? Oh, my ... What have I gotten myself involved in?"
"Are you engaged to Ranma as well, Megumi-san?"
"What? Why would you ask that?"
"Ranma has had quite a few fiancées in his time, none of which he's chosen for himself. I thought you might have been one of them."
"No, it's nothing like that. My brother is engaged to Skuld's sister, so I'm going to have a goddess as a stepsister."
"Oh, my. That is something that could worry a person." Kasumi looked at the clock, then stood up. "It's been nearly seventy-three minutes."
Megumi stood up as well and looked at the others. "Should we interrupt them?"
"No, I'm sure that Skuld will be here in a few seconds. Three ... two ... one ... now."
The courtyard wall exploded.
Skuld and Ami pulled Megumi and Kasumi to safety. "You two stay here. Mercury Crystal Power Make-up!"
The others didn't notice Ami's transformation. They watched as the dust settled, revealing Pantsu Tarou's monster form in the gap.
Tarou charged Ranma before anyone else could react.
"What the hell do you want, Pantsu? Happosai still ain't here!"
A reply came from behind the wall. "Oh-ho-ho-ho! If Tarou-chan defeats you, Saotome, then your master will have to give in to him!"
Ranma and Tarou continued to fight, but the women stood still in amazement. Haruka was the first to find her voice. "Minako?"
"That's right!" Sailor Venus stepped into the light and pointed at Ranma. "Crescent Beam!"
The beam hit Ranma in the back, burning him and pushing him into the quills on Tarou's back. "Ow!"
"I've seen enough! Uranus Planet Power, Makeup!"
"Moon Crisis Power, Makeup!"
"Oh, shit," whispered Venus as the two senshi transformed. "What are you doing here?"
"Helping us! Mercury Aqua Rhapsody!"
Venus dodged Mercury's attack, but the distraction gave Uranus and Moon enough time to finish their transformations.
"New Twinkle Yell!" The golden bells of Moon's attack surrounded Venus, but had no obvious effect. "She isn't possessed! Why is she attacking Ran-chan?"
"Makoto told me that Minako never forgave Ranma-sensei, Akane-sensei, and the megami for changing the future," explained Mercury. She turned to Venus. "Killing Ranma-sensei won't make you a princess, Minako!"
"I don't care! Crescent Beam ... Shower!"
Mercury was surprised that Venus could pull off an advanced attack without divine assistance, even if it was that weak. The attack hit all of the other senshi and Ranma.
"I'll deal with you later," said Uranus through gritted teeth. "This is for Michiru! World Shaking!" She collapsed from the wound inflicted on her by Venus as the attack hit Tarou, forcing him into the koi pond.
Venus ran over to Tarou as Skuld ran to Ranma's side. They helped the men to their feet, then looked at each other across the koi pond.
"My mother wouldn't appreciate what you're doing, Venus," said Moon from where she lay on the ground.
"I. Don't. Care." Venus turned to Tarou. "We're outnumbered. Let's go before they can regroup, dear."
"Good idea," replied Tarou. They jumped over the wall and ran off.
Ranma, Kasumi, Megumi and Skuld carried Mercury, Moon and Uranus into the house, ignoring the latter's protestations that she could walk on her own. Once the wounded were comfortable, Ranma turned to Skuld. "So, did the two of ya figure out anything?"
"What? Oh, yes, Ranma. If we cause the asteroid to explode in a particular way and at a particular place, then most of the surface of Mars will be dusted with its remains. It'll have the side-effect of warming Mars to the point where the ice that the invader put on Mars a few years ago will melt, covering much of the planet with an ocean."
Ami continued when Skuld stopped speaking. "At that point, we can use solar power to break some of the water into its componenets, which will give Mars an atmosphere when combined with the frozen gases that are under the ice."
Skuld started talking again. "And the I could scatter some machines over the surface of Mars. They would use the hydrogen and some components of the Martian surface and the asteroid to create breathable air and arable soil. Mars could be inhabitable in five years!"
Ami grabbed Skuld's hand, causing Skuld to stop talking. "All that is if we can make the asteroid explode. How do we do that?"
Megumi cleared her throat. "My friends at Nekomi Tech can probably build a bomb in a month. Can you get it to the asteroid?"
Ami, Usa, and Haruka smiled. "We can use Sailor Teleport to get it there," replied Usa. "Let's get to work."
Minako let herself and Tarou into her apartment.
"That was a waste of time."
"I thought for sure that it would work, darling. I didn't expect that so many of my old teammates would be there. I'm sorry!"
"It's all right. We'll just have to try again later, when girly-boy is alone. Heh."
"Sure, but not right away, okay?" Minako grabbed Tarou's waist with one arm and started unbuttoning her blouse with her other hand. "I want you to change and do again what you did with your tentacles last night ..."
"There has to be some way to defeat them..."
"Defeat who, darling?"
"What? Oh, I didn't know you were back. Saotome and his friends, dear."
"Ignore them, Mi-chan. I'd rather go after Happosai."
Minako looked Tarou in the face. "And where are you going to find Happosai, if he doesn't return to the Tendo dojo any more? If you beat Saotome, then Happosai will come running to defend his school's honour. Won't he?"
Tarou thought for a moment. "I don't know if 'Happosai' and 'honour' belong in the same sentence, but I guess it's worth a try. Heh."
"So, how do we beat them? There are too many powerful fighters visiting that dojo nowadays - there's always some senshi or a megami or someone near the place, and there's only two of us."
"Obviously, we need some people to fight by our side."
After a moment, Minako asked, "Such as?"
Tarou frowned. "Don't ask me. I only know of three people who might have been able to fight Saotome, and they're all his friends now."
"'Maybe ...' what?"
"Maybe there are some others that we can find. Some of Saotome's old fights have to have been reported in the newspapers. If we can find the right clippings, then we can find people who could go up against Saotome and survive."
Tarou smiled. "His girlfriend, Tendo Akane, went to Furinkan High the first time I met the two of them. I'll ask around there, too. Heh."
Minako put her hand on his shoulder. "No, let me. I'm a student teacher, remember? It won't look strange for me to visit a school. You go look at the library ..."
"Please, Keiichi. We need your help to convince the Motor Club to help us."
Keiichi looked up from the motorcycle he was rebuilding at Whirlwind to see his sister and his fiancee's younger sister. "What exactly do you want the Motor Club to do, Skuld?"
"Well, we need the Club to help us build something big."
Seeing that Skuld was starting to falter, Megumi took over. "Something big, and not completely legal."
At that, Chihiro looked up from her project. "That's not something I want to hear discussed in my business." She walked over to the other three. "Is it important?"
"It means the world to us," replied Skuld with a straight face.
Chihiro thought for a moment. "All right. You're now on break, K1. You three get out of here."
Seizing the opportunity and her brother, Megumi dragged Keiichi out of the shop and around the back, where they could have some privacy. Skuld quickly followed.
"You didn't have to do that, Megumi."
"You dither too much, niisan." Megumi suddenly looked angry. "And you keep secrets from me! Your sister! Why didn't you tell me about Belldandy and Urd and Skuld?"
"What are you talking about?"
Skuld cleared her throat. "She knows, Keiichi."
