Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ A Tale of Two Wallets ❯ Posse Comatose ( Chapter 126 )
[ 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
The Concubine Priestess known to others as Mon-Mon hardly interrupted her playing as she felt the visitor set down upon the edge of the rooftop upon which the minstrel was playing. She continued improvising her instrumental, working out the finer details of a composition that she had been working on for quite a few months now, improvising the tone to suite a romantic harmonic, and not even bothering to look up as the other woman listened to her skillful fingers strumming on her cardolin until she paused to better adjust the keys for the higher pitch that she was seeking.
The Rose Goddess named Peorth took advantage of the lull to interject her words explaining her sudden manifestation upon the earthly plane, “I received some disturbing news from the central directory…it concerns my daughter, Nabiki…”
“Step-daughter,” Mon-Mon corrected while better tuning a chord to get just the right effect that she was seeking, “She's only your daughter in the sense that her mother was one of your templates.”
“Yes…well…but I spent a good few years helping to raise her, if you'd care to remember that,” Peorth said a bit testily, “I consider her to be as much my daughter as Kimiko's, and anything that affects her welfare is as important to me as if she were my flesh and blood, so let's not pick things apart on technical details, shall we?”
“As you wish,” Mon-Mon replied, resuming her soulful playing, “And to answer your next question, the reason for the disturbance you detected is that the Oni has cast a spell to make the people of Nerima forget that she and Saotome Ranma are married.”
“What?” Peorth reacted in dismay, “Why? Why would Ganglot do such a thing…?”
“Because Nabiki and her loved ones asked the Oni for a favor,” Mon-Mon explained, “And you know how perverse the gifts of the Princess of Hell can be, regardless of her good intentions.”
Peorth scowled as she regarded the beautiful blonde priestess, knowing full well that there was more to Mon-Mon than met with surface appearance, “Explain yourself. How would doing Nabiki and her partners a favor require Ganglot to blank out the minds of so many mortals?”
“It was the demoness's doing,” Mon-Mon answered, “Cybelle was stirring up trouble in the neighborhood, attempting to leverage the details about their illicit three-way union into pernicious mischief that might well have resulted in their being expelled from Nerima altogether.”
“She what?” Peorth snapped, balling her fists in (quite literal) righteous indignation.
“You know how the Techno-demoness works,” Mon-Mon replies, “She delights in causing misery and confusion in others…only this time it was the Oni who bested her at her own game. By temporarily removing Nabiki from the equation she has removed the primary source of scandal against both the Saotomes and the Tendos. Now people only remember that lord Ranma has taken a foreign bride who is having his child, and quite aside from some provincial racism against marrying non-native Japanese, there's very little that people can openly say against that. After all, his wife is lovely and quite the charmer, as I should well happen to know, so few men can fault lord Ranma for his choices, while many a girl is envious of his bride as they find Lord Ranma quite the man to their liking.”
“But…this is just temporary, right?” Peorth asked, “Nabiki hasn't been totally cut out of the picture?”
“The spell is crafted to last a few days then expire naturally of its own design,” Mon-Mon assured the Rose Goddess, “By that time Nabiki will return from her sabbatical and can resume her duties as head wife of the Saotome household. Shampoo will have delivered her child by then and will have given an heir to her husband who blends the both aspects of both of her parents…even as the twin daughters that Nabiki carries shall one day mirror reflect the alternating virtues of their mother…”
“Huh?” Peorth was momentarily stunned, “Say that last part again? Twins? As in…Nabiki…?”
“Is several weeks pregnant,” Mon-Mon smiled as she glanced sidelong at the lovely goddess, “Congratulations…you are about to become a spiritual grandmother.”
“I…hooboy,” Peorth fanned herself with a hand, “That's going to take a few moments to adjust to. So…Ranma and Nabiki finally got lucky, eh? That's good…that's very good news indeed. I've been so worried about my daughters of late, especially the youngest, Akane…”
“She continues her pursuit of Kuonji-sama and has even learned to abide the presence of Makoto in the same bed chamber,” Mon-Mon smiled all the more slyly, “As for your eldest adopted daughter, she continues to thrive and prosper in the Kuno mansion, where she, too, seems inordinately happy.”
“Happy?” Peorth arched an eyebrow, “Well…I suppose…but there are times when I think that Kuno woman is a bad influence on Kasumi…even if she does have a fine touch for cultivating roses…”
“I see nothing wrong in their affair,” Mon-Mon remarked, “And each takes great happiness in the company of the other.”
“Naturally you wouldn't see anything wrong about my daughter living like a slave and bowing the neck to another woman,” Peorth gently scolded.
“Of course,” Mon-Mon replied, “Such things are second nature to me, but I understand if you had other plans for all three of your daughters.”
Peorth regarded the blonde haired concubine-priestess with some mild trepidation. Of late she tended to be more on her guard and less at ease around the minstrel, even though they both had grown quite close of late and could converse like this on a fairly civil basis. It was knowing that there was a lot more going on beneath the beautiful shell of an earthbound mortal that tended to put Peorth on her tip toes, the inherent realization that Mon-Mon was but the outward disguise for an immortal beauty every bit as divine as Peorth herself, and one who had a mysterious power to affect the Rose goddess in ways that were most disturbing…yet no less fascinating for the contrast.
And, of course, the fact that Mon-Mon was quite open in her affections and tended to put the moves on Peorth at every possible occasion that tended to give substance to her trepidation. It was not that she objected to Mon-Mon's company…not in the least! If anything she was just as powerfully drawn towards her as Mon-Mon was to Peorth, and on more than one previous occasion she had succumbed utterly to the priestess's charms.
Which was why Peorth did not trust herself to spend too much time in the company of the altogether comely priestess.
“Well…my plans don't seem to amount to all that much these days,” Peorth reluctantly admitted, “So I've learned to trust to my daughters to make their own choices. You taught me how to let go and not be quite so controlling and manipulative, and…if for nothing else…I thank you for that favor.”
“You're welcome,” Mon-Mon replied, regarding Peorth with that disturbing intensity in her eyes that seemed to undress the goddess visually from a distance, “And in case you are wondering, Nabiki is away from Nerima at the present, but if you asked anyone in the streets who knows of her, they will say she is in America studying to pass the entry exams for some business college or other.”
“America?” Peorth frowned, “Ganglot certainly is inventive, I've give her that much credit, even if I'm liking the sound of this less and less the more I hear it.”
“You do not seem overly concerned about your daughter being away from her loved ones,” Mon-Mon noted wryly.
