Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ A Tale of Two Wallets ❯ Rampage ( Chapter 121 )

[ Y - Young Adult: Not suitable for readers under 16 ]

A Tale of Two Wallets

(An Altered Destiny)

Written by Jim Robert Bader

Proofread by Shiva Barnwell

From the Journal of Saotome Nabiki:

During my year-plus of training under Elder Lotion I had been warned many times to keep control over my temper, but events of that day bring to the point just why it is a very bad idea to tick off even an apprenticed Lore Master. The delicate balance that it had taken me so long to achieve between intellect and emotion was rent asunder in just one instant when I had perceived the events that had befallen Shampoo that very day. To put it in the mildest terms imaginable I was pissed off as hell and itching to reap righteous vengeance!

And so I begin my latest journal by recapping what you already know of the events leading up to that confrontation between me and a local merchant, where Shampoo had been verbally ambushed and ridiculed by a complete stranger who had somehow found a way of saying the most insensitive things calculated to drive my wife to complete and utter distraction. The things he said hardly bear mentioning at this point, but just thinking about them makes me angry all over, and I don't really trust myself to remain at all calm and objective if I try and put myself into the mindset that would say things like that to a pregnant girl, regardless of whether or not she is of foreign nationality.

Suffice it to say that I wanted to have words with the bastard who had driven Shampoo to near suicide, and so I entered his shop with Shampoo close at hand feeling the edge of my temper as though I held an actual knife in my hands…only the knife that I was wielding was a lot sharper than the finest tool steel in existence.

The merchant standing behind the counter looked up at me politely enough, but then he frowned and sneered in Shampoo's direction, making it rather plain that her presence was unwanted. Shampoo felt compelled to oblige him but I stood firm and insisted that she remain, and then I stared directly at the man and gave him a withering look to command his attention and said---very precisely, "How much do you charge for a container of powdered curry?"

He actually seemed surprised by the question but answered perfunctorily enough with a price that sounded reasonable, but I pounced on the point at once and said, "That's not what you were charging my friend. The sum you quoted to her was more than twice that amount…or have you lowered your prices in the past few minutes?"

Accusing a merchant of deliberately lowering his prices for select customers should have been barb enough to get a rise out of any entrepreneuring spirit, but this man hardly blinked his eyes as he replied, "Depends upon the customer. Some can afford to pay a better price than others."

"I see," I said, feeling little trickles of my consciousness beginning to seep out through the tight barrier that I was attempting to keep firm around my emotions, "In other words you believe that Shampoo here can afford to pay more for curry than me?"

The man gave me another look that as much as took my state of dress in as a testament to near poverty then said, "Depends on if you've got a scholarship or trust fund, I suppose…or even a roof over your head, in which case you wouldn't need the powdered curry."

I think Shampoo was more aware of it than me at the time, but that was the point where little sparks began to trail out from behind my mental shields and the first faint hint of the pyrotechnics to come made their unofficial appearance.

"I have been here many times, and so has Shampoo," I stated bluntly to the man, "You ought to recognize us on sight, and we're steady customers, so I would think that you would be interested in keeping our business."

"Not so much as before," the man sniffed in an almost patrician manner, "But that was before…"

His voice trailed off and let me in on a little secret he was hiding, one that I was quick to investigate by asking directly, "Before what?"

"Before…" the man paused, letting me know that he had not intended to reveal so much, but now that it was in the open he just had to speak openly about it, "Before I learned about you weirdoes and your hippie cult practices, Tendo-san…"

"It's Saotome," I said precisely.

"Tendo-san," he rather rudely insisted, "Or do you think it's legal to commit bigamy by claiming to share a husband between you and this…Chinese-born strumpet…"

That was the word he used, and at that point the walls around us began to quiver and shake as I wrestled to contain my emotions. Already I could feel the trailing flow of energies permeating the entire shop as minor effects became noted, like bottle tops popping open and packaged foods beginning to rupture.

"Say that again?" I asked as mildly as I could manage, "Are you calling my…friend here…a prostitute?"

The man did not seem at all aware of the potential for danger because he haughtily declared, "By now everyone in town knows what an immoral lifestyle you three are living, so why even pretend to be respectable when you know full well that slut is living with you and having your husband's baby."

Okay, this is where it started to get ugly, and I don't just mean the minor effects that I was describing before as I am pretty well aware that I was losing it big time, and that meant that actual furniture was coming loose from its moorings and refrigerators were spilling out their goods while vending machines began spurting whatever goods and change they had within them. I was fighting hard to keep it all down, but I was steadily losing the battle, and the shop was vibrating now in accordance with my rising temper.

