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Part 9

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! I highly recommend listening to 'Resistance Line' for the opening scene of this chapter (Wild Arms 2 OST, disc 2, track 1). To quote Durant: "Nothing says love like violence."

"This bloody road remains a mystery
"This sudden darkness fills the air
"What are we waiting for?
"Won't anybody help us?
"What are we waiting for?
"We can't afford to be innocent
"Stand up and face the enemy
"It's a do or die situation
"We will be Invincible…."

—Pat Benatar — Invincible.

"I, myself, came within inches of losing my life on that day. The… heroes, I suppose… they tried their hardest, but it wasn't good enough. We were helpless. Defenseless. We could only sit there and wait to be mown down like wheat, praying that guardians that weren't even entirely human could — or would bother to — save us. The Battle of Shanghai is what I see as one of Earth's darkest days. I'm just glad I escaped before…." [Message truncated].

—Takeshi Yuu — Except from private letter to Counselor Aric, Old Terran Year 2002

Silence ruled the scene, the golden light of the dawn's glow bathing the frozen combatants, granting Ranma an otherworldly, ethereal halo.

A cold hard breeze, late from the ending winter, gusted across the stone courtyard, bearing a small swirl of dry leaves past the figures.

For an eternal moment, with the blowing wind slowly rising in intensity, and then suddenly stopping, the tableau remained, both sides still. On some cue that no one except for Ranma and the reavers could determine, both sides moved to action.

Flowing with an easily liquid precision, Ranma brought his massive blade — as long as he was tall, and borne in one hand — up, deflecting a strike from one reaver, and ignoring another as it leapt on him from behind.

Where Ranma had been a moment prior, he vanished, and on either side of the reaver, he, still in the red robe and bearing the blade, and she, dressed only in the skin-tight black bodysuit, blades of energy in either hand.

And then the battle truly began. The red-robed Ranma was slower, but sure, his blade biting deep into the hides of the reavers before they could draw away, while his smaller and faster counterpart harried them mercilessly, her blades much less effective, but still capable.

The reavers attacked en mass, attempting to merely swarm the pair with their superior numbers, but both defenders simply rose out of their range. From the skies above them, the two became one again, and Ranma shook his head, slinging his sword over his shoulder and surveying the monsters below him.

Wounded, and unsure, the monsters began to edge away, remembering their already felled brethren.

"No," Ranma announced, voice angry and resonant. "There will be no escape."

He descended from his height upon the reavers, scrambling frantically to defend themselves as he spun, whirling his sword like a dervish. The second fell swiftly, wounded too deeply to struggle onwards. The third flung itself at Ranma in a suicidal rush of claws, goring Ranma's shoulder before the sword pierced its entire length, wrenching free to leave the reaver's innards pooling upon the stone.

The fourth followed suit, scoring strikes on both of Ranma's legs, tearing through the red material of his robes before the area containing its howling maw was severed from the rest of its body.

Attacking together, the final pair rushed him from both sides, and he again split. Rolling beneath the fifth, sword held aloft, Ranma carved directly through the monster before coming to a rest. His counterpart held both hands aloft as she grinned wickedly, allowing the final reaver to slam forcefully into an invisible wall of power.

Landing, the creature spun, sinking immediately into the earth to try and escape. Then, an errant gesture from each Ranma, and a simultaneously spoken, "Mouko takabisha!" Twin globes of golden ki-flame erupted from their fingertips, slamming into the creature and trapping it in the ground to squeal helplessly.

Finally having readied themselves, all six of the Marines armed with positronic laser rifles opened fire at the highest setting, bathing the last reaver in a lethal glow. Ranma rejoined, then grinned triumphantly.

Washuu nearly swooned as he marched past the Marines, and offered, "Sorry, I was… consulting my ancestors. What's happened while I was gone?"

A stabbing pain, however brief, flashed through Rei's head, momentarily staggering the girl. Ranma's grandmother turned to look at her, expression inquisitive.

"I feel…" Rei trailed off, frowning. What had she felt? Her eyes widened with shock as she realized. "There's a reaver coming! I can—" She wheeled, staring towards the end of the street. She wasn't quite sure how she knew, only assuming that it was some remainder of the power that had touched her when she realized the true nature of the Sacred Flame, but she positive of what it meant.

"Everyone!" she yelled, pointing directly at the center of an intersection. "Move back! Clear out of here!"

When there was no immediate reaction, she stomped her foot, then climbing on top of a large vending machine, and preparing herself. "Move!" she yelled once more, her heartbeat accelerating with fear as she realized that they weren't listening. Why weren't they listening?

Cologne had turned to regard her, frowning, and Rei realized that she'd have to take matters into her own hands. She used the weakest of her attacks, slowing it as much as she could, crying out a dramatic, "Fire soul!"

Gathered from the essence of the air about her, flame swirled in towards her hands, as she pointed directly at the crowd. Realizing that they were in the path of her attack, they rapidly pushed back the Marine's cordon, expanding into the pair of side streets, as the fire was finally unleashed, spattering harmlessly into the pavement.

The act garnered her nothing but angry yells and fearful looks from the sea of humanity below her, until the empty and singed street suddenly yielded a reaver, boiling up through the ground like a shadowy wisp. It charged immediately towards the crowd, which began to panic and shout in fright.

Leaping across the crowds and barring its path, Mamoru — in his Endymion form, shining armor, sword, and all — was there, rapidly slashing at the reaver and whirling back from its respondent lunge. Rei prepared herself for another attack, momentarily jolted as Cologne snapped out, "Eric, help those two."

As ordered, the large marine hurriedly shouldered his way through the crowd, quickly falling into position and readying his rifle. Unaware of Eric, Mamoru continued battling the reaver, unable to pierce its armor, until an errant swipe from the reaver slammed into him, throwing him across the intersection and slamming the man forcefully into the side of a brickwork building.

The reaver lunged to follow, eager to finish the man off, but Eric distracted it, opening fire. Rei winced at the brightness of the Marine's blazing lance of energy, and added her own power to the struggle, throwing her strongest attack at the creature. "Mars flame sniper!" she yelled, sending a bright arrow of red flame to harry the reaver further.

Her magical fire seemed to do nothing more than wash across the reaver, bathing the intersection in flame and inciting the people further.

The lance of green fire faded, and Eric ejected the fission battery, clipping it to his belt and swapping it with a fresh cartridge with mechanical precision, but too slowly — and she was completely unable to damage the creature. Thinking swiftly, while the reaver charged the reloading marine, she seized an ofuda. Washuu had said that quantum signatures could interfere with the reaver's abilities.

Cologne had termed that energy 'ki', and while Rei didn't know how well it would work, she was willing to hope that it would. Gathering herself, she leapt from her perch towards the approaching reaver, throwing the strip of paper towards it. The sliver of paper seemed, nearly of its own accord, to slip through the air and stick to the creature.

Ignoring the attempt, the reaver continued forward, as Rei landed and rapidly backpedaled out of its reach. Eric finished reloading, and began firing again, slowly pacing backwards as the creature advanced on him. Its hide was scorched, and the attack staggered it, but it continued inexorably forward.

Trusting the other half of the team to see to matters on the street corner, Cologne sped off, towing the hesitant Usagi, and with the much more eager Hotaru dogging her heels. Michiru followed reluctantly, unsure of what she could add to the fray.

"Child," Cologne asked, pacing with the girl as her run began to flag, "can you use your wall to push things around?"

Hotaru shook her head, pausing to catch her breath, and admitted, "I don't know."

"Well, we'll hope that you can," Cologne advised her. "Anyone else?"

Michiru shook her head, gathering the small girl in her arms and picking up her pace. Usagi shrugged apologetically.

The scent of blood reached Cologne long before the panicked shrieks. Her staff was before her, expertly spearheading a path for the others to follow her through — if only the girls were all light and fast enough to take to the rooftops, as Ryouga and Mousse would have been able to.

"We're too late!" she snapped, raising her voice to be heard over the screams. "Faster, girls."

She sped up her own pace, as much as she could through the panicked and shoving mass of people before her, and the others followed as closely as they could.

Breaking free of the crowd suddenly, they came upon the next reaver. The crowd was pressing away as quickly as they could, streaming into the abandoned buildings lining the streets to hide, while the reaver hunted them down with grim efficiency.

Cologne strode forward, pausing when her allies froze to stare. "What are you doing?" she demanded. "Child, make a wall to protect those people!"

Galvanized, Hotaru struggled out of Michiru's arms, leveling the Glaive towards the crowd and yelling, "Silence wall!"

An invisible wall halted the reaver's claws, as the remaining stragglers dragged themselves to safety. Michiru and Usagi remained still, staring at the mass of bodies lining the street, blood pooling around some, others reduced too far by repeated slashes of the reaver's claws to positively identify who they might have been.

Michiru dropped to her knees and retched, while Cologne glowered. "And you call yourselves soldiers," she muttered. "I can see now that I over-estimated your potential." Turning her back on the woman, Cologne bounded upwards, landing atop the reaver as it clawed in impotent rage at the wall of force.

Sparing a last glance for the aqua-haired woman as she righted herself unsteadily, Hotaru visibly wavering with the strain of maintaining her field, Cologne stabbed her staff down into the reaver's hide and called out, "Bakusai tenketsu!"

Washuu had said that the reavers made their hides from metals and ceramics that they ate. She had also said — in her own way — that they had no ki. Perhaps, then, they would have breaking points.

Her staff struck a point on the reaver's hide, causing it to ripple in its entirety once, resonating as though Cologne had tried to break an object many times the reaver's own mass. She blinked, as realization reached her, mid-leap away from the reaver.

Countless dimensions of stacked mass unfolded into one, expanding outwards and exploding with monstrous force.

Endymion, recovering from the blow, rose, still armored, and leveled his sword at the reaver, despite the intervening distance. A low rumble rose, small particles and grit rising from the ground to lazily revolve in the air near him. His gaze spoke of anger, and little else.

The reavers hurt the Earth. It wasn't fair, or logical, that they could wound him, cause him pain, and leave him with nothing he could do in return.

But in the haze of pain and desperation, he realized that he had been blinded — the link was a two-way street. He felt what the Earth felt. With that thought in mind, he called on powers he was uncertain he could truly control.

Voice hoarse, he called out words that came to his tongue, guided through the haze of what he was by what he had been, an incarnation and countless years ago. The forbidden powers, of course. Still, desperate times called for desperate measures. "Earth break," he said, a rumbling rift forming at his feet as he spoke.

The chasm widened, shooting out and expanding, widening to accommodate the massive creature as it flailed, footing unsure on the shaking ground.

The Marine threw himself flat, hauling Rei down with him and rolling away from a randomly lashing claw. That erratic lash turned into a desperate scrabbling for purchase, as Endymion finished the attack, "Earth bind." Not screamed, not a forceful imposition of will, but merely a quiet, stark realization.

The chasm smashed shut, allowing a thin line of reaver's ichor to spurt upwards, as he sank to his knees, exhausted. Around him, everyone had fallen, shakily reclaiming their feet, nearby buildings collapsed into rubble, sending a massive cloud of dust skyward. But the devastation stopped, only a hundred meters away. Smiling in satisfaction, Endymion allowed himself to faint from the toll that the attacks had taken upon him.

Ranma glanced upwards before Washuu could answer, still at a loss for words. In the distance, a monolithic column of dust and smoke shot upwards. Ran-oh-ki struggled from her lax grip, leaping to Ranma's shoulder.

"Sorry," the boy said, sheathing — somehow — his massive sword in a too-small scabbard and tucking it through a loop on his robe. "I'm going to check that out. Norris, tell me if anyone needs help. Come on, Meiou."

Washuu blinked, as Ranma grabbed the green-haired woman, who yelled in indignation. She hadn't even seen her arrive, as preoccupied as she had been with Ranma. "I… Ranma… it's… you…" the scientist managed as he passed beyond hearing range.

"Ranma-papa-san!" Nuku cried, jumping up and down in celebration. "I knew Ranma-papa-san would come!"

The Marines remained staring at the corpses for a long moment, before turning to Norris, who was gaping with his jaw hanging slack. "Th-th-that boy," he stuttered, "just took out… how many of them has he killed?"

"Eleven," Washuu said, recovering her composure and gathering the dropped phase variance alignment rod from the ground. She tapped her bracelet, calling into it, "Ranma, tell me if you need anything."

He answered a moment later, Norris jumping as it echoed through the radio, "Got it, Washuu."

Turning her attention back to the Gate, Washuu tried to ignore the frantic hammering of her heart, clamoring for attention. Of course Ranma had come. How could he not?

But what did he mean by, 'Higurashi Ranma'?

The mass of shrapnel from the reaver's hide — many, many times the reaver's own size — exploded outward, a storm too thick for Cologne to ever dream of deflecting entirely. She closed her eyes, sighing. A suicide attack, probably, but if there were enough willing Joketsuzoku warriors, then it might turn the tide.

She'd never thought much of suicide moves as the initial introduction to combat, but what was done, was done.

A gentle arm wrapped around her. "Is that it?" she asked quietly, feeling a great stillness settle through her. "Have I returned to the Great Mother's side already?"

"Nah," a voice said quietly. "Pops always said, 'respect your elders'. I guess I didn't do such a hot job of that, though."

The woman opened her eyes, staring about herself in surprise. Where the reaver's carapace had exploded, it slammed firmly into Hotaru's wall of force and was halted there. Before striking her, however, it had struck another wall of force, inclined at an angle so that the shrapnel could only expand to the sides — streets thankfully devoid of refugees, due to the Marine's cordon.

