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Part 2

A Ranma / Tenchi Muyo! crossover story
By Brian Randall

Disclaimer: Ranma belongs to Rumiko Takahashi and Viz Communications.  Tenchi Muyo! belongs to Hitoshi Okuda and Pioneer LDC.  Among others…

Additional credits: Rumiko Takahashi, Viz Communications (Inu-Yasha), Pioneer LDC (El Hazard), Sunrise, TV Tokyo/Bandai Entertainment (The Vision of Escaflowne), CLAMP, Kodansha, (Magic Knights Rayearth), TV Tokyo and Ken Akamatsu (Love Hina), Takada Yuuzou, and A.D.Vision (Bannou Bunka Nekomusume Nuku-Nuku), Fujishima Kosuke, (Ah! Megami-sama) and (You're Under Arrest), Miyao Gaku (Devil Hunter Yohko), Takashi Yabara, Viz, SNK (Fatal Fury), Yuzo Takada, A.D.Vision (Blue Seed), And of course, Tatsuya Egawa (Goldenboy).

Notes: Diverges from Ranma after volume 24, continuation for OAV 2 in the Tenchi universe (well, one of them). This fic uses the bizarrely vague 'Pick One!' scenario. Enjoy.

Undoubtedly, this will destroy what small credibility I've garnered. Oh well!

"They say fight fire with fire. Makes sense to me to fight monsters with monsters… but then, who do you make into a monster?"


Ranma cracked her knuckles, seeing the shadowed form below her, seemingly unaware of her trajectory.

She let out a shout, descending from her leap like divine retribution upon the unsuspecting creature and slamming into it foot-first. To her surprise, the creature merely flexed slightly, as she skidded across it's carapace and smashed into the onsen behind it, narrowly avoiding sliding across one of its spiky, protrusion covered legs.

"Ooh…" she groaned, righting herself, and scowling at the creature as it scuttled away a short distance, points of light gleaming from its hard, armored eyes.

The brightening of the sky allowed her to make more of the thing's features out, revealing the previously unseen maw to the light, glinting and dripping the pale yellow ichor the creatures possessed as blood. The more to damage her should she attack it directly, she noted. The things were built to be a pain in the ass to fight; that much was certain.

Glaring, she waited for the creature to advance. Let it make the first move.

But it didn't. Ranma frowned, remembering what Washuu had said — it existed on all dimensional levels simultaneously, and hence, where Ranma was standing at the time must have massive amounts of dimensional space stacked on top of it. She shivered, remembering one of the numbers Washuu had given him while after their bath.

Her lab could cover the surface of the Earth five times over, she had said, packed neatly into and above the space for a mile or so around the closet door that had functioned as an entrance. Ranma wasn't certain how much stuff was in all of that space, but she knew that it must be a lot, because the world was a pretty big place. And that meant that even though Ranma couldn't see the stacked dimensions — nodes and vertices, Washuu had called them — the creature she was fighting must be able to move through normal materials with frightening ease.

Shivering again, Ranma tried to think things over. The spaces that she couldn't see still provided her with some advantage, even if she wasn't certain what — or where — they were.

Frowning, she eyed the creature standing near the shore of the lake, and calculated her plan of attack. She remembered quite clearly the first time that she had seen one of the creatures. It was able to simply slide — phase — through things. Ranma knew that she could do the same, but it was still… unnerving to see the giant monster able to do such a thing.

Regardless, it seemed unable to do it through all of the stacked dimensions simultaneously, and there wasn't much use to it at that moment anyway. Relaxing, she summoned her power to her, allowing the faintly humming blades of blue energy to appear in her hands.

Seeming to sense the energy, the creature altered its stance, backing up the shore a short distance.

She glanced out across the surface of the lake beneath the onsen, considering, then at the blades in her hands. Staring towards the reaver, she hovered over the surface of the lake, plunging the blue beams into the water. A corona of ice formed around the weapons, spider-webs of ice forming, then breaking apart from the motion of the water.

She frowned, considering, and concentrated, willing the blades to become colder, and throwing herself into the soul of ice. The water froze more quickly, this time not breaking beneath the waves, and slowly extended — nearly like an extension of Ranma's will.

The ice spread, thin crackling noises against the crisp morning air sounding, as it touched the shore near the reaver. The reaver skittered away quickly, its clawed legs easily finding purchase in the loose soil on the side of the lake.

Ranma opened her mouth to shout in protest before catching herself. Doubtlessly the thing was too stupid to respond to taunts. Wrenching herself upwards, she vaulted in a great arc, above the creature. "Hey!" she yelled. "Hey stupid! Up here — it's me! Where the hell do you think you're going?"

Seeming to hear her, the massive reaver suddenly reversed directions and leapt, flying directly towards the girl, with its claws extended. Yelping, Ranma dropped herself, narrowly missing a nasty encounter with a pair of slashing appendages, but noting with some horror the strike had been close enough to grab a few passing hairs from her head.

Alarmed, she wrenched her eyes off the few strands of red hair that were drifting down, instead staring in amazement as the reaver caught itself on… something… in the air, and reversed course again. Gawking, Ranma shot upwards, noting with displeased surprise that the reaver caught itself in midair again after passing her.

Realization shone through a moment later. The monster was hanging onto something in another dimension. "Shit!" she swore, realizing that her greatest advantage wasn't as much of an advantage as she would have liked.

Speeding away, she goggled, wondering what the monster was finding purchase on as it drew ever closer. "This sucks!" she complained, angling towards the lake. Maybe the stupid thing couldn't swim…

She spun in place over the ice she had created earlier — if the monster fell through, it could drown. At least, that was the plan…. Skittering across the ice for a moment before it stabbed its claws straight down, it stalked towards her. She grimaced, realizing that her initial plan had failed — the ice was too thick.

"Well," she muttered, girding herself, "let's just settle this the old fashioned way…"

Darting towards her suddenly, the reaver leapt, and she ducked beneath it, throwing herself to the ice and sliding under it to rake across its carapace with her blades — to unsettlingly small effect.

She snarled, and the monster skidded to an awkward halt before sliding past the edge of the ice, and into the water.

Replacing the snarl with an incredulous expression, Ranma was only able to stare. "Damn things are dumber then they look…." Shaking her head, she turned away, stepping across the ice and whistling to herself. "Could have been—"

Vaulting skyward suddenly, she narrowly avoided a giant, piercing claw, as it shot through the shelf of ice, while the reaver clawed its way towards her. "Shit!" she exclaimed again. "Don't you stupid bugs ever die?"

The reaver snarled — a high pitched, keening noise — and leapt again. Ranma flung herself to the side, momentarily distracted by the thin wisps of steam rising from the reaver as it rebounded from an invisible construct, and towards her again.

She snapped her fingers, darting towards the water. If it gave off heat…

Steeling herself, she phased as she hit the water, not coming into contact with it, but still beneath it. The reaver floundered for a moment, before bunching itself up and swimming easily through the water, squid-like.

Ranma took a deep breath — unsettling herself when she realized that her lungs were filled with water, yet she was still apparently breathing. Shaking off the sensation, she rushed towards the reaver, as it reoriented itself towards her, claws first. Trying to lead it into a spiral, she ducked — too late. It clipped her shoulder, tearing open a searing line of pain as the cruel barbs on the ends of its claws sunk in, tearing free and taking a chunk of flesh with it.

Restraining a scream, Ranma resisted the urge to change her stance, leading the thing after her in a spiral step. The thing gave off heat, and there was no reason to think it would work differently with water than with air.

Drawing in one final breath, and ignoring the incongruity of inhaling water, Ranma shouted.

"Well, Sasami," Washuu said, toweling her own hair dry, "I guess you're feeling better?"

The little girl nodded tiredly, her large eyes slowly drifting shut. "Yes… thank you for talking to me, Washuu-chan… I just felt so alone…." She sighed, softly, then yawned, crossing her arms over her knees, and resting her head there for a moment, sitting on one of the bathing stools.

