Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ A Tale of Two Wallets ❯ Altered Alliances ( Chapter 123 )

[ 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
Ranma's Chronicles Continue:
I know it sounds pretty dumb for me and Shampoo to get taken in by Ganglot's spell the way we did, but in another sense I'm glad that it happened. Things were getting pretty intense there, and the Oni was just doing what she does best in order to take some of the pressure off me and Shampoo while Nabiki was off in that other world interacting with those weird counterparts, including that version of her who turns into a guy of all things.
I know it must seem pretty weird to most people that I can just accept the fact that my wife can up and walk off to another world and come back a couple days later having had this really big adventure, but I'm used to stuff like that happening. I only fret when I don't get to be at Nabiki's side fighting with her against the bad guys. It's a husband's place to look after his ladies, right? Only I had to take care of Shampoo, who's not as able to get around and all while she's pregnant with my baby.
Heck, my life ain't exactly what you could call normal under the best of circumstances, so I've kinda learned to take things one step at a time and not to worry about stuff that I can't do anything about.
So yeah, I went with the flow that time, falling under Ganglot's spell and forgetting that Nabiki was supposed to be with Shampoo and me, that the three of us are a team, and without her the both of us feel lonely. We weren't feeling too bad at that time because we thought Nabiki was away in America studying for college exams, or something like that, and it made us kinda happy.
So what does a guy do when he's feeling good for some odd reason but not quite satisfied with the way things are? Well, in my case you go pay your respects to your best friend outside of marriage, and in my case that means dropping by Ucchan's place to see how my old buddy is doing. I mean, if anybody can understand how weird stuff can happen to perfectly ordinary guys, it's gotta be Ucchan, because next to me she's got the weirdest lifestyle that I know anything about.
Dropping by her place on an average business day can mean having to wait to get her attention, because there's always customers crowded there hoping to get the best okonomiyaki in Japan, and that's what Ucchan's serves, in addition to the other fare that Makoto makes for those guys who like a little variety in their diet.
Of course anytime I step in through the door I know that I can expect a friendly greeting, and no matter how busy she is Ukyo always seems to know when I'm there, like she has radar on me or something like that. Maybe it's just good combat instincts, because I know she's trained pretty hard with her aunt so that she's almost up to my level as a fighter. I sometimes hear Shampoo get a bit jealous because she's had to tone back in her own practicing due to the baby, but I'd put the two of `em about even most other times. Still ain't as good as me, but that ain't a fair comparison, and nobody else but Ryoga even comes close to their level.
Actually the one who's improved the most is Makoto herself, but when you're hot for somebody and want to be a good match for them it's only natural that she trained herself hard, or at least a lot harder than she used to train before she and Ucchan got engaged and all that. Nowadays she's cutting back herself on account of having a baby of her own on the way, which I guess is why most girls don't get to be that much better than guys, my own cursed form being the sole exception.
Anyhow, I step in through the door and Ucchan gives me a greeting, and I wave back and find my usual place at the bar, and then I hear Makoto calling to me and smile her way, thinking that pregnancy looks pretty good on her, and when are those two gonna move up the date `cause guys at school are already talking. Ucchan's currently in her male body, so she's got the bishonen looks that most girls seem to go for, and in spite of knowing the truth about her I see lots of girls from our class are there flirting with him good-natured like, which Makoto tolerates since Ucchan doesn't even try to encourage that sort of attention.
In fact about the only girl who sometimes gives Makoto a pain is currently doing waitress duty at the other end of the restaurant. I noticed Akane at a glance in her cute little outfit, and since she's not in her own cursed form she's only having to put up with some of the usual jerks who try and harass her, not that Akane ever notices them since she's pretty well set on Ucchan, and the other guys ain't even real competition. Of course I spy the other hired help doing his thing in the back rows, fetching fresh ingredients for Ukyo while enduring his own share of wolf-whistles and catcalls from guys who oughta know better.
But damn, how is it Konatsu can look so pretty in spite of being a guy without a cursed body? If I didn't know better even I'd be fooled by his Kunoichi act, and in a kimono he still looks twice as feminine as Akane or even Ukyo when she dresses nicely. You can't help but wonder about the guy sometimes, like how he was raised to act like a girl by his former family. If I ever wanted to pass as a girl as my other self I'd probably come to him to take lessons. Not that I'd think that was every likely, of course, and while I'm used to my curse by now, that don't mean that I'm feeling like ever going all the way girly.
So there I am on an average day waiting my turn for a meal, and I know Ucchan's gonna prepare me one of her top-notch specials. I used to bum free food off of her, but these days I pay for everything just so nobody accuses me of taking advantage of our friendship. I ain't like Pop, who's worked out his own private deal in order to skimp on payments, and that way nobody glares at me for expecting special favors.
Besides, it's nice to be able to afford paying for my meals with money I earn honestly teaching martial arts classes. Sure beats living like a thief the way Pop and me used to do when it was just us training together, and in a way I guess that's what comes of having a wife who taught me the value of money that you come by honestly, and not just by scamming people like she used to do in the old days.
Anyway, I'm watching Ucchan whip out her usual magic as a guy and keeping everyone happy when a familiar voice says to me, “What is your pleasure, Lord Saotome?”
I glance to the side and find the Seven Lucky Gods courtesan named Mon-Mon sitting there on the counter next to me with bare legs curled up and her ever-present Chinese mandolin, strumming a number with her pick and favoring me with a look of speculative interest.