“Well, we both know Nabiki is the one who can best take care of herself,” Peorth said before frowning, “But I still take exception to Ganglot's ideas about helping her. Granted Cybelle is a real pain in the tookus, but making it seem as though my daughter does not even reside in Nerima, but in America of all places?”
“What is wrong with America?” Mon-Mon asked, “I understand the people there can be very friendly to foreigners, especially at anime conventions.”
“That's not the point and you know it,” Peorth scolded, “There has to be another way of keeping Cybelle at bay…but what would you care about it anyhow? It's not as if you raised her…”
“I care a great deal about the welfare of Saotome Nabiki,” Mon-Mon assured, “My Prince charged me to look after her, and I owe her fealty during my stay within this country. Besides, I've grown rather fond of the people of Nerima…as you have as well, Cheri, despite your attempts to pretend otherwise.”
Peorth snorted, “Mock me all you like, but I still consider her my child, even if I wasn't the one to give her birth. But where is Nabiki off to anyway? My attempts to find her on the grid met with an astonishing lack of success just before I left heaven for earth…”
“That is the question, isn't it,” Mon-Mon glanced away, “I cannot answer you there, save to say that the senior Lore Master has taken her on a sabbatical to another plane of being that is parallel to this world.”
“Another dimension?” Peorth reacted with renewed dismay, “And when is she coming back for heaven's sakes?”
“In a few days I suspect,” Mon-Mon answered, “The sense I had of such things was that she was being given special training to overcome a defect in her self-control that Cybelle was attempting to exploit. When she and her mentor return I am certain that you will be free to inquire about the details.”
“I think I just might at that,” Peorth nodded, “Well…nice to see you again, and thanks for the information…”
“Is this all that you came to me to inquire about?” Mon-Mon asked as she tilted her head to the side and gave Peorth a curious expression.
“Ah…what do you mean?” Peorth was suddenly very nervous and looked away rather than meet the gaze that the priestess was favoring her with in such a coy and seductive manner.
“You know what I mean,” Mon-Mon purred sensuously, “You've been avoiding me these past few weeks. Has my company suddenly become less than pleasant?”
“Don't be ridiculous,” Peorth said, “I'm not avoiding you, I've just had a lot of work to do upstairs. They've made me regional administrator, which means a lot of responsibilities that I have to take care of…”
“Responsibilities,” Mon-Mon mused, “I once knew what that was like…but it has been many a long year since I involved myself in the minute details of business among the heavens.”
“Well, you're always welcome to visit,” Peorth assured her, “I'm sure I can get you invited back on a visitor's pass. Now, if you don't mind, I have to go find Ganglot and give that Oni a piece of my mind about her ideas on helping my daughter…”
“It will change nothing you know,” Mon-Mon said confidently, “And you are avoiding my question, Goddess.”
“Question?” Peorth swallowed thickly, “What question?”
Mon-Mon rose fluidly to her feet with a fluid grace that was almost pantherish, and then she sauntered brazenly across spine of the roof, bare feet on tiles, hips swaying in an exaggerated manner, and she advanced upon the goddess as if stalking her prey, which caused Peorth to feel a sudden urge to back away, even if it meant falling off of the building altogether. Instead she held her ground, albeit more like a deer caught in the headlights rather than as an act of defiance as Mon-Mon continued to approach her, eyes alight with smoldering intentions. Once again Peorth felt the impact of the raw sensuality that the concubine embodied, scantily clad in revealing attire that boasted ample swells of appropriately curving flesh for the eye to feast upon…and a heady aroma of natural perfume that set the pulse to racing far more potently than one of Urd's aphrodisiac concoctions.
Peorth well knew what that supple body could do when properly aroused to full ardor, which was why she did not immediately heed the call of her rational mind telling her to get the hell out of there before matters progressed beyond the point of all recalling.
Mon-Mon's eyes roved in turn over Peorth's slender and willowy form with much approval for what she beheld. She waited until her face was only inches away before pausing and murmuring aloud, “Did you miss me? Did you think denying yourself of my company would make your desires any more palpable? And did you think that I would not miss you terribly? I have been waiting every evening here in the hopes that you would manifest, and the ballad I was composing just now was in your honor…”
“It…it was?” Peorth stammered, held rapt in her place by the unearthly beauty of the priestess as they hovered within easy reach of one another, “It…it was quite lovely…”
“Thank you,” Mon-Mon replied, “I will play it in its entirety for you and you alone…but first…allow me to pay my homage to you, my heavenly Rose Goddess.”
And with that declaration Mon-Mon reached out with one hand and drew an unresisting Peorth into her embrace, and then their lips met mid-way and a kiss that could melt the snow off an icecap, warming the night all around them and causing whatever hesitation and doubt was in Peorth's mind to melt away, which left her reeling with only a single question.
“Your place or mine?” Peorth asked as she felt the huge bosom of her companion press against her own ample chest.
“Mine is closer,” Mon-Mon murmured in reply.
“Good enough for me,” Peorth answered, and then she gathered the priestess up into her arms and teleported the both of them through the walls of the restaurant, to manifest in the chamber that Mon-Mon called her “ambassadorial residence” during her stay at Ucchan's in the province of her current mistress…
Nabiki's Journal Continues:
I confess that these days I am not as used to waiting on the sidelines as I once was when just starting out my relationship with Ranma. I'm too used to being a participant, and always at the front ranks of those who are called to adventure, and with my burgeoning talents I'm considered something of a local heavyweight, certainly not the type you leave on the bench waiting for her turn at bat.
So try as I might I found it difficult to relax and sit idle while the others were off facing danger and possible death at the hands of a wizard who even had Lotion speaking in low murmurs. My counterpart seemed to be in much the same boat, though her situation was compounded by her far more advanced state of pregnancy, and I didn't need to rely on my talents to know at a glance how she chaffed at being left out of the action. Being far more a woman of battle than myself it doubly chaffed on her to be burdened by the needs of her unborn offspring, but five months of a steadily increasing girth around her mid-section had taught her the need for patience. So, to give her credit, she was trying just as hard as me to keep up a brave face while hiding her anxiety over her absent husband, friends and kinfolk, which is probably why the two of us found ourselves turning to one another for diversion.
It was obvious from the start that we were two very different facets of the same complex matrix, our lives both having diverged from the pattern of “normalcy” that had been our lot in life close to twelve years back in our mutual pasts. That long ago she had been traded for the son of a friend of her father and had gone off to live a life on the road learning the martial arts while I was the one who stayed home and tried to help my sisters patch a broken family back together. I could tell how much her ordeal had shaped her character and helped define her as a person of strong values and means, and I could certainly admire her ballsy spirit and inherent optimism, reckoning that she was not an easy person to deter from her stated goals. She was much too much a doer than a simple observer like me, and where I had grown up sly and clever and all-so-proud of being on top of my game…but in her I saw how truly vain and shallow I had been, for she was the real deal whereas I had been---until some fifteen months back---a mere pretender.
