Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Urusei Yatsura Fan Fiction / Sister Princess Fan Fiction ❯ Lonely Souls ❯ The Ninth Part, C Side - New Families ( Chapter 20 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
"Hinako-chan, Aria doesn't like this place."

"Hina doesn't like it too much, either, Aria-chan," Hinako grunted as the two young girls proceeded deeper into the Crystal Palace.

It had been over a half-hour since Ataru's youngest sisters had entered the maze. As they pressed on for the Genesis Wand of Parah, Hinako and Aria had first nearly been sliced and diced like hunks of tofu facing Shirayuki's knives. Next, they had to take a "leap of faith" over a nearly bottomless chasm -- which actually turned out to have an invisible bridge spanning it. Then, they nearly were run over by a giant stone ball. They soon found themselves facing a storm of arrows shot with the same accuracy Haruka demonstrated on the archery range. They then nearly had ANOTHER bridge over another chasm -- or was it the same one?! -- fall to pieces under their feet...! If it hadn't been for the Staff of Gihan or the girls' own spry natures, who knew WHAT might have happened.

"Hina hopes we can find Tsue-san soon..."

***We have arrived,*** the Staff announced.

"Eh?!" Hinako stopped, looking up to see THE SCEPTRE ROOM written on a wooden scroll over a doorway. "Yay!!! We found Tsue-san!! C'mon, Aria-chan!!" she beckoned as she grabbed her sister's hand, and then Hinako quickly yanked her inside.

They walked in, and then they stopped on hearing something *whoosh!* past their backs. Spinning around, Hinako and Aria blinked on seeing the HUGE boxing glove on a spring embedded into the opposite wall, it having fired out of a trap door right next to the entrance to the Sceptre Room. Sweat drops appeared on their heads as they realized how close they came to experiencing what poor Ranma had to deal with from Tendou Akane before she had met Ataru. "Hina hopes we don't have to go through all that when we leave," Hinako muttered.

"Aria hopes so, too," Aria said as she turned around, and then she gushed, "Ah!! Tsue-san!"

Hinako looked. The Genesis Wand -- the Sceptre of Lecasur to Vosians -- appeared to the two Terran girls to be nothing more than an emergency flashlight mated to a reddish ruby focusing crystal shaped like a fat, squat propane gas tank. The crystal itself was dark, its glassy surface stained with burn marks and marred with cracks. "Tsue-san doesn't look well," Hinako muttered. "Not well at all..."

***It's worse than that, Hinako.***

"What do you mean, Bou-san?!"

***While the scarring on the focusing crystal can be mended, the control mechanism is damaged beyond any hope of repair,*** the Staff reported. ***From what I can sense of the Genesis Wand, it appears to have been subjected to quite a considerable amount of tampering, both sometime after it was first created and much more recently. About two thousand years ago, I would estimate.***

"Why would they want to do that, Bou-san?!"

***I can't explain. None the less, if Aria is to be able to make use of the Genesis Wand, a new control mechanism is required.***

"How can we do that, Bou-san...?!"

The Staff's focusing crystal flared. Hinako and Aria squinted as a bolt of energy lashed into the wall near where the Genesis Wand had been placed. A coccoon-like ball of energy soon drifted away from the impact point to stop in front of Aria's face. The young Parisian's hands instinctively came up as the coccoon lowered, it then fading to reveal a glittering Olympic torch-like device lined with French fleurs-de-lis and hummingbird-sized wings, all done in gold and enamel ivory. "Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaii!!" both girls gasped.

***Is this sufficient for you, Aria?***

Aria's cheeks burned brightly as she held the Genesis Wand's would-be control mechanism close to her. "Oh, it's so beautiful!!" she gushed, and then she turned her attention to the old Wand. "Does Aria have to put...?"


"Hai, Aria understands."

Aria handed the new control mechanism to Hinako, and then she reached over to pick up the Genesis Wand...

...and then both girls screamed as they dropped through a hatch in the floor!

* * *

"Lonely Souls"
By Fred Herriot
pyeknu@hotmail.com OR fherriot@yahoo.com
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Based on "Urusei Yatsura" and "Ranma 1/2" created by Takahashi Rumiko; and "Sister Princess," created by Tenhiro Naoto and Kimino Sakurako. This story is set after the end of the "UY" and "Ranma" manga series.
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NOTE: The writer's notes are at the end of the "A" Side of the Prologue.

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"Chigaiko-san, wait!! Don't..."

The door slammed shut in Shinobu's face. "...go!" Ataru's former girlfriend finished in a stunned squeak, she staggering back from the main doors of the old shrine in shock. She then gasped as Minako's hands grasped her shoulders to steady her. Silence fell as Shinobu gazed in confusion at the closed doors, and then she shuddered as tears began to spill down her cheeks. "Why...?"

"Is it not obvious, Shinobu?" Negako asked from the coffee table. "She hates you. ALL of you."

Her eyes then raked over Ryuunosuke and Sakiko. Feeling that steely gaze from the ninjitsu grandmistress, the tomboy and the Nendo-kata both had the sense to look sheepish. Sitting beside Naho, Misaki Shiina then perked. "Negako-sama?"

Negako was quick to sense what the raven-haired Avalonian had in mind. "Go, Shiina. You, too, Rinko."

"Hai!" Shiina and Yusa Rinko replied as both stood to head out.

Everyone else remained silent as the former brothel house girls exited the Moroboshi home in pursuit of Inu Chigaiko. Once the door closed behind Rinko, Shinobu screamed out as the strength in her legs go. Minako was there for her right away, she boosting her would-be bond-mate into her arms and carrying her back to the coffee table. Sitting her down beside Naho, Minako drew Shinobu protectively into her arms to allow the latter to cry. Staring at her best friend, Ryuunosuke grimaced, and then she turned to Negako. "Why?"

Negako returned her look. "A curse. Placed not specifically on Chigaiko, though. She was only but its latest victim."

"What sort of curse, Negako-san?" Sakiko wondered. "I mean, I understand where Chigaiko-san is coming from. My behaviour as Ran could have certainly been seen as monstrous, especially when it came to Darling. And it really surprises me these days reflecting on that time that so few at the school ever really picked up on it. But..." She paused. "What curse are you talking about, Negako-san?"

Negako turned to Shinobu, who had started to recover herself. "Shinobu, do you remember the Red Cloak?"

The latter blinked surprisedly before she reached up to wipe her eyes. "Him? What about him, Negako-san?"

"Who's the Red Cloak?" Ryuunosuke asked.

"Oh, this happened just after Lum started attending school full-time," Shinobu replied. "He was this creepy old guy who dressed up in a shrunken tuxedo that came to a school dance one day. Supposedly, he was a student at Tomobiki High in the past who loved to pop out of nowhere to scare people all the time. He always said he loved to 'haunt' the place, don't ask me why." A pause. "Still..."



"Perception," Negako stated. "To most of the students at Tomobiki High School at the time he attended there, the Red Cloak -- his real name is Hirota Matabei -- was a frightening annoyance. Someone who forced up his victim's blood-pressure and heart rate, but nothing more than that. However, all it takes at times is for just ONE person to interpret things in a very radical way..."

"And what was just a pain in the ass becomes a dire threat. Is that what you're sayin'?" Ryuunosuke asked.

"Exactly. One of Matabei's victims was a would-be sorceress named Ezakiya Nyooko. She was SO frightened by the one time she encountered Matabei that she decided to do something quite drastic about it. She crafted a curse which would not attack Matabei himself. But attack the one person who cared for Matabei above all else. That turned out to be his then-girlfriend, Ayugai Hoshiyo."

"What happened, Negako-oneechan?" Ten, he seated beside a dozing Michael, wondered.

"The spell affected its target this way, Ten: it made everyone else at the school, staff and students alike, forget that Hoshiyo ever existed." A wry smile crossed Negako's face. "Chigaiko could easily explain to you all its effects. Only Matabei remembered her because he was infatuated with her. And that triggered something I believe Nyooko did not intend to happen."

Here, the grandmistress paused before her eyes narrowed. "Humans are a social species. People need to interact with other people on a regular basis to maintain a proper level of emotional health. But when one is 'deliberately' isolated from their peers -- as Nyooko's spell ultimately forced on Hoshiyo -- that interaction ceases and one's emotional health begins to degrade. In the most traumatic cases, such a degradation FATALLY affects one's physical health." A pause. "Because of a condition she inherited from her mother, Hoshiyo died of congestive heart failure shortly after taking the college entrance examination."

