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Part 8

A Ranma ½ / 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.

Additional credits: Takada Yuuzou, and Kodansha (3x3 Eyes), Takada Yuuzou, and A.D. Vision (Bannou Bunka Nekomusume Nuku-Nuku), and Takahashi, Viz (Inu-Yasha).

Notes: Diverges from Ranma after volume 24, continuation for OAV 2 in the Tenchi universe (well, one of them). Nuku Nuku is from the OAVs, not TV. Sailor Moon occurs, well, at some point in the series, but it's something of an alt anyway. 3x3 Eyes diverges just before OAV2. This fic uses the bizarrely vague 'Pick One!' scenario. Enjoy.

Special Note: Music! When the sun rises in the fic, if you have it, I highly recommend listening to 'Resistance Line' (Wild Arms 2 OST, disc 2, track 1).

"That was also the beginning of one of the bigger mistakes any of us had ever made. Ultimately, it had to be done for the greater good, but don't think for a minute that we enjoyed doing what had to be done to save innocent people. Some make out that we're still villains, even though far more would have died at the Battle of Shanghai if— What? Higurashi? This interview is over."

—Sailor Pluto — Interview with G.N.N. on July 27th, Old Terran Year 2003.

Traditionally, new emperors to Jurai had several days free at the beginning of their reign to celebrate the event.

Tenchi had not taken a single moment of rest since his grandfather had passed the title to him, working constantly to restructure almost every facet of the empire that was now his.

As a result, the poor boy was bone-weary, still unwilling to give up on working to give more aid to Earth, made unsettlingly aware of other responsibilities elsewhere in his empire. The effort of maintaining the Gate long enough for Ginraii to transport their monopoles to Cyaga had been extremely taxing on what strength he had, and that too was wearing him down.

Ayeka and Ryouko had gamely stayed at his side nearly the entire time, and while Ryouko merely looked worn out, Ayeka's flagging strength left her nearly nodding off in his private office in the palace.

"I can't think," Tenchi mumbled, realizing that he had been staring at the treaty on his desk for long minutes without remembering a single word he had read. Stretching, he asked, "Ayeka, do you people have anything like coffee here?"

The woman roused herself, shaking her head. "I'm afraid not, Tenchi-sama," she said, stifling a yawn. "We use our trees to give us more strength, when we need it."

"Why not some real sleep, Tenchi?" Ryouko asked plaintively. "Everything will be here in the morning." She turned to Ayeka for support, but the woman was already dozing in her seat.

Her guardians mobilized silently, one on each side of the woman. "Ayeka-sama needs sleep, Tenchi-sama," Kamidake informed him. "By your leave."

Tenchi nodded, sighing, and resting his elbows on the desk. A moment later, he sunk his head to his hands, groaning. "I can't give up," he protested weakly. "There's so much work to be done."

"That's enough of that, Tenchi," Ryouko grumped, rising from her seat. Stretching, the woman drifted to his side, hauling him to his feet unceremoniously. "Bed, now," she reprimanded him.

"No," he insisted, pulling away, putting one hand on the Tenchi-ken. Both knew that he wouldn't use it against her, merely that he intended to show his sincerity, and that he wasn't going to concede to her whims. The cyan-haired woman paused, considering, then shrugged, willing to risk the unpleasant shocks that the device would give her when she forced Tenchi's hand. When Tenchi was pulled away from his desk, she grinned, commenting, "Even your sword agrees with me, Tenchi. Come on, let's get some sleep."

Groaning, Tenchi allowed Ryouko to lift him off the ground, phasing through the upper layers of the palace. Summoned from a nap, Ryo-oh-ki met the pair on the uppermost point, offering only a curious, "Miyah?"

Ryouko jerked her head upwards once, and the creature obligingly leapt upwards, taking its ship form, and teleporting the pair on board. Tenchi groaned, mumbling, "Don't kidnap the emperor. It makes the guards angry."

The woman giggled at that, pushing Tenchi into a small, soft nook that folded away when not in use. It had served as her own bed on numerous occasions, when she was under the influence of Kagato. She hid a shiver at that reminder. With Tenchi, much happier memories could replace those.

He sighed, resigned, as Ryouko climbed into the nook with him, close and snug. "Ryo-oh-ki," she called out softly. "Take us behind the moon, and keep us in its shadow until it's time to wake up."

Ryo-oh-ki made a noise to indicate understanding, but both Tenchi and Ryouko were asleep before it sounded.

Rei lurched across the gently rolling deck, still driven by whatever it was that allowed her to know what to do without knowing how, and led her to Hotaru. Clothing disheveled, still soaked with sweat, she stumbled into the room, nearly ready to collapse. The hangar was nearly deserted, though Washuu and Ami were discussing the mercury computer, and Hotaru and Nuku sat nearby. The planes lining the sides of the hanger seemed dwarfed compared to the massive device that the redheaded scientist was apparently working on.

Ami was at her side in a heartbeat, as was Hotaru. "What's wrong?" Ami asked urgently. "What happened, Rei? Is everyone else okay?"

"Fine," Rei managed, sitting heavily on the deck, breathing quickly. "But… I need to tell you before I forget. I had a dream… a dream about the Sacred Fire."

"Do you want me to get Haruka-papa and Michiru-mama?" Hotaru asked.

"I… yes… I should have woken them up myself. Oh, Ami-chan, you have to listen, before I forget!"

"Calm down, Rei-chan," Ami soothed her friend. "Just tell me what happened. Washuu-sensei, do you have any water?" The scientist nodded, wiping her hands on a cloth as she stepped away from the nuclear missile she was dismantling, and pointed to a small thermos on the table near Nuku.

Only moments after Rei was given water and had calmed slightly, Haruka and Michiru rushed into the hanger, confused and alert. "What's going on?" Haruka asked tersely.

Rei's answer was interrupted by the arrival of Setsuna. "Yes," the woman muttered, obviously upset, "what is going on?"

Stuttering and nervous initially, but slowly gathering her will, Rei described the entirety of the dream. "And I know that if we let things go like they did in the dream, then… then Hotaru and Ranma and that other man will all die," she concluded.

"I'd like to avoid that, if possible," Washuu commented archly, having paused her work to listen to Rei.

"Or as many people dying in general," Rei grumbled. "No one should have to die."

Washuu nodded respectfully. "Ideally," she acquiesced.

"However," Setsuna snapped, "we're still left with a few questions. Who are we supposed to trust, exactly, and…." She trailed off, glancing meaningfully at Haruka and Michiru.

Michiru shook her head, frowning, and suggested, "Setsuna… about trusting. I think maybe a little less secrecy might be in order."

"And I don't," Setsuna countered. "We don't know — this isn't the place for this conversation. We'll speak of it later."

Washuu snorted, shaking her head and turning back to her project. "I think you're entirely missing the point," the redhead notified the green-haired woman.

Setsuna gave Washuu an appraising look. "Perhaps," she returned coolly. "But I can keep my own council. And so should you." With that the woman marched from the hangar, oblivious to Washuu pulling her eyelid down and sticking her tongue out at her.

Michiru frowned at Setsuna's departing form. "I'm beginning to wonder, though. The colors that Rei described…" she trailed off, shivering.

Haruka nodded thoughtfully. "That's a powerful clue, I think. We just need to find what the relationship is. I don't think Hotaru-chan is our answer," she said, absently ruffling the girl's hair affectionately. "But who is the fiery man with wings? Or maybe…" she fell silent, considering. "Well, it's probably not him."

"Maybe what?" Rei asked, still sitting on the flooring.

"It's… I was just wondering if maybe Ranma was who we were looking for, but that wouldn't make any sense."

Ami frowned curiously, asking, "Why not?"

"Ranma was there in the dream, Ami. How could he be the person we're supposed to trust, if he was already there?"

"He was there alone," Ami noted, pitching her voice a little lower, and glancing back at Washuu worriedly. For her part, the scientist seemed content to work on the nuclear warheads, and ignore the conversation. "He wasn't with any of us. Ranma-san seems to be a very powerful person, and more than that, someone who genuinely wants to protect people, and fight for what he thinks is right."

Rei nodded, adding, "I don't think Hibiki-san and Mousse-san were exaggerating about him when they talked about his adventures."

"And we know that he's destroyed more reavers than we have," Ami contributed again. "He's probably much better at it than we would be, truly. Washuu-sensei says that when Ranma was with us in the streets, he was also beneath the harbor fighting a pair of reavers alone."

Haruka frowned, crossing her arms over her chest. "How could he be in two places at once?" she asked. "That doesn't make any sense."

"Washuu-sensei explained that Ranma's composition is not entirely like ours — not entirely carbon-based. He's something called 'Masu', which is much more… flexible than our own bodies are. I've heard that he can change his appearance to that of a girl, for example. As he did when Makoto-chan struck him with… Well. Suffice to say that his form is more variable than our own," Ami concluded firmly.

"I see," Haruka said, her voice hinting that she didn't.

Michiru shook her head. "Well, we aren't going to reach Shanghai for three more days. Do we know for certain that we will be attacked?" she queried.

Rei nodded emphatically. "I know we will," she whispered.

Tenchi woke to sunlight streaming in through Ryo-oh-ki's viewports, the sun just passing the horizon of Jurai's first moon. "Oh man," he moaned. "How long has it been?"

He stiffened when he realized that another body was pressing into his. "Ryouko?" he asked nervously.

Stirring, the woman sighed, smiling at him as she opened her eyes, their faces close in the small space that the rest capsule allowed. "Good morning, Tenchi," she said softly.

Looking blearily into Ryouko's eyes, Tenchi mumbled, "Ayeka's going to kill us. Where are we?"

"That's not a real confidence builder," Ryouko muttered, climbing out of the bed to drift nearby in an upset huff.

"What? No, I mean, she's going to be annoyed that we're not in the palace," Tenchi explained. "I don't think she'd be angry about— She was the one that suggested I marry you, actually."

Ryouko's hurt demeanor melted into one of surprise. "Really?" she asked. "Why?"

"She said she couldn't think of a better bodyguard for an emperor," Tenchi answered honestly. "But I think she knew that… never mind. We need to get back to Jurai."

"But she knew that what?" Ryouko asked nervously.

"Ugh," Tenchi answered, sitting up and swinging his feet over the edge of the sleeping capsule. "I… this is really not the time for this, Ryouko. I'm not really ready for this, and I want to put off marrying either of you for a while, until I can sort things out… but you can be a really nice girl. I think… I think I like you. I think I like you a lot." He smiled, shrugging, and added, "But… we do have things that we need to be doing, don't we?"

Ryouko's eyes had grown large, as she stared at Tenchi in surprise. "Mom— Washuu said… but, I…." She trailed off, grinning, and appearing incredibly pleased. "Okay, Tenchi! Ryo-oh-ki, take us back down to Jurai." The ship noised tiredly in confirmation, and Ryouko giggled. "Poor thing," she cooed. "Not used to using this form that much?"

The ship repeated the noise, and Tenchi shook his head, commenting, "I'm pretty sure that Sasami brought some carrots for you before we arrived. If you bring us back quickly, and don't damage anything, I'll see if I can get one for you." The ship's acceleration increased slowly, while it made subdued yet pleased sounds.

Ryouko's smile faded, and she frowned, raising one hand to her lower lip, deep in thought. "Tenchi?" she asked quietly. "Where is Sasami? Or… Tsunami? I haven't seen her in a while."

"I'm not sure," Tenchi admitted, watching the surface of Jurai's first moon streak by the viewport. "I kind of wish I knew where she was, though."

Ensconced safely in a web of power more thickly woven than any other force in the universe, a being slept. Neither girl, nor fully woman, yet, but female, forming slowly in the chrysalis of energy.

As she slept, her mind emerged from that space that was no space, expanding outward, touching the minds of those who she loved as they were in dream. They'd not remember the dream upon waking; such was the nature of her presence in that realm. Still, in dream, she would be able to watch them and know that they were well.

And as she touched the dreams of one who was closer to her heart than most others, she masked his presence from one who would have touched his dreams in a much more forceful manner, without even knowing that she had masked him so.

Three days at sea passed with an almost eerie calm. No more explosions, as when Norris first tested Washuu and Durant's rifle. No more violence, as Ranma and Ryu's training progressed into an area of stealth too subtle for most everyone else to notice.

Indeed, only hours before dawn, when Washuu had finally completed the last of her fission batteries, Ranma found himself surprised to be told that they would be making landfall in just a short while.

Norris's men seemed ready for action, a large group of Marines, all in battle-ready apparel, armed with traditional rifles. "Okay, men," Norris announced loudly, "We don't know what to expect when we make land, but you're expected to secure the perimeter as quickly as you can. We're going to send a primary task force ahead of the fleet to ensure that we can land successfully. Once this is done, we will make port, and will commence with the shutdown of the fleet.

"All crews will be evacuated, and will scramble a task force of fighters to perform reconnaissance. They will not land their craft, as we don't control any landing strips in the area. They will abandon their planes and parachute to the city, where one of our allies is going to evacuate all of the civilians.

"Men, this is your last chance to leave, and I don't want you with me if you don't know which choice to make. Your choices are this: Either you will remain with us, as we continue to draw the enemy away from the safety zones we've established for our civilians…. Or you will draw back to Australia, and there, join up with the Australian military and peacekeeping forces.

"I will not fault you if you choose to leave. I will not think any less of you — Australia is going to need more of you to police all the people we've already got, many of them only moments away from panic and riot. But any of you who choose to fight with me, to risk your life — not for your country, gentlemen, but for your whole world — I welcome you as men I would be proud to have stand at my side.

"You will not be assigned to either force. We are volunteers only. We are among the last of the fleet of what was once the mightiest nation on this, our Earth, and now we are reduced to fragments. But we are not gone, and we are not destroyed, and we can still fight.