"And I'm not happy about you keeping me in the dark!"
Keiichi bowed to his sister. "I'm sorry, Megumi. But I didn't think that it was my place to tell you. It wasn't my secret; it was theirs."
"You were involved in it too, Keiichi. You knew from the start that your girlfriend is a megami. It'll become the entire family's business the day you ask her to marry you! You should have told me!"
Keiichi looked downcast. "I guess you're right. What can I do to make amends?"
Megumi smirked. "You can help us convince the Motor Club to build a bomb big enough to blow up an asteroid."
That's interesting, thought Tarou as he read through yet another four-year-old newspaper in the library's archives. If I can find this "Herb" person, perhaps I could recruit her to fight by my side against girly-man. He continued to read newspaper articles from that same week, finally stopping when he found an article with a photograph. So that's Herb. I've seen that style of clothing before. Well, I'd better leave Mi-chan a note before I head for China ...
"Chihiro-san, Keiichi said that I should ask for your help too."
"Did he now, Skuld-san? What do you and Megumi-san want the Motor Club to build that K1 can't convince them on his own to help you with?"
Megumi spoke up. "We really need Chihiro-san to help us, Skuld. We can't keep things from her. Remember how badly things went when you kept things from me? We're going to have to tell her everything."
"I guess you're right, Megumi. I just don't think it's a good idea to surprise somebody with this much all at once."
"It takes a lot to surprise me, Skuld-san," replied Chihiro. "I doubt I'd be surprised if you were to tell me that you're one of the Sailor Senshi."
"Oh, no, I'm not a Senshi ..."
"Of course you aren't," said Chihiro with a smile.
"... but some of my friends are."
Chihiro's smile vanished. "You're kidding. You're not kidding, are you?" Skuld shook her head. "So just how did you come to know who some of the Sailor Senshi are?"
"I know who all of the Sailor Senshi are, Chihiro-san. I met them a few years ago, just after I met you. I ended up fighting some of them, and winning."
Chihiro sat down. "How could you fight a Senshi? And win?"
"The first answer is a long story, and we don't have time to tell it right now. The second answer is much shorter. I'm not what you think I am."
"What, you're a demon in human form?"
Skuld shook her head. "Close, but you went the wrong way." She then let her Goddess Emblems show and started to levitate, summoning her angel Noble Scarlet to appear by her side. "I'm a megami."
"Oh ... my ... god ..." whispered Chihiro and Megumi.
"I suppose I could be," replied Skuld with a smile as she came back down to earth. "Have I surprised you yet?"
Chihiro could only nod her head in reply. Noble Scarlet caught her as she fainted.
"Oh, yes, I remember Saotome-kun very well, Aino-san. He's the only failure in my long history of successes in turning problem students into scholars."
"I'm sorry to hear that he ruined your perfect record, Ninomiya-san." Minkao wondered yet again how somebody who looked so young could be a teacher rather than a student. Then she remembered what she was told this teacher could do.
"He's a delinquent, that's what it is. At least he isn't here to cause any more problems."
Minako suddenly realized how to get this teacher on her side. "I hate to have to tell you this, Ninomiya-san, but he's still a delinquent. He's convinced two teenaged girls to stay away from school and spend time with him."
"That's terrible! He's not married, even if has a fiancee; he doesn't need any mistresses yet!"
Minako smiled; the conclusion that this teacher had jumped to was worse than what she had thought up. "Sometimes they can both be found at the Tendo dojo with him, Ninomiya-san."
"Please, call me Hinako."
"All right, Hinako-san. Will you help us get Usagi-chan and Skuld-chan away from Saotome?"
"Of course I will, Aino-san. Delinquents must be punished."
"Do we have to ask Tamiya-san for his help, too?"
"I'd rather not, Megumi. I don't think that he can keep my secret." In fact, Skuld had forseen that it would take Tamiya less than an hour to tell the world about her divinity if she was to even hint at it to him.
"So do you think Chihiro-san and Keiichi-niisan can get the Motor Club to help us out?"
"Maybe, but you've made me realize that there's one more person who I have to bring into my confidence."
"And who would that ... Oh, of course. Let's go see her."
"... and that's what that nice Aino-san told me was going on at the Tendo dojo. Do you think maybe you could help us out?"
"I am not currently authoring a volume of historical tales, so I stand ready to take up arms against the despicable plans of my most pernicious foe."
Hinako thought for a moment. "So, you're going to help us?"
"Yes, the scion of the house of Kuno will stand with you against those who would perpetuate such vile acts."
"Don't call me that! I'm not your student! I never was your student!"
Megumi and Skuld walked into a small restaurant, catching the eye of the young woman clearing dishes from a table. She smiled at them. "Hello, Megumi! Hello, Skuld! Two for lunch?"
"Hello, Sora," replied Skuld. "Can we see you alone for a few minutes?"
Sora looked at her mother behind the counter, who nodded. "Sure. Let's go into the back room."
Once they were in the storeroom, Skuld closed the door. "First, I want to apologize to you, Sora."
"Because I've been keeping a secret from you." For the second time that day, Skuld let her Goddess Emblems become visible and began to levitate.
Sora gasped. "So you are goddesses ..." she whispered.
"How long have you known?" asked Megumi.
Sora turned to her. "I just learned for sure right now, but I've had a feeling that Belldandy-san is something more than human ever since she taught me how to cook, years ago."
Skuld smiled. "Yes, oneesan is a special person, isn't she?" Her face was once again indistinguishable from a human's, and her feet were back on the floor. "Can we still be friends?"
"I'd be honoured if you were to call me friend, Skuld-sama," replied Sora.
"Hey! When I walked in the door, I was just 'Skuld'. Don't start calling me 'Skuld-sama' - that puts too much between us. Besides, everyone's going to figure out that I have a secret if you start calling me that."
"Oh! I'm sorry!"
"It's okay, Sora. We're friends. Right?"
Sora smiled. "Right, Skuld-s... Skuld."
"Now that that's out of the way," interrupted Megumi, "we have a favour to ask of you, Sora."
"Yes. We've asked Keiichi and Chihiro-san, and now we're asking for your help too. In order to save the Earth from destruction, we need to get the Motor Club to help us build a really big bomb ..."
"I'm sorry that you came all this way to ask me that, stranger. I have no reason to quarrel with Saotome Ranma at this time, and I will not leave my people just to help someone who I have never met before today."
"I see. Thank you for your time, Lord Herb." Tarou bowed and made his way from the Musk Dynasty's citadel. Well, that was a waste of time, he thought as he poured cold water over himself and took to the air. Then he had an idea. As long as I'm in the neighbourhood ... He changed course, heading for Jusenkyo.
"What are you doing, brother dearest?"
Tatewaki frowned. "It is no business of yours, my twisted sister, but I am polishing my fighting form so that I can take my rightful place in an upcoming battle against the fiend Saotome."
Kodachi's expression matched her brother's. "You know I don't like it when you try to fight my darling Ranma-sama."
"It matters not to me whether you approve of my righteous actions. Saotome has used his wiles to ensnare the affections of not one, but two, teenaged girls. I prepare to save those damsels from his vile attentions."