She struggled, until her savior set her down, and she turned to stare in confusion. Ranma, clad in black skintight bodysuit, all too familiar flare of blue on her right arm, extended towards the wall of smooth black metal and ceramic.

The hand lowered, as Ranma stared about in dismay. "I was too late," she said slowly, kneeling to inspect a body.

Ranma's trembling fingers closed the body's eyes, a young girl who'd never see another summer. It hurt Cologne, but she was no stranger to death. Being familiar with it didn't let her enjoy it, though. Eyes bright with tears, Ranma shrugged, "What can I do? I'm still not strong enough. It'll never be enough. Look, you got a radio. Call me if you need me."

Before Cologne could speak further, the girl vanished, leaving her alone on the street with the ill Senshi. Hotaru's efforts had taken their toll, leaving the girl unconscious in Michiru's arms. Usagi merely stared at the aftermath, shaking her head slowly, and mouthing, 'no', to herself over and over.

Children, not soldiers. The best of the lot was far too young and weak to be in the battle. Battle hardened warriors, but was the least pleasant way to learn. Still, when there were no choices…. "I'm sorry," Cologne said, shaking her head as she approached the girls. "It's never easy…. Do you want to talk about it?"

Rei crawled out from under the large Marine, who was quietly swearing obscenities as he checked his rifle out for damage. Something tickled her memory about what Mamoru had done. Something about them from a far, far previous time than her own life.

She shivered, as Ranma descended through the smoke, setting Setsuna down as he landed, his partner on his shoulder. Her eyes widened as she beheld the boy, clad in the same odd robes as from her dream. "That — that—" she stammered, pointing at him, eyes wide, "That's the robe from my dream!"

Ranma spared her a glance, studying the damaged buildings, and frowning. "What happened here?" he asked.

Eric stared, confused, then shrugged, answering in English, "I'm not sure, Sir. The gentleman in the armor did something, and the reaver fell into a pit and was crushed."

Ranma grimaced, blinking, then spun, peering into the thick clouds of dust and ash. "Oh," he mumbled, striding forward and disappearing into the roiling column. He returned a moment later, Mamoru's arm slung over his shoulder as he hauled the unconscious man towards Rei. "Hey, he's breathing, you think he'll be okay?"

The girl nodded, trying to shake off the sense of dread that Ranma's robe inspired in her. "Yes," she answered slowly.

"Great," Ranma answered, "the old ghoul's got a radio — have her ask for me if something goes wrong."

He glanced at Setsuna, who was waiting crossly, and asked, "Ready, Meiou?"

"Yes," the woman grumped. "We'll get your safe deposit box. Are you sure it's okay to go?"

"Ran-oh-ki senses reavers, but they're pretty far away. We've got a few minutes."

Not resisting, Setsuna allowed Ranma to seize her about the waist as he levitated upwards and vanished. "Oh, no," Rei gasped. "I never told him about the dream!"

Eric merely stared after the boy, obviously impressed.

Setsuna pointed down suddenly, prompting Ranma to shift his course and land before a bank. Ranma frowned at it, releasing the woman. "You're sure this is the place?" he asked.

"Yes," she mumbled. "My future self would have no reason to lie to me. She seems to like playing tricks on me, though." She huffed indignantly at the last, shaking her head.

Ranma quirked an eyebrow. "Uh. Right. Look, you get the stuff for me; I need to take care of something else. I'll be right back."

"Fine," Setsuna grumbled. "Don't take too long."

The boy nodded, rising into the air and vanishing again.

Reappearing over the deck of the Kitty Hawk, Ranma staggered, momentarily drained. "Not good enough," he swore. Halting the explosive mass that had nearly overwhelmed Cologne had taken a lot out of him, especially since he was split at the time. Shivering, he plucked the gem from his ear, setting it in his left wrist.

Almost immediately, strength and power flowed back into him, restoring his depleted reserves. "Better," he grumbled. "We're going all out this time, rat."

Ran-oh-ki nodded solemnly, his ear tickling Ranma's. "Okay," Ranma continued, pulling his partner from his shoulder and setting him in his cupped hands. "This is how it's gonna work. Washuu's at one end of this big line, right? Well, the reavers are probably going to go after the Gate mostly, 'cause they're really big jerks, but they might try here, too. You're gonna stay here for me, and tell me where they are all the time. Okay?"

The creature mewled, dismayed, but nodded. "Okay, and have yourself a ball — they're not using this thing anymore, so eat your heart out. I think Washuu left a bunch of stuff in the hanger.

Hearing that, Ran-oh-ki's ears instantly perked. "Miyah?" he noised hopefully.

"Just be sure you keep an ear out, promise?"

Ran-oh-ki nodded, hopping from Ranma's hands to sink through the deck of the ship.

Smiling faintly, Ranma teleported back to Setsuna's side effortlessly, thanks to the additional gem. Swinging around the intensely massive Tetsusaiga was too draining for him to maintain long without a gem, though his innate physical prowess helped, and his ability to levitate did worlds of good for his balance. With the additional gem, he should be able to completely offset the drain that it caused.

When he reached the bank, Setsuna was already inside, a pair of needles inserted into the lock of a safety deposit box. She glanced at him, then back, touching one of the needles just so, and opening the lock. Swinging the door to the box open, she set it on a low table behind her, and emptied it out carefully, retrieving a scroll first. Well aged and maintained, the scroll was accompanied by a pair of letters, and a carefully cloth-wrapped bundle.

Ranma paused, using his link with Ran-oh-ki to ensure that there was no immediate threat of a reaver attack, then took the letters, glancing at Setsuna. She watched him expectantly.

"I don't have anything to hide," Ranma said, shrugging. The first letter was addressed to him by name — 'Higurashi Ranma'. He opened it carefully, aged paper crackling and produced a pair of sheets from within. One was ancient and yellowed, nearly illegible, and the other appeared far, far newer.

He carefully set the aged letter aside, reading the somewhat cleaner paper first.


I hope that this letter finds you in good health… Though I suppose now that I think about it, it's a little silly way to begin a letter. I'm sorry if I'm a little distracted, but life has a way of throwing you for a loop every so often. First off, when you find this letter, there should be another letter from my husband, a copy of the register showing that we've adopted you back into the clan — not the same register as you'll find anywhere else, I'll warn you.

Don't be surprised if there are two copies of the same letter, I wanted whoever took charge of this to make an extra copy, because if the letter becomes too aged and illegible, it'll do you no good.

Secondly, and I hope it meets with your approval, but I can't imagine there's much use for it, or even much spare time to get your own, I've had a hanko made for you with the same kanji you wrote for me when we first met.

Eyes moist, Ranma carefully refolded the paper, tucking both it and its elder companion back into the envelope he had drawn them from. There was time enough to read it later. He placed it atop the other envelope, then unwrapped the small cloth bundle. In carefully carved stone, the same kanji he had scrawled for Kagome only earlier that same day, and all those centuries ago.

He suppressed a laughing sob, masking it with a cough, and swiftly wrapped it back in its cloth — an ancient silk handkerchief with his own name embroidered into the corner in blue kanji.

Maybe he didn't have his father and mother, but he had a family, and more importantly, people who approved of his fight in his past, and their words still spoke to him. "Okay," he said, tucking everything into his robes, "let's go back to Washuu and see where they want us to go."

"Why should I do what you say?" Setsuna asked, not angry, instead seeming only to be curious.

"Because I'm making sense, I guess. If you don't want to, you don't have to."

"No," she said after only a moment. "I… my future self said I should stick with you."

"What else did she tell you?" Ranma asked, curious himself.

"Not much," Setsuna admitted. "Merely to watch my step in a place with a lot of springs."

"I could have told you that," Ranma mumbled, lifting the woman off the ground and teleporting back to Renmin Park.

She snorted, shaking her head and apparently completely unaffected by the rigors of teleportation after Ranma set her back down.

Approaching the scientist, Ranma said, "Sorry about that. I guess I've missed a little bit — what happened?"

Washuu spun to face him, jumping again. "Don't do that!" she exclaimed. Clearing her throat, she regained her composure, saying, "I can tell you, but Norris can probably explain it better. Just remember that your quantum— that your ki can keep reavers from phasing, and to be careful."

Ranma grinned, nodding, "I told you so. And I'll be careful, don't worry."

"Shoo!" she chastised him. "I need to finish this."

The boy nodded again, walking back towards Norris, though his humor lasted only a moment past the return of his memories of his failure to protect.

Finally recovering herself, though her stomach churned so that she couldn't imagine how she kept from vomiting as Michiru had, Usagi mumbled, "I… I have to fix this."

Cologne glanced at her, frowning. "Of course," she assured Usagi. "That's why we fight."

"No," Usagi protested, shaking her head, "that's not it at all! I need to fix all of this right now — I can't let people suffer like this!"

"What are you talking about?"

Usagi shook her head, closing her eyes and thinking of the Ginzuishou. "I… I might be able to set things right," she explained. "If… I have to try, I can't just let people suffer. I might be able to use… magic, and simply set things right."

Cologne stared, then shrugged, while Michiru looked up from her tending of Hotaru curiously. "If you truly think that it would change things," she said doubtfully.

Ran-oh-ki was in a veritable paradise. Stacked neatly in the hanger of the carrier, where the not-always-so-nice woman with the long red hair usually worked with things that smelled very tasty, were a great number of metal objects.

Not as good as the round green things with the squishy red centers, but he felt an odd craving for something in the metal there anyway. His senses reported the composition to him easily, and he immediately sought out the best parts, only pausing to relay to his partner when he felt a surge of power that he'd probably be interested in.

The same energy that was in the reavers, actually.

Norris handed the boy before him a radio, not entirely understanding why he'd need one when he hadn't before. "Okay," he addressed Ranma levelly, "I'm not entirely for it myself, but almost all of the other senior officers moved for it, so here's the deal:

"For the purposes of this battle, I'm giving you a brevet rank — all of the men in the field will report to…." He trailed off, as the boy stiffened suddenly, grabbing the woman who he had brought with him, and vanishing again.

"Screw it," the man muttered. "He'll figure it out."

Shouldering her way through the crowd — aided in no small part by the swarthy Marine opening a gap for her — Rei reached Cologne's side in time to witness something entirely unexpected.

Ranma stood again, Setsuna at his side, staring in confusion mixed with horror, while his sword was held before him, the point mere centimeters from Usagi's throat. "What are you doing?" he growled, inhuman eyes glowing, blazing with fury.

Shaking her head in confusion, Usagi explained, "I'm trying to fix things! I want to get rid of the monsters!" The other Senshi simply stared in mute shock. They had come to trust Ranma, and he had decided to do this? Why had he changed so suddenly?

"Why are you using their power?" Ranma snarled, the gems in his wrist flaring brightly green, enough to shine against the stark red of his robes.

"I— I'm not!" Usagi protested vainly, everyone else froze in shock. Murmurs from the watching crowd began, confused and angry.

Ranma's sword was suddenly deflected by another blade, as Mamoru recovered himself and leapt in front of Usagi. "Who do you think you are?" the man reprimanded him, standing protectively before the girl.

Snarling, Ranma drew back the blade, and turned to look at it in shock as the blade shimmered once, changing from a massive length of steel to a rusty katana. He stared at it for a moment, then sheathed it, summoning another blade of lambent blue energy. "I am Higurashi Ranma," he answered. "And I intend to stop every reaver I can. Tell me — why the hell is she using their power?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," Mamoru snapped back. "The power of the Silver Millennium is pure, not like the evil that brings these monstrosities."

Cologne stepped between them, prodding Ranma in the sternum with her cane. "Calm down," she snapped. Turning to Mamoru and Usagi, she continued, "What makes power good or evil is not the power itself, it's how it's used. But if Ranma says that it's the same power as the reavers, maybe you shouldn't use that power until we know more, child."

"What power?" Setsuna asked, standing at Usagi's side and staring at Ranma dubiously.

"The Ginzuishou," Usagi answered swiftly. "I wanted to try and set things right with it. Get rid of the monsters and make everything better!"

"No, Usagi," Setsuna said, shaking her head swiftly. "I don't think it could be that easy. There might not be enough power — you could very well kill yourself trying something that dangerous."

Staring at the woman in dismay, Usagi protested, "But-"

"Usagi," Rei said, unsure of herself at first, but quickly gaining confidence, "please. We know that that we can't just wish everything better, and if Ranma says that… that it's the same power as the reavers, maybe he's right. Maybe someone used the power for evil once, but if they did, then it might not work on them, now. You could… you could… Usagi, don't do it."

Unhappy, Usagi acquiesced, eyes brimming with tears. "I won't," she said, sniffling. "But… what about all the people who've died? It's not fair!"

Ranma nodded emphatically, allowing his blades to vanish. "Something needs to be done," he said, eyeing Usagi mistrustfully.

Mamoru glared at Ranma, who affected not to notice.

"Fighting amongst ourselves will solve nothing," Cologne observed, as Hotaru roused.

"Yes," Setsuna agreed, eyeing Ranma in doubt. "I'm… confused, to say the least."

Hotaru climbed to her feet, using the Glaive as a staff. "Ranma-san!" she exclaimed, running to his side, grabbing him about his waist and hugging him tightly. "Where were you? We got attacked by a monster and it was scary!"

"I was… fighting. There were some reavers in Renmin Park, attacking the Gate," he replied, staring down at the girl in complete and utter confusion.

She nuzzled her face against Ranma's side affectionately. "You smell nice," she said after a moment.

Ranma scratched his head, then shrugged, turning his attention to Cologne. "Hey, old ghoul—" He cut off, muffling a curse as Cologne struck him over the head with her staff — not fast, and not so hard that it would even sting, truly. But the point was to ease the tension, Rei guessed. "Da— uh… shoot. Grandmother, can you hang onto some stuff for me?"