Washuu sighed, shaking her head. "Well," she whispered, "I'm glad you feel better…." Standing abruptly, she gave a decisive nod. "Come, Sasami, we need to dress you before you fall asleep."

Rousing herself slightly, and sighing in disappointment, the girl rose somewhat, standing slowly and holding back another yawn. "Okay," she said, following Washuu to the room she had once shared with Ayeka.

With Washuu's assistance, she was able to dress in a clean outfit — her old one having been carefully hidden because of the bloodstains.

The redhead sighed, turning to look at Sasami's reflection in a nearby mirror, while Sasami leaned against her drowsily. "As expected," the scientist remarked critically.

The mirror shimmered once, and when Washuu's eyes cleared, she was facing Tsunami once more.

Bowing her head, Tsunami sighed, shame apparent on her features. "I… I am losing myself, Washuu. I am sorry."

Washuu nodded knowingly. "And she's losing herself, too. Do you know what's happening?"

Tsunami bit her lip, looking upwards. "It is…. It is a difficult thing to know… oneesan."

Wincing, Washuu shook her head. "Not that… not… right now. We can speak of that later. In the meantime… what will happen to you? To Sasami?"

Tsunami schooled her expression stoically. "We will become… somewhere between where we are now, I should think."

Washuu scowled, poking the taller woman's shoulder. "And your body? Sasami's?"

A shadow of a frown passed across Tsunami's face, and she shook her head. "That, you should remember well enough."

Washuu smiled obliquely. "Maybe I should, but I don't. In the meantime, what brings you here? And why as Sasami? You know how dangerous this place is — especially now."

Tsunami's face fell, and Washuu winced, seeing the glimmering of unshed tears in the taller woman's eyes. She cleared her throat imperiously, and reclaimed her regal demeanor and bearing, though the wetness remained in her gaze. "Tenchi-sama—" her voice cracked, and she masked it with a cough. "Tenchi-sama is far too busy with the pressing matters of the Supreme Council to be bothered with such trifling matters — to be of a certain. I am sure he will attend those important to him."

Washuu drew in a long hissing breath. She hadn't known — and wouldn't have guessed such a thing…. But she could read the meaning behind the convoluted speech regardless. Throwing aside pretenses for the moment, she nodded solemnly. "I understand then… imouto-chan." Drawing herself up to her full height, and shunning for the moment her childish form, Washuu stood taller than Tsunami, and gently drew the woman into an embrace.

Secure in Washuu's hug, and finding what she had failed to find on Jurai, Tsunami let loose her tears. The blue-haired woman allowed herself to vent her sorrows for what seemed a timeless eternity, until she had no more tears to shed, and she was able to pull away apologetically. "I… I am sorry, o— I am sorry, Washuu."

Washuu waved a hand dismissively, managing a wry grin. "No one should ever have to bear being alone, I'd think. Anyway, if you're feeling better, perhaps we should discuss our immediate problem?"

Gathering herself and her will, Tsunami nodded, noting by the thin lights streaming in through the windows that the sun would rise shortly. "Where…" she trailed off, frowning, and began again, "Where is Ranma?"

Washuu opened her mouth to answer the question, only to be cut off by a resounding shout from outside, followed nearly instantly with a tinkling-crunching noise. "Hiryuu shouten ha!" the cry echoed, moments before the Earth gave an unexpected and sudden shudder.

Both women dashed to the front door together, surprised at what lay before them.

"Oh, my…" Tsunami commented, surveying the effects of some devastating attack.

Washuu nodded in agreement, staring at the aftermath in surprise. She had known that Ranma could generate cold, but… that much? "Ranma?" she called out, not able to see the boy — girl, she reminded herself at the moment — clearly through the lake, now entirely frozen solid. The surface was jagged and torn, as though someone had smashed it to pieces with a great hammer after freezing it, and black and yellow chunks of… reaver? Whatever it was, numerous pieces of it, coated in ice, lay strewn about. If it had been a reaver, it was now dozens upon dozens of small pieces — no longer a threat, at any rate.

Unnoticed until that moment, Yosho followed the two women from the house, eyeing them dubiously before studying the lake. "Interesting," he remarked, leaping out across the ice, wearing his traditional clothing, and bounding from the jagged icy spires with only his sandals to find purchase.

He descended in the center of the lake, a depression too deep for Washuu to peer into from her vantage point at the edge of the…. She groaned, realizing that the dock was largely gone, destroyed by the ice, and the pieces flung too far to be seen. The lake had frozen quickly, then expanding outwards from the center by some kind of explosion. That must have been the upheaval that shook the house. Tsunami was only able to stare in surprise, before commenting, "I think… I think that Ranma might indeed be enough to stop the reavers."

Washuu nodded, saying nothing for the moment, as Yosho bounded back, his arms full of a busty and body-suit-clad redhead. He looked down at the girl, frowning, then turned his attention to Washuu. "Who is she?" he asked.

The scientist frowned. "You don't remember? That's Ranma?"

As her name was called, Ranma momentarily woke, mumbling, opened her eyes a crack, and spied Washuu, "Didja see that? I got 'im… he… Saotome Ranma doesn't…." Whatever it was that 'Saotome Ranma didn't' went unspoken, as she fell unconscious in Yosho's arms.

Washuu blinked, crossing her arms and allowing her frown at the smaller redhead to deepen. "Well, perhaps he can stop them. There are a few problems left to still work out."

Tsunami stifled a giggle at the scene, unable to deny the improbability of the entire situation.

Yosho cleared his throat, carrying Ranma into the house, and gently setting her on the couch in the living room before turning to eye the women who had followed him. "So," he began, frowning, "what brings you here, Lady Tsunami?"

Inclining her head slightly, Tsunami resumed her formal pose. "Visiting my sister, Yosho-dono…. Tell me, Yosho-dono, what are your plans to deal with the threat to life on this green Earth?"

He cleared his throat, looking at Ranma's sleeping form for a moment before turning to study the women before him. Sisters? Perhaps a joke — Sasami seemed to refer to nearly everyone close to her as a brother or sister. But that wasn't important at the moment…. "I will stay here. Until… Father… finishes removing the reavers from this world, I will not abandon her." He fell silent for a moment, brooding before adding, "Nor will I leave Funaho."

Tsunami became more solemn, nodding her comprehension of his wishes. "As you will it, then. I shall… I shall remove Funaho from this green Earth for you." Yosho blinked, his eyes widening in alarm. The taller woman smiled reassuringly, placing one hand on his shoulder. "Have no fear… when it is safe again, I will return, and with me, Funaho."

Yosho relaxed, bowing his head in gratitude. "Thank you, Lady Tsunami."

Wincing slightly, the woman shook her head. "For the moment only. But… before I leave, I have one request that I would ask of you."

Washuu remained silent, fidgeting as she watched the pair, sympathy plain on her face.

Yosho nodded, guessing he knew already. "What would you have of me?"

Tsunami waved her hand gently before Yosho's eyes, sighing softly. "Grant… Sasami one last moment of happiness before it becomes too late?" Yosho nodded again, feeling the illusion settle about him like an old coat — familiar and comforting in its deceit.

In a soft surge of light, the room was suffused green, and Tsunami was gone, replaced with her much younger and seemingly more innocent counterpart. She blinked around her, eyes wide. "Masaki-san?" She giggled suddenly, exclaiming, "I must have walked in my sleep!"

Washuu smiled, still not having reverted to her own more childish form. "It would seem that way, Sasami-chan…"

Yosho smiled, aware of his 'Katsuhito' guise, and saw the regret in Washuu's eyes, easily mirrored in his own.

Ranma woke, laying on a couch in the Masaki living room, and vaguely alerted by the scents of something cooking in the kitchen. Lifting herself, finding it too much effort to levitate immediately, she stumbled towards the smell.

"Mmm…. Smells good," she murmured, seeing Washuu and Sasami working together in the kitchen, with an older man Ranma didn't recognize observing the pair. She blinked at Washuu, staring at her when she realized that she was in her adult form. She still hadn't managed to figure out exactly what prompted that in the scientist….