Shampoo for her part was quite alarmed by this and said to me in a fearful voice, "Airen?"

"Hah, she even admits to being your lover," the merchant sneered, "The very idea, two women with one husband, disgraceful! You ought to be publicly pilloried and run out of town with the rest of your degenerate family, and that's not even going into the matter of your sisters…"

"Airen!" Shampoo said with more alarm as she could feel the entire building begin to tremble with a rather ominous crack in the ceiling over our heads heralding the fact that the entire place was being wracked with a minor earthquake.

I was physically sweating as I fought to remain control, but my eyes were like slitted windows into the soul of the man before me as I stared hard and mentally tore into him, wanting to shut him up, to throttle him with invisible hands, and it was only by the barest of margins that I kept my wrath at bay or the effects would surely have been lethal.

He, for his part, did shut up as the merest touch of my mind seemed to shock him back from whatever state he was in, but that gave me my first real clue that this fellow was not entirely what he appeared to be, and like that I was all over him, wanting to know the source of his lies, the reason for his hateful words, and just what in the hell he actually did know about my family and our "degenerate" behavior.

"Who told you these things?" I asked, hardly even aware that a heavy beam snapped directly over my head, or that instead of falling on our heads it instead pitched upward and split apart as my anger formed a sphere of protection around the three of us while my eyes continued to bore into the widening eyes of the merchant.

What I got for my troubles was an eye-opening revelation, and images began to flood into my mind, forming into serpentine tendrils whose character I recognized for the poisonous wisps that they were. I then leaned forward past the counter and stared behind the register to find a computer screen hidden there, and all at once I knew the shape of my enemy, for she was smiling back at me with smug condescension.

"Well, you finally caught on," she said with a sneer, "Took you long enough, Apprentice Lore Master."

"CCCYYYYBEEELLLEEE!!!" I snarled, realizing too late the trap into which I had so blithely fallen, but this discovery only intensified my rage, and my power---already aroused to full fury---was a truly terrifying thing with a life of its own over which I exercised only the most marginal of control, and with the state of energies unleashed it was only a matter of mere moments until the build-up would hit the critical phase and go full nova.

Shampoo realized the danger as well and threw her arms around me, crying out, "Airen…we must leave here now! Shop is going to explode if we stay any further."

I was gritting my teeth and doing everything I could not to catch my wife with a random discharge, but the power was now resisting my control, and once invoked it needed to find the spark that would kindle the inferno, and with so many objects loose on hand to employ to destructive ends it was as if we were at ground zero in an explosive powder keg packed with nails that would rip us apart in all directions. Try as I might to calm myself down, my rage refused to be smothered even with Shampoo's life at risk, though I honestly did try to tame it down with all my might for her sake, knowing that her life was as much at stake as my own or that of our baby.

Bit then I felt something cutting a path through the tide of swirling energies that I had unleashed, and I turned to see a blazing torch of light sucking in the ambient faerie-fire as a pair of diminutive hands managed to hold the fire at bay, then a familiar voice called out, "Go and get them, Saotome-san! It is up to you to save your wives and daughter!"

"Right," I heard Ranma say just before I saw him charging into the maelstrom, ducking flying debris and heavier objects as he rushed to our side and gathered Sham-chan and me into his arms, and then the next several instants are a blur as I don't have a coherent recollection of what exactly happened. I only know that---a few moments later---we were out on the curb with Shampoo and me sitting down while the merchant stood off to one side looking befuddled, and the smoldering remains of the shop directly behind us.

I have no idea how many eternities later it was before I heard my mentor pronounce, "Good news…the place did not explode, though I fear it has suffered extensive physical damage. I trust that you do have an adequate insurance policy to cover incidents of this nature?"

The merchant did not immediately reply, but then he gave a somewhat bewildered look around and asked, "How…how did I get out here? I…what happened? I…I don't seem to remember…"

"Is merchant gone funny in head, Elder?" Shampoo asked as she glanced up while holding am arm around my shoulders.

"That is one way of putting it, Child," Lotion replied, "I suspect the fellow will have no memories at all of verbally assaulting you, nor will he recall how you reacted in response to his baiting comments, Apprentice."

I winced at the tone my mentor used and looked around somewhat sheepishly, but I didn't need for anyone to tell me that I had badly screwed up and fallen victim to the latest of Cybelle's disreputable schemes.