Of course that changed for me the day Ranma came into my life, followed in short order by the napalm strike that was Shampoo's impact upon Nerima, and now I stood a year and a half later a much different person, and certainly a lot stronger than I would ever have previously imagined. I had resumed my martial arts training, but my strength lay more in my mind rather than in my hardened body, so while I could not physically compete with my counterpart, she could not match wits with me where it truly matters. I could see how vexed and frustrated she was with trying to get a handle on what I was into, but my altered nature was too different from what she had experienced and she had no reference point to use as a compass, and so she was regarding me as much of an enigma as though I were, in fact, a total stranger.
“So…let me see if I've got this right,” she was saying as we sat across from one another in the dojo, “You've honed your mind into some kind of mental radio that picks up thought waves sent out by the cosmos itself, which is how you're able to know these things about somebody without having to hear an actual explanation?”
“Well…more or less,” I shrugged, “But that's really not the way I would describe it. You'd have to know more about the fundamental structure of reality to really appreciate what an Akashic field is. Think of it more as an infinite field of plasticized fabric that stretches out into infinity and touches all points of the cosmos, then compare it to the same effect you get when you stretch a cord between two cans and use them like a telephone that directly conveys sound waves. It's not quite as crude as that, but the basic thing is…I've learned how to listen and pick up on the vibrations that resonate throughout the Akashic field, and the effect is strongest when I am in the immediate presence of someone whose history is unknown to me. I just tune in and feel the vibrations and interpret the signal like a radio transducer…”
“Riiiight,” my counterpart drawled, clearly signifying that she really did not get it, “So basically you can find stuff out at a glance just by opening yourself up to these…what did you call them again?”
“Akashic memories,” I answered, “Everything you do, every event, every thought in your life affects the field that surrounds your body and you aura records you entire life history there, so if you know how to read them it's simplicity itself, or rather…for me it's now second nature.”
I could see her struggling with the concepts again, and I have to give her credit for honestly trying, which was much better than most people with whom I attempt to explain my powers, “Ah…you mean to say that there's this…invisible field that picks up and records everything like a mobile CD burner? That's…pretty disturbing…I mean, some chapters of my life…well…they're personal, know what I mean?”
“Intimately,” I smiled, “And I don't blame you for finding it disturbing. Most people do who spend enough time around me to know that they can't keep secrets from a Lore Master. But don't worry, I'm not really the talkative type, and I've been keeping secrets for other people for as long as I remember…”
“And using them like a commodity I'd wager,” my counterpart said shrewdly, “So how much is it going to cost me to have you confine what you know to yourself?”
“I'll think about what it's worth and get back to you on that,” I assured her, faintly amused to see how she took that idle comment, which reminded me of how a lot of people I do business with have regarded me as if I were a one-girl Yakuza protectionism racket, a reputation I've done nothing to discourage as I find it quite useful to have people be wary of what I may know and be able to hold against them.
I could sense that the same pretty much held true for my counterpart and the way she did business with her own “associates” and “clients,” but having someone else be able to turn the screws on her was the sort of poetic irony that she was not in the mind to appreciate, not even as a form of “karmic justice.”
Of course as I reckoned this I also detected strong thoughts and emotions emanating from a different corner of the dojo, and so without turning to look in that direction I said, “If you keep giving me looks like that I might begin to get the wrong impression about you, Perfume-chan.”
“Ah…aiyaa?” I could feel as well as hear the wince in the Amazon Enforcer as she reacted like a cat caught eyeing the goldfish bowl, and all at once attention was shifted in her direction.
“Per-chan?” my counterpart said, eyeing her co-wife with a mild hint of confusion.
“You'll have to forgive her,” I told my counterpart, “She knows more of what a Lore Master is since her own great-grandmother happens to be my mentor…at least where I come from. She's been on edge much of the time that I've been here, but I can sense her curiosity warring with her natural caution…but you don't have to worry on my count, Perfume-chan. I won't be employing any of my more advanced skills around your Airen…though I must say that I am flattered that you find me a subject of such great interest.”
“What are you talking about, Sugar?” I heard Ukyo speak up from where she and Shampoo were sitting together on the sidelines, having pretended all the while to be immersed in their own two-way conversation while actually keeping one ear tuned to what their primary wife and I had been saying together.
“I…I don't know what you're talking about,” Perfume said evasively, which even to hear own ears must have sounded more like denial than an actual protest of innocent intentions.
I didn't really want to explode her cover, but I felt I had to say something and so I blurted out, “No need to be shy. I'm sure I must fascinate you to no end being so much like the Nabiki you know…and yet so different as to be a total stranger.”
“Aiyaa,” I heard Shampoo appreciatively murmur, “Shampoo think she only imagining things when she think she see Cousin giving no-Airen Nabiki funny looks just now. Shampoo did no think you look like that at our Nabiki.”
My counterpart frowned at this and growled, “Is there something you'd care to share with the rest of us, Per-chan?”
“I told you she's crazy,” Perfume sputtered in further desperation, seeing the way that even Ukyo was now eyeing her, which made me regret having put her on the spotlight.
“Perhaps I am,” I said as I got to my feet and turned to regard her frankly, “But I know what I was feeling just now, and it certainly wasn't the kind of thing you should mentally think about in the presence of your co-wives and Airen. But I won't hold it against you seeing as you seem to be a very passionate person who does not give her affections lightly, and your loyalty is not to be questioned…you just suffered a mild lapse just now, the same thing that most women experience from time to time…and again I must say that I am very flattered at your interest.”
“Ah…Airen…” Perfume nervously regarded Ukyo, only to turn with a start back towards me as I slowly walked in her direction.
“May I say in reply that I find you no less interesting to observe from a distance?” I admitted, “The Perfume on my timeline is barely even an acquaintance, but you've spent more than a year here in Nerima and have acclimated well to the Japanese culture. You are intelligent and highly adaptive, and certainly as cuddlesome and compassionate as my wife, your cousin.”
Shampoo was giving me a curious look of her own while Ukyo narrowed her eyes slightly, and my counterpart scowled, eyeing me as if I were encroaching upon the territory of her tight-knit family unit. But still I felt compelled to approach Perfume, allowing myself to fully appreciate the Chinese girl at a closer proximity as bits and pieces of her history floated into my mind, to be absorbed into a larger collage that gave me a deeper perspective of who she was as both a woman and a person.