The girl — Sasami, she reminded herself — turned towards him, smiling brightly and bubbling with cheerful energy. "Good morning, Ranma-neechan!"

Ranma cringed. 'Ranma-neechan'? "Um…" Shaking her head, she dismissed it for the moment. "Yeah, good morning, Sasami… chan…" She smiled, noting the nods of approval she garnered from both the old man, and Washuu. Wherever she had ended up, she decided, it was quite likely one of the weirdest places that she could ever possibly hope to see. "Anyway," she drawled, yawning and stretching, "what's the plan for the day?"

Washuu pursed her lips, glancing out the window for a long moment before turning back to a cutting board. "Why don't you help Katsuhito-dono set the table?"

Rolling her eyes and sighing, Ranma did as she was bidden, waiting until they were out of the kitchen to ask, "So… who are you?"

The old man winced, shaking his head. "It's… difficult to explain, Ranma. I'm also Yosho, but… in front of Sasami, I wear this guise."

Ranma groaned. "Great. A whole house of people with two forms, and I'm still the only one that changes gender."

Yosho blinked at that, opening his mouth to comment, then chuckled, unable to hold back a smile. "Actually, that's… that's true, right now. Heh…." He shook his head, setting chopsticks on the table. "However, try and be… careful… with Sasami. Innocence is to be treasured, I should think."

She frowned, not sure how to respond to that, then shrugged and finished helping Yosho set the table.

Sasami and Washuu emerged shortly after, Washuu sitting to Ranma's right, nearer the living room, while Sasami took her seat to her left, nearest the kitchen. Ranma eyed the various foods lining the table, but looked about for permission before helping herself to any. The others seemed relaxed, Washuu staring moodily towards the ceiling, Yosho managing a soft smile and helping himself to some pickles, and then… there was Sasami.

Sasami smiled brightly, proffering a bowl of rice towards Ranma. She smiled gratefully, noting a lack of sparring partners before she began to bolt her food. After polishing off one bowl, Ranma sighed contentedly, casting about the table for something else — then noting Sasami was already refilling her bowl of rice. The girl giggled as Ranma worked her way through the meal, laughing, "You eat just like Ryouko-neesan!"

Ranma blinked, peering at Sasami over the rim of her bowl. "Huh?" she said, sounding befuddled.

Sasami giggled again, then turned to Washuu. "Doesn't Ranma-neechan look just like Ryouko-neesan?"

The taller redhead stifled a laugh of her own, even Yosho looked on the verge of laughing. "Actually," Washuu commented, "he does eat just like her. He's more polite, though…"

Yosho burst out in laugher at that, spraying rice across the table to haphazardly shower the slightly less amused Ranma. "Uh," she said, eyeing the grains of rice stuck to her. "Thanks… I think."

This caused everyone gathered about the table to lose control, as they all burst into laughter, even Ranma. The situation was incredulous to the extreme, but at the same time…. Sighing, Ranma shook her head, wiping the rice off her face. "That was funny… but, ah… can I have some hot water?"

Sasami nodded, eagerly trotting into the kitchen and returning with a large cup of steaming water a moment later. Ranma accepted it, then carefully doused herself with the liquid, shifting easily back into his male form. "Ah," he said, sighing as he flexed his arms, and pausing for a moment to study the shoulder that had been torn in the earlier battle with the reaver. The damage was entirely gone, only a dim ache remaining. Shrugging, he set the empty cup on the table again. "Thank you, Sasami-chan. I feel much better now." He gave the girl a lopsided grin, before his stomach gave an unsettling growl.

Blinking, he stared at his stomach in surprise, remembering how much he had eaten. Washuu smirked at him, resting her elbows on the table, and commented, "You're hungry again because you just converted all of the food you ate into extra mass. You didn't really get as much energy from the meal as your body would have liked." She waggled a finger at him, admonishing, "But next time, try to control the change yourself, instead of using water."

Ranma studied the table for a moment, then grinned. "Yeah, next time. Anyway, I get to eat again, right?"

Washuu nodded, hiding a grin.

Sasami gawked openly, still recovering from the initial shock. "Ranma-nee-niichan! Just like an anime character!"

Ranma blinked, starting in on yet another bowl of rice. "Like one of those Dragon Ball guys, right?" he managed between bites. "I bet I could beat them, too."

Washuu snorted. "I think you look more like Sonic the Hedgehog, really."

Ranma paused his meal, frowning at the scientist in consternation before remarking, "Well, you did make me this way."

She cringed, flinching back from his words, her smile fading. "Yes… I'm sorry…."

"Uh…" Ranma said, setting down his chopsticks and running a hand through his hair, thinking. "It's not like I'm complaining, or anything, I mean… I'd be dead otherwise, right?"

"Yes, but I still feel sorry for not asking you first—"

Ranma interrupted her with a wave of his hands, before reaching for his chopsticks again. "Don't worry about it. Seriously. It's not like it's going to ruin my life, or anything." He fell silent for a moment, gobbling up his rice before allowing Sasami to refill it from her seemingly ever-ready supply. "Anyway, what's the plan? I don't think we're just going to wait here and let the…" He trailed off eyeing Sasami, and considering his words carefully. "Well… what is the plan, anyway?"

Yosho coughed, to clear his throat. "Well, I suppose… I'm no longer going to have to remain here, though I'll certainly miss this place… and the shrine." He sighed, watching Sasami out of the corner of his eyes before turning his attention to Ranma. "Where we go next… I am unsure. I don't know what would be best."

Washuu nodded, watching Sasami as well. "Hmm… things to consider are that they learn from each time, so they're going to become more dangerous each time. I don't think they'll ever become immune to intense cold, though. But they will learn to be faster, and more dangerous. We need more allies… but who can help us?"

Ranma stared at his bowl, this time left empty, and nodded slowly. "I know a few guys who might be able to help out…"

Washuu raised an eyebrow at that. "Do you?"

He nodded, glancing at Sasami, who seemed oblivious to the attention focused on her, then back to Washuu. "Yeah. The old ghoul who taught me the hiryuu shouten ha, for one…"

Yosho and Washuu both stared at him, uncomprehending for a long moment, before Sasami asked, "What's a 'hiryuu shouten ha'?"

Ranma nodded knowingly, taking a cup in one hand. "It's a technique to turn someone's anger and hot ki against themselves, kind of. Basically…" He swirled one finger through the water, slowly, murmuring to himself, then smiled, setting it down on the table. "You take their heat and use it to blast them away. But it has a side effect, when you learn the soul of ice." He gestured at the water in the cup, then turned the cup over and tapped it, spilling a small block of ice onto the table.

Nodding in satisfaction, he leaned back, crossing his arms behind his head. Washuu stared at the block of ice for a moment, excitedly. "Ranma," she addressed him, "that skill defies explanation — I have to study it!" She shook herself, relaxing and biting her lip. "Not now, of course…" She snapped her fingers suddenly, as though remembering something. "Right. There is one thing I'd like to take care of right now, though…"

She rose, beckoning Ranma and Sasami to follow. Sasami nodded, removing her carrot-patterned apron, and following leisurely. Ranma started when the little girl took his hand, dashing forward and catching up with Washuu shortly.

The scientist made no comment, leading the pair through the doorway to her lab, and from there, down a corridor. She halted before a large, circular room, tapping her chin thoughtfully. Ranma peered around, seeing only a small tree in the center of a large planter. Washuu muttered to herself, "Forgot about that… must remember to ask…."

Ranma made a face, frowning. "Huh?"

Shaking herself out of her apparent reverie, the redhead walked along the edge of the room, and through another door. "It should be here," she muttered, glancing around at various flashing lights and control apparatus. "Ah!" she exclaimed, finding one control panel of interest to her.

She grinned, opening a panel, and producing a large, round ball-like object. Sasami gasped at it, clapping her hands together and staring excitedly. "Is that another Ryo-chan?"

