Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ A Tale of Two Wallets ❯ A Prophetable Business ( Chapter 127 )

[ 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
Closing hour was always a busy time around the restaurant, but Akane never minded helping out, even if it meant working close besides her rival, Makoto, while Ukyo---their mutual love interest---worked in the back doing the books and keeping up the ledgers.
Time had eased some of the sting of mutual resentment that used to stand between her and the other girl, and these days Akane found that she could actually appreciate the positive qualities that made the taller girl so attractive. Makoto was fearless, loyal and devoted to those whom she cared for, and she was a tremendously good cook, one who even showed Akane some important things to take the sting out of her own arguably inferior abilities in that particular field. In exchange for this teaching she had helped Makoto to improve and refine her own martial arts abilities, and so they owed each other, and not just for the times when they had fought side-by-side and actually defended one another's welfare.
But still they had not achieved a total harmony of peace of mind around one another. Always in the back of her mind Akane felt a smoldering resentment that in no small part reflected her sincere belief that Makoto was, in some ways, a much better person. Certainly she was built more womanly with a noticeably larger bust and a frame to match it that was tall, lean, and gracefully athletic. Sometimes she would tease Makoto over her size, only to flinch at the inevitable retort that “that just means there's more of me to love,” which certainly was the case as such things could be physically and visually measured.
And, of course, being in love with the same person meant sometimes having to share him/her in other respects, including the bedroom, and not just taking turns out of politeness. At first their “threesomes” had been awkward things of necessity more than contrivance, but after learning to relax a little (and not hog the bed-sheets) they had warmed up beyond tolerating the other's existence to actually calling a full scale truce and letting bygones be bygones when the lights were out and no rules need be applied to the situation within the bedroom.
It was not so much that they had stopped resenting each other as they had simply grown used to the fact that they shared the same romantic interest in common. Ukyo did not lie to them about her affections, nor did she pretend to favor one above the other. With Makoto she was the most at ease having known her longer and having developed a personal trust that set the two of them as a pair who were meant to be together…but with Akane she had gained a deep abiding affection, one where they took great satisfaction in spending time together, and so neither one wanted there to be a parting.
With that understanding in mind both girls had grown accustomed to the fact that, were either one of them to leave the equation, great unhappiness would be felt by Ukyo, and neither one could bear to see her suffer. It was not simple indecision on Ukyo's part that had brought this about but an abiding sense that her life was greatly enriched by having both women at her side…and besides which, Makoto was showing signs of her growing pregnancy, while Akane looked to be the same way before very much longer. Ukyo's male half was, of course, the responsible party, and having a child by her male aspect gave the taller girl great satisfaction, which Akane saw and yearned to replicate within her own body.
And besides…both were committed to their new life together, and they had a kind of dare in which neither one would resign out of pride, refusing to surrender the field to the other. And after having slept together on more than a few occasions…they had grown to appreciate the finer qualities that marked them both as individual human beings.
So when Akane lifted a table to stack it neatly in the corner Makoto automatically came to help, her greater height and strength being useful in lifting the chairs to a higher vantage point so that they could clear the floor to sweeping and mopping purposes. It was the sort of thing they did every day as a routine matter of course, and like tasks that you become that accustomed to doing one often forgets to pay attention, and accidents are sometimes known to occur.
So it was that Akane stumbled, having misjudged her weight as she lifted one of the tables, and all at once the table came down upon her left hand and pinched it between itself and another table. Akane yelped in pain and lost her grip on the thing altogether, but before it could hit the floor Makoto was there to halt its downward progress.
With an ease that would have surprised anyone who was not used to seeing her perform far greater feats of strength Makoto set the table aside and at once moved closer to Akane, taking her injured hand between her own as she inspected the wound and said, “Take it easy, don't try and move it. Let me see if anything is broken.”
Akane did not resist as she allowed the other girl to examine her injury, wincing a bit as Makoto tested the bruised area with two fingers, then submitted to a careful examination of her thumb and forefinger, then felt a sigh of relief as Makoto pronounced, “It's not broken, but I wouldn't try holding anything with this hand for a few days.”
“Thank you,” Akane said automatically, then glanced up at the taller girl and said, “You do this kind of thing often?”
“Hey, even us Senshi get hurt now and then,” Makoto replied with a faint smile, “It comes with the job of saving the world.”
For some odd reason, and in spite of the pain she was still experiencing, Akane found herself chuckling at the jest in a comradely kind of way. Then when she saw the look the other girl gave her she said, “I remind you of her a lot, don't I?”
“Who?” Makoto asked, only to answer her own question, “You mean Ami?”
“How long has she been away…a couple of weeks now, off studying in Europe?” Akane asked, “She's one of your inner circle of best friends, and I can only imagine how the rest of your gang is coping.”
“It's not all that bad,” Makoto replied, “Ami's still a part of our team, and we can talk to her at any time, even visit her when we teleport.”
Akane gave the other girl a frank look and said, “I don't pretend to understand what it's like to be you, knowing that you're part of something larger than any of us can even know, with your memories of your past life and everything.”
“Oh?” Makoto arched an eyebrow and then smiled, “Well…it's something you adjust to, like knowing how to wield the power of storm and lightning. It's not like I asked to be born a Senshi, any more than you did to be born to a family of martial artists.”
“But we just train our bodies to fight,” Akane reasoned, “You were born with this incredible power, and a place in some greater destiny…”
“What, you mean like you discovering that your mother was possessed by a goddess and passed onto you in the womb the qualities of being an Angel?” Makoto sniffed in amusement, “Your curse just brought that part of you out into the open, just like Ucchan's brought to the fore the masculine side of her personality, and we both know how well that fits her.”