"I just hope that you will." At that, the man bowed his head, while the Marines shuffled around, shocked and worried at his words. "Those of you who wish to leave, you will not be disrespected. Remain where you are. Those who wish to follow, stand behind me."

Ranma crossed his arms, levitating a few feet higher to gain a better view of the deck, dim as things were this long before the sun rose. Many of the men were unsure, milling about in confusion. A few braver souls strode forward. A lanky man with blond hair and a wiry frame was the first to stand at Norris's side. Following him was a much more swarthy man, and behind him, another, and then another….

When the men had sorted themselves out, fully forty-six men stood behind Norris. He grinned, nodding proudly at them, then turned to gaze levelly at those who had chosen to remain.

"Okay, men, this is probably going to be my last direct order to you for some time, because none of us know how this is going to turn out, but listen up. Those of you who are going to be leaving will divide into two groups. One will secure the Gate, after our ally completes it, and the other will be the first group through the Gate to secure the landing zone.

"Those of you who have chosen to follow me, congratulations. You are no longer Marines of the United States of America. You are Marines who are fighting to defend our Earth, regardless of nationality. We have many allies who can fight with us — many of whom you've seen, some of whom you've known to exhibit extraordinary powers. They are not Marines, but many of them have long defended our world, and they will fight at our sides. Understand that they are not all human. And know that they are still our allies.

"You will fight, side-by-side, with peoples not of this Earth, and you will be united in one cause. You are not defending a people, a country, a target… a politician. You are defending your home, gentlemen, and I expect you to put up the best god-damned fight this world has ever seen."

"What did he say?" Mousse asked, curious. "I couldn't understand most of it."

"Um…. You tell him, Ryouga," Ranma said, shaking his head.

"He said we've got more allies to help us fight reavers today than we did yesterday," Ryouga answered quickly. "And it was a good speech."

"Feh," Mousse snorted, "I could have said the same with a lot less words. English is so inefficient."

It was far, far too early to be awake, in Usagi's estimation. But some strange… energy? Power? Something filled the air, making her sleep restless, and leaving her to lie awake hours before dawn. Sighing unhappily, she sat up.

Best to make the most of it, she supposed….

When she sat up Mamoru remained asleep. She'd let him rest, she decided. He'd been remarkably unwell due to the resonance between himself and the wounded Earth, but something… something about seeing Makoto…. Something had happened then, and left him in much better condition afterwards.

She dismissed that, after a moment. All of the other girls were asleep… except for Setsuna, Haruka, and Michiru. Setsuna had a habit of wandering off, but Haruka and Michiru generally did not.

Frowning, she wondered where they might have gone, and resolved to track them down, crawling out from under the blanket without disturbing Mamoru, or waking the others.

Haruka sat on one edge of the deck, her legs dangling free. Michiru crouched at her side, not as eager to be so close to the edge, while Setsuna paced behind them. "Well," Haruka said slowly. "I still can't find what's missing."

"Me neither," Setsuna grumbled. "I wish I knew."

"Trust, I would assume," a voice answered from the darkness.

Setsuna spun to face the man who was standing — acting as idle and relaxed as if there was no issue about him eavesdropping — with his hands folded behind his back. "What — why should I trust you?"

"What reason do you have to not trust me? Or anyone, for that matter?" Yosho returned easily. "I can't think of any reason not to trust me. What have I done to demonstrate myself untrustworthy?"

"Well…." Setsuna frowned darkly. "I don't trust someone who allies so closely with a thing that's not even human."

"Insipidly shallow," Yosho returned. "But Ranma was human originally, you know."

Setsuna was silent for a long moment. "He isn't now."

"But he once was. And what are you looking for, anyway? Maybe, just maybe, if you were to ask him for help, he could help you. Or I could. Or any of us, really." Seeing that Setsuna had no immediate answer, he shrugged, and wheeled about. "Just think about it," he advised as he marched away.

Usagi arrived in time to witness most of the discussion between Setsuna and Yosho. She didn't know entirely what it was about, but she was of a mind to find out. "What's going on?" she asked, glancing at Yosho as he trod away.

"Nothing," Setsuna mumbled, rubbing wearily at her temples. "Nothing." Usagi's eyes continued their silent pleading, until Setsuna admitted, "He thinks that we should trust Ranma more."

"Of course! Ranma-san is a very noble person. Why wouldn't you trust him?"

"He's not human!" Setsuna snapped.

Usagi blinked, confused. "What are you talking about?"

"His eyes, Usagi. His ears. The fact that he can fly, and turn into a girl at will."

"Okay… so? What does that have to do with anything? Why does that mean we can't trust him? You trust Luna and Artemis, right?"

Setsuna choked, and struggled with her words for a long moment before ultimately giving up. "Fine," she mumbled. "Okay. I should trust him. Do you know what we're supposed to be doing, Usagi?"

Usagi shook her head, unsure.

"Well, we're supposed to find whoever's descended from the family on this register." So saying, she fished the register from a pocket, and displayed it to the blonde.

Usagi studied it for a moment, before admitting, "I don't know anyone named Saotome, but doesn't Ranma-san's name sound a lot like 'Genma'? Maybe they're related." She handed the scroll back to Setsuna, not rolling it up again.

"I really doubt that," Setsuna mumbled, rolling up the scroll carefully. "I'm pretty sure that whoever this scroll leads us to is supposed to be someone else. It would be far too convenient for it to be someone that close, but it's not easy to search."

"Well," Usagi said thoughtfully, "that's probably not too hard. Ami-chan might be able to look it up in her computer, but why not just ask Ranma?"

"Why would I ask him?" Setsuna asked, confused. "Ami, perhaps, but why Ranma?"

"Because you're supposed to trust people, right?"

"Er… Rei's dream said so, yes, but…."

"So go find Ranma, and ask him!" Usagi said, smiling victoriously.

Sinking her head in defeat, Setsuna heaved an exasperated sigh. "Fine… I'll ask him, already."

Usagi smiled again, as Setsuna stalked off into darkness. "Why aren't you sleeping?" she asked Michiru and Haruka.

Michiru obligingly produced the Deep Aqua Mirror from a pocket, and said, "We're supposed to be looking for something that will help us through whatever happens next."

"Neat!" Usagi exclaimed. "What does it say we should be looking for?" The mirror, without any command from Michiru, shifted to display the sword against the sapling again. "Wow," Usagi cooed. "Cool! But why are you supposed to be looking for a rusty old sword?"

Haruka sighed, shaking her head. "No clue," she answered tiredly. "I sure wish I knew."

Ranma cocked his head to one side as he heard approaching footsteps, and turned to watch a green-haired woman march towards him, fists balled at her side. "Excuse me," she asked, in a much more polite tone than her demeanor suggested, "can I have a word with you?"

"Okay, I guess," Ranma said, shrugging. "What about?"

Calming herself with visible effort, the woman introduced herself, saying, "My name is Meiou Setsuna. I'm looking for someone who's supposed to be able to help us fight the reavers." She produced the scroll from her pocket and handed it to Ranma expectantly. "Do you know where this line would lead us?"

Ranma peered at the scroll absently, his friends looking over his shoulder. Ranma froze midway down the scroll. Wincing, his friends backed away quickly, giving him a wide berth. "Saotome Genma," Ranma announced very carefully, "died killing a reaver."

The woman stared, surprised. "Did he have any children?" she asked after a moment.

"He… he had a son."

"What happened to his son?"

Eyes bright with unshed tears, luminous and blue, Ranma answered, "The Saotome honor blade is broken, Meiou. There are no more Saotome. I will tell you this much, however." He paused, collecting himself with effort. "When Saotome Genma had a son, his name was Saotome Ranma."

Done, Ranma pressed the scroll back into Setsuna's unresisting hands. She sputtered indignantly, "You? You are Saotome Ranma? You're the one I have to… oh… oh… oh no… I can't… oh…. Come with me."

She seized his arm, but he refused to budge, solidly remaining where he stood. "What do you want?" he asked, a thin edge of anger audible in his voice.

"Saotome," she said levelly. "I — all of us, need your help to fight the reavers. But there's something else, there's still some missing element that we need to have before we can win."

Ranma grunted noncommittally. He glanced at his wrist, alarmed, as the blue gem there winked green. "There's a reaver nearby," he said.

Setsuna steadfastly clung to his arm. "That clinches it, Saotome," she grumbled. "Are you going to help me, or not?"

The boy was about to say something, but the green glow faded, leaving his wrist gem to turn blue. "Just…" he struggled with something for a long moment, and quashed it down. "Look, Meiou. I'm Ranma. Just Ranma. I am not a Saotome. I don't ever want to be called that." He gritted his teeth, clenching his eyes shut. "Just Ranma," he repeated quietly. "Don't call me anything else, and I'll help you. What do you want from me?"

"Come with me," Setsuna insisted, hauling him away with far less resistance this time.

Mousse and Ryouga exchanged a glance frowning. "What was all that about?" Mousse wondered. "I thought that she was going to push him a little too hard."

"Yeah," Ryouga grunted. "I was half expecting Ranma to snap."

There was a brief moment of silence, before Mousse managed, "Let's make sure that he doesn't."

"How?" Ryouga asked, befuddled.

"Just… be there for him to talk to, I suppose. Allow him to trust us more. Without… without the girls between us, I think we have a much better chance at being friends for him."

"Sounds like a plan," Ryouga agreed.

"Can't you tell me a little more than 'you need me', Meiou?" Ranma grumbled, as Setsuna half led, half dragged him across the deck. "Or even better," he said, wrenching himself free of the woman, then grabbing her about the waist and floating above the deck, "just tell me where you're so hot to get to?"

Initially set-aback by the levitation, but quickly adjusting, the woman managed to shoot a very cool and calm look at him over her shoulder, before pointing to a trio of women at the opposite edge of the deck from where he had been loitering with Mousse and Ryouga.

Shrugging, he teleported the pair of them there, setting down the woman as she reeled from the dizziness Ranma had learned that it caused in others. As it had for him, initially. Nuku seemed immune to it, for some reason he couldn't fathom, and Washuu declined to state how it affected her. "Okay," he said, shifting his thoughts to the people about him. "What do you want with me? There's a reaver around here, somewhere. I can sense it. Ran-oh-ki tells me they're hiding beneath the sea floor. Probably waiting to attack us the moment we land."

The blond man and the other green haired woman stood to look at him, while the energetic blonde simply gushed, "Oh, you can tell where they are? That is so cool! See, I told you he could help us if you trusted him!"

Ranma crossed his arms over his chest, nodding at Hotaru's parents. They returned the nod carefully. "So," Ranma prompted, when they made no move to speak, "what next? You got me here, right?"

"Oh, yeah, you're going to help us find what we need to beat the reavers when we get to Shanghai, right?" the blonde asked.

"Yeah, sure," Ranma answered, summoning his blades to him, and spinning them across his palms in a showy manner before allowing them to vanish. All of those assembled blinked, duly impressed.

"I'm Ten'oh Haruka," the blond man said.

"And I'm Kaioh Michiru," the woman added by way of introduction.

"Wait, wait… wait…." Ranma shook his head. "Ten'oh, have you ever heard of a place called Jusenkyou?"

"No…" the man said slowly. "I've heard of it from Hibiki-san, but I've never been there, Ranma-san."

Noting the stress on the honorific, Ranma frowned. "Okay, sorry, Ten'oh-san. Just wondering…. Why do you and Hotaru all have different last names?"

Michiru nervously explained, "We're… ah… not married, you see…."

Ranma blinked, then narrowed his eyes, and studied Haruka closely. "Oh," he said, as his eyes automatically adjusted to his mental request for more information, shifting to a different spectrum and showing fairly informative heat-signatures. "I see. Anyway," he continued, turning to the blonde, "what's your name?"

"Tsukino Usagi," the girl explained proudly. "Since we want your help, and we want to trust you, and you to trust us, I'll tell you the truth — I'm also Sailor Moon."

"Moon, eh?" Ranma asked, quirking an eyebrow. "I've been there."

"Really? What did you think of it?"

"Very dusty. Pretty boring, mostly. Quiet, and really dry," Ranma said offhandedly, shrugging.

Setsuna coughed pointedly. "Before we all forget what brought us here," she announced, "can we get to work on figuring out what Ranma-san can offer to us, that will allow us to fight off the reavers?"

"I can do lots of stuff," Ranma answered. "What do you need?"

Michiru hesitantly motioned Ranma closer, gesturing to a small mirror in her hands. Ranma peered into it, as it displayed the image of a rusty sword leaning against a sapling. A gem hung from the hilt of the weapon, waving gently in a breeze before it vanished. Moments passed, and the image shifted to a blank scroll, a delicate, feminine hand recording two names.

"I can't make it out," Haruka groused. "They're too faint."

"Higurashi Kagome, wife of Inu-Yasha, fifteen thirty-two," Ranma informed her, eyes easily able to make out the image. But his eyes were also able to discern that it was less a mirror, and more a window, of some sort. Ran-oh-ki's subspace senses weren't able to pierce it from his range, leaving Ranma to guess at what it was. "Ran-oh-ki," he mumbled, summoning the creature. It dashed to his side, leaping easily to his shoulder. "Where does this lead?" he asked, pointing firmly at the mirror.

"Miyah?" the creature noised, sniffing closely. Michiru obligingly brought the mirror closer to his nose, until the creature made a much more triumphant noise.

"Japan," Ranma said, trying to vocalize the impressions that Ran-oh-ki's senses sent him. "Uh… I can't say where, exactly, but if I had a map, I could show you. What's this supposed to tell us?"

Setsuna frowned muttering, "If you're right, then we've got both a location, and a time. I would assume that we have to go to that location at that time, and whatever we're supposed to get, we get there."

"Great," Ranma said, raising his arms over his head and stretching. "Hope it's soon," he managed, as Ran-oh-ki hopped to the deck at his feet.