"You okay, Nabiki?" Ranma asked at my side, "That was pretty gnarly back there…I hope you and Sham-chan weren't hurt."

I glanced at my husband and gave him a weak smile of appreciation, but then I said in a tired voice, "I think I want to go home and take a nap, Ranchan. I feel...pretty awful about this, and I know that I could have handled things a little better."

"Indeed you could have, Student," Lotion's tone was not one of reprimand but it had a certain crisp edge that made he flinch, "I have warned you many times of what could happen if you allowed an enemy to slip past your mental guard in just this manner. Now perhaps you can better appreciate the consequences of allowing the power to slip free and unfettered."

"Hey, give her a break already," Ranma called over his shoulder, "She knows she screwed up, you don't have to rub her nose in it…"

"Your concern for your wife's welfare is laudable, young War-Master," Lotion replied in that genial manner she had of putting people in their proper place, "But my apprentice knows better than any just how far she has transgressed and hardly needs me to remind her. We were fortunate to be in tip to nip things in the bud before they got out of all proportion, but the next time?" She heaved a heavy sigh, "And at her level of training even a slight loss of discipline can lead to genuine disaster."

"You're right," I croaked in a tight voice that broke with more emotion than I'm wont to express on most occasions, "I blew it…big time. I let Cybelle corner me…and it came close to costing both me, Sham-chan and our baby…"

"It is not your fault, Airen," Shampoo assured, keeping a firm grim about my shoulders as the warmth of her presence alone was helping to steady me against the urge to break down like a baby.

"Yes it was," I said, then I sighed a ragged sigh and said, "What can I do to make up for this? How can I be sure it won't happen again?"

"We will work on that, you and I," Lotion assured me, "For now it is enough that you realize the gravity of what you allowed to transpire here. A Lore Master shares kinship with the ambient nature of the forces that surround us…she does not lightly invoke that power to destructive means, and never without consequences for all concerned parties."

"Hey, we know Nab-chan's gotten real strong of late," Ranma said, "But the same could be said of me and Sham-chan, and if either of us cut loose like that there probably wouldn't even be a block left, let alone a shop still standing."

"Perhaps so," Lotion said, "But this is not an issue of comparing the levels of power that each of the three of you commands at his or her disposal. In all truth Nabiki is capable of a great deal more destruction than the both of you combined, and that is the reason why she must work harder than either one of you to achieve the delicate balance necessary for our avocation."

I looked up at that and said, "You know…that almost sounds like you've got another training mission in mind for me. Were you just saving this lecture for the right occasion?"

My mentor gave me a wizened look and said, "Nice to see your infamous wit has survived this debacle. It is proof enough of your resiliency, and you will need your wits to travel with me on this particular session."

"I'm game," I sighed, "So…what do you have in mind? Another trip to the country?"

"Nothing quite so mundane this time," Lotion replied with her usual enigmatic manner, turning away and saying, "I will give you half a day to set affairs in order, because this trip will consume several days and take you to places very far from that with which you are so familiar. But be assured that the goal of this trip will be to reinforce the discipline that you so desperately need…and in the meantime, why not pursue the question of where this fool came by his link with our mutual enemy? That website he was visiting ought to prove quite illuminating."

"Website, huh?" I said, "What was he dialing up? WWW.EVILBITCH.COM?"

"Why ask me when you already know the address?" Lotion asked, and then she hobbled away on her staff, a lone figure of great mystery whom even after knowing for over a year still is as much an enigma to me as the day when she first descended upon both me and Nerima.

"Um…excuse me?" the Merchant said with a mildly bewildered expression, "Is…that my shop? Did something…happen?"

"I think that's our cue to get the heck out of here," I murmured faintly.

"It is a very good suggestion, Airen," Shampoo agreed, "Ranma?"

"Let's head home and make ourselves ready," Ranma replied with a shrug, "Before somebody blames us for this and slaps the dojo with another lawsuit. Kami knows that cyber-bitch has enough lawyers on her payroll to keep us in litigation until we all three graduate from college.

It's times like these when I'm reminded of why I married the guy. Trust Ranma-kun to always know how to put things in the proper perspective, but thank the kami he also has his priorities in order in other respects. I know that I was going to need his warmth and support to get my mental house back in order after the way this day had started out, but that's what Sham-chan is also especially good for. With her shoulder to lean against the three of us headed back for home with the sincere hope of putting this whole unpleasant debacle behind us.