Washuu smirked, pressing the ball into Ranma's hands. "No, Sasami, this is Ran-oh-ki. Ranma, I want you to hang on to that egg, okay? It should hatch…" she trailed off, glancing at a monitor. "About now. Make sure you hang onto it, since he needs to come into contact with you, first."

Ranma stared at the egg dumbly, while Washuu led Sasami around a partition. "Uh… huh?"

Washuu's voice reached him, from wherever the scientist and the girl were hiding, "Just hang on to it, and make sure to impress yourself on Ran-oh-ki…"

Sasami's voice followed Washuu's, while Ranma simply continued to stare at the… egg… in befuddlement. "Is it going to be just like Ryo-chan?"

"Er… mostly, Sasami-chan. I based Ran-oh-ki off my last record of Ryo-oh-ki, since I lost Ryo-oh-ki's original blueprints…."

Ranma shook his head, not really understanding what they were talking about, and studying the warm, dark egg. Its outer surface seemed hairy, like a coconut, but much softer, and at the same time, much less yielding. "Um…" he began, turning the thing over to look at it from all angles, "what exactly is this?"

Washuu sighed, audible from behind the partition. "Ran-oh-ki is going to be your partner, Ranma. He's — " The rest of her statement was cut off, as the egg cracked once, sharply.

Ranma blinked, raising it closer to his eyes to get a closer look.

He flinched, looking away, as fragments of the lower half of the egg fell away, bouncing off the floor, and leaving Ranma with a dome-shaped egg covering… something. A pair of some kind of feet.

The feet shuffled around slowly, fitting easily in one palm. Ranma smirked, freeing his other hand to lift off the remaining egg, and peer beneath. "Hey, it's a — AUUUUGH!"

Washuu sped around the partition at Ranma's yell, her heart hammering worriedly, and Sasami fearfully trailing the taller woman. "What's going on?" she asked anxiously.

Lying prone on the floor, and gibbering in terror, Ranma flailed around, seemingly pinned by the miniscule creature that clumsily plodded across his chest and towards his face. The scientist blinked, as Ranma stopped shouting suddenly, his eyes meeting Ran-oh-ki's. He instantly seemed to relax, grinning slightly.

"Oh," Washuu said, putting one hand over her heart and breathing a sigh of relief. "It was successful… I didn't think he'd be scared."

"Is something wrong with Ranma-nee-niichan?" Sasami asked, hovering anxiously behind Washuu, nervous of getting too close to the boy.

"Well," Washuu began, watching as Ranma patted the creature on the head, "it just took a moment for Ranma to impress on Ran-oh-ki. Now that the impression has set in, the telepathic bond is building between them. Ran-oh-ki is Ranma's partner, after all…" She trailed off, dismally realizing she had forgotten — again — to ask Ranma's permission. So much to apologize for…

She sighed, as Ranma sat up, scratching Ran-oh-ki under the chin with one finger idly. Seeming only then to be aware of Washuu and Sasami, he smiled, holding Ran-oh-ki in one hand. "It's not a cat," he announced cheerfully, "it's some kind of rat."

Washuu and Sasami blinked, then exchanged a glance, looking back in time to see the creature stare at Ranma balefully, and bite the boy's finger. Ranma twitched slightly, pulling his finger back, and masking a wince. "Say," he remarked, pointing behind Washuu, "what's that?"

Washuu and Sasami turned to look, seeing nothing out of the ordinary — for Washuu's lab — and hearing a muffled 'thwap' followed by the sound of gnawing. When they turned back, Ranma was still smiling, petting Ran-oh-ki carefully, though his smile seemed much more strained.

Shaking her head, Sasami stepped forward slowly, holding a hand out, and bending low to be of height with the seated Ranma. "May I hold him?"

He nodded, handing Ran-oh-ki over and standing, rubbing his finger when he thought Washuu wasn't looking. "So," he said, frowning dourly at the creature, "how is this thing my partner?"

Washuu stared, stunned at the interplay between Ranma and his new partner. "Um," she said after a moment, recollecting herself, "he can travel through the stars, for one…" Ranma stared at her blankly. Washuu cleared her throat, shaking her head and motioning Ranma and Sasami to follow her. "For another, what he sees, he can pass on to you, so he can help you scout things out…" She sighed, unable to focus, and marveled for a moment at the conundrum that Ranma was. So many puzzles…

She paused in the chamber they had passed through on their way in, eyeing Ryu-oh's successor. It wasn't large enough, yet, but…. Sighing, she turned to Sasami, who was standing before the ring of water surrounding the young Ouke no Ki. Ranma paused, halfway between Sasami and Washuu, though he was looking at Sasami oddly.

Not Sasami, Washuu noted with regret, Sasami's reflection. Sasami's reflection, which was Tsunami. He kept silent, however, simply watching, as Sasami seemed to not notice, initially.

Slowly, she smiled — not the normal, wide and blindingly happy smile she normally wore — but a sad, regretful smile. She sighed softly, and a tear glistened across her cheek, followed shortly by another. Washuu bit her lip, unsure of what to do.

Ranma hopped, sliding through the air easily, and feeling — oddly enough — Ran-oh-ki's concern for the girl in addition to his own. He lit near her, then crouched, placing one hand on her shoulder gently. "Hey," he said, not entirely certain what was wrong. Or what he could do to help. "What's the problem?"

He winced, certain that he could have found better words for the situation than that, but hoping it would suffice. She grabbed onto him tightly, and he was distantly aware of Washuu drawing closer. Sasami buried her face in his shoulder, whimpering softly. "I'm…" she started falteringly, "I'm going to miss this, nee-niichan."

He awkwardly embraced her, not entirely understanding the situation, and ignored when Ran-oh-ki jumped from her head to perch on his, making a soft, "Miyah!" in the process. He opened his mouth to say something, but fell silent when Sasami begin to emit a bright glow, and… shifted… in his arms.

Staring at him bashfully, he recognized the figure from her reflection. She hesitantly let go of him, then stood. Ranma backed away, scratching Ran-oh-ki distractedly as he rose to his feet himself. If there was a problem, he was certain Washuu would have mentioned it, but…. "Hey!" he exclaimed suddenly, "I am surrounded by people who can change their forms, and am still the only one that has to switch gender!"

Impossibly, the woman before him smiled at that. "I am… sorry, Saotome-dono. I am sorry for the impositions… but at the same time, I wish to thank you for allowing an innocent to be happy."

He blinked, reaching up and scratching Ran-oh-ki's ears again nervously. "Aw… uh… don't worry about it. Sasami's a good kid, you know. Um… so… what's wrong, exactly?"

The woman laughed, gliding forward to stand nearer Ranma, and placed her fingertips on his forehead. He didn't flinch, and she smiled softly, lowering her hand. "You have a beautiful heart, Saotome-dono."

"Uh… you can call me Ranma," he said, shrugging nervously. He wasn't certain how, but the impression that he should know her from… somewhere… was very strong. "Um… I don't think I know you, yet, so, uh…"

Her smile teased at the corners of her mouth again, and she nodded. "My name is Tsunami, Ranma-dono. But… I'm afraid my time here is at an end. The Supreme Council will be reconvening soon, and I must return to Jurai. Perhaps… perhaps I'll see you there, some day. I certainly hope to."

He nodded dumbly, then turned to Washuu, who was studying both of them with some interest. Finding nothing to say to her at the moment, Ranma managed, "Uh… yeah, maybe…"

Tsunami's smile widened beatifically, and she stepped out across the ring of water surrounding the small tree. "I will be taking Ryu-oh's successor, and Funaho with me for safe keeping. I will return Funaho when I can — I rather suspect that Ayeka-sama will prefer to keep it close…" She sighed, shaking her head. "I bid you both be safe, and take care of Yosho-dono, as well."

Washuu's voice met Tsunami's, solemn and yet with an undertone of warmth for the other woman, "We will, Tsunami. And be well."