"What? There are two more women chasing after my Ranma-sama?" Kodachi pulled off her dress, revealing the leotard she wore underneath. "Oh-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho! I must teach them the error of their ways!"
"It's unusual to have even one of the Directors Emeritus ask the Motor Club for help," said the current club director, "yet here we have three of you requesting our services."
"Who's idea was it to let a gaijin run the club after you graduated?" asked Chihiro, sotto voice.
"Mine. Verlinden-san was the best person for the job," replied Sora just as quietly.
Keiichi kept the director's attention. "That just shows how important this project is, doesn't it?"
"I suppose it does, at that. You realize that our assistance cannot be unfettered, of course."
"Of course," replied Chihiro. "Just as you realize that it helps a student who's about to graduate to keep a possible employer happy with him."
"I have employment waiting for me back in Bavaria," replied Verlinden. "But many of the club members are not so fortunate. Your point is well made. So what is it that you want of us, Fraulein Fujimi, Fraulein Hasegawa, Herr Morisato?"
"Have you ever heard about some of the projects that Tamiya-sempai and Ootaki-sempai had the Motor Club carry out when they were in charge?" asked Keiichi.
Verlinden shuddered. "Those are tales of horror that I repeat to the club members so that they do not travel down the same path."
"This project isn't that bad," replied Chihiro. "But it is of questionable legality, so we can't let anyone know about it until it's finished." She pulled a set of technical drawings from her bag and spread them on the table.
Everyone studied them for a moment. "This device has an impressive yield," commented Verlinden after a few moments. "What possible legal use could such a device have?"
"Would you believe it's to save the world?" asked Sora.
"If anyone else had said that, I would have laughed in his face. But you gave me this position even after everyone advised you against it, Fraulein Hasegawa. I am willing to return your trust. The Motor Club will have this built for you in six weeks."
Sora fidgeted slightly. "Ano ... We need it in four, at most."
"The three of us will do some of the work, as will the person who drew up those plans," offered Chihiro.
"It is still impossible, even with your help. We would have to have the help of one of the old gods to meet that deadline."
"'One of the old gods'?" asked Keiichi.
"Not everyone from the west is Christian, Herr Morisato. There are still a few of us who remember the old ways ..." At this point, Verlinden noticed the designer's name at the corner of the plans. "Is that some sort of bad joke?" he asked angrily while pointing at the words "Skuld Odinsdottor".
"I see you recognize the name," replied Chihiro. "I didn't - she had to tell me who she really is. And she just did that a couple of days ago."
Verlinden thought for a long moment. "If she is who you claim she is, then perhaps we can meet your deadline. But we will have to start now."
Keiichi smiled. "Thank you, Verlinden-san. Would you like to meet her?"
After a pause, Verlinden answered, "No, Herr Morisato. It is better that a believer not have his illusions shattered."
"Thank you for your help, miss." Tarou bowed to the young Jusenkyo guide. "I had some trouble here a few years ago, when your father guided me to the wrong spring, so please don't be offended when I test this pool."
Tarou looked around, and spotted a frog sitting on a nearby log. He quickly grabbed the frog and tossed it into the pool in front of him. After a moment, he saw the result he hoped for. "Yes, this is it," he muttered as he filled a bottle with the water, being careful not to get any on himself.
"Honoured customer, I must warn you again not to use that water."
"You worry too much, child. I know what I'm doing. Heh." Tarou saw that the bottle was completely full, so he sealed it and stood up. "Now I need you to guide me to another spring ..."
Minako thought as she walked to the train station. Where else can I find someone to recruit to fight Saotome and Tendo?
The person behind her whispered, "You can ask me. I'll gladly help you defeat both Tendo and Saotome."
Minako turned around quickly. "Who the devil are you? And how did you know what I was thinking?"
"I simply read your mind, miss. My card." Marller smiled as she proffered her business card to Minako ...
"Thank you again, Verlinden-san. It isn't much to look at, but I hope it works."
"It was my pleasure, Herr Morisato. The assistance provided by you, Fraulein Morisato, Fraulein Fujimi, Fraulein Hasegawa, and she who I shall not name, was instrumental in finishing this project ahead of schedule."
"Who's 'she who you will not name'? Oh, right - Skuld."
"Please, Herr Morisato, allow me this one foible."
Keiichi was about to argue, but noticed that Verlinden looked very uncomfortable. "All right. I apologize for causing you discomfort."
"I accept your apology, sir. Now could you please tell me who these young women are, and why they are wearing such ridiculous outfits?"
"Sk... you-know-who tells me that these are the Sailor Senshi. Those are their uniforms, and they're here to pick up the bomb."
The one in white walked over to the two men. "Hi, I'm Sailor Neo-Moon. Someone set up us the bomb?" she asked in English.
She switched back to Japanese. "Oh, that's just something that's going to be in a computer game in a few months. I forget exactly when. All right, it's a bad joke. I'm sorry. I'm Sailor Neo-Moon, and these are Sailor Mercury, Sailor Jupiter, Sailor Uranus, and Sailor Neptune." Each of the Senshi bowed as they were introduced. "Do you have a bomb for us?"
"Yes, Sailor Moon, it's in this storage shed." Keiichi and Verlinden watched the Senshi file in to the building. A minute later, they heard the mass yell of "Sailor Teleport!", then the storage shed collapsed.
The two men rushed over to the wreckage and started to pull the roof from the pile, hoping against hope to see the Senshi unhurt. After a few moments, they stopped as they realized that the Senshi simply weren't there any more, nor was the bomb.
"What happened, Herr Morisato?"
"I don't know, Verlinden-san. I suppose they must have transported themselves somehow ..."
"Welcome back! Any luck?"
Tarou frowned. "Not really. You?"
"I found someone who's going to help us, and she said she would ask someone else, but ..." Minako rushed to her lover's arms. "Oh, darling, I have to make a terrible decision! I met a demon who's willing to help us in our fight, but she wants a favour in exchange, and she won't tell me what the favour is. What should I do?"
"Is your vengeance so important to you that you'd make a deal with a devil?"
"I don't know! I wish I could have it both ways, make the deal and not be indebted to a demon, but even I know that's impossible ... Why are you smiling like that?"
Tarou pulled the bottles of Jusenkyo water from his pocket. "These might help ..."
"You've done this before?"
"Ami and I have," replied Sailor Jupiter. "I didn't think that it would be so different with you, Michiru, and Usa instead of Rei, Minako, and Usagi, though."
"It's quiet out here," said Sailor Neptune. "I like it."
Usa smiled. "Maybe we'll come out into space again some time, after everything's calmed down."
"I have a question ..." said Sailor Mercury as the Senshi placed the bomb on the asteroid. "After Mars has been terraformed, what's going to happen to it?"
Everyone thought for a moment.
Finally, Usa replied, "I guess it'll get colonized. This isn't something that I thought to look into before I came back."
"It takes rockets over a year to get from Earth to Mars, but we can teleport there at nearly the speed of light."
"So, at least for the start, we'd be running the interplanetary travel service, is that it?" asked Sailor Uranus. "That'll put a crimp in my plans for a normal life."
"You've never had a normal life," replied Sailor Neptune with a laugh.