How little was I to know where I would be heading later in the day? But I guess it's like Lotion always told me about being a Lore Master…just because you have the ability to sense things out and know the things that are hidden from others doesn't mean you know everything, a fact that would get hammered home pretty soon when I joined her in that evening's "training mission…"

From the Writings of Saotome Ranma:

Okay, I was freaked, and I'll freely admit it. Somebody makes a move against my wives and unborn daughter, my first response is to wanna kick 'em in the teeth and make 'em regret that they messed with a Saotome. But this ain't my sorta battle, and I knew I was good and out of my league, which is why it's a good thing to have friends at times like this, especially the kind who have the skills and resources you need to wage what Nabiki calls "low intensity conflict."

Whatever the heck that is.

That rather ominous line about Nabby putting her "affairs in order" didn't set none too well with me, but I followed her clue and the three of us took a side-trip to the house of her friend Ryonami. Ryo-chan's a good kid and she really looks up to Nab-chan for just about everything, so when my wife asks her for a favor it's as good as a done deal, and soon enough Ryo's dialed up that website like Nabiki asked her to do, only with the three of us looking over her shoulder as we see something that's pretty damned nauseating pop up on her monitor screen.

Evil-bitch dot com was right! It was a full-page of text outlining a personal list of outrageous accusations and attacks directed against our families of Saotome and Tendo!

I didn't read too much of what was there, but I got enough of the gist as Ryo-chan scrolled down the page to get the idea that somebody out there had a serious grudge against us. There were bits and pieces of true stuff mixed up with patent lies and downright false bunk that made us out to seem like we were the worst sort of diseased plague to hit the soil of Japan ever. Stuff like our three-way marriage being an insurance crock to bilk the government of tax money, or something equally stupid. Talk of weird sex rituals and nightly trysts with demons and what have you, sex with animals, even sex with our own parents!

I was tempted to smash the screen to bits after just a casual glance over that website, but Nabiki made he hold my temper in check as she insisted on going deeper, of using Ryonami's computer skills to hack into the site and attempt to dig in even deeper. I'm not quite sure what they were hoping to find, but a few seconds later they must've triggered some kind of safety firewall, because all at once the computer started acting crazy, and the next thing you know these snake-like things start coming out from behind the screen attempting to grab us!

Fortunately Nabiki banished them easily and then did something with her hand that caused the entire computer to momentarily spark and flutter, only to become perfectly normal again but without the internet connection. We heaved a collective sigh of relief to have that over and done with, only I knew from looking at Nabiki that it wasn't yet a done deal. She had that thoughtful kind of look that she gets when she's thinking stuff over, and I usually get a knot in my stomach when she seems to put two and two together.

"So," she says after a full minute of this unnerving silence, "That's how she got control over that merchant."

Shampoo gave one of her patented, "Aiyaa," which in a way kind of is reassuring as it means she's starting to adjust to yet another phase of weirdness, but then she looked at Nabiki and said, "So many hateful things…and do people who see this believe it?"

"I can't say for myself, Sham-chan," Ryonami answered for her, "But I'm sure convinced that somebody means business. Didn't you notice the way the words just seemed to crawl across the screen and dig their way into your eyes? I mean…I know it's all BS, but after only a few seconds I was even starting to believe it."

"I won't hold that against you, Ryo-chan," Nabiki said, "That was definitely a diabolically crafted spell interwoven within the text of a nominal HTML format. Kind of like a mental virus, or a worm that tries to burrow in disguised as something innocuous, but if allowed to fester…"

"I think the point is," I suggested rather tightly, "If anybody out there besides that merchant reads this and starts to get all mental…"

"Then we would be facing real problems, possibly even mob action," Nabiki turned on me with that unnerving gaze of hers and said, "Lotion is right…we had better be prepared for the worst if this is Cybelle's idea of an opening gambit."

"But surely no one take seriously what they say against Shampoo and her Airen," Shampoo asked with what even I could tell was a too hopeful kind of expression.

"Hey, some people are gullible enough to believe anything that they read on the net," Ryonami shrugged, "And that's even without some evil subliminal spell whatzis affecting their thinking. You ask me, Boss, this is the kind of thing that we can't take lying down. Only how do we combat it? Just accessing the thing nearly crashed my hard-drive."

"Obviously the direct way is out," Nabiki decided, stroking her chin and looking thoughtful (yeah, my stomach was definitely itching), "Something like this is way to sneaky and underhanded to take on through conventional methods…but fortunately there is someone in town who could give us a hand in that regard."