“In fact,” I said, “Were I not happily married to my Shampoo, and were you not similarly committed to your wife and co-wives, then I could really go for you in a very big way,” I murmured, coming to within a few steps of my quarry, who was backed up against the wall as if afraid that I would pounce in her direction, “You are seriously cute, you know that? And I don't just mean kawaii in the way that implies good looks, a great bust and an agreeable temperament. I can sense that you are a person who revels in the release of her emotions with whichever party you are most intimate…and if you were my lover, I think the both of us would be very good together. In fact…I can sense that on some other alternate reality that you and I were bound to be together.”
“We were?” she asked in a tiny squeak that made her voice sound even more high pitched and kawaii than usual, and there was no mistaking from her rounded eyes that she was taking the concept of us as an item in due consideration…and reckoning the likely truth behind her words, which was why she swallowed all the more as she knew full well that Ukyo was listening in with barely contained fury.
“Sugar,” Ukyo drawled in that menacing tone that sounds so mild upon the surface, but almost invariably heralds the use of her baker's peel, “You mind not standing that close to my wife? You wanna talk to her like that, you'd better damn well ask for permission.”
“I've said my peace,” I turned to Kuonji instead and gave her my most disarming grin before adding, “And in case you're feeling left out, Ucchan, there's more than one occasion when I've looked at your counterpart on my world and had naughty thoughts that would make my Shampoo extremely jealous.”
“Hah?” my words had the effect of taking the sting out of Ukyo's jealousy, only now it was Shampoo who was scowling, no doubt reckoning how her own counterpart would react to seeing me flirt like this with other beautiful and desirable young women.
“Excuse me,” my counterpart's own tone was noticeably brittle, “But I'll thank you not to be stirring up trouble like that with my family. In case it's escaped your all-knowing mind, they belong to me and not you, capeesh?”
“My apologies,” I turned to regard her once again, “As I've told you before my abilities sometimes cause me to say things without thinking through the full consequences. I meant no disrespect to you or to yours, and I humbly beg your indulgence.”
I think my tone was sincere enough to unruffle a few feathers, but nonetheless my counterpart was giving me a cautious eye before saying, “In the future try thinking more and saying a lot less. Nobody likes a chatterbox who spills other people's secrets…and I thought you said you had more skill at controlling that? Sounds to me as if your training is somehow…lacking.”
“Lotion believes this is so, and I tend to agree with her,” I answered, “In fact she said coming here would help me to gain a better handle on my abilities, so perhaps you reminding me of when I'm out of line is what she had intended.”
I heard a chuckle from the far end of the room and turned a look towards its author, who was leaning up against the doorframe as if “just happening” upon our cozy little melodrama, which was why I mildly asked her, “Does something here amuse you, Arigami-san?”
“You,” she grinned affably, “I think I've finally started to figure you out. Mistress Lao told me once about Lore Masters, how you make other people feel uncomfortable because you see and know things that are hidden from normal perceptions, that you have to train hard to learn to restrain yourselves from the tendency to meddle in the private personal affairs of others…and now I see what she was getting at. You're like a kid with a new toy that she's still trying out, and since you don't have to work as hard as out Nab-chan to ferret out information…”
“Ah, I see what you are getting at,” I turned to regard her, frankly admiring her striking good looks and athletic frame, which was so much like my husband's cursed form, albeit a few centimeters taller, lankier and leaner, “You mean that I'm still a dabbler while Lotion is the real deal. Of course if you think I'm meddling, then you ought to see my step-mother, Silk…”
“Silk?” my counterpart asked in frank curiosity.
“She's almost like mom's twin sister from China,” I answered, “Only she's an Amazon, and Perfume-chan's auntie. She knew daddy even before he met and married our mother, and they even had a daughter together who is like an older twin sister to Kasumi…”
“SAY WHAT?!?” my counterpart blurted.
“Just shy of six months ago daddy challenged her and defeated her in combat,” I continued, “So now I like to call her my not-so-wicked step-mother, and she's a Lore Master, like me, trained by her grandmother, my mentor, Lotion. Daddy's looking pretty spiff and trim these days, no doubt to her great cooking skills and fine influence, and he's even started teaching classes again in the dojo. As for the oneechan of ours that you've yet to meet, pray she visits you on a good day, because she's like Kasumi's total opposite, a walking temper tantrum who swings a really mean Ch'I-chi. Of course Kachu-chan's mellowed out somewhat since she settled down and married Tofu-sensei…”
I caught the various astonished looks being turned my way, and once again Keiko-san was grinning like a Cheshire, “See what I mean about meddling? Now you've gone and spoiled the joke and let everyone here in on something that they would have found out eventually, only under very different conditions.”
“Hmmm…good point that,” I mused, “I suppose I could have let you guys stumble blindly onto the truth and have you endure all the tragic-comic consequences of the sins of our fathers…but I think on principle I did owe you a fair warning.”
My counterpart cleared her throat and then said, “Sham-chan…can you confirm any bit of what she's saying?”
“Aiyaa,” the counterpart to my pregnant wife closed her mouth and looked somewhat sheepish, “Shampoo no think that way before…but now that counterpart-Nabiki say this, Shampoo realize that maybe is resemblance between Ka-Chu and big sister Kasumi…”
“Yeah, but only in the looks department,” Perfume added, “Temperamentally they are nothing alike, which is why even I have trouble thinking of them in the same context.”
“Sugar?” Ukyo looked her way with arched eyebrows.
“Well…hey,” the nicely endowed, buxomly Amazon Enforcer shrugged, “Nobody ever asked us about it before, so give me a break! If you ever met Devil-hunter Kachu in person you'd understand that she's one of a kind in our village…which I think is a very good thing.”
“Devil Hunter Kachu?” my counterpart repeated.
“I have met her,” Keiko winced, “And now that you mention it, it's not surprising that even I didn't get it until now.”
“Wait a minute,” my counterpart scowled, “Are you telling me that Daddy had an affair behind momma's back and fathered a kid out of wedlock?”
“Yes, only he doesn't know it yet, so I wouldn't bring it up with him if I were you,” I cautioned, “Not unless you want to set off one of his tear-jags and remind him about his lost youth and all that. Keep in mind, this happened around the time when he and Uncle Genma were training under Master Happy, and all sorts of weird stuff tended to go on back then. Or did you think I was all that blasé about learning that Ranma has an older half-sister naked Kaoru?”
“Hmmm…good point that,” Ukyo noted, “Funny thing is I never saw Uncle Tendo or Uncle Saotome as that sort of playboy.”