"Thank you…"

And then there was a soft humming sound, and Tsunami and the tree were gone. "Huh…" Ranma mumbled, scratching Ran-oh-ki's ears again, pausing when he realized what he was doing. "Um… anyway… now that we've got the rat, what next?"

Washuu sighed, shaking her head as Ran-oh-ki bit Ranma's finger, and he retaliated by bopping the creature upside the head. It hopped out of the way, causing him to strike himself, and the scientist cleared her throat, pleased that both Ranma and his partner calmed. "Well, Ranma. We're going to gather Yosho-dono, and move on. The lab is pretty much done for. I can salvage the most important thing, the computer, and then move on…

"You said you knew where we could find some allies, so that's where we're going to head first."

"Nerima…" Ranma said softly. "I know people in Nerima."

Washuu began walking briskly towards the exit, nodding. "Yes, and we should keep our eyes and ears open for anything else that can help us."

Ranma frowned, thinking about that. "Yeaahh…" he said slowly, drifting along and holding Ran-oh-ki nestled in the crook of one arm. "We might find a few people…"

The redhead sighed, shaking her head. "Let's get you some clothes… I think Tenchi-dono can spare something that should fit you."

Rumors reached the trio as they traveled, survivors in devastated and razed cities both rare and few, of small bastions of survival among the cities. They had picked up a girl from Okayama, too, though she said she was from Tokyo, and heading back there.

Tokyo was full of survivors, apparently. A last stand was being drawn there, with the strongest in Japan rallying for defense.

Ranma floated ahead of Yosho and Washuu, and the other girl, noting a thankful absence of the sense of reavers nearby, and scanned around. After a moment, Ran-oh-ki levitated upwards, sniffing around and nipping Ranma's ear in passing. The boy scowled, but otherwise let it pass, while Washuu and Yosho chatted with a survivor.

He glanced back, surveying the situation, and not entirely comfortable in his borrowed clothes. The man was named Terry Bogard, or some such. Ranma wasn't really interested in getting to know him better. The man moved in a way that spoke of years of rigorous training, but he talked of a woman and had a certain… dead… light in his eyes that unnerved Ranma. Was that loss, he wondered? Was that what it was like to lose what you had to live for?

He shivered, shaking his head, and turning away again, while Terry nodded and moved on, pulling the brim of his hat lower and heading northeast.

Washuu was still in her adult form, as she had been since Tsunami had departed. Ranma made no move to ask, though something in her eyes spoke of loss, as well. Yosho was solemn and remained silent. Washuu had given him something, an extra 'key' she had called it.

It fit around the man's wrist like a bracelet, with two spikes pointing forward. Ranma had no idea what the thing was for, but knew better than to doubt its effectiveness. Washuu was more than capable when it came to providing, he had learned.

He would have preferred to simply fly eastward as quickly as he could, but there were survivors out there, though the only one to follow them was the college student — Morisato Megumi. More people to protect, he supposed, though she was quiet, and worried about her brother. He could respect that easily enough.

Ran-oh-ki thumped softly onto Ranma's head, making another of his soft 'Miyah!' noises. Reassurance that he hadn't detected anything or anyone else flooded across the link. Ranma stifled a sigh, and motioned to Washuu. "This place is dead. Whatever happened, Bogard-san was the only one to survive."

Washuu nodded sourly, glancing around at the crumbling piles of masonry that had once been Kobe. "Well, let's head east, to Osaka. It's a large city, hopefully we'll find more survivors there."

Ranma nodded, frowning. "I think that's a launch site, too…"

Washuu shrugged, and then, as if on cue, a spark rose from the distant east, a point of light climbing heavenwards. Washuu almost grinned at it, managing instead only a tight, worried smile. "That is a perfect sign. That's another load of survivors, at the very least."

"Yup," Ranma said, rising higher to scout around again.

Yosho passed beneath him, walking steadily. "We might want to see about finding a bus, or a car, if we can," he supplied, looking as though he wanted to hurry.

Washuu frowned. "I'm an inventor, and a scientist. Not a mechanic. I don't know if we can find enough of an intact vehicle here to try and repair, anyway."

Piping up suddenly from behind Yosho, and shivering slightly uncomfortably at Ranma's presence, Megumi hesitantly offered, "I know how to fix cars…"

"Ranma-san, fetch me a three and a quarter inch bolt, please."

"Yeah, yeah…" he muttered digging through a pile of scrap. He held up a bolt, examining it. "This?" he asked, holding it towards the much-more confident Megumi. She nodded, reaching towards it, and blinking as Ranma's odd pet jumped up and ate the bolt, chewing it only a few times before swallowing and making one of his noises, purring and rubbing against Megumi's leg.

Ranma wordlessly batted the creature away, and it simply seemed to melt through the far wall. Megumi blinked again, while Ranma just muttered, and dug through the pile of parts again to produce another bolt. "Um," she said, shaking her head and taking it from Ranma, "thanks…"

He nodded, still poking through the pile of parts, and grunting in annoyance when the pet arrived and began gnawing on his ear. "Damn it! Stupid rat…"

Megumi smirked to herself behind the wheel of the newly rebuilt truck. "See?" she said, starting it up easily, "I told you that I could fix things!"

Ranma shrugged, climbing into the back with Yosho, while Washuu nodded her approval, and took the passenger seat. "Very nice, Morisato-san."

The girl flushed, kicking the truck into reverse, and tearing down the road towards Osaka. "Aw, you don't need to call me that, Hakubi-san!" She giggled, throwing the truck into high gear and shooting forward.

Ranma shrugged, leaping from the moving truck and pacing it, still scouting the area. "Looks like they've moved on," he murmured, hoping that the blue earring-like… thing… that Washuu had given him while Megumi was working on the truck would pick it up. He wasn't certain why it simply stayed near his ear, but Washuu had mentioned that his gem could to that, too.

It did pick up his words, and her voice came back to him easily. "Understood, Ranma. We've got Yosho, and I can keep in touch with you, so go and scout ahead, if you want."

"Got it," he muttered, marveling that it filtered out the whistling of the wind, and darting ahead.

The launch facility was abandoned. Ranma could tell even without trying to sense it. The spark that had risen yesterday was the last ship off a dying world, to all appearances. The shining corridors and polished metal was twisted, torn apart, and the command center simply… gone.

He crouched low, motioning Megumi back as she stood at the entrance to what should have been the command center. "Yeah…" he said, sighing sadly. There was nothing aside from the reavers that would have done it, but he checked impulsively anyway. Stray drops of their acidic… spittle… it was all the information he needed, and the fumes would be toxic for the girl.

Washuu had admitted to him that he didn't actually need to breathe, so he knew he was safe, but no reason to put her in danger. He glanced around the facility again, wondering why his memories about the place that he had nearly died were so vague. "Nothing here. Let's move on."

Ranma lounged in the back of the truck, listening to the women chatter. They had picked up another girl in Osaka — the only one willing to follow them. The few other scattered survivors were reluctant to join, or too dead inside to care.

Momiji, he thought her name was. "So Saotome-san is a monster? I know… I knew a boy who was a monster, too… and he…" she trailed off, and Ranma frowned unhappily, meeting Yosho's equally unhappy gaze.

Washuu's voice was soft, comforting. "They've destroyed so much, haven't they? We need to gather the survivors that we can, though… we have to keep fighting to make our memories something to live for, don't we?"

Ranma heard a stirring noise, and a soft whimper. He didn't need to look behind him to guess that the poor girl was crying — and he couldn't blame her. "Washuu," he whispered, sending a mental command to Ran-oh-ki to stay near the girl, "Nagoya's coming up. I'm going to scout ahead again."

Yosho grabbed onto his wrist, anger shining in his eyes. "Let me go with you, this time."

Carrying Yosho was initially awkward, but the man adapted quickly, and Ranma was able to zip to Nagoya in short order. Ran-oh-ki sent sympathetic feelings across the link, and Ranma was vaguely aware of soft, moist saltiness, and a patting sensation. "Great," he muttered, "my partner's more useful then I thought."