“Nothing much,” I reply to her offer, “Anything you feel like playing. I'm just here to talk to Ucchan.”
“Some mood music then,” she says while adjusting the pitch and chord appropriately, “By the way, where is your lovely wife?”
“Shampoo didn't feel like coming over with me,” I explain, “So she stopped in at Baba's place to spend some quality time with her mom, dad and sisters.”
“I see,” she gives me one of those enigmatic looks that I can't ever really figure out and adds, “And how is Nabiki?”
“Nabiki?” I'm surprised to hear the name brought up, “She's doing fine, last I heard, why do you ask?”
All at once Mon-Mon strikes a sour chord then frowns and says, “That Oni and her manipulations again. Does she think the same charm will work on me? Well, whatever she's up to, I'm not buying.”
Of course I don't know what the hell she's going on about, but now that I got my full memories back I of course understand. Somehow Ganglot's spell wasn't working on her and she was letting me know that, but then again she's always been a bit weird about Nabiki. Like she feels that she owes my wife a favor or something, and she was suspecting that my forgetting we were even married was somehow like I was cheating, even if it ain't so. At least, not with Shampoo anyway.
Of course most guys drool when they get that close to Mon-Mon, but I ain't most guys and as big and buxom as she is, I'm way too devoted to my own wives to let myself be tempted. Besides, I know she just flirts to put on an act, that she'd never really let any guy get to first base with her…at least not unless she really liked them. She's still partly loyal to that Kirin guy, and even if she is on loan with us doing ambassador stuff and playing cultural observer, about the only time I've really seen her get interested in somebody is when Peorth pays a visit to town, which is rare enough these days in spite of her having close ties to both Akane and Nabiki.
Oh yeah, I know all about Peorth. Nabiki explained things when she took me and Shampoo on a trip with her to the Other World, and damn if that wasn't a weird experience, communing with some goddesses and meeting up with actual dead people. Like I said, though, after a while you get used to stuff like that, and to tell the truth I can't see all that much of a difference between either the goddess or my late mother-in-law. From everything I've seen about her, that Kimiko was one heck of a character in her day.
Well, enough wandering off the subject. Mon-Mon and me exchanged a few more friendly words and then she wandered off to another part of the restaurant to entertain a few more customers with her fancy mandolin playing. Maybe she's one of the reasons that Ucchan gets such a crowd in on weekdays, lots of guys get off on dining in a friendly atmosphere with lots of pretty girls to keep things lively. Heck, even I've done waitress duty on occasion when I wanted to pay Ucchan back for a favor, and as much as I usually hate guys drooling over my body, you can make good tip money by pretending to act friendly.
As for Akane, she waves at me and I nod back and we exchange a few words on the subject of Nabiki---who we both seem to think is off in America thanks to Ganglot's manipulations---but then she's off waiting on another table, being cheerful and polite to both classmates and complete strangers. I kinda have to remark to myself that she seems awfully happy these days since she and Makoto came to a mutual resolution on the subject of Ucchan. Don't know how they worked it out, but since the jealousy thing wasn't getting them anyway, I figure they decided to take a page from the example that Shampoo worked out with Nabiki when the three of us got married, and I gotta say it's been a lot easier getting along with the Tomboy (Akane that is) than it used to be when she and Makoto were striking sparks and baring daggers with their glances.
Ironically enough, I sometimes think Ukyo secretly likes the attention she gets from the girls around her. I mean, I've been accused of worse having two girls I call my wives all to myself, but if Ucchan really wanted to keep it solo with Makoto-chan, like she used to insist, then she ought to have told the Tomboy to take a hike when she had the opportunity. Instead I know for a fact that she's sleeping with both girls (in either her real body or her cursed one…it's kinda interchangeable, like with me and my ladies), and that's not just to be nice to Akane's feelings. Heck, the way they've been going I almost expect Akane to be showing signs herself any day now, and not just because she's living full time at Ucchan's.
The really weird thing is Konatsu…I kinda think the guy has the hots Akane but doesn't have the guts to admit it…or maybe he's just too nice or something. I mean, I really can't figure him out. It ain't like he's jealous of Ukyo or nothing, but he fawns all the time over Akane, and he once even threatened me when I said something off-hand that he didn't like about the Tomboy.
Well, I ain't one for gossip, and that's just how I see things around Ucchan these days. Ain't like it's any of my business who my old buddy sleeps with, long as it ain't me. I mean, it's kinda weird to even think about the fact that we were once engaged without me knowing it, and how Pop's little deal with her dad screwed up her life something awful. Something else I owe Ukyo for, even if it I ain't to blame for Pop engaging us and stealing her dowry and leaving her by the roadside and all of that.
Y'know, I kinda wonder sometimes if life woulda been different if Pop really had kept his word and taken Ukyo with us on the road. Would it have been so bad growing up with Ucchan always by my side? Probably not…in fact I'd bet we'd have had some swell adventures, and we'd probably still be engaged, if not actually married. And it wouldn't be so awful having Ukyo for a wife neither, `cause I've seen how cute she is when she smiles and everything, and sometimes I even think…yeah, it coulda worked out for us.
If I hadn't met Nabiki and Shampoo first, and gotten engaged to the both of them, and believe me, they're more than enough for me to handle!
