(with some help from a few friends, of course)
Chapter One | Chapter Two
This is the fourth sidestory (but the first in the storyline's chronology) to A Certain Distance, which appeared on which appeared on rec.arts.anime.creative during the last half of 2000.
Of the various sidestories I planned for the A Certain Distance / A Closer Distance cycle, this may be the most important one: the Saffron story.
The story begun in A Certain Distance branched off from the canonical Ranma ½ storyline somewhere during the original Japanese Volume 36 - Nodoka knows about Ranma's curse, but the Saotome house wasn't destroyed by the Horde of Fiancées. This means that any events in Volumes 37 and 38 didn't necessarily happen to this version of the Nerima Wrecking Crew. No, Ranma never fought Saffron. No, there's no Akaneniichunan. Yes, Saffron did wake up ...
The story begun in A Certain Distance also branched off from the canonical Oh My Goddess storyline somewhere earlier than where many people think that it did. Saying exactly where the divergence point is would spoil this story, though ...
This particular sidestory begins immediately after A Certain Distance, so the events of A Closer Distance and the other sidestories have not yet occurred.
No challenge is intended to the intellectual properties of Fujishima Kosuke, Takahashi Rumiko, Takeuchi Naoko, or their licencees.
Urd had just settled in for an evening of watching television when a chill went up her spine. "Did you sense that?"
"Sense what?" asked Belldandy and Skuld in unison from the kitchen.
Urd thought for a moment. "I think it was some god-level being, trying to ... wake up?"
"The only being like that in the Earthrealm is Saffron, in China, but -"
Urd stood up quickly. "I guess I'll have to check him out, then. China, you said?" And she leapt through the television screen.
Belldandy came out of the kitchen. "Oh, Urd. I was about to say that Saffron would simply ignore us if we leave him alone. But now ..."
"What harm could she do, Big Sister?"
A few hours later, Urd was sitting in a bar in Beijing. "I suppose I should have found out where in China I could find Saffron before I started ..." she muttered to herself in Mandarin.
"Did you say 'Saffron'?"
Urd turned to the person who had just spoken. "Yes, I did ..." When she realized who she was talking to, though, she stopped talking. Why did it have to be him? she thought.
"Is there a problem, miss? Say, have we met before?"
Urd sighed. No point in trying to lie, she thought. Out loud, she replied, "Yes, Mousse. We met in Japan."
"I'll take your word for that, miss. For some reason, I'm having a great deal of trouble remembering what happened to me in Japan. May I ask your name?"
"I'm Urd. We met at that last challenge match you had with Ranma."
Mousse looked puzzled for a moment. "Who's Ranma?"
"You don't remember the person who you thought was your rival for Shampoo's affection?"
Mousse's expression grew even more puzzled. "Who's Shampoo?"
The Master of Hidden Weapons had his hands full, carrying packages for the Goddess of the Past. But he didn't mind. Actually, he didn't mind a lot of things nowadays. He wasn't sure why he didn't mind, though.
Urd added another package to the pile that Mousse was carrying for her. By now, he should have said something about being used as a pack animal, but he was walking along quietly. This worried Urd.
"Okay, I think we've got everything I need now to make a memory-restoration potion. Now I need a place to set up a workbench."
"You're welcome to use the room I'm renting, miss Urd."
It was finally done. It smelled bad and looked worse, but it was done.
"Sorry about the texture, but this is the best I can do with the ingredients I could find here. Now you have to drink it all."
"Very well," replied Mousse without a qualm. He took the flask from Urd, drank the contents in one draught, and promptly fell unconscious.
He should have at least complained about the taste of the potion ... thought Urd. Oh, well. Now we wait.
"Where am I?"
Urd turned to look at Mousse. "You're in the room you rented in Beijing. How are you feeling?"
"Like I was drinking past my limit last night ... Wait a minute. Why am I in Beijing, Urd? I'm supposed to be in Tokyo. I have a challenge match with Ranma later today ... No, that already happened, didn't it?"
Urd smiled. "It sounds like you've got your memory back."
"I had lost my memory? That fiend, enscorelling me like that!"
Urd sighed. "No, it sounds like you've got somebody else's memory instead of your own ..."
"I'm not talking about Ranma!"
"Oh? Who cast a spell on you, then?"
Mousse thought for a moment. "I'm not absolutely sure, but I think that Sailor Moon did that to me when she healed me."
Urd had the grace to blush. "Yeah... Sorry about that attack, Mousse. I guess I over-reacted when my sister got hurt during your fight."
Mousse blushed as deeply as Urd. "It's my fault as much as it is yours, Urd. I should have been more careful around spectators."
They sat in silence for a moment. Finally, Urd asked, "Why were you two fighting, anyway?"
Mousse chuckled softly. "Just to keep in practice. There aren't too many martial artists at the level Ranma and I have reached, so we get into friendly matches just to keep our skills honed. You should see the fights that Ranma and Ryoga get into some time; they're much more intense than the one you saw."