"Who is that, Airen?" Shampoo asked, through from the look on her face I had a pretty strong hunch that she knew just as good as me the answer.

"Who else do you know who's sneaky enough to make even Cybelle look like a second-rate Genma when it comes to sheer deviousness?" my wife asked slyly, confirming our worst suspicions, "I think it's long since time that we paid a visit to our dear auntie Ganglot…"

Shampoo's Diary Resumes:

Often I am asked why it is that I have willfully compromised my standing within the Amazon tribes and my hard-won rank as a warrior of the Joketsuzoku merely to live among outlanders as a second wife to my lawful husband. As if this was a question that needed serious consideration!

I live abroad with my beloved wife and husband because I choose to do so, and because being with them gives me the greatest happiness and satisfaction that I have ever known. It is a source of pride to bear the child of a warrior as strong, brave and capable as Ranma, and to share a bed with Nabiki, whose beauty is more than just physical, and who has given me a purpose beyond all consideration.

Granted that we have had moments when we have quarreled and disagreed over petty matters, but no issue has ever loomed large enough that it could come between the love that we feel for one another, and together we are an invincible unit, three parts that form a perfect whole, and in that union I have a place that brings deep satisfaction and fulfillment. So what matter if I gave up some of my pride in my old ways in order to be in the land of my Airen, and as often as these Japanese and their barbarian customs might seem puzzling and even distracting at times I have never felt so alien to their culture that I could question my own worth or the rightness of my belonging.

So why was it that I seemed so willing to cast aside both pride and purpose for a moment's doubt that should rationally have had no valid basis? The uncouth words of the merchant should have been well beneath my attention, and by right he should have felt honored if I had even noticed him so far as to bash his teeth out of his skull for daring to speak that way to a warrior of the Joketsuzoku.

Elder Lotion insists that it was a spell of dark enchantment cast by the evil one who is Ryoga's grandmother (I shall not speak of her by name lest I invoke her fell presence), but I am not so naïve as to believe that any spell could undermine my certainty of the rightness of my being with Ranma and Nabiki unless it found its root seed somewhere in my mind, some doubt or uncertainty that I have not been aware of until now. Incredible as it may be to even consider the possibility, perhaps there is some small worm of hesitation in my unconscious thinking that gave the demoness the leverage she needed. It is a possibility that haunts me to this hour, and one that I intend to root out and discover for myself so that I never again face the prospect of dishonoring myself and endangering my husband's baby.

My mother is wont of saying that hypnotic spells work on levels of the mind where a person's normal volition will not operate defensively, that one acts as if they are in a waking dream when enchantment comes over them, and that for this reason one's behavior under such influences is never to be trusted. Great-grandmother insists that this is why love spells and charms are less than fully desirable means for one to obtain the services of a husband, which makes me doubly glad that I never had to rely upon such things in order to win the love of Ranma. Our love is genuine, and thus is stronger than any lesser magic, yet somehow the demoness found a way of turning that love against us, and by causing me to doubt my own worth to my family unit brought shame upon my head that makes me cringe even now with a burning desire for retribution.

Yet how can I stand against the likes of a full-fledged demoness who has thousands of years on her side and is easily as old as the Joketsuzoku? Elder Lotion informs us that this demoness was old in the days of ancient Babylon and used to compel male followers to geld themselves by making an unholy offering of their scrotum. Just writing those words down makes me nauseous with revulsion, for even at their worst the Amazons valued men as bulls far more than we ever would as eunuchs.

And this demoness has learned many terrible ways of spreading her influence over the electronic currents that blanket the whole planet. Anything connected by wire or transmitter is potential under her dominion, and the only reason that she has not yet asserted total control over everything is because she has far too much competition for other demonic sources competing for the same franchise.

Which brings me back to my original question…how to give back some of the pain that I felt that day to one who is not even technically human?

Fortunately for us there is one who dwells within the business district known as Furinkan who is knowledgeable of the evil one's ways and who has been of great assistance to us in the past, being a longtime enemy of the one she refers to as her "daughter-in-law of darkness." In rare times of trouble even Nabiki has been forced to consult with the golden haired Oni who is Ryoga's own great-grandmother and, as such, tied to our clan by blood and marriage vows, to say nothing of a common purpose.

And so it was, much later in that day, that we three found ourselves standing within the studio of the renegade Oni princess, observing as Lady Ganglot put her latest artistic creation to virgin canvas. Although to the common eye she might appear as a very tall and handsome woman of indeterminate youth and beauty, those of us who know of her skill with disguises and illusions are less easily deceived, for the grace and fluid energy that she embodies is testament that she is far more than meets with mere appearances.