"No," Setsuna snapped, "it's not soon at all. It's nearly five hundred years ago!"

"Well, unless you got a time machine, I'd say we've hit a dead end," Ranma grumbled.

"I… can, but… I can't," Setsuna said, struggling.

"Talk sense, Meiou," Ranma returned.

"She's not allowed to let people go through the Time Gate," Usagi explained.

"But?" Ranma prompted expectantly.

"Well," Setsuna managed, "it's happened. If you've already been through the Gate, then I have to let you through. Otherwise I have to stop anyone who tries."

"Uh-huh," Ranma mumbled. "Well, let's say that somehow, I convinced you to let me go through this Gate. What then?"

"Well, then obviously you would have made it through the Gate, so I'd have to let you go through," Setsuna answered, furrowing her brow.

"Sounds like a plan," Ranma noted. "Now let's go and get this over with."

"Right," Setsuna mumbled, summoning a staff to her side with an absent gesture. She paused, frowning, then exclaimed, "Wait! I can't let you go through the Gate."

"But you already did," Ranma countered. "Remember?"

"Not really," the green-haired woman answered, narrowing her eyes. "I think I would, too."

"Of course you don't remember," Ranma said offhandedly. "I tricked you. Now let's go, quickly. We've only got so much time, you know." After a pause, he added, "You were the one that tried to drag me over here for my help."

"Fine," Setsuna snapped, gesturing with the staff and seizing Ranma's hand. "If you've done it, it has to be done to preserve the time stream."

"Yeah, yeah," Ranma muttered, which were the last words that Usagi, Michiru and Haruka heard from him as the pair vanished.

Ranma glanced around after emerging from the Time Gate. "Huh," he said.

The area was shrouded in a thin veil of fog, which granted the area an ethereal, mystical quality, as will o'wisps added their dim illumination to the mist. Trees dotted the landscape, hard to make out initially, until Ranma's eyes adjusted again. A path led the way from nearby up a gentle slope, and then further down.

Setsuna emerged, still grumbling. "When did you trick me, anyway?" she asked.

"Just now," Ranma said flippantly, marching up the path. "I see a house ahead."

"Wait," Setsuna called out, confused. "What are you talking about?"

"Don't worry about it," Ranma answered, already drawing out of sight in the mists. Setsuna hurriedly jogged to catch up, glancing into the fog worriedly. He stopped at the house he had mentioned to her, taking a moment to study it.

It was small, but looked to be only recently built. Light seeped around the window frames, and a thin but steady plume of smoke rose from the chimney. Shrugging, Ranma knocked on the door three times — loudly — before Setsuna could stop him.

She hissed at him, "What are you doing, you idiot!"

He blinked at her in confusion. "Knocking on the door," he said. "What's it look like?"

"You can't do that! We run too much of a risk of—" She cut herself off as the door opened, and a slim woman, dressed in a loose and flowing robe, long black hair hanging well past her shoulders, peered out at them. The woman's eyes widened, and she gasped in surprise, slamming the door shut before Setsuna or Ranma could speak.

"Well," Ranma muttered. "That went well." He raised his hand to knock again, when the door slammed open again, and a man with an unruly mane of white hair literally flew out of the doorway, crashing into him and bearing him to the earth.

Struggling, he phased through the dirt below him, then surfacing a short distance away, landing in a defensive stance. The man stared at him, eyes flickering about his form, and frowned. "Who the hell are you?" the man asked.

"I could ask the same," Ranma said, eyeing the man's obviously inhuman ears. "I'm Ranma. I'm from the year nineteen ninety-nine. I'm supposed to find something here that helps me fight reavers. Apparently."

The man crossed his arms over his chest, allowing Ranma to see the wickedly curved nails on the ends of his fingers. Claws that could have torn well into him, were the man to attempt a more vicious attack than a simple tackle. "Hmm," he mused, unsure. "I'll let you talk to Kagome."

"Higurashi Kagome?" Ranma asked.

"You know her?" the man responded, surprised.

"No," Ranma said, "but I've got… wait… you're Inu-Yasha, right?"

"Yes," the man said, nodding tersely. "How do you know?"

"Because you're…. Um, because I'm from the future."

The man stared at him, blinking, and allowed his hands to drop to his sides. "And we're famous then?" the man asked, obviously confused.

Ranma shrugged, glancing back to the house, and wincing. "Uh… maybe you should stop Higurashi-san before she kills Meiou?"

Inu-Yasha jerked his attention away from Ranma, and bounced up the hill, leaving Ranma to see just how far back the tackle had thrown him. "Man," he muttered. "I guess that's where I got it from…."

Teleporting to Setsuna's side, Ranma immediately raised his hands to illustrate his unarmed status. Kagome, not quite trusting, still held a drawn bow on Setsuna, her gaze and aim only shifting to Ranma for a second, before going back to Setsuna. "What are you doing here?" she demanded.

"I think they can explain things," Inu-Yasha commented as he reached Kagome's side.

Ranma nodded slowly, and Setsuna nodded much more quickly.

Once inside, with the bow set carefully on its rack on the wall, the woman was surprisingly polite, though obviously still wary. "Now," she said, after both Ranma and Setsuna were seated, each holding a cup of tea. He had a vague suspicion that they were given tea because it would preclude the use of other weapons, but was willing to trust that Kagome wouldn't attempt to kill them. "What brings you here?" she directed the question to Ranma, shooting a disapproving glance at Setsuna before looking back to him.

Ranma scratched the back of his head with his free hand nervously, unsettled by being in the presence of the literal heads of his own family. "Oh," he said, apologetically, "um… Higurashi-san…. Er…. Higurashi-sama. Um. Right. Well, we're from nineteen ninety-nine, and that's probably hard to believe—"

The woman laughed softly, raising a hand to forestall Ranma. "I'm from the same time you are, Ranma-san. Now, Inu-Yasha," she gestured to the man, lounging indolently across the floor at her side, "is from this time. Regardless, there's no need for you to call me 'sama'."

"Um…. Okay, Higurashi-san. Um. Anyway, do you know what reavers are?"

The woman frowned. "Large, wicked creature, with eight claws, and acidic blood?"

"Yeah, that's them. Um. We're supposed to be fighting them at Shanghai soon, and I'm supposed to get something from you… uh… some rusty sword, I guess."

Kagome's frown deepened, and she asked, "Why would you want a rusty sword?" Inu-Yasha nodded, his ears perking at the mention.

"I'm not sure," Ranma admitted. "Some magic mirror told us we needed it."

The woman shook her head. "I might know what you're talking about, but… why would we want to give it to you?"

"Uh… well…. Um… Meiou, can I have the register?" Ranma asked, turning to the woman.

Frowning, Setsuna handed it over. "I really don't approve," she muttered.

"Right. Um. Here's the family register, though I guess this is the really, really old copy, because my… anyway, go ahead and take a look at this," he said, handing it carefully to Kagome.

She accepted it, gently unrolling the ancient paper, and reading it by the flickering lamplight. "Oh, my," she murmured. "Well, then… what does this have to do with you?"

"Saotome Genma was my father," Ranma answered cautiously. "And my… my mother was Saotome Nodoka."

Kagome pursed her lips, thoughtful. "Is that so?" she asked. "I recognize my own handwriting. Inu-Yasha, this young man is claiming to be our many-times great-grandson."

Inu-Yasha's jaw dropped, promptly allowing his face to slide out of his hand and slam into the floor. He righted himself quickly, peering closely at Ranma, and sniffing at the air cautiously. "He might be," Inu-Yasha allowed. "But why would he be half-youkai? Shouldn't you be entirely human?"

Ranma winced, sighing. "I'm not youkai. I'm Masu. I was human, though. Once. I… I got hurt really badly fighting against a reaver, and the woman that patched me up made me into this, so I can fight reavers better. 'Course, I was just getting used to the curse, so—"

"Curse?" Inu-Yasha and Kagome asked in tandem.

"Uh… shoot. Um, short story, cursed springs, China, cold water turned me into a girl, and hot water would change me back. Now I mostly just turn into a girl whenever I get hurt too bad, or split in half."

"I see," Kagome said quietly. "So, you are Saotome Ranma… interesting."

Ranma winced, shaking his head. "Uh… there's a small problem there, since, I guess you don't need to talk to me if you don't want to, but I guess when I think about it, it hasn't happened for another couple hundred years… uh…. Mom and Pops had a contract that said I'd grow up to be really manly.

"When she saw that I wasn't really… entirely human anymore, and then saw the curse, she pretty much kicked me out of the clan, so I'm not even a Saotome anymore. Just… Ranma." He swallowed abruptly, tilting his head back, and studying the ceiling. "Like I said, if you want me to leave, I can," he concluded, voice thick.

"I… see," Kagome said slowly. "Inu-Yasha, I very much want to believe this young man. Can you please fetch me the Shikon jewel?"

The man nodded, bouncing out of the house in a heartbeat. Ranma coughed, while Setsuna looked politely away, and allowed the boy to rub at his eyes. "Anyway," he continued, fighting to keep a small quaver out of his voice, "we keep on going, and we keep on fighting, trying to get as many people off the planet as we can, and kill all the reavers we find."

"Off the planet?" Kagome asked, obviously intrigued.

"Yes," Setsuna asserted. "Ranma-san, uh, has made friends with a few people from a planet called 'Jurai', and they're evacuating as many people as they can. Otherwise, we're headed to China on a fleet with what survivors we could round up."

"Hmm," Kagome mused, shaking her head. "Were fate to be otherwise, Inu-Yasha and I might have ended up there, instead of here."

There was a moment of silence then, Ranma sipping at his tea, and firmly refusing to meet Kagome's gaze until Inu-Yasha returned. The necklace he had briefly seen in the mirror's image was clutched in his left hand, and he passed it to Kagome before shutting the door and sitting attentively at her side.

Kagome studied the pearl-like gem closely, and said, "Tell me, Ranma…. Why do you want a weapon?"

"I don't know if I need another weapon," Ranma answered, "but if I do, then I want to so that I can kill reavers, and… and like Terry said, so I can protect."

Kagome smiled beatifically, and nodded, tucking her necklace into a pocket. "I sense the truth in your words," she said. "And I know that you didn't lie about anything else, either. Inu-Yasha, I think we should help them."

Inu-Yasha frowned, nodding dubiously. "I guess," he said after a moment, staring at Ranma thoughtfully. "Well, if you're some grandson of mine, I guess we should hurry."

"Yes," Setsuna advised. "Relative time is maintained, so every minute here is more-or-less a minute there, and I don't want to toy with that, because meeting myself leaving would be… awkward."

Kagome raised an eyebrow. "That might explain why the well worked in the manner it did," she muttered.

Ranma rose, following Inu-Yasha outside.

Inu-Yasha's steps were steady, and he dashed as quickly as he could across the soft turf, pleased to see that Ranma was able to keep pace. It was an odd sensation, he thought, to know that he was meeting… his own many-times great-grandson. He planned on using the Shikon jewel to turn himself human — he had no desire to outlive Kagome.

Outlasting another love, as bitter as it had turned, had taught him that much.

But there was a subtle joy in knowing that he would have a child. Or maybe children. He hadn't read the register as Kagome had, and intended to allow himself to be surprised. And meeting the obvious fruit of their attempts was rewarding, too. Inu-Yasha didn't know much of Ranma's life, outside of what the boy had mentioned, and Inu-Yasha completely disagreed with Ranma's mother banishing him from the clan — as far as he could tell, his word superceded hers anyway — but he had to admire the boy's will. Almost as firm as his own, truly.

He came to a stop in a clearing, a large cairn of stones — intentionally grave-like — that was really only a short distance from the house. He had led Ranma on a much more roundabout route more for the joy of running than anything else.

The Tetsusaiga itself would be safe enough. There simply weren't as many youkai to worry about as there once had been. Barring that, Inu-Yasha remained alert enough to know if someone were to tamper with the cairn, and the stones would weigh enough that even stronger oni would have difficulty moving them quickly.

Flexing his arms, he stepped up to the cairn, easily twice his own height, and seized the first of the boulders, slinging it to the ground carelessly. The effort made him grunt, and Ranma joined him at the other side, grabbing another boulder and flinging it to land aside Inu-Yasha's. Inu-Yasha grinned, and Ranma smiled back grimly. "This area used to be really rocky," Inu-Yasha explained, grunting with effort again as he heaved another boulder. "I rounded up all the stones in the area, and piled them here before we had the house built."

"Yeah?" Ranma asked, working right alongside Inu-Yasha. "Thought it should be rockier when I walked to the house. Seen a few forests like this when me and Pops were out training."

"Your father trained you a lot, huh?"

"Yeah. Wanted to make me into a 'man among men'." He swore briefly, hurling another stone to Earth. "And look how I turned out," he grumped, taking a moment to rest, and regarding Inu-Yasha levelly. "You know how hard it is to be manly when a splash of cold water makes you look like this?" he asked bitterly. His form wavered, and contracted, spiky black hair turning red, accented curves emerging and strengthening as 'he' became 'she'.

Inu-Yasha raised both eyebrows, studying his theoretical progeny. "It's probably really annoying," he allowed. "But it could be worse."


"You could have a cursed hole in your hand that sucks in everything around you, and eventually swallows your body up," he noted.

Ranma blinked in confusion, shifting back to his male form. "Okay," he acquiesced, "that might suck a little more, but at least I could have faced my mother."

Inu-Yasha grunted, heaving another boulder. "I don't think your mother should have done that," he muttered. "I wouldn't have."

Shrugging, Ranma set back to work. "I hear that a lot. But, what's done, is done."

Together, they made short work of the stone pile, though Ranma seemed to have much more strength than his form belied. Inu-Yasha nodded in approval, then cracked his knuckles and faced what lay beneath the mound of stones. The Shikon jewel was merely hidden underneath the house, to keep it close by, but the Tetsusaiga wasn't something they would need to reach quickly. At least, not anymore.