“Oh, believe me, Ranma only picked up a fraction of his father's tendency to get into mischief,” I rolled my eyes and relived the memories that I'd absorbed after months of probing into the backgrounds of our elders, “The Saotome charm held true even for that drunken lout, but in the days of his youth he was quite a few kilograms lighter and had more of a boyish streak about him, and he hadn't been hammered as much by life on the road, so back then he did have a few morals.”
I could see the others trying to visualize what I was saying and failing badly, but being the sort of person we both are, my counterpart had trouble letting go of the main point of her contention, “I just don't see how Daddy could have been that much of a Lothario. I thought he worshipped the ground that Momma walked across…I never could imagine him having an affair without her knowing.”
“It wasn't without her prior knowledge and/or approval,” I assured her, “Her arrangement with daddy was postponed by a few days, during which Uncle and Daddy had an encounter with an Amazon Hunt party sent from China to retrieve some stolen artifacts in the possession of great-grandfather Happy. There was a brief scuffle and some near misses that could have wound up in a severe case of premature matrimony, but basically both sides declared a truce before either one could be declared the victor, and both sides agreed to abide the peace until they could better sort things out, which is how Silk and Comb wound up traveling for a time in the company of our fathers.”
“Let me guess where this is going,” Keiko raised a finger, “Aunt Nodoka and Kimiko-san arrived a few days later when things were really heating up and everything got complicated with both sides winding up in a rivalry for the attention of their clueless men-folk. Sounds like a perfect formula for an Anime, a kind of Martial Arts Love Hina.”
“More or less,” I said, then I added with a wicked gleam towards my audience, “Of course Shampoo's mother never married Uncle Genma, and just as soon as she went back to China she met and married your father after losing to him in a chess match. Silk never did get married but switched from warrior training to follow in the ways of her grandmother. As for the OTHER rivals who used to compete against them for attention…”
“Other rivals?” my counterpart bristled.
“Kuonji-san's aunt for one,” I gave a wink at Ukyo, “Kuonji Yumi, who still harbors a thing for Daddy even two decades after moving away and establishing her restaurant in Kyoto. You trained with her for a time, didn't you, and learned some of the finer arts of okonomiyaki cooking and combat while your daddy was too ill to be of much direct assistance.”
“How did you…?” Ukyo's eyes got wider, “Aunt Yumi…and Uncle Tendo???”
“Hibiki Atsuko you already know about,” I continued, “Funny how relationships can be almost generational…or perhaps there's the strong hand of karma at work, the children following in the steps of their forebears, that sort of thing. No doubt Ryoga-san still flinches from the idea that he and Ranma-kun are really half-brothers.”
“Uh…they've kind of resolved that one between them,” my counterpart said dismissively, “But…you said there were others? Other what? Other suitors for daddy?”
“More than either of us would feel comfortable about reviewing,” I answered, “But of the rather lengthy list I would say that Sybil the Sorceress was among the chief contenders. Of course she was really just an agent of Cybelle, the greater enemy and Ryoga-kun's evil grandmother, and the primary reason why his mother refuses to visit you guys out in the open. As for Uncle Genma, well…would it bother you too much if I mention the name of Gosunkuji Hitome?”
“Can't say that rings a bell, Sugar,” Ukyo replied.
“Ah…wait a minute,” Keiko got the hint sooner than the rest of them, “Gosunkuji Hitome? Who changed her last name to Kuno after she married?”
“Kuno?” my counterpart blinked, and then she blanched, “No way! Kodachi's mom used to date Uncle Genma?”
“Aiyaa,” Shampoo averred, “And Shampoo think it bad enough him used to date Shampoo's mother…”
“Actually date is rather too strong a word,” I cautioned, “More like `Stalk with a Vengeance,' meaning that she and Aunt Nodoka used to be rivals. See what I mean about the sins of the father visiting themselves upon the present? Of course the Kodachi of both of our worlds has mellowed out quite a lot from what she used to be like. I mean…the idea that she and Akane-chan are longtime childhood buddies? That's almost as bad as Tatewaki and Ranma being best friends, or finding out that Kasumi here is both a vampire goddess and is dating the Monster of Mary Shelly's novel.”
“Well, what about the way things are on your world?” my counterpart asked, “Who did you say again was hanging around with Kasumi?”
I had to smile at that and say, “Good point…but maybe I ought to show you rather than explain in words how things have turned out between those two on my world.”
“Show me?” my counterpart asked, “What do you mean by…”
In response to the question I extended my hand, having moved to within easy arms reach during the course of our conversation. I touched my counterpart's temple very lightly and she went momentarily rigid as the connection between our minds was thus established.
I drew upon my most recent memory of a visit I paid a few days back to the Kuno mansion. As usual I passed Tatewaki and we grunted our snarls of cheerful greeting, being on opposite sides of the track in a protracted war of nerves and all that…but what else could you expect between the chief minion of Cybelle and the number one target of the wrath of Ryoga's wicked grandmother.
Of course, being the sort of “pretend-gentleman” that he is, Tatewaki rather helpfully pointed me in the direction that I should be seeking in pursuit of our wayward sister, and in spite of all the bad blood that exists between us, on this one particular subject “Tachi-kun” and I are in mutual agreement that the less said on the matter the better for our collective peace of mind. Comprende?
Unfortunately I do have business dealings with Kodachi, and no matter how warped her life may appear to me at times, Kasumi is still my beloved older sister, and so I braved the trek across the expansive yard surrounding the mansion, negotiating my way past the numerous obstacles, including the koi pond filled with dangerous and illegal flesh-eating sea life, and the ever-grinning “Mister Green Turtle,” as Kodachi so affectionately has named him. From there I found my way to the Kuno stables, and then to the yard itself whereupon I confronted the sight that I had known would be awaiting me…which by no mean implies that I was prepared for it, mind you, I'm just saying that sometimes pre-knowledge can be a bitch when you have to re-live it.
Granted chariot racing is a rather popular sport among some people, a modern-day version of the old gladiatorial-style games, only performed with a much lighter and sportier version sleeked down for speed and convenience of turning. The “horse” is hitched to the front end in much the same manner as a Chinese rickshaw, towing the chariot along while the rider sits comfortably and guides the “horse” with a few gentle flicks from a lash, guiding them both along through a mile-long circle of track at an even trot that is sporting to look upon, even given the fact that both parties are entirely human and nearly naked.
Think you know the scenario by now? Guess again! Because in this scenario it is Kodachi who is the “horse” and Kasumi who is the rider, as if she's flicking the lash against Kodachi's bare ass-cheek as the latter is jogging barefoot across the red earth of the track pulling the chariot along and jiggling eye-catchingly with each and every movement.