"Haven't you people ever heard of sparring?"
"That isn't the same, Urd. But enough about me and my friends. I believe you said something about 'Saffron' a few hours ago?"
Over the next week, Mousse and Urd got to know each other while they made their way halfway across China. Mousse was told about the day-to-day goings-on at the Morisato residence, and about the dull tedium of being the system operator of the computer that controlled all of creation. Urd learned about the dull tedium of training in the Hidden Weapons style, and of the heartbreak of being repeatedly rejected by the only woman worth loving.
"Would you like me to do something about Shampoo's feelings towards you, Mousse?"
"No!" Mousse quickly calmed down. "No, Urd. If you were to change her personality permanantly, then she wouldn't be the girl I love any more. And if you just did something temporarily, then she'd hate me forever when it wore off. No, this is something I have to do without help."
"That's a remarkably mature outlook, Mousse." After a few moments of quiet, Urd changed the subject. "How much longer have we got to go?"
"Just another couple of days and we'll be back in my home village. Once we're there, we can ask the Council and the Elders for help against the Phoenix Tribe."
"'Help against the Phoenix Tribe,' Mousse? Are you that sure they won't be friendly?"
"No, but it never hurts to be prepared."
"If you say so. It's your homeland ..."
"So this is your homeland. It's as lovely as it was the last time I visited this part of the world."
"Thanks. I'm surprised that we haven't been met yet, though. But I think that's about to change ..."
Suddenly two armed women were standing in their path. One of them challenged the travellers. "Identify yourselves! Over!"
"Hello, Link. Don't you remember me?"
The other woman replied to the male's comment. "Aiyah! You're Mousse! But where are your glasses? And how did you know she wasn't me? Over."
"I don't need glasses any more, Pink. And I've always known you by your voices, not by your faces. What are the two of you doing here?"
"Your village's council asked us to help with guard duty while your 'Strongest Woman' contest was going on. Over."
"Who's your friend? Over."
"Just somebody he met in Beijing," replied Urd before Mousse could answer.
"Well, you may as well keep going. Over."
"We don't want to keep you from seeing your family after all this time. Over."
"Don't mind us. Over."
Mousse smiled at the girls as he and Urd walked past them. "I'll be sure to mention what a good job you're doing to the Council."
"Oh, you don't need to do that! Over."
"We're just happy to help! Over."
"Well, if you're sure ..."
"We're sure! Over."
Mousse and Urd walked along in silence until they were out of earshot of Pink and Link. "I wonder what they're up to?"
"Does it matter, Mousse? What can they do that the two of us can't prevent?"
Mousse thought for a moment. "I guess you're right, Urd. Let's go and see the Council."
The two "guards" were trying to calm themselves down while resting under a tree beside the path.
"That was close! Over."
"Too close! Over."
"Do you think he suspects anything? Over."
"You do remember what Shampoo thinks of him, don't you? Over."
"That's true. Over."
"I'm glad we got rid of them before he showed up. Over."
"Actually, you didn't," came a voice from the branches above the girls. "But I don't think that either of them noticed me up here."
"We're sorry, sir! Over."
"It won't happen again! Over."
"It had better not happen again. Or have you forgotten that your friends' lives depend on your keeping me happy?"
"We haven't forgotten! Over."
"Good. Now, this is what I want you to do next ..."
The two travellers walked over yet another rise, then stopped. Below them lay their destination - Mousse's home village. "It's been a while simce I was last here," he whispered. "It hasn't changed a bit. At least, I think it hasn't changed. I never could see it very well before."
"It's been a while since I was last here, too," mentioned Urd. "I wonder whether anyone still remembers me?"
"I don't think anybody ever mentioned a goddess visiting us ..."
Urd laughed for a moment. "No, they didn't know that I'm divine. They just let me stay in exchange for making a few trinkets for them. Come on, Mousse, let's go and see what's going on."
They started walking towards the village square. "Trinkets?" asked Mousse.
Urd smiled. "Just a few low-powered magical items that various people thought might come in handy and insisted that I make. They also insisted on using some of the worst names I've ever heard for the trinkets - the Lens of Invincibility, the Reversal Jewel, a dozen Love Pills of varying potency ..."
"You made all those? But ... Those have been the most highly-guarded treasures of our village for centuries!"
"Mousse ... I am the Goddess of the Past. Why do you think that it's so strange that I would have visited your people in the past?"
"Oh ... Right. Silly me."
They turned a corner and walked into the town square. Being behind most of the village's residents, nobody noticed their arrival until Mousse cleared his throat. Only then did people turn to see that one of the village's strongest warriors had returned. They quickly cleared a path for him and his companion to walk to the front of the crowd, the better to witness the annual Strongest Woman contest.
When the two travellers finally reached the front row, they were met by three women wearing ceremonial robes. Mousee bowed to all three, taking Urd's hand so that she was forced to bow as well. "Honoured elders of the clans that make up the Women Warriors' Village, I have returned. I humbly ask that my guest may remain unmolested while she is visiting our people."