"Well," Inu-Yasha said, gesturing to the massive stone slab, "I got some friends to seal this pretty good…. Let's hope they don't decide to give me hell for breaking the seals." Digging into the soil at the side of the stone, he scratched with his claws until he felt a slip of paper, which he was able to tear with a minimal effort. "That should do it," he mumbled, placing both hands beneath the edge of the stone to lever it up.

It rose slowly, ponderously, and Ranma moved to help, easily matching Inu-Yasha's own strength, and shortly, the stone was standing upright. Ranma stepped back, and Inu-Yasha took the box that had been buried beneath the stone, long enough to contain the blade, and locked securely, then warded and sealed on top of that. "Kagome will have to break the other seals," he explained, hefting the box over one shoulder. "Let's get back to the house."

Ranma nodded, following Inu-Yasha back.

Kagome nodded in satisfaction. "I think," she said primly, "that you owe us that for trying to hurt Inu-Yasha as badly as you had."

"Fine. Fine!" Setsuna groused. "I said I was sorry, already!"

"I'm sure you are," Kagome said demurely, hiding a smile behind her wrist, as she pretended to cough.

Inu-Yasha trudged into the house at that moment, a long, iron box on his shoulder. Kagome made room, and he set it on the table. Ranma followed, carefully shutting the door, and gathering his then cold tea. Smiling warmly at Ranma, Kagome broke the paper seals on the box, before turning her attention to the pair of large, sturdy padlocks on the side.

"Those look pretty modern," Ranma noted.

"I took them back with me," Kagome answered, frowning. "Where did I put the keys? Oh yes…."

Inu-Yasha rolled his eyes, moving to the room's one small bookshelf, and retrieving them from a small vase. Shooting him a reproving glance, Kagome unlocked the padlocks and set them aside, allowing Inu-Yasha to raise the lid.

It opened slowly, rust and age making it resistant, but ultimately gave, revealing the simple sword, still in its scabbard, wrapped in a voluminous red cloth. "Heh," Inu-Yasha mumbled retrieving the red cloth, and then the sword. "Didn't think I'd see these again any time soon."

"Weren't you wearing that when we last met?" Setsuna asked.

Inu-Yasha frowned, nodding. "Yeah. Why?" he asked.

"I thought it would have been… marked, that's all."

"Feh," Inu-Yasha grumbled. "It's made of sterner stuff. And so am I."

Kagome swatted him over the head in a good-natured manner. "Hurry up," she chastised. "They have to hurry."

"Right," Inu-Yasha mumbled. "Um… I'm not too good with words, Ranma, but I'll tell you this much. You're fighting where I wish I was, so I'm going to give you something to let the monsters remember the whole family by. Ranma, I want to present you with this," he said, handing over the red robes.

Ranma accepted them, impressed. "What are they?" he asked, curious.

"My old robes. Made from fire-rat hides," Inu-Yasha assured him. "They're pretty decent armor. Probably better than you'd expect. They also mend really well when they get torn."

Shrugging, Ranma struggled into the robes, pleased with the fit. Inu-Yasha eyed him appraisingly. "Now that's something to be proud of," he remarked. Shaking his head, he handed over the sword, saying, "I expect you to make us even prouder."

Kagome smiled, nodding pleasantly and producing a paper and quill-pen, along with a small bottle of ink. "Indeed. Show me, Ranma, how do you write your name?"

Ranma shrugged, quickly scrawling the kanji for his name down. "Just like that," he mumbled. "Nothing special."

Studying it quickly, Kagome nodded again. "Better than Inu-Yasha's handwriting. Very well, Higurashi Ranma. Make us all proud." With that, she leant forward, kissing him gently on the cheek. "There will be a safe-deposit box awaiting you in Shanghai — I'll see to it that my descendants know to pass it on for you, and you'll know then that it's official. Meiou-san has agreed to help locate it."

Stunned, Ranma only gaped, nearly dropping the sheathed blade. "But… but… I thought…."

"Hush, now. You need to hurry back, don't you? I wish I could talk to you longer, I truly do… but you must hurry."

"Um." Ranma stared at his feet, already more confidant than Setsuna had seen him before. "Okay," he said. "I will do my best, Higurashi-sama. I will do everything I can to protect everyone I can."

Inu-Yasha clapped a hand onto Ranma's shoulder. "Remember that," he said. "Always remember that, and the Tetsusaiga will serve you very well. If you ever forget, it will be useless to you. Now, go."

Stumbling, Ranma nodded his way out the door, Setsuna just ahead of him. Spinning before his feet could take him far enough to hide him from their eyes, Ranma turned again to face his ancestors, and saluted them proudly with the still-sheathed weapon.

Inu-Yasha grinned like a madman, pride and joy shining in his eyes, while something similar — perhaps admiration — shone in Kagome's. They both waved, Inu-Yasha dropping a hand to encircle her waist in a familiar manner.

Turning away again, Ranma allowed the tears to flow from his eyes, as Setsuna opened the Time Gate, grumbling in annoyance quietly. But Ranma was far beyond caring about that, lost in his own whirling emotions.

Ryouga cracked his knuckles, frowning grumpily. "We're going to make shore in an hour," he muttered in annoyance. "Where's Ranma?"

"Busy, I'd imagine," Mousse answered mildly, sharpening one of the random blades he kept in his robes.

Ryouga snorted, shaking his head. Scurrying to their feet, and making a frantic noise, Ranma's partner stumbled, rolling into a ball and colliding with Ryouga's ankle. He growled, righting himself, and gave another frantic, "Miyah!" before turning to run off.

Putting away his blade, Mousse adjusted his spectacles. "Do you suppose we should follow him?" he asked curiously.

At his side, Ryouga nodded, patting Checkers on the head. "Wait here," he commanded the dog, then running after the small creature. Mousse trailed after him, and moments later, they reached the aft section of the ship, where the creature froze, growling at the last two meters between it and the edge of the deck.

"Well," Mousse said, frowning, "there's nothing here worthy of making a fuss over."

As if to prove him wrong, a gargantuan black mass launched itself out of the water, streaking upwards. The boys ducked back when a flurry of black claws bit into the deck, scrambling for purchase, and the bulk of a reaver righted itself, gleaming eyes fixing on them in the darkness.

"Someone sound an alarm!" Ryouga shouted as loudly as he could, sliding forward and slamming his fist into the reaver's side. The creature took the blow, slipping off the edge of the ship, and falling back to the sea. "Crap!" he yelled, sudden realization setting in. "We have no idea where the hell these things are — they could be on other ships, too!"

The deck gave a startling lurch, and Mousse winced. "Or underneath them," he noted.

Alarms and lights began to emanate from ships all over the fleet, and Ryouga shrugged. "What now?" he asked. "We can't fight them in the water."

Mousse shrugged in return, scrambling backwards as the reaver again leapt atop the ship's deck. Ryouga growled, and retrieved his umbrella. The reaver seemed more cautious, having already been knocked into the sea once. Steam rose from its body as it stomped forward, claws ripping into the steel plating of the deck. It howled, a shrill, piercing noise, and lashed out with a pair of claws.

The umbrella blocked one neatly, and Ryouga found himself struggling against the creature's massive strength. Shockingly, to him, he was able to resist, if not well. The deck beneath his feet buckled slowly, as he was pressed into it by the monstrous forces being exerted by the reaver. The other claw, he noted with relief, was firmly tangled in Mousse's chain. The bespectacled Chinese boy took no pause, releasing one chain, and throwing another to foul the creature's balance further.

"We need help," Ryouga grunted, as Mousse's chain writhed like a living thing, weaving itself about the claw he was struggling with. Stepping back, Ryouga stumbled, Mousse quickly helping him to his feet, as the reaver toppled like a fallen giant. Scampering out of the way, Ranma's partner tore away, running quickly towards the refugees.

"Why can't it break the chains?" Mousse asked dumbly. "Or go through them?"

"I don't know," Ryouga answered, slamming his umbrella into the thing's hide forcefully, buckling the deck further. "And I don't care! We just need to kill it, and fast, 'cause it's going to be a hell of a lot harder to fight these things on another ship."

Mousse nodded in agreement, throwing a small cluster of needles from one sleeve with as much force as he could muster towards the writhing creature's eyes. The majority of the needles pierced the eyes, driving the creature into a convulsing frenzy, its piercing howl serving far better than any alarm could, as it bled acidic ichor across the deck. "Careful," Mousse warned, "the fumes are toxic!"

Ryouga took a few short steps back, as the reaver gave one massive shrug, sundering Mousse's chains, and righting itself angrily. "Got any more ideas?" Ryouga asked, ducking one claw and deflecting another with the umbrella. "I can't crack this thing's shell!"

Mousse grimaced, knowing that despite his potentially better agility, he could never hope to match Ryouga's strength. And if he couldn't crack its hide…. "Stall it!" he said. "Washuu gave the Americans some kind of weapon — let's hope they get here fast!"

Help arrived, however unexpected. "Sparkling wide pressure!"

Feeling the air become oddly charged, Mousse and Ryouga both exploded away from the reaver, Ryouga leaping fast and low, Mousse in a much higher arc. His scalp tingled, as a bilious ball of crackling electricity hurtled through the morning air, slamming into the reaver forcefully. The ball detonated, electricity washing across the monster violently.

The creature stumbled, and slid backwards across the deck a short distance, live electricity writhing across its hide as it twitched. Ryouga and Mousse landed a moment later, and Ryouga reflexively ripped a handful of bandanas from his head before turning to look back at the source of the explosion of lightning. Standing there, as proudly as the assembled Senshi had been the first night that their paths had crossed, was Jupiter, green skirt billowing in the backlash of the released energies she had hurled at the monster.

"Man," Ryu said, seeming to melt from the air at her side, "you throw like a girl, Mako-chan."

The girl's proud grin faded, and she stared at Ryu in consternation. "I am a girl," she defended herself.

"Well, yeah, but… aw, look, I'll teach you to throw better later," he mumbled, shaking his head.

"Hey! You try throwing a ball of lightning around, and we'll see—"

"Hello!" Mousse yelled at the pair. "Big monster! Who knows how many more of them are around? And it's still not dead!"

Jolted, Ryu and Makoto both turned to face the reaver, recovering already from the charge, and climbing to its feet. Mousse rolled his eyes, another length of chain emerging from his robes and falling into his ready hands. "What next?" he asked tersely.

Ryouga shrugged, hurling his bandanas haphazardly at the reaver. "Keep stalling it," he answered, grimacing. The cloth projectiles whirled, laden with the boy's own ki, biting viciously into the hide, and chipping out small chunks of the carapace.

Mousse stared, blinking, then shrugged, and wove his chain through the thing's legs again. Ryouga set in with his belt, drawing it from his waist and snapping it stiffly like a blade. While not as solid as the umbrella, and far too flimsy to deflect a reaver's claw, the belt managed to slowly hack up segments of the monster's hide.

Finding itself taking more damage, the reaver turned to face Ryouga squarely, fully four claws sweeping together to try and shut on him like pincers. Ryouga danced out of range past one pair, but was far too slow to dodge the second. To his surprise, the claws were stopped, Ryu having interposed himself and catching them roughly.

Ryu's feet were set, and he grit his teeth, arms both outstretched and trembling. Not wasting any more time, Ryouga bellowed a fierce battle cry, and swung down on one of the crushing limbs full-force. The belt cut rudely through the armored and protrusion covered surface, spraying a sharp fountain of deadly ichor upwards and out towards the boys.

Yosho's senses alerted him that something was amiss. He glanced around, looking for Mousse, Ryouga, or more importantly, Ranma.

His keen hearing picked up a shout of terror, and he wasted no more time. With the boys missing, he'd have to find someone else — and quickly — to help counter the threat of a reaver. The Senshi's small campsite was known to him, so he charged there, yelling, "Wake up! We're under attack!"

Not pausing to give them a chance to react, he grabbed Ami's hand, and hauled her to her feet, still half asleep. "What's going on?" she shrieked, completely taken off guard.

"No time!" Yosho said, running full-tilt towards the edge of the deck. "You can do things with water, correct? Well I hope you think of something quickly, because we need to get over there." He paused, to leap from the deck across the water. His leap would easily carry him halfway across the gap to the nearest freighter, but from there he would be forced to swim. "And soon," he concluded, wondering if he could move quickly enough to run across the water.

The girl twisted in his arms, and the question became moot as she gestured to the water beneath them, suffused a brilliant and glowing blue as she was. He dimly heard her say, "Shabon spray freezing!" before his feet found traitorous purchase on a thin shelf of ice, and then he leapt away again. The ice shattered as he leapt, not having enough time to set, and he barely made the jump, pausing on the railing of the freighter to steady himself and his passenger.

Alarms began to sound, both behind him, and ahead. He swore under his breath, heading forward — he'd have to trust those on the ship behind him to manage their problem on their own. "Good work," he said aloud, leaping again.

"Masaki-san, do you take to grabbing sleeping girls and running around with them often?"

"Not often," he commented wryly. "I certainly haven't gotten a chance to teach Tenchi how to, yet."

He found purchase on the railing of another freighter, this one sounding loudly with panicked screams and terrified shrieks. Leaping upward to land atop the stacked cargo boxes, he set the girl in his arms down, blinking to see that her clothing had changed from the simple and everyday clothing to the exotic fuku that all of the Senshi seemed to use for battle.

"I see," she said dubiously, recovering her balance and dashing along at a swift pace towards the sounds of screams.

Yosho said nothing, activating his blade and shield absently. "Do you think that you can freeze a reaver?" he asked, as they reached the end of the cargo boxes.

Sparing no time for thought, Ryouga seized Ryu about the waist, wrenching the other boy away from the reaver's spray of blood, umbrella raised above his head and spinning madly. The descending gouts of ichor were halted by the umbrella, which quickly liquefied from contact with the reaver's blood.

