Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ A Tale of Two Wallets ❯ Storming the Gates of Heaven ( Chapter 95 )

[ 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

Nabiki's Journal Resumes:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Okay, so that's overstating it by a bit, but it about summarizes that first day of my captivity where I was locked in a gilded prison cell that just happened to look a lot like a King's Seraglio, complete with a lush bed, a sunken bath and all the other trappings of luxury that you might expect to find in an Arabian Knights movie. There were silken tapestries of Chinese manufacture hanging from the walls, a canopied bed draped with white linen cloth that was obviously hand-woven, and a comfortable down feeling to the mattress itself that made resting on it feel like floating among the clouds, which was very apt considering that we were on board that sky ship making our way out towards some place called Nekonron, China. I had never personally witnessed such opulent magnificence, hinting at wealth and glory of untold magnitude beyond my wildest dreams of avarice.

To put it mildly I was miserable with loathing for every minute that I spent there. It was about the last thing I needed to see after believing that I had just witnessed by boyfriend falling to his death, and to think that these clueless bastards would expect me to be impressed by the whole thing…it just sums up what a pretty pickle I was in, and I haven't even gotten to the good parts yet!

Shampoo was recovering from the blow she had taken to the back of her head, soaking it off in the hot tub while our personal one-woman guard, Mon Mon, looked on in silence. She was aimlessly tuning that metal-rimmed instrument of hers, leaving me to sulk in silence until Shampoo got up out of the water to wrap a towel around her body. I caught the look the pale haired woman gave my Amazon honey and felt a brief spark of resentment before returning to the more fulfilling pursuit of wallowing in my grief and despair. I kept seeing Ranma's face before my eyes, flashes of moments we had shared, culminating in the sight of him diving out into space to catch a pair of ring boxes, and then the crushing weight on my chest returned to make breathing difficult, each breath coming in both hoarse and ragged.

I don't suppose I'd be giving away the farm about this point to say that the thought of never seeing my iinazuke's face again was about the most horrific feeling that I have ever lived through, short of what I felt when I lost my mother, and possibly a lot worse. I'd seen Momma die after weeks of suffering, and in a way I thought it was a mercy when the doctors let her go. I'd never dreamed the real reason for her departure was a clerical anomaly in some metaphysical divine office, but let's stick to the subject here, which was that Ranma's seeming demise had been too sudden for me to have any time to adjust to it as a concept. One moment he was there, as large as life and twice as cocky, and the next…and the next he was gone. That wasn't something I could adjust to, it just seemed unreal that I could lose him in mere seconds.

Oh sure there have been times when I've wanted to kill the baka with my own hands, and times when he could literally drive me up the wall just trying to figure him out, but nothing like this, nothing so real, yet so unreal. Ranma was…well…he was like life itself to me, always full of surprises, never a dull moment, and capable of the most uncanny turns of mind when he could shake my world upside down and force me to see things in an entirely new way. There are times when he can be such an arrogant, insensitive jerk, but other times when he shows a surprising degree of tenderness and understanding…I mean, who wouldn't miss having a guy like that around? Can you blame me for getting a little upset under the circumstances? Hell, I was even considering jumping off the ship myself just so I wouldn't have to go on in a world that didn't have a Ranma in it.

But of course, as she's done so often with me at those times when my life seems the bleakest, Shampoo crept up to me, this time in human rather than cat form, and asked me softly, "What is wrong, Nabiki? Why you look like you lose last yen in gamble?"

I was a little surprised that she could even ask such a question. Upon regaining consciousness, Mon Mon had informed my Amazon bride of Ranma's stunt with the two rings, and didn't she know the reason why he would risk his life like that? If anything I would have expected her to show twice as much grief as I was, mainly because she's a lot more casual in expressing her emotions.

"Sh-Shampoo," I managed to stammer on a dry mouth, "It…Ranma…"

To my increasing surprise she said, "Silly Nabiki, what you mean about Ranma? You no think he fall to death in ocean, do you?"

"Huh?" I looked at her with a blank expression.

"Ranma only fall one mile," Shampoo explained, "Is no like he fall from great orbit. Airen very strong, very skilled, him find way to survive fall, be back again, you see."

"H-How can you say that?" I gasped, "How can you be so certain…?"

"Because Shampoo no feel Airen dead," Shampoo touched the exposed area of her chest between those swelling mounds that I knew and loved so well, "No feel it here where truly matter. Airen live, Shampoo very certain. Is no way for great warrior to die, not when he have quest must fulfill. Is heroic way, him come make rescue."

I blinked my eyes. How could Shampoo know if Ranma was alive or not? I was the one training to be a Lore Master, which meant that I should know…

I could have kicked myself if it was anatomically possible. Of course I should have known! I closed my eyes and stopped listening to my fears, and instead listened to the beat of my own heart, which I felt echoed by Shampoo's own heartbeat…and that of another…not quite so close but closer to us than I would have imagined.

"He's alive?" I blinked my eyes and knew at once with that curious Truth Sense that I'd acquired that my words were right on the money, which of course caused me to say with more enthusiasm, "He's alive, HE'S ALIVE!!! Oh, Sham-chan!"

I embraced the purple haired girl and endured the warmth of her own bear hug as she patted me on the head and said (as if I were a small child or something), "Now you thinking like Lore Master. You no let fear do talking, you listen to heart. Shampoo always listen to her heart and it never fail her. Ranma come for us, you see, and then he make prince sorry he dare take brides away from Airen…"

"So, the boy is still alive," said Mon Mon as we turned to see her standing off to one side of the bed eyeing us with cool, curious eyes lacking either hostility or strong passion, "Prince Kirin will have to be informed of this. The boy might yet prove himself a nuisance."

"Him more than that," Shampoo noted smugly, "Ranma is man of Shampoo dream, is strongest man she ever meet. You see when you face."

"I look forward to that," the pale haired lady began stroking her lute once again, producing sounds both sweet and oddly bitter, "I hope he provides a better challenge than he and his friends did the last time. It wouldn't be much fun defeating them if they were not up to full form."

"You awful sure of self for mere lackey," Shampoo eyed the girl as if reading her stance as a challenge.

"I am Mon Mon," the other lady replied, "Priestess of the Goddess Benton, Chief courtesan to the court of my lord Kirin and a member of the Seven Lucky Gods of martial arts. No mere man can stand against my power, save only Lord Kirin himself who has proven a better man than your Ranma."