"If we're going to be doing all that travel, how can we possibly keep our identities secret?" asked Sailor Jupiter.
Sailor Neo-Moon looked uncomfortable, then finally decided to speak up. "I'm not supposed to say this, but I'll tell you anyway. It doesn't matter."
"Why not?" asked Sailor Mercury.
"Because there's going to be a fight between Skuld and Marller tomorrow, and some of us are going to have to transform in public just to stay alive. The rest of you won't be there, but I doubt that the press will have any trouble figuring out who we all are."
Everyone stood in shock. Finally, Sailor Uranus asked, "Who's going to win the fight?"
"I don't know. The Time Gate wouldn't show me anything after the start of the fight, no matter how I asked. This fight is going to change everything."
The Senshi were still worried about what Usa had told them the day before. Each of them was dealing with it in different ways ...
"There's something that you need to know. I think you should learn it from me now, rather than from the news tonight. How can I say this ..."
"Whatever it is, you can tell me."
"Maybe I should just show you. Mercury Crystal Power, Makeup!""
"So, that's what she said. What should I do, Kuounji-san?"
"Does it involve Ranma, Kino-san?"
Makoto thought for a moment. "I'm afraid that it will, yes. If he's anywhere near the fight when it starts, then he's going to want to join in."
Ukyo looked Makoto straight in the eye. "Then make sure he doesn't get himself killed, please. I may not be his fiancee any more, but I still care about him."
Megumi looked up. "Oh! Hello, Ten'ou-san. What can I do for you?"
Haruka didn't say "stay by my side so I can protect you today". Instead, she answered, "I hear you're a pretty good motorcycle racer. Care to match your skills against mine?"
"Michiru! Hello! What brings you here?"
"Something your daughter told me yesterday made me afraid for your safety, Neo-Queen Serenity. I'm here to act as your bodyguard for the day."
Usagi frowned. "Well, come in, and tell me what this is all about ..."
Well, I've done everything that I can, thought Usa. Now to wait. Before she could settle down, though, a portal opened above her just long enough for a handwritten note to drop through it. Oh, oh ...
Sure enough, the note wasn't good news. "Small Lady, you idiot, just what did you think you were doing? You know that you aren't supposed to tell people their own futures! But it's too late to change things now. Just get over to Skuld's favourite ice cream shop. Setsuna."
Thanks, Plu, she thought as she headed out to the shopping district.
The others, not knowing what was about to happen, continued with their lives.
"What is it, oneesan?"
Belldandy took Skuld's hand in her own. "You've been in a relationship with Ranma-san for a while now."
"Please, let me finish. I've been keeping track of the time, and you've known Ranma-san for about as long as I had known Keiichi back when Celestine ... passed on. There's something that you need to know ..."
"Akane, you can't pull off a Shi Shi Hokodan. Trust me."
"If you and Ryoga can, than I can, too! Shi Shi Hokodan!"
A pinhead-sized ball of green energy appeared in Akane's hands, then dropped to the ground and disappeared.
"But why? I'm doing everything that you taught me!"
Ranma took Akane in his arms. "Because you ain't ever been depressed enough to use that emotion, Akane. It's like I told you before, ya gotta find your own emotion and work from that, the same way that I managed to come up with the Moko Takabisha."
"What emotion do I know that well, though?"
Ranma, wisely for once, thought before answering. "Maybe you'll figure out something later. Right now, we gotta go meet Skuld, remember?"
Then there were those who thought they knew exactly what was going to happen.
"Brother dearest, who are all these ... pesants?"
"I do not know their identities, my twisted sister, with the exception of the person who called us here. Ninomiya-san, could you introduce us?"
Hinako looked up and smiled at the Kunos. "Sure, Tatewaki-kun!" (Kuno clenched his fists, but didn't interrupt.) "This is Aino Minako-san. She's the one who told me about those two girls that have fallen in with the delinquent Saotome-san. The others ... Who are you?"
Minako sighed. "He's called Tarou. She's called Marller."
"And now that we all know each other," interrupted Marller, "Aino-san and I have a bit of business to conduct in private. Excuse us, please."
The two of them walked out of the room and into a quiet alcove. "You really picked a bunch of winners here, little Senshi. But I still haven't heard an answer from you. What's it going to be? Do you want my help, in exchange for a favour that I'll collect later?"
In answer, Minako pulled one of the bottles of Jusenkyo water from her pocket and emptied it.
A moment later, Maller and Minako walked back into the room where the others were waiting. "Here's what we're going to do," said Marller as she walked over to Kuno. "First of all, you're going to need a better sword." She began voicing an enchantment ...
Skuld looked up from her ice cream sundae as the door to the parlor opened, then smiled and waved. "Hi, guys!"
Usa and Makoto waved back, as Ami said, "Hello, Skuld. How are you today?"
"I'm fine. What's wrong?"
"You never could keep your feelings off of your face, Ami," muttered Makoto. Before she could answer Skuld's question, the door opened again and Ranma and Akane walked in. "Oh, great ..."
"What's going on?" asked Skuld. "You're acting as if somebody's just died."
"What? Someone's died?" asked Akane as she sat down.
"No, no, nobody's died," replied Usa. "At least, not yet."
"What's about to happen?" asked Ranma.
Usa blushed. "There's going to be a fight. A big one."
The entire front window of the ice cream parlor shattered at once.
"Just as a guess," said Akane, "I think maybe ... 'now'."
The other people in the parlor started panicking, getting in the way of the fighters. They stopped when two people pushed against the broken glass, causing it to fall into the store and sending shards everywhere.
"Saotome! Your evil ways end today! Step away from those flowers of youth and allow the Blue Thunder to rescue them from your perfidious ways!"
Ranma groaned. "What do you think you're doing, Kuno? You could've really hurt someone!" He looked at Usa. "This is the big fight you promised us?"
"Oh-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho! Don't forget about me, Ranma-sama! No other woman will hold your attention as long as the Black Rose is here!"
"Great, just great. What is this, school reunion week?"
A third, smaller, figure stepped forward to stand between Kuno and Kodachi. "You're encouraging others to be delinquents, Saotome-san! I have to stop you!"
"Hinako, too? This is school reunion week ..." Ranma looked around. Ami had already started providing first aid to some of the people in the ice cream parlor that had been hit by flying glass. Makoto, Usa, and the shop's employees were guiding others to the back door. Akane and Skuld were moving toward the Kunos. "Hey, wait, you two. I can handle these three, no problem."
"Of course you can, Saotome Ranma," came the reply from behind the Kunos and Hinako. "But can you handle them and our other friends here on your own, all at once?" Marller stepped forward, with Sailor Venus and Tarou in his monster form flanking her.
"Oh, shit. I could use some help here, everyone!"
Skuld grabbed Ranma's arm. "Ranma, no! That's Marller!"
Ranma looked at Marller. "So, that's the demon you were telling me about. I'll leave her to you, pupil."
Kuno drew his bokken and held it above his head. "Your days of evil end now, Saotome! I strike!" He brought the bokken down, sending a blast of ice-cold ki energy barely past Ranma and into the far wall.
Ranma stood amazed. "Since when could you do that?"