Its job done, the lost boy cast it aside as he came to rest on the deck, setting Ryu down carefully. Ryu shot him an appraising look, before turning to study the reaver. Fouled again in Mousse's chain, it was slowly climbing to its feet again, one claw hanging by only a thin fraction of the thing's carapace. "Whoa," Ryu said, impressed.

Ryouga merely grunted.

A brilliant lance of green fire speared across the deck, screaming from a point past Makoto to impact against the incapacitated monster, flaring brightly and forcing it back. More than when Makoto's ball of electricity had slammed into it, or Mousse had pierced the thing's eyes with his needles, the creature thrashed about, shrieking incredibly loudly. Ryu slumped slightly. "The cavalry has arrived," he muttered. "About damn time."

Ryouga nodded stoically, watching the reaver get pushed back along the deck ever so slowly by the force of the beam. Slowly, inexorably, the beam narrowed, weakening, and momentarily, died out.

"Oh, this really just sucks!" Ryu snapped, preparing to attack again.

Ryouga ran past him, drawing back a foot, and launching his most powerful kick into the creature's side. Blackened carapace groaned and cracked alarmingly under the blow, making Ryouga wonder what damage the beam had done, and sent the reaver rolling along the deck, still twitching.

He frowned, glancing behind him. More of the girls had arrived, in their brightly colored skirts, most of them merely staring in shock. Ryouga eyed the reaver, deciding it was, for the moment, not a risk, and slowly made his way to Mousse's side, standing a short distance from the girls. "I guess we got it," he said tiredly, addressing the bespectacled Chinese boy.

Mousse nodded, adjusting his glasses and frowning darkly. "I think the chains are most effective," he noted, "but I'm afraid that I've used all of the chain I had with me."

Grumbling, Ryouga nodded. "I lost an umbrella, and my belt."

The Chinese boy produced a short length of rope from his robes, and handed it to Ryouga. "You can use this in the meantime," he suggested.

"I won't be able to cut anything with this, though," he noted, tying it carefully about his waist.

Mousse shifted suddenly, pointing to the reaver. "It's getting back up. I need a new chain." He turned to look at the girls, frowning, and asked, "Do any of you know where I can get a spare chain?"

"I have one!" the girl in the orange skirt exclaimed. "What do you need it for?"

Mousse rolled his eyes, pointing at the reaver. "To kill that thing!" he snapped.

"Oh. Well, okay, then." The girl paused, gathering her focus for a moment, and pronounced, carefully and deliberately, "Venus love-me chain!" At her words, a sparkling, dazzling golden chain of light erupted from her hands, ringing her in a long circle, looping downwards in a spiral from her head to her ankles. "See? I've got a chain!"

Not waiting to listen to her further speech, and ignoring the 'heart' motif, Mousse grabbed the chain, charging towards the reaver. "Someone hit it with something big," he yelled, leaping upwards, the chain writhing in his hands like a living thing.

A cry echoed from behind him, a voice shouting, "World shaking!"

Not looking back, Mousse launched one end of the chain straight down, the other clenched tightly in his other hand. The chain screamed towards the deck, whipping underneath the reaver and bouncing up the other side. Catching the returning end, Mousse sent it down again, and again it shot underneath the reaver, the other end being caught by Ryu on the return.

The Chinese boy shot Ryu a nod as he landed, and the two strained to pull the chain as powerfully as they could in opposite directions. Through their strength, or maybe through magic, or maybe simply because the reaver had been weakened from being shot with the green beam of energy, the chain bit deeply into its hide, imprisoning it as the two boys fought to hold it steady.

Zeroing in on the reaver with alarming speed, a fiery orb of destruction tore along the deck, plowing up and devastating the metal plating. A ring of flame circled the ball, until it impacted with the trapped reaver, slamming it completely off the deck, where it exploded just in front of the ship, sending the shattered and broken remnants of the creature into the sea below.

Mousse and Ryu blinked in surprise, the chains having melted into nothingness as the ball of fire struck. The girl in the orange skirt dashed to Mousse's side, prattling, "Wow! Wow! That was so cool! I've never seen someone move that fast! You were amazing!"

The boy blinked, scratching his head, and looked to Ryouga as the lost boy approached, smiling grimly. "Good job, Mousse," he congratulated.

"Uh, that was really —" he was interrupted as Ryouga slapped him on the back companionably. "Uh, thanks, but that was really all of us working together, I think."

"Speaking of which," Ryouga asked, frowning, "where is Yosho? It looks like some of the Senshi are missing too."

"And Cologne," Mousse observed.

He moved to step away from the scene of the battle and investigate further — he wanted to know who had fired the green beam of energy, too — but the blonde refused to release his arm. "You sure know how to handle a chain," she said excitedly. "Can you teach me to do that?"

"Uh… maybe," he answered hesitantly. "Um, look, aren't some of you missing? Shouldn't we find them?"

Minako blinked, saying, "Well, Hotaru-chan and Usagi aren't here… I wonder where they are."

"With Michiru," Haruka answered, spinning and running towards the rear of the ship. "Let's hurry!"

Standing at the rear of the ship, Cologne stared into the sea beneath her, some of the little girls still behind her. She'd seen one of them — Makoto — shock Ranma, so assumed they knew some form of magic, but that girl was gone, and Cologne had reason to doubt their effectiveness.

There was a much louder commotion at the prow of the ship, but she trusted the boys to take care of it to the best of their ability. In the meantime, from her vantage, she could see the ocean below. Her eyes, through years of training and her already sharp innate senses, allowed her to peer through the foamy spray.

The deck projected in a manner that she needed to lean precariously far over the deck to see down to the screws. Keeping pace in the water with the ship easily, an inky black form slowly latched onto one, sending much higher waves and plumes of foam upwards.

Taking a cautious step backwards as the ship gave a sudden lurch, she noted, "Well, I think we've just lost a propeller."

A moment later, the screw flew out to the side of the ship, wholly severed, and skipped along the waves before slamming loudly into another freighter, which pealed like a struck bell. Only a half-second later, another pair of screws flew out after the first, missing the struck freighter and sinking harmlessly, before the final shaft was severed. Flying up in a high arc, the last propeller rose above the deck of the ship, spinning, nearly six and a half meters across, spraying sea foam and water about before it reached the apex of its arc, and angled sharply downward, striking the sea with an unsettlingly loud splash.

The small girl with short black hair shifted her grip on her polearm, and frowned. "Where's Ranma-san?" she asked worriedly.

"He's with Pluto, getting something that's supposed to help us win the battle," the girl with the long blonde odangos answered.

"Hmm. Well, let's hope we can counter—" She paused as the deck lurched slightly, the massive bulk of a reaver landing shortly behind her. "Ah, well, look alive, children." Raising her staff defensively, Cologne skipped a half step closer to the reaver, easily slipping around the claw that whipped towards her. The things were much faster than she had expected. Chiding herself, she danced around another claw, stabbing the deck beneath its stationary claw with her staff and shouting, "Bakusai tenketsu!"

The deck-plate exploded, whirling shrapnel being deflected expertly by Cologne's staff, but not phasing the reaver in the slightest — until its ponderous bulk fell, three claws slipping into the newly-created gap. Cologne stepped back, smiling faintly.

An aqua-haired woman took advantage of the reaver's predicament before it could work its way free, and gestured meaningfully, chanting, "Deep submerge!"

Rushing in from nowhere, all at once, a massive wall of water swirled into being, the massive pressures of the water obvious as the force further scarred the already tortured deck. Seeming completely unaffected, the reaver climbed out of the rushing torrent, which Michiru quickly released, eyes wide. "That didn't even slow it down!" she cried, surprised.

"Humph," Cologne muttered, as the water vanished, flowing quickly off the edge of the deck. "I can buy a little more time," she grumped, spinning her staff expertly. The thing generated enough heat that she'd not even need to circle around it. "Take cover," she advised. Turning her full attention to the reaver, she called out much more loudly, "Hiryuu shouten HA!"

The resultant blast of wind launched the massive reaver skyward, and Cologne turned to face the awestruck Senshi. "Now," she asked tersely, "do you have anything else that could hurt this beast?"

Yosho calmly took in the situation, throwing one hand behind him to keep Ami from coming closer. There were things in the melee below that she'd be better off not seeing. "Retreat about twenty meters," he barked, leaping off the edge.

He couldn't know if she'd listen, but as she was only a child, Yosho had no reason to expose her to what lay below.

His footing was sure on the blood-slicked deck below. A cargo-container had been shredded to metal ribbons, and a would-be defender flung against the mess so solidly that his body had been reduced to much smaller ribbons. Viscera and bits of things Yosho would just as soon not think of littered the area, while the reaver stalked resolutely away — towards a frantically screaming mother and her child. More bodies lay scattered about, and Yosho could only attempt to console himself with the fact that had he been slower, there'd have been more.

Acting more on reflex than thought, Yosho slashed across the reaver's carapace twice, prompting the thing to wheel about. Backing away carefully, he leapt upward, over the tortured and ruined steel, taunting, "You know me, monster. I've killed one of your kind before."

Hissing, the creature scrambled over the wreckage, quickly mounting the cargo crates. A quick glance at the drawn and pale face of Ami demonstrated that she had not listened, instead looking to see what Yosho had warned her against. Throwing one arm out as he backed away, he guided the girl in retreat until she recovered her sense, and dashed away. Grunting, he turned to run, only to throw himself to the roof of the cargo-box, as the reaver leapt at him, claws passing scant centimeters from him as he rolled back to his feet.

The reaver skidded to a halt, claws tearing apart the cargo containers as it spun to face Yosho again. Ami dashed nimbly to one side, and turned to face the creature, her expression furious. "For attacking innocent and defenseless humans, you will pay! Shabon spray freezing!"

A whirling blizzard of ice swept from the girl's extended hands, enveloping the reaver entirely in a hail of frozen water. The cold mass expanded, swiftly trapping the reaver in a block of ice. "Impressive," Yosho commented, charging in with blade extended. A solid thrust left the ice largely intact, and pierced the hide — slowly. Once the hide was pierced, Yosho drew the blade viciously upwards, cleaving deep into the creature and laying a massive gash open.

When he judged that the wound would be lethal, he stepped back, releasing his blade, and turned to look at the girl. She was on her hands and knees, retching solidly at the vision she had seen, the mess of bloody ruin that had once been living humans. Yosho almost wanted to retch with her — but there was no more time to waste. Frozen for the time being, the reaver's acidic blood wouldn't flow for a while yet. "This thing should be done for," he said, taking her wrist carefully, and drawing her to her feet. "We need to check the wounded, and see if any of them can be saved."

His words were an immediate bolster to the slight girl, and she nodded with determination. "Let's hurry," she said. "If we can save them…."

Not speaking anymore, Yosho dashed back to the site of the devastation. Survivors wandered about numbly, many of them not able to accept the enormity of the situation. Yosho couldn't blame them, either. It was an ugly thing, war.

Not bothering to ask permission, he seized Ami before jumping to the deck of the ship. The girl could probably navigate her way down on her own, but the experience would obviously have left her very shaken. He set her down, wishing that one so innocent didn't have to see something so bloody.

The messy remains of the man who had been reduced to shreds were gone, and in its place, leaning against the railing heavily, was a man in almost entirely destroyed clothing, carrying a satchel in one hand loosely. He grunted, shaking his head when Yosho approached. "I'll be fine," he muttered.

Yosho nodded slightly, moving on to the next body. A woman, gashed open from shoulder to hip deeply enough to sever her spinal column. He closed the woman's eyes with a backward glance at Ami, and dragged a bloodstained blanket across the corpse.

Ami ignored him, instead looking to a boy who had been flung, rather than cut. His breathing was shallow, likely the result of shattered ribs, and behind him, nursing a stump that had once been a wrist, bandaged with a wadded shirt and still bleeding slowly, was a disheveled man. He ran his one hand through the thin stubble on his face, shaking his head and staring at Yosho with a look of raw hatred. "You're too late," he spat. "Worthless. Worthless freaks!"

Yosho turned his attention back to the boy, whose breathing was slowly becoming shallower. "Mommy?" the child asked softly, coughing, and sending a short spray of blood to fleck his lips. "Where… where are you? It's cold…" he trailed off there, breathing his last, and lying still.

"Damn it," Yosho swore softly. None of the other wounded were moving in the slightest, all of them obviously dead by horribly unsubtle wounds. Ami swallowed nervously, closing the small boy's eyes gently, and turning to Yosho, her own eyes brimming over with sorrow and confusion.

Yosho put one arm about the small girl, allowing her to sob into his robe, as the magnitude of the events finally dawned on her.

His sad suspicion that the day would only get worse was confirmed when the man in the tattered clothing reached into his satchel, produced a gun, and leveled it squarely at Yosho.

Slamming into the deck and further ruining the surface of the ship, the reaver impacted, upside-down, and promptly reversed the jointing on its legs to rise. It was greeted immediately with a, "Moon gorgeous meditation!"

The reaver was instantly enveloped within a seething miasma of swirling lights and flashing colors, sharply pointed fragments all suddenly tightening into the reaver and slowly compressing the creature. It stopped resisting suddenly, and exploded messily with a sickeningly moist 'pop'.

A liberal wave of ichor flew towards Cologne and the Senshi, halted only by a quickly uttered, "Silence wall!"

The old woman raised an eyebrow, impressed to watch the ichor slowly slide down the invisible wall of force, and from there, to swiftly melt into the deck. "That works much better," Cologne said, turning to Usagi. "A bit messy, but it works."

The blonde giggled nervously. "Oops! Thank you, Hotaru-chan!"

Nodding tiredly, the little girl lowered the Glaive, stepping backwards warily as the acidic fluid continued eating away at the deck, slowly dissolving its way through the ship. Michiru mumbled, and used another of her spells to wash the reaver's corpse and the remaining ichor from the ship.