Okay, so I'm rambling around, time to get back to the point, namely how Ukyo finally did get time enough to drop a specially made okonomiyaki on me, and it disappeared in two bites, so she whipped me up a couple more without charging extra. And then she…ah…I mean, he (boy, does it get confusing sometimes trying to remember which gender she's in since even when she's a girl she's kinda butch, just like when she's a guy she looks so kawaii and everything)…well, anyway, we got to talking and he asked me how I was and what I was doing with the rest of the day. We talked for a bit and then he mentioned something about me acting a little moody, so then he up and challenges me to meet her around in the back for a friendly sparring match while she takes a break away from the restaurant, and I say okay, and that's how we wind up in the practice room blowing off a little steam by whacking away at one another.
Guess that's really what I come to Ucchan for…the fact that she/he's the only guy I can cut loose with and not have to hold back or nothing. Ain't like with Pop, who usually does something to tick me off so I feel he's gotta be punished…with Ukyo it's just plain old free sparring with no bad feelings about how long it takes for me to win…or fight her to a draw, or nothing like that. It's a lot more relaxing that way, let me tell you, especially since I miss sparring with Shampoo since she's got to take it easy, and it's a whole different story about what it's like to spar with Nabiki.
Anyhow, after a bit Ukyo noticed that I was feeling a little glum and so she asks me, right in the middle of our fight, if there's something wrong that I need to talk about, and since I'm not thinking straight about Nabiki I say no and that I was just feeling a bit restless and needed to work out a few kinks. And that's another great thing about Ucchan…she's the only girl I know who really understands how a guy thinks, know what I mean? Most girls don't get it when a guy tells `em that he ain't in the mood to talk about something, and they always want to talk about their feelings, but Ucchan's been around guys most of her life and knows that we ain't like that. So she just accepts that I ain't in the mood to do much talking and we go on with our sparring until I finally do feel like saying something, and then I tell her that I can't put my finger on what it is, only that I've got this weird sense that something's missing.
“Missing what?” she asks, and I just shrug and say that I can't remember what it is, so she accepts that and we go on a bit longer before I actually start to feel like I'm getting a real workout, and then all of a sudden I've got my back up against the wall and Ucchan's got her spatula pressed against my neck, and I realize that I ain't fighting on all levels, which even she…ah, he…knows just ain't like me.
So we take a break to get our wind back and start talking about stuff that comes to mind, nothing too special, just things we feel like sharing about our lives and whatever. And then it just rolls off of me that I'm worried about what people will say when Shampoo finally has her baby. I mean, I don't care what anybody says about me, but I care a lot about Shampoo's feelings, and I mention that somebody the other day said something mean to her that upset her pretty awful. Ukyo agrees with me that it's a bad thing when people bad-mouth my wife then asks if she should send her condolences to his next of kin, and I say something about that shopkeeper having to pay for damages, and Ucchan asks if I need the services of a good lawyer.
Man, it's good to unwind with her…ah…him. Talking with Ucchan always makes things feel a whole lot better. And then Ukyo lets me in on a little secret, about the reason why she's been too shy to finally tie the knot with Makoto, even though the big girl's getting noticeably bigger around the waist, and it's starting to affect her overall reputation.
The thing is…Ucchan wants to do the right thing by both Makoto and Akane…but how to please both of them when the law says one thing and your heart says another? He doesn't feel comfortable taking the same option that I did with Shampoo, marrying her by Amazon law instead of by Japanese custom, and then the two of us wonder for a moment why that seems so strange since neither one of us can remember that I'm legally already married to Nabiki.
Then I ask about Konatsu, and something strange crosses my buddy's face, and if I didn't know better I'd almost suspect Ucchan was jealous of the cross-dressing Kunoichi. He told me that Konatsu has nowhere else to go and feels obligated to serve Akane as his mistress, and Ukyo doesn't feel right about coming between them or anything, even if Akane treats Konatsu more as a friend than as a guy. It kinda makes the whole thing seem pretty awkward.
Well hey, I tell Ucchan it's up to her how she handles her life, and that if she wants to marry both girls it's fine by me, and it's not like I can talk or nothing. Then Ukyo admitted that he really was seriously thinking about tying the knot with both of them, maybe asking Cologne to officiate an Amazon ceremony for a three-way marriage while legally claiming only Makoto as his wife…or marrying Makoto as a man and Akane as a woman.
Kinda sounded to me like he was borrowing trouble, but I feel for his dilemma. After months of struggling over the question of which girl he likes better it finally became clear that he doesn't want to part with either one of them, and looks to me as if it holds both ways since neither Akane nor Makoto are willing to drop their claims and all that. About the only sour note in the whole bundle is what Tendo Soun would have to say about seeing his “little girl” get slighted. Not like it would be fair to Makoto-chan if she were the “mistress” and Akane the legal “wife.” I mean, if people are talking now, suppose she has her baby out of wedlock? That sure wouldn't be pretty.
You know…if Akane really did notice that Konatsu was interested in her, would that change anything, or would she hurt the guy's feelings? Or maybe the tomboy and the kunoichi are made for each other, I dunno. It's more than enough just trying to figure out my own life without having to borrow trouble by getting in the middle of this mess.
The truth is I really hope things work out for everybody. Akane really ain't all that bad a girl when she ain't doing something annoying, and I like Makoto, so I don't want either one of them to get hurt in all of this. Hell, I don't even want anything bad to happen to Konatsu…ain't like he's ever done nothing to me that I'd be thinking bad things about him.