"You need not know the answer to that, vile cretin!" Kuno looked around, and saw that Ranma, Akane, and Skuld were advancing on him.
Usa and Makoto got the last of the ice cream parlor's able-bodied customers out the back door, and moved to the counter area to help Ami evacuate the wounded. But before they could reach Ami, Sailor Venus jumped in front of them. "If you know what's good for you, you'll get out of here right now. Our business is with Tendo, Saotome, and the other girl."
"We can't do that, Venus," replied Usa.
Venus sighed. "Very well. Crescent Beam!" She aimed at the floor under Makoto's feet, hoping to force her off-balance ...
... but Makoto had already jumped. "The Tendo-Saotome school of musabetsu kakuto ryu focuses on aeiral combat, Venus. You won't catch us with a trick like that!"
Skuld had already drawn Mjolnir II from behind her, and was trying to get to Marller. Kodachi stepped in her way. "Oh-ho! So the little girl thinks she can fight with the grownups!"
"I'm not a little girl!" screamed Skuld as she swung her hammer, only to miss as Kodachi jumped over the hammer's arc.
Akane dodged as Taruo swung at her. He can't use his wings indoors, she thought, and there are too many people on his side for him to pull that new hedgehog-quill trick of his. She dodged another punch. I might survive this ...
"I strike!" called Kuno again. Ranma easily dodged the ki blast, letting it flow past him ...
... straight toward Ami, who looked up just in time to see it about to hit her. The adrenaline rush made time seem to slow down as she thought back to the previous
Sailor Neo-Moon looked uncomfortable, then finally decided to speak up. "I'm not supposed to say this, but I'll tell you anyway. It doesn't matter."
"Why not?" asked Sailor Mercury.
"Because there's going to be a fight between Skuld and Marller tomorrow, and some of us are going to have to transform in public just to stay alive."
Then she thought back to a few months earlier ...
Everyone stared at Ami for a moment. Finally, Ranma said, "Kasumi, we won't be needing those chestnuts from the store next week after all. Ami just demonstrated the kachu tenshin amaguriken to my satisfaction."
She knew what she had to do. "MrcryCrstlPwrMkupShnyAqaIls'n!" The Shiny Aqua Illusion stopped the ki blast a millimeter from Sailor Mercury's face.
Everyone stopped and looked at Sailor Mercury.
The person to whom she had been administering first aid was the first to find his voice. "You ... you're a Sailor Senshi?"
"That's right, sir," she replied. "And now everyone is going to know, and I'm never going to have a normal life, thanks to those people." She started walking toward Kuno. Looking him straight in the eye, she spoke one word with each step.
The blast froze Kuno in place instantly.
She glared at the rest of the atackers. "Which one of you put him up to this?"
"Me! Happo Five-yen Satsu!" Hinako's technique caught Sailor Mercury by surprise, draining the ki from her almost immediately. As Ami dropped to the floor unconscious, her transformation undone, Hinako grew to her adult age and her outfit changed.
"Oh, my ..." Usa couldn't believe her eyes. "She can't have drained Sailor Mercury's powers. Could she?"
"Why am I thinking these words?" wondered Sailor Hinako out loud. "Oh, right! Bubble Spray!"
Usa, Makoto, Ranma, Akane and Skuld breathed sighs of relief.
"Don't forget about the rest of us!" cried Sailor Venus. "Crescent Beam ... Shower!" Her attack hit Ranma and Skuld, knocking them both to the ground.
"No!" Akane was angrier than she had been in years. She brought her hands together, then pushed away from herself as she screamed at the top of her lungs, "Yamaneko Gekido!"
"Mountain Cat's Rage"? thought Hinako as Akane's version of Ryoga's Shi Shi Hokodan and Ranma's Moko Takabisha hit her square in the chest. She didn't fall over, but the energy, power, and outfit she had drained from Sailor Mercury all disappeared. "Ouch!"
"Oh-ho-ho-ho-ho! No more of that, pesant!" Kodachi twirled one of her ribbons, which suddenly grew to ten times its length and wrapped around Akane. "My, my! I must thank you for the gift you gave me, Marller-san!
"Akane!" Ranma brought his hands together while he was still getting to his feet. "Moko Takabisha!" Kodachi fell over, but the ribbon wrapped around Akane didn't loosen. Ranma rushed to her side. "Are you all right?"
"It ... hurts ..." gasped Akane as she lost consciousness.
Ranma started tearing at the ribbon, only to see it grow back into place as fast as he tore at it. He didn't stop, though.
Skuld advanced on Marller and Hinako, forcing them back behind Tarou and Venus.
Usa decided that she had stayed out of the fight for too long. "Moon Crisis Power, Makeup!"
Makoto followed suit, using the speed of the kachu tenshin amaguriken technique to transform to Sailor Jupiter instantly. "Sensei, stand back. Supreme Thunder!" The blast hit Kodachi, shocking her into a stupor.
"New Twinkle Yell!" Golden bells covered the ribbon, burning it to ashes without harming Akane.
Ranma stood up, shoulder to shoulder with Neo-Moon and Jupiter, protecting Akane's body. "No mercy, students." As one, they turned and took aim.
"Jupiter Oak ..."
Skuld pulled a bomb from her pocket.
Skuld threw the bomb at Marller. "I have to come up with a catchphrase for that," she muttered to herself.
The Moko Takabisha hit Tarou square in the chest, throwing him back out through the broken window.
The Dead Scream barely missed Venus.
The Jupiter Oak Evolution hit Hinako, knocking her to the ground.
Skuld's bomb exploded under Marller's feet, throwing her into the air. When she came back down, her head hit the edge of a table, breaking the table. "Ouch."
Venus smiled. "My turn. Venus Love-Me Chain!" Neo-Moon dodged the attack, but Jupiter and Ranma were caught and pulled together. "You weren't expecting that, were you?"
Hinako looked up to see Skuld standing above her. "You wouldn't attack a little girl, would you, lady?"
"I wouldn't attack a little girl," said Skuld as she drew her hammer back, "but you aren't a little girl."
"Eek! Happo Five-Yen Satsu!" Skuld was too close to dodge. Hinako grew to her adult form once again, but the energy kept coming from Skuld. "What ... What's happening?"
"Let me help you up," said Skuld as the energy flowed from her to Hinako. "You might cause me some problems if you kept that up for a few hours, you know."
"But ... but ... This is completely unprecedented!"
"You've never tried to drain a megami before today, have you?" Skuld's expression grew hard. "Accept this as a gift from Heaven and leave now, or continue to fight and lose what you've just received."
(Elsewhere, Peorth frowned. "That's playing fast and loose with the rules, Skuld. But I won't tell Kami-sama if you don't.")
(Elsewhere, Kami-sama smiled. "That is an elegant solution to that problem, Skuld. You've saved your sister a trip, although you'll never know it.")
The flow of energy between Skuld and Hinako stopped. "Good-bye, miss. I'm sorry to have troubled you." Hinako bowed, turned, and ran.
Neo-Moon sent another Dead Scream toward Marller, who dodged it effortlessly. "You're as bad a shot as ever, Chibi-Usa."
She didn't take the bait. "You have to dodge them all, demon. I only have to hit you once."