Ryouga and Mousse skidded to a halt only moments later, Ryu a half step behind. "What happened?" Ryouga asked tersely.

"Reaver attack," Cologne said simply. "Looks like they got the ship's propellers."

A trio of Norris' Marines dashed up next, bearing the positronic rifles that Washuu and Durant had built for them. "Is everything okay?" they asked worriedly in English.

"You're late," Ryu snapped back in the same language.

"I needed to wait for clear shots, and then I found out that the battery life on these things isn't as great as we initially imagined." The lead Marine, a massive and well-muscled man with closely cropped blond hair, shook his head. "Sorry," he apologized. "It will not happen again."

"That's for certain," Cologne said. "I'm going to need to talk to Norris. Where's Washuu?"

"Uh…. Sleeping, Ma'am," the Marine said.

"Well, we'd better wake her up."

Yosho flinched, and the man pulled back the trigger on his gun. The bullets tore through the air, all of them passing so close to his face that he could feel the wind of their passage. "Well, that sucked," the man said, absently flinging the gun overboard and marching past him. "Can't risk Tou-Chou here, though."

The former emperor blinked. Ami, still pressed into his chest and sobbing deeply, seemed not to have noticed. Turning to follow the man with his eyes, Yosho beheld the already wounded reaver, not dead as he had assumed. Broken free of the ice, it limped slowly along the deck, no survivors in its path.

As he watched, the man easily removed a medium-sized metallic object from his satchel, and carelessly dropped the bag to the side of the deck. Raising the object, he removed a pin, approaching the wounded reaver, and balling his hand into a fist around it, slammed the appendage directly into the reaver's waiting maw.

Yosho could only stare, shocked, as the man yanked back his arm, severed below the wrist, and laughed maniacally. "Take that, you god-damned worthless bug! You can't kill a Wu!" he roared.

The grenade detonated a half-second later, rocking the reaver, and sending a massive volume of ichor spurting through the gash in its side, flying across the water to strike the waves harmlessly. He shook his head, retrieving his satchel, and completely ignoring his severed hand as the mass of the reaver crashed to the deck behind him, unmoving. Approaching Yosho, he shouldered the satchel. "Knew they'd come in handy some day," he said conversationally.

Yosho blinked again. Ami recovered her composure somewhat, and drew away, eyes red and puffy. She jumped when she saw the man with his newly severed arm, and instantly attempted to assume a businesslike demeanor. "You're hurt," she said. "Let me bind your wound—"

He shook his head, explaining, "It won't be a problem in a few minutes. Hurts like hell, but they can't eat me."

As they watched, a thin red smoke began to creep from the collapsed reaver's corpse, swirling beneath the boy's wrist, and slowly climbing upwards through the air in a spiral, gruesomely reassembling him a centimeter at a time. "Ah," he groaned. "That wasn't as bad as getting shredded, but I think I finally got that bullet out of my gut."

"Pardon?" Yosho asked, stunned.

"I'm Fuji Yakumo," he said, extending the newly reformed hand to Yosho. "Minor Yakuza thug, former employee of a prestigious gay bar, and immortal zombie Wu. Nice to meet you."

Yosho accepted the handshake, dubiously impressed. "There's probably a really interesting story behind that," he commented.

"Oh, yeah," Yakumo responded. "That's for sure. I don't want to talk about the Wu part, though."

"Fair enough," Yosho said, taking his hand back. "Where did you get the pistol and grenades, though?"

"Like I said," Yakumo responded, shrugging, "I hooked up with the Yakuza. Mostly just so I could get what I thought I'd need to protect Pai, but it turns out that most of it's pretty useless against the bugs."

"Reavers," Yosho corrected absently. "Are you interested in fighting them, then?"

"Yeah." Yakumo's expression hardened. "I sent Pai away so she'd be safe, but I figured since I couldn't die, I'd let someone else take my place."

Ami stared, shocked at the man's casual attitude towards his missing, then returned, limb. "Wow," she managed, obviously still shaken.

"Great," Yosho said. "I think we can get one of Washuu's positronic laser rifles for you, then."

"Sounds like fun," the man answered, glancing back at the still form of the reaver behind him.

"What would you have done if your grenade hadn't killed the reaver?" Yosho asked, curious.

"Probably been in a whole lot of trouble," Yakumo admitted. "I do know some… tricks… that might have helped, though."

Yosho nodded, frowning. "I suppose it's not suicidal if you can't actually die…."

"Heh. My boss in the yakuza said the exact same thing."

Frenzied pounding at the door to the room she, Ranma, and Nuku had commandeered from Norris awaked Washuu. Nuku mumbled in her sleep, curling into a tighter ball.

Washuu climbed out of the bed, still tired from converting all of the nuclear warheads into fission batteries. Sleep had been precious and hard to come by, of late; the most restful period she'd had was when Ranma had made her sleep.

Sighing, she climbed to her feet, answering the door. "What is it?" she asked, frowning when she saw the burly Marine that Norris had — much earlier — introduced as Eric Thompson, flanked by another pair of Marines.

"Begging your pardon, Ma'am, but Commodore Norris and Miss Cologne wanted to talk to you — we were attacked by reavers a moment ago," he answered respectfully, removing his cap as he addressed her.

"Where's Ranma?" Washuu asked, frowning.

"I'm afraid I don't know, Ma'am."

"Fine," Washuu muttered, shooting one last glance at Nuku before stepping out of the room and closing the door behind her.

The Marines swiftly led her to a large meeting room, Norris and the majority of the Senshi already present. Cologne nodded, and Washuu frowned, noticing someone missing. "Where's Yosho?"

Norris answered quickly, "He's on another ship. He radioed us with his location, and I sent a chopper to bring him here. He said he'd stopped a reaver on another ship."

"Okay," Washuu said, frowning. "What happened, then?"

"We were attacked about ten minutes ago, by six reavers. Two of them attacked here, on the Kitty Hawk. Barring some incidental damage," Norris broke off, frowning at the Senshi, then Ryouga and Mousse, "both of them were stopped with no casualties, save the loss of the Kitty Hawk's drive-shafts. Four other ships reported attacks, one of which was stopped by Yosho, and his apparent newfound ally. After Yosho stopped the third reaver, the remaining three retreated."

Norris paused, clearing his throat and looking upwards. "Casualties on the ship Yosho defended were minimal, but present. Casualties on the other three ships are… high."

Washuu winced, drawing in a breath and hissing. 'High' probably meant dozens — maybe even hundreds. Any loss was unacceptable, in her estimation, but that just made it that much worse. Likely each of the defenders was berating themselves for what they all saw as a personal failure.

"However," Norris said, once his composure was recovered, "to counter the threat, I have sent a Marine to each of the ships, all armed with positronic lasers, and prepared to defend them to the death. There will not be another failure of this magnitude."

His eyes turned to Washuu, hardening. "Miss Hakubi, if you don't mind me asking, where was Ranma?"

"Oh!" the blonde Senshi with the blue skirt exclaimed, still a little pale from the news. "He's in fifteen-hundred something. He had to go back in time to get something that would help us fight."

Norris stared at the girl for a moment, and nodded his head. "Okay," he said evenly. "Regardless, we now have to revise our plans. I cannot imagine that anything other than a trap will be waiting for us in Shanghai." He sighed, leaning his head back and staring at the ceiling again. "Is there anything we need to know about the reavers, Miss Hakubi? Any other ability of theirs we should be aware of?"

"Ah… they're clever, and they know how to set traps. When Ranma was in Tokyo, they had rigged a building to collapse easily, and left a little girl inside the trap to act as bait," she said slowly. "I wouldn't put it past them to try the same again."

"What happened to the little girl?" Usagi asked breathlessly.

"Ranma saved her. Tsunami teleported him out of danger before he was crushed. However," she warned, "Tsunami's not here, nor do we have the protection of the Home Fleet."

The room fell silent for a moment, and then Mousse spoke up, hesitantly, "We might have found something out about the reavers, though."

Ryouga nodded, adding, "They seem to react strangely to ki."

Norris frowned, crossing his arms over his chest. "Ki? I don't understand. What are you talking about?" he asked.

"Ah…" Cologne answered, filling in when Mousse and Ryouga weren't able to put it into words. "Think of it as the native life-force in a being. Or, better, think of it as being somewhat like… 'The Force' in your 'Star Wards' movies."

"'Star Wars'," Ryu corrected, grinning. "That's where the idea was stolen from anyway."

Washuu frowned, shaking her head. "Wait," she said slowly, blinking. "I think I understand it. You call it ki, but it's actually a quantum signature — the essence that defines what and who any living being is. Reavers have no quantum signature, and because of that, projecting one on them would make them unable… unable to phase!" she cried out, standing triumphantly.

"Of course, that's it!" she continued. "Ranma said that the first time he fought a reaver, he attacked it with a bolt of his 'ki' while it was phasing through something, and it got stuck! A reaver can't handle the imprint of a quantum signature, so anything carrying enough of that force to imbue them will affect their abilities. They wouldn't be able to phase due to their own lack of a quantum signature — it's so obvious now!

"It's the same reason that Ryouko or Ranma wouldn't be able to phase through most living creatures, unless they were small, like insects — or plants, which have more diffuse signatures. That's also why the reavers can't phase through people."

"How does this help us?" Norris asked quickly.

"I use ki in the iron cloth technique," Ryouga said slowly. "That seems to let me chip away at their hides, but not very quickly."

"And they can't phase through the chains I throw at them," Mousse mused. "They also seem to have more trouble breaking them."

"Excellent," Cologne said, nodding. "That should mean that my spear-sisters should be able to provide substantial aid to us. And… should Ranma somehow curry his favor, Herb."

Ryouga and Mousse both shivered at that mention, prompting Washuu to wonder what she hadn't been told of him.

"Okay," Norris said, frowning. "That's something, at least. We're going to reach Shanghai in an hour. All we can say for certain is that if the reavers are there, we're not going to have enough time. Washuu, I know you had a lot of trouble with the lasers, and I'm afraid to ask, but how long is it going to take you to assemble your 'Gate', how large will it be, and how quickly can we evacuate everyone here?"

Washuu licked her lips, frowning thoughtfully. "Well," she said, "I'll be able to do that much faster, since I brought the parts for it with me. I wasn't expecting to have to make a positronic laser. It's a testament to my genius that I was able to make them as quickly as I could, given the inferior lab conditions."

Norris sighed. "It's the best we have," he mumbled. "How long?"

"I can probably have it set up in two or three hours," Washuu answered. "It's about ten meters wide, so people will be able to go through fairly quickly, but it will probably take several more hours for everyone who's leaving to walk through. There are, after all, millions of people here."

Nodding, the commodore said, "Less than a day, then. We'll need to hold the city until the day ends, at the very least. Very well. I believe that's possible. How long will it take us, with our much reduced task-force, to reach the Joketsuzoku territories?"

"Well, if we're lucky, we can commandeer vehicles in Shanghai. Given the state that the city appeared in from the last satellite image I got of it, that should be entirely possible. Ah… with that, considering the number of people and the amount of equipment we're moving, we can hope for two weeks, perhaps less. We must keep in mind that our route crosses rivers, and likely, the reavers will have destroyed any bridges."

"It's better news than I was expecting," Norris mumbled. "Okay, we should me making port in an hour or so — the Chancellorsville and Cowpens are going to tow us in. My Marines are going to get to work clearing the flight deck, and doing everything that they can to make it launch-ready for our planes. In the meantime, we're keeping an eye on the sonar for reaver attacks. Please remain in areas where you will be able to hear alarms when they sound."

With that, the man nodded politely, and marched from the room.

The rest of the voyage was without remarkable event, other than the Navy's two cruisers moving into position and towing the much larger carrier.

As Norris had instructed, all of the refugees gathered up their things, the entire sea of tents being bundled up and stowed away. The Americans were left to mill about restlessly, as flight crews began to inspect the deck for usability. One catapult and ramp were left unobstructed, and the men focused all of their attention and energy on that, while the massive elevators ferried a small group of planes up from beneath the decks.

In short order, ten of the fighters were launched, as the city of Shanghai came into view, breaking the monotony of the sea. The first skyscrapers and towers came into view, prompting the majority of the refugees to murmur amongst themselves quietly, unsure of what would happen next.

The wounded carrier was nudged carefully into place at the quay, as the rest of the ships made port, hastily mooring and allowing the panicked passengers to disembark. Scurrying to cordon off the area before anyone could wander into potentially dangerous areas, Marines equipped with only standard military armament secured a perimeter.

Through the 'safe' zone, a path avoiding passing directly next to any high-rise buildings led to Renmin Park. Escorted by Eric and the pair of Marines with him, Washuu found herself left there, with Norris nearby, overseeing an impromptu command center and listening carefully to the idle radio chatter of his men.

Focusing herself on the task of assembling the Gate from the components stored in her subspace pockets, Washuu tried to shake off a feeling of impending disaster.

Ryouga paced back and forth on the street nervously. "A city this big shouldn't be this empty," he said nervously. "Where the hell is everyone?"

Mousse shook his head, pointing to a hardware store. "I don't know, but I need some more chain. You probably want more cloth, don't you?" he asked.

Behind them Ryu shook his head, glancing towards the street. "You guys," he said, "just wait here. We don't want to break in — we'll scare them." There was no reason to say who the 'them' in question was. Standing impatiently in their large column, leading all the way back to the still-anchored fleet, the mass of refugees waited. "They'll riot and go nuts. We can't have that."

Agreeing fully, Ryouga lamented, "If there was a way to get in and get chain without alarming anyone, I'd be for it. How are we…."

He trailed off, realizing that Ryu was already gone, vanished. "Where did he go?" Mousse asked, peering about for a moment before removing his glasses to polish them.