Well, to summarize this whole bit, I finished up sparring with Ucchan, offered to host her over at the Tendo place with a meal that Shampoo could cook for her (my wife makes a passably good okonomiyaki since she's had coaching from Ucchan). I know Mister Tendo would love to see Akane again, and he misses her a lot since she moved out of the house to live with Ucchan. Akane even gets along these days with Silk, so having them over would be a real hoot, not to mention patch things up between Akane and Mister Tendo.
We didn't even bother asking what I was doing living at the Tendo place with Shampoo since my own real excuse is being married to Nabiki and claiming the dojo. That just kind of blipped over our minds since Ganglot had fixed things so we wouldn't be thinking that way about Nabiki, but we parted company soon enough and I headed back over to the Neko Hanten to pick up Shampoo, who'd had a great time sharing stuff with her sisters and parents.
It's kinda a good thing that Shampoo got over her beef with Cologne over that Lotion business because the…ah…formerly “old woman” needs all the friends she can get these days. Ever since getting trapped in her young body and being mistaken for a teenager by Miss Hinako she's had to cope with the fact that she's legally listed as a “foreign exchange student.” Her own granddaughter fixed her up good so now she has to play the part of one of my classmates, and I can tell that rankles a lot with the old…ah…biddy…even though she gets lots of offers for dates from plenty of guys in our high school.
The real weird thing is between her and Siren. Frankly I don't know how the Amazon witch pulled it off, but these days the two of them are all but inseparable…something about Cologne losing a bet, or Siren saving her life, or whatever it was. It just seems like they declared some months ago that they were an item and that was all that was to be said about the matter. Weird, huh? But I guess you gotta expect stuff like that from people who are over three hundred and don't look it. Shampoo thinks they make a pretty nice couple, and I sure won't say anything bad about `em. It just sometimes feels…weird…I mean, I know that they were involved together way back when they were our age, but how did they break the ice? I mean…Cologne used to make it pretty obvious that she was burned out on relationships and had no intention of hooking back up with her old girlfriend.
Oh well, ain't my business neither. I'm just trying to give a taste of what the rest of my day was like without Nabiki being there to share stuff with me, like always. Even Shampoo noticed that something was missing from our usual conversation, but neither one of us had any idea what was going on in the other world or that there were copies of us who were having a big struggle over some evil wizard who'd made off with their children.
I can't really say how I'd have reacted in their place. I mean, I know it takes some time to get used to the way Nabiki acts these days, but considering what she was up against I gotta chalk it up to Nab-chan's resilience that she could take so much in stride, considering all the weirdness she was facing…
“So basically this guy comes from a remote portion of China and he wants out kids because of some special properties they acquired from inheriting our combined genetics…is that what you're essentially telling us here?”
“More or less, yes,” Lotion replied to the Nabiki of this world, “Two daughters born of women who are married to women who turn into men…and the third the recombinant child of advanced science who did not even technically have a father. I think the word “unique” does not do justice to the concept.”
“I see what you're getting at,” Nabiki narrowed her eyes, “But it still brings us no closer to getting back our children.”
“I am particularly interested in learning where this villain has taken our daughters,” Beatrice insisted, “Surely he cannot have spirited them all the way back to China in the short interval since he left. Such an intensive consumption of magical energies would surely be beyond the normal threshold…”
“Not applicable in the case of an Archmage,” Lotion replied, “And I doubt very much that he would make such a bold appearance unless he had already lined up a means of quick extraction.”
“In that case, how did you and Miss Sunshine over there know enough about it in advance to show up when it happened?” Alison demanded.
“Don't look at me,” the other Nabiki remarked from where she was sitting cross-legged atop a dresser off in one corner of the room, “I came here because I was summoned.”
“Indeed,” Lotion remarked, “But we are fortunate that certain events tend to create a large impression in the field of space and time, and by that means were Shang-Kwan's evil intentions discerned, at which point our services were called upon to prevent his wicked ambitions.”
“Called upon?” Ukyo asked.
“Summoned?” Perfume repeated, “By who?”
“By one whose name is not to be invoked too lightly,” Lotion explained, “Understand, there are beings in the many worlds who are far older and more knowledgeable than the memory of mortal men, and among their number there are beings of light and beings of darkness who observe an unending struggle for the collective souls of humanity. The being who called upon our services is one of humanity's greatest champions and allies, a teacher and servant of the Light who is known by many names and has been honored in many cultures by the identities for which he is most widely recognized.”
“In other words, you wouldn't believe us if we told you,” the other Nabiki summarized in passing, “But the important thing is that we're here now, and we're with you guys in the cause of recovering your babies.”
“Aiyaa?” Shampoo asked while turning a puzzled look from one Nabiki to the other.
“Oh yeah?” Ranma eyed the counterpart of his wife, “Why are you so interested? It's not like it's your baby that's at stake.”
“That's where you're wrong,” Nabiki looked at the young man sharply, “What affects one world is of great importance to all worlds, and if your future is endangered how do you imagine that mine will go on unaffected…or does the fact that I carry the child of my own husband mean nothing to you…Saotome?”
“Whoah,” Ranma reacted in surprise to the heat of that statement, “I didn't mean anything by that…”
“Mister Sensitivity speaks again,” a familiar voice said, and as heads turned they saw a number of figures enter the room, most notably Ryoga, who gave Ranma a look that as much as said that he took some delight at the expense of his half-brother.
“We're here like you asked, Nabiki,” said a very pregnant looking Akane, “So what's the big emergency and…whoah! Who the heck is that?”