She nodded, smiling slightly. "Yes," she said, eyeing Ranma. "Though I'm curious to know where you go that robe and sword." And the new last name, of course.

"It's a really long story," Ranma said quietly. "I'll explain later. You can read these if you want, but take care of it for me, okay?" So saying, Ranma handed over two envelopes, a scroll, and after a moment of fumbling, a tiny stone marker — much like a traditional hanko. Gently disengaging the girl from his side, as she pouted at him, Ranma handed her a handkerchief. "Can you hang onto this for me?"

She seized it, nodding happily. "Where did you get it?" Hotaru asked.

"A gift from my ancestors," Ranma said quietly. "Take very good care of it, okay? It's one of the most valuable things I own."

The girl nodded happily once more, beaming at him.

Seeing that things had calmed, Mamoru dropped his sword to his side, still obviously displeased, but more accepting. "Higurashi," he addressed Ranma coldly, "do not threaten Usagi again."

Ranma's eyes flickered from Hotaru to Mamoru, and then away. "Meiou," he asked Setsuna, "are you still with me, or are you going to stay here?"

"I'll go with you, though I'm not happy about it," she answered.

Ranma grunted, walking to the large barrier of recompressed mass that blocked the road from the destroyed reaver. "Fair enough," he said, drawing his blade. In his hands once more, no longer facing Mamoru, it became the fearsome blade that Rei had seen him point at Usagi, and with a softly resonant 'snicker-snack' cleft cleanly through the barrier in a long curve.

Sheathing the blade, Ranma grabbed the upper edge of the barrier section he had carved — a sharp edge thanks to the walls of force that it had blunted itself against — and yanked it forward, then throwing the mass down the street. Coming to rest a good twenty meters away, it slammed forcefully into the ground and left an unsightly crater. Done, he shot Mamoru a bemused and smug glance, calling to Setsuna, "Let's go, Meiou." When she approached, Ranma vanished, taking her with him.

Mamoru bristled, and extended one hand towards the barrier, "Earth—"

"No," Rei said, silencing him. "Don't be petty."

Grumbling, he dropped his hands, crossing his arms over his chest. "Arrogant bastard," he grumped.

"Ranma-san's not arrogant!" Hotaru retorted. "He's that good!"

"He'd like to think so," Cologne observed dryly. "Just give him a little room. I'm sure things will settle down. Fighting amongst ourselves solves nothing."

"That boy needs a lesson in humility," Mamoru objected.

"Maybe," Cologne hazarded. "But since I've adopted the boy, that's my responsibility, not yours."

At that, Mamoru closed his mouth, considering.

"Ranma-san… seems to be a little strange," Usagi admitted. "I don't think you should be angry at him, though."

"He's also a superior officer," Eric mumbled quietly for the first time, eliciting the attention of all the gathered Senshi. "If you had tried to hurt him, I've been ordered to protect him with my life."

Rei stiffened, backing away from the Marine hesitantly. Cologne grumbled, "Idiot soldier. Don't you forget for a moment that we're all fighting together against the reavers. I won't allow this pointless and petty infighting."

Yosho coolly ignored the crowd, while Yakumo offered them only the merest glance. Ami and Haruka fidgeted, wholly unused to being the recipients of such scorn.

"Why are they angry?" Ami asked quietly.

"I'm used to it," Yakumo answered. "Watching someone get blown to pieces and get back up usually leaves people a little edgy."

"That's not it," Yosho mumbled. "They're scared. They can't do anything, they can't tell how long they have to live, and they see us as flawed guardians at best. Don't let it get to you, and fight your hardest when you have to. That's all we can do, right now."

"I'd rather have them angry at me and alive, then happy with me and dead," Haruka agreed after a moment, still shifting her feet nervously.

"Whatever it takes," Yakumo mumbled. "Tou-Chou can herd them away from danger if I have to. I doubt that he can hurt a reaver much, though."

Yosho raised an eyebrow curiously. "What's that?" he asked the Wu.

Yakumo waved a hand dismissively. "Beast magic. I have two beasts that I can summon to help me, though they won't help a lot against the reavers. Maybe some other stuff, though."

"I need to know," Yosho insisted. "Every bit of power that we have against the reavers may be the one component we need to offset the reavers."

"Okay," Yakumo sighed. He shot a look at Ami and Haruka, who were watching him curiously, and said, "I learned this while I was in China for a long while, looking for Pai and training in martial arts…."

"… and once that's done, there's a delegation from… ah, well, you've met him."

Tenchi sighed, rubbing at his temples. "Seiryo?" he asked, concentrating.

"Yes, Tenchi-sama," Ayeka confirmed, still sorting through the stack of missives and requests. "Ah, if only they were just a little more organized about how they sent these requests…."

"We should set them all on fire, and let whoever's important send them again," Ryouko suggested.

Tenchi snorted, shaking his head, and standing from behind his desk. "I think that would be a bad idea," he commented wryly. "However, this isn't getting us anywhere at the moment. How much longer until the Council convenes?"

Ayeka frowned thoughtfully, glancing at a device — apparently a timepiece, though Tenchi couldn't fathom how it worked — and answered, "We have a few minutes before they begin."

"Good," Tenchi said, adjusting his robes and glancing over himself to makes sure everything was presentable. "Has anyone heard about the deal we've made with the Laruma, yet?"

"I do not believe so," Ayeka said, biting her lip and turning to Ryouko questioningly.

Ryouko glanced at Ayeka from her position across the room, sprawled over a short couch and toying idly with Ryo-oh-ki. "Rumors are flying all over the place. Mostly, the common people don't know what to make of you, because none of them know what happened certainly. Some of them say that you're going to use Ginraii to sell Juraian citizens into slavery, and some of them say that you're in bed with the Laruma — so to speak. None of them are given much weight," the cyan-haired woman explained.

"Too soon, I should think," Ayeka commented. "Too soon for them to judge you yet."

Tenchi nodded, steeling himself, and checking to make sure the Tenchi-ken was still tucked safely away in his robes. "Let's find Genoh, and get going, then. I just hope that this fight does even a fraction as much good as all the battles that Jiji and his allies must be fighting right now," he said softly.

Yakumo cracked his knuckles, then motioned Yosho and the girls to one side. "I'm not going to bother explaining the specifics of beast-magic, because it's dangerous, and very difficult, but I'll show you what it can do."

Steeling himself, he pointed one arm at the ground, palm first, fingers splayed, and intoned, "Tou-Chou." All present took a step back, feeling as… something shifted… and the ground immediately beneath the extended hand sprouted three perfectly equidistant holes. "Straight line to the building and the dock, and back," Yakumo explained, smirking at Yosho.

The three holes exploded, torn concrete chips flying up as they extended suddenly into furrows nearly five centimeters deep that tore along, quickly describing the path that Yakumo had stated. "I don't think it can cut through one of the monsters," Yakumo admitted after a moment. "But it might."

Gesturing with his right hand as the furrows of plowed up concrete shot towards him, Yakumo muttered something, and the presence — whatever it was — vanished.

"That was… impressive," Yosho admitted after a moment.

"Isn't that a demon?" Haruka asked, unnerved. "Don't you put your soul on the line to use that kind of power?"

"I don't have a soul," Yakumo assured her. "It got taken away, which is why I can't die. And no, I only risk my life to control them. Since I can't die, that's not a great risk."

Ami blinked, turning her attention back to her computer, and gesturing slightly. A visor condensed before her eyes, and she stared at something for a long moment. "I can track them," she said slowly. "I just received a signal… I don't know how, but there are more, and they're coming quickly."

"How many?" Yosho snapped, as Yakumo swore and checked the batteries on his rifle.

"Three from the sea, one behind the crowd, and one under that building over there!" Ami exclaimed, pointing to the building that Yakumo's creature had created a line to.

"It's a trap," Yosho swore. "They could all come up under the crowd again — what are they up to?" Thumbing his radio on, he explained tersely, "This is Yosho, at the wharf, we've got five reavers headed towards us, over."

A voice — a very familiar voice — answered Yosho. "I'm there." Yakumo took a step back, raising his rifle cautiously as Ranma teleported in, setting Setsuna down as he arrived. He glanced around, nodding at Yosho, and asked, "What's going on?"

Yosho repeated what Ami had told him, shrugging helplessly. "What can we do? They're under the ground," he muttered.

"They're moving," Ranma noted. "They're all coming after me."

Ami gasped, her readings reporting the same, "Why, Ranma-san? Why do they want you?"

"Maybe they want to die," Ranma said, eyes gleaming with a nearly feral light, gems flaring brightly green. "And for that, I'm going to give them what they want. Okay, Yosho, stay out of range. They've got a trick up their sleeves — they have to, because I just killed six of them at Renmin Park, and they started running. See if you can figure it out, and stop it once they do. Meiou, don't get yourself hurt." He drew his sword, taking a deep breath, and the chipped and rusty blade blurred into a great, monstrous weapon, nearly glowing under the light of the sun.

Yosho nodded quickly, adding, "Yakumo, make sure the crowd stays out of the way, Haruka, if you have a clean shot, take it. Ami, the same. If you can freeze them, we can make this much easier."

Course of action decided, Yosho broke away from the crowd, Ami and Haruka close by as he summoned his blade and shield. Setsuna followed after a moment of hesitation, while Yakumo ran towards the crowd, then wheeled, facing Ranma, and summoned his servant again. This time, though Yosho couldn't hear what Yakumo told it, it ran around Ranma in a neat circle at forty meters, granting him enough room to battle.

The crowd edged away from the scene, nervous, as the first of the reavers erupted from the ground.

Rousing, dizzy, and with every fiber of his being aching soundly, Ryouga found himself on the ground, stiff, aching, and his head resting on something… soft. Comforting, even. Opening his eyes slowly, he looked up into the eyes of the blonde girl with the chain. Minako.

He sat up, grunting. As he shook his head to clear it, the pain slowly receded, and he blinked, looking around in confusion. The center of the street had been replaced with a massive crater, and the hotel immediately across the way was demolished, lying in rubble. Mousse and the Marine were busily throwing larger pieces of the ruin into the crater, slowly covering the acidic ichor lining the bottom and making it theoretically passable.

Grunting again, he stood, testing his balance as he did so. Ryu leant against the building at his back, nursing a freshly bound arm and testing it unhappily. "Hey," he called out, Makoto at his side, staring at him with worry. "Nice one, there. Got two of them."

"Two?" Ryouga asked, scratching his head in confusion. "One… in the street, where was the other one?"

"Trying to knock down the hotel," Ryu answered blandly. "I made it drop straight down, but it was you that smacked the reaver down there with ki so that it couldn't go through the crap after it got knocked down."

"Okay," Ryouga said, collecting his thoughts. "So, how are we doing? How long was I out?"

"Not long," Makoto assured him from Ryu's side, watching the crowd closely. "I think lightning stuns them a little."

"We're not doing so hot," Ryu grunted. "Ranma cracked six of my damned ribs a couple days ago. Breaking my fucking arm doesn't help things a lot."

"Ryu!" Makoto protested, upset.

"Sorry, Mako-chan," he responded bluntly. "There are dead people, and I got a broken arm. I didn't do such a fantastic job when both arms were working — let's face it, we're in a big-assed heap of trouble right now. A little swearing is kind of appropriate, I think."

"Great," Ryouga grunted. "How did you break a bone if you're such a great martial artist?"

"I had a fucking building dropped on me, Fearless Leader. Why don't you give it a shot and see how you come through?" Ryu snapped back.

"Calm down," Ryouga growled. "Maybe Cologne will have something."

"Usagi can heal," noted Makoto, frowning at Ryu. "Hotaru-chan can, too."

"Well, it's something," Ryu grumped. "Now how the hell do we get me there, or one of them here?"

Ryouga shook his head. "I don't know," he admitted. "Ask someone on the radio for help. Maybe Ranma can take you there when he comes back. For now, I'm going to help Mousse and the Marine fill in the crater."

Ryu caught the radio in his good hand, after Ryouga tossed it towards him. "Great," he grunted. "Sorry about losing my temper, Mako-chan."

Yakumo spared no time for thought, merely reacting, though one part of his mind still focused on keeping Tou-Chou under control. The innocents at his back wasted no time in retreating from the cordon, and further when the first of the reavers burst from the ground, three rising in a triangular pattern at equidistant points about the boy in the red robes.

The other came up directly beneath him, and he rocketed skyward, lashing at them with the massive blade on his shoulder as he evaded.

He blinked, staring at the three stationary monsters. They remained at the very interior edge of the impromptu arena, ignoring Tou-Chou completely.

Ranma dove back towards the reavers, blade swinging like the scythe of death, come to claim the nearest reaver. A pair of claws deflected the blade — at cost, as ichor sprayed and the limb was severed — but spared the reaver its own life.

Frowning, Yakumo sighted the nearest stationary reaver, and fired the laser. Shots didn't get any clearer than that, after all.

Moving in a perfect circle, the creature seemed to… slide… almost as though it was warping the space around it, and maintaining their equidistant formation. The shot came perilously close to striking Yosho, as the man leapt away. Across the circle, Ami and Haruka fired their own charges into the fray, and again the reavers seemed to merely slide.

With a sick fascination, Yakumo watched their magical energies enter the circle, then arc wildly around it, to emerge directly in line with him. Banishing Tou-Chou instantly, he called on his second servant — Chin-Kuu. Like a tiny reaver itself, it clung to his arm, dispelling the magical energy of Ami's attack, and deflecting Haruka's upward before it vanished.

Yakumo swore, summoning Tou-Chou again. Whatever magic the girls had thrown at the reavers was damnably fierce, to be able to send Chin-Kuu away so quickly.