That being said, of course, her mannerisms…on the other hand…are more than a bit on the side of what you might call…the eccentric.

"So, my daughter-in-law is bugging you three again," she mused while dabbing handfuls of paint up out of buckets and splashing them onto the canvas in no apparent order or reason, "She has slandered you in public, published a demonic web page to hypnotize and beguile the unwary, and she tried to get Shampoo here to suicide. That does sound so much like her."

"She tried to get Nabiki to blow up that shop, and herself with it," Ranma said acidly, "And she's painted us as being worse than a family of axe murderers….so, yeah, you could say I'm a bit bugged about that, yeah."

"So now you come to me in wonder of what steps you might actually take to make Cybelle (On the Oni's lips I feel it safe enough to use her real name here) regret her rudeness," the Oni Queen said while using both hands to shovel a couple of fist-fulls of red paint over the huge yellow splotch that she had just taken so much trouble in creating.

"If you have any suggestions in that regard, it would be appreciated," Nabiki remarked while studying the motions of color fighting a war for dominance upon a formerly white landscape.

"I'm flattered that you think so highly of me that you would come to me in search of a suggestion," Ganglot paused to consider her next move, then dipped a few fingers into the blue paint and lightly sprinkled them over the red, then paused to consider the effect before remarking, "And if truth I'm more than a bit inclined to do something rather nasty on my own initiative just to pay Cyber-boobs back. The problem is…that once you start something of this nature it tends to escalate wildly out of control…tit for tat, each of us upping the ante, and before you know it we'd have an open shooting war, with all of your mortals caught as fair game within the crossfire."

"So you're saying you won't help?" Ranma asked.

"I never said any such thing," Ganglot favored my husband with a wryly sardonic expression that would have done credit to Nabiki, "I just wanted you to be aware of where this might go if things get as far out of control as they are likely to do, and we already know that my daughter-in-law likes to play things tight and nasty."

"Then maybe we should be aiming to discourage her from making another move, at least for the present," Nabiki suggested, "Some way of making it hurt without sparking retaliation…"

"I'll definitely be working up a formula for that," Ganglot said, "If you can tell me how to put it into practice. Mind you, I've had way lots more experience dealing with the bitch---ah---that is, my poor misguided son's unfortunate bride of circumstance. I know better how she thinks than anyone else now living, and that means that she and I are bitter enemies to the end…but we just can't go around knocking each other's pawns about without reckoning the consequences. That sort of thing just will not do for the reputation."

"To hell with reputation," Ranma smacked a fist to palm, "Just give me one clean shot at her and I'll make her sorry she ever looked cross-eyed at either of my wives!"

Ganglot smiled at both Nabiki and myself then said, "What a charmingly primitive declaration of territorial machismo. I can certainly see why you both consider this boy a keeper."

"Elder," I spoke up with as much respect as I could when addressing a figure of such fearsome reputation among the Joketsuzoku, "A wrong has been committed against this one and her offspring. Honor and pride demand an accounting."

"And indeed an accounting shall be had, my dear Mountain Girl," Ganglot replied before picking up a bucket of white paint and splashing it over all of the work that she had just done to the canvas, "But before any rash declarations are made you should be mindful of with whom it is that you are dealing. I may have renounced the way of evil but I am still a mischief making trickster Oni who is bound by the laws of Joketsuzoku to maintain a delicate balance between Chaos and Order, so if you make a contract with me there are bound to be unforeseeable…consequences."

"Consequences?" Nabiki asked, "Such as?"

"Now there you go again," Ganglot chided, "Seeking to know that which lies beyond even the ken of a Lore Master. If I told you what they were then they wouldn't be unforeseeable, now would they?"

"Makes sense," Ranma shrugged, then when Nabiki and I looked at him he said, "Well hey…she just said she can't see what they are, right? So how can she tell us if she don't know herself?"

"What a wonderful treasure of insight you are, Saotome Ranma," Ganglot chuckled before making a slash with one hand and causing the paint on the canvas to perform an incredible kaleidoscope of multi-hued patterning that is impossible to describe in words, only that the effect was positively hypnotic, "And here some people take you to be nothing more than a mindless jock who is little better than breeding, when I know for a fact that both of your ladies value you for a lot more than just your prowess in the bedroom."

"Yeah?" Nabiki asked while staring at the canvas, "And how do you know that?"