“Oh mamma,” said a redhead whose resemblance to the female version of Ranma that the Nabiki of the other world knew was so great that it caused her to do a double take.
“Oh my,” said a pregnant looking Kodachi as she, too, entered the chamber, “Is that Nabiki over there that I espy…and if so, then…who is that sitting by herself, noticeably un-burdened by extra body mass?”
The Nabiki sitting in the corner cocked an eyebrow as she took in these new strangers, but she said not a word in her own self description, leaving it to her native counterpart to say, “Oh, her? Well, believe it or not, but that's supposed to be from another dimension.”
“Say again Nab-chan?” the redhead in the tank top and shorts asked in obvious confusion, giving the newcomer a studied look that was full of curiosity and appraisal.
“She looks just like you…I mean…the way you used to look before…ah…” Ryoga reluctantly chided himself, “Only…”
“Only…there's something about her…about her eyes…” Akane paused and then recalled herself, “I'm sorry. Are you really my sister from…somewhere else?”
“I am,” the stranger uncoiled her legs and stood up from the dresser, then hopped down to the floor and gave Akane a curious study, reaching out a hand to touch the younger girl's abdomen, “And you're my little sister from this world, eh? Well met indeed, and you don't even have a Jusenkyo curse…”
“A Jusenkyo curse?” Akane blinked, “You mean…where you come from…I have a curse?”
“My little sister turns into an Angel when she gets splashed with cold water,” Nabiki revealed, then turned to the redheaded next to her and said, “And…your name is Arigami Keiko, right? Your curse turns you into a vulture…and Kodachi becomes a small…furry ferret, right?”
“How ever in the world do you know this?” Kodachi asked in astonishment.
“Yeah, did somebody tell you about us already?” Keiko asked.
“Actually…no,” Nabiki turned and gave Ryoga a cursory study, “You don't have a Jusenkyo curse…and I sense that it has been some time since you were with your mother.”
“My mother?” Ryoga asked in growing amazement, “You've seen her?”
“She's living with us on my timeline,” Nabiki revealed, “And quite a formidable lady…but I suppose in your world she has very good reasons for wanting to keep her distance.”
“Reasons?” Ranma asked, “Such as?”
“Her mother, Ryo-kun's grandmother, is an enemy of our family,” Nabiki revealed, “And for another thing…you are aware that you and Ryoga are half-brothers?”
Ryoga gave a startled look, but Ranma just frowned and said, “Yeah…Pop owned up to it months ago, but we learned the facts from my other half-sister, Kaori.”
“Kaori?” for the first time in almost an hour Nabiki evidenced surprise, but then she said, “I see…Uncle Saotome was keeping some secrets even from himself. A woman named Sakura who runs a circus eh? And your big sister is good with Tarot cards. That's very…interesting.”
“Huh?” Keiko blinked.
“You know, it really freaks some of us out when you do that stuff,” Alison winced.
“Do what stuff?” Akane asked, “How is she able to know things like that if nobody here tells her?”
“It is quite simple, really,” Lotion replied, “In her world she is my apprentice, a Lore Master in training, and it seems that she has not yet learned how to mask her abilities so that she can spare the uninitiated the exposure to her budding powers of Clairsentience.”
“Clairwhatsis?” Ryoga repeated.
“Clairsentience,” Beatrice remarked, “The ability to know things, to see the future and the past, and at a great remote distance. I had heard about this rare talent possessed by only a few sensitive psychics, but I had never dreamed that such a trait might be found within you, Nabiki.”
“Within me?” Nabiki asked.
“Actually, the ability is latent in all the women of our family…sister,” Nabiki turned to regard her counterpart, “A talent that is dormant within you but which was passed down to us by our mother…the ability to perceive the invisible and to read beyond the folds of the Akashic field that surrounds all living bodies. It's taken me well over a year to nurture and harness this ability, but as Lotion here says, I am making steady progress and becoming her counterpart's successor.”
“Yes, but you have quite a bit more distance to travel before I would acknowledge you an accomplished student,” Lotion observed in a dry, acerbic tone of voice.
“Yes, I know,” Nabiki smiled, “And even if I were further progressed you would still upbraid me and attempt to keep my feel squarely planted in the here and now. That is partly why I am here, to better work on refining my control over my talents.”
“Wait a minute,” Ranma said, “You mean all this stuff you can do, these weird tricks you were showing off a while ago…you mean Nabiki has also got the same abilities, only buried deep inside her.”
“Yes, but your wife is trained as a Warrior and thus lacks the temperament to follow in my path,” Nabiki replied, giving her counterpart a level gaze, “Our two disciplines require an entirely different frame of mind, and at your rather advanced stage of training, I'm afraid it would be difficult to reorient your entire mode of thinking to match what I have learned.”
“Oh, you think you know so much better than me, do you?” the pregnant Nabiki asked archly.
“I know what I know,” her counterpart replied, “Just as I would have difficulty executing the Hiryuu Shouten Ha or those Shadowskills that you took so long to master. Or the Senken maneuvers that your Ranma is so expert at performing. And what is this I sense about a seventh Senken that is devoted entirely to the mastering of pleasure?”
All at once several other figures entered the room, beginning with a swift-moving girl a few months younger than Akane, who stopped in her tracks and stared from one Nabiki to the other before saying aloud, “It's true…I didn't believe it, even when Oneechan told us that there was another Nabiki in the house…but…”
“Kurumi is it?” the Lore Master Nabiki remarked, “And is that Natsume, your sister, I see standing in the hall next to Kuno Tatewaki?”