The three Elders looked at Mousse and Urd for a moment. Finally, the one on the left said, "Oh, get up, boy."
"Yes, Elder Colonge," he replied as he straightened his back. "I'm surprised that you've returned to our home as well."
"That girl didn't give Shampoo and me much choice. We had to come back."
"What are you talking about?"
The person standing beside Colonge cleared her throat. "Ko Lon and Sham Pu returned to us with a ridiculous story about Sham Pu being told by a Goddess to give up her husband. Do you know anything about this, Mu Tsu?"
Mousse shook his head. "I am sorrowed to say that I do not, Grand Elder Bei Bi."
Urd giggled at Mousse's comment. "Her name ... is 'Baby'?"
Before Mousse could respond, Bei Bi tapped Urd's chest with her staff. "You will show respect towards your elders, woman! Contemplate that while you are unable to move. If you appear to be penitent, then I will be gracious and restore your mobility after the contest is over. If not, then you can stay that way until you die."
Urd smiled and stretched her arms (incidentally causing most of the men present to need to cross their legs). "Or I could just ignore your little love tap, Baby."
While shocked, Bei Bi did her best to hide the fright at Urd's display of movement. "Are you challenging me, outsider?"
Mousse pulled Urd close enough to whisper. "Please don't challenge the Grand Elder. I don't know which would be worse; you losing or you winning."
"Don't think that we can't hear you, boy," interrupted Colonge.
"And don't think that this ... person scares me," added Urd. She then turned back to Bei Bi. "I'm not about to challenge you, Baby. If you want to challenge me, though, that's completely up to you, but don't think that I'm going to put up with any of that 'Kiss of Death' nonsense when you lose."
"Do you kiss your boyfriend with that mouth, Baby? Or have you ever had a boyfriend?"
Mousse moved to take Urd aside, but was stopped by Colonge. "Leave them be, boy," she whispered. "It may be petty of me, but I would like to see Bei Bi defeat your companion."
Bei Bi's rage was at its peak. "I challenge you, outsider!"
"Very well. Shall we take up positions at either end of the tournament log, or do you want to fight here and now?"
Everyone else started moving back, very quickly.
"Right here! Right now! Prepare yourself!"
Urd smiled. "As the challenged party, I claim the right of first attack." Bei Bi snarled, but stood her ground. Urd raised her left arm. "Sea of blue that covers Heaven! Hear my voice! Know my will! I am Urd, Greatest of the Three Norns!"
"Norn?" whispered Bei Bi, a frightened look on her face.
"And I call down the lightning!" Urd brought her hand down quickly.
A single bolt came down from the clear blue sky, and split the tournament log lengthwise into two equal pieces.
Urd smiled, in a goofy way that reminded everyone who saw her of a circus clown. "Oopsie. I missed." She then became completely serious. "Your turn, Bei Bi. Assuming you want to continue this game, that is."
The Grand Elder shook her head. "No, I concede this match. I also concede that Ko Lun and Sham Pu were telling the truth. The time of prophecy is at hand, and the Gods walk among us once more." She then bowed before her opponent. "What is your will, o Goddess?"
Colonge hopped over to Urd and whispered in her ear. Urd smiled. "I suppose I can grant you that much, in exchange for your service in Tokyo last month. Bei Bi, I ask that Sham Pu be absolved of her shame in returning without her husband. It is the will of the gods that her man walk a different path. No shame should fall upon Sham Pu because of that."
The third Elder stepped forward. "This cannot be!"
"Why not?" asked Urd.
"If Sham Pu was to be absolved, then she would be within her rights to demand to take the vacant position on the Council. I cannot abide that."
Colonge hopped forward, leaving Mousse alone. "You just want your protegee to take that position, Elder Cao Cao. She's skilled, but is she ready for a leadership position?"
"She's more prepared than Sham Pu is, and you know it."
Bei Bi stepped between the other two Elders. "There is but one way to settle this. Goddess, I assent to your request. Let everyone here know that Sham Pu has no shame in returning to us without her husband. Let everyone here also know that I am leaving the village. I shall not return."
"I can and I will, Elder Cao Cao. You are now Grand Elder. Once I leave, Councillor Ho Ni will take my place as Elder for our clan. That will leave two Council positions open, which will be filled by the two most capable people waiting for the honour - both of your protegees. I have been watching them as they grew up; both the warrior Sham Pu and the healer Pai Wei will make excellent Councillors. Be well." With this, Bei Bi turned and walked away, not looking back.
Once she was gone, everyone turned to look at Cao Cao and Urd. The goddess was the first to react. "Well, weren't you people in the middle of a contest?"
Cao Cao cleared her throat. "You ... broke the log, ma'am. It'll take a few days to make everything ready again."
"Oh, okay. If you aren't going to finish your tournament right now, can Mousse and I speak with your Council?"
To be continued ...