Okay, I will admit that Kodachi looks pretty hot in a leather harness, her breasts heaving up and down at all, but do you honestly think I can see Kasumi in the same get-up and not mentally flinch with a sisterly cringe at how far she's gone from the modest, prudish older girl I used to remember? Granted she seems to be having the time of her life riding around like that enjoying the role of a dominatrix.
Which is kind of funny when you think about it since---according to the logic of their relationship---it's Kodachi who is the Mistress and Kasumi…ah…well…that's where it gets kind of complicated.
This habit they have of switching roles with one party being on top one minute and the other DEFINITELY on the bottom the next, well…even I have to mentally adjust every time I see them like this together. Believe me, if you were there you would totally know what I'm saying…
Okay, back to the image I was showing to my counterpart---who I could feel reacting with denial and dismay even as the memories unrolled as I had experienced them, watching as my kindly older sibling skillfully guided her lover around the track in a full circle before spying me and drawing up to a slow halt near to where I was standing.
Once the chariot had come to a complete halt Kasumi hailed me brightly and said, “Good morning, Imoutochan, it's nice to see you again so bright and so early.”
“Likewise,” I said somewhat dubiously, because as glad as I was to see Kasumi in such good spirits, the circumstances involved gave me more than a bit of unease, especially as I turned to regard Kodachi, who was staring straight ahead with a metal bit in her mouth and blinders obscuring her peripheral vision, her long dark hair done (quite literally) up as a pony tail that stood upwards and backwards rather than to the side as was her usual preference. Her wrists were cuffed and connected to chains that connected to the belt around her waist, and the harness itself was connected by an elegant series of leather straps that well distributed the weight that she had to pull, thus increasing her comfort level even while limiting her mobility to strictly forward motions.
It had been designed by Kodachi herself and was now proudly sported by the so-called “Black Rose” in her new guise as a “Pony Girl.” She seemed to be suffering little in the way of humiliation standing there virtually naked pawing the ground softly with her bare feet and acting the part of the “beast of burden” that she was portraying, and I could sense that she was actually enjoying her role doing the opposite of her usual thing as “The Mistress.” Perverse as it might seem to ordinary minds, she and Kasumi were actually quite happy with their “game” or “sport,” or whatever you might want to call it. I guess it's all in the fantasy role playing, or the casual effort to cast themselves in new roles for variety, or the pure enjoyment of the fresh air as sometimes Kasumi is the driver, and other times takes her turn as the “pony.”
“If you're looking for Kodachi, she'll be along in a while,” Kasumi said as she got up out of the chariot, setting the riding crop aside and coming to stand beside Kodachi, whom she patted down affectionately before reaching for a hair brush, with which she began combing down her pony tail, exactly as if Kuno-chan were the animal that she was portraying.
“Ah…?” I posed a question disguised in the form of a polite noise, indicating the very woman whom my sister was grooming, a girl only a year younger than me and fabulously wealthy with a nest egg the size of the budget of a small country.
“Oh this?” Kodachi acted as if only just noticing Kodachi, “This is my new pony, Rose. Isn't she a darling? I ride her like this every chance I can get, and she really is quite the trotter.”
“I guess,” I responded, even as I perceived---not willingly I assure you---that Kasumi had a similar pet name when she dressed up as the “pony,” and, believe it or not, Kodachi calls her “Muffy.”
Okay, maybe that's a little too much information here, but this is the life my sister has chosen for herself, and to say she glows with an inner light is to reflect upon the joy that she and Kodachi bring to one another. Even posturing in assumed roles of bondage and domination they were enjoying each others company, and no matter who was on top or on the bottom all that really counted with both was that they cared about one another. Enough that Kodachi did not mind her whip-welts, or the calluses on her feet that even a gymnast would never know from an indoor arena, for those would be soothed and healed later by some affectionate care and attention sometime later.
If anything Kodachi wore here welts as a symbol of pride, for being attended to by my gentle sister was making her shine like a star, the more so even as Kasumi continued to pretend that she was just her “little pony,” reminding me that she had always wanted a pony of her own when we were little children, and now she effectively had one. Just not on four legs, and definitely a lot less hairy in most places.
I decided to play along as there was no point making an issue over the matter, “She does look good in the turns, and she handles smoothly in the straightaway. Thinking of racing her on a professional circuit?”
“Perhaps,” Kasumi smiled while running a hand playfully over Kodachi's firm bottom, which earned a delighted noise that came through the bit in her teeth as she held her head high and her chest out thrust, almost shivering with sheer pleasure as though receiving high praise as Kasumi said, “But for now I prefer to take her out on leisurely trots to warm her up on cold mornings so that she learns to keep an even pace. Perhaps one day I will take her out professionally, but for now she is mine to play with, and I am content enough to keep her just that way.”
“Well, I guess that does make sense,” I said in lieu of anything else that might come to mind, “Well, I can see you're both busy at the moment, but if Kodachi shows up later tell her I have more of that business we discussed earlier, and I'll come around whenever she is ready.”
“I'll be sure to inform her of that, Imoutochan,” Kasumi replied while resuming her “grooming” of Kodachi, “But why do you address yourself to my little Rose here? You know that ponies can't talk.”
I withdrew my hand from the forehead of my counterpart, allowing the image to dissolve right then, which left her shaken and disturbed, much as I had intended.
“What the hell was that?” she demanded, making what sense she could of the memories that I had just shared.
“That is the reason why you shouldn't complain about your Kasumi being a goddess of the vampires,” I replied, “Despite the physiological changes she has experienced, underneath it all she is still basically Kasumi.”
To no great surprise on my part I saw my counterpart smile sardonically, and for once I knew what it was like to have my own trademark look turned in my direction.
“I guess I should be grateful after all…if that's the alternative,” she said with a lilt in her voice that demonstrated appreciation of my gist, “But is it really true…did you bargain with Kodachi to sell our sister into her care as a sex slave? That's the sort of thing I'd expect from one of Lao's minions.”
“Say what?” Keiko blinked, “Kasumi…taking my place with Kodachi-sama?”
“Excuse me, Sugar?” Ukyo asked as both Shampoo and Perfume gave a soft “Aiyaa” in perfect chorus.
“It was Kasumi's idea, and she kind of talked me into it,” I said rather sheepishly, “She had this crazy notion that Kodachi was in danger from her brother, and that by being with her full time she could act as a kind of counterbalance or shield to thwart any efforts on Tatewaki's part that might jeopardize her safety, so selling herself to Kodachi was just her way of protecting her lover, even though Kasumi takes this game somewhat liberally and is a heck of a lot more than just Kodachi's mistress.”