In the circle itself, Ranma dropped forcefully to the ground before a reaver, stunned. "Shit," Yakumo growled softly. Whatever the reavers were doing was obviously affecting the boy in some manner. Pointing at Ranma, he instructed Tou-Chou, "Circle him at three meters."

The magical beast shot from his waiting position, and slammed forcefully into whatever barrier the reavers were maintaining.

Yakumo swore again, calling the creature back as he sprinted around the circle, trying to reach Yosho and the others.

Yosho was attempting to enter the ring to aid Ranma, but whatever force had halted Tou-Chou kept him at bay, as well. "What the hell's going on?" Yakumo yelled, sliding to a halt before Yosho .

Cursing extravagantly, Yosho spread his hands helplessly. "I don't know," he said. "But we need to help Ranma, somehow. Whatever they're doing, it's affecting Ranma's powers!"

"I've got it!" Ami called nervously. "Washuu-sensei showed me how to use — Oh! They're doing something to the space around them. It's called phase-shifting." She looked at Yosho nervously, as the man paled, swallowing and staggering away from the barrier. "What's wrong, Masaki-san? What is it?"

"It's… they cut an area of space out of our own dimension, and moved it to a near-dimension. Light and energy can enter, but they can designate where and how. The only thing that would get them all would probably get Ranma, too."

Yakumo reached towards the barrier tentatively, only to be called back by Yosho's added warning, "Don't touch that! Matter that attempts to pass a phase barrier will either be blocked, or… rearranged."

"How?" Yakumo asked, angrily. "What else can we do?"

"Pray?" Yosho nearly whimpered. "Washuu might have something, but I don't!"

"There's gotta be something!" Yakumo snapped.

"There are more coming," Ami warned. "Another three — this was just a trick to get Ranma-san out of the way! They're going for the people!"

Yakumo spun, dashing once more around the barrier, towards crowd, "Then hurry!" he yelled. "We need to move them!"

Tenchi coughed quietly, bringing the meeting to order. All in the Council turned to face him expectantly, and he offered them a grim smile.

"First order of business," he declared without preamble. "Electing a new member to Council."

Near the opposite end of the table, one of the Councilmen cleared his throat loudly, stabbing at disk to represent his disapproval.

"Aric," Tenchi called to the man levelly.

"Your Eminence," the man began, eye ticking angrily at Tenchi's lack of an honorific. "I object. There's no reason to remove anyone from Council at this point, and it would serve you poorly, given your… zeal… for your own kind. Slowing proceedings with something as trivial as—"

"Aric," Tenchi overrode the man. "Spare me the honorific. We have better things to do with our time then tell each other how great we are. Now, I'm going to have to overrule your objection, I'm afraid. As Emperor, I am permitted to remove everyone on the Council upon my inauguration, which cannot be vetoed. I call to do that now."

The Councilmen all gaped openly. "But — Your Eminence! That's unprecedented! The last time it was called for was…." Aric trailed off, swallowing nervously, then completed, "after the Amatera were exiled."

"Left willingly," Tenchi corrected. "Gentlemen, you're all dismissed from the Council for the moment. I expect all voting on replacements and reelections to be concluded within the day." With that, he rose, smiling sardonically. "Unless there are any objections?"

"You can be overruled," noted Jakugo quietly.

"Only by Tsunami," Tenchi countered in an even lower voice.

Ranma ignored the reavers at the periphery of his senses — they weren't moving, anyway. Yosho and the others could probably finish them off easily enough, but if the reavers were coming after him specifically, then it would work that much better for him — that many fewer people at risk.

He was dimly aware of the people beyond the circle of gouges in the pavement, but the sounds were muted, removed.

The reavers both fell away beneath him, landing on the ground and waiting. He dove obligingly, and then something —

— wrenched, and he fell into the ground, the mechanism for his levitation failing him suddenly. He slammed into the concrete, and rolled to one side, Tetsusaiga over his head as he narrowly evaded a stabbing claw that rent the ground and sent large chips of rubble flying.

Swearing, he hopped over a slashing claw and attempted to teleport. That too, failed, and he was forced to contort his body to evade the pair of attacks from the reavers. Lashing out wildly with his blade, he narrowly deflected another stabbing claw, and scored a handful of scratches on the thick hide of the first reaver, still missing the limb he had severed previously.

Leaping high, he sailed over the pair, and spun, wincing. Without his levitation, he found his range and ability much lessened. A halfhearted attempt at the body duplication trick yielded identical results, leaving Ranma to realize unhappily that without the Tetsusaiga he was completely unarmed. "Damn it!" he swore, rolling beneath another claw and earning a gash on his shoulder for it.

Slipping into the Umisenken, he was able to boggle the reavers, and grant himself a heartbeat to think. What the hell was going on?

"Tsunami," he whispered, wondering where the words came from. If she had been there, perhaps, just perhaps, the reavers could have been destroyed by her ship's cannons. But, she wasn't there, and praying would do little good at that point.

Hearing his whisper, even as he was hidden, both reavers turned towards him, launching themselves with claws extended.

At the base of the most revered of the Ouke-no-ki, beyond the glowing pool that surrounded it, a small spark lit, a faint will o'wisp of power.

It winked brightly, bobbing over the polished and well tended floor, then flickered and began to brighten, summoning smaller cousins to dance and swirl about it merrily.

Suffusing a deep golden and blue, the point of light expanded into a globe, its smaller brethren swimming through the air to join with it, even as more bright motes of light sprang into being to enter that dance.

There was a pause, when the glow was large enough that a Juraian — had any been present — could have walked into it. In that pause, the golden light seeped into the core of the glow, leaving the outside a soothing, azure blue. That glow intensified at the peak of the globe, sending smooth, graceful lines through the surface, curving gently down and in.

It opened slowly, luminous streams of power peeling away like petals of a flower, to lay against the floor in a great circle of light surrounding the core. In a matter of minutes, as the petals each took their turn in the regal opening process, a figure was revealed, curled into a small ball at the very heart of the display.

The figure stirred, uncurling languorously from rest, and a pair of eyes opened. Eyes of the softest pink, blank and confused. Slowly, painfully slowly, awareness and memory crept into those eyes, as they widened, and darkened.

Shifting, the figure sat up, staring down at itself in fascination. Flesh and blood, simply, what had once been female only in concept, and in borrowed skin, was now truly real. She smiled, her first true expression aside from the confused blankness, and murmured, "I must be clothed."

As she spoke, the luminous circle of power about her quivered once, stirring from its quiescence, and rose, encircling her closely. She raised her arms, as the glow of the petals engulfing her intensified to near blinding levels, then suddenly vanished, as though it had never been.

In its place, where all had been energy and power before, the girl was left clad in the immaculate robes appropriate of the Goddess of Jurai. Clasping her hands before her gently, aware of the strange newness, and stranger comforting familiarity of the garment, she bowed her head, and whispered thanks to what she had been, and further thanks for what she knew she would become.

Answering her whisper, echoing quietly in her soul, and more loudly in her heart, someone called for her.

Ignoring Ranma for the moment, Yakumo studied the crowd. "Where are they coming up?" he asked staring around in consternation.

Ami bit her lip, consulting her computer, then pointed. "There, there, and there," she indicated, pointing to three distinct locations within the crowd. "We'll never get them to move fast enough! People, listen to me—"

Yakumo shook his head, slinging his rifle over his shoulder and summoning Tou-Chou again. "Scare people away from those areas," he ordered, gesturing. "Don't hurt them."

Ami gaped, staring at Yakumo in horror. "You can't do that!" she protested.

Haruka placed a hand on Ami's shoulder, shaking her head. "Remember what I said earlier, Ami?"

The younger girl swallowed nervously, and watched, petrified, as the crowds pushed back from Yakumo's servant, yelling and screaming. True to Yakumo's orders, none were harmed, and in short order, the area was clear. "See?" Yakumo asked. "It worked better that way—"

The rest of the words were cut off by a loud series of booming noises, as blood blossomed across Yakumo's chest. He stared at the wounds in surprise, as they slowly resealed. Raising his head, he looked up in time to see a small group of Marines, three with standard rifles leveled at him squarely, and another who swiftly readied his positronic laser rifle.

He only had enough time to blink before a single shot from the laser took him squarely in the chest, turning most of his torso to ash and leaving him to fall on the concrete, blood slowly seeping from the massive wound. Free of Yakumo's direct control for the moment, his servant broke from its studious patrol of the crowd, and vanished.

Ami was too shocked to react, only Haruka's last-second lunge saving her, throwing her to the ground as the searing heat of laser-fire burnt through the air above her. Bullets bit into the concrete near her, spraying fragments of rubble, and larger fountains of dust towards her face. Whimpering, she covered her head with her hands, as Haruka rolled free, yelling something the girl couldn't quite make out.

Why was this happening? She was one of the defenders, and they had just slain one of her allies! Again she silently asked herself, why?

Yosho sped around the barrier at the sound of gunshots — there was nothing he could do for them at the moment. Ami lay on the ground, cowering, and Haruka crouched nearby, yelling for Ami to get up.

The green-haired woman that Ranma had brought seemed to appear before Haruka at just that moment, holding a staff before her. He faintly heard her yell, "Garnet ball," before a force field sprang up around her, shielding herself and her allies.

The Marine with the positronic laser leveled it at the force field and unleashed a blindingly bright stream of firepower at the small bubble of power surrounding the Senshi. Yosho watched in horror, the sphere wavered, cracking slowly as it gave way to the power of the laser.

He steeled himself, launching into an all-out run towards the sphere to reinforce it with his own shield. He had no idea who had started the conflict, and he had no great love for Setsuna and her attitudes, but an ally was an ally.

As the bullets from the other Marine's rifles screamed through the air about him, Yosho readied his shield, realizing too late that he'd never make it before the force field gave. Setsuna's expression was of grim determination, and sheer fatigue, but she wavered, wobbling unsteadily for a moment and finally collapsing, as the sphere gave way in a massive cloud of dust.

The Marine paused only moments before he resumed firing, turning the entire cloud of dust a malignant shade of green. The beam lanced into the cloud, and was somehow reflected back, neatly shearing all four of the Marines in half, and causing the warehouse immediately behind them to collapse in flames, sending a massive column of smoke and dust skyward.

Yosho froze, staring in shock as Yakumo staggered out of the smaller dust cloud, one hand on an actively regenerating chest wound, the other carrying another of his creatures, not terribly unlike a reaver in appearance, if much smaller. He grunted, shaking his head unhappily. "Idiots," he said, bitterly.

As if on cue, the reavers chose that moment to burst from the ground.

The reavers balked suddenly, wheeling away at the last moment, to scrabble frantically at the edges of the barrier confining them — and Ranma.

He blinked, feeling a slowly building surge of power deep within himself, something that the reavers feared. Not unlike ki, but subtly different, though Ranma couldn't pinpoint it. He lowered his sword, holding one hand to his chest and staring down at himself in confusion. What was it that scared the reavers so?

Almost of its own accord, Ranma's left hand rose, palm upwards in the center of the circle. A gentle, cerulean blue glow suffused him, pulsing through his body with his heartbeat, focusing on the gem in that wrist. The gem escaped his body, tearing painfully free before he could react, though the gentle blue glow washed the pain away and healed the wound so quickly that he had to wonder if he'd felt the injury at all.

Winking and rolling slowly in the air before him, the gem floated to be of level with his eyes, and a voice — one Ranma knew too well to ignore — gently whispered to him, "Close your eyes, and be strong, Ranma-dono."

His eyes shut, though the wash of light and power intensified so much that it bled through his closed eyelids, and he raised his right arm across his eyes. That dulled the intensity of the light, but not so much that it didn't still make him wince.

Keen hearing reported where the reavers stood, their frantic scrabbling reaching an intensity that unnerved Ranma. What frightened them so? He'd seen one run only once, and later that day Tokyo had been lost.

Again, the voice soothed him, before he could call out. "I can only do this once, Ranma-dono. But I think it will be enough."

He swallowed back the knot of fear in his stomach, and answered, "I trust you, Tsunami."

Then his world vanished into a writhing haze of fire and light.

Yakumo spared a glance behind him, as a sudden blue flare ignited in the trap — the phase shift, Ami and Yosho had called it. It sparked blue, blinding him completely from a single glance.

He swore, as his retina wove themselves back into place from the intensity of the blast, and the spark impossibly brightened. Still in his hand, Chin-Kuu threw as much of the light back as possible, but Yakumo knew that it wouldn't be enough to shield the entire crowd.

At his side, Setsuna staggered to her feet, supported by Haruka, and held the staff she used for her earlier shield spell out. "Garnet ball," she whispered weakly, creating a much larger wall, centered on Chin-Kuu. Haruka nodded, drawing her sword and hauling Ami with her as she rushed behind him.

The wall darkened in color and expanded, until the entire crowd was shielded. "Lean on me," he advised the woman, as she wobbled unsteadily.

She did so, slumping forward, and nearly knocking Yakumo off his feet. He recovered his footing, and focused his eyes on what he could see between Chin-Kuu and Setsuna's wall. The blueness was frightening, dizzying in intensity, and he was dimly aware of some vague shape that was even brighter, something so bright that even through the wall of force he could feel his retina searing. The crowd behind him, after an even briefer glance, was rendered black and white, the intensity of the light simply too much for color to carry.

Still, he watched, squinting his eyes to allow them to heal faster. It was an oblong shape, like a giant wall, with smaller attendants. He blinked, realizing that it was not one wall, it was several, though he couldn't be sure of the count, as all of the light suddenly winked out, leaving him blinking. Setsuna gratefully lowered her wall of force, and muttered a grudging, "Thank you."