Makoto grinned proudly, exclaiming, "Ryu-chan's clever. Don't you worry."

Ryouga shook his head, turning back to regard the girl. "Look," he said flatly, "we need to work together for this to work. That means that we can't have people running off like that — like Norris said, we need to listen to whoever the team leader is."

"Of course, Team Leader," Makoto responded, her smile lessening.

Sighing, Ryouga glanced at the rest of his team. The combination was impromptu, but had proven effective before. Hence, he was allied with Ryu, Mousse, Minako, and Makoto. Haruka was sent to aid Yosho, and his new ally, who Ryouga hadn't met yet, while one of the Marines who Ryouga did not know the name of replaced her.

Ryu returned, seeming to melt out of the morning air, arriving at the same moment as the beginning of the pre-dawn glow. "Here you go, Fearless Leader," he said, tossing a small bolt of linen to Ryouga.

The lost boy caught the cloth, as Ryu handed what was probably one hundred meters or more of heavy chain over to Mousse. The nameless Marine shifted his stance slightly, positronic laser slung over one shoulder strap, and two of Washuu's fission batteries hanging from another. Ryouga smiled at the man encouragingly, setting about tearing the cloth into smaller, more usable strips.

Mousse busied himself making his new chain disappear into his robes, to Minako's extreme fascination. "I wish that Ranma's partner were here," he commented absently, the last links disappearing into his robes.

Ryu frowned. "The little fuzzy thing?" he asked. "Why?"

"It can sense reavers," he answered. "So can Ranma… wherever he is." Mousse shivered, wheeling about.

"These people are packed in too tightly," Makoto observed. "If a reaver does show up, and they panic, it's going to get ugly."

"Fine," Ryouga snapped, "we'll fight, you can deal with the crowd."

"What, you think we can't fight?"

"I know you can," Ryouga answered, grinning and showing his elongated canines. "But I know I can't calm people down as well, and Mousse is better at fighting than Aino-san, I'm betting."

Minako nodded confirmation. "He is really good with a chain," she admitted. "And who better to calm the panicking crowds then the sailor-suited soldier of love?"

"Probably," Ryu agreed. "I know I'm not so hot with the whole 'people skills' thing."

"Exactly," Minako returned. "Necessity is the mother of strange bedfellows! No, wait, that's not right…."

"Close enough," Ryu said, smirking.

The docks were teeming with people who weren't certain what was happening, and were afraid of finding something had gone wrong. They were barely kept below a panic, and then only because of the escape — finally — from the confinement of the fleet.

At Yosho's side, Yakumo prowled restlessly, rifle slung over one shoulder, satchel of grenades and spare batteries on the other. Ami sat nearby, staring into the murky water as it lapped against the concrete barrier beneath her, lost in thought. Yosho could tell she'd rather be with her friends, still traumatized by what had happened already, but she obviously considered herself something of a soldier, and refused to back down from what she saw as an order.

Brooding silently on her own, sword spinning through her fingers as she distracted herself, Haruka stood nearby, though it took Yosho a long minute to equate her to the blonde 'man' he had met what seemed to be so long ago.

"I feel like I might be able to make a difference now," Yakumo confessed.

Yosho nodded, maintaining his silent vigil over the crowds. In the skies above the city, he glanced upwards. The fighters streaking along all turned seaward together, all of them ejecting from their planes within the span of a few seconds, parachuting downward while their planes continued onward, flying for long minutes before crashing into the sea, too spent of fuel to detonate.

The people stirred slowly, and Ami broke from her brooding to watch, fearing an outbreak of panic and rioting. But the refugees calmed slowly, having been told of the plan before.

Yosho flexed his hands, waiting. It was only a matter of time. The tension in the air was almost a tangible, crackling force. Ami climbed to her feet, fidgeting nervously, and finally consulting a small pocket computer. "I hope this can sense them coming," she muttered quietly.

Eyes closed, Cologne mentally thanked the goddesses of the Joketsuzoku territories. The light of the pre-dawn began its gentle glow, brightening the sky, and reassuring the people in the crowds before her. Behind her, Eric stood impassively, rifle in his hands and eyes busily scanning for anything out of the ordinary.

Dozens of his Marine brethren lined the roads, most of them bearing much more ordinary weapons. He was loyal to a fault, Cologne observed within only a few moments of having the man told to follow her orders. His unquestioning loyalty spoke poorly of his sense of self-preservation.

Behind him, the same girls who had followed her earlier lounged about idly, waiting for something to happen. "Girls," she said softly, "be ready. This is likely to be a dangerous battle, should we be attacked. Do you know what to do if we get attacked?"

"Destroy the reavers!" Hotaru answered instantly.

"Yes, that's good, but you also must do everything you can to keep people calm," Cologne said. "It's very important that we be careful."

"You don't really think we'll be attacked, do you, Ma'am? Begging your pardon, but we scared them off earlier, thanks to your work," Eric rumbled.

"I'd be willing to bet on it," Cologne assured him. "Just you be ready."

Eric nodded, his eyes still searching for possible dangers. The fighters passed overhead, the pilots ejecting, and angling their parachutes towards the park. In a neat line from the harbor, arrayed evenly along the path from the quay to the park, the four groups were lined up to provide point-defense, and scramble to fight off any attacking reavers.

Firstly, Yosho's team at the quay. Secondly, Cologne's group, as they were, approximately one third of the way to the park. Ryouga's group was further down, closer to the park. Norris had his men spread evenly along the course, save a reserve group of six additional soldiers to secure Renmin Park. Fully one hundred more soldiers, armed with only standard weapons lined the plaza where the Gate was being assembled, ready to charge through the moment it was completed and secure the area beyond.

The old woman idly wished that Ranma were nearby. "What are you waiting for?" she murmured softly. "What do you gain by waiting to attack?"

Wiping sweat off her brow, Washuu shivered, then turned her attention back to the Gate before her. The physical structure itself was completed, but the delicate wiring would take another hour, at least. She glanced briefly at the large temple a short distance away from the plaza she was using to stage the Gate, then back to her project.

The refugees were kept far enough that they couldn't see her working, nor could she see them. She didn't blame Norris for making that decision — the pressure would have been even more stressful than the existing situation was. A short distance away, still not activated, sat the beacon. Once the final refugee was through the Gate, and the beacon was loaded up in a vehicle of some sort, it would be switched on. Until then, it remained ready, but deactivated.

Washuu sighed, opening a panel in the side of the gleaming metal archway. Ten meters across, and another three high, it should be enough to accommodate the volume it would need to move swiftly. Washuu was worried, however, that the reavers would be attracted to its subspace pockets, which seemed to interest them more than anything else would.

Nuku stood to Washuu's side, carrying Ran-oh-ki and keeping him out of trouble — which was the task Washuu had charged her with. "Is Ran-oh-ki Nuku-Nuku's little brother?" she asked curiously.

"Something like that," Washuu said, aligning delicate circuitry with meticulous precision.

"Where is Ranma-papa-san?"

"Traveling through time, apparently," Washuu grumbled.

"Is something wrong with that?" Nuku asked, confused.

Washuu took a breath to calm herself. "Well," she said carefully, "that is the kind of thing I would have appreciated more warning about, if you stop to think of it. Taking a jaunt into the past several centuries, without the decency to even leave a note! Really!"

Nuku blinked several times. "Oh," she said quietly.

Sighing, the redhead said, "I'm sorry, Nuku, I'm just a little busy. It's not your fault."

The girl remained quiet, simply staring at Ran-oh-ki, deep in thought.

The hopes of keeping people from panicking were shattered swiftly. The first reaver rose in the center of the crowd, a whirling mass of sharp claws and swift death.

Swearing loudly, Yosho moved to rush the creature, only to be distracted by another rising from the sea that the screaming and terrified people were running towards in their blind fear. "Ami, freeze the one in the crowd, Haruka, once it's frozen, break it. Yakumo, help me with this one," he snapped quickly, calling his blade and shield to him as he charged the reaver.

Yakumo fell behind quickly, not able to keep Yosho's frantic pace. A few stray streams of brilliant green light over the older man's head sent the panicked people wildly fleeing the reaver, and allowed Yosho a chance to engage it without having to worry about bystanders.

His shield narrowly deflected a claw, and he wheeled, not desiring to combat it directly. Luring it to the side, he glanced at Yakumo. The boy had dropped to one knee, braced firmly, and thumbed a switch on the rifle before unleashing a much more potent stream of green fire at the reaver.

The blast slammed into the unsuspecting creature, and it spun to immediately charge Yakumo. Yakumo grinned, dropping his spare fission batteries and clenching a grenade by the pin in his teeth. Remembering how Yakumo had defeated the last reaver — even if he didn't entirely approve — Yosho leapt above the reaver, dropping his shield and transferring the full power of the substitute key to the blade.

The humming energy dug through the thick carapace, and the reaver sank immediately through the cement beneath Yosho, leaving him to roll on the pavement before righting himself warily.

Yakumo swore loudly around the pin in his mouth, lowering the rifle and checking a setting on the gun. "That was about forty percent of the whole charge," he yelled to Yosho. "Where the hell did it go?"

Alerted by his own keen senses, Yosho twisted to one side, long before Yakumo's shouted warning reached him. A black claw, two meters and more in length, sliced through the air behind him, slamming into the concrete with enough force to shatter it before sinking again.

Casting about with his eyes, and frowning, Yakumo held his rifle away from him, to his side. Yosho wondered why, until the reaver's next pass struck him much faster than the less experienced boy could react, cleaving deep into his shoulder and nearly slicing the boy in two.

Stumbling, Yakumo dropped his rifle, clutching the wound in agony. "Shit!" he swore, as the reaver's claw dipped beneath the paved surface once more. "How the hell are we supposed to get this thing?"

Yosho leapt upward, dodging the reaver's next strike. Perhaps expecting the dodge, the reaver surfaced, its hulking mass moving more quickly than Yosho had expected, claws and gaping maw reaching upwards after him.

Yelling incoherently, Yakumo pitched as hard as he could, launching his grenade towards Yosho with all the force he could muster. The Juraian acted swiftly, one hand grabbing it, yanking the pin out in the same motion, and hurling the activated explosive downward as hard as he could.

Ami struggled to follow Yosho's order, but the pressing crush of fleeing refugees was too thick for her to muscle her way through. Seeing her partner struggle, Haruka held her sword aloft, shouting, and the crowds parted, refugees giving way even in their fear.

The reaver killed with an almost contemptuous ease, claws lashing out to impale and eviscerate all within its reach, as it was able to move that much faster than the fleeing citizenry could. "Halt!" Ami screamed, unable to stomach the bloodshed further. "In the name of Mercury, I will punish you!"

Not even realizing she had summoned it until the device was in her hands, she focused her will through the Aqua Harp. Preparing herself, she yelled, "Mercury aqua mirage!" Like chords of music, liquid ice exploded from the harp in her hands, arcing out, wide, and then zeroing back in on the reaver, instantly enveloping it in a solid block.

Heaving for breath, Ami struggled to keep her attention on the monster, and away from the bodies on the ground. At her side, not waiting for her confirmation that all was ready, Haruka invoked her own attack, crying out, "Space sword blaster!" She swung her sword before her in a dizzyingly swift arc, and a crescent of golden energy speared forward from that arc, slamming into the frozen reaver with explosive force. Trapped within the ice, half of the entire creature was sheared away from a slightly larger mass of ice, falling to the ground to slowly thaw.

The two both stared at the aftermath of their work quietly after that. Never before had their duty been so… gruesome. "Ami?" Haruka asked softly, placing a gentle hand on the girl's shoulder. "Are you okay?"

"No," Ami said flatly. "And I don't think I will be for quite some time."

Haruka nodded wordlessly at that.

Rolling from its upright position, the reaver vomited a stream of thick yellow ichor, and the grenade detonated in a pool of the stuff, spraying it everywhere. Yosho shifted stances abruptly, using the shield to deflect it as it showered down about him. Yakumo ignored it, out of range, and rushed the reaver with another grenade. "Die!" he shouted, removing the pin and attempting to slam the grenade-laden fist into the reaver's mouth.

Yosho raised his shield, ducking and expanding it, as the monster refused to open its mouth, actually backing away from the explosive-bearing madman. The grenade detonated, tearing Yakumo's body apart, and having no discernable effect on the reaver.

Cursing again, Yosho switched the balance of energy back to the sword, hacking one limb off and dancing out of the range of the spurting wound. The reaver whirled, slashing out with another claw, which Yosho again severed. Howling, the reaver rushed, forcing Yosho to retreat, attempting to slash at him. His counters were hampered by the need to shield against the constant streams of toxic ichor, and he hissed with anger when he realized he was slowly being forced back towards the panicking crowd.

A few projectiles whizzed past him, bouncing off the reaver's hide with no effect. "Idiots," Yosho grumbled, edging backwards in a curving arc, to stall the inevitable. A random slash with his sword broke open several of the monster's eyes, showering him with ichor that was only just barely turned back by the shield.

Yosho slipped backwards, preparing to leap over the reaver, and slipped, falling flat on his back. Swearing loudly again, he rolled away, as the reaver triumphantly lurched forward to strike him — and was suddenly halted.

Another lance of brilliant green light shot out from one side, penetrating the gaping wound that Yosho had left after severing the first claw. Shuddering to a sudden, violent stop, the reaver collapsed, bleeding its toxic fluid out still.

Climbing to his feet and turning to face his savior, Yosho was stunned to see Yakumo, grinning like the madman Yosho thought he was, one eye missing, and his left arm still reforming. His rifle hung loosely in his right hand, and he spoke slowly, as missing pieces slowly wove themselves back into place, "Sorry about that."

"You really can't die," Yosho whispered, shocked.

"We've all got our curses to bear. Where are the girls?"

Ami and Haruka approached slowly, heads bowed. "What's wrong?" Yosho asked, scanning them for wounds. "Did you stop the reaver?"