Washuu's voice reached him, very low, reminding him that the communication link was still active. "Don't belittle him, Ranma."

"Sorry," he said to Washuu, before, setting Yosho down on the street, and landing nearby. "The women should be here in about ten minutes, but this place looks as dead as everything else so far. No sign of people or reavers."

The man nodded sourly. "It's like they're avoiding us, isn't it?" he remarked.

Ranma nodded back. "Could be. They aren't smart, I guess, but they sure aren't stupid, either."

Yosho grimaced. "I hate them," he said. "They came and destroyed everything. My… Tenchi's father. I knew he should have stayed with us, but…" he sighed, shaking his head. "Even before they killed anyone, they destroyed much of what I held dear. Sasami…" he trailed off, frowning.

Ranma nodded again, half wishing that he could sense living things as well as Ran-oh-ki. "I think I understand. I don't really know everything about Sasami… or Tsunami… but I felt…" he shook his head, scratching behind one ear nervously.

Yosho sighed, scanning around the leveled ruins. "One thing," he remarked, "I suppose we should be thankful that there aren't any… bodies…."

The pigtailed boy glanced at Yosho askance. "I noticed that… why aren't there any bodies?"

Yosho stared at Ranma, unfaltering. "They eat them, Ranma."

Shuddering, the boy stepped back, knowing he should have expected the answer, but wishing he hadn't heard it. "Oh… gods… this sucks."

The man nodded, understanding fully. "I'll search towards the north, you head south. We'll meet back in five minutes, and you can use Ran-oh-ki to check again later."

Uneasy, Ranma drifted southward, searching.

"Traffic violation?" Miyuki asked half-heartedly. "You're kidding, right?"

Natsumi shrugged, peering about the more intact remnants of the office. "Well, we still have our duties, I guess."

Miyuki sighed, leading the way to their patrol car and shaking her head. "What are we going to do, ask the monster to pull over? 'Oh, please, bakemono-san, I need to give you this ticket for a traffic violation!'"

Natsumi giggled, "With our luck, it'll contest the charge!"

Sighing again, and smiling sadly, Miyuki climbed into their car, pulling out of the station smoothly. "At least petrol is cheaper."

"And ice-cream. There's a sale, since the power's going to go off for a while, tomorrow."


"Well… I hear, at any rate. Want to grab some tonight?"

"Hmm… sure, once we… well. Nothing's perfect."

They fell silent, following the directions that had been phoned in, and skidding to a halt at an intersection. There it was, a giant, ugly… thing… gleaming black, seeming to make the light shy away and making it difficult to look at. "Uh…" Miyuki said, throwing the cruiser into reverse and slamming on the accelerator.

The monster stepped towards them slowly, as Miyuki expertly spun the car around, switching out of reverse, and stomped the accelerator again. Natsumi grabbed the radio, and barked into it, "We've got a monster chasing us, and it's not going to stop. What next? Where can we lead it? Is there anyone within this district that can help us? Over."

An answer came back — not the operator that it should have been, she had — Miyuki cut that thought off quickly. "Uh… negative on that, the nearest capable unit is… Yokohama, currently."

"Okay, fine. Who is it, and where should we lead it? Over."

After a momentary burst of static, the answer came back, "Her name is… uh… Nuku—" static cut out the rest for a moment, until the operator repeated, "Her name is Nuku-Nuku, temporarily assigned from Nerima ward. Uh… over."

Miyuki sighed. The Nerima ward meant massive destruction of public property. Could be worse, though. Natsumi simply shrugged. "Well, this should be interesting. Let's go. Over and out."

Yosho eyed the 'Welcome to Yokohama!' sign warily. "Well," he commented over the noise, "this is it. We'll reach Nerima later today. Any plans, yet?"

Washuu frowned. "I'm picking up some radio transmissions."

Ranma smiled eagerly, seeing the vast majority of the buildings still standing. "What's it say?"

A squealing burst of static sounded while Washuu fiddled with the truck's radio, causing Ran-oh-ki to hiss at it before a voice emerged, "…fender in Yokohama. Repeat, traffic division has an incoming on…" The rest of it was lost as the truck bounced against the curb, Megumi momentarily allowing the truck to drift in her distraction.

Ranma dove for Yosho when the truck bounced, carrying the man upwards and streaking ahead without waiting to hear more. Washuu's voice reached him, as Megumi regained control of the truck on the conspicuously empty streets, "Ranma, not sure about where that was, but I think it's north…"

"Yeah, I feel it. So does Ran-oh-ki. I'm heading in."

"Be careful? Try and find out what's going on, and fight with allies. Don't try and take it alone, okay?"

Ranma glanced at Yosho, who was clenching his fists and craning his neck to look at the empty streets below. "Understood, Washuu. This should be easy."

"Okay." There was a moment of silence before Washuu spoke up again, "Momiji-chan asks you to smack it once for her."

"Heh. Got it."

Ranma floated down to an intersection, feeling the reaver nearby, moving quickly, and causing the gem in his wrist to tingle and flare green. Yosho hopped out of his arms, gesturing. When the man landed on the street, there was a blazing blade of blue energy in one of his hands, and a soft glimmering from a shield in the other.

He nodded his approval, and looked around. A car was approaching, obviously at its top speed, and only just out-pacing the reaver behind it. Ranma crouched low, summoning his own blades, and taking a deep breath. Yosho took a defensive stance nearby, and braced himself. Between them, in the middle of the road, a girl in a high-school uniform hopped down from a building, large ear-like sensors protruding from beneath her hair.

Ranma shivered, as Ran-oh-ki sent vague reassurances that he was not seeing a cat. Nothing to worry about. Collecting himself, again, he called out to her, "Hey, we're going to help you, okay? What's your name?"

The girl blinked, turning to look at him, and then Yosho before smiling weakly. "Nuku-Nuku wants to protect…" she fell silent, smiling sadly, as a tear crept from one eye. "Nuku-Nuku wants to protect…" she said weakly, turning back towards the oncoming car.

Ranma shoved back the anger that rose in him — more pain, caused by these stupid… things….

It didn't matter anymore, he told himself. Just kill the damn bugs and get on with it. Nuku leapt suddenly, passing over the car and landing a spinning kick to the unsuspecting reaver, smashing it through a nearby building, then charging after it without giving it time to recover.

Ranma and Yosho darted forward together, unnerved that Nuku hadn't coordinated, and worried for her welfare. A moment later, she exploded away from the building, slamming into the skyscraper across the street, and Ranma ducked a lashing claw… covered with slick wetness, and scraps of cloth.

Not allowing himself to consider the implications, he ducked, and Yosho circled around, trying to fight in the more rubble free sections. Not needing to worry about tripping, Ranma lashed at the reaver, trying to distract it and ensure that Yosho would be safe.

He was dimly aware of a car screeching to a halt, and someone yelling something, and then another car pulling up. "Washuu, there's a girl here — I'm not sure what she is, but I think she's hurt really bad!"

"I'm there, Ranma. Worry about the fight. I think I can take care of her."

Nodding, and not remembering that she wouldn't be able to see the nod, Ranma charged, blocking a pair of pincer-like claws, and kicking the thing's eyes. To his surprise, they broke open, spilling out the foul blood that he had come to recognize as their only apparent body fluid.

He was so stunned, that he didn't react, feeling only searing pain as the reaver lunged forward, biting at him, and severing his leg at the calf. He staggered back, barely registering the rippling change as his mass redistributed itself.

Yosho took advantage of the creature's attack, flaying it open and bounding back, his shield deflecting the viscous substance that welled out of the wound.

Yelling in anger, Ranma slashed wildly, only succeeding in distracting the creature, while Yosho expertly finished it off, then backed away from the toxic fumes.