Yakumo turned his attention to what remained after the explosion, grimly expecting to find a dead ally, if anything. To his surprise, the scene revealed was vastly different. At the center of the reavers' circle, Ranma knelt, breathing slowly, but obviously still alive. A thin red slick surrounded him, shiny and reflective, as he used his sword to slowly lever himself up to a standing position.

Frozen in place, like grotesque statues, the two reavers that had been inside simply stood unmoving, along with two of the three that had formed the circle. The last rushed Ranma wildly, a stray claw striking one of his still companions.

Not still at all, Yakumo realized as he surged into motion, dropping his gun with Setsuna. It was frozen so solid that even being nudged just slightly by the other reaver sent it crumbling into a pile of shards. Ranma reeled back unsteadily, dropping his sword and extending one hand towards his assailant.

The reaver wheeled suddenly, skidding backwards and sinking through the ground, and Ranma spoke, loud enough for Yakumo to hear as he lost his footing on the iced-over ground, "Mouko takabisha." A golden globe of power coalesced at Ranma's fingertips and screamed through the air to slam into the reaver, leaving it trapped in the cement.

Nodding slightly, the boy keeled over, laying flat, and emitting a dull blue glow. Yakumo removed his survival knife from his belt, and used it to dig into the ice and control his slide, coming to a rest at Ranma's side. The red slick was frozen solid, and Yakumo guessed it to be blood, though the boy's body appeared undamaged, as did his red robes.

Shaking his head, Yakumo turned his attention to the trapped reaver, then to his survival knife. A slow grin formed, as he realized the potential at hand.

Yosho pushed the memories of the dead marine behind him, stumbling back into action as Setsuna leant against Yakumo, Ami and Haruka approaching the reavers from the left. Whatever was going on with Ranma, the reavers paused to look at it, which Yosho considered a minor positive.

Blade at the ready, he called out quick orders, "Ami! Freeze the one in the back! Haruka, knock back the closest one!"

They did as he ordered instantly, his voice whipping them into action from their aimless charge. Ami halted, and summoned the watery harp she used, while Haruka lobbed one of her 'World shaking' spells at the reaver. Leaping high, Yosho descended at the same reaver, only moments after Haruka's ball of explosive power rocked it backwards, all his energy focused in his sword.

Three quick slashes lay the creature open, only shallow gashes, but easily enough to let it bleed to death if they continued to hound it. He leapt away, bouncing hard against the reaver's carapace, and landed beside Haruka. She nodded at him, girding herself, and the two charged the reaver in tandem. Ami's voice called out, crystal clear in the still air, "Mercury aqua mirage!"

The rearmost reaver was struck with thick, ropy strands of ice, and instantly enveloped in the same before it reached the crowd, drawing the attention of the third. Yosho spared it a glance, trusting Ami to know what to do, and lashed out at the reaver he had already wounded experimentally.

A claw attempted to ward away the blade of energy, and Yosho circled left, while Haruka flanked to the right, her own sword just able to deflect the stabbing claws. Leading in sharply, Yosho lashed at its side when he could, swearing out loud when he heard Haruka's cry of pain. Banishing the blade in favor of the shield, he rolled directly underneath the reaver, the thinner-than-paper barrier only barely deflecting claws as he slammed into the woman, trapped as she was on the cruelly barbed hooks of the reaver's claw.

The wound had gored her in a place that Yosho swiftly determined was non-vital, though the poisons from the reaver's claws would be bad news. They were going to need help, and quickly. "Where's Yakumo?" he screamed, as a stream of bilious green fire lanced over his head and slammed into the pursuing reaver.

The trapped reaver writhed like a demented fiend, unable to escape as Yakumo approached it carefully. "You know," he mumbled aloud nervously, drawing his survival knife, "you don't need to bind a creature from an egg for beast-magic.

"It's dangerous," he continued, laying his palm open, and forming the ritual words in his mind. "But there's a way to bind monsters that are already mature. And unlike you, my little friend, I have nothing to lose."

Leaping atop the creature, and scrabbling for purchase on its carapace, he crawled to the point he judged to be the head. Gathering what magical energies he could control, he drew his mark in a wide, bloody pattern, and began chanting the words that would bind it to him. Fight fire with fire, he thought to himself, before focusing himself on the battle of wills that was to come once—

He was nearly lost the second his attempt began.

The creature had no mind, no will of its own. They all shared one mind, and one will. And they knew what he was doing.

And they were angry with him.

Norris stood very still, mulling over the last communication he had received from the patrol group nearest the wharf, and Yosho.

Lt. Commander Ford had reported that their allies had gone berserk, and were attacking the crowd, and that they were going to counter the threat as swiftly as possible.

Norris's opinion of Ford had never been very high, and the man's refusal to wait and ascertain what the situation was infuriated him. Now, however, even on point of court martial, the man refused to respond to radio calls. The calls were a black mark to anyone who could receive radio transmissions, and a massive blow to morale.

In short, one way or another, it was not something that could be afforded.

The fact that Ranma was not responding only served to deepen his displeasure. "Cologne," he finally decided, unnerved by the lack of response from the dock guards, "report present situation, over."

Her voice answered after only a short delay, restoring some hope to Norris. "All is presently still, Mr. Norris. There's nothing interesting happening, but we can hear something at the docks."

"Thank you, over," he mumbled. "Guardsman group two, please respond, over."

Another voice answered, "This is group G2, Commodore. Orders, sir?"

"Investigate the docks, and report back to me immediately, over."

"Roger that, sir, moving to the docks now, over."

Shaking his head, Norris sighed, looking at the sky and praying.

Feet scrabbling for purchase, the woman in his arms writhing from the pain of the reaver toxins that had entered her bloodstream, Yosho attempted to back away from the swiftly encroaching reaver. Ami gestured helplessly, unsure of what to do.

He looked up, his shield quickly losing power as he struggled with Haruka, and unable to stand because of the reaver's presence.

A black shadow passed overhead, and then, landing atop the menacing reaver, another crushed it to the ground, cratering the concrete, and dislodging the reaver's passenger. Yosho watched, stunned, as Yakumo tumbled free, expression wild and livid. The man rolled to his feet grinned like a feral beast, eyes lit with an eerie, unholy glow. Yakumo paused, extending one hand towards the reaver that had pinned Yosho's assailant. "I… will not lose… a contest of will," Yakumo grated out fiercely. "This one is mine!" he shrieked, extended hand clenching into a fist, mimicking the act of crushing.

Ami staggered back, falling down as she watched. The topmost reaver quivered, unleashing a fierce spasm, and its legs suddenly splayed out, then contracted, crushing the reaver beneath it, which burst messily, spraying acidic ichor across the surrounding area.

Finding his senses, Yosho shoved Haruka off himself, climbed to his feet, and gathered her in his arms. With no pretences, warrior or not, Yosho fled the scene, calling Ami to him. He ran towards Setsuna, who stood, positronic laser dangling limply from lax fingers as she gaped at the vision behind him.

Yakumo spun, turning to the next reaver, and shrieked, "No! I will destroy you! You are not the chosen ones!" Seemingly subject to his will, the traitorous reaver skittered across the cement spastically, claws a writhing tangle of mass and destruction. It carved a short distance into the second reaver before it thought to counter, both of them taking massive damage in the process, until Yakumo's reaver emerged victorious, several claws hanging limply and dragging ichor as it marched resolutely towards the final reaver, still trapped in ice.

It howled once in rage, then set into the captive reaver with an intensity that made Yosho shudder before he looked away, eyes latching on the blue glow still suffusing Ranma. Tsunami's power, he hoped, since Yosho didn't think the boy could summon Light Hawk Wings. If his luck held — and for Haruka's sake he prayed that it did — maybe it could heal the wounded woman.

Yosho stumbled across the slowly thawing ground to Ranma's side, still clutching Haruka to him, and knelt, gently laying the woman down. The blue glow flickered, rising like a fanned flame, and tendrils of it slowly crept from Ranma to the woman, narrow lines of energy snaking free and shooting into Haruka's wound.

The woman stilled instantly, passing out or fainting, Yosho wasn't sure. Thinking back to Yakumo, he realized that he had no idea what had happened, only the vague knowledge that it scared him far more than he ever wanted to admit.

Back across the field of battle, the final reaver had slain itself in its zeal to destroy its enemy, and Yakumo lay on the ground, retching and sobbing. Ami slowly regained her feet and approached the man.

Glancing to ensure that the others were not grievously injured, Ami turned her attention to Yakumo. Yosho and Setsuna could take care of Ranma and Haruka, but Ami was worried for — and more than a little frightened of — Yakumo.

The man lay on the ground, sobbing after vomiting a stream of blood. Curled into a little ball, he whimpered loudly, a desperate, pleading keening cry.

Steeling herself, Ami crawled to his side, and set a hand on his shoulder. "Fuji-san?" she asked hesitantly. "What happened?"

He relaxed slightly at her touch, eyes still wide and overflowing with tears. "I… I was in their minds," he gasped. "They tried to steal me — to control me like I wanted to control them." Shuddering, he seized Ami before she could react, holding her tight, and whimpering. "It was dark, and there were so many of them… I can't do that again. I can't do that again. It's too dangerous! Don't leave me alone!" He drew away, simply staring at Ami with stark fear rendering his expression a mask of petrified anticipation. Eyes that were so often narrowed were still wide, shining with tears.

"I won't leave you alone," Ami managed after a moment, one hand patting him on the shoulder awkwardly. For a long minute, he remained where he was, still shuddering occasionally.

The minute passed, and Yakumo drew away, eyes drifting to the nearly perpetual half-closed state he usually left them in, apologizing, "I'm sorry."

Ami smiled at him encouragingly. "It's fine," she assured him, her face flushed with fear and embarrassment. "No one should have to be alone when they're suffering… um… Yakumo-san."

"Just Yakumo," he said, bowing his head. "And… just… forget about that, and I'm really sorry. I oughta…. I have to take care of Pai." Raising his head again, and bearing a guilty expression, he suggested, "While you're here, I'll watch out for you, since she's not around. Sound fair?"

Nodding quickly, Ami answered, "That's fine, ah, Yakumo. Should we see how Masaki-san and the others are?"

Yakumo shuddered, nodding. "Yeah," he said in a solemn tone. "I'm never going to try to control one of the Qvansti again."

Ami frowned, peering at Yakumo in confusion. "Why do you call them that?" she asked.

"That's what they call themselves," he answered quietly.

"My time here is limited, at best. The more I do like this, the more I forget. This time, when you wake, you should remember everything, Ranma-dono."

"Everything?" he asked, all-too aware of the environs. "Where is this?"

"Tsunami," she answered quietly. "The most revered and ancient of all tree-ships of Jurai."

"You don't need to call me Ranma-dono," he said, smiling softly, pleased to find himself still in his ancestor's red robes. "What do you need to tell me?"

Tsunami frowned, leaning forward seriously. The woman had changed, no longer truly Tsunami in appearance, but also Sasami, totaling out to a girl likely not even his own age in appearance, but with the same aura of happiness that Sasami had carried, and the air of solemnity that seemed to follow Tsunami. "I cannot tell you, for I am not what I once was. You must look within yourself. The answer is there; all I can offer you is a moment of rest… Ranma." At the last, a small smile came to her face, even as it became tinged darkly with her flush.

"Rest?" Ranma asked, dumbfounded, still hovering over the glowing pool.

The girl nodded, drawing close, and whispered, "Close your eyes, and relax, Ranma. When you wake, you will feel much refreshed, and perhaps… perhaps you will be able to find the answer you're looking for."

Bowing his head, Ranma closed his eyes, attempting to do as the woman instructed. He was only aware of her breath, warm and sweet against his face, before he felt a touch at his lips, soft and gentle as a breeze in a springtime morning, and he succumbed to a deep slumber.

"Commodore, this is Group G2 reporting in, over."

Norris glanced at Washuu, still working on the massive and gleaming Gate, then to the radio again. "Report your current status, over," he responded.

"The docks are under control, Commodore. Ford and his men are dead, and Ranma is down, over."

"Lovely," Norris muttered, taking care not to allow his grumbling to be heard on the radio. "Define down, over."

"Unconscious, sir. The civilians are restless. Orders, over?"

"Maintain position, and cooperate with the defenders. If Ranma gets up, and tells you to do something, do it. Have someone retrieve Ford's gun, over and out." Irate, Norris shook his head. "Ford, you god-damned idiot, what have you done?"

No honorific or rank was given to the deceased man. The fact that Group G2 hadn't seen fit to give him a title either indicated that evidence suggested… irresponsible behavior. Precisely the kind of behavior that this situation couldn't afford.

"Commodore?" Patterson asked from Norris's side. "Should I order the remaining guardsmen to fan out and maintain coverage?"

"Yes," Norris said quietly. "Send some Marines with standard equipment to retrieve some vehicles for us. Busses, vans, trucks, whatever can move people quickly. Have them brought here, then pick twelve Marines with Miss Hakubi's rifles, and notify them that they will be joining the advance through the Gate."

"Understood," Patterson barked, turning to do as he was ordered.

Haruka stirred, slowly sitting up and prodding experimentally at the spot where she had been wounded. Her fuku remained active, giving her pause. From what she remembered, being knocked out often stripped that away, and she had certainly been unconscious. But the garment was unscathed, and she could easily tell that the wound she had taken was already gone.

The memory of the fiery pain as the acidic poison coursed through her veins made her shudder before she took in her surroundings. On the ground nearby, as Yosho watched warily, Ranma lay flat, not breathing, though his body was completely enveloped in a slowly dimming blue aura.