Akane could not help sharing a chuckle over that, a rare moment of sympathy passing between two sort-of rivals who had grown used to the idea of involving the other one in their personal lives. However, before the moment got any deeper, someone else popped up to express their dismay, seeming almost to appear from nowhere as Konatsu was prone to do whenever Akane was in need of his assistance.
“Akane-sama, you are injured?” the male kunoichi cried as if heart-stricken, gazing at her hand as though it were her own and feeling her pain acutely. And then he turned a glare towards Makoto, who recoiled from the shocking level of accusation in that stare, sensing just the heat of the kunoichi's lethal temper.
“Ah, it's all right, Konatsu,” Akane hastily interjected, “It was my fault, I was clumsy, and Makoto was just trying to help…”
“What's going on out here?” Ukyo asked as she emerged from the back office, “Sounded like something fell over…”
“It's nothing, Ucchan,” Makoto called out, “Akane just had a little accident, but nothing much to worry about.”
“Oh yeah?” Ukyo asked as she approached the pair then saw the bruise on Akane's hand, “Let me see that. Ooh…nasty. Definitely put some ice on that, and no more work for you today and that's final.”
“But…” Akane started to protest, only to see the firm look in the eyes of her lover, which caused her to demure a bit before saying, “I don't need to be babied…”
“Let me be the judge of that, Akane-chan,” Ukyo softly chuckled before giving Makoto a sly look and adding, “Shame on you letting her get hurt like that. And after all the times I've told you two to play nicely.”
“But…” Makoto started to protest, only to catch the grin that Ukyo paid her, which caused her to give a grin back at her fiancée.
“You know,” Ukyo added, “I hate it when either one of you gets hurt, and it's usually Mako-chan I worry about, what with the baby and all, but in this case you really need to cut yourself some slack, Akane. You're both too valuable to me to waste on this menial stuff. Let Konatsu take over, he's good at keeping things neat and orderly, and I think he'd be happier if you'd let him.”
“Most assuredly, Ukyo-sama,” the bishonen kunoichi acknowledged, delighted beyond words at the helpful suggestion to the point where he forgot his normal resentment of the chef, who was his “Akane-sama's” principle love interest.
“Well…if you wouldn't mind too much, Konatsu,” Akane somewhat reluctantly conceded, “At least until my hand heals…”
The man looked as if he could have danced on air from the way in which he exulted at receiving such sympathetic consideration from the woman he adored more than life itself, “You may trust me, Mistress, I will do everything in my power to see that you do not need to sully your sweet hands,” and then he jumped almost literally to the task, piling tables and chairs in neat corners with such speed that even Makoto was taken aback, and then the cross-dressing kunoichi was down on his knees scrubbing the floor with such speed that it soon became hazardous to be found anywhere on the floor as he became a blur to the eye, moving rapidly from one end of the restaurant to the other.
For safety's sake Ukyo and her companions retreated back to the main office, and then looked on in amazement as Konatsu proceeded to do the work of five people in the space of a few minutes.
“Off hand I think you just sent him into orbit,” Makoto remarked as she expressed amazement at the energy the ninja was displaying.
“Might take him the better part of the night to come back down to earth,” Ukyo agreed, privately grateful that Konatsu's services ran so cheaply.
“I feel so bad taking advantage of him like that sometimes,” Akane fretted, “He really is such a sweet dear, and he was treated so horribly by his own family. I wish I could do more to make it up to him for all the help he's been to me of late.”
“Just noticing that he's still breathing seems to be enough to keep him going in the mornings,” Makoto turned a frank look towards Akane, “I think he's got a real thing for you, and he resents Ucchan and me for taking up most of your attention.”
“What?” Akane expressed shock at the very concept, “But he's just a friend…a good friend, to be sure, and I know he seems to look up to me, but…I mean…you don't really think…I mean…really?”
“You might want to ask him about it sometime, Sugar,” Ukyo murmured in her ear, “Because I'm starting to feel jealous.”
“But that's silly,” Akane insisted, “I mean…me and Konatsu? I…that really wouldn't work out…would it? And besides…I have you, Ucchan, and that's all I've ever really wanted.”
“Now who's feeling left out and jealous?” Makoto sniffed, “Well, looks like Konatsu's pretty much got everything covered down here. Don't know about the both of you but I think I'll turn in early and try to get some work done for my college entrance exams.”
“Is that all you've got in mind, Sugar?” Ukyo asked slyly, “I've just about finished with the books, and after making the cash drop I expect to turn in myself for the evening. Sure you wouldn't mind a little company, especially if Akane here makes it a threesome?”
“Oh?” Akane gave the other girl a raised eyebrow, “And what makes you think either of us is in the mood right now?”
“Hey, way I figure it, Mako-chan here owes you a favor, right?” Ukyo grinned broadly, “And the best way to deal with an injury is to kiss and make it better.”
Makoto seemed to think that one over then said, “She has a point, you know…and I do feel kind of bad about seeing you get hurt like that, Akane.”
“You think I need sympathy out of you?” Akane asked in a pretense of her usual resentment, but in actuality she was grinning up at the taller girl as if already contemplating how the both of them were going to spend the evening `making it up' to one another.
“Off you go the both of you,” Ukyo cheerfully said as she swatted both girls playfully on their pert bottoms, “And try not to do anything I won't be doing with the both of you when I get back upstairs. Oh, and see if Peorth and Mon-Mon can hold it down a little. With all the racket they're making those sound-proofed wards in their room won't keep the neighbors from complaining.”
“What?” Akane reacted, then glanced upward as she heard a moaning noise that did not sound at all as though it were made by a shifting of the rafters.