Panting, and deeply in pain from her entire right foot, Ranma limped away, wondering how badly she had been hurt to feel pain after shifting. A pair of traffic police stood near Washuu, as she inspected the fallen girl — Nuku, Ranma remembered. Momiji stood to one side, alternately glancing between Ranma and Yosho, and the reaver.

Yosho released the energy maintaining his armaments, and after a moment, Ranma did the same. The traffic police looked at her oddly, then at each other, finally leaving Washuu alone to tend the wounded girl. Approaching Ranma and Yosho, they offered polite bows.

Confused, Ranma returned the bow, glancing at Yosho for reassurance. Yosho shrugged, looking towards the women expectantly. "Excuse me, Miss, could you please tell me your name?" asked the slightly taller woman with the long black hair.

Ranma nodded, scratching Ran-oh-ki as the creature hopped to her shoulder. "Yeah, I'm Saotome Ranma. Uh… what exactly is going on here?"

The shorter girl with brown hair, explained, "We're on patrol, leading stray aliens towards capable defenders… are you registered?"

Ranma blinked, exchanging a confused glance with Yosho. "Registered?" she asked dumbly.

"That would be a 'no'. Can you come with us, then? We need all the help we can get, what with Nuku-san hurt…" the taller woman explained. "My name is, well you can call me Miyuki."

"Uh… okay…."

Yosho frowned, puzzled. "My name is Masaki… Yosho. Where are you situated?"

Natsumi piped up, "We're situated out of Shinjuku, actually. We used to be based in Tokyo, but…" she trailed off, slumping slightly. "We've abandoned Central Defense West, so now we just have Central and Central East."

Ranma nodded knowingly, tugging at her ill-fitting clothing, and noticing for the first time that she was missing all of one pant-leg below the calf. Grimacing, she summoned the bodysuit, phasing through the clothing and wadding it up into a ball. "So… I guess we can help here, Yosho. Washuu?"

The women stared at her for a moment, then shook their heads. "Um…" Miyuki began, "we can certainly use your help… and yours, too," she said, turning to Yosho. He nodded slightly, folding his arms behind his back. "Everything we can to stop the reavers… we have some Americans, too. They came in after their own country was pretty much destroyed, but they brought over some ships. They're controlling the harbor—" she cut herself off suddenly, smiling guiltily. "Um, anyway, can you help us?"

"Washuu? What do you think?" she asked, glancing towards Yosho briefly, then surveying the area again.

"It's a marvel, really. She's well constructed. I think I can repair this, since the biological centers aren't actually damaged." Ranma blinked, drifting over to Washuu's side, and blinking again when he realized that Nuku was not human, seeing the dully-glinting metal of Nuku's innards.

"Uh…" Ranma said, feeling confusion again.

Nuku's eyes drifted open slowly, and she murmured, "Nuku-Nuku couldn't protect Mama-san and Papa-san… Ryunosuke… they can't play with Nuku-Nuku anymore…."

Ranma seethed internally, hating the monsters more with each moment. "Washuu, I can't stand this. We're close by, and you can reach me. I'm going to Nerima."

Washuu heaved a sigh, doing something that appeared to send Nuku to sleep. "I understand, Ranma. Be careful, please."

She nodded, leaping away, and flying towards Nerima, surveying the city below as she sped along. Ran-oh-ki followed her closely, perching on her shoulder and sharing her worry. "This sucks," she whispered.

Making a small noise, Ran-oh-ki nuzzled against Ranma's ear, and she patted him absently, increasing her pace.

Kasumi hummed softly, her traditional smile weaker, as she strung the laundry up to dry. Nodoka made a small noise, helping her. Kasumi smiled a little more brightly. Nodoka had moved in, since her own home was further north, and thus… more vulnerable.

Kasumi couldn't complain in the least, though, with Akane and Ranma gone…. She frowned at that, glancing skyward, as a warm breeze wafted through the yard. "Where do you suppose Akane and Ranma are, now?"

Nodoka stared, her features fading to a sad look as she joined Kasumi in gazing skywards. "I don't know… I'm not sure how fast those ships move. But, they're probably happy together. From what you've told me, Ranma is a very manly boy." She nodded sadly, turning her attention to the laundry again. "I wish Genma had told me that he was cursed sooner. And where is Ranko-chan, anyway?"

Sighing, Kasumi shook her head, honestly answering, "I don't know, Auntie."

Nodoka shook her own head in response, finishing hanging the laundry from her basket, and trudging into the house. She passed Soun, idly flipping through a stack of notes, and listening to a radio, playing some old and recycled music. Nodoka paused for a moment, recognizing the tune, and humming softly as she headed towards the kitchen.

Obliging Nodoka's unspoken request, Soun turned the radio up, allowing Nodoka to hear as she prepared lunch for the household. "When sakura falls in spring; it makes me want to…" she sang softly, under her breath, only able to remember a handful of the words.

Yet through it all, there was the nagging, apprehensive feeling that something important was going to happen.

And then the music cut out, replaced by an announcement from the newscasters. "…Update, for Tokyo residents, and good news for all involved! The city has gained two new defenders, all the way from Okayama! We have a Masaki Yosho, and a Saotome Ranma joining the ranks, along with their companion, one Hakubi Washuu. And on the survivor watch…."

Nodoka dropped the knife on the cutting board, only able to blink in stunned amazement.

"…one Hakubi Washuu." The radio droned on, but Keiichi was unable to focus on it, nervous apprehension gnawing away at him. Belldandy, Urd, and Skuld… he was worried about them, certainly, but he was worried for his sister more. She had headed to Hiroshima for a weekend trip, and then the communication lines failed, and the trains had stopped….

"…watch. We repeat, there is a Morisato Megumi who says, 'Keiichi, don't you dare move, I'm coming home!' The next survivor, yes folks, they're still trickling in, is a 'Fujimiya Momiji'. If there are any relatives out there, please inform your nearest authority. And that's it for this update, further bulletins as events warrant." The music stuttered suddenly, restarting where it had paused for the announcement, and Keiichi was only able to stare at the radio in numb shock.

"Bell—" he started, nearly leaping when he noticed her behind him at the table, smiling beatifically and offering him a glass of iced tea. "Er… thank you, Bell-chan… did you hear? Megumi's okay — she's on her way back to us!"

Belldandy's face was flooded with a joy of her own, and she clasped Keiichi's hands warmly. "Once she's back…."

His smile faded, and he nodded. "Yes… once she's back… we'll… leave. But with her, right, Bell-chan?" She smiled sweetly, reassuring him. Even though she had explained that certain rules prevented her interference, she had promised that Megumi would return safely…

"Setsuna should have been here by now!"

Rei rolled her eyes, sighing. "Well she's not, and I don't think we can stay much longer; my grandfather is packing up, preparing to move everyone to the harbor tonight."

Makoto frowned petulantly, muttering, "If we could have joined the Defense people, then we might have done more good."

"Well, we are running out of time," Usagi said, sighing. "We need a backup plan, because this is taking too long."

"What's the backup plan?" Minako asked curiously.

"Easy!" Usagi answered, smiling again. "We'll have Haruka and Michiru and me take Mamoru down to the ships so we can be sure we get enough room for everyone, and everyone else waits for Setsuna."

"Um… Usagi, I think Setsuna wanted us to defend the city, not run away."

"Well, lets get ready to run away if we have to, and ready to defend the city if we can!"

Ami frowned thoughtfully. "That's… that's actually not a bad idea," she admitted.

"Hikaru? Are you sure… sure you can do that?"

She nodded determinedly. "We can't do anything here, but we can take our families and our loved ones to Cephiro with us, where it's safe."

Umi seemed hesitant, then nodded. "I'll… I'll get my family. Fuu?"

Fuu nodded, easily agreeing with Hikaru. "We can make the greatest difference that way, I think…. But time moves differently there, doesn't it?"

"Maybe. If things get really bad, we can just stay there… but I'm sure Clef can manage something! We need to take everyone we can there to be safe, then get reinforcements and come back!"

"Okay. Let's go ahead and get ready!"