“Excuse me, Sugar?” Ukyo blanched, “Are you saying that the Tatewaki of your world would actually threaten to do harm to his own sister?”
“You haven't seen the changes he's gone through like I have,” I replied, “He's Cybelle's man now and she guides his moves like a puppet, even if he imagines that he's really the man in charge. Where once he was a somewhat affable buffoon, these days he's cold, calculating and utterly humorless, and he'd think nothing about removing an obstacle like Kodachi from his path if their interests were to diverge any more strongly. But somehow Kasumi's presence seems to have calmed things down a bit and distracted Tatewaki from any such designs against Kodachi. Cybelle seems genuinely to be afraid of her, and I think Tatewaki secretly lusts for her body but is too proud and distant to admit it, and besides, their antics disgust him too much for him to pay much more than cursory attention…”
“That almost makes a kind of sense,” my counterpart remarked, favoring Keiko with a wry look, “Or maybe I've just been hanging around with you for too long that the idea isn't quite as shocking as it ought to be.”
“Hey, I offered to sell myself to you, but you missed your chance, Nab-chan,” Keiko shrugged with an affable expression, “And for someone who prides herself on her business assets I must say that you missed out on quite the bargain, though I'm happy enough belonging now to my Mistress Kodachi.”
“Pardon me for feeling a bit left out of this, Sugar,” Ukyo scowled, “But from all the rest of us could tell just now you did something, tapped Nab-chan on the forehead and made her zone out for a few seconds, and then she blinks her eyes and is back to normal.”
“My apologies,” I said, “But what I had to share was…extremely personal, though I dare say that if Akane were here our little sister would probably have understood implicitly, being no stranger to such games if I perceive things rightly.”
“Hey, no comments from me, other than to confirm the fact that Akane-chan would make one heck of a concubine if Ryo-chan ever lets her,” Keiko winked, “I'd be happy to teach her all the finer points of the trade, but she does grasp the basics and would probably do well as a fellow sex slave to our Mistress Kodachi.”
“You're right about that,” my counterpart said, “Sometimes my little sister worries me, and if she didn't have Ryo-chan so thoroughly wrapped around her little finger…”
“Excuse me for interrupting things just as they were starting to sound interesting,” I heard the silver-haired Beatrice remark as she appeared at the entrance to the dojo, “But it might interest you to know that I have finished a preliminary analysis of the data you shared with me earlier, and I believe I have some useful recommendations that may prove advantageous in another confrontation with the enemy wizard.”
“Oh?” my counterpart replied, giving the blonde her full-undivided attention, “Such as?”
“Magic, as I understand the term, involves mentally tapping into certain natural ambient forces and shaping them through the lens of the mind, powered by the will, to create an effect that can be measured both etherically and upon the plane of ordinary matter,” the super-intelligent Daitokuji replied as I turned to regard her quite breathtakingly beautiful profile, “As long as the channels are open a sufficiently powerful and talented mind can draw from a theoretically infinite source…but what would happen if you could block or somehow diminish the flow of energies that he is able to tap into, say…by creating a wave of interference that might disrupt the pattern of his mental emanations?”
“Interesting,” I said as I turned to regard her fully, “Are you suggesting a device that could cause a localized interference wave such as what you are suggesting?”
“As a matter of fact I have just finished working on such a device,” Beatrice held up an object roughly the size of a grapefruit yet ovular, almost egg-shaped with a knob at the top end that was clearly meant to be adjusted, “I call it a Mind grenade, and it's effective range is about twenty meters in radius. It puts out a lot of power and so the batteries will only be able to sustain it for a matter of a few minutes, but that should be sufficiently long enough to give one the edge in battle. The downside is that it could also affect Ki lines and manna taps for other purposes, and so it may hamper both sides when it is active.”
“Fascinating,” my counterpart said, “Could come in handy even if we ever get to use it on this mission.”
“I look forward to examining the data when it is put to field use,” Beatrice replied, “So if at all possible do try and recover it so that I can study the memory chip that will analyze and record critical data…”
“Are you still working on that thing?” said the redheaded Alison as she suddenly appeared at the side of Beatrice, “And here I told you to take it easy and relax for just one night instead of always trying to invent a better mouse trap. What do I have to do, tie you down and sit on you before you get the point that you shouldn't be straining yourself and the baby?”
“If I should happen to forget I will always have you on hand to remind me, my Barbarian,” Beatrice said to her wife with great affection, “But I am done inventing for now, so I will heed your sage advice and sit down for a bit back at the house while we await news of the eventual triumph of the others.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Alison took the blonde by the arm and all but dragged her away from the dojo, but not before she managed to toss her “mind grenade” to Keiko, who caught and held it gingerly as if afraid it might go off at any moment.
“Heh, easy to see who wears the pants in that family,” Keiko mused as she examined the device in her hands then said, “I'll keep a firm hold on this for now if you don't mind, Nab-chan. Now…if it's all the same to you, I think I'll go hunt down the privy. All this waiting is making me feel constipated.”
“Sure enough, but hurry back just the same, Kei-chan,” my counterpart instructed, “It's been taking Ranma-kun and the others too long to report back on their mission, and I'm starting to get worried.”
I waited until the redhead was out of the room before I turned to regard my double and murmured softly, “You have good taste in friends, and that one is certainly loyal and true blue.”
“Kei-chan thinks she owes me a favor for helping her out of a tight jam a couple of years ago,” my counterpart shrugged, though I could sense in her memories a long and complicated story worthy of much deeper reflection.
“You do that a lot, don't you?” I observed, then paused before adding, “Oh…and by the way, do you know that one who just left has a real heavy crush on you but doesn't want to say it aloud?”
“Kei-chan?” my double asked, “That's old news…she's had this thing for me, and I try not to encourage it, but…”
“Not her,” I corrected, “The other one… you know, who talks with lots of big words and has more IQ points than the lot of us put together?”
“What?” my counterpart stumbled, “You don't mean…Beatrice?”
“She loves her wife and would never do anything that could seriously compromise her marriage,” I informed her, “But her feelings for you are pretty strong. She just doesn't wear them on her metaphorical sleeve quite so brazenly as Arigami-san.”
“You've gotta be kidding,” Ukyo blurted out in dismay, “Beiko…and Nab-chan?”
“Aiyaa,” Shampoo agreed in mild astonishment.
“What, you guys are just figuring that out?” Perfume shrugged, “I noticed it a long time ago, the way she fawns over Nabiki and is always willing to volunteer to be oh-so-helpful. I know what a crush looks like, believe me…and why the big surprise? After all, when she and Nab-chan get into a discussion together hardly anyone else can follow what they're saying.”