“Sounds like your mom elected to pay us another visit,” Makoto observed wryly, “Only Mon-Mon intercepted her, which means we won't be seeing either of them until very late tomorrow morning.”
“If that,” Akane mused with a playful expression, silently wishing her spiritual mother a good tumble as she knew that the Chinese priestess had a way of keeping her too busy to plot any mischief, which was a good thing for anyone who knew first hand about Peorth's tendency to meddle.
Konatsu seemed oblivious to this as he went about the task of tidying up the place, but he did pause in the midst of scrubbing the dishes to notice the way Akane and Makoto were acting as they headed for the staircase, holding hands and not seeming much to mind one another like they used to do in months past. For a moment the kunoichi felt a touch of sorrow and longing crimp the good mood that he was in, but then he turned back to the task with a vengeance, indulging private fantasies and taking what pleasure he could from the knowledge that his mistress had at the very least acknowledged his very existence…
There came an instant of opportunity in the moment when Shang-Kwan caused the portal to appear and swallow up Saotome Ranma. Mousse had acted to attempt to rescue his brother-in-law by casting one of his chains as a lifeline, but the wizard had severed this with a slash of one hand, causing the part not gripped by Ranma to go flying past the edge of the portal and straight across the pit in the direction of three very anxious children.
As Lylac and Fragrance called out the names of their adopted father, Eileen reacted swiftly to snag the chain with one hand and whip it to the side before it might strike either of her companions. She then kept firm hold of the thing while it dangled down into the pit below them, roughly six meters of six-gauge steel that was almost too big for her tiny hands to fully grip, yet which served her now as a lifeline to stave off certain disaster. In another fortuitous wink of the fates, Shang Kwan chose that moment to disappear rather than take notice of what had happened, and so was not at all privy to the scheme in the child was hatching, which went well beyond the ken and scope of an ordinary five-month old infant.
“Daddy…” Lylac was whimpering while Fragrance openly sobbed and said, “I want my daddy!”
“{Calm yourselves the both of you,}” Eileen said in the pigeon-tongued baby-speech that they normally employed to keep grown-ups from overhearing their private conversations, “{Uncle Ranma isn't dead. The wizard only trapped him with a spell involving dimensional inversion. I could tell that much by reading the edge of the portal, and I would have detected it if he had been actually blasted into random bits of scattered atoms.}”
Fragrance immediately dried her eyes and turned to look at her redheaded playmate, “{Really?}”
“{You mean Dad's still alive, just trapped somewhere like us?}” Lylac immediately fathomed.
“{Yes, but at the moment he can do little to assist us in our escape,}” Eileen said while glancing down at the chains in her tiny hands, “{Or rather…to help us more than he already has by providing us, however unintentionally, with this, the means for our liberation.}”
“{One of Uncle Mousse's throwing chains?}” Fragrance puzzled as she glanced down at the length of metal dangling over the pit below them, “{I don't get it.}”
“{I think I do,}” Lylac replied, “{You mean to use that to somehow get us away from here?}”
“{Correct,}” Eileen replied, “{But it will take all of our combined efforts to pull this off, and that means that I must have the both of you with me, so concentrate on what I say and we may yet escape from this mess before the wizard has time enough to realize what we are up to.}”
“{I'm game if you think it'll work, Ekko,}” Fragrance assured, then paused before somewhat reluctantly asking, “{Um…only what sort of game is this, and how to we play it?}”
“{Just wait and I will explain your part,}” Eileen said, then directed her next comments to her more immediate companion, “{Lylac-chan? Are you ready?}”
“{I think so,}” Lylac replied, “{You mean for me to catch you?}”
“{That's the plan for your part,}” Eileen answered, then took a deep breath and said, “{This would be much easier if my physical coordination were up to your standards, but I have enough strength to pull this off…if Fragrance and I coordinate our perceptions.}”
“{So what am I supposed to do again?}” Fragrance asked in growing confusion.
“{Just point your finger at the shiny light above us,}” Eileen replied, “{Ignore the distortion effect caused by temporal distortions and focus your senses to tell me exactly where it is to the nearest millimeter's distance.}”
“{Okay,}” Fragrance said, then after a moment she added, “{Ooohh…I see what you mean. It is kinda hard to see with that funny glow about it…but I think it's right…there. Yeah, that's the real it,}” she said while pointing at a space precisely above them.
“{I see,}” Eileen said as she studied the direction in which her friend was pointing, and then she rapidly calculated the trajectory and cross-reverenced against her own estimation then said, “{Exactly as I thought it would be,}” and then with a casual display of strength she broke off a piece of the chain in her tiny hands and turned it into a throwing projectile, aiming it at her now-confirmed target.
There was a tiny chinking sound mere instants later, and then all at once gravity reasserted its control and the trio began to fall headlong into the oblivion beneath them. Or rather they would have if Eileen did not follow-through with her throw by swinging the chain in a wide arc and letting the opposite end go flying while keeping a tight grip with her other hand as she heard the confirming sound of stone and metal meeting.
The sudden release of whatever force held them in place spurred Lylac into immediate action, and despite her tiny frame she moved quickly to catch the part of the chain directly beneath her, swinging around with her legs and wrapping them about Fragrance's waist while holding tightly with both arms to the arm of Eileen as the three of them began to fall an abruptly shortened distance as the chain prevented them from the endless night that beckoned to swallow them whole.
Fragrance was the next to perceive the impending danger and twisted her diminutive body so that she got both hands and feet in the way in time to meet the impact with the wall of the pit itself, and reflexively absorbed most of the energy so that it did not jar her friends loose in the process. With Lylac keeping a firm grip with both her legs and hands, Eileen then began to climb up the chain over Lylac's arm and shoulder until she reached the top of the pit and could pull herself all the way free, at which point she bent down and gripped the chain, then braced her tiny legs and worked at pulling the other two all of the way out of the pit until Fragrance and Lylac were able to make the remaining short distance.