“Now this is definitely weird,” said a version of Mousse who entered the room and caught the wary glance turned his way by the stranger, “Elder Lotion? Is it true what I heard from Kasumi…that this…stranger is a Nabiki who has been trained to be a…Lore Master?”
“You heard correctly,” Lotion replied, “And it is good to see that you are faring well in your new life, my kinsman. My compliments on choosing such a lovely young wife who will no doubt one day soon bear you strong offspring.”
“Ah…hah?” Kurumi Tendo blinked, then glanced at Mousse, who shared a look of sheepishness between them.
“Definitely a different version from the Mousse that I know,” the Lore Master Nabiki remarked, turning to the slender girl who followed in the wake after her sister, “And you, Natsume…you are a Slayer of Vampires…and yet you share the same house with a Kasumi who is part vampire?”
“Ah…well…” Natsume turned a disconcerted look towards one Nabiki, and then the other.
“You know, that's really starting to weird me out,” Keiko remarked, “Do you know everything that there is to know about us just by looking at our auras?”
“You heard of the ability…from your own mentor, a renegade Amazon named Lao Khan, did you not?” Nabiki smiled, “And I apologize if this is difficult for you. I'm told I have a tendency to…freak people out when they first get to know me.”
“Yeah, about that,” the Nabiki of this timeframe noted, “Do you think you might tone that all-knowing and all seeing thing of yours down a little…just for the sake of my reputation? Last thing I need is for people to think I'm even more of a freak than they usually call me when they think I can't hear them.”
“Because of your curse?” the Lore Master Nabiki smiled, “Sorry about that. It's become something of a habit. I don't mean to deliberately weird you out, but you must understand…it takes a bit of getting used to for me, sorting out your lives from those of the people I grew up with. Everything is very different here, and I'm doing my best coming to terms with much of the strangeness.”
“You mean like the way you reacted when you saw Kasumi back there, Sugar?” Ukyo asked, “Or when you met her new boyfriend?”
“Ah…yes, that,” the other Nabiki said simply, “Among other things. Understand, about the only two things our worlds appear to have in common is that I am married to a Shampoo and a Ranma. Everything else…is like having the furniture rearranged to suit an entirely different order.”
“Ah…right,” Keiko said, giving this newcomer a curious study before turning back to the Nabiki whom she knew and respected, “So what's the deal here, Nab-chan? And why is this other you here looking like you guys are preparing for a battle?”
“The simple answer to that, Kei-chan, is that a little while ago a creep attacked us in the garden and made off with Fragrance, Eileen and Lylac. We think he means to harm our kids, so I'm willing to take whatever help I can get in order to prevent that.”
“No!” Akane exclaimed, “Not my nieces?”
“What creep would do such a thing?” Kurumi asked.
“Threaten those kids?” Ryoga cracked his knuckles, “Not if I got anything to say about it…so why aren't we out there kicking butts and counting heads, Brother?”
“We haven't figured out where the scumbag got off to yet,” Ranma said darkly, “But as soon as we do, then you better believe I'm gonna hunt him down and pulverize the bastard.”
“Better get in line, Sport, `cause nobody threatens my baby,” Alison brandished a fist for emphasis.
“So say we all,” Tatewaki thundered, “Whoever this blackguard is who would dare to threaten helpless innocents incurs the wrath of heaven…and the sword of Kuno Tatewaki!”
“Well spoken, Tachi-sama,” Natsume agreed, “Does this fiend have a name who would dare to threaten our nieces?”
“The creep's name was Shang Kwan, from out of China…” Ukyo started to say, when Mousse suddenly gasped and turned a dismayed look towards his elder.
“Shang Kwan?” the tall Chinese boy looked aghast, “Is that who we're going up against? The Butcher of Larassa?”
“The very same,” Lotion said gravely, “And as you already have guessed we are marshalling what strength we have in order to confront him, though I fear he may already have taken refuge in his stronghold in central China.”
“Then…what hope do we have, Elder?” Perfume asked, “We can't lose our babies…not after all we went through just to have them.”
“We're not losing anyone, Per-chan,” the Nabiki of this timeline affirmed grimly, “We're gonna find this monster and pay him back, even if we have to march up to the gates of hell in order to do it…”
“In your condition?” the other Nabiki asked, “No offense, sister, but I don't think you could do much marching.”
“Oh, and I suppose you intend to lead them in my place?” that Nabiki shot back with a look of challenge.
“Leadership is your way, not mine,” the Lore Master replied, “But for what it's worth, I've got every bit as much intention of seeing this thing through as anyone else present.”
“And what exactly can you do to help?” Ryoga asked in puzzlement, only to receive a look from the strange-eyed woman that caused his breath to lock within his lungs.
“I have my ways,” the Lore Master assured them, “And if anyone doubts my abilities, I'll be happy to show them just how far I've progressed in my own lessons.”
“Aiyaa,” Shampoo turned to her Nabiki and said, “Is best if we respect her, Airen. Lore Masters very powerful…very capable…and this one seem like she know her way in battle.”
“Well, Honey, if you think she can hack it, then I guess we could give her a chance to put up or shut up,” Nabiki replied, “But if she's not into leadership, then that means Ranma's in charge in my absence. I may not be able to do much traveling myself, but I ought to know well enough to trust my own husband.”