In the distance, standing before Ami protectively, Yakumo deflected stray rocks and rubbish from the angry crowd, while the girl bowed her head, weeping quietly. Setsuna sat nearby, carrying — for some reason — Yakumo's rifle in her lap and looking more lost than Haruka had ever seen the woman. "What happened?" Haruka asked hesitantly. She knew that Ranma had done something, trapped as he was in the reaver's ring. Had it left him dead? No, his eyes moved, still closed, as though he were deep in a dream.

"I'm not entirely sure," Yosho admitted, raising his eyes to look at Haruka over Ranma's still form. The dim blue glow from Ranma's aura gave Yosho's face a bleak, pale cast. "Yakumo… I think he tried to control a reaver, and found the results not to his liking."

"What?" Haruka asked, stunned. "Control one of them? Did it work?"

"A little," Setsuna mumbled. "But I think it very nearly drove him mad."

"We… we managed to stop all of the reavers without any losses," Yosho said hopefully. "With Ranma here, not a single innocent died."

"No," Yakumo muttered, his protective servant on his arm like a shield as he strode to sit near Setsuna. "But they hate us now. I was an idiot to do what I did."

"Scaring them away wasn't the best answer, but it's one that saved more lives in the end," Setsuna justified weakly.

"Maybe, but I was talking about trying to control the Qvansti."

Yosho looked at the man inquisitively, and Yakumo sighed, banishing his servant as the crowd drew away, huddling in their lines and afraid of coming nearer.

"I tried to control its mind," Yakumo said flatly. "If it weren't for the protective beast-magic spell, they would have controlled mine, instead. They have no single mind of their own. They all share one."

"What did you find out?" Yosho asked quietly.

"They hate us," Yakumo answered swiftly. "They hate all that lives, and are devoted to some…. I don't know. I think…. A queen, I suppose. But she's not a real being — I guess she's like their goddess. They call her Tokimi." Ranma shuddered in his sleep, not waking at the mention. Yakumo frowned before continuing, "They hate all that lives and sing her praises in their own way. There was so much there… so much that they had learned, all from fighting, and losing. Every time we kill one, they remember every part of it, and begin to learn how to counter it.

"I saw some of it. They're afraid of Ranma. And they're afraid of me, because they think I'm one of their goddess's favored. They want to capture Ranma and devour him, to send him to Tokimi, so that he will return as her servant, and destroy all life on this planet. There's someone else they hate even more… I don't know her name. Only a vague idea of what she does.

"She's here. Somewhere. And the reavers are here specifically to capture her, alive, and bring her to Tokimi." He cut himself off, shaking his head. "I can still feel them inside my mind," he moaned, dropping his face to his hands, sobbing weakly. "Get out of my head," he whimpered.

Yosho was shocked, not knowing what to say. "The reavers… I knew they learned… they have a goddess? They were sent here to find someone? Gods above, protect us all…."

Shaking himself out of his fit, Yakumo managed, "I could control one of them. It's like trying to control one hand of a single monster. It was mine for that moment, and I know what they're going to do next. They have a way to counter cold, at least once. And I will never try to control one again."

Ami dropped to the ground at Yakumo's side heavily, pleading eyes turning to Yosho. "What else can we do?" she asked weakly.

"Ranma-dono… I do not know when you will remember this, but I give you a gift, the truest expression of my power."

He nodded wordlessly, glowing leaves slowly peeling from his body, taking the wounds with them as they fell.

"I am the goddess of life, Ranma. And you contain a small sample of my essence. When you are mature enough, you can use my power, more than the powers that Washuu has already bestowed. You are not a warrior, with my power. You are a guardian, and a healer." She smiled, closing her eyes and leaning forward, resting her cheek against his, whispering into his ear. "Ranma-dono, will you accept this last gift from me?"

He nodded slowly, eyes wide with apprehension and fear.

Drawing very slightly away, Tsunami turned to face him squarely, and whispered, "Close your eyes, Ranma-dono."

He did so, and felt Tsunami's hands on his face, gentle fingers resting against the side of his head and drawing him forward. He felt her lips, soft, and unbelievably gentle, press against his, and drew in a sudden breath. Idiot, he told himself. He didn't need to breathe anymore.

But he did anyway, and the goddess's breath flowed into him, leaving him dizzy. He opened his eyes as she drew away, smiling brightly. Voice returned, he asked shakily, "Healing? That's your final gift to me?"

"No," she answered solemnly. "That has always been a part of you. The gift I give you is a gift I hope you return someday, Ranma-dono. I gave you, and will always give you…."

And with that, the dream-memory vanished.

Gasping for breath, he awoke, lurching violently upward to float a short distance over the ground. An aura of blue energy enveloped his body, tingling and warm. He stared at it in fascination, remembering Tsunami's words. He couldn't remember what she had said the final gift was, but he more than expected that he knew what it was anyway.

Returning to the ground, still chilled from the destruction of his weaker gem, he groaned, "I lost a gem… how am I supposed to hear when people need me?"

Yosho sighed, shaking his head. "Get a radio from Norris, Ranma. Or ask Washuu. She probably has something," the older man advised. "You dropped your sword."

Ranma accepted the blade as Yosho offered it to him, sheathing it and turning to look at the assembled defenders. "Is everyone okay?" he asked worriedly. They all nodded slowly, except for the man that Ranma hadn't met yet. Ranma looked at him, frowning at the seared and torn black shirt, and completely unscathed skin beneath. "Who are you?"

"Fuji Yakumo," he answered sullenly. "You're Ranma?"

"Higurashi Ranma," he said, nodding. He glanced to one side, as a pair of Marines bearing laser rifles dashed to his side.

"Sir," the lead Marine barked. "Commander Jim Dew reporting for duty."

Ranma blinked, scratching his head. "What?" he asked after a moment.

"Commodore Norris ordered us to join with the defensive force here. Your brevet rank makes you the senior officer," he explained in clumsy Japanese.

"Oh," Ranma replied, looking more confused. "Just do whatever Yosho tells you to do," he suggested, shrugging. "Meiou?" The woman roused, handing the borrowed rifle back to Yakumo, and stepping to Ranma's side. He nodded, reminding Yosho, "If you need me, just call," before he teleported away.

Norris raised an eyebrow, as Ranma reappeared, though something about the boy seemed more subdued as he arrived. He set Setsuna down, and marched directly to Washuu's side. "Washuu?" he asked cautiously.

She waved a hand at him, while Ranma's daughter bounced to his side, and grabbed him in a hug. "Just a moment, and the Gate will be completed," the scientist chastised him.

He nodded, ruffling Nuku's hair affectionately as the girl happily nuzzled his chest.

Washuu's needed moment stretched into a long ten minutes, during which Ranma sat on the stone, raising an eyebrow to the sight of the reavers he had destroyed. Norris had already had some of his men haul the carapaces away, and filled in the pitted craters their acid had dug into the cement with sand. Another pair of Marines were laboring to haul large wooden boards across the sand, to ensure that the path to the Gate was as unerring as possible.

Finally, as the Marines dropped the last board into place and tested it — kicking and stomping to test the makeshift path's stability — Washuu crowed, "Done!"

At her words, the Gate whirred to life, crackling energies writhing across the surface of the mechanism until a shimmering pane of reddish-white light sprang into being through the archway. The shimmering pane glowed ominously until Washuu finished some setting, and it wavered, giving way to an unbroken desert, a city visible only a mile distant. "Australia," she announced triumphantly. "Ranma, can you double-check and make sure it's safe?"

He nodded, stepping through the portal, and casting his senses out. The area was miraculously free of reavers, to his senses. More, the Gate itself did not register on his or Ran-oh-ki's senses, and would hopefully be hidden from the reavers, as well. Striding back, he shrugged, offering, "It looks fine."

Norris snapped his fingers, and the advance force dashed through the Gate, surveying the area, and ensuring that there were no visible dangers. "It looks like a success," Norris grumbled, still worried. "Start moving the crowds through."

Washuu sighed, wiping her hands on an oilcloth, and frowning at Ranma. "Your spare gem is missing," she noted with worry.

"It broke," Ranma apologized. "I think it tried to channel a little too much power."

"It broke?" Washuu asked cautiously. "When Ryouko's spare gems break, they explode. What happened?"

"The explosion took out some of the reavers attacking me," Ranma said uncomfortably. "The problem is that I need the extra gem to use Inu-Yasha's sword. It's too heavy for me to use easily, otherwise."

Washuu bit her lip pensively, sliding a panel across the lines and rows of buttons and controls as the first of the refugees began to jog into the square. "I can tell you how to make another, but it will take some time, and I want to know what happened while you were gone."

"Fair enough," Ranma agreed.

"Good. Take me with you, and we'll need your partner."

Ranma nodded, gathering the woman into his arms and teleporting away. Norris raised an eyebrow, as the green-haired woman that traveled with Ranma crossed her arms over her chest. Ranma had carried Washuu carefully, one arm beneath her back, and another under the back of her knees, where he had simply picked Setsuna up about her waist.

He idly wondered the significance of that before dismissing it, and turning his attention to Patterson. "How is the vehicle collecting going?" he queried.

Patterson grinned, offering, "Good news on that, at least. We've raided a few bus-tour centers, managed to find a few fuel trucks, and found that most stores have plenty of canned goods available. Teams are gathering necessities and bottled water as we speak, while the fuel trucks are pumping gas out of local gas stations."

"Why is all of this simply left here?" Norris asked, frowning. "Where are all of the people?"

Having no answer, Patterson let his smile fade and gave a helpless shrug. "I don't know," he admitted.

Ranma hesitated above the deck, checking Ran-oh-ki through his link, and smiling softly. "Hey, rat!" he called out.

Obligingly, the small creature darted up through the deck, bouncing into Washuu's lap, and making a contented noise. Washuu frowned at the creature, mumbling, "I hope you got your fill."

"I thought he'd put a bigger dent in the place," Ranma commented, drifting momentarily towards the deck. "He ate Norris's planes much faster." As his foot touched on the deck, the entire surface of the ship gave a single heaving shudder, before collapsing in on itself, leaving Ranma surveying a swiftly sinking mass of fallen steel. "Oh," Ranma said quietly.

Washuu stared at the sight for a moment herself, the distant refugees backing away warily from their position on the dock. "It is mostly empty space inside," Washuu noted after a moment.

"It's still pretty impressive," Ranma countered.

"That's true. Ranma, can you ask your partner to look for gems, specifically? You need to find a blue gem of some kind, like a sapphire."

Ranma frowned, unsure, and looked at Ran-oh-ki inquisitively. The creature considered for a minute, then nodded, turning to look across the city intently. "What do we do once I find a blue gem?"

"Wait until I tell you," Washuu said, waggling a finger at Ranma. "You push yourself too hard."

Wincing, Ranma teleported again, arriving at Cologne's side in only a heartbeat, startling the scientist as he growled, "See that, Washuu?" He jerked his head towards the bodies that Eric and Mamoru were dragging away to clear a path. "That tells me that I'm not pushing myself hard enough."

Eric broke away from his duty, pausing to salute Ranma. Ranma ignored the man, offering a weak smile to Hotaru and Cologne before he teleported again, this time to the docks, not far from Yosho. The refugees there were already amassing the bodies of the fallen on their own. "And again here," he said bitterly. "If I had been faster when I was with Kagome and Inu-Yasha, I might have arrived in time to prevent this!"

"Ranma-san," Ami protested weakly from behind him.

He ignored her, shifting through space again, and hovering a short distance over a large pit, which Ryouga, Mousse, and another of the Marines were shoving debris into; attempting to make it passable for the refugees. "And here too, I bet," he said, landing and setting Washuu down carefully. "I can never do enough, until I stop all of them."

Breaking off, he surveyed the crowd, gesturing as he indicated a man laying on the ground to the side, breathing slowly, eyes glazed over, and a bandage across his chest. He ignored Mousse and Ryouga as they called out for him, crouching at the wounded man's side and asking, "What happened to him?" One of the refugees hesitantly explained that a reaver had only scratched him.

Ranma sighed, biting his lip. "Here," he said, not looking at Washuu, "I can make a difference, if I push myself." He lay his hand on the wounded man's chest, closing his eyes and concentrating. The familiar tingling warmth spread from his hands, leaving him drained. When he opened his eyes, faint wisps of the blue energy rose from the man, who was sleeping easily.

"Anyone else?" he asked, tottering to his feet, unhappy with how much effort the healing had taken. If it was his true calling, he was awfully weak at using it.

The crowd gave him nothing but nervous and confused headshakes. Sighing, he turned to look at Washuu, who was staring at her feet, unable to meet his gaze. Ran-oh-ki nuzzled her affectionately, and Ranma belatedly realized that her face was lowered to mask her tears. "Uh… I'm sorry," he said, slumping. "I can't say anything right… ugh, this sucks."

Ryouga stood behind Washuu, watching Ranma with raised eyebrows. "Hey," he said after a moment. "I see you're back with us, Ranma."

Nodding, Ranma turned to realize that all of the defenders were watching him expectantly. "Yeah," he said, sighing. "I went to the past and met my ancestors. They gave me this sword." He drew the Tetsusaiga to demonstrate, then sheathed it, shaking his head. "I just hope it's enough. What happened here?"

Ryouga and Mousse explained, briefly, how they had been attacked, and what it had taken to halt the reavers. The Marine who had been with Ryouga watched Ranma intently, saying something in English, but Ranma was at a loss to understand the man without his second gem. He shot a questioning look to Ryouga, who quickly explained, "He says that he wants you to give him orders."

"Just tell him to stay here." Ranma turned to Ryu, and raised an eyebrow. "Your arm?" he asked.