Venus pulled the Love-Me Chain tighter, forcing the air from Ranma's and Jupiter's lungs. "Fall, damn you!"
"Never!" gasped Ranma.
Suddenly, Tarou flew back through the window, rushing Ranma. He hit the two trapped fighters, knocking them out cold.
Skuld turned to see what else was going on. "Wrong attack, Moon!" she called as she swung Mjolnir II at Tarou's head.
"What?" replied Neo-Moon. "Oh, right. New Twinkle Yell!" The golden heart-shaped bells surrounded Marller, who dropped to the floor.
Skuld's hammer hit Tarou square on the back of the head, knocking him down. He looked over his shoulder and used his tentacles to grab Skuld's weapon.
"Moon Spiral Heart Attack!" The giant heart hit Tarou, knocking him out cold.
"No! It's all gone wrong!" cried Venus. "I won't be beaten! Crescent Beam Shower!" Skuld and Neo-Moon ducked behind an overturned table, dodging the blasts. "Crescent Beam Shower! Crescent Beam Shower!"
"She's got us pinned down," muttered Neo-Moon.
"Not for long," said Skuld as she pulled another bomb from her pocket.
"No!" Neo-Noon grabbed Skuld's arm. "Ranma, Akane, and Ami will get caught in the blast."
"Crescent Beam Shower! Crescent Beam Shower! Venus Love and Beauty Shock!" The final attack tore through the table, knocking Neo-Moon out cold and forcing Skuld to her knees.
Venus slowly walked over to Skuld. "And now we see whether a goddess can die. Crescent ..."
A yell came from the doorway. "Venus Love-Me Chain!"
Skuld looked up to see Sailor Venus trapped ... by Sailor Venus. "What's going on here?" she asked.
What's going on, indeed, thought the newcomer. She thought back to earlier that day ...
"You really picked a bunch of winners here, little Senshi. But I still haven't heard an answer from you. What's it going to be? Do you want my help, in exchange for a favour that I'll collect later?"
In answer, Minako pulled a bottle of water from her pocket and emptied it. The Jusenkyo magic took effect, and suddenly there were two Minakos in front of Marller. One answered "Yes"; the other answered "No".
"Oh-ho! What a clever girl, using the cursed water from Jusenkyo like that. Since you don't want my help," she turned to the Minako who had refused her, "you should leave now. You, though," she focused on the other Minako, "get a gift from me right away."
The Minako that left felt guilty, leaving a copy of herself behind in Marller's clutches. She knew that she had to follow the others, just in case ...
And here she was, standing face to face with 'herself'. "I can't let you kill anyone, copy."
To her surprise, the other Sailor Venus laughed. "Don't you remember what I did? You're the copy, not me. I borrowed Tarou's idea and mixed water from two springs - the Spring of Drowned Twins and the Spring of Drowned Honourable Man. You're the good me, but you're only a magical duplicate."
"No ..." whispered the newcomer and Skuld, together.
Both Venuses looked at Skuld. "Keep out of this!" cried the original.
"What's wrong?" asked the copy.
"If you use Jusenkyo magic that way, it's unstable. There's two of you sharing one person's life energy."
Marller opened her eyes and smiled. "Not any more, godling. The original one has a new source of energy - me. Oh, by the way," she turned to Venus, "I'm calling in my favour. You have to work for me now."
"What?! That's ridiculous!"
"If you don't, then you lose the energy I gave you. Then you die. It's up to you ..."
"Very well. Would you get me out of this?"
"Certainly, my servant." Marller waved her hand, and she, Venus, Tarou, and the Kunos disappeared. The ice that had surrounded Tatewaki fell to the floor.
"I'm so sorry ..." said the Venus who was left behind.
"It's all right," replied Skuld. "There's no permanent harm done. And you aren't the copy. If what Marller said is right, then you have your original life force. That makes you the original, in my books."
"But ... but how can you possibly forgive me?"
"I'm sure we can think of a way," smiled Skuld.
"Of course we can," whispered Ami from the floor.
Skuld rushed over to her. "You're awake!"
"Yes, but I'm exhausted ..."
"That's normal, for what Hinako did to -"
Venus gasped. Ami looked up to see that she was alone in the ice cream parlor with Venus, Jupiter, and the man who had been hurt earlier.
Skuld, Akane, Ranma, and Usa were gone.
"Where are we?"
Akane looked around. Her head hurt, and she wasn't sure that she was still alive. When she blacked out, she was in Tokyo. Now, all she could see was Ranma, Usa (who wasn't in her Sailor Moon form), Skuld, and a large expanse of desert sand.
Skuld was looking behind her. "Thank you, oneesan," she whispered.
They all turned to see what Skuld was looking at - a small, tall wall, with a large gap in a form that suggested a winged person.
"Hello, you who have been called here by the will of Kami-sama," said a butterfly-winged woman standing beside the wall. "Please, listen the the story that I can tell you before you ... Oh! Skuld!"
"Hello, Morgan," replied Skuld. "I suppose it's time for our Test."
"Where the hell is she?"
Rei turned to the others in the room. "Mamoru, this is a sacred place, and I need to be able to concentrate. Please don't shout like that again."
Usagi put her hand on her boyfriend's arm. "I know that you're just as worried as I am about our daughter, Mamo-chan. Please let Rei do what she can to find Usa."
Further back in the room, Ukyo glared at Makoto. "You were supposed to protect them."
"I did! I kept Akane from choking to death!"
"And then they disappeared!"
Rei stood up and walked over to the others. "I know that you're worried, but I'm not going to be able to find any of them if you all don't SHUT UP!"
"Sorry," they whispered.
"Thank you." Rei went back to her accustomed spot and sat down, then cleared her mind again. Sacred Fire, tell me what I seek to know ... she thought.
The words formed in her mind. Hi again, Rei!
Sacred Fire, you've become very informal ever since Skuld spoke with you.
Yeah, I know. Isn't it nifty?
Rei's thoughts took on a sharp edge. "Nifty"?
Sorry ... What is it that you want to know?
Where are Usa, Skuld, Akane, and Ranma?
There was a pause. I'm not allowed to say.
Is this another password thing, like the last time?
No! This is the will of Kami-sama. I'm sorry. All I can tell you is that they're safe.
Rei suddenly knew that she was alone in her mind. She stood up and faced the others. "I can't find them. I do know that they're safe, but that's all I know."
"I wonder what they're doing ..." mused Megumi.
"... so you're tellin' me that we gotta walk through this thing to prove our love."
"That's right, Ranma-san," replied Morgan.
"So, why are Skuld and Usa here?"
"Baka," whispered Akane.
"Hey, it's not like I can marry all of them! Er, all of you!"
A chuckle came from behind one of the pillars. "Not now, and not where you live on Earth, but soon, and elsewhere, you'll be able to marry all three of these women."
Usa smiled. "Plu!"
"Hello, Small Lady." Setsuna walked forward, looked at Ranma, and quickly continued. "No, I'm not here to take the test with you, Saotome-san. I'm just here to watch."
"Plu, I thought you weren't supposed to be on Earth yet."
"This isn't Earth, Small Lady. This is a realm of which I never knew, until Peorth told me about it."