“Then what about it, young Lord Saotome?” Lotion turned a curious look upon the young man, “Do you believe that you can work beside this woman who is much like your wife but is in fact my apprentice in her world? You have never fought before at the side of a Lore Master, and many of the things of which she is capable might defy your warrior's thinking.”
“Ah…I think I can handle it,” Ranma remarked, but nonetheless gave a wary look at the other Nabiki, who returned his look in kind as though they were two complete strangers who had never met before and had only the barest recognition of one another.
“Well, then I guess that's settled,” the Nabiki of this world shrugged her shoulders then said, “Now, the next big question is…how do we get to China in time to keep this Shang-Kwan creep from messing with our children?”
“Leave that to me and Lotion,” the other Nabiki assured, “If we find the path to the Archmage's stronghold…then we can open the path to lead the way for you others.”
“That's assuming that my counterpart's confidence in you is not misplaced,” Lotion duly cautioned, “But time will tell about that, and for now we must first discern if the barriers surrounding his sanctum might be permeable to our combined talents.”
“If not, then I can craft a device that should give you the edge in that department,” Beatrice remarked, “I know enough about magic to have some idea of how to combat it…and Alison has the blood of the gods in her veins, and no one knows better than me how relentless she can be at spoiling the plans of those who mean to do her evil.”
“Hey, just call me a natural born wrecking machine, Bei-chan,” Alison said confidently, “Just let me at that creep again, he'll never know what hit him.”
Lore Master Nabiki gave a curious glance at the redhead, but then turned her focus towards the door as a familiar presence made her entrance, followed in turn by a hulking brute of a man who had to duck his head in order not to bump it against the rafters, the latter saying aloud, “I've contacted some friends on the Wild Side, and they've helped give me the coordinates to the last known position where this Shang-Kwan was said to have a fortress. I can get us there in about six hours, give or take how soon the chopper I ordered shows up for transport.”
“Six hours may be as long as six days if we do not make better haste than this…my old friend,” Lotion said softly, turning a strangely haunted regard at the big man, who stared back in kind at the ancient woman and swallowed very thickly, an awkward silence falling between them that was noticed most pointedly by Lore Master Nabiki and a Vampiric Goddess known as Tendo Kasumi…
Nabiki's Journal Continues:
Talk about weird moments. There I was in the garden hearing the sound of an approaching motorcycle, and even before I get to the front driveway I have this weird sense that I'm about to encounter the most shocking revelation of the night. Sure enough I see a machine as big as a horse pull up with guy well over two meters tall and clad all in leather at the wheel…and there riding side-saddle behind him is none other that Kasumi.
Only it's not the Kasumi I know so well from my own timeline. I can tell at once without even needing to read her Akashic pattern that this girl is a whole entire new chapter from the book of weirdness, at least when compared to the gentle-voiced sister I've known and loved my entire life. This Kasumi has evolved beyond the mortality that we inherited from our mother…she's more like the child Peorth would have had if she really had been our biological mother. Only her divinity is tainted with a darkness that I at first have trouble equating with my sister. It was only after I put two-and-two together that I realized that this Kasumi is a blood drinker…and that she keeps her thirst at bay with specially crafted magical earrings, but from her fangs, crimson eyes and other feature traits I belatedly deduce that she is as much of a vampire as Lenore, who is in fact her sworn retainer.
When the big guy dismounted from his huge machine I got another shock and a half, because I knew at once not only who he was but WHAT he is, and then some! I mean, of all the guys Kasumi could bring home as a boyfriend and she has to hook up with the one and only Monster of the book by Mary Shelly! I mean, some sisters have boyfriends who only look like death warmed over, but this guy is supercharged by microstatic electrical discharges, a fusion of Alchemy and Science gone mad, and well over two hundred years past his warranty. I could only imagine the impact it had on Daddy realizing that his little girl was dating a real monster!
And yet there was no mistaking the fact that Kasumi had emotional ties to the big guy, and despite his hairy rep the guy seemed legit enough to be counted as one of the good guys. I was still having trouble reconciling the contrast between my loving, gentle sister and a guy who was made of separate parts stitched together when I felt a strange stirring at my side and realized---incredulously---that I had just picked up on an emotional surge from Lotion.
It took me another minute to kick dormant brain cells into gear, but then my memory flooded back to the various stories my mentor passed on to me about a doomed relationship of her youth, which all of a sudden made sense in the present context. I glanced her way and saw the haunted look in her eyes that almost always implies a deeply buried torch that is being carried for a former lover. As I thought back on the things my Lotion had said about her youth, then her frustrated romance with her former boyfriend had at least resulted in offspring, and that some of the descendants who called her their ancestor owed partial lineage to the guy currently giving a beefy hand to assist my sister in dismounting.
And then the inevitable meeting between me and Kasumi, who naturally gasped and gave me a look of pure dismay before turning and staring at my counterpart, who at least had the swollen belly that our sister was expecting.
“Holy doppelgangers,” the big guy exclaimed, “Is that…you, Saotome-san?”
“The last I checked it was me,” I replied, giving this version of my sister a cautious look before saying, “Oneechan…you're looking…well.”
“Imoutochan?” Kasumi said back, then again glanced at my counterpart, who just shrugged her shoulders and smiled in an awkward, lopsided fashion.
“It's a long story, Sis, but it will to wait until later,” she turned crisply to the big man and said, “We have a situation, Frank…and we could use your help big time.”
“You know you've got it,” the appropriately named Franklin Nathaniel Steinberg assured us with automatic gallantry that I sensed was second nature, “What is it?”