“Great minds feel a certain attraction, that I will warrant,” I admitted, “But take it as the flattering compliment that it is. It's not as if she's about to stalk you, like she did that one girl that she and Managi-san knew back in their old high school.”
“This is starting to get complicated,” Ukyo averred, turning a worried look my way, “Ever think you might be a little too helpful yourself with all these kibitzed points you keep dropping from your world, Sugar?”
“I may be at that,” I admitted, “But the alternative is to let you wander blindly into some surprises that fate might well have planned for your future. I can't really say myself…I only sense the shifting of certain patterns, but I cannot anticipate the eventual outcome.”
“Oh?” my double asked, “Are you saying that you're not really omniscient after all? That in a lot of this you're just guessing?”
“You've finally cottoned onto my secret,” I smiled back, “But knowing the future isn't as easy as opening a window or turning on a TV cable set…there are all sorts of variables and probability intersections where small changes can have larger outcomes. I have no trouble sensing the larger play of forces in the worlds, but the finer details, such as the Tokyo Stock Exchange? Forget it…too much random choice contaminates the overall outcome…so yes…I am not omniscient…nor did I ever say or imply that I was, your opinions to the contrary.”
“Even so,” my counterpart began, when all of a sudden she noticed a change coming over me, for I had glanced away at just that moment and stared off into space…or rather onto the Etheric plane, where a tether-line that I had erected between me and her husband had abruptly been severed, which did not bode well for either of our plans about his future.
It was Perfume, the most perceptive of the lot of them, who was quick to ask, “Is something wrong?”
“I…don't really know,” I said, trying to probe the line back to its source but encountering nothing on the other end that I could find all that reassuring, “But I strongly suspect that something has gone very wrong with our assault party.”
“What?” my counterpart attempted to lurch to her feet but failed to compensate for the extra mass within her tummy. She fell back onto her pillows but nonetheless had the presence of mind to ask, “Ranma-kun…is he…?”
“I don't think so,” I replied, “I didn't feel pain on the other end just now, only a…kind of barrier that was erected between us. I think he's gotten trapped up in something and it's making it difficult for me to get a lock on him. The nearest analogy I can manage would be to compare it to him being dropped into a long black hole with no means of climbing back out, and wherever he is he's surrounded by an infinite sea of darkness.”
“No way!” Kuonji immediately protested, “He couldn't get beaten that easily…not our Ranma!”
“I'm sorry,” I replied, “That's all I can detect at the moment. Oh, that and the fact that the rest of the party seems to be caught up in some sort of fight, and by what I can sense they appear to be losing quite badly.”
“We've got to get over there to help them!” Perfume immediately volunteered, clenching her fists in a way that suggested that she was about to once again draw upon her double-bladed axes.
“I agree,” I said, already heading towards the door to the dojo, only to see it slide back as Lotion, Frank and Kasumi entered, all three grim-visaged and appearing to already have gotten the news of impending disaster.
“As I suspected,” Lotion remarked, limping forward with a kind of hurried pace that was more abrupt than her usual manner, “The Matriarch and the others have just succumbed to the superior might of the Archmage. I had a sense that things might turn out like this, and so I have been preparing for this moment.”
“If you already knew it was going to happen then why the hell didn't you say something earlier?” the other Nabiki immediately protested.
“Because I know Cologne and how stubborn she is when her mind is made up on a given subject,” my mentor shot a hard look towards my counterpart that stifled further protest, “I knew that she had to try things her way, just as she suspected all along that her best efforts might be for nothing, so of course she ordered the rest of us to remain behind as a backup ploy in case the worst case scenario were to befall her and the others.”
“Sensei,” I said respectfully, “I can follow your reasoning on this…but was it really necessary to allow Ranma and the others to accompany her into danger?”
“Calm your fears, Child,” Lotion said, and not so unkindly this time as she was no longer maintaining her gruff appearance from meeting earlier in the day, “They had not yet been harmed, and Shang-Kwan is far too proud of his abilities to dispose of unwanted guests so lightly. He will take them into captivity first with the intent of extracting information from them for later…but his energies will still be focused upon the impending ceremony, and in that lies our opportunity to best him.”
“How do y'all reason that, Sugar?” Ukyo wanted to know, but again I was already ahead of her and was putting it rapidly all together.
“Of course,” I said aloud, “Those of us whom Cologne left behind have more raw power and native ability at our command…to say nothing of experience,” I gave the towering Frank a look that must have surprised him as I saw him arch an eyebrow, “The only strike against us is that we've never all worked together as a group, and I'm still an unknown to the rest of you. That's why we need to coordinate in order to make an effective front against this wizard.”
“Precisely,” Lotion actually seemed gratified by my answer, “And it helps to know that our allies will be in a fair enough condition to be rescued by us, which means we can bolster our ranks once we get there. The only problem that I foresee is that the one among us who has the best chance of helping to pull this off is presently indisposed at the moment, her physical condition limiting her usefulness at the moment.”
“And who is that?” my counterpart replied, only to blink as I gave her a very droll look, to which she just slapped herself along the side of her head and said, “D'oh! Okay, so it's inconvenient that I've got a kid on the way. That still doesn't mean that I'm gonna sit back and let you guys risk your necks to save my kids and my husband.”
“Are you serious?” I asked frankly, “Granted you're definitely a superior fighter to me, but in the state you're in you'd be more a liability than an asset…”
“Not necessarily so,” Lotion replied, giving me a very strange look before saying, “After all, there is a reason why my counterpart sent you to me just now…and I finally perceive why as you open up possibilities that otherwise might not be open.”
“Huh?” I asked, feeling as slow to keep up with her reasoning as I had been in the earlier days of my training.
“There is no time for a full explanation, Child…at least not here within this dojo,” Lotion replied, turning her focus towards my opposite number and giving her a grave look of total seriousness, “Tell me this, Saotome-san…what are you prepared to risk in order to save your friends, family and children?”
Surprise was brief in my counterpart before she frowned back as though challenged, “I'll do whatever is necessary on my part to bring them back safely…but what…?”
“Fine,” the old woman said curtly, “Then you will accompany me and your twin here to the other realm where we will consult with one who knows much about what I am about to propose. Assist me in opening the gates, my almost-apprentice.”
I suddenly cottoned on to what she was saying, “You mean…?”
“Indeed,” she smiled at me obliquely, “You and I are off to see Lord Anri, and when we return to gather the others to our side our next stop will be…off to see the wizard.”
Somehow I just knew she was going to say that, but I guess one thing Lotion's got in common on either frame is a barbed sense of humor, which reminded me very much that we were not headed to Kanzakai but rather to a place well beyond all mortal comprehension…
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