Ryu hesitantly offered his broken arm to Ranma, mumbling, "I owe you too much already."

"You won't be able to fight at all, injured like that," Ranma countered, throwing more of his power into the healing blue aura that Tsunami had granted him. Ryu winced, as the bones reset themselves and wove back together, and then the cracked ribs followed suit. "Okay, if you need me, I'll probably get a radio from Norris." He turned his attention to Washuu, speaking quietly, "Ran-oh-ki's found something nearby that he thinks will work. Are you ready?"

She nodded, still not raising her head, and Ranma carefully picked her up, teleporting to the location that Ran-oh-ki had chosen. His partner placed him in the middle of an expensive jewelry story, though the expenditure of energy after all of the healing, left him drained, and he set Washuu down before staggering heavily into a counter. "Damn it!" he swore. "Still not strong enough."

Eyes bright with unshed tears, Washuu seized Ranma's wrist forcefully. "Ranma, you… you… I understand. But if you push yourself too hard, you'll die! If you don't remember to restrain yourself, you'll burn out, and then what good will you be able to do?" she asked insistently.

"I… I don't know. I just have to try as hard as I can," he mumbled. "If I don't, more people die, and it's my fault."

"It's not your fault!" Washuu yelled. "And you can't throw yourself away like that! You have to live, because people care about you!"

"Who are you talking about?" Ranma growled. "Cologne? Maybe, but she's got her own family, her own people. Atsuko? She's still got… got you. Tsunami… everyone's got someone else without me. So what people are you talking about?"

"People like me!" Washuu shouted. "Maybe it's selfish, but what about me? You're willing to simply throw your life away, and leave me alone like that?"

"What about you?" Ranma asked, confused. "You've got Tsunami, Yosho, you've got plenty of people who care about you even if I'm gone!"

Washuu drew back a hand and slapped Ranma across the face. He grunted, turning with the blow, and remained, facing away, as the scientist growled at him, "Ranma, you can't be…" she trailed off, her voice oddly thick with emotion. "No. I don't care for anyone else the same way. And if you care about me at all, you'll do your damnedest to fight and survive. If you get yourself killed, I don't know if I could ever forgive you."

The silence deepened, the only observer being Ran-oh-ki, who made no move to distract the pair, simply staring at both with saddened eyes.

At length, Ranma answered, still looking away, "I do care. And because I care, I want to do everything I can to make sure that there's no threat to you. To see that you, Tsunami, Atsuko, Yosho, Cologne, all of my friends, everyone who's fighting with us, all of the refugees… I want everyone to be safe. Because I care. Doing anything less than my best, fighting at anything other than my hardest… that would be me not caring."

He turned back to meet the scientist's gaze and concluded, "I'm sorry."

Washuu clenched her fists, glowering at him furiously, but her anger melted away at Ranma's apology, and she simply collapsed into his chest, crying, "I didn't want to do this to you! I never meant to change you like this!"

Ranma belatedly put an arm around her shoulder, pulling her close and running a hand through her hair. "It's not your fault," he said softly. "This is who I am. You didn't change who I was; just what I could do."

"How do you know that?" Washuu countered bitterly. "How do you know I didn't change the way you thought?"

"Tsunami showed me," he answered, sighing. "Like I said… this is who I am." Washuu had no response to that, simply continuing to cry into Ranma's chest. After a pause, he added, "I wish I could offer you a handkerchief, but Hotaru is carrying mine for me."

Ran-oh-ki scrambled up to perch on the woman's shoulder, making a low, sad noise in sympathy, and nuzzling her ear affectionately. "Who will you be when this is over?" she asked quietly, much later.

He flinched at that question. "I… I don't know," he admitted.

Regaining her composure, the woman stepped away from him, meeting his eyes, and said, "I want to know, and my curiosity as a scientist will not go ignored." She smiled, sniffling slightly, not even noticing as she cradled Ran-oh-ki, patting him with one hand. "Which means that you will live through this, no matter how hard you fight, if I have my way. Understand?"

Ranma found it within himself to return the smile, and agreed, "Understood. I'll try, Washuu, but I can't promise anything."

"If you try your hardest, it's as good as a promise to me," the woman declared, all traces of her sadness gone — or at least hidden away — for the moment. Turning her attention to the abandoned display cases of gemstones, she changed the subject abruptly, "You could use any stone, but a sapphire, or other blue gem will work better, and much faster."

Ranma blinked, his train of thought still derailed by the de facto promise that the Washuu had extracted from him. "Uh… right." That they were stealing someone else's jewelry was something Ranma could easily dismiss; if more lives could be spared, then it would be acceptable in his mind.

Coming back to her senses at the foot of her other body, the young woman smiled. Her hair pooled about her, fine as silk, until she retained her feet, amused at the awkwardness of adjusting to their new proportions. First things first, though. Which name would she wear?

Both were hers, in every sense, but… Ranma had called her Tsunami. More than that, some would have difficulty accepting her as merely 'Sasami', now. That much, then was resolved. She would be Tsunami in name, if she were more in truth.

That dealt with, she pursed her lips thoughtfully. She would need to be careful with what power she used, and when. Washuu too, had been careful, but generally forgot much when Tsunami wasn't there to awaken those memories. That meant that likely, she would forget as much as Washuu had, eventually. Part of the cost, she supposed, though the new… depth of being able to feel… smell… listen… everything was so rewarding, so much more real then it had ever been before… and yet, it was also so unsettlingly familiar.

"This is what it is to be living," she whispered quietly. "This is what I gift…." The thought eluded her for before she could complete it, and she instead simply said, "Amazing."

And the sensations, the textures, the feel of Ranma's face beneath her fingertips…. She would have to see him again; she wanted to explore that further. And more than simply touching him, the sensation of happiness that his presence instilled in her… the knowledge that he was well made the budding warmth in her chest grow from a gentle glow to a hot spark, suffusing her entire being, and inexplicably making her face redden.

It took only a moment to remember the stories that she had read on the subject, which all felt so long ago. "Oh, my," she whispered, shaking her head. Carefully, so as not to fall and trip, she took a hesitant step, and reassured, another, swiftly increasing her pace and stepping towards the exit, and the palace proper, and from there….

Laruma Genoh fidgeted. Tenchi guessed that next to himself, there hadn't been a more nervous man in all of history. "So," Tenchi asked, in part to break the nervous tension as the pair of them stood in largely deserted Council chamber, and in part because he wasn't clear, "how does this all work?"

"Ah," Genoh said, calming, and turning to face Tenchi. "It is a simple matter, honestly. The overseer of these events simply measures the contributions of the various candidates and places the markers of the candidates in ranked order on the list. In, ah, theory, the overseer is kept unaware of which marker represents who, so that they are as unbiased as possible, and not susceptible to bribes."

"I see," Tenchi said quietly. "Who is the candidate, then? And where is Karau?"

"They… they are one and the same, Tenchi."

Tenchi stared at the man blankly. "You're setting your younger brother up for a position that important? Genoh… is that really wise? Are you sure he can handle it?" he asked worriedly.

"You seem to be doing a fine job of running Jurai," Genoh returned. "He is of an age with you. He's been trained well — I have faith in him."

Conceding the point, Tenchi bowed his head. "Of course. Well, let's hope, then."

Ayeka straightened from her study of a book she had brought with her, and uneasily managed, "They should be done soon, Tenchi. It is unlikely that overly much will have changed — I cannot imagine that they have foreseen your actions." She wrung her hands nervously, then adding, "I… I expect we will be receiving a great many calls from our cousins…."

"Oh?" Tenchi asked, furrowing his brows. "They lived near Okayama… do you think they made it?"

"Ah… perhaps, Tenchi," Ayeka said. "But I was speaking of our cousins here. Jakugo, for example — many of our cousins are on the Council, as well. You… you also risk damaging relations with them when you act as you do."

"From what you've told me," Tenchi remarked sadly, "I can't afford to spare them. They're just as much a part of the problem anyway."

"But…. But Tenchi, they are family!" Ayeka protested weakly. "They are noble, more so than perhaps some of the other families. The Masaki are…." Trailing off, she swallowed, and asked in a timid voice, "Tenchi-sama… am I unable to see things that you and… Genoh-san… are able to more clearly?"

Ryouko, having simply watched the entire exchange in silence to that point, interceded before Tenchi or Genoh could answer. "Ayeka," she said frankly. "It's almost impossible to see the problems from inside."

"How would you know?" Ayeka snapped back, while Tenchi and Genoh watched on. "You were a space pirate, you destroyed planets! How was that an improvement, and what makes you a better person than me in any sense?"

Ryouko snorted, rising to her feet and waggling a finger at Ayeka. "You're just mad because Tenchi likes me better! And it wasn't my fault that I blew up those planets — I was under Kagato's control. I had to be dead for seven hundred years to really learn anything. Maybe you should try being dead for a while, eh?" So saying, she summoned a ball of glowing red energy to her hand, tightening a fist about it as it adjusted shape suddenly into a sword.

Ayeka raised her hands, scowling, and called her small guardians to her, crackling with electricity. "And I think you've been let run around long enough!" she snapped back. "I'll have you thrown into—"

She cut off suddenly, dropping her hands to her sides as Tenchi strode between them, and shot them both very disappointed looks. "Is this how it's going to be?" he asked bitterly. "I'm supposed to run this Empire — I have a meeting with Seiryo tomorrow, because he feels slighted about not being able to duel me properly last time, and his people are threatening to set up an embargo against us on behalf of his honor. I have about a dozen more meetings with local nobles about who-all-knows what. I've been working very hard to try and get this whole 'Emperor' thing to work, because on top of what all looks like it's pretty normal work for an emperor, I've got a major crisis on my hands.

"I'm dealing with a system of law that's considered barbaric and crude by the standards of my own home planet, surrounded by people who despise me because I'm not a 'purebred Juraian' — I've heard them whispering, Ayeka — and on top of all this I have to deal with the constant fact that I'm not helping Earth as much as I'd like!

"My grandfather is there, fighting. From what I can guess, my father is already dead, and who knows how many more people are dying every minute I spend here when I could be doing more to help them." He paused for breath, then turned to Ayeka, some of the anger fading from his gaze. "I, Masaki Tenchi, love you, Ayeka." She flushed crimson, and he turned to look at Ryouko, who merely blinked in stunned confusion. "And I love you too, Ryouko. The both of you are wonderful people most of the time.

"However," he said, his gaze becoming harder again, "I, as the Emperor of Jurai, simply cannot have you two around if you're going to be like this. Ayeka, you're too rigid and inflexible when it comes what Jurai is and what I think needs to be changed. Ryouko, you're far too eager to antagonize Ayeka."

The two women stared at him in dismay, Ayeka's guardians vanishing into the air, as did Ryouko's sword. Genoh pointedly studied a mural of Tsunami, patently not watching the discussion. "When I was just… just an average teenager," Tenchi continued, mumbling, "and I didn't have to worry about much more than fixing whatever you blew up and getting Ryo-oh-ki carrots…. When it was simple, then I could hope that you…. Oh, man. Ryouko, you're over seven hundred years old. Ayeka, you're royalty. Is it too much to ask for that either of you be a little more… mature?

"I don't want to sound cold and impartial, but… if you two can't grow up a little, then this is just plain never going to work!" Ayeka and Ryouko flinched in tandem. "And I want things to work, because I don't think I can do this alone. And even if I can… I really don't want to. Things were going so great for the last few days… what's happened, anyway?"

Ayeka stammered, her sense lost in the rush of Tenchi's speech. "I'm sorry?" she squeaked out apologetically. "I…. It's been very strange," the woman admitted. "You're trying to change so much, and so much is different… I just feel lost, and… I don't know what to do."

Ryouko chewed her lower lip, glancing between Tenchi and Ayeka, then hesitantly added, "I'm sorry too."

Ayeka shook her head, sighing, and rubbing at her temples wearily. "The fault is entirely my own," she insisted. "I should not have vented at you, simply because of the pressure I— rather, that is, the pressure that we've all been under."

"That's right," Tenchi affirmed, smiling gratefully. "Now, we can manage this all together, right? So why don't you two kiss and make up?"

Ryouko and Ayeka blanched, turning to stare at Tenchi in surprise, while Genoh sputtered quietly, and mumbled an excuse, hurrying towards the door. "Er… wait," Tenchi said, slapping himself on the forehead. "That's an expression! It means apologize to each other, and try and get along better. It doesn't actually mean… ugh. Just when I thought I had a handle on this whole 'public speaking' thing…."

The two women shared a glance, then turned back to look at Tenchi, head hanging in dismay, and Genoh, paused near the doorway and casting an eye towards them apprehensively, before bursting into simultaneous peals of laughter.

"Can you keep on fighting?" Norris asked, using Ranma's own Japanese for the moment.

Ranma answered tiredly, her voice slurred with strain and effort, though it no longer had the English echo that had once accompanied it, "Yeah. Ran-oh-ki says they're just waiting for now. They want to plan something else big."

Norris nodded slowly at the young defender, sitting between Washuu and Nuku. Nuku was leaning against Ranma, seemingly content to pin the smaller girl against the tree she was resting against. Washuu sat nearby, emerald-green eyes occasionally flashing with some unknown emotion. "What are they doing?"

Ranma's hand rose slowly, dropping to rest heavily on the small creature in her lap and rub it's ears. "Dunno," she said, yawning. "I'm storing power. I need to rest. The rat will wake me if something important comes up."

Washuu frowned unhappily, then turned her attention to Norris. "Do you have any food?" she asked plaintively. "Something nutritious would allow Ranma to reclaim a little more energy."

"Uh… Patterson?" Norris called, switching back to English.

The junior officer raised an eyebrow at Norris's words, asking, "Yes, Commodore?"