A curious thought crossed my mind as the local crew quickly detailed the emergency and explained out recent encounter, and I had a thought as I studied the big man in some detail that I sensed a strange affinity between him and my Ranma. I don't mean the local version, who seems to be on his way to becoming a Wizard in his own right, but who isn't the actual Champion of Nerima. I mean the man I've known and loved for close to a year-and-a-half, the sex-swapping trouble magnet who can't keep from being the focus of a hundred adventures even to save his life. This guy was very much like an older version of my Ranma, and I could faintly detect the residual traces of Jusenkyo about him, and had a flashing image of him as a normal-sized redhead wearing a skirt and sporting a classically girlish figure.
It suddenly seemed as if the absurd notion that he had lived a life just like my Ranma was, in fact, the cause of his close association with Lotion. The two had met and fallen in love, only to be parted thanks to the interference of a disapproving Cologne, and that bittersweet memory yet haunted their mutual existence.
Odd how the fates loved to work through ironies, but I decided to let the matter slide for the present. I was much more interested in fathoming the reason why my sister was a vampire goddess, and contented myself to studying her past, my familiarity around goddesses serving me in good stead, though I could only imagine what Peorth would say if she were standing there with me.
Fast forward to that makeshift war-conference. I could tell everyone was having trouble getting used to the “new” me, but they should understand just how weird it was for me to be standing there with them, looking at so many familiar faces and seeing only strangers. Here Ranma was a homeboy and something of a well-intentioned jerk, while my counterpart had a real butch side that seemed to take pleasure in bossing people around, and from the way people snapped to attention and followed her orders I could tell that she had earned their respect, for the most part. Here Akane was happily married to Ryoga and even had a child by him while Ukyo shared a bed with an Amazon named Perfume, and the both of them were married to me, Shampoo and Ranma.
As for Kodachi…this redhead named Keiko seemed to think of her as her “owner,” and that opened the gates for the memories about this slaver renegade named Lotion that I had only heard about by legend…and from what I could deduce in everyone's memories of her it's probably a good thing that we've yet to have a direct encounter. Kodachi's child appeared to be some sort of magical hybrid combining not only Ryoga's genes but those of Keiko, something called a “triple-fusion,” which I suppose is their business more than mine to comment upon, though I had to remark what a contrast that was from the Kodachi of my world, who shares a similar relationship with my version of Kasumi.
And these other sisters…Kurumi and Natsume? I think I remember encountering them briefly in my travels, but now that I could study them more closely I came to the belated realization that they are actually my blood cousins by an aunt I never knew named Mariko. What a story that told me, one to rival the revelation about Ranma having an older sister…and here I'd always taken Uncle Genma to be just a little slow when it came to relationships, the sly devil.
So daddy was holding back on me? I wonder if Peorth knew the story, or if that was something I would have to take up with my true mother the next time I visited her in the other world. Whatever the case was, I was definitely going to have to look up the Natsume and Kurumi of my world and reacquaint them with the family. After I had a few words with grandfather Happosai about his messing around with their respective metabolisms.
Tatewaki was a surprise since this version of him was relatively sane and not tainted by the touch of Cybelle's evil. Likewise Mousse was not the same nuisance here that he used to be for us, though I think that's largely due to Kurumi's positive influence. I wondered what other surprises were in store for me the longer I spent time on this world and away from what I usually accepted as normal and took relatively for granted. In some ways there were definite improvements here, but in other ways they were behind the times as far as I could measure things. I briefly wondered if Ryoga would ever be reunited with his own mother, then even more briefly paused to reflect upon Kennou Hibiki. No Sailor Senshi either, which was why my comment before to Ukyo about Kino Makoto caused her such a brief flash of painful memory, meaning no reconciliation with her former girlfriend…which is probably for the best considering what a hot number that Perfume is.
Okay, so I was still taking stock of the whole deal, just like they were trying to make heads or tails about me. So everything's relative, right? Only the big picture was what loomed over the horizon for the lot of us, and we had a serious situation on our hands, what with our enemy here being a full-fledged Archmage.
I can tell you from my experiences around Siren that Archmages are pure trouble with a capitol “T.” It's not just that they're bloody powerful but the very nature of magic tends to make them unpredictable, and against someone like that even my own abilities would be of minimal importance.
We needed a plan, and we needed powerful allies, but the best we had on hand were some square pegs with round holes who were undoubtedly very formidable but by no means in the same class as an Archmage. Well…possibly with the exception of Kasumi, but there was an instability in her matrix that I was sensing, a kind of residual darkness that made it dangerous to rely upon her for assistance. I could feel the pull inside her weighing more to the dark side than even her boyfriend likely suspected, and there was no telling what would happen if she cut loose with her full abilities, making her involvement as risky for us as it would be for the bad guy.
But I'm getting ahead of my story and giving away too much of the plot. As it turns out there was a lot more going on than any of us then realized, which is proof enough that even Lore Masters in training can sometimes find the future shadowed beyond our ability to pre-know. It's just as my mentor always tries to reassure me, that things have a tendency to sort themselves out and proceed in accordance to their own logic, which in a way is a great relief because who wants the burden of always knowing what will happen in advance? That would tend to take the fun out of everything, which is the point that Lord Anri was attempting to get across to me the next time that I would see him, which was shortly before we launched our assault on Armageddon…
Comments/Criticisms/Precognitive Complaints: shadowmane@msn.com