"Yes," Haruka said quietly, raising her head to meet Yosho's gaze. "But not in time."

Yakumo sighed, ejecting the fission battery from his rifle, and replacing it with another before retrieving his grenade satchel. "Let's see what we can do to get these people back under control," he said tersely.

Yosho heaved a deep breath, as the people — slowly — began to calm. Cries echoed from the crowd, unkind and accusing, "Idiots!"

"Why couldn't you save them?"

Ryouga tensed, radio static from the radio on his belt breaking, as a warning came through, "Reavers are attacking the harbor, repeat, reavers are attacking the harbor."

"Okay," Ryouga barked, glancing about him, "if they're coming, they're coming soon, so everyone be careful. I'm going stay here, Kino, Aino, you two stay close by and try to keep people calm — somehow. Ryu, see if you can get on top of that building and try to keep an eye out."

The group did as Ryouga instructed, the nameless Marine simply unslinging his weapon and holding at the ready, since he hadn't been told to do anything else. Ryu bounded directly to the front window of the five-story hotel that Ryouga had indicated, and slammed through the glass to disappear inside. Mousse dropped a length of chain to dangle below his sleeve in preparation, while Ryouga snapped one of the lengths of cloth he had wrapped about his arms for easy access into a makeshift blade.

Ryu emerged onto the roof of the building he had been instructed to climb, and looked around, scanning further up and down the line of people. A few of the Marines with their standard weaponry became more watchful as well.

The first of the reavers emerged from beneath the crowd in front of the building Ryu stood atop, and he shouted a warning — too late for many. The reaver burst up from beneath the ground too fast for the majority of the bystanders to evade, and there was little space for them to move to, packed as they were.

Mousse took to the air instantly, throwing and weaving his chains, Ryouga a half step behind him. The Marine swore loudly, and leapt atop a nearby newspaper vending machine, waiting for a clear shot.

The crowd was spared the full and immediate impact of the reaver's claws as a golden chain of hearts wrapped around the reaver, quickly expanding outwards and pushing the bystanders to safety. There were those who could not be saved, reduced already to corpses, but Ryouga spared no thoughts for them, focusing instead on the immediate task of halting the reaver.

Mousse's chains entangled it before it could attempt to surge across the glowing golden barrier of hearts, fouling it easily as the Chinese boy landed at one edge of the circular perimeter. Ryouga threw back his arms and hurled his makeshift iron cloth sword, which cut into the reaver's carapace, sending chips of black hide flying. Landing opposite Mousse, Ryouga circled to the left, remembering the Marine with his rifle, and lashed out with another cloth at the creature's legs, avoiding Mousse's chain.

"Where's Ryu?" he yelled, as Makoto lobbed a massive ball of electricity at the reaver, and the Marine chose that moment to strike the incapacitated creature with a dazzling display of pyrotechnics. Sparks flew wide, the green beam lancing into the reaver's hide, widening and becoming brighter as the Marine increased the intensity of the beam, and Minako expanded the cordon of the golden links, allowing him more room. Mousse warily stepped to one side, holding another chain at the ready.

The beam of energy faded and died, while the Marine fumbled with the battery. The reaver, taking advantage of the situation, began to sink through the ground, pressing itself flat so that Mousse could not entangle it in further chain.

"No!" Ryouga groaned, seeing the Marine drop the fission battery, and still struggling to load his weapon. If the reaver escaped, it would return more dangerous, as Yosho had warned, and then they'd truly have no chance. "No!" he whispered hoarsely, remembering, as the reaver snapped the chains already containing it, one by one.

Washuu had said that ki kept them from working correctly. Nothing left but to hope — despite the futility of the situation.

"Give him room!" Mousse yelled frantically, leaping clear, as Ryouga stepped slowly and deliberately forward. "More room!" he shouted at Minako.

She obliged, pressing the already crowded people even tighter, while Makoto yelled to them to move calmly. But Ryouga was beyond hearing that at the moment. "Perfect," he uttered aloud, the words causing all else to fall silent, a silence so clear and sublime he felt certain that his thudding heart would be audible to the crowd.

Ranma had killed reavers before. Ranma had fought them and won. Ranma had saved Akane. Ryouga desperately wanted to be able to make a difference, but it was becoming increasingly apparent that he wasn't good enough — all he could do was chip its hide, when he'd watched Ranma claw directly through one. He was utterly worthless when it came to battling the monsters.

The next syllables followed, nearly of their own accord, "Shishi houkodan."

Not a roar, not a yell, merely a whisper, and then the force of his will was realized in a rushing torrent of coruscating green ki-flame, descending in a pillar from the heavens as if to sunder the Earth itself.

And where was Ryu, anyway? Or Ranma? Ryu he'd expect to ignore him when he was about to die, but he'd thought better of Ranma.

Ryu would have missed it, were he standing on the ground, but from the top of the building, the faint tremor was an instant alarm to him. Not sparing a moment to signal, since the others were already fighting, he sent a quick prayer that Makoto would be safe to whatever gods were willing to listen, and bodily heaved himself towards the stairwell. Hurtling all the way down the stairwell to the basement, he didn't pause to allow his body to adjust until he reached the basement. Staring about the mostly empty space, he backpedaled furiously.

In the dim, far corner, quickly and efficiently, another reaver was destroying the support columns for the building. Ryu swore softly.

He was not a genius of architecture, but he knew from long experience — and thankfully rare practice — how to knock a house down. The reaver was going to knock the building down atop the street, crushing all the innocents below. "They can set traps," he realized, before swiftly moving to the nearest support column.

Fighting the reaver was a losing proposition. He had learned well enough from the battle earlier that he could not expect to fight them alone and win.

But he knew one thing he could do. Hoping the reaver wouldn't notice him, he used the stealth granted by the Umisenken, and lined himself up along the line of support columns. If he could break all of them before the reaver stopped him, the building would collapse directly atop itself, sparing the refugees.

The stealth held, despite his shortage of time — in only minutes, or less, the reaver would have destroyed enough of the foundation to send the building crashing down. Braced, he roared, "Kachuu houju satsu!" He wrapped his arms around the cement support, the force enough to shatter it to ruble in only moments. Dashing immediately to the next column, he again roared, and crushed it, too.

The ceiling above him creaked alarmingly, and he leapt in a low arc to the next column, landing in a tight roll. As he expected, the reaver's claw slashed through the area he had been in, decimating the third column.

"That's right, bug!" he yelled, flying past the next column, and wheeling to face the monster as it shambled forward. "Do my dirty work for me!"

Moving more quickly, the reaver ran directly through the fourth column without disrupting it in the slightest. "Ahh… crap," Ryu swore.

Turning about, he quickly embraced the fifth column. Breaking it would weaken the building, but he needed to destroy the final pillar before he could make it collapse, and that meant slipping past the reaver — unless he could depend on some flaw, or maybe some outside force knocking it down. "Kachuu houju satsu!" he declared a final time, only just ducking out of the reach of the reaver's grasping claws.

Finally adjusting the battery cartridge correctly and slamming it home, Ray Ericson looked back up to the street, and gaped as he watched a young boy walk to the reaver's side, and turn a section of the street into the roaring inferno of Hell.

A massive pillar of the hellish green light washed down from beneath the clouds, impacting the ground and tearing it up, making a massive crater as the refugees cowered behind the dubious protection of the orange-skirted girl's chain. The green flames rained down upon the reaver, which stuck halfway in the ground it was attempting to sink through.

On and on the flood of power went, leaving everyone to stare in shock, while the boy maintained his position. The ground beneath his feet was compacted, blasted, and dug away, but he remained standing, untouched and undamaged, only bowing his head. The five-story hotel behind the boy collapsed, likely from the tremendous wind pressures of the blast, and still it did not stop.

Only when the crater was easily four meters deep, the reaver trapped in a strange protrusion in the center of the crater, its hide slowly flaying away under the tide, did it end.

The boy raised his head, managed a wan smile, and collapsed. The Chinese boy with the chains barked a command to Ray, and he reflexively raised his rifle, centering the damaged hide in his sights and pulling the trigger. The beam of power again lanced forth, this time holing the struggling creature entirely, and sending a wash of its blood down into the crater.

A mass of chains flew from the Chinese boy's sleeves, tangling the unconscious summoner of the green flames and hauling him back to the lip of the crater before he could be touched by the thick, yellow ichor.

Shouldering his weapon quickly, Ray swallowed. His commander was out of commission, and as far as he knew, that boy was the only one with an appreciable grasp of English aside from the boy in fatigues — who was missing. "What next?" he managed in his rough, pidgin Japanese.

"Where's Ryu?" the green-skirted girl asked suddenly, staring at the building in horror.

The orange-skirted girl let her glowing chain vanish, sinking to her knees with exhaustion after her extensive use of power. Ray couldn't even pretend to understand it, but he could respect it. He motioned the girl in the green skirt to follow him, and trotted briskly around the perimeter of the crater, the refugees giving him and the people trailing a wide berth.

Pausing at the edge of the collapsed building, forced to fall back and away from the street by the force of the blast, Ray paused. He hadn't the slightest clue on how to proceed.

The green-skirted girl saved him the embarrassment, crying out and hauling a body from the wreckage. Not a body, he noted with relief, but someone who was still alive. The other boy in the group. One arm hung at an awkward angle, and a small gash near his calf spoke of his injuries, but he roused when freed.

He mumbled something Ray couldn't understand, and then shook his head, repeating it in English for Ray's sake. "One more, under there," he managed.

The Marine leveled his rifle at the mess of the building, scanning around frantically as he backed up onto the narrow clear space between the rubble and the crater. "Where?" he asked tersely. That question answered itself a heartbeat-later, as one massive claw ponderously freed itself.

Not waiting for a signal, Ray leveled his rifle and fired at the limb, maintaining a steady bead on it until the appendage was severed completely, spurting ichor across the wooden beams and concrete chunks pinning the monster down. Commodore Norris had mentioned that some of the defenders had a way to keep the monsters from passing through solid objects. The green hell-fire must have been the attack he had meant. Shrugging, Ray made the most of it; since the reaver was pinned for the moment, it was essentially at his mercy.

The girls nodded with grim approval when he switched to the third and final fission battery, opening the beam to its most intense setting and spearing directly through to the reaver. Shrill screams from the monster told him that the aim was good, until the last battery was drained.

Still, the monster wasn't killed, and he ducked his head in embarrassment. The first battery had only recharged itself just past sixty percent. It would have to be enough. He was dimly aware of the crowd yelling at him to hurry as the next battery was slammed home, and he opened fire upon the creature for the final time.

The first rays shone through a gap in the buildings as the rising sun peeked over the horizon, flooding the plaza with its warm glow.

Glancing nervously about herself, and attempting to remain focused on the task at hand, Washuu listened to the radio chatter from Norris's command center. The first report had said that the reavers in the harbor had been halted, with casualties. The second announced that the reavers in 'section three' had been neutralized with minimal casualties.

She was expectant. The reavers would strike again; the question was merely 'where'.

That question answered itself all too quickly.

The heavy foliage that hid Washuu from the refugees, and the refugees from her, erupted with the forms of a multitude of reavers. Norris barked a quick order, and the Marines lining the plaza whirled, attempting to lay down suppressing fire with their rifles, which had no effect. Dashing to positions around the Gate that they had sworn to defend, six more Marines bearing positronic laser rifles opened fire on the reavers.

Undaunted, the reavers only fractionally slowed their forward surge, driving recklessly towards the Gate. Washuu numbly realized that, in some fashion, they had to know what it meant. And that was why they had all converged on the Gate. If only she had been able to know that they were that much more intelligent than she had originally thought….

Fully six reavers, an uncountable number of tons of black death and destruction, plowed forward, the piercing beams of the Marines only slowing them slightly.

Washuu dropped her tool, allowing it to slip through limp fingers, as the sudden, shaking realization that the battle was lost reached her, offset oddly by the tinkling sound of the metallic wand she had dropped bouncing off the stone beneath her.

For over twenty thousand years she had lived, learned, and survived, only to have it ended in some miserable backwater planet. She could escape, doubtlessly. She was resourceful, but she didn't think that she could bring herself to abandon the Gate, and more importantly, the refugees. And worse yet, somehow nagging at the back of her mind to remind her of something missing, Ranma was still not there.

Nuku shattered the morbid thoughts, calmly pressing Ran-oh-ki into Washuu's hands, then turning to take a position behind the Marines, crying out a defiant, "Nuku-Nuku will not let you hurt Washuu-mama-san!"

And despite her bravado, even as the energy from the Marine's rifles began to waver, and die, Nuku shivered. The failing beams winked out, all in rapid succession as their energies were spent.

In that moment, as the Marines all struggled to switch their battery cartridges, the sun fully cleared the horizon.

Shimmering before them, as the reavers surged forward like a tide of doom, a Gate opened. Then there was a whirring noise, and a resonating 'snicker-snack'.

And in that moment, hope was saved, for standing coolly and calmly, clad in red robes, massive sword extended behind him as he came to rest from his strike, Ranma had returned. He turned slowly, as the reaver immediately behind him fell to the stone plaza in two separate pieces.

And in a loud, confident voice that touched Washuu's heart in a way she hadn't thought possible, he declared to the creatures that had halted their charge to face him, "I am Higurashi Ranma. And today is the day that you die."


To be continued.

Author's notes: I love Resistance Line.

Thanks to Ginrai, Ladegard, Slacker, Bjorn, David 'Fido' Lindquist, Aaron Nowack, Alex Raven, William Dix, and MageOhki for pre-reading.

For those who want to know, there is a running tally of losses incurred to the reavers, though it will contain *spoilers*, if you read it before this chapter. You can find that here:


Remember, SPOILERS, so read the fic first. :p

Part 9
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Last revision: January 7, 2006

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