"That what you say," Shampoo replied, "But Shampoo think you only flunky."

"How dare you!" the other woman's lovely face snarled, "If it were not against Lord Kirin's orders I would make you pay for your insolence…"

"Uh…about that," I said, now having regained at least partial control over my wits, "What exactly is it Lord Kirin expects you to do for me anyway? He said you were going to give me bride training…"

The pale haired woman glanced away, but after only a moment of hesitation she reached up and undid the top lace to her bodice, pealing it down to expose a pair of melon-sized bosoms that put even Sham-chan's swelling fruit to shame. I stared wide-eyed as the girl casually stripped off her outer garments then knelt down on one knee before us, bowing her head submissively and saying in a low voice, "I am to serve you as I have served Lord Kirin, to instruct you in the ways by which you may please him on your honeymoon. It is my function and my duty to make myself available in all ways that might please and educate you in the mysteries of the body."

I just stared at her with my mouth gaping open. I mean…hell, this woman was outright GORGEOUS, and I could tell even Sham-chan was affected by the sight of the other woman's naked flesh, so imagine what I was feeling seeing her display her tasty packaging in such total submission, and I was pretty danged sure she wasn't faking her offer either!

"Um…excuse me?" I heard my voice squeak as I continued to stare at her body.

Mon Mon raised her head to me and said, "A woman of Nekonron is taught from birth that her most pleasing task is to please the man in her life, and I have been trained by the finest courtesans in all of China. I know a thousand ways to indulge in carnal pleasures that would explode your minds with the possibilities, and seeing as you have stated a preference for both genders, it makes my work that much easier in gaining your cooperation."

"You're putting me on," I said, knowing perfectly well that she wasn't.

"Shampoo is confused," my Amazon bride said, "You is warrior…and slave?"

"Slave?" Mon Mon blinked her eyes, "There are no slaves in Nekonron, there have not been slaves since they were all liberated by one of Lord Kirin's ancestors."

"You're not a slave," I said, "But you offer us your body because your Boss tells you to."

"I am to do with as Prince Kirin wills," Mon Mon explained, "My greatest pleasure is in serving him, in making my Lord happy in whatever manner he finds pleasing."

"You've slept with the guy?" I asked.

"Of course," she said, "Lord Kirin needed training in the arts of pleasure, and that is one of the functions that I have performed for him as his retainer. Is this a problem?"

"Not for me," I said, "But…if you like the guy…how could you stand letting me have him?"

"I…do not understand your question," Mon Mon frowned with honest puzzlement in her pale grey eyes.

"You is no jealous if he want Nabiki for wife?" Shampoo asked.

"Jealous?" Mon Mon sounded as if she did not know the meaning of the word, "Why would I feel that? He is my Lord and Master, and he has been fated from birth to marry the possessor of the sacred scroll. I live to serve him, and I serve him quite well, and if by serving him I must teach you to give my lord pleasure, then I would consider it nothing less than my highest honor."

"Okay," I said, "Time out! Let me see if I get this straight, okay? Now…you don't mind if another girl sleeps with your Prince, and you especially don't mind that it's this 'destined bride' of yours. You don't consider yourself a slave because you actually want to do this, but the fact is that you couldn't refuse him if you wanted to, could you?"

"Why would I want to refuse his orders?" Mon Mon asked us, "My duty as royal Courtesan requires my absolute loyalty and obedience. It is the thing that I have trained for all of my days, so why would I not wish to see my Lord happily married?"

I saw at once that we were having a little conceptual problem. I tried again to make myself understood, playing on a hunch as I said, "You like your Prince Kirin, don't you?"

"Eh?" I saw surprise and an almost shocked reaction in the other woman's eyes, "What sort of question is this? Of course I admire my prince…what woman would not?"

"Me for one," I replied, "I don't like guys who kidnap me from my family and just expect me to marry them because it's their tradition. If you like him so much then you can marry him."

"What?" she reacted as if I had just slapped her in the face, only she colored and looked down, "That…that is not possible! I am not the one fated to find the sacred scroll, I am not even a princess…"

"What has that got to do with whether you like him or not?" I smiled slyly, "Surely it's more important to like the guy you're gonna marry than to do it because you're supposed to."

"This…this is most strange," she shook her head in dismay, "What appallingly barbaric customs you must have in your country. How can anyone expect to have a stable marriage if they marry for reasons other than what is proper?"

Now it was my turn to be confused, "Uh…look…if it's all the same to you, I'd rather decline the offer, and I know Sham-chan feels the same way, so if you could just tell the Prince that I said thanks but no thanks…"

"I do not understand," Mon Mon said, "Am I not pleasing to your standards?"

"Ah…" my mind went slightly off the railing at that, "What? I mean…you're beautiful and all that, and I'm very flattered if you…"

To my complete surprise I found her suddenly leaning forward, her face only a few centimeters from my own though I had barely even seen her moving, and with her face filling my vision I could smell the incredible perfume of her body as something in my body reacted to her on the level of a pure chemical reaction.

"My task is to determine your threshold of pleasure," she informed me, "So I must do what tradition dictates and test the both of you for your compatibility level."

"For my…?" I started to say when her lips pressed against mine and we shared a kiss that took me as much by surprise as if she had just grown wings like my sister. I can't imagine what Shampoo was thinking at the moment, but suddenly I found myself on my back on the bed with this woman leaning over me and her hands quite skillfully pulling open my blouse as time itself seemed to go still for me and I found myself reacting as though I had lost all self volition.

But then Shampoo put her arms around the woman throat and locked her in a Nelson, hissing in her ear, "You go too far! You no do this with Nabiki! You no have Shampoo permission!"

Mon Mon gritted in obvious discomfort but showed no great alarm as she said, "And why would I need your permission?"

All at once-and please don't expect me to describe how she did this-Mon Mon broke loose from Shampoo's hold and laid her out on her back, somehow paralyzing my Amazon lover while straddling her as if Shampoo was utterly at her mercy.

"I was hoping you would try something like this," she purred, "I've been wanting to try my skills on your since I laid eyes on you, Amazon. I've heard your people train to be the best warriors in all of Asia, and yet you will only take a man who has defeated you in battle. My Lord could quite easily command you, if he so wishes to win you in battle, but since he has trusted me to train you for him…"

"What you do?" Shampoo seemed to be making an effort at moving but was unable to break free, leaving her to stare up into the eyes of the pale haired girl with obvious concern in her expression, "Shampoo no for the like of you…"

"It is my task to change your mind about this," Mon Mon leered, parting the towel and exposing Shampoo's chest to full view, "You will learn humility and mind your place with my Lord, but first I will show you what is in store for you if you choose to cooperate…"

And with that she bent her lips down and began planting soft kisses on the chest of my Sham-chan!

I had to think quickly or else I knew that the both of us were in for real trouble. Shampoo had lost the ability to resist the other girl, and I sure as heck didn't rate myself as having a snowball's chance of fighting her off, even if she was taking liberties with MY girlfriend! A sudden plan hatched in my mind as I saw Shampoo arched back her head as Mon Mon's kisses got nearer and nearer to those twin peaked mounds of flesh that I loved so well, at which point I was fairly certain that Sham-chan would feel both used and degraded.

"Please," I said before things got too far into this double-seduction, "Could you explain something for me before we do this?"

Mon-Mon paused with both of her hands squeezing Shampoo's breasts, and she gave me a faintly annoyed look before saying, "What is it you want me to explain?"

"Ah…this Nekonron, China you call home…what's it like?" I wondered.

"The gateway between worlds?" she smiled back at me, "It is a land of ten thousand hot springs, violent and beautiful with mists that wall off time itself. Our people live in the lush valleys of plenty and enjoy the harvests of terraced farming, and we easily support ourselves by exporting our main pickle crops to the port cities of Asia…"

"Fascinating," I said, cutting short this travel brochure description of a place I had no intention of visiting at the moment, "And what are your cities like? I mean…you must be pretty advanced to be able to create something like this sky ship…"

"The ship?" Mon Mon got off of a relieved looking Shampoo while idly stroking one finger up and down the valley between my girlfriend's bosoms, "It was a gift to Nekonron by one of the European powers almost a century ago. It has been refitted and modernized several times over the years to serve as the royal sky ship for the line of Kirin. It has many modern conveniences and has served the family well on those rare occasions when we have been compelled to journey to your world…"

"I must say, I never expected anything like this coming from a part of China that has such a strong traditional culture," I continued, playing up on a hunch, "You must not have all that much contact with the outside world…"

"What contact we have has been very limited," she admitted while allowing her hand to drift lazily down the length of Shampoo's belly, just shy of actually exploring her pelvic region, "We mostly deal through traders and go-betweens. Nekonron's pickle industry is much prized throughout Asia, for they are the wealth of our nation…"

"Fascinating," I admitted, "And how exactly does one go about becoming a go-between for your people? I imagine you must have some pretty exacting standards…"

"Indeed we do," the pale haired woman replied, "One is that our isolation must be observed, especially from the Communists, who had sought and failed to gain access past our borders. We had dealing with them in the past that cautioned us against trusting in their good intentions, but with bribes paid to the right people they have learned to look the other way and tolerate our existence, though they refuse to acknowledge us and had prevented Nekonron from being listed on any maps."

"I can just imagine how much they must love you guys," I noted, noticing the way Shampoo had regained partial control over one of her arms and was slowly moving it into position, "One more question…which do you think Kirin values more, you or his precious pickles?"

"Eh?" the confusion returned to her eyes, "What is the purpose to this-?"

That was as far as she got before Shampoo jabbed her neck with the tip of her fingers, causing our captor's eyes to roll back up in her head as she collapsed without a sound, completely unconscious.

I heaved a sigh and said, "What took you so long?"

"Is to be excused," Shampoo smiled as she flexed her shoulders and slowly sat up on the bed rubbing her arms and then her neck before rotating her head around in a circle, finally concluding with, "Great grandmother long ago teach Shampoo counter for paralysis point, but it take her full minute to reach correct mind state. Is good thing you is so clever, Nabiki, you keep silly Banjo-girl talking long enough Shampoo regain advantage."

"It was either that or let the both of us get raped," I said, "Not that I'd complain much about her technique…"

"Ah so," Shampoo eyed me with a lewd expression, "Maybe Shampoo no should act in such haste. Maybe very entertaining watch you and girl make nice-nice. Shampoo think you enjoy too much…or maybe you rather watch girl make nice-nice with Shampoo?"

"Some other time, maybe," I grinned, "Now all we gotta do is find a way out of here, and then get off this boat before they discover us missing."

"Is good plan," Shampoo smiled, "Maybe Shampoo have idea that help?"

I knew that sneaky look quite well and smiled back at her, "What have you got in mind, Kitty?"

"Banjo girl say pickles wealth of Nekonron," Shampoo explained, "And earlier while in Neko form, Shampoo think she smell place where find many, many pickles. Is good place to hide, yes? No one find there until Ranma make new rescue?"

"Hmmm…" I thought, admiring my beautiful sex-kitten and wishing very much that we had time for some healthy exercises of our own, which unfortunately would have to be put off for later, "I think I've got an even better idea, Sham-chan…help me tie this one up and then you show me where they keep their treasury. I know just the way to get this Kirin guy's attention…"

"Ah…master?" Epite asked nervously, disturbed at the dour expression he saw on the face of his fearless leader.

"What is it, Epite?" Kirin replied without glancing in the little man's direction, "Kirin does not wish to be disturbed in his meditations."

"But that's just it, Master," Epite replied, "You've been sitting there staring off into space for hours, and…you will forgive my impertinence, but you do not seem like your usual self…"

"No, Epite," Kirin replied, "Kirin is not himself. Kirin is…disturbed. There is much that Kirin does not understand about his future bride, and this displeases him greatly."

"What is there to understand, sire?" the little man asked, "She is a woman…they are beyond understanding."

"And yet this woman has dared to find fault with the Prince of the Seven Lucky Gods School," Kirin replied, "She has dared accost Kirin and declared him unworthy of her interest."

"I know sire," Epite nodded, "And for that she must be punished…"

"No," Kirin remarked, "On the contrary, I do not believe that the fault lies with her. Kirin…is not certain why he should think so, but…it seems the truth nonetheless. Somehow Kirin has failed to understand and correctly interpret a situation that is new to him, and this causes him great distress. Kirin must know why the words of Tendo Nabiki have had this effect upon Kirin…and why she would say such things. If Kirin is to marry her, then he would know the mind of his bride and seek to find better ways of obtaining her approval."

"Sire," the little man hesitated, "You know that I would never think to criticize you, but isn't that putting things backward? She is supposed to be the one who is devoted to pleasing you…"

"I do not want a woman who merely bends to my wishes," Kirin replied, "If I did then I could find that with Mon Mon."

Epite gasped, "With the royal Courtesan, Sire? That is most…unusual…"

"Yes," Kirin agreed, "But these are most unusual times, and Mon Mon has served Kirin as loyally as any other. Were it not against our traditions, Kirin would take the Priestess of the Goddess Benton as his own bosom companion, but what concerns us now is the perceived failing of Kirin to win the affections of his true bride in the battle against the boy, Saotome Ranma."

"But Sire," Epite began, "You defeated him most handily…"

"Did Kirin defeat him, or did this Ranma defeat himself?" Kirin asked, "Kirin finds it most…unsatisfying to see a foe merely plunge to his death when the matter has not been fully resolved between us. A pity Kirin disposed of the other members of his group in such haste, they were most interesting fighters and might have provided us with further entertainment."

"If you say so, sire," Epite replied with a most dubious expression.

"Kirin cannot reconcile the words Nabiki used upon him when she claimed that it was not important to her which of us was the better fighter," Kirin replied, "What else is there that she could ask of a husband than that he be a strong warrior and a good provider? Kirin has vast riches that could make any woman's life most enjoyable, and he has been trained all his life to be as skilled and as entertaining a husband. Could there be anything more than this that she would desire? How then could she prefer a rough hewn barbarian with barely adequate skills as a fighter?"

"It is a mystery to be certain, Sire," Epite remarked, "But perhaps in time she will come to appreciate the real you…"

"But how long must Kirin wait for this?" Kirin asked in frustration, "Supposing there truly is some element that Kirin does not possess? What if Nabiki has seen an inadequacy that Kirin never dreamed that might be found in him? This cannot bode well for our impending marriage. Kirin must know more, and so he must discover a way of approaching his future bride that she might give him an answer."

"Perhaps Mon Mon will discover it for you, Sire," Epite replied, "She is with your bride and her consort now beginning their bride training…"

"Sire!" Bishimontan burst into the room without warning, a shocking breach of normal protocol though his words had such urgency that no one called him to task for it, "Your bride has escaped from her room! Mon Mon was found bound and gagged on the bed and…"

"WHAT???" Kirin's reaction was also much out of character, being much vexed beyond what any of his retainers had ever before witnessed, "Are you saying that Kirin's bride has mounted an escape over the best efforts of the Royal Courtesan?"

"Uh…well, Sire," the big man hesitated, "Mounted appears to be the operant word…in fact the condition in which Mon Mon was found…"

"Speak sense, Man," Epite demanded, "Are you saying the Royal Courtesan was unable to prevent their escape?"

"Well, no…I mean yes," the Priest of the War God for whom he was named hesitated, "What I mean is that the Royal Courtesan was found stacked-I mean-she was bound in such a way as to suggest a tight struggle…and rather nicely well mounted if I do say so…"

"Get to the point, man," Kirin demanded impatiently, "Where is Kirin's bride and why haven't you found her yet?"

"Sire!" Daihotsuke appeared from behind the big man, "Someone has broken into the Royal Storeroom and stolen all the pickles!"

"Sire!" Daikotsuke appeared from behind his brother, "We've located your bride…she's the one who stole the pickles!"

"WHAT???" Kirin reacted in dismay for the second time in as many minutes, "Where is she? What has she done with our pickles?"

"The lower Deck, sire," Daikotsuke replied, his expression conveying bewilderment, "She's holding them for ransom!"

There was a slight pause before Kirin's expression darkened, and then in tones that brooked no contradiction he commanded, "Take Kirin to her at once! He will get to the bottom of this, one way or the other…"

"Not too much farther now," Ranma-chan said, "Doesn't seem as far up as when we climbed this the last time."

"Their ship does seem to be traveling a bit closer to the water than the last time," Happosai noted as he led the way up the rope, "I wonder why that is?"

"Is maybe because they fly at night," Lychee called out from where she clung tenaciously to the back of her elephant, Jasmine, "Is cooler air, that why rope drag so close to water…"

"Hey, that's right," Ranma blinked her eyes, "The gas in that blimp must contract a lot when it doesn't have the sun to keep it warm, unless they got some kind of portable heating system…"

"Since when did you know so much about blimps?" Happosai asked.

"Ah…well…hangin' around with Nabiki kinda makes a guy have to stay on his toes, know what I mean?" Ranma-chan winced slightly.

"Just a little farther and we'll be there," Happosai remarked, "Just hold on until I get there, Hinako-chan…what in the name of Frederick's of Hollywood?"

"Huh?" Ranma turned to see what had attracted his blond haired family patriarch's attention (let alone got him to utter words that for a pervert were considered holy) and saw something that made her own eyes blink, "Huh…? The bottom of the ship is opening up!"

"You right!" Lychee called up, "Is some manner of platform…and look! Huge jars of pickles!"

"And that ain't all," Ranma blinked her eyes, "It's Nabiki an' Shampoo!"

"And Hinako-chan's with them!" Happosai exclaimed, "We gotta get over there and fast!"

"But how?" Lychee asked, "Rope no go near enough to hatch for Jasmine to climb up there!"

"Then just stay here and let us do all the work," Ranma called out, "You with me, you Old Fart?"

"Eat my dust, you young ingrate," Happosai concurred, and together they began to swing the rope to give them much needed momentum…

And far below them, but gaining ground rapidly, Ukyo was staring in disbelief at what she could see and commenting to those nearest to her, "I don't believe it…how the heck can an elephant be climbing a rope?"

"Well, it appears to be wrapping its legs around the rope while pulling itself up with its trunk…" Kodachi started to point out.

"Later," Akane urged, 'We gotta get up there to help out. Are you with me, Ryoga?"

"Try holding me back," the Lost Boy said, his spirits rising to the occasion.

"Better make it quick," Makoto said, "Looks like Ranma and the old man are about to try something."

"Oh my," Kasumi noted, "Is it my imagination or does the ship appear to be closer to the water than the last time?"

"You are not imagining things," Lotion murmured, "I think you had all better hurry, matters are about to get a bit tense up there, and as usual my Apprentice is in the middle of all the action."

"So what else is new?" Akane said, taking Ryoga into her arms and beating the air while levitating to get airborne…

Shampoo's Diary Continues:

"It's not that I object to your tactics, Nabiki-san," Miss Hinako informed us as we prepared ourselves to meet the inevitable confrontation with our abductors, "But are you certain this Prince Kirin can be made to see reason?"

I had to allow that our homeroom teacher had a valid point. Since we had liberated her from the room in which she had been held captive on a suicide watch she had been a willing ally in our schemes, even employing her powers to render guards insensate in such a way as not to prematurely set off any alarms. Hinako's spirits had been bolstered by the reassurance that the man whom she was in love with had doubtlessly survived his fall from the vessel (and to be perfectly frank, I doubted that we should have been as lucky never to see that fool again) and so was agreeable to do whatever it took to effect our release from the sky ship. Her expressed concern, voiced as it was at the last moment, was no less than prudent counsel, and even I-who backed my wife's desperate plans to the letter-had doubts of success, and as such I wished fervently that there had been time enough to come up with a plan that was less desperate.

As it was, though, we were stuck with what can best be termed as "The Only Game in Town," being hopelessly outnumbered by our enemies, and even I would not be rash enough to test my abilities by going directly against Prince Kirin.

"I know it's a real gamble," Nabiki replied, "But it's the only card we have to play, unless you'd rather chance walking out the front door or sneaking out the back."

"I'll grant you fighting off an entire shipload of pirates is not the sort of thing I would encourage," Hinako admitted, "But resorting to these tactics…it's most distasteful."

"Just let me do the talking, Sensei," Nabiki urged, "I'm counting on you and Sham-chan to keep them honest. If any of these creeps tries something you'll have to beat them off while I keep my finger on the proverbial trigger."

"And the key to escape is Prince Kirin," I reasoned, following my wife's logic, "If we get to him then the others must follow his word."

"That's what I'm hoping for, Sham-chan," Nabiki noted, "But don't take any of the others for granted, especially if Mon Mon is with them. She can't be any too happy about the way we left her hanging."

"Why?" Miss Hinako asked, "What did you do to your jailer?"

Nabiki and I exchanged smiles and chose not to elaborate. It was not that either of us bore ill will towards the Courtesan, but she had taken improper liberties with both my wife and me and there are certain lines one ought not to cross with an Amazon. There are principles that must be upheld, so while we did nothing of a permanent nature, we made certain that Mon Mon was less than comfortable when we left her in that chamber.

The first ones to discover what we were up to were some of the Prince's masked guards, and after the first half dozen fell to Miss Hinako's coin magic and my bonbori the others learned to keep their distance and went off to inform their masters, and in good order the prince and his court made their appearance, and to no great surprise Mon Mon was among them, eyeing us both as if wanting very much to return the favor.

The Prince actually sounded shocked as he said, "Tendo Nabiki, what are you doing?"

"Don't come any closer!" my wife said, keeping her hands on the handle of the level that we had discovered when prowling along the bottom of the ship, "Any of you so much as takes another step and I'm dropping the floor out from under us. That means that those precious pickle jars of yours-and us-get dropped into the ocean!"

I saw in the eyes of the prince and his minions that they took the threat seriously, as well they should, for we were three desperate women short on options and ready to risk much for the chance of our freedom. The heavy jars of pickles that we had gathered-about thirty in all-constituted the bulk of the ship's stores of pickles, beyond which there had been bags of rice that filled entire chambers, but this we thought would be enough of a "bargaining chip" (one of those vexing terms Nabiki often uses) to get the prince's attention, and we succeeded.

"What are you doing, Woman?" Epite demanded, "If you fall from this height you will surely perish!"

"I'll take my chances with the sharks before I'll let you clowns drag me off into marriage!" Nabiki shot back with clear determination in her voice, "One way or another we're getting off this boat right here and now, and in case you think I'm bluffing…"

Nabiki pulled the lever and held it for several seconds, which same caused the floor beneath us to sag by about a meter before she straightened it out again, leaving the floor partially exposed to the night air. The gesture had the desired effect as the Lucky God cronies made noises of protest that showed their fear of what would happen should Nabiki throw the lever altogether.

"Tendo Nabiki," Prince Kirin himself spoke out, "Why do you do this thing? Is becoming the bride of Kirin so distasteful for you that you would prefer your death and that of your companions?"

"It's nothing personal, Prince," my wife responded to this, "But it's what I have to do. You people go on and on about me respecting your traditions…well it's about time you learned about one of the traditions of my people, namely what I'm obligated to do if I'm dishonored."

"And that is?" Kirin asked, proving that you don't need a royal pedigree to be slow on the uptake.

"My ancestors were samurai," Nabiki revealed, "And we have some pretty 'barbaric' concepts about honor. One of those archaic traditions is that when a samurai loses face or is in any way dishonored they must redeem themselves by taking their own lives. Call it hara-kiri, seppuku, or whatever you like, if anybody other than Ranma or Shampoo here tries to force me to become their wife, then all they're gonna get is my cold, dead body."

There was stunned silence upon this declaration, for even I could not tell if my wife were being serious or no. Kirin himself stared with disbelief until the mountainous one named Bishimontan spoke up, "She's right, Sire…I have heard of this tradition among the samurai classes."

"You are willing to do this?" the Prince asked after absorbing this revelation, "To take your own life…and that of your companions?"

"If you don't give me any choice about it," Nabiki's voice was tense, and I could see her shift as if preparing to pull the lever all the way, "Sham-chan's loyal to me, so I know she'll do whatever I ask, while Miss Hinako has her own reasons for going along with this. We're all prepared to die rather than lose face because of your stupid pride and your idiotic traditions, so what's it gonna be? Do we get off this ship the easy or the hard way?"

"Answer Kirin one question," the Prince replied, "In what way has he failed to measure up in your eyes that you would prefer to die rather than accept his hand in marriage?"

"It's not something I can explain in terms you'd understand, Prince," Nabiki responded, "In a lot of ways you're as much a prisoner here as either me, Sham-chan or Hinako. You're stuck on your traditions and you don't know anything about the world beyond your own culture, and you clearly don't value my culture or traditions. In my world a woman has a choice who she marries, and it's got nothing to do with any stupid scroll. It's nothing personal against you, other than this…I mean, you seem like a nice guy and all, but you're just not Ranma."

I silently agreed with my wife's estimation, although I was tempted to point out to her that her engagement to Ranma had originally been an arrangement by two parents. Then of course there were the circumstances of our own marriage, which was compulsory on me due to my people's traditions, but I was not about to undermine her arguments by stating this aloud.

"This is madness!" the short one called Epite turned to his Prince and said, "Sire, we cannot allow this woman to dictate to us the policies of…"

"Enough!" Kirin declared, "Understand that Kirin will permit no harm to come to his bride! We must accept the humiliation of humbling ourselves before our bride rather than to jeopardize her safety."

"But sire…!" Bishimontan started to protest.

"Kirin has spoken," the prince declared as he quelled the discontentment of his retainers, "Just tell us what we may do to deter you from this rash course of action."

"First," Nabiki said, "We need a way of getting back to our place, so turn this blimp around and take us to dry land. Second, I want your word that neither you nor any of your people will try and make a move to stop us…"

"The word of Kirin is beyond question," the prince declared in such a way that even I was compelled to believe that he actually meant it, which made him a far sight better than many of the princes whom I have ever heard about in legend.

"Third," Nabiki continued, "I want you to call off this engagement nonsense. I belong to Ranma and Shampoo, nobody else has a claim on me. I won't be bullied into going along with any other type of arrangement…"

"There we have a problem," the prince declared reluctantly, "It is not Kirin's wish that you be compelled to do anything that is contrary to your nature, but Kirin is bound by the laws of Nekonron, and even a prince cannot go against the sacred dictates of the Gods."

"Then say goodbye to me and your precious cargo," I saw Nabiki's hands tense on the lever while simultaneously noticing several of Kirin's henchmen tensing to strike, which also caught the eye of Miss Hinako, who had her coin out and ready, even as I stood tensely and waited to act in the defense of my Nabiki.

It is always difficult to say what the outcome will be in such a standoff. I could see the prince was struggling to make a difficult decision, even as his underlings all looked as if the only thing holding them back was their prince's displeasure. Even I did not know if Nabiki would actually pull the lever or not, and I very much doubt if my wife knew either, though I was prepared to do whatever was necessary to protect her life, and the life of my baby.

It is fortuitous, therefore, that our impasse was broken when a voice called out, "Are we interrupting anything important?"

I turned as I heard Hinako-sensei gasp, followed by her coin hitting the deck, in time to see our homeroom teacher stare in amazement at the younger version of the ancient pervert. Happosai was flanked by a certain redhead whom I once had chased the length and breadth of China, so my own reaction was not far behind that of my teacher's. Only the fact that there were enemies on my flank prevented me from rushing up to glomp that beloved face that I knew and cherished so well, but my spirit soured to know that my Airen had come for us after all. In spite of my earlier words to Nabiki even I had been frightened that the fall might have rendered Ranma incapable of attempting another rescue.

"Ranma?" I heard Nabiki whisper the name as if not truly daring to believe it, and I saw out of the corner of my eye the love and light return to her beautiful eyes, as if she, too, had not dared to believe in this reunion.

"Ranma?" I heard the prince said and I could almost feel him frowning in confusion, "But he is dead…"

"Hah, shows how much you know," Ranma smiled with that arrogant smile that was as much a promise that someone's hindquarters were about to receive a foot-launch, "You didn't think you'd get rid of my that easily?"

"Ah…" I heard Nabiki hesitate, then she self-corrected, "Ranko…where is Ranma, is he with you?"

"Huh?" I saw the confusion in Ranma's eyes as she clearly did not make the connection, "But I'm right…"

"Aiyaa!" I spoke up to buy my husband time to-as Nabiki would put it-get with the program, "It is good to see Ranma-sister again, it means that our airen on way to help this one and her co-wife?"

"Er…are you two feeling okay?" Ranma asked, and this time even I was sorely tempted to give her a swat to get her brain jump-started.

"You called this one Ranko," the prince finally made the connection that we were hoping he would make, "She is the redheaded outsider who defeated you? She must be very skilled, and brave to risk confronting Kirin in such a manner."

"Stuff it out your ears, you pompous Lech!" Ranma snapped, "You give Nabiki back right now or I'm gonna make you wish you never even heard the name of Saotome!"

"So far Kirin has yet to be impressed," the Prince replied, "Your cousin is fated to be Kirin's bride, though so far he seems to have run into some difficulty obtaining her cooperation."

"Damned right she won't cooperate!" Ranma declared as she shook a fist in his direction, "There ain't no way she's gonna become your wife, and if you try to force her I'll bust your head wide open!"

"I see," the Prince mused, "You are as rough-hewn and boastful as your brother, but do your skills match up to those of Kirin's."

"We won't know until we try, will we?" Ranma had a confident smirk on her face as she assumed a fighting crouch, "I'm a lot better than before, as I'm about to show you!"

"Ranma!" Nabiki tried to get our husband-wife's attention, but I could see the warrior fire in Ranma's blue eyes as she launched an attack upon Kirin using a modified form of the Chestnut fist. To our surprise she actually forced the Prince back two steps before he managed to rally his guard and deflect any further forward movement.

"You are indeed skilled," Kirin appraised, "And much faster than your brother, but you still make the same lamentable mistakes!"

And with that he penetrated Ranma's guard with three good hits, the third picking my husband-wife up and nearly hurtling her out through the open hatch way…except for a strong arm that moved to intercept her.

"I've got you, Ranma," Ryoga declared as he and Akane appeared through the open space, my Apprentice folding her wings in order to better maneuver within the confines of the chamber, "Shame on you trying to hog all the action."

"You again?" Kirin sounded amazed, "But you and the others…"

"No thanks to you!" Akane glared angrily before looking towards my wife, "Are you all right, Nabiki?"

"I'm fine, Sis," Nabiki smiled, "Nice rescue by the way, Ryo-chan."

"Don't mention it," the Lost One had on a nasty smile as he maintained his grip on Ranma, "Just looking out for my kid sister's welfare…"

"WHAT?" Ranma started to protest as she fought to free herself from Ryoga's embrace.

"That's right," Ryoga continued to grin, "It's an older brother's duty to look after a sister. You wouldn't want father to get mad at me, would you?"

"You-you, I'll get you for this, Ryoga!" Ranma all but sputtered.

"You are her brother?" Kirin asked, "But that would make you…"

"Yes," Ryoga let go of Ranma and turned to confront the Prince, "Though it's nothing I'd boast about, Ranma and I are brothers…his older brother, to be exact, and that makes me as much your enemy as his."

"I see," the Prince declared, "So it is not just your brother but his entire clan that is now out to settle accounts with Kirin."

"Don't forget my family!" Akane balled her fists, "You stole my sister out of my house, and there's no way you're getting away with that!"

"To say nothing about preventing the two branches of my family from reuniting," Happosai turned away from the grateful embrace of Hinako, his face covered with her lipstick, which undermined the gravity of his declaration, "I'm an easy-going fellow, but for that, and for upsetting my Hinako-chan, you're definitely going down."

"Thanks guys," Ranma said with more composure as she regained her bearings, "But I can still take this creep on by myself. There's no way I'm letting you get away with this, Horse-face!"

"Your manners are as crude as your speech, woman," the Prince's nostrils flared though he steadfastly remained unruffled, "And why should Kirin tolerate such insolence?"

"Because she's not your fiancée, she MINE!" Ranma hooked a thumb at herself, "Nabiki's my iinazuke, and anybody tries to get in the way of that, I'll kill them!"

"Your…fiancée?" the Prince's confusion redoubled, "But…you are a woman."

"I…huh?" Ranma faltered for a moment, glanced down at herself and said, "Oh…uh…yeah, I kinda forgot…"

Nabiki heaved a weary sigh at that and said, "You baka…" though I could tell she meant it with deep affection.

That was when others made their appearance through the open hatchway, Ukyo, Makoto and Kodachi, each looking ready to back us up, though Kuonji was-of course-currently without her trademark weapon.

"Are we too late?" Ukyo asked, "We didn't miss the party?"

"Looks like it's still going on, Senpai," Makoto-once more in her Sailor Suited identity-declared as she helped the now-male chef regain her footing.

"It simply would not do for royalty to start such an auspicious affair without waiting for the illustrious Kuno Kodachi to arrive," said that crazy maniac girl who ravishes my beloved's older sister, producing a pair of black fans instead of her usual ribbon, "Now that I am here the festivities can truly begin in earnest."

"You people are more persistent than an infestation of cockroaches," Epite declared darkly.

"Indeed," the prince himself replied, "But one is forced, however reluctantly, to acknowledge such persistence."

"Let us deal with these cretins, Master!" Bishimontan growled as he leveled his weapon.

"I'd like to see you try, Creep," Ukyo stood ready, if barehanded.

"Don't worry, Senpai," Makoto made a double-hand gesture and I saw what looked like a miniature antennae project upward from her tiara, "I think we're far enough from the gas that I can risk a little low-voltage lightning against these suckers!"

"I'm just itching to bust some heads here," Ryoga cracked his knuckles.

"My, you are persistent," Mon Mon declared, "Five fools ready to throw their lives away against the mighty Lord Kirin."

"Don't be too sure of that," Happosai moved a short step away from Hinako, "You haven't seen what I can do yet. You youngsters have no idea who you're dealing with."

"Happy-sama and I stand together!" Hinako declared as she pulled out another one of her coins, this time a fifty-yen piece.

"That's assuming that we'll let you," Daihotsuke declared.

"Which of course we won't," agreed his brother, Daikotsuke (and yes, these two did remind me a little too much of my own sisters).

"Everybody," Nabiki called out, "Chill out and calm down! I've got this situation right in hand, right Prince?"

"Except for one small detail," Lord Kirin pointed out, "If you pull the lever now you will not just be condemning yourself to the sea but your friends and family as well. Are you truly prepared to risk that?"

"Ah…huh?" Nabiki stared at the lever, and then she released it as if it had just turned into a cobra.

"It would seem your bargaining is at an end, woman," Epite smiled as he leveled his fishing rod and the other Lucky Gods moved into combat positions.

"No one move unless Kirin gives the command," the prince held up his rice bowl, "Tendo Nabiki, your courage and loyalty to the one named Ranma has earned his respect, but Kirin is not the master of his own fate. Were it Kirin's place he would accommodate your wishes, but to do so would be to go against tradition, nor does Kirin find the concept of losing you much to his liking. You have the air of such novelty about you, and there is much that Kirin thinks that he could learn if you but give him the chance to get to know him better."

"Why you-!" Ranma took a step forward, only to find his way was still blocked by Ryoga.

"I don't like it either," Ryoga said tensely, "But if we start fighting in here someone's bound to be hurt, and that's probably Nabiki."

"He's right, Ranchan," Ukyo declared, "The odds aren't looking too good for us right now. If only I had my spatula…"

"This one knows where it is," I revealed, drawing everyone's attention as I smiled, "This one borrowed it during the previous fight and left it in a very good place."

"You what?" Kuonji looked at me in confusion, "Where is it, Sugar? Don't keep me in suspense!"

"It is very easy to find," I replied, "This one threw it into the balloon that holds this ship aloft. It tore a small hole through which gas has been escaping for the past two hours. That is why this ship has been drifting so much lower towards the water."

"You what?" Ukyo batted his eyes in dismay, his reaction very similar to that of Lord Kirin and his retainers.

"No wonder," Ranma grinned, "Nice going, Shampoo! That's using the old noodle!"

I allowed myself to bask in the glow of his approval, though using Kuonji's weapon had been a gamble that had caused me to take a blow from Mon Mon. It was one reason that I had not considered invoking Amazon law against her, the other being that I felt a twinge of sympathy for her, knowing well what it is like to be bound by traditions with no real conception of their limitations.

"Then that is why we have been having so much difficulty maintaining altitude," Daihotsuke declared.

"We have been emptying out ballast to no avail," echoed Daikotsuke, and I wonder how those two managed to coordinate their thoughts so precisely? Then again, I've never been able to figure that out with Ling-Ling and Lung-Lung either!

"But if we lose too much altitude," Bishimontan declared, "We'll eventually crash into the water!"

"What have you done, Woman?" Epite glared at me, "If we cannot maintain altitude we will not be able to find the gateway to Nekonron!"

"Then there is no time to lose," Kirin turned to his underlings, "Have men sent up into the riggings to patch that hole and recover that weapon! We will release our emergency stores of gas to stabilize our flight path. Perhaps there is still time for us to recover our lost bearings."

"Good," Nabiki said, "You do that, we're leaving."

"I'm afraid not," Mon Mon stepped forward, "For good or ill, you are coming with us. It is the will of our master and the laws of Nekonron."

"I've had it with your stupid laws-!" Ranma started to declare when Happosai darted forward, throwing himself (with typical aim) at the full-chested Royal Courtesan.

"SWEETO!" he cried happily, rubbing his face against her bosoms.

"What?" the pale haired girl cried, fighting against his glomp, "Let go of me-!"

"Happy-Sama!" Hinako flared as she aimed her coin in his direction.