"Find some rations for Ranma — a good soldier fights better when he's got something to run on."

"Understood." Patterson nodded politely to Ranma, saluted Norris, and marched away, while Ranma watched through slowly closing eyelids, staring at the column of people still running through the Gate. Norris knew it would take hours for everyone to complete the journey, but it was still satisfying to know that each second, that many more people would be safe.

It was a pity, in his estimation, that so much reliance needed to be placed on specific people, rather than just his own soldiers, but it was far, far better than waiting in a harbor to eventually die at the hands of the reavers. "I miss my ship," he commented to no one in particular. "I suppose I'll never see it again."

Ranma mumbled something, and Washuu repeated Norris's words in Japanese for the girl. After a moment, Washuu sighed at something Ranma said, and offered, "Mr. Norris — Ran-oh-ki ate your ship. Ranma says he's sorry."

"He ate a boomer?" Norris asked, eyes growing large. "I'll admit, he's got good senses if he can tell where the reavers are, but isn't that a little… well… high maintenance?"

"He's just getting ready to change," Washuu assured him. "He, unlike Ryo-oh-ki, didn't have the mass of a previous ship to absorb, so he's go to collect his own."

"How much can he possibly need?" Norris muttered. "An entire ship… he ate a nuclear submarine!"

"Oh, no, he didn't eat a whole submarine," Washuu said, prompting Norris to relax. "He ate the entire Kitty Hawk. Well, the inside, anyway."

"We're not having this conversation," the military man stated. "Creatures that size do not eat several hundred thousand tons of ship."

Washuu managed a weak smile at that, glancing at Ranma as the girl drifted into sleep, leaning back into Nuku while the more alert girl nuzzled her cheek contentedly. "As you wish, Mr. Norris."

He glanced up, frowning, as a plane passed overhead, jets roaring faintly in the distance. "Interesting," he remarked, instantly abandoning thoughts of Ranma's pet, and turning to the radio. "I'm going to try and get in touch with that pilot," Norris informed Washuu. "Please be sure that Ranma is battle-ready, should the need arise."

The woman's smile faded, and she nodded unhappily, turning to watch the small redhead while she slept.

Tsunami made it into the Council chamber undaunted, using the back entrance, since she had nothing to worry about of the formal requirements. She had expected to find the Council — and Tenchi — amid a heated debate on something or another. The few servants she had managed to question in the palace treated her with confused awe, and only managed to inform her that Tenchi was in Council. No doubt their reactions were changed due to her altered appearance, but she tried not to let that bother her.

What greeted her when she opened the large doors to the Council chamber, however, was not the scene she had expected. Standing together, Ryouko and Ayeka were laughing in such a fit that they had to cling to one another for support, while Tenchi managed a wry chortle, scratching the back of his head nervously. Behind him, near the chamber's main door, another man watched over the scene with an incredulously confused expression.

Which posed a new problem. Tsunami pursed her lips thoughtfully, remaining unobserved for the moment. What to call the women? More likely than not, 'neechan' would not be acceptable to them, but 'san' would probably be too formal, and she had no desire to put more distance between them then already existed. Perhaps…. "Hello, Ryouko-chan, Ayeka-chan," she said hopefully.

The laughter dwindled to a trickle, though both women remained grinning as they turned to regard her, smiles shifting into expressions of surprise and confusion. "Sa…. Er…. Tsunami?" Ayeka hazarded. "You look… different."

Ryouko nodded, glancing fearfully at Tenchi, then back at Tsunami. The girl could easily make out the raw fear and panic that lay within Ryouko's amber eyes. She heaved an internal sigh; still, the woman was afraid that she would steal Tenchi away. Not, Tsunami supposed, that she could entirely fault her. The prospect of losing someone that was held dear was difficult to bear. Knowing full well that she had lost Tenchi in many of the important senses, it was difficult to keep jealousy in check, but the moment of irritation passed with the memory of what else she had found.

"Thank you," she said quietly, smiling. "I feel very different too… and much better for it. What's going on?"

Tenchi coughed, bowing politely. Tsunami could see much of the familiar care and worry in his eyes that he had borne for Sasami, but that was slight in comparison to the awe and fear he held for Tsunami. The old Tsunami, she corrected herself. A pity, truly, but what was done, was done. "We were… ah, worried about you, Tsunami. Is… where is Sasami?" the boy asked tremulously.

"Sasami is me, and I am also Tsunami," she sighed, staring at her hands in fascination. "We're… one person. It's hard to remember being two people, now. I know that I was, but it all seems like a strange fantasy, the longer I think about it. But I am well, so thanks for asking about me." She smiled at him, offering a shrug as she dropped her hands and raised her head.

He nodded slowly, and turned to the man behind him, who was watching her with a good deal of fascination. "This is Laruma Genoh," Tenchi said, gesturing. "He's, ah, a friend, and his younger brother is trying to get a position on the Council. That's what we're doing here. It's… um… good to meet you. I mean, uh, see that you're well."

Tsunami laughed lightly at that, shaking her head. "I suppose it will be difficult for everyone to adjust," she commented wryly. Inclining her head to Genoh, she said, "It's nice to meet you, Genoh-san. Vidarr tells me that you take very good care of him."

The man's eyes widened, and he broke into a good-natured smile. "I'm happy to do right by him," he said, beaming with joy. "He, Freya-oh, and Gaeron-oh are the pride of the Laruma — the only second generation ships that we have the privilege of tending."

Unable to resist, Tsunami grinned. "Yes," she said, pleased, "the Laruma have a history of caring for their trees like no other." Genoh, at least, was different. Perhaps most of the Laruma were, but then, they viewed her differently, being somewhere outside of the proper caste system.

Tenchi shook his head, asking Ayeka, "How much longer do we have before they finish arguing their way through the electoral process?"

"Ah… it should be within a few minutes, Tenchi," she said. She bit her lip, regarding Tsunami uncertainly, then shook her head, giving the girl a timid smile. Tsunami held a feeling of sudden relief in check, pleased that some, if not all could be salvaged.

"Well," he said, glancing at Genoh, "let's see, then, shall we? Karau could probably use your support."

"Perhaps," Genoh hedged, his smile lessening. "But I think giving him my support now would make him think that I didn't trust in his ability, were I to watch."

"Then I suppose we can only wait, and hope for good news," Tenchi concluded, sighing.

"Don Hai."

A man, dressed smartly in his military uniform raised his head from his contemplation of a warm cup of tea. "Hmm?" he murmured to the young subordinate who had called his name. He blinked, owlish and lazy eyes roaming about his lavishly decorated office. "What's that?"

The younger man flinched reflexively, not quite stepping backwards, but looking as if he very much wished to do so. "As the plan has stated… there is activity in Shanghai," he managed, voice quavering.

"The enemy?" Don Hai asked quietly.

"Yes, Sir… and…" he trailed off, fidgeting.

"And?" Don Hai asked in the same quiet voice, raising an eyebrow suspiciously.

Swallowing, the young man blurted out, "And there are Japanese with them, and American warships in the harbor — one of them was destroyed, but we're not certain how yet."

"Hmm," Don Hai mused, sipping at his tea, and staring into its depths for a long, silent minute. "Well," he said, once he had pored over the drink long enough, "if the enemy is there, tell the Americans they have five minutes to leave the city, and see that Shanghai is leveled."

"Sir?" the man asked, his knees shaking. "Are… are… are you sure about that?"

"Yes," Don Hai drawled, rising slowly, and staring down at the younger officer. "Though I think I will manage the radio myself. You are dismissed for the day."

Striding purposefully from his office, he fished a small key from his pocket, and approached the radio booth, pushing an operator out of the way, and eyeing the instrumentation. "Will this let me speak with the Japanese?" he asked the operator where he had fallen. The man gave a quick, frightened nod.

Don Hai smiled, and placed his key in a small keyhole, rotating it with a sharp twist. Turning to the radio operator, he noted, "You know what to do." The operator scrambled to the next instrumentation panel, and hurriedly notified the correct people that the target was Shanghai.

Ignoring the operator for the moment, Don Hai picked up the radio, using their own English for the benefit of the Americans who should be at the other end of the line, "Hello, Americans."

Norris sighed in relief — he was rather beginning to suspect that whoever was in control of the plane was not going to give them an answer at all. "Hello, China," he answered, wishing he knew Chinese. "This is Commodore Norris, current CINCPAC." He left off there, not entirely sure what the most diplomatic statement to make would be.

Probably not telling them about the efficient looting his men were performing on Shanghai's stores and parking lots.

"Hello, Mr. Norris, I am Don Hai," came the response, accented only thinly. "I have no title to share with you, merely a warning. Evacuate the city now, it will be gone in fifteen minutes."

Norris's jaw dropped, and he swore, restraining himself enough to not throw the radio to the ground. Switching to a local band, but leaving Don Hai's open, he asked, "Emry, have you completed setting up the short-range radar, over?"

Emry responded quickly, his team having climbed to the top of one of the high-rise buildings with portable sensory gear, "Affirmative, Commodore, we've just completed setting everything up, over."

"Do we have anything incoming, over?" Norris asked tensely.

"Ah… we have… oh, holy mother of fu— Sir we've got SRBM's incoming, over."

"How many!" Norris yelled.

"Uh… more than forty, Sir, over."

Norris dropped his head into his hands, swearing creatively for a long minute.

"Sir? Orders, Sir, over?"

"Wait where you are," Norris snapped. "Give me an ETA on those incoming, over."

"Ah… less than ten minutes, Sir, over."

Norris turned to Washuu, who stared at him in confusion. "What's going on?" she asked.

"Washuu, do you have something that can stop SRBMs?"

"Stop what?" the scientist asked, confused.

"Short Range Ballistic Missiles," Norris said quickly. "China decided to nuke the city to take out as many reavers as they could, as far as I can tell. It looks like they consider us acceptable losses. Do you have anything that could help us?"

"Nuclear missiles?" Washuu asked apprehensively.

"Yes. Anything you have that can help us at all?"

The scientist licked her lips, turning her attention to Ranma, who still slept. "I… if… Ranma can't summon the wings of the Light Hawk. If he could, he could shield the city, but… I don't have anything… wait, how much time do we have?"

"Less than ten minutes," Norris snapped. "We have rolling airframe missile launchers back at the Kitty Hawk, maybe you could build some sort of interceptor out of that?"

"In ten minutes? No! I can't…." She shook her head, swearing loudly, and startling Ranma awake. "I can't believe it!" she yelled. "We get this far only to be shot down by other humans? This is ridiculous! There's got to be something… maybe one of the other defenders…."

"What's going on?" Ranma asked sleepily. "Are we under… Ran-oh-ki says there are no reavers… but a lot of small things flying towards us."

"Those are nuclear missiles," Norris informed her blandly. "And I'm sure you know how long it's going to take them to get here."

Ranma was on her feet in a second, dislodging Nuku as she bolted upright, seething and furious. Norris had seen Ranma in a completely uncontrolled and nearly feral state, but that didn't compare to the raw, boiling furnace of anger that she had become instantly. "Who the hell did it," she hissed, shifting form and becoming male again, one hand on his sword hilt. "Who sent these at us?"

Norris glanced at the radio, then licked his lips nervously. "Let me see if I can get him, maybe I can talk him down — Don Hai, this is Commodore Norris, are you there?"

"Yes," Don Hai said mildly after a moment. "But you really should move, Mr. Norris. You don't have much time."

"Look, Don Hai, we need you to stop the missiles, I…" he trailed off, as Ranma carelessly tossed Ran-oh-ki to Nuku, and vanished, leaving a swirl of dust behind.

Ranma returned a half-second later, bearing a large man in a crisply cleaned Chinese military uniform with him, held aloft by Ranma's grip on his throat. The boy threw the man to the stone at Norris's feet hard enough to crack the tile, and growled, "If you don't stop them, then you die too."

The man, larger than Norris's expectation writhed on the ground, moaning weakly in agony from where he had been thrown. His fine uniform was dirtied by the dust on the ground, and flakes of the cracked stone had flown into his hair. "Can't," he choked out, managing to glare at Ranma spitefully. "Can't make me; they won't stop them anyway."

Ranma glared at the man, then turned to Norris, asking, "What did he say?"

Norris dutifully translated the message, and Ranma responded by drawing his sword, placing the tip of the massive blade at Don Hai's throat. "Stop them!" he insisted furiously, blade quivering in his grip with his anger.

Kneeling to be on the level with Don Hai, who still lay in writhing agony, Norris explained, "This boy will kill you if you do not stop those missiles. I can't control him. You have to stop the missiles."

"Too late," Don Hai answered defiantly. "They cannot be stopped now."

Norris allowed his shoulders to slump in defeat. Less than ten minutes left, now. "He can't stop it, Ranma," he mumbled. "Grab your daughter, and Washuu, and run while you can. You can get out of range."

"I'm not leaving," Ranma snapped, glaring hatefully at Don Hai, who merely sneered at Ranma, unimpressed. "There's got to be a way to solve this!"

Council had only convened long enough to establish whom the newly elected, and newly reelected Councilmen were. Tenchi was completely unable to hide his satisfaction at seeing Karau at the table, as proud and nervous as the boy was to be there, but none could question it, with Tsunami watching the proceedings and clearly approving.

Once everyone had stated their names for the record, Council had disbanded, the affair largely dealt with.

Tenchi promptly invited Karau and Genoh to dinner at the palace. "After all," he had said, "things are finally looking up!"


To be continued.

Author's notes: Thanks to Slacker, Bjorn, Ginrai, MageOhki, Alex Raven, and William Dix for pre-reading.

Part 10
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Last revision: January 7, 2006

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