Once all three of them were on their feet and outside immediate danger, however, Fragrance turned a dismayed look towards the ceiling and said, “{You didn't tell me you were gonna break it!}”
“{A necessary sacrifice to spare all of our lives from the peril it presented,}” Eileen assured them, “{There were too many variables as it were for me to risk the chance of any part of my plan failing at a crucial moment, and I knew that it would take perfect coordination on all our parts to pull it off…and, as you can see, my plan was successful.}”
“{Nice work just the same,}” Lylac complimented, “{And don't worry about the shiny thing, Fragrance-chan, I'm sure we'll find another pretty light for you to play with.}”
“(But first we need to get away from immediate danger,}” Eileen cautioned, “{The bad man of this piece will sense something is amiss and be coming back with the intent on preventing our escape from his clutches, so we must make ourselves ready and bide for the time that we will need to finish the process.}”
“{The process of what?}” Fragrance asked with dismay, “{And what are we waiting for?}”
“{For our parents to find us of course,}” Eileen noted, “{If Uncle Ranma could make it here then so could our mothers, and when that happens…well…I would not be the bad guy for all the tea that is in China.}”
“{What would anybody want with so much tea?}” Fragrance scratched her tiny head in growing confusion.
“{Never mind,}” Lylac affectionately patted the head of her cousin-sister and smiled, “{But let's just say that's one bad guy who's gonna be getting his comeuppance…}”
Nabiki's Journal Continues:
I can only imagine what my counterpart must have felt during that moment of transition when Lotion transported the both of us from her reality to the plane of Temporal Transition. I've made the journey numerous times, both as her student and on my own power, and I know how disorienting it can be to suddenly find yourself in another place unimaginable to those whose perception of reality is grounded in the purely physical senses.
But still my counterpart was nothing if not resilient and too stubborn to admit that she was out of her element and managed to swallow her nausea in order to gasp out, “Where the hell are we?”
“In a layer of the Astral Plane that exists outside and between dimensional boundaries,” I replied in a matter-of-fact helpful fashion, “The transition point between alternate realities that is not bounded by the normal rules of physics.”
“Oh really?” she tried to copy my bland tone of voice and failed badly, “So we're at a kind of no-man's land, the place you crossed to get from your reality into ours?”
“More or less,” I answered, “Though it's also important to note that this is a realm composed of virtual energy, where nothing is real unless you perceive it to be, where the power of the imagination is boundless and the power of the mind and will are at their sharpest reflection.”
“You don't say?” she replied, finding it difficult not to sound impressed, “And you come here often?”
“Whenever I need a place to meditate and recharge my psychic batteries,” I answered, “This is also the dimension of dreams, where physical matter is a purely transitional state and our bodies are held in their present coherent forms by the simple act of memory, reflex and long habit. Souls visit this plane whenever you sleep at night, and it's where the power of dreaming is the most vivid. It's also where souls journey when their bodies are no longer functioning, and there are layers of the Astral field that correspond to every different conception of an afterlife that has ever been imagined in the mind of a mortal. None of it is real but the will and imagination, and here even gods are ephemeral beings composed of mostly light and shadow.”
“So it's a psychic way-station,” my counterpart shrugged, “I've heard something about it from a yogi once, but I thought it all sounded like so much Taoist junk food.”
“Well, now you know better,” I smiled, “And since you wanted to know, this is also the place where we draw our ki energies from whenever we focus our spirit or draw upon the life essence of the cosmos. There are various elemental divisions that can be found here corresponding to the elements that exist on the physical plane, and spirits of every kind imaginable populate this realm. It's also a window through which you can view both the future and the past, and even travel there if you desire, because Time here is an illusory concept.”
My counterpart gave me a shrewd look and said, “If I didn't know any better I'd swear that sounded like a tourist brochure that you just recited from memory.”
“Hey, blame it on my mentor,” I shrugged, smiling as I glanced to Lotion, “She's the one who pulled the line on me the first time I came here.”
“Obviously my counterpart is something of a drama queen at heart,” the Lotion of my counterpart's timeline remarked, as if attempting to distance herself from the behavior that I knew so well, not that I was fooled as I could see right through her pretense of being the stern elder. Only one thing she did not cover for was the fact that this realm also projects one's internal self-image, so her appearance was not that of the wizened old cripple that she had been on the plane of mortals but rather a much younger, taller and infinitely more slender and wand-like Lotion, whose long pink hair showed lustrously and whose unwrinkled skin shone with the luster of lost youth re-imagined.
My counterpart gaped as she witnessed the transition, though I smiled knowingly, having long familiarized myself with my mentor in both of her incarnations. Lotion took notice of our regard of her young appearance and scowled at my counterpart, saying in a crusty tone that did not match the melodic youth of her voice, “What are you staring at?” as though it were a challenge.
“Ah…nothing…” my counterpart gulped, then looked to me for reassurance, “Does she do that often?”
“Only when she's here and not restricted by the laws of time and space,” I answered.
“Being bound to one's appearance does not make one old unless you believe yourself to be elderly and infirm,” Lotion explained, though not to my counterpart's satisfaction, “Now we really don't have the time to waste on silly juvenile games…not even in this realm where time is but a trick of the mind and an illusion of the will. This way, ladies, if we are not to keep Lord Anri waiting.”
“Who is this Anri character that you dragged me out here to meet?” my counterpart asked, “And is he supposed to be able to help us get my kids back?”