"Why, naturally I have your bedroom bugged for recording purposes," Ganglot paused to give us a typically wicked grin before adding, "Just kidding. But seriously, all three of you have experienced much growth since you banded together as a family unit, and in your case, Saotome Ranma, it is noticeable in the flowering of intellectual abilities that you did not formerly possess before encountering Nabiki."

"Well…yeah," my husband shrugged uneasily, "I had to learn stuff in order to keep up with Nabiki…I really hate it when people refer to me as her dumb jock of a husband…"

"Which you most certainly are not," Ganglot assured, "Any more than Shampoo here is an empty-headed bimbo. And you, Saotome Nabiki…in you the personal signs of growth and change are the most noticeable, and that is why Cybelle chose to act against you now. She took advantage of a momentary lapse in your defenses, but the plain truth is that she is afraid of the three of you, and by acting against you as she has she has tipped her hand through an involuntary admission of weakness."

"Weakness?" Nabiki asked incredulously.

"She's afraid of us?" Ranma asked, "Why?"

"Perhaps I should clarify my point," Ganglot said will studying the settled portrait of a blazing star like a nova that had resolved itself upon the canvas, "It is not who and what you are in the present that she fears, but rather she fears what you three are evolving into. She fears what you shall become…and she fears the baby that is within Shampoo and almost ready to be birthed. Even more she fears the recently conceived twins that Nabiki is carrying, one of whom will grow to become a potential Lore Master every bit as gifted as her mother."



"Aiyaa?" the three of us chorused together as Ganglot turned and favored us all with a smile of pure benediction.

"Oh, did I spoil the surprise?" she asked in amusement, "Do you see know what I mean by unintended consequences? Believe me, life is far more interesting and fun if you don't spend every moment knowing in advance what is to happen. I try to keep myself from gazing too far ahead of the present out of respect for what is to come…for the choices that will be made both now and in the future, and the effects that will be felt on account of those choices."

"A…baby…?" Nabiki glanced down at herself and placed her hands over her own smooth belly.

"But…how…" my husband was as positively stunned as any male I have ever seen who was caught unawares by such a revelation.

"Well, if you need my held explaining that then you're not as gifted as I took you to be just now," the Oni said with obvious fondness, "But if you want to know the starting point, then count back several days and I'm sure you'll find the answer."

"Oh…" Nabiki said, then her eyes got round and she said more profoundly, "Ohhhh…"

"You see?" Ganglot inclined her head, "You were distracted from noticing the changes within your body due to the intensive training that you have been receiving of late from your mentor. But now that you are paying attention you can see how it is that Cybelle was able to subvert your attention and take advantage of such a lapse to spring her deadly little surprise. It was a fool's gambit on her part, and no doubt she knew it, little more than minor harassment as she measures such things, but the next time she strikes she will be in deadly earnest and it will be no mere game for the unwary. That is because she knows that time is not on her side in this affair, and that the longer she allows the present situation to progress the more the child within you will take shape within the destiny of the future, and thereby insure her inevitability, which is something no demoness of her nature can allow to happen."

"Why not?" Ranma asked, "What's she got to fear from Nabiki's…I mean…from our baby?"

All at once Ganglot drew herself erectly and seemed to gain in stature, becoming much taller than her ordinary day-to-day appearance, "How much time do you have to spare with me, Saotome? How long are you willing to abide and hear the full story of why the demon race fears humanity and the potential that exists within you? You know already the legend of the Star Tribes…?"

"YES!" we all three instantly volunteered, since the story of the Sundering of the Great Races of the Ancients was a favorite story of the Oni, one she never tired of relating to anyone unwary enough to listen.

"Well, then you don't need to hear the full story again, just the good parts version, which will explain what there is to fear from Cybelle's POV," Ganglot smiled, "The short-short version is that humanity fragmented into different parts, one branch forming the race of mortals that we call humans today, while another race went on to become the ancient gods, and yet a third branch gave birth to the many nefarious races known as demons.

"But what you may not be aware of is that the human race, for a time, retained many of those godlike qualities that made the mother race so Augustine and daring, and in that age of miracles and wonders the measure of human potential was not so limited as it is in the present. Unfortunately the event that caused humanity to suffer the psychic scarring that wounded the world and changed the very shape of the planet also caused the vast majority of sentient beings to suffer a voluntary withdrawal from the source of primal power, so that all but a few gifted individuals would turn away and hide their faces from the fire within, to bury their heads in the mud and live as head-blind mortals rather than to risk rekindling the memory of that deep trauma. And that is the reason why very few human beings can learn to tap into the spiritual fire that the three of you can draw upon at will…because most humans fear the power and what it can do. It represents a deep-seated and utterly irrational phobia of the unknown, which likewise causes some to resent and envy those few who are unusually gifted."