Ranma stepped between Usa and Setsuna. "Fine, whatever. It don't matter anyway. You're one of those people who can see the future, so I guess you know what you're talking about. And I guess that explains what Skuld's doing here."
"Actually," interrupted Morgan, "you wouldn't have to be here if Skuld wasn't involved. She's a megami, while the rest of you are human. Kami-sama only invokes the test when people from different realms wish to share their lives with each other."
"Okay, fine," said Ranma. "But that still don't explain what Usa's doing here."
Usa looked as if her heart was about to break.
"Search your feelings, Saotome-san," intoned Setsuna. "Know what you feel, and admit it to yourself." She turned to Akane. "You must do this as well, Tendo-san."
Usa sighed. "Plu, you just asked Ranma and Akane to be honest with themselves."
"So," replied Skuld, "that means we're going to be here a while. I can survive by drawing strength from Yggdrasil. They can't."
"It won't be that bad ..." said Setsuna. Then, after a moment, she asked, "Will it?"
"They've been missing for three days!"
"That's right, Keiichi."
"How can you be so calm about this, Bell?"
Belldandy smiled. "I have a good idea of where they are. I just hope they're still together once they walk through the passage."
Keiichi stopped pacing. "Oh, well, if that's where they've gone ..."
Ranma awoke before the gateway once again. "Man, what a dream ..."
Morgan walked over to him. "Good morning, Ranma-san."
"Hey there, Morgan. Say, have you ever had a dream about someone, and realized the dream wasn't as good as the reality?"
Morgan sighed. "Once, yes. It almost lead to disaster for Belldandy-sama."
"Well, I had a dream like that last night. I realized that I don't love Usa right now. But I think I could learn to love her."
"Yay!" cheered Usa from behind Ranma.
"Oh, you're awake."
"We all are. Now."
Usa blushed. "Sorry, Akane-sensei."
"So, ladies, shall we?" Ranma offered his arms to Akane and Skuld, and Skuld offered her free arm to Usa.
"Hang on a moment, Ranma," said Skuld. "I have to calm down a bit ..."
"Okay, Skuld. Take all the time ya need."
Skuld smiled at Ranma, then thought back to her conversation with Belldandy a few hours before she and the others had been brought to the test.
Belldandy took Skuld's hand in her own. "You've been in a relationship with Ranma-san for a while now."
"Please, let me finish. I've been keeping track of the time, and you've known Ranma-san for about as long as I had known Keiichi back when Celestine ... passed on. There's something that you need to know. When people from two different realms wish to marry, Kami-sama tests their love by forcing them to walk through a gateway in a pocket realm. If the people have any flaws in their love, any flaws at all, then it is the will of Kami-sama that they never see each other again once they walk through the gateway. Their love must be stronger than True Love for the people to stay together."
"That ... That's terrible! Why does Kami-sama do that?"
Belldandy smiled, a small sad smile. "I must not say why, Skuld."
"Oh." Skuld thought for a moment. "You must be dreading the day when you and Keiichi have to walk throught the gateway, oneesan. You still get jealous of other people sometimes, and even I know that that's not a sign of Legendary Love."
"Keiichi and I have already passed through the gateway, Skuld."
"But ... How?"
"I said that it was the will of Kami-sama that the lovers never see each other again. Think back to your lessons, Skuld. What is the supreme power in the Heavens?"
"The will of Kami-sama, of course ... No. No, even Kami-sama must yield to the flow of time."
"And who embodies time? Who controls the past, the future, and the present?"
Skuld's eyes grew large. "You cheated!" she whispered.
"And so must you, if you want to see Ranma-san and Akane-san again after you take the test. This is what you have to do ..."
Skuld quickly arranged her thoughts, her powers, and her very self into the pattern that she had rehearsed with her sister, hoping that she got it right. Then she realized that the pattern had to change, to account for there being three other people with her instead of just one. She made the changes that she hoped would work.
Nobody else noticed.
"All right, I'm ready."
The four stepped forward, then stepped forward again ...
The Sacred Fire flared, then subsided.
"What happened, Rei?"
"I don't know, Usagi ..."
Ninomiya Hinako shivered, as if a chill wind had blown across her back.
"Is there something wrong, sensei?" asked one of her students.
She thought for a moment. You mean, besides the fact that I haven't reverted to my child form in days? Or that it seems like something important just happened? She went on aloud. "No, nothing's wrong. Start reading from the top of page fifteen, please."
"Yes, sensei. 'Episodu guidea: bubblegumu crisisa 8, scoopa chasu ...'"
Hinako sighed. Why can't anyone have a decent English accent? she wondered yet again.
Banpei suddenly looked up, then looked around.
Sigel frowned. "I felt it too. What is happening to Skuld-sama?"
Banpei could only shake his head.
The shrine at the Tendo Dojo shook, as if there was an earthquake.
"Oh, my!" remarked Kasumi.
Off in space, an asteroid on a collision course with Earth exploded.
The debris of the explosion was swept up by Mars' gravity, saving Earth from any deleterious effects.
Microscopic robots in Martian orbit started breaking apart that debris, sending it onto the ice that had been covering Mars for a half decade. The robots then formed into a giant mirror, focusing enough light onto the planet to melt the darkened ice.
Even though the architect of the plan was not present to watch, the terraforming of Mars had begun.
In an open temple in a rose garden in another realm, a young man sighed.
"What's wrong, Helios?" asked one of the girls who were playing nearby.
"I just lost sight of the light from Chibi-Usa's dreams, CereCere. Either her fondest dream has just become reality, or it's just been shattered beyond repair ..."
Belldandy suddenly looked up from her desk at the back of Whirlwind.
Chihiro noticed that her secretary had stopped working. "What's wrong, Belldandy-san?"
"It's happened. Whatever it was, it's happened."
"Mousse? What's wrong?"
The master of hidden weapons turned to his wife. "I don't know, darling. It just seemed like ... something important happened. That's the best I can put it into words."
In a darkened arcade, Marller looked around. "What was that?"
"What was what, my lady?" asked Minako.
"Never mind, foolish Jusenkyo-using girl. Get back to work."
Ranma stepped forward again, clearing the gateway.
"I'm here, Ranma."
"Thank goodness. Skuld?"
"We made it! Wait ... Usa?"
"I'm here too, Ran-chan."
The four closed in and hugged each other. "We made it!"
Suddenly they were back in the ice cream parlor.
"What?" Skuld looked up, past Ranma's arm. "Oh, hello, sir! Four ice cream sundaes, please!" She looked at the others and smiled. "Do any of you want anything?"
Four years later ...
The Senshi, the megami, and some others left Earth, and began floating just above the surface of Mars. "We're here, milady Rei," said Belldandy. "If you would do the honours?"
"Thank you, Belldandy-sama." Sailor Mars stepped out of the bubble of Earth atmosphere and onto the surface of Mars, then took a deep breath. "In accordance with the laws of the ancient Lunar house of Serenity, I claim this planet by right of birth." She stood for a moment, then shivered. "It's as cold as the Arctic Circle here!"