“In answer to the second part of your question, you bet,” I replied as we turned and followed the restored Lotion of past decades through the imaginary surroundings of indescribable complexity and abstraction, “But as for the first…believe me, you wouldn't believe me if I told you. But let's just say for the sake of the official record that he's a very important person in the scheme of the cosmos, and if he can't help us…well, it's pretty hard to imagine who else could.”
“So…” my counterpart reflexively ducked her head as a shadow passed over us, only to gape in amazement as she saw something the size of a whale blissfully passing far above our heads like a living cloud of pre-ordinate matter, “…Ah…is it a long journey to get where he's at?”
I could tell that she was hoping the answer would be negative to that, and much to her relief our pink-haired guide responded, “Not at all. Distance is also an illusion. We merely had to pass through several layers of camouflage and concealment that Lord Anri has cast about himself in order to cloud the perceptions of those who would rightly fear him.”
“If you really must know,” I added as I sensed our approach to the center of the multi-hued kaleidoscope of patterns and ideas that I knew were but projections of a mind far more powerful even than Lotion's, “Anri is a figure of legend who has gone by a great many names over the years. To some he is simply the solar child of Wonder, to others he's both meddler, teacher, healer and prophet. Some call him Maitreya, or the Binder of Spirits, or the Lord of Air and Fire who embodies Tipheroth, the Solar Plane of Harmony and Beauty, though to better appreciate what he is you would have to know something of his actual history as part of the Daokan, and at the moment…”
All at once the metaphorical jungle of imagery parted before our eyes, bringing the three of us to a seeming grassy plane in the middle of a sunlit forest, and there in the middle was the man I had been describing engaged in what can be best described as playful behavior with a full-grown golden-maned honest-to-kami lion.
“Ah…” I paused rather lamely, as surprised by what I saw as my counterpart, who finished my statement by asking, “Let me guess…a lion tamer?”
I suppose it might well have appeared that way to a first timer, though the wrestling match going on between man and big cat did not have the sort of fierce intensity of a true life-and-death encounter. The lion was clearly not attempting to hurt the man, any more than the man was exerting himself as the two rolled around in the field, and only ceased in their activity with the man gripping the Lion's arms in full nelson, a which point he playfully stretched a hand down and scratched the lion's tummy.
Of the three of us only Lotion appeared unruffled by the sight and waited patiently before saying, “Lord Anri, if you would excuse us please?”
“Oh,” the man acted as if he had not been aware of us until then, though I could sense bloody well that he had known of our approach long before our arrival. He let the lion go and the two of them got back to their feet, then he patted the large animal affectionately between the ears and said, “That's all for today, Azrarn. Run along and play, these ladies and I must discuss far more important business.”
“As you wish it, Maitreya,” the Lion replied, then calmly turned around and said in a much-amused rumble, “Now if you all do not mind, I have some Children of Adam that need counseling. My regards to your friends and I hope to meet them again when time is more permissive.”
I knew by that point that my counterpart's credulity level had just about been breached, but as I'd seen much stranger things than a talking lion I decided to shrug the matter off as not immediately relevant and instead bowed to the fabled Lord of Light and said, “Lord Anri…may I present my sister-self from that timeline to which you sent me?”
“Yes, just so,” Anri made a dismissing motion, “Very good of you to join me here, and I too regret for the need to be abrupt, but matters are proceeding swiftly and it is altogether important that we conclude matters here before things spiral out of control back on your timeline. Now then, Ms. Saotome, I know that you have a lot of questions that must seem terribly important to you, but the important thing to know is that your husband and children are still alive, and if we are to keep them that way then we need to do this thing and swiftly.”
“Do what?” my counterpart asked, taking in the fair-haired gaijin with a puzzled look as if sensing something familiar about him that she could not put her finger on, for reasons I well understood but will not go into at the moment.
“Engineer it so that you can take part in their rescue, of course,” Lord Anri replied, “You would prefer it, of course, if you were the one who lead the charge to retrieve them safely from Shang-Kwan's stronghold?”
“Ah…yeah,” my counterpart said, pointing at her abdomen, “I would if I were able to, but as you can see…I'm not exactly in my best fighting trim at the moment.”
“Materially irrelevant,” Lotion said dismissively, “You thinking much too linearly about the limitations of the body. Such limitations do not exist here, and the Lord Anri can show you how to surpass them.”
“It's really quite simple, actually,” Anri shrugged modestly, “Your physical body has currently geared itself towards that all-important function of bringing precious new life into the world, and as such it cannot be risked in battle. But here we can form a body from the essence of the mind that takes the shape of the you who is a Mistress of Battle, and by projecting that body back onto the physical plane you can temporarily achieve the effect of the way you were before becoming pregnant.”
“Say that again?” my counterpart blinked, and neither could I blame her as I was a bit surprised myself by the suggestion.
“You mean…engineer it so that an Akashic double takes her place temporarily while her real body remains here?” I asked, then thought a moment before saying, “Ah…that might work…but still, the risk…”
“Your sister will be safe here in the care of Lord Anri,” Lotion assured us, “As safe as anywhere that may be found in the entire cosmos.”
“Thank you for the kind words, but I will do my best,” Anri said with a modesty that seemed more natural than practiced, “Think of it as a variation of a technique that you already know…Temporal Fugue, only with a mental image instead of your real body.”
“You mean that thing Cologne taught me to do when I had my love-match with Ranma?” my counterpart replied, “But that's just moving in and out of synch with the normal flow of time. What you're talking about is…”
“A mental equivalent of same, only switching between bodies,” Anri answered, “Ordinarily that would put a strain on the real you, but I am prepared to lend a portion of my own strength to help you compensate so that there are no ill effects on either you or your baby. Trust me, I have been doing this for quite a while now, and I'm hardly a dabbler when it comes to special techniques of this nature.”