"Meaning what?" Ranma asked, trying to look as if he had followed all that as carefully as I had, though I very much doubt either one of us were as quick in the grasping as Nabiki.

"The reason why there are so few who have the ability to become Lore Masters," Ganglot answered, "Most people sub-rationally do not want the power…they fear it, and often invent reasons to justify their fear. They fear the wisdom and knowledge of the ancients because they fear awakening the same trauma that once came so near to destroying everything. They fear the rebirth of understanding and knowledge, of the power that knowledge would give to mortals, of the ability to effortlessly tap into the flow of life itself to achieve the near miraculous. They fear the power itself, the touch of the flame, its brightness, the consequences of linking yourself to the center of it all…of feeling the flow of life in all of its complexity. They fear the chaos, the confusion, the underlying order of it all, and even more than this…they fear the ones who do not fear it."

"In other words," I hesitantly asked, "You mean Nabiki?"

"Bingo!" Ganglot smiled as if I had just made the brightest declaration of the day, and then she looked directly at my wife and said, "And do you now understand why Cybelle fears you and your baby more than she fears any other, including myself?"

"Because…wisdom and understanding are the keys to the powers of the ancients?" Nabiki slowly fathomed, as if drawing the memory out of herself rather than answering a rhetorical question.

"Now you understand what it means to be a Lore Master," Ganglot smiled with humor, "You are a rare trustee to the ancient flames of wisdom, and if you are allowed to kindle a greater blaze in the course of time…"

"I believe that is quite enough for one day," the voice of Elder Lotion spoke up, making us aware of her sudden inclusion within the studio chamber.

"Oh pooh," Ganglot pouted, "I was just getting to the good part. You always show up just in time to spoil my narration."

"Too much knowledge at one time can be as dangerous as a lack of knowledge when it is needful," Lotion turned from the Oni to regard Nabiki, "Well, Apprentice? Are you satisfied now that Cybelle's threat against you was no idle whim but part of a calculated strategy aimed at unsettling the future that you and your family represent?"

"I think I got that part, yeah," Nabiki nodded, narrowing her eyes before adding, "And just why is it that you do show up just as I'm starting to get some straight answers?"

"All a matter of good timing," Lotion answered, "And haven't I cautioned you enough to have patience? That all good things are revealed at the appropriate time and season?"

"Give me a break, Sensei," Nabiki said, "This is my life we're talking about here…and my family! That uber-bitch is threatening our standing in the community…"

"And now that you know why, I think the time is ripe for us to take a walk together," Lotion motioned with her staff in a way that---like her tone and manner---seemed deceptively mild but held within them the authority of an Elder.

"Now?" Nabiki asked, but her obedience was not only expected here but automatic, for she's spent far too much time with the Elder not to pick up on the hint that Lotion meant for no delay in their transition.

"I have been consulting with others and have learned of things that require our mutual presence in the other realm," Lotion replied, "So far less time is allotted for us to delay than I did fear, and your company on this journey cannot be delayed by even one minute longer."

Nabiki gave both Ranma and myself a rather helpless look of compliance then followed after her mentor while Ganglot looked on and said, in denial tones, "Don't worry, I will look after your wife and husband while you are away, my dear. And Lotion darling…"

"Never fear," the Elder replied enigmatically, "I will stay true to my end of our bargain."

"Bargain?" I heard Nabiki gasp as she stared at her mentor, "What bargain?"

"The one we struck earlier," Ganglot answered in Lotion's place, "Before you and your Airen paid your respects to my humble studio. As I told you before, there are always consequences that come when dealing with even a benevolent Oni, such as myself."

"What consequences?" Ranma asked, turning an askance look the Oni's way, but by now Nabiki and Lotion were no longer to be seen, so the question would go unanswered as the two of us were left alone in the presence of a being of ancient lore who was old before China was an empire.

It is in interesting times such as these that shape the course of destiny, and I am reminded of a saying among my people that goes something like, "Those who sleep with dragons should prepare to awake in the belly of the serpent." I do not know if such a saying applies to consorting with Ganglot, but as even she admits to being a creature of mischief, one has to reckon that the risks will somehow balance the rewards…if one lives long enough to see the coming harvest…


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