She ran. Perhaps she was a coward, and that was all she did, but she was being chased, and she knew one man could help her… the man she loved anyway. There was no reason to remain here at any rate.

There was a noise behind her, but it was too late — the portal was opening, and that meant that he knew she needed help. "Vahn!" she cried out urgently, rising through the air in a column of light, as the monster below snapped at her in futility.

"We have to go now. It's not safe. You know it, I know it… hide with me, be safe, and then we can come back when this is taken care of."

"I know but…. But… Jiji, and…."

He sighed, drawing her into an embrace, and looking around the temple. The once-daily ritual of sweeping the steps before the shrine had stopped when he had slain the… thing… there. Its blood ate away the stairs, leaving precious little left, and he was worried that the smell would make Kagome ill — he knew it made him sick. "They will rest in peace, if they can, Kagome. We have to go…"

She nodded slowly, crying softly. He couldn't blame her. Not this time. "O… Okay. Let's go… we can come back, right?"

"When it's safe." If there were shards of the Shikon-no-tama, it might be one thing… but as things stood, there was no reason to attempt to fight the monsters any longer. They were damnably fast, and dangerous, even to him….

Ranma shivered, feeling odd pockets and distortions in the distance. Ran-oh-ki's senses insisted they were harmless — Gateways being opened and people leaving, somehow, but…

She sighed, feeling somehow that the city below was becoming a ghost town, even as she watched.

But Nerima was near — she thought she could see the remnants of the school, for one. She increased her pace, worrying that she was beginning to feel strain from it.

Ryouga sulked, his dog leading him onward, and the radio on his belt hissing with the latest updates. "…Nerima ward. Repeat, we have an incoming. Plan to repel, nearest defender is… team two. Be advised, we have an incoming…." He thumped the radio a few times in annoyance, then sighed, looking around.

A duck fluttered down towards him, quacking urgently. He stared, blinking for a moment, then fumbled for his hot-water thermos. After dousing the duck, Mousse stood before him, adjusting his glasses, and looking weary. "It's a few blocks north of here, looks like it's heading towards the Tendo place. Not too quickly… where's the old man?"

Grunting, Genma rounded the corner. "You saw it? Nothing to the west. The school's still empty…"

Ryouga nodded, patting Checkers on the head. "Lead us to the Tendo place, okay, girl?"

Checkers yapped once, and then began trotting down the road, the three martial artists trailing it. Ryouga shivered, even though it was noon, and broad daylight… rumors had it that there was another attack in Yokohama not long ago, and he hadn't heard a report back on that, yet. Hopefully they managed to chase it away…

"I see it," Genma said, pointing.

"Oh, crap!" Ryouga barked, picking up his pace to an all-out run.

Genma bounded along, easily keeping pace with the two boys, and wondering absently about the future. If nothing else, the school would live on, since Ranma was safely away with Akane.

He simply had to do his best… the TV had stopped giving useful information some time ago, but last he had heard, help from… 'Jurai', or whatever that blonde girl had mentioned should only be a month or so away.

All they had to do was survive, and if possible, fend the damn monsters off. Not that they'd been very successful in killing them. Slowing them, sending them running to lick their wounds, yes, but actually killing them…

He growled, low in his throat, seeing the monster smash easily through the outer wall of the Tendo home. "I thought you said it was a few blocks away!" he yelled at Mousse.

The boy grimaced. "It was!"

Genma swore, leaping the intervening distance and rebounding off the roof. The monster was beneath him, making a beeline for his wife, and Kasumi. "I think not!" he yelled, spreading his arms at the creature and unleashing a shouted, "Kijin raishuu dan!"

The monster reeled from the blow, vacuum blades pushing it back, but not breaking the carapace. Nodoka and Kasumi scrambled into the house, while Mousse attempted to tangle its legs in some of the many lengths of chain he carried about him. Ryouga flailed at it with his umbrella, able to ward it off, but not to do significant damage.

Genma heaved an internal sigh, knowing only one way to stop at least, this one monster, but also knowing the horrible cost involved…. The monster lashed towards him, and he narrowly evaded a blow, saved thanks to a tangle of chain. Centering himself, he shot one glance at Nodoka, who's panicked eyes met his, and smiled. He looked away, grim again, and prepared himself for the blow that would settle things.

"Dokuja tanketsu shou!" he cried, utilizing an attack designed to rip the heart out of an opponent.

His fingers strained, nearly breaking before they shattered the monster's carapace, and slid within. Bellowing in pain, and ignoring the incredulous gasps from the two boys, he wrenched, yanking the armor open, and spilling acidic blood on the ground.

That, he reflected, his entire body going numb as he fell to the ground, was what he should have done in the first place…. He had stopped one, able to dimly sense its struggles lessening, as its tainted lifeblood seeped out. He even dimly imagined he could hear Ranma's voice, as everything slowly faded to darkness….

But he had finally fought for what he believed in. Finally. He closed his eyes, shutting out the world, and feeling an intense peace wash through him. If only… he had stood for what he believed… sooner….

Ranma grimaced, seeing a thin plume of dust rise from the Tendo home. She dropped to the ground, landing near the pond, and gaped. Kasumi and Nodoka were holding on to each other, staring with wide eyes at the scene before them. Ryouga… Mousse… and Genma, facing off against a reaver?

But Ryouga and Mousse were only staring, as Genma… he was….

Ranma staggered forward, hearing a piteously worried, "Miyah?" from her shoulder.

"Pops?" she whispered, absently shoving the reaver's body to one side, and crouching near the prone man. She reached out with a shaking hand, tracing the lines of his face, and trying to ignore the ruin of his lower body, already destroyed by the reaver's acid. "Pop?" she asked loudly, blinking as tears spilled from her eyes. She shook him gently, realizing in a clinical sense what was going on, but unable to admit it to herself. "POP!"

Washuu shook her head, standing next to Yosho. "Oh, no, Noriyasu-san, despite appearances, Ranma is a man."

Yosho smirked, looking around the hastily assembled office. Washuu glanced at him, guessing he was noting the 'Defense Headquarters' sign that had been stuck to the window. Men and women lay scattered about the place, answering phones and sorting through large stacks of paper. In the back of the room, there was a giant map of the city, with markers representing various units.

Washuu squinted, trying to count them, as someone walked up to the board with a checklist, and began removing them. A young man with semi-unruly hair, and a very tired air about him. He finished removing the markers, shaking his head, and picked up another clipboard, shuffling some of the other markers around. "Seta-san!" he yelled, not looking away from the board. "We haven't heard from Mano-san in a while."

Seta glanced back, rubbing at his stubble, and shaking his head. "Should be fine, Oe-kun. She's with Aoyama at the moment."

The young man — Oe — nodded to himself, mumbling. "Motoko and Yohko in Funabashi-ku…" he sighed, turning towards Seta. "We're going to lose that area, tonight. We've lost too many people on that front…."

Seta frowned, scratching his chin. "How short are we?"

Oe rubbed at his eyes, knuckling back a yawn. "Not sure… looking grim, but we need at least… five more people, I think. Is there any good news? Maybe those 'Senshi' are willing to help us?"

"No sign of them, I'm afraid. But we do have something." Seta glanced at Washuu and Yosho, then nodded, raising his voice for everyone to hear. "Ladies, Gentlemen! We have some good news." Everyone fell silent, turning to look at Seta. "We have a confirmed kill, today, and Hakubi-san here says that one of the new members has already killed three — ah, 'reavers' himself, not counting the one today, which Masaki-san here dealt with!"

Ragged cheers erupted, and even Oe managed a wan smile.

Washuu winced, as a sharp yell rose from her communicator, though the others couldn't hear it. She heaved a shuddering sigh, unable to keep her eyes dry with the pain she could hear in Ranma's voice. "There's another confirmed kill in Nerima," she whispered hoarsely.


To be continued.

Author's Notes: Cameos galore. That was fun!

Revised: 01-09-02

Part 3
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Webmaster: Larry F
Last revision: January 7, 2006

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