“That is a considerable understatement,” I mused, giving my counterpart a wry look before adding, “You can take it from me that this guy could give Cologne lessons in his sleep, and when it comes to facing down evil wizards…well, who do you think it was taught the Amazons what they knew about Higher Magic?”
“Oh yeah?” my counterpart frowned, “Well, if you're so tough, why aren't you the one out there kicking the butts of creeps like this Shang-Kwan?”
“Aside from the fact that it would be dramatic overkill?” Anri replied, “I dare not venture forth directly or else a greater enemy would be alerted to my presence. Besides, they are not my children, and would you rather entrust a stranger with their safety?”
“Good point,” she conceded, then added, “My next question is…why are you involved? I mean, if you're some kind of important muckety-muck in the scheme of things, when why bother yourself trying to help out? Like you say, they're my kids, not yours.”
“But they are important in the larger scheme of things in ways you could not understand unless you were able to perceive the flow of fate as I can,” Anri answered, “They have qualities that Shang-Kwan values, traits that make them special to your portion of reality, and for that reason I cannot permit his evil plans to see fruition. And besides…is it really all that strange for one being to be concerned with the welfare of another?”
I knew full well how much my counterpart distrusted altruism so I decided to add in, “He's being completely sincere about this, Sis. And trust me, I know the truth when I hear it, even when spoken by an Immortal.”
“But you are still a child when compared to the Daokan,” Lotion cautioned, “And it is perfectly reasonable to ask why a living Buddha would trifle with an affair as seemingly trivial as this rescue. Believe then that neither he nor I wish to see Shang-Kwan endowed with the sort of power that he is after.”
“You're a Buddha?” my counterpart scoffed, “Excuse me for saying this, but I don't see your begging bowl or saffron robes anywhere about.”
“It's at the cleaners,” Anri smiled, patting his washboard-smooth stomach, “And I haven't needed to beg for rice in quite a while now. I do not consume physical food as you understand it…I am sustained by Akashic energy alone, and so I am as you perceive me to be, as I perceive myself to be in this particular incarnation.”
“He looked a lot different when he was a Hindu, Sis,” I modestly reassured my time-displaced sibling, “And when he was a Jew, and a Tibetan, and an Egyptian before all that…”
“One incarnation is always different from another,” Lotion added for my benefit, “Though some traits are held in common, with each new life an Eluini grows in strength, knowledge and wisdom, and this is presently Lord Anri's tenth incarnation.”
“You'll understand such things in greater detail when the time is right,” Anri said, and not just to my counterpart as I was pretty sure that he was including me in that projection, “But accept for now that I am your friend and ally, and I wish to coach you on the method that you will need in order to confront Shang-Kwan with any hope of triumph. Can you accept these terms as a precondition for accepting my counsel?”
“Well…I guess,” my counterpart reluctantly conceded, though for the sake of pride and caution I could tell that she was trying hard to think of a reason not to.
“Good enough,” Anri smiled, “Now…just relax and think of what it is you do whenever your invoke Temporal Fugue, then allow yourself to drift to more than one location. Keep relaxing your body and practicing in your mind the things that you must do, and then wait until you achieve a point of harmony and balance, and then you will manifest a new you through the prism of your counterpart's template.”
“Excuse me?” I asked, surprised upon hearing this aspect of the operation.
“Your double has been growing mentally adjusted to the idea of motherhood for five months now,” Lotion explained to me, “She needs a model to remind herself of what it used to be like when she was slender and trim…and the fact that you are also pregnant gives you a level of sympathy that is crucial for this spell to be effected.”
“Oh,” I replied, “Well…if you say so, I'm prepared to do my part for the cause and all that. Um…what do I have to do?”
“Just link minds and share presence with your counterpart,” Lord Anri explained, “Despite the many differences between you, you are both aspects of the same template, and it is those qualities that you share in common which are needed in order to form a perfect Akashic body.”
“Makes sense,” I remarked, then turned and opened myself to my counterpart, who looked a bit stunned at the ease with which I made mental contact since---as I have already stated---we are basically the same person in two very different aspects.
Of course in the Astral Plane it's a lot easier to channel energy because you don't have temporal physics filtering it out…like removing the resistance factor from wiring to let electricity flow more smoothly, so for me to help work out the particulars of this spell was child's play, hardly a real test at all of my abilities, though I think the purpose here wasn't to test them so much as to assist my counterpart in getting herself ready to go back into action.
After all, she was a woman of action, and I could tell how much it chaffed her to have to crimp her martial arts abilities by holding back out of consideration of her baby. It wasn't just the fraying edges of the spell that I sensed around her holding her Jusenkyo curse in check that was growing tired from long inactivity, and it was long since time for the Nabiki of this timeline to show her stuff and put her lifelong training to good usage.
After all, unlike me, she had never interrupted her martial arts regimen with a long period during which I had effectively turned my back on the art and opted to live the life of a “normal” girl with no special training. I kept up the exercises that I had learned from childhood mainly to keep my body in shape, but not with any intent of doing actual fighting with my feet and fists since it was my brain that I tended to nurture. I had long convinced myself that fighting was for suckers and losers, an expression of the ultimate failure of the intellect to triumph over brawn and muscle. After all the Art had not saved mom from getting sick and ultimately dying…but that was a child's reckoning I now knew, and my counterpart had been spared from that sort of fatuousness by the long hard experience of the open road.
And to think that she needed someone like Genma to teach her about morals, if only by his very poor example.
Essentially we had been almost exactly the same person up to the age of seven, but beyond that point our lives had diverged into two very different pathways…and now we were coming full circle back to measure those differences and to take stock of the contrast that had shaped us both and defined us as the people we had become.