Everyone laughed. "What did you expect?" asked Mercury. "Your planet hasn't warmed up that much yet." The protective bubble disappeared as the Senshi who were controlling the Teleport - Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, Uranus, Neptune, and the original Sailor Moon - willed it away, and everyone set foot on the surface of Mars.
"This story is going to get me a Pulitzer Prize," commented Nabiki as she took yet another photograph. "Or at least a raise. Princess Rei, what are your plans for the planet Mars?"
"First, I have some very important business to conduct. Does your new camera have enough memory for some personal photos?"
"I guess so ... Why?"
Rei smiled. "Good. You're the official photographer for the event, then." She raised her voice and looked at the words to the ancient ceremony being displayed on the Mercury Computer, then transformed her outfit into a ceremonial robe similar to the one Princess Serenity often wore. "Be it known to all assembled here that there are some present who wish to be married! Supplicants, step forward!"
Eight people moved in front of Rei.
She looked at the computer again, then closed it and handed it back to Mercury. "We don't need a script. Let's just do this like we would back in Japan."
Everyone else sighed.
"Oh, all right. I'll give it a little bit of ceremony. First, it gives me great pleasure to have the honour of marrying my two best friends to each other. Chiba Mamoru, Tsukino Usagi, do you pledge to love each other for the rest of your lives?"
"We do," they answered. His outfits had already changed into his most formal uniform, while she was wearing the wedding dress designed for her.
"Does anyone here object to this wedding?" After a moment, she went on. "Then you're married. Stamp the form and kiss each other."
They did, happily and with feeling. Nabiki took a dozen photos of the kiss, hoping that at least one would be good enough to print.
"You call that 'a little bit of ceremony'?" asked Sora.
"It's as much as I'm going to give it. We're in a bit of a hurry here, unless you want to freeze."
"Oh, right. Please go on."
"Next," continued Rei, "I have the great honour of officiating at the first wedding between a mortal and a goddess since before the days of the Silver Millenium. Morisato Keiichi, Belldandy Odinsdottor, do you pledge to love each other for the rest of your lives?"
Before they could answer, everyone felt a warm, comforting Presence descend upon them. "Glad you could make it, Kami-sama," whispered Urd.
"We so pledge, now and for the rest of our lives," answered Keiichi and Belldandy in unison.
"Does anyone here object to this wedding?" After a moment, she continued. "Then I declare for all present to witness that you are married. Please stamp the form and kiss each other."
They did so; their kiss was longer than Usagi and Mamoru's.
Megumi and Chihiro began to cry. "Doesn't Belldandy look lovely?" said Chihiro quietly.
Rei smiled. "Finally, I have the honour and the pleasure to join in marriage my first student, my best friends' daughter, and two of the bravest people I have ever met. Saotome Ranma, Tendo Akane, Skuld Odinsdottor, and Chiba Usagi, do you pledge to love each other for the rest of your lives?"
They looked at each other with smiles. "We do."
"Does anyone here object to this wedding?"
Soun and Genma cleared their throats, but a glare from Nodoka kept them silent.
"Then I declare for all present to witness that you are married. Please stamp the form and kiss each other."
They stamped the form, then looked at each other. "We can't kiss each other all at once ..."
Rei sighed, then glared at them for an instant. "Take turns."
Ranma kissed Akane, lovingly, fully, and with great happiness, while Skuld and Usa gave each other a quick kiss. Nabiki's camera was working overtime.
"My little girl's finally married!" said Soun through a cascade of happy tears.
"The houses have been joined!" cried Genma, but without the tears. Nodoka was watching him.
The happy foursome finally switched partners - Ranma kissed Skuld, not for as long as he had kissed Akane, but still quite thoroughly. Akane and Usa gave each other a quick kiss. Then they changed partners yet again, and Ranma quickly kissed Usa while Skuld kissed Akane equally quickly.
The warm, comforting Presence moved off to one side, where there was suddenly a burst of energy. When it subsided, the remaining ice had melted completely and some of the Martian sand had blown away, revealing the remains of an extremely old building.
"The Martian palace ..." breathed Rei.
"Well, it looks like we've got a place to stay for the night," said Ranma.
A year after that ...
Ranma was glad that he was only female part of the time; he really didn't want to go through what his wife was going through. He held her hand, and winced as she squeezed it hard.
A few moments later, Ami looked up. "Congratulations! It's a boy!"
Ranma's grin lit up the room. "Did you hear that? It's a boy!" He took his son from Ami and brought him around to his mother's side. "What do we want to name him?"
"Remember what we discussed? There's a friend of the family that has a perfect name for him."
"I don't know - 'Saotome Frey' sounds like a silly name ..."
Skuld managed to swing Mjolnir II, but not hard enough to cause Ranma to drop their son.
"All right, all right. Frey it is. Ami, would you call everyone else in, please?"
Ami stepped back and opened the door, quickly stepping aside before Usa could fall onto her. She giggled as Usa stood up.
Akane walked past Usa, cradling her daughter in her arms. "I brought Yuka along, Ami-sensei. I hope that's all right."
"Of course it is," replied their family doctor.
A while later, Skuld and Belldandy had finally finished exchanging horror stories about their deliveries.
"You know, oneesan, at first I was upset about the whole marriage thing, but now that I've had a child, I'm happy that the Ultimate Force granted Kuonji Ukyo's wish the way that it did."
Belldandy didn't reply.
"Is something wrong, oneesan?"
Finally, Belldandy shook her head and stood up. "No, nothing's wrong. I'll see you later, all right?"
"Sure ..." replied Skuld as she watched her sister leave.
Belldandy pondered while she returned to her family's rooms in the Martian palace. Should she tell Skuld the reason why Ukyo's wish had been granted this way? After a moment, she remembered her reaction to an off-hand comment Akane had made about the engagement some years ago:
"I guess the promise wasn't stupid, Belldandy-san. But I still don't know why Kami-sama allowed a promise like that to be made."
Belldandy sighed. Having looked in the Yggdrasil records, she knew exactly why the promise had been allowed, but she didn't dare tell Akane the reason.
She still didn't dare tell Akane, or Ranma. And that meant she couldn't tell Skuld.
Perhaps the Yggdrasil records were wrong. Perhaps the demigods who had been and would be born to Ranma and Skuld, and the children of Keiichi and herself, wouldn't get along. Perhaps they wouldn't marry. Perhaps they wouldn't become the parents of a new race of gods, more in touch with the human realm than Kami-sama had become over the last two millenia. Perhaps there was nothing for the current race of megami to worry about.
And perhaps pigs would fly without aircraft or Jusenkyo curses.
Belldandy sighed deeply. Only time would tell ...
An interplanetary shuttle landed at the Crystal Tokyo spaceport on Mars. This was nothing special - shuttles had been landing there for two centuries. However, two of the passengers on board the shuttle were very special ...
For the first time in decades, Saotome Frey and Morisato Sayoko had returned home.
"Sometimes you can be so ... so ... so annoying!"
"And sometimes you can be so stupid!"
The two of them finally cleared the customs gate, and found a waiting groundcar.
"Frey, the door's closed."
"Finally!" The two demigods kissed each other, slowly and deeply. "I hate keeping up that act, Sayoko-chan, but my father insists."
"So does my mother, for some reason ..."