With great effort the Courtesan-priestess managed to pry a bare food up against Happosai's chest and flung him backward, albeit her aim was a little off as his backside collided with the lever. All at once the floor beneath us lurched as the loading platform began to swing open, creating a vertical incline beneath our feet before any of us had a chance to brace for our sudden loss of traction.

The jars of pickles that my wife and I had gathered so painstakingly with Miss Hinako's assistance went tumbling out into space, as did most of our allies, with the sole exception of Nabiki and me. Kirin was the cause for my wife's last-minute rescue, having leaped forward to catch her before she could fall with the others, while Mon Mon reacted with incredible speed to whip out her musical instrument, and with a single quick note she sent cat-string chords out to ensnare me before I had even begun falling. I was most surprised that she would react this way to save me, but then I saw the dark gleam in her eyes and realized that her reasons were anything but altruistic.

As for Kirin himself, the moment he wrapped his arms around Nabiki, Epite's fishing line snared the both of them and held them back from falling. We dangled there under the sloping platform with me unable to free my arms to come to my wife's assistance, while Nabiki herself was looking at Kirin as if too stunned to think properly. Far below I saw the dark ocean receive the pickle jars while there was no sign at all of our friends and kinfolk. I was about to call out the name foremost in my concerns when I heard a grunting from just below us and turned in time to see Ranma, who had somehow managed to grip the edge of the platform and was pulling herself up with considerable effort.

"Airen!" I called down, gratified beyond words to see that she had once again managed to defy the odds, though I should have known from my own experiences just how hard it was to kill a Saotome."

"Just…hang on…you two…" Ranma grated, "I'm coming…to get you!"

"Incredible," Kirin remarked, "Your will to live is most extraordinary. But you have come to the end of the line if you still mean to take Nabiki from Kirin."

"You just wait…bastard," Ranma fought hard for every few inches of platform, "You won't beat me…nothing stops a Saotome!"

"We shall see," Kirin freed one arm and held up his chop-sticks, "It is against Kirin's wishes to vanquish such a valiant foe, but you leave me no alternative. Desist now and Kirin will spare your life."

"No way," Ranma growled through gritted teeth, though there was no room for her to dodge should Kirin launch an attack using his chopsticks, "I'd sooner die…than let you have…Nabiki…"

"Promise me you won't hurt them?"

"Huh?" both Ranma and I said together, turning dismayed looks upon Nabiki.

"What was that?" Kirin asked in confusion.

"Promise me you won't let either of them be hurt," Nabiki told him, "If you spare their lives…I'll…I'll do whatever you want."

Kirin blinked his eyes at this and said, "You will surrender to Lord Kirin?"

"If I must," I could see Nabiki press her lips together, and I can only guess how bitter the words were as they left her mouth.

"And you will agree to become his wife?" Kirin persisted.

"I…I…I…" Nabiki swallowed, "If that's what it takes…then all right."

"Nabiki?" I heard the shock and confusion in Ranma's voice carry with it my own dismayed reactions.

"It's not because I want to!" Nabiki called down, "But if this keeps up then you're both going to get killed! I-I can't have that…I won't let it happen!"

"This is not the way that Kirin wishes it to be," the Prince said sadly, "But if this is your resolve…do I have your word you will make no further efforts to resist Kirin?"

"Yes," Nabiki swallowed and added, "I'll give you my word…as a Tendo."

"Then Kirin will honor your courage," Kirin replied, "The women will be spared. Kirin has no stomach for further needless waste of life, and if you agree to be his bride, then there will be no further need for conflict."

"Nabiki," I could hear Ranma's pain and saw tears flowing from her eyes, "I thought you had more faith in me than this…"

"I do…you baka!" Nabiki shot down, "But if it comes down to a choice of seeing the both of you get hurt or killed…"

"No way," I saw Ranma's resolve hardened, "I won't accept this! This ain't over yet, you hear me?"

"What Kirin hears is empty threats from one who has already lost," Kirin said, "Go and tell the rest of your clan…those who have survived the fall…that they need struggle no more to waste their lives in further attempts at a rescue. Tendo Nabiki has made her decision, now we must all live with the consequences of that choice."

"The hell you say!" Ranma declared, giving me a sober look before adding, "You hang on, you here me, Sham-chan? I'm gonna come for the both of you, and nobody, prince or what-not, is gonna get in my way!"

And with that she just let go and fell off the platform, stunning both me and Nabiki as she vanished into the night, leaving us both to wonder at the significance of that singular declaration…

Peorth sighed as she hovered unseen in the distance, watching as Saotome performed a near-impossible feat of acrobatic diving, bringing herself to within reach of the rope that still dangled from the back end of the sky ship, only to find that the rest of her party had somehow "miraculously" managed to catch it before her.

"This one's a little too Deus Ex Machina for my liking," she murmured aloud as she watched Akane glide in circles around the others, "A pretty speech, by the way. That boy does know how to make a dramatic exit."

"He is starting to come into his own birthright," the ghostly Astral image of Lotion remarked, "The next time he confronts Kirin will be the most decisive moment of his still young existence."

"Perhaps so," Peorth mused, "I rather like the way Nabiki demonstrated a capacity for self-sacrifice, and Akane is just learning to tap into her own birthright. The one I hope will not be put in jeopardy is Kasumi…should that happen…"

"Yes," Lotion nodded grimly, "No telling what may happen should the seals break down and her dormant memories come rising to the surface. The battle nears a critical juncture, and the final outcome will be determine in Nekonron, as I feared from the onset."

"That's the way destiny works, Cheri," Peorth shrugged, "A pity the loss of those pickle jars should provide just enough ballast for Kirin's people to right their air ship. A nice tactic by the Amazon attempting to slow them down that way, but of limited effectiveness in the long run."

"You can't fault the child for trying," Lotion noted.

"Indeed, I do not," Peorth replied, "More and more I grow impressed with these young people. So many interesting twists and turns to the plot. I can well understand why you find them a source of such rich amusement."

"They are my wards," Lotion said, "They are the future itself. What is done here is for the greater good of their destiny, but should they again have need of one or both of us…"

"Quite so," Peorth stretched her arms and flexed her hands together to lightly unkink her own knuckles, "I'm looking forward to the exercise. This business about playing 'Fairy God Mother' is quite a lot of fun when you get down to it, and I'm only just getting started."

"On to Nekonron then," Lotion noted briefly before her spirit flowed back to her waiting flesh, and her ancient body drew breath once again, knowing that nothing less than the very shape of the future itself hung in the balance…


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