In all truth I found it fascinating to experience first hand just what sort of a person she had become after ten years of sacrifice and hardship, followed by an additional year and a half where she had effectively taken charge over a good portion of Nerima, reigning like a minor daimyo of legend and even causing the Yakuza to take a wide berth around her territorial claims to the district. It was not just by the strength of her arms that she had cut a broad swath over much of Furinkan's turf, but rather the force of her character and charisma that had drawn people to her cause who could fight her battles even in her absence, like this formidable “posse” that had adopted the clan title of Tendo. She was exactly the sort of person whom other fighters would gladly follow into battle, and her loyalty to her friends was matched by a ruthless tenacity and courage that was undaunted no matter what odds were turned out against her.
Contrasted with that mine was a very passive, far less easily defined road where I had more-or-less been dragged along by events, sometimes kicking and screaming against the tide, until the day when I'd learned to assert my will and take charge of my destiny rather than be a minor bit player. I had not sought to find a fiancé but had accepted one when offered, and only in time discovered how much he meant to me as both a companion and a lover. The same with Shampoo, who had been the one who declared that we were married by the customs of her people, and who had gradually convinced me to accept her as a part of my life after warming me up to the idea in gradual stages. Heck, she had even been the one who initiated the first sex between me, herself and Ranma, and I can't even begin to explain looking back on that kinky little scene how deeply affected I was to have someone care that much about me that she'd go to so much trouble tying me down in my bed and then ravishing me silly.
No one followed my lead save for Ryonami. I didn't command or inspire leadership in others, I more-or-less left that role of the hero to Ranma, with me cast as loving advisor and handy sidekick. My friends did what they could to help out because they wanted to do so, not because I could make them do things that went against their nature. If I made a suggestion they'd think about it before deciding whether or not to follow my lead, but as most of them now knew that my word was pretty wise counsel they did tend to comply with my requests and suggestions. I never had to make it an order, nor would I have expected them to automatically obey me…or else.
So I wasn't a leader, but she was. She made things happen just by being there, by making the hard choices, by rendering complex decisions that were carried out to the letter. She had a pretty strong ego and a bit of a chip on her shoulder but she had earned what she commanded, and no one questioned her authority without risking her wrath. Ukyo, Perfume and even Ranma jumped to do her bidding, while only Shampoo could sometimes stand firm and resist her, playing the role of helpful advisor whose wisdom often tempered my counterpart's impulsive call to action. The one time Ranma had stood firmly up to his wife was when he had resolved to get his own act together, to prove to himself that he was worthy of being her husband, and only after his hard-won victory in their “marriage battle” did he go back to enjoying a secondary status. And the ones outside the marriage circle, Keiko, Ryoga, Akane, Kodachi, Tatewaki, Natsume and Kurumi, Kasumi, Alison and Beatrice and everyone else who was involved in their little enterprise, all of them looked to their Nabiki for leadership and guidance, and through hard-won experience their trust in her had---for the most part---been vindicated.
If this made her a little bossy and sometimes difficult to be around it was a small price to pay for the way she had brought a kind of order and stability to the chaos that normally was Nerima. If Cybelle tried had her hand against the Posse I have a very strong feeling that it would get snapped off at the wrist, and with her friends and loved ones united behind her there was very little that she could not accomplish, which was why we needed her back in her prime in order to make this rescue thing happen. The others did not know or trust me the way they trusted her implicitly with their lives, so without her it was obvious that we'd be going into battle with our best arm tied behind our collective backsides, and even if I had my own Ranma here beside me I doubt that we'd be half as effective in rallying their spirits.
In a way I think that our men as much define the two of us as we are by each other. After all, my Ranma is a dynamic locus of chaotic energies who shakes the foundations of the world by his very presence, while I tend to be more of a stabilizer to his actions, a compass to keep his path in focus. Ranma here is in much the opposite position, a stable rock upon which to anchor his Nabiki when she unleashes the maelstrom that is contained by the force of her will. With her husband and children in jeopardy there would be no stopping the tide that she would unleash, and for that reason if nothing else she was desperately needed.
And so it was that I drew upon the Icon of her primal form and allowed Lord Anri to mentally guide me in shaping a temporary body out of the raw stuff of Akashic virtual matter. Together we drew out the essential part of what made my counterpart so special and infused it into a solid image in her likeness while her actual body went dormant with temporal lethargy, a kind of suspended animation that would last until the task was completed. In a few more seconds the deed was done and the golem likeness was formally completed.
She looked around as if just awakening from a short nap then said, “I don't feel any different. What was supposed to happen again?”
“Look down,” I nodded to the rest of her body, and my counterpart's double did as instructed, only to react with a start as she put both hands to her abdomen and stared in disbelief at those washboard firm abs that lay behind the soft outer lining of a perfectly smooth tummy.
“You will find this body moves with a speed and grace that is even superior of your natural form,” Anri informed her, “Because it is formed of light and thought energy and will maintain its resilience for as long as it is needed.”
“No fooling,” she glanced around and said, “There where's the real…me…?” she gaped as she saw the pregnant version of herself standing somewhat behind her with chin pointing downward, eyes closed as though having fallen asleep standing.
“Weird, huh?” I asked as I watched my double waving a hand before her own eyes as though to confirm her initial impression.
“I'll say,” she glanced back at me and then at Anri, then down at her new flesh and reflexively pinched herself, obtaining with a wince all the confirmation that she needed that her new body worked very much in the same manner as her old one.
“Now you are ready to begin the next phase of your journey,” Anri said with a smile, “But before you do, I think your counterpart will need to acclimate herself to one aspect of your condition.”