Another pause, and then Negako added, "And only Matabei attended the funeral beyond Hoshiyo's immediate relatives."

"Damn!" Ryuunosuke hissed.

"How could the spell've affected Chigaiko-san, then?" Shinobu wondered.

"Last year was not the only time that Matabei came back to Tomobiki High School to make people remember his activites as the Red Cloak," Negako replied. "There were three other times between his graduating and last year. Each time, the spell -- which Nyooko lashed onto the mana node under Tomobiki to ensure it would remain active as long as Matabei lived -- triggered. But there was a problem: Matabei was not a student at Tomobiki High School. So the spell sought out someone like Matabei. Someone who was universally loathed and hated, for whatever reason, by the student body at Tomobiki High School. And in every time, there was someone, always of the opposite sex, who cared for the one the spell ultimately targetted. And every time it happened, someone suffered for something she was never responsible for."

Shinobu breathed out. "Jesu Cristo..."

"So why didn't the spell attack Lum, then?" Ryuunosuke asked. "I could guess that after this jerk showed up, the damned thing locked onta your brother. Why didn't this spell go after her instead of Chigaiko-san, for Heaven's sake?"

"Was it because Lum-chan herself was so popular?" Sakiko asked.

"It was," Negako replied. "Concerning Ataru, there were three potential targets for the spell: Redet Lum, Miyake Shinobu and Inu Chigaiko. Lum was not affected because she was an alien, plus her popularity among her schoolmates has to be factored into it. That also ultimately saved you, Shinobu; you were -- and still are, I should add -- quite popular among your schoolmates. So..."

"It attacked the target of least resistance," Naho finished for her "daughter."

"Indeed it did," Negako confirmed with a nod. "Chigaiko was succumbing to leukaemia -- a condition she inherited from her father -- when she transferred out of Tomobiki High. I was able to alter her body's chi pattern so that it could resist the aftereffects of Nyooko's spell. And with Ataru himself having been removed from Tomobiki High School, the spell has once more gone inactive." A pause. "For now."

"Until this asshole shows up again and accidentally 'helps' get someone else affected, right?" Ryuunosuke wondered.


"Or else, we have to hope that fool finally dies so the spell will go away," Naho added.

Negako nodded. "That, too, would be effective."

"Has this jerk ever known about what that girl did to him and his girlfriend?" Minako wondered.

"No, he does not. In fact, I believe that Matabei would be quite horrified to learn what Nyooko did."

"Is this witch still alive?" Ryuunosuke asked.

"No, she died..." A knock was then heard. "Ah, they are here," Negako said as she stood up to answer it.

The door opened seconds later to reveal three people. One was a girl about Karen's age, she possessing grey eyes and caramel hair down to the middle of her back. She was dressed in casual clothes which indicated she came from a family possessing some wealth. Gazing at her, Minako and Sakiko were quick to sense the familiar empathic echo that could only mark the other woman as an Avalonian.

Behind her came a boy Ryuunosuke's age. In fact, on seeing him, everyone in the room was taken aback at how closely he resembled Tomobiki High School's most well-known tomboy. Same shade of black hair cut short at the small of the neck, same deep brown eyes, even the same bishoonen looks that Ryuunosuke had come to replicate so well thanks to her own upbringing. In fact, he was dressed pretty much as she was at that time: casual jeans and a pullover sweatshirt over a T-shirt, worn running shoes on his feet.

Beside him was a person about a year younger than he, a person many would mistake on first meeting as a lovely young woman who often preferred slacks and button blouses over dresses. But that mistake would instantly be corrected when people took notice of the more visible Adam's apple on his neck, though that was currently being discretely covered by an ascot. And like his older companion and like Ryuunosuke, the young boy possessed black hair (grown to the waist and tied off in a high ponytail with a colourful ribbon) and brown eyes.

"What the hell...?" Ryuunosuke stammered as she slowly staggered to her feet.

Silence fell as the newcomers gazed on her. Then, Ryuunosuke's twin whispered, "Kaiko-chan...?"

Ryuunosuke blinked. "Eh?! Who're you talkin' about...?!"

"That is your real name."

The tomboy swung on Negako. "SAY WHAT?!!"

"The name given to you on your family register, Ryuunosuke." The grandmistress then waved to the tomboy's twin. "This person is the one who actually should possess the name 'Fujinami Ryuunosuke.' You, on the other hand, were named 'Fujinami Kaiko.' Unfortunately, due mostly to the accident that befell your mother and him when you and he were just six months old, that changed."

"I go by 'Ienari Tatsumi' these days," the boy then spoke up. He then waved to the youngest of the newcomers. "Oh, this here's our kid brother, Ienari Miri. Don't mind the clothes; that's how Miri-chan was raised by Mom."

"You, too, Tatsu-chan," the Avalonian beside Tatsumi -- Negako knew her as Nito Kanami; she was yet another of the group of former prostitutes Yamashina Mizuho had brought from Phentax Three to Earth six years before -- purred into her boyfriend's ear.

"Naka...!" Tatsumi hissed; Kanami's Niphentaxian name was Naka dai-Tythya.

Ryuunosuke blinked, and then her face began to sallow. "No...! Ya don't mean...? No..."

"It's not as bad as it looks, Onee-chan!" Miri declared in a very strong falsetto voice.

The tomboy acked as she took a fearful step back from Miri. Sensing what was currently storming through her beloved's heart on seeing something that directly attacked Ryuunosuke's long-held opinions concerning her mother Masako, Sakiko quickly got to her feet and walked over to embrace her lover from behind. Taking note of Tatsumi's and Miri's looks, plus the latter's clothing, Shinobu then breathed out.

"Here we go again," she muttered...

* * *


"Hai, Aria-chan?"

"Aria wants to hit baka-Keeper-san for doing this to us!"

"Hai!" A pause. "Aria-chan?"


"Hina wants to hit him, too! Ojii-san no baka!!"

Both girls moaned as they slowly rolled into a sitting position, they reaching for their heads to rub the spots where they had smacked into the ground after falling through the tunnel from the Sceptre Room to where they currently were, somewhere on the grounds surrounding the Crystal Palace. Looking around, Hinako breathed out as she reached for the Staff of Gihan. "Bou-san, are you okay?"

***I'm quite fine, Hinako. And the bumps on yours and Aria's heads should go away soon enough.***

"Yokatta," the youngest of the sisters breathed out as she held the Staff close to her, and then she turned to see the Genesis Wand of Parah lying close to Aria, its replacement controlling rod right beside it. "Ah, great! We got Tsue-san, too!!"

Aria blinked, and then she looked down to see her own "magical" rod waiting for her. "Hai," the young Parisian said as she picked up the Genesis Wand, and then she reached down to pick up its new controlling rod. Gazing at one for a moment, and then the other, Aria then blinked. "What does Aria do now? Aria doesn't know how to make Tsue-san better!" Her lips then quivered. "Kusun..."

"Aria-sama!!! Hinako-sama!!!"

"Ah!!" Hinako cried out as she turned to watch three familiar people run up to them. "Mie-san! Makoto-san! Ayumu-chan!"

The Sagussans came to a stop beside the youngest of their *Daimon'cha's* sisters, all of them panting out in relief on seeing that neither Hinako or Aria were physically harmed, though the latter's dress had taken quite a beating thanks to the maze. "Oh, thank Buddha you're alright!" Mie breathed out as she knelt in front of Hinako, her hands reaching out to squeeze the latter's shoulders. "Was it bad?"

Hinako shook her head. "Nah, Mie-san, it was okay! Hina still wants to hit baka-Ojii-san for making that dumb maze in the first place, but..." She then giggled before gazing on Aria and the devices in her hand. "At least we got Tsue-san!"

Ayumu then walked over to give the Genesis Wand and its replacement mechanism a closer look. "Wow! Horan sure really beat this thing up, didn't he?" she mused as she took the Wand from Aria's hand to give it a detailed inspection. "Yeah, Parah was a real creep but..."

"Can we move the focusing crystal over?" Makoto asked. "If the old controlling rod's shot to Chaos and back..."

***It's possible, Makoto,*** the Staff then announced. ***However, given how much the controlling rod has rusted over the centuries, it will require a considerable demonstration of physical strength to properly dislodge the focusing crystal from its rod.***

Mie and Makoto gazed on Ayumu. The Navy master chief petty officer blinked, and then she nodded. "Okay!"

***There is a risk, though.***

Hinako moaned. "Hina was afraid Bou-san would say that!"

***I'm sorry, Hinako. However, if matters are taken care of as quickly as possible, the risk to Makoto should be minimalized.***

"You mean that Ayumu has to use all her power to get that thing out?" Mie asked.

***Most likely.***

Silence fell as everyone considered what the Staff had just stated. Makoto then took a deep breath. "Let's do it, then."

Everyone else jolted. "Makoto-san...!" Hinako gasped, her eyes tearing.

Makoto gazed fondly at the youngest of the sisters. "It's alright, Hinako-sama."

"But you're gonna...!"

"Die?" the *pirpirsiw'r* finished when Hinako had choked on that word. She then shook her head. "I've already died once, Hinako-sama. Death holds no secrets to me anymore. To any of us, in fact." A deep breath. "And besides, it was my fault that this whole trip was forced on you and Aria-sama in the first place. I should've known better than to fly an unshielded Gladiator into the warp-wake of your brother's ship. We would've met up with all of you sooner or later, but when I sensed Mie was with you all..."

She stared apologetically at her lover. Mie blinked, her own eyes tearing. "Makoto no baka..."

"Makoto-san..." Hinako sniffled.

"Ah!! Game winning auction wager!"

Hearing Ayumu say THAT, Hinako cheered. "Yay!!! Ayumu-chan's got an idea!!"

"Hai!" Ayumu confirmed with a nod, and then she pointed at the Staff. "Bou-san can put Makoto into suspended animation while I get Tsue-san fixed up for Aria-chan to use. It'll only have to do that for a couple minutes at the most..."

***A good idea, Ayumu,*** the Staff noted. ***But I must warn you that if you delay too long, the energies I transmit might actually come to harm Makoto in the long term. I do not believe that neither Mie or Hinako would desire that.***

"Fine! I'll work fast, then!" Ayumu vowed.

Everyone exchanged looks, and then Makoto sighed. "Okay, let's do it."

Hinako blinked, and then she nodded. "Uhn!"

* * *

"You shouldn't have run off like that, Tsuna!! You have no cause to barge into the Maidens' business!"

Sanba breathed out as she firmly forced Tsuna to sit on the grass near the Palace's main gates. Surrounding them were the other members of Varena's and Mujanba's expedition; they had approached the Palace as soon as the Maidens had raced off. Kanba had her scanner out as she did a sweep of the grounds. "The Palace's construction's really hazing out my scanner, Major," she reported. "I can't seem to detect where the Maidens went off to...! Wait!!" she then cried out as a new reading came up. "Damn, it's back again?!"

"What?" Varena asked.

"That high-spike energy reading and all that tachytron radiation! It seems to be eminating from the north side of the Palace."

"That's kilometres away from here!!" Mujanba declared, and then she jolted. "Wait..."

Everyone was quick to notice the captain's eyes glowing. "What is it, Mujanba?" Hinanba demanded.

"I just sensed the two young Terran girls!" the witch-hunter from Colony Nine said. "That way!!"

She pointed off to the north. Kanba swung her scanner around. "Confirmed! I'm picking up the life-readings of the two young Terrans," she declared. "And that energy source seems to come from something that's right alongside one of them!!"

"What could it be, then?!" Pamanba asked.

"Should we check it out?" Ryoonba wondered.

Mujanba shook her head. "No, we'll stay here for the time being."

"But, Captain...!" Ikura spoke up.

"No!" the captain snapped. "Remember, girls, we don't know much about ANYTHING concerning the Maidens! And we still have to prepare ourselves to get hold of the Sceptre. THAT comes first." A pause. "In fact, maybe we should move back to our ship and get ready to..."


Everyone stopped, they spinning around to gaze on Tsuna. "Tsuna, what's wrong?!" Sanba demanded.

The young *azhis'f* blinked as her eyes turned in the general direction of where Seikou Mie was. "Mama..."

"What's she talking about now?!" Kanba asked.

"Search me," Ryoonba muttered with a shake of her head...

* * *



"Okay, Hinako-chan, do it."

"Hai! Bou-san?"

***Commencing now.***

A bolt of energy lashed out from the Staff to wrap around Makoto's waist. The *pirpirsiw'r* cried out as her body began to lock up, an all-too familiar sense of cold overcoming her. Within a second, Makoto was totally coccooned inside a glowing energy sphere. Seeing THAT reminded both Mie and Ayumu too much of the cryosuspension chambers all the *Daishi'cha* had been stored in from the day Yoakenikkou had been taken from Vos by the Gatherer to the day -- shortly after Ataru's visit to their world -- when the *Daishi'cha* decided to get started with preliminary work on Stage Two of the Grand Design. As soon as all moment from the flightmistress ceased, Ayumu breathed out, "Okay!"

"Hurry, Ayumu-chan!" Hinako called out.

"Right!" the master chief replied as she wedged the Genesis Wand between her legs, then grasped both sides of the focusing crystal.

Aria shifted herself around to hold out the Wand's new controlling rod for Ayumu as Mie drew out her pistol and charged it...

* * *


The other hunters blinked. "Oh, damn! NOW what?!" Kanba muttered.

Sanba shook her head before she turned back to gaze worriedly at Tsuna...

* * *


Ayumu hoarsely grunted as her fingers pulled hard on the Genesis Wand's focusing crystal. There seemed to be some give from the ancient meson as it rubbed up against the hard limestone metal which composed the controlling rod. But twelve thousand years of drifting in airless space, followed by nearly two thousand years of being kept in the high humid climate of Vos' capital city, Lecashuto, had come to badly corrode the metal touching the meson crystal which once gave the Genesis Wand its fearsome power. Still, it seemed to give a little bit under Ayumu's relentless pull. But a "little bit" didn't go far enough when it came to getting the Wand active again.

To say anything of saving Makoto's life.

"Ayumu-chan, hurry!" Hinako cried out.

Ayumu gazed knowingly at her friend, and then she grabbed the Wand's focusing crystal again with her hands, she throwing all her strength into twisting the damned thing loose and getting it out. A series of *snaps!* then echoed from the Wand as the meson finally broke free from its prison, the movement shattering the top of the controlling rod along the way. With two complete twists, the crystal was pulled clear of its holder, it spinning out of Ayumu's hand to drop harmlessly on the ground beside Aria. "Yatta!!" Hinako screamed out.

***Proceed with haste, Ayumu!*** the Staff warned.

"Hai!!" Ayumu called out as she tossed the old controlling rod aside, and then she stopped as a deep yawn escaped her. "Oh, no..."

"Aaaah!!!" Hinako screamed. "Ayumu-chan, you can't go to bed now!!"

The Navy master chief gargled as the waves of nausea and fatigue which heralded another of her bouts of narcolepsy surged through her body. Seeing that Ayumu was about to literally fall asleep on her feet, Aria knelt down to pick up the focusing crystal. Following Ayumu's example, the young Parisian then wedged the new controlling rod between her legs, and then she poised the crystal over its new home. Setting it in, she then began to twist the crystal into the socket, she turning it in the same direction Ayumu had done with the old rod.

"The other way, Aria-chan!!" Mie advised her from nearby as her eyes locked in on the blood leaking from Makoto's left eye. "Hurry!!"

"Hai!" Aria replied as she turned the crystal the other way. Sure enough, it soon locked into place with a very sharp *click!*

"Yatta!!!" Hinako cheered again. "Now what, Bou-san!!"

***Energy is needed to bring the Wand on-line, Hinako!***

"Lemme do that..."


Everyone watched as Ayumu reached out with her hand to touch the Wand's crystal.

A second later, an Akira-like wave of energy exploded from that point to envelop the whole of the Crystal Palace!

* * *


Eyes locked on Chikage. "Chikage-chan, are you okay?" Sakuya asked from the central chair of the "Windrider."

The sorceress blinked as that powerful flash of energy warped through her, and then she sighed. "It's nothing."

The others on the bridge didn't notice the cryptic smile crossing Chikage's face as she relaxed in her chair...

* * *

"Where is Aria...?"

Aria blinked confusedly as a cloudy mist seemed to envelop her from all sides. She seemed to be floating in mid-air somewhere; her feet were not touching any sort of ground. She then perked as she felt the decorative buns some of her hair was tied into at the back of her head undo themselves. As the freed strands of platinum blonde cascaded down her back -- that added to the absence of any feeling from any other point on her body which could only originate from clothes -- it then dawned on the young Parisian that she was as naked as a swimmer at Saint-Tropez. "Aria is nude..." she muttered to herself before her face scrunched up in a sorrowful mask. "Kusun..."

Sparkles of light then began to to shower around her. In the proverbial blink of an eye, Aria found herself draped in the same model of jumpsuit Hinako had been wearing when they had come to the Planet of Shadows. Basic black with gold trim and a golden bird-like insignia on the chest, it came complete with the five wreath-of-laurel rank insignia on the lower arms which indicated the person was either Sagussa's current *Daite'cha* -- literally, that term meant "First Above All" -- or an immediate relative of same. Staring at her arms and hands, the young Parisian blinked several more times as her mind tried to absorb what was happening to her. "Aria's clothes..."

Around her, the mist began to fade into a hazy white background. As Aria began to notice finally what was happening to her immediate surroundings, something dark and humanoid-shape appeared before her. The young girl turned to look as the object before her seemed to drift out of shadows, revealing something she normally would see in a mirror after she had taken a nice, long bath. "Another Aria...?"

"Hey!! Aria-chan, are you okay?! Aria-chan!!"

Aria spun right to see two other people emerge from the haze. "Hinako-chan...!" A blink. "TWO Hinako-chans?!"

Hinako stopped before her sister, and then she turned right to see the entity -- she draped in the jumpsuit-and-cassock uniform the youngest of the sisters had seen the previous morning when she became the controller of the Staff of Gihan -- beside her. "Ah!! Bou-san!!"

Aria blinked again. "That is Bou-san? She looks like you, Hinako-chan!"

The Hinako-like manifestation of the Staff's sentience gazed knowingly at the young Parisian. ***It's alright, Aria,*** she spoke up, she moving her lips so as to not intimiate Aria by resorting to a pure-telepathic form of communication. ***Hinako doesn't mind.***

Aria took that in, and then she turned to gaze on the unmoving body bearing her face. "So this is...?"

"Hai! It's Tsue-san!!" Hinako finished for her, and then she drifted over to gaze intently at the face of the Aria-clone. "A-ri-ri?" the youngest of the sisters then said. "Is Tsue-san still asleep, Bou-san? She should be waking up now."

***Her reactivation time will be longer, Hinako,*** the Staff reported as she drifted over to stand beside the Aria-like manifestation of the Genesis Wand's sentience. ***Unlike myself, she has remained deactivated since the time she was sent drifting into space.***

Hinako took that in, and then she nodded. "Ah! Hina forgot! Bou-san was woken up by those baka-baka Niphentaxians who wound up hurting Onii-tama!" She then peered again into the Aria-clone's face. "Can Bou-san help wake Tsue-san up faster?!"

***Makoto is safe, Hinako,*** the Staff assured her. She then winked. ***But to better assauge Aria's sensibilities...***

She waved her hand. Sparkles of light showered over the Aria-clone, they leaving it behind draped in the same manner of jumpsuit the Staff seemed to prefer when she assumed humanoid form. "Ah!" Aria breathed out. "Now Tsue-san is like Bou-san."

***Not necessarily.***

"Eh? Aria doesn't understand..."

The Staff gazed on her. ***All you really need to understand is how different our basic functions are, Aria,*** she warned. ***If what I sensed from Mie, Makoto and Ayumu is true, I was created by Gihan-sama to be a simple offensive weapon of last resort.***

The youngest of the sisters blinked before she nodded. "Ah, Hina understands now! Bou-san was made to wreck things!"

***Succinctly put,*** the Staff replied before she waved to the Aria-clone. ***Tsue-san, however, was created to literally CREATE things. To bring Life into existence where Life had never existed before. However...***

"However?!" Hinako and Aria parroted in sync.

***However, Parah-sama, if what I sensed from Ayumu is true, wouldn't really have cared HOW he used Tsue-san.***

The young girls paused as they took the chance to absorb what had just been said, and then Hinako began to pale. "Bou-san means..." she then stuttered to a halt as the Staff gave her an acknowledging look. "Bou-san means that Parah guy actually used Tsue-san..."

***Where life already existed.***

"Aria doesn't understand..."

Hinako turned to her sister. "Aria-chan, you remember the second 'Star Trek' filk, don't you?"

A blink. "'Star Trek?'"

"Hai! When Kirk-teitoku, Spock-taisa and McCoy-sensei were talking about the Genesis Torpedo."

Another blink, and then Aria's eyes went wide. "Ah! Aria remembers now!!" She then frowned. "Kusun..."

***You can prevent Tsue-san from doing that, Aria.***

Aria perked. "Aria can?"

***Uh-huh! Just put your hands on her cheeks.***

Aria blinked a few more times, and then she nodded. "Uhn!"

She drifted over to place herself in front of the clone-like being bearing the sentience of the Staff's sister *Haijo-ju* prototype. Reaching out, Aria allowed her palms to gently press into the clone's cheeks. The clone's eyes then snapped open, revealing orbs that weren't the blue-purple of the young Parisian's eyes, but pitch-black streaked with thin lines of red. Seeing THAT, Aria nearly yanked her hands away from the clone. The Staff prevented that from happening. ***Don't, Aria. Tsue-san needs to fully accept you as...***


The voice that just spoke was like Aria's, but far more forceful in strength and tenor. The Staff pulled her hands away from Aria's arms as the Wand reached up with her own hands to gently grasp her new controller's. Aria blinked several times as her mind tried to absorb what just happened. She then blushed as the clone-like entity before her began to shower kisses all over Aria's knuckles. "Aaaaaah!!" Aria cried out as her cheeks reddened to the shade of ripe cherries. "Tsue-san is making Aria blush!! Stop that, Tsue-san!!! Kiss Bou-san!!"

A devilish grin then crossed the Wand's face, a sight that was far too ALIEN coming from a clone of Aria! ***As you wish!***

***HEY...!!!*** the Staff cried out before her lips got swamped. ***Umpth!!***

Hinako and Aria balked as they watched the Wand give the Staff the mother of all French kisses. "A-RI-RI?!!" Hinako cried out after shaking her head and blinking a few times to confirm that she was actually SEEING that. "Tsue-san just gave Bou-san a big-girl kiss!!!"

"Bou-san seems to like it very much," Aria helpfully noted.

Hinako groaned. "Aria-chan no baka!!"

Wrong thing to say, Hinako!

"Kusun!" Aria sobbed. "Hinako-chan screamed at Aria..."

The youngest of the sisters slumped in defeat. By then, the Wand and the Staff had pulled themselves away from the other, the latter's cheeks as red as Aria's had been when the former had been kissing her. ***I...!*** the sentience of Gihan's weapon sputtered in embarrassment as realization crossed her face. ***I didn't realize your programming went in THAT direction...***

***It does,*** the Wand slyly replied as she drifted back from the Staff. ***And poor Parah, the stupid* mei'aidoei*, never allowed himself to realize that, either!*** She then turned away from her sister *Haijo-ju,* a knowing smile crossing her face. ***I'm willing.***

The Staff's blush deepened to the "Don't Point That At MY Planet!" stage. ***I have to REALLY think about that!***

***Think quickly,*** the Wand coyly advised.

"Nani, nani?!" Hinako then spoke up. "What's Tsue-san talking about, Bou-san?!"

***Actually...*** the Staff began, and then she sighed. ***You're a little too young to understand that, Hinako.***

Hinako blinked a few times. "If you say so, Bou-san..."

The Wand then exhaled. ***In the meantime, I do believe you've reactivated me to save your friend, so...***

In a flash of light, all four faded from view...

* * *

Hinako's eyes then opened, she finding herself staring at the brownish sky which told her right away that she was still within the Planet of Shadows. Feeling the grass at her back, she grunted as she sat herself up, and then her vision was nearly taking up by a very familiar smiling face. "Konban wa, Hinako-chan! You feel a little better now?" Ayumu asked, her voice even perkier than usual.

Hinako blinked, and then she yawned before looking around. To her left was Aria, she dressed in the same type of jumpsuit Hinako was currently wearing. The young Parisian was asleep, lying on her side, a giddy smile plastered on her face. The Genesis Wand was cradled in her arms, its focusing crystal pulsing with energy. Nearby was what was left of the Genesis Wand's old controlling mechanism. To Hinako's right was the Staff of Gihan. Ahead of Hinako was Mie, Makoto in the latter's lap. The flightmistress was tightly clinging to her lover, muttering something which sounded like, "...gonna do that again! Never gonna do that again! Never gonna do that again! Never gonna...!"

Sighing, Hinako then rolled to her feet before she knelt down to pick up the Staff. "Hina's okay! What happened, Ayumu-chan?!"

"I'm not too sure," the Navy master chief confessed. "I fell asleep after that light burst from the Wand. I just woke up a few minutes ago. Mie and Makoto woke up around the same time. I don't know how long I was asleep."


* * *

"Is everyone alright?!"

"I'm still seeing nothing but spots!!"

"What in Lecasur's name WAS that, anyway?!"

"What can you scan, Kanba?!"

"I need to SEE the damned scanner first, Major! Sorry!!"

"Everyone, settle down and relax!"

Grunts and moans escaped the younger hunters as people reached up to their eyes to try to get them to work properly after they were nearly seared out of everyone's skulls by that weird energy wave that passed over them moments -- was it moments? -- before. Kneeling as she rubbed her eye sockets with the heels of her hands, Sanba took several deep breaths before she relaxed and concentrated. In an instant, her mind was able to lock in on the brainwave patterns of her fellow Vosians, plus the two young Terrans in the near distance. And...

"Oh, no!!" she gasped, bolting to her feet. "Tsuna!!! Get back here!!"

Sanba could only take three steps before she tripped over Pamanba, the impact sending them both face-first into the dirt!

* * *

"Mama!! Papa!!"

Mie jolted on hearing that familiar accent, and then she spun around to see an equally familiar girl in a lime-green jumpsuit, it complete with a kill-belt and a black cygnet insignia on the left breast, race toward them. "Ah, Mie! It's your daughter!!" Ayumu crooned.

Hinako jerked. "A-ri-ri?! Mie-san didn't say anything about being a mother, Ayumu-chan!"

Mie turned toward Hinako as she moved to explain what was really going on, but her voice was cut off when Tsuna landed on her back, she throwing her arms around the Gladiator pilot's neck. As Mie then moved to pry Tsuna off her back, Makoto shifted herself into a sitting position to give the young *azhis'f* hunter a visual and life-aura appraisal. Immediately sensing what had happened to Tsuna over her short yet tragic lifetime, the *pirpirsiw'r* could only grimace. Even if Makoto was something of a newborn in comparison to Mie, the former could also readily claim to wanting to get on with her motherly duties for the Grand Design as expeditiously as possible. Drawing herself back to her feet, Makoto walked over to gently embrace Tsuna around her waist. Sensing that extra hug from behind, the young girl began to shudder as she let Mie go, she swinging around to wrap her arms around Makoto. "Papa!!" she sobbed as she buried her face into Makoto's jumpsuit.

Mie grunted her thanks as she took several deep breaths before standing up. By then, Aria had started to awaken, she rolling into a sitting position as she stretched her arms. "Aria feels much better now," she stated before her eyes fell on Tsuna. "Eh?"

***Oh, my, my, my!*** the Genesis Wand's voice echoed in everyone's head. ***What have we here?!***

A tendril of energy snaked out of the Wand's focusing crystal to touch Tsuna's arm. The hunter gasped as that contact flooded her body with warmth, she pulling away from Makoto as her eyes locked in on the device in Aria's hands. "What's Tsue-san doing?" Hinako asked.

"Scanning her, I think," Ayumu replied.

***Oh, dear...***

"What is it, Tsue-san...?"

Another bolt of energy lashed out from the Wand, it striking the ground to Tsuna's right. The energy sphere forged from that bolt instantly morphed into humanoid form, that soon revealing a girl with long green hair and eyes the same shade as Hinako's and Aria's, she dressed in a uniform quite similar to Tsuna's. As the newcomer blinked surprisedly on noting her unfamiliar surroundings, Tsuna turned to look up at her, and then she grinned as she swamped the other Vosian with a hug. "Who ARE they, Tsue-san?" Hinako asked.

***Tsuna and Sanba, both citizens of the planet Vos.*** The Sagussans were quick to detect a note of sadness in the Wand's voice. ***Both of whom were grossly abused in ways even* I *would find hard to describe while they were growing up.***

***Do you remember Ranma telling you about her experiences being raised by Genma, Hinako?*** the Staff then asked.

Hinako nodded. "Uh-huh."

***Ranma's experiences were NOTHING compared to what these two have endured.***

Hinako's eyes widened. Kids being raised in even WORSE conditions than what Onee-tama had lived through?!

Was it even POSSIBLE...?

"The Staff's right about that."

Hinako blinked. "Makoto-san...?"

Sanba jolted on hearing that rough-edged voice, and then she slowly turned around to stare into Makoto's face. Instantly recognizing the *pirpirsiw'r* for what she was, the young hunter froze in place before she began to repentantly bow to the flightmistress. Taking a deep breath -- Lyna's Blessed Soul, was she going to have to put up to THIS sort of nonsense for the rest of her life?! -- Makoto then reached over to gently seize Sanba by the shoulders, and then she drew the hunter into her arms. Sanba nearly had a heart attack on feeling that touch, and then, as it dawned on her that the older woman wasn't going to hurt her, she found herself relaxing in Makoto's arms. Seeing that, Tsuna grinned as she flung herself once more at her "papa." Makoto was more than willing to accept Tsuna's embrace.

"They're pe'cha, aren't they?" Mie asked.

***Yes,*** the Wand replied. ***Further, due to the nature of their upbringing, both Sanba and Tsuna deep down desire to become Sagussans. 'Maidens of the Eternal Voyager' as they address the* Daishi'cha *as. In their eyes, it would be the perfect escape...***

"From the Mikado's 'honourable' service," Mie finished with a tired sigh. "Buddha, it's just like Tenba!"

The young hunters jolted on hearing Mie mention the name of the last official *Daishi'cha,* and then they turned to gaze wide-eyed at her. "Mama..." Tsuna whispered, her voice hushed with awe. "You...? You know Tenba-sama...?!"

"She has to!" Sanba exclaimed. "Tenba-sama's body was never recovered! She HAD to have become one of the Maidens!!"

Makoto took a deep breath. "Okay, we definitely need to have some translation done here!"

***Perhaps we should simply acquiese to their wishes.***

Aria blinked confusedly. "Tsue-san?"

***Sanba and Tenba wish to become Sagussans,*** the Wand told her.

The young Parisian blinked, and then she smiled. "Hai!"

As Aria aimed the Wand at Sanba and Tsuna, Mie gasped, "Aria-chan, wait...!"

The Wand flared to life. A second later, twin screams echoed all over the Crystal Palace grounds...

* * *

"Where did Sanba go?!"

"She was here just a moment ago...! Wait!! I sense her...!"

"Hey, how'd she get all the way over THERE so fast?!"


Silence fell as eyes -- those that were able to somewhat see -- locked on Mujanba. "What is it?" Hinanba asked.

Mujanba paled as she felt two points of light in her mind's eye start to fade. "Oh, no...!!"

* * *

The Sagussans and Hinako ducked away as the bolts of energy from the Genesis Wand encompassed both Sanba and Tsuna in coccoons of opaque energy. Within them, the souls of the two young hunters were placed in protective spheres as their bodies were broken down to the base components, and then allowed to rebuild themselves from stem cell up. Regenerative enzymes copied from Makoto's body were injected into the mixture to begin rewriting both girls' DNA structures from a basic Vosian genotype to a basic Sagussan genotype. The unique physical features of both girls -- the tapered ears and other Vosian-specific organs, plus the tanned skin in Tsuna's case -- were left alone; when the Grand Design was launched, the regeneration matrix used to restore the *Daishi'cha* to life was programmed in such a way to ensure that unique non-psionic abilities (an Oni-Urusian's flight powers, for example) were retained. The psionic abilities, however, were radically changed. Gone were the brainwave-tracking powers whose existence in Sanba and Tsuna had caused them so much grief throughout their lives, plus the telekinetic-based mate-bonding ability known to Vosians as "recognition." In their place were inserted the touch-telepathic and broadcast empathic abilities the *Daishi'cha* knew so well. Plus, the Wand quickly remembered to add after a reminder from the Staff, the knowledge to use such powers. Once that was done, the uniforms were quickly changed to match approximately what Ayumu was currently wearing and fluent knowledge of both Sagussan and Japanese inserted into their minds. Once that was done, the hunters' souls were re-inserted.

The energy coccoons faded, revealing two young Vosian-born SAGUSSAN girls dressed in the uniforms of Pathfinder privates (there were only blank rank tabs on their shoulders). The only thing from their old uniforms that had survived the transition were their kill-belts; on Sagussa, certain cultural-specific clothing icons from the wearer's birth-race -- Ellsian rose bandannas or Fukunokami chains, for example -- were permitted with the duty uniforms. As Sanba and Tsuna blinked several times to get their bearings back, Aria drew the Genesis Wand back before she turned to proudly smile at Mie and Makoto. "Hai! They're now just like Mie-san, Makoto-san and Ayumu-chan!"

Hearing that, Makoto and Mie groaned. "Aria-chan, you just can't turn around and transform people into Sagussans on a whim, you know!!" the latter scolded as she pointed to Sanba and Tsuna. "They have friends and a life back on Vos!! You just...!"

"WHAT life?!!"

Everyone spun on Tsuna, including Sanba. "Tsuna..." the green-haired hunter whispered, she taken aback by the force and passion in her partner's voice; ever since the onslaught of the Wild Time, Tsuna had almost always spoken in a dull monotone.

Tsuna breathed out, and then she gazed down on herself. Seeing the kill-belt there, she scowled before her hands reached to her back to yank the knitted fur belt away from her body. Once it cleared her shoulder, she flung it contemptuously to the ground. Glancing about, the young *azhis'f* then spotted Mie's personal defence pistol in its holster. Walking over, she drew it out to inspect it, and then she clicked off the safety before aiming the weapon at the last remaining symbol of her life as a member of the Special Hunter Corps.

The trigger was depressed, sending a tenth-level bolt into the chichi bear fur. The fabric instantly burst into flame as the energy of the shot quickly turned the belt into a circlet of ashes. Tsuna stared absently at the burning belt, and then she jolted as a second belt was tossed into the fire. Looking up, she blinked as Sanba turned to gaze knowingly at her. Both smiled before Tsuna held up the pistol for Mie to take back. Once the weapon was in Mie's hand, Tsuna walked over to throw her arms around her beloved friend. "We're free, Sa-chan!!"

Sanba blinked as her partner's words sank into her, and then she nodded as she returned her embrace. "Hai, Tsu-chan, we're free!"

"Ah!! Hina can understand Sanba-san and Tsuna-san now!"

"Aria can understand them, too!"

Sanba and Tsuna turned to gaze on the young Parisian, and then they walked over to warmly embrace Aria. "Arigatou," Sanba whispered into Aria's ear as relieved sobs burst free from Tsuna. "This is a dream come true for me! For both of us!! Domo arigatou...!"

Both began to cry as they buried their faces into the crooks of Aria's neck. Sensing that Sanba and Tsuna were weeping because they were happy, the young Parisian then smiled as she gently drew her arms around them to keep them close. Watching this for a moment, Hinako then turned to Mie. "Mie-san, it's okay, isn't it?" she asked before turning back to gaze on her sister and her new friends.

Mie blinked, and then she smirked as a finger came up to wipe her tears away. "Yeah, Hinako-chan, it's okay."

* * *

Eyes as blue as a clear sky opened as Mecha-Rinrin took in a deep breath, her body instantly warming as oxygen flooded her circulatory system from head to toe. As her primary energy pump began to beat, she glanced left and right, taking in the contours of her creator's private laboratory. She then focused on the man in the form-fitting grey bodysuit standing before her. "Aniki..."

She stepped out of the programming chamber, walking up to stand a metre before him. Up close, she was quick to notice two curious physical changes from what Rinrin had programmed in her about the man Mecha-Rinrin was built to serve. This man had a dimple under his left eye. And his facial hair was trimmed to a moustache and goatee. The newly-woken android tilted her head as she asked, "Are you Aniki?"

Kaeru shook his head. "Negative. I am not Moroboshi Ataru. I am his genetic twin, however. You may address me as 'Kaeru.'"

Mecha-Rinrin's eyes widened more. In the information packet on Aniki, she had been informed of his twin brother Moroboshi Kaeru, who was said to have perished when he was only three (though his body had mysteriously disappeared right afterward, it having never been found). Considering that, the android then leaned up to give Kaeru a chaste kiss, allowing her outer epidermal sensors to do a DNA scan. Fortunately for Kaeru, Rinrin had included a DNA-scan capability in her original plans for Mecha-Rinrin; the nanites who had just finished construction on her body simply upgraded the equipment to Nagussan standards. A minute later, Mecha-Rinrin smiled as the readout came up.

"You are Aniki's brother," she declared with a smile before a questioning look crossed her face. "How did you survive? According to the information I was programmed with, you are supposed to be dead."

Confusion crossed Kaeru's face for a moment, and then he nodded understandingly. "Your reasons are more than logical. My adopted parents did remove me from the life-centre where they found me and I have not returned to Earth until this very evening. However, that is not relevant at this time. Are you satisfied with the equipment and programming upgrades I have given you?"

Mecha-Rinrin's gaze turned inward for a moment as her internal housekeeping wetware went to work. A moment later, a satisfied smile crossed her face. "Hai. Thank you for doing this for me, Aniki. But...?" She looked around the room. "Where is Mama?"

"Rinrin is currently with her siblings on a mission to another sector of the galaxy," Kaeru reported. "They will return to this domicile within twelve standard hours, barring any unforseen interruption."

"Hai, Aniki, I understand. I..." She then stopped as her peripheral vision locked on the horizontal work unit in the middle of the lab. A barely humanoid shape -- male? -- was in the nanite soup. "Aniki, who is that?" She pointed to the work unit.

"That is Rinrin's first prototype robot. 'Mega-Rinrin' as you might better know him as," Kaeru explained as he guided Mecha-Rinrin around so she could better inspect the unit. "After I finished with your construction, I offered him the chance to upgrade his systems so he could be compatible to you in every operational category conceivable. I believe Rinrin will be quite satisfied with the results."

Mecha-Rinrin considered that. "Hai, I think so, too." A pause. "Aniki, are you hungry?"

Kaeru's eyes widened surprisedly. "Why do you ask?"

"Well, one of my primary functions is to act as a cook and homemaker for Ataru-aniki. It is logical to properly test all my functions before I could proceed to fulfill my functions for Ataru-aniki. Correct?"

He considered that for a moment before nodding. "Agreed."

* * *

"Sanba!! Tsuna!! Are you two okay?!! Hey!!"

Everyone turned as a staggered line of young hunters ran up toward them. "Your friends, I take it," Makoto declared.

"Hai!" Tsuna replied as she pulled herself away from Aria, and then she waved, switching to Vosian. "Hi, everyone!!"

Pamanba and Hinanba were the first to come up. "Are you two alright?!" the latter declared as she came up to give Tsuna's shoulders a reassuring squeeze. Whether or not it was for Hinanba's or for Tsuna's benefit, the former couldn't say. "What happened to you two?!"

Pamanba concentrated as she reached out with her tracking powers to probe the minds of her just-transformed friends. Only silence answered. "Lecasur's Soul, what DID happen to you two?!" she demanded. "I can't sense either of you!!"

Sanba and Tsuna exchanged a worried look. "Well...!" the former tried to stutter.

"It's...! Well, you see, guys...!" the latter sputtered as Ryoonba and Kanba came up to them.

***They merely had their fondest wish answered, ladies.***

The young hunters shrieked out as they wildly scanned around for the source of that booming voice. Aria sighed. "Tsue-san, don't speak so loudly to them," she gently scolded as she wagged a finger at the Wand. "It scares them."


Eyes then locked on the device in Aria's hand. "Wait a...!" Kanba gasped.

"Isn't that the...?" Ryoonba began.

***I am. And I am not,*** the Wand replied.

The Vosians exchanged confused looks. Sanba turned to Mie. "Um, forgive me for asking this, but is this ACTUALLY...?!"

"The Sceptre of Lecasur," Mie replied. Even though she was speaking in Sagussan, her mentioning of the name of the founder of Vos' first worldwide government perked the ears of the four young hunters who just joined them. "Yes, this is the Sceptre, albeit repaired and restored to proper function. For you see, this device is known to us as the 'Genesis Wand of Parah.' It was created fourteen thousand years ago by an amoral, racist lunatic who wanted to harness the power of the Divine Itself to create a working genesis bomb."

Sanba and Tsuna paled. "'Genesis bomb?!'" the latter hoarsely declared. "You mean to say that this thing..."

"Can literally create life from lifelessness," Mie finished for her. "And if life is already there..."

"It gets wiped out and remouled into whatever new matrix its controller might desire," Makoto completed for her lover.

"Do you two understand what they're saying?!" Pamanba asked.

Sanba gazed on her friend, and then she turned back to the Sagussans as Ikura and Mujanba came up. "Um, would you excuse us for a second, please? We need to fill everyone in on this," she declared before turning to translate everything to the other hunters.

Mie and Makoto breathed out as Sanba and Tsuna began to relay the story in rapid-fire Vosian. "This is a mess!" the latter hissed.

"Tell me about it," the former muttered.

"Ah!!" Hinako then cried out. "Mie-san, Makoto-san, look at the girl with the funny tattoos!!"

Mie and Makoto perked before they spun around as Varena finally came up at a slow jog to join her companions. Seeing the rune tattoos on the *azhis'f* woman's body, Makoto blinked as a faint image from deep within her memory surged up. "Well, I'll be a sandpanther cub..." she then breathed out before a light smile crossed her face as she broke away from Mie to walk toward Varena.

Varena blinked as she noted someone approaching her from her left, and then she turned, her eyes then widening as she took in all of Makoto's facial features. The former instantly came to a halt, she automatically straightening herself as the *pirpirsiw'r* walked up to her. They gazed on each other for a moment, and then Varena bowed her head. "*Hisri'hilm,* Lady Izripra of Varakos."

Makoto blinked before she grinned. "'Izripra?!' Lyna, I haven't been called *that* in a long time!"

"You know her?" Mie wondered as she walked over to join her lover.

"Not too sure, love," Makoto replied in Japanese before she switched back to Yehisrite, the language Varena had greeted her with. "*Hisri'hilm,* fair warrior. You wouldn't happen to be of the blood of the Lord Sage Xynko of the Pifiz'r-Pir, would you?"

Varena grinned. "He was my mother's grandfather, Lady Izripra. I am Varena of Kyotos, though born on Vos Colony Nine."

Makoto chuckled. "Please, Varena, don't call me 'Izripra.' That name holds no meaning to me anymore."

"Then how should I address you, Lady?" Varena asked. Makoto smirked before she spoke her chosen name. Hearing that, Varena's eyes went wide. "Lady, that's a MAN'S name! How did you come to possess a name like THAT?!"

"It's a long and complicated story," Makoto replied, and then she blinked as Tsuna came up, Mujanba beside her.

"What is it?" Mie asked in Japanese.

Tsuna waved to Mujanba. "I've told the captain here about what the Sceptre is capable of doing, how it came from Sagussa and all that. She understands why you'd be interested in reclaiming it, but..." She shrugged. "We still have a mission to perform."

"Returning your Sceptre back to a certain gentleman in Lecashuto, you mean?"

Tsuba nodded. "Hai."

Mie sighed as she exchanged looks with Makoto. "Well, maybe there's something we can do. Aria-chan!"

The young Parisian walked up. "Hai?"

Mie pointed to the shattered fragments of the Genesis Wand's old controlling rod. "Do you think you can convince Tsue-san to fix up the old controlling unit and give it a dud meson focusing crystal, Aria-chan?" she asked. "It's for the Vosians to play with."

Aria blinked. "A Tsue-san for the Vosians to play with?"

"Hai! But this one CAN'T have the power your Tsue-san has, okay?!"

***I believe I understand what Mie desires, Aria. If I may...?***


A bolt of energy lashed out from the Wand to encompass its old controlling rod. In a flash, the shredded limestone metal is made whole once more. A second flash later, there is a new focusing crystal affixed to the business end of the rod, it cracked and darkened just like how the Genesis Wand's actual crystal looked like when Hinako and Aria had found it in the Sceptre Room. Once that was done, the Wand then drew the restored Sceptre into Aria's free hand. Smiling, the young Parisian then turned to pass the Sceptre to Mujanba. "Hai!"

Mujanba took the device in hand and gave it a close inspection. After a moment, she then nodded. "Translate for me, Tsuna."

Tsuna listened to the captain's words, and then she gazed on Aria. "Aria-sama, Mujanba-taii would like to thank you on behalf of the Confederation of Vos for your assistance in returning our lost treasure to us," she declared. Her eyes then fell on Mie and Makoto. "She also hopes that this first contact between the Confederation and the Fifth Republic of Sagussa will promote peaceful relations between our peoples. That is..." -- an ironic smile then crossed her face -- "...after we resolve our own internal conflict, of course."

"More than undestandable," Mie replied before she gave Varena and Mujanba a splayed-finger prayer/bow. "And on behalf of the Fifth Republic, my lover and I would like to apologize for what just happened to your subordinates. Though we are human and we do make mistakes, we do also try to adhere to our many laws when it comes to dealing with other races, especially our Non-Interference Directive."

Tsuna translated. Mujanba quickly replied, a knowing grin crossing her face. Hearing that, Tsuna laughed before she turned back to the Sagussans. "The captain assumes that the crew that controls the Eternal Voyager itself has tried to make up for whatever mistakes they made during its mission. Like what it nearly caused to happen on Zeiwan some centuries ago?"

Mie and Makoto moaned. "Oh, that!" the latter grumbled.

"First of all, you can tell Mujanba-san that, during its mission, there WAS no official crew assigned to the Gatherer," the former announced. Seeing the confusion cross Tsuna's face, Mie added, "That's the designation for the ship you call the 'Eternal Voyager.' And it's a 'he,' not an 'it,'" she then said with a raised finger. "The Gatherer's central computer was quite flexible in certain areas of his core mission programming, but quite inflexible when it came to other key elements of his programming." She then rolled her eyes. "Like sometimes flying at airliner altitudes right in the damned open when he went down to retrieve new *Daishi'cha* for the Grand Design."

Tsuna translated that. Hearing what she just said, Mujanba and Varena laughed, and then the latter asked a question in her charmingly accented Vosian. "'May we then assume that the Chosen One has been selected?'" Tsuna then translated.

"Eleven years ago," Makoto replied. "He's from Earth. As a matter of fact, Hinako-sama and Aria-sama are two of his sisters."

Tsuna's eyes went wide. "Really?" she hoarsely gasped.

Mujanba asked a question. The young hunter quickly translated what Makoto just said. Mujanba blinked surprisedly, and then she found herself staring at Mie for a second before she made a comment. Mie's hearing was quick to pick up a familar name in that question. Her suspicions were confirmed when Tsuna translated the captain's words: "'Can we assume that the Chosen One is Moroboshi Ataru, then?'"

"It is," Makoto replied before she pointed at Aria and Hinako. "And Tsuna, you best warn everyone that you better reserve any disparaging comments about Ataru-sama to yourselves. Do NOT say anything bad about him in front of Aria-sama and Hinako-sama."

Tsuna quickly translated that. Mujanba took that in, and then she laughed. "What's so funny?" Mie demanded.

The captain quickly explained. "She says that she doesn't care about Ataru-sama's supposed reputation with the ladies," Tsuna then said before pausing to hear the rest of it from Mujanba. "She says that anyone who can keep up with the likes of the Ip'ihu of Noukiios, especially if they come from a less-advanced, non-unified society like Earth, is worthy of respect from all quarters, even Vos."

Mie and Makoto exchanged a shocked look before both began to giggle...

* * *

"Oh, hi, Akane! Feeling a little better now?"

Akane jolted on hearing that friendly hail, and then she flustered before stepping down from the ladder leading into the galley of the "Windrider" from the pilotage deck. "Um, h-hai, Ataru-san!" she sputtered before she took a glance around. "Where's Ranma?"

"She's with the girls in my cabin," Ataru replied as he poured himself some tea. "Want some tea?"

"A-ah...! H-hai!" Soon enough, a cup of cherry tea was laid out before her as she sat down at the table Ataru had been relaxing at when Akane came down from Marie's cabin. "Arigatou," the youngest Tendou thanked her host before sipping her tea.

"How's Marie-chan?" he asked.

"Asleep," she replied. "I just woke up a few minutes ago. Felt so uncomfortable sleeping in my clothes like that, so I got up and went to the washroom. I soon felt my stomach growl, so I came down looking for something to snack on before going back to bed."

"Ah! Just a sec'..."

He headed back into the cooking area, returning a moment later with a plate full of sweet barley rolls. Akane nodded thanks as she took one of the pastries from the plate, and then she nibbled on it. "This is good," she declared after swallowing a bite.

"Yeah, Hime-chan doesn't know when to quit, does she?" Ataru said with a wink before he took a bite out of his roll.

Akane giggled. Silence then fell as the two enjoyed their snacks and drank their tea. Once that was done, Ataru took the plates and cups in hand to transport them to the dishwasher. Once they were on their way through a washing cycle, he returned back to sit across from her. Quickly sensing the pensive look on her face, Ataru then smirked before he reached over to tap the end of her nose. She sneezed before she gave him a surprised look. "Last night wasn't your fault by far, Akane," he then declared. "Nowhere close to it, okay?"

Akane took that in. "The other me's behaviour was inexcusable, Ataru-san!! To you, to Ranma and ESPECIALLY to Ma-...!"

"Hey, don't be THAT formal with me, Akane!"

She stopped. Then, noting the smile on his face, a laugh escaped her. Both spent a moment chuckling before Ataru extended his little finger to Akane. She quickly wrapped her pinky around his, and then they "shook" on it. "Okay, okay, you win, Ataru!" she said as she moved to grasp his hand in her own, and then her eyes bowed. "But still...!" She shook her head. "What happened..."

"Wasn't you. And I don't think it was the other you, either."

Akane stopped. "Excuse me?"

Ataru sighed. "Akane, I admit that I got very upset at what the other you pulled last night concerning Marie-chan. But then, when I had a chance to think about it, I found myself asking this: 'Hey, since when was it that Tendou Akane EVER attacked a non-martial artist from BEHIND of all places?' Now, the part about her wanting to be with her mom..." He then shrugged. "I can understand that. And I think Hinako-chan understands that, too, so I'll let that go. But the part about the other you attacking Marie-chan, even after she found out the truth about her pet piglet and Hibiki Ryouga?" He shook his head. "No, that's not the Tendou Akane I've heard so much about."

"What have you heard about me...? Er, the other me?!"

"Two things." Ataru held up one finger. "One, that Tendou Akane never tolerated improper advances from anyone and that, if she so believed something was improper, she'd do something about it. And two..." He raised a second finger. "She was a martial artist."

Akane blinked. "Meaning...?"

"Meaning that she never would *intentionally* attack a person who couldn't defend herself."

"But the other me..."

"Was angry at Hibiki! Yes, Akane, I know that part. But think about it. Would you, even in a situation as extreme as that, have used your mallet to actually hit a target knowing that innocent people were in the line of fire?" An eyebrow arched. "Well?"

Akane moved to reply, and then she stopped as she considered what Ataru just said. Closing her eyes, she allowed her mind to sort through all the memories and experiences she had gained from her template on her very creation not twenty-four hours before. Instantly, the events of the previous night in Hikarigaoka Park flashed past her mind's eye. There "she" was, having finally come to realize the true extent of the deception Hibiki Ryouga -- with the willing assistance of Tendou Souun and Saotome Genma, plus the unwilling assistance of Tendou Kasumi and the VERY unwilling assistance of Saotome Ranma -- had played on her for a year and more. The anger rushed through her at that moment, anger that would normally trigger the creation of her favoured chi-mallet, all too perfect for pervert-bashing. Yet...!


There was Unryuu Akari and Susumu Marie standing right in her line of attack.

And Akari had been there with her champion rikibuta, Katsunishiki.

And Akane KNEW that Katsunishiki would act to defend his mistress without question, in whatever way possible.

And Marie...


Not a martial artist.

Hell, not even in the best of physical health even THESE days!



Akane looked into Ataru's eyes. "Could someone have...?" she began before her eyes widened. "Did someone MAKE her do that?!"

"It's a possibility that should be explored," he noted. "And given what Onee-chan found out about what Genma had done to Ranma when she was a little kid, I've got one big suspect right in my gunsights right now about that. Look, if you want, I can ask Catty or Pony or one of the other doctors who came from Sagussa to do an autopsy on the other you's body just to make sure of it. I don't think Toofuu-sensei's got around to doing his own post-mortem on her just yet; it's only been a day since it happened."

She blinked as she took in his offer, and then she nodded. "I'd really like that...! Eh?"

Both turned on hearing someone descend from the pilotage. "What is it, Shildy?" Ataru asked.

The "Hasei'cha's" first officer, a tall black-haired, blue-eyed Fukunokami, came to a stop beside the table. "Ataru, Akane, pardon me for disturbing you two, but I just received a message from Eluza. We just made contact again with the landing party."

"And?" Ataru prodded.

Shildy grinned. "They report success. The Genesis Wand is in Aria-chan's hands and Makoto's a-okay."

Akane whooped as Ataru breathed out in relief. "How soon will we get there?" he asked.

"Forty-five minutes at present speed." A pause. "Oh, the landing party's made contact with a group from the Vosian Confederation, Mikado side. A group from their Special Hunter Corps had come out from Lecashuto to get their hands on the Sceptre of Lecasur."


Shildy shook her head. "Negative. Peaceful contact was made. Turns out that these hunters are actually a good group of people, surprising as that might sound. The leaders of the team are Major Varena and Captain Mujanba, both from Colony Nine. Their reputations, according to our intelligence, are solid; they have the respect of the major leaders on both sides of the Civil War." A pause. "Anyhow, a replica of the Genesis Wand of Parah, de-powered, was made by Aria-chan for the Vosians to take home. They have been told about the Wand's origins and all that. According to Mie, Varena-shoosa and Mujanba-taii accepted the replica without reservations as their 'Sceptre of Lecasur.'" She then added with a wink and a raised finger, "And they do want to meet the 'brother who dances on the wind.'"

Ataru blinked, and then he smirked. "Well, I suppose I can accomodate them! Anyhow, Shildy..."


"Who's in charge of things over Earth right now?"

"Priss from Troop Six, plus Koyomi from Engineering and Tomo from Internal Security. She's the one you met on the 'Rose Emperor.'"

Ataru blinked, and then he nodded. "Ah, her! Right! Anyhow, is there a doctor anywhere close by?"

"I believe Chiyo might be there."

Akane jolted. "From 'Azumanga Daioh?'"

The "Hasei'cha's" first officer was quick to sense the reason behind Akane's surprise. "She's a lot older these days than what her namesake was portrayed as, Akane," Shildy noted before raising a finger. "Actually, Chiyo WAS the youngest of the *Daishi'cha* as a whole if you only then looked at us all by our physical ages when the Gatherer found us and took us to Sagussa. Back then, she would have pretty much matched her namesake in the manga at that time. But eleven years out of cryofreeze changed that in a big way."

"How big?" Ataru wondered.

"Like Eluza. Height as well as three sizes."

"Wow!!" Ataru and Akane chorused.

"Which is pretty good for Sylia since she and Chiyo ARE lovers!" Shildy then added. "So what would you need Chiyo for, Ataru?"

"Can she do autopsies?" Ataru asked.

Shildy blinked, and then her eyes fell on Akane. Quickly sensing the youngest Tendou's feelings concerning what Ataru might desire, the "Hasei'cha's" first officer then nodded. "I'll pass on your request to Chiyo right away, Ataru. Please excuse me."

She headed back up to the pilotage. "Thanks," Akane whispered.

"Don't thank me yet," Ataru warned...

* * *


"Easy, Kasumi-chan. Don't move. Let it come to you naturally."

Kasumi blinked confusedly as her eyes fluttered open, and then she winced as a bright light overhead seemed to sear right past her eyes straight into her brain. Groaning, she closed her eyes as she shifted an arm up to further shield them from the offending fixture overhead. She then paused as a curious inner light then seemed to radiate from everywhere in her head, filling her with a warmth she had never experienced before. Not even being warmly embraced by her late mother Kimiko, much less the VERY few times she had dated back in high school, could equate to this incredible feeling. After a moment, a hand then gently grasped hers to pull the arm away from her face.

"Kasumi-chan, you can open your eyes now."

Kasumi's eyes slowly opened. They soon quickly focused on a less-bright light fixture overhead. That was soon masked as a familiar face popped into her line of vision from her right. "Hello, sister," Horikawa Mutsumi declared. "Welcome to your new life."

The Tendou matriarch blinked several times as that statement sank in, and then she found herself blushing. "Thank you, sister." She then moved to cover her mouth. "Oh, my! Was it like this when you first woke, Mutsumi-chan?"

"Almost the same, except for one thing," Mutsumi admitted. "Unlike you, I never knew an existence outside of being an Avalonian. One minute, there was nothing. The next minute, *poof!*" She made an exploding motion with her hand. "There I was, a living being."

"I might have trouble adjusting to this, you mean," Kasumi mused.

"