He made a very slight hand gesture and suddenly a pitcher of water appeared above my double's head and promptly deposited its contents on top of her, triggering at once the Jusenkyo transformation that still remained with her, and causing me to gasp as I stared in amazement, feeling the raw impact of his transformation into manhood.
I was, of course, aware that her male half had a strange power that affected any woman who had even a slight interest in heterosexuality, but to witness the effect first hand was quite a bit like having my nervous system touched by an electrode. He wasn't just handsome, he was GORGEOUS, a regular Adonis with rippling pectorals and a fit, trim athletic build that bristled with muscle and sinew, containing power far and away above even what Ranma had in such ample abundance. I stared in disbelief while looking him up and down as if to memorize every curving detail, and I caught myself glancing down at his crotch area with a speculative gleam that made me yearn to try him out just to see if he'd be a proper fit from both angles.
With an effort I yanked my thoughts back from the cry of my awakening hormones, but still I felt as if I were the one who needed to have a cold pitcher of water dumped over my head, because I was shaking with lust and licking my lips with the thought of tasting his rod with my tongue, and yes I know I was being terribly unfaithful once again to my loved ones. But I swear if Shampoo were there she would have backed me up on this, while Ranma might have experienced a sincere fit of jealousy, to say nothing of a bit of envy, and all because of what Jusenkyo had wrought, yet another reminder of why those bloody things are called curses (though I'm sure the vast majority of women in my place would have disputed finding that body a “curse” to have to deal with).
I understood at once what the Shampoo of her world had seen in such a godlike beauty that would make her blindly follow her Nabiki so far away from her homeland, just as I sympathized with the incestuous lust of the Kasumi of this world, whose unrequited yearning for her “Kaneda-sama” had given her so many nights of sad-yet-exquisitely-sweet torment. Only Keiko seemed indifferent to the charms of my counterpart's male half, but she could be excused for being indifferent to men in general, and besides which she had been trained and conditioned to make love to either sex without qualm or hesitation.
Of course I also implicitly understood how being so irresistible had made life so complicated for this timeline's Nabiki, and how it often embarrassed her to have girls (and even a few men) throwing themselves at her male half at every turn and juncture. I also sensed how being half-male had caused her to gain more sympathy for someone like Ranma, who had heroically overcome his own aversion to same-sex unions to the point where he had even once surprised her by doing her anally in a guy-to-guy encounter (and let me tell you, the image that formed in my mind was pretty hot, which did nothing at all to assist me in my efforts at regaining my composure).
Of course “Kaneda-san” could not help noticing the fact that I was no longer able to look at him directly without my cheeks burning hot, and with a frown that was almost plaintively “et tu, Brute?” in its sardonic blandness she asked aloud, “What's bothering you?”
“Ah…nothing,” I flatly lied, “But now that you've shown me your other half, I think it's time we go and gather up the others.”
“Hmmm…not too bad, if a bit bishonen for my standards,” Anri mused as he regarded his own handiwork, “But the point is taken, it would be best if you changed back for the peace of mind of your sister.”
“Just great,” my counterpart sniffed, “Now even my own other-dimensional self wants to screw me. That's just perfect.”
“Really?” Lotion gave us both a bland look, “And here I would have thought it would be your greatest fantasy come to life.”
I think she got the point from the withering looks we both gave her that this comment was not appreciated, and then to spare my peace of mind (since even looking away wasn't helping my concentration) I waved a hand and imagined a hot tea kettle forming, then passed it along to my double, who gratefully poured it over his head and triggered his transformation back into a woman.
“Right,” my counterpart said as she handed the now-empty kettle back to me, only to see it vanish as I dismissed it back into the virtual nothing from which it had been envisioned, “So…are we gonna do this thing or what? And you're sure my body's gonna be safe with you here until I need it back?”
“You may trust me to do my part in this enterprise,” Anri replied, “I will clear the way so that the enemy does not sense you and your companions approaching, but you must strike swift and without qualm, for she who hesitates is lost, and in this struggle no quarter may be spared for the enemy is ruthless and will not hesitate to strike you down if you leave him the slightest opening.”
“I get the strangest sense that you say a lot of things like that to the people you meet,” my counterpart frowned, “Ever thought about going into the fortune cookie business?”
“Just concentrate yourself on the task at hand and remember what is at stake here,” Lotion chided.
“Right, got it, anything else?” my double replied, accepting casually that this was a “kill or be killed” mission.
“Just do your best and remember your training,” Lotion said, raising her staff as she parted the mists and created a corridor, “And now to summon the party we will need to bring an end to the career of one who has lived too long and brought so much evil through his actions.”
I have to admit that I was impressed with the take-charge attitude my counterpart was demonstrating, but I knew it would take more than guts and determination to prevail in this encounter. We were going up against an enemy who had outlived countries and whose experience of battle exceeded our own by a good long fraction. That was undoubtedly part of the reason why I was coming along for the ride on this excursion, and not just as a favor to my counterpart or in sympathy for the plight of her children. A Lore Master would be needed before this day's business was finally done and over, and even as we were marshalling our own resources the Ranma we were seeking to rescue was having an encounter of his own, one that would help define the battle in ways that even I could then scarcely have imagined.
Though I'm pretty damned sure that Lord Anri had some notions about it, what with his being aware of the bigger picture. But when you sit on the right hand of divinity…you tend to see a lot of things most people would rather not see, and for that reason alone I think he is to be pitied…and that's not even going into the sadness I sensed behind his eyes, a deep compassion and understanding for the transitory glory that he found in all things mortal…
Comments/Criticisms/Cavalry for Dummies: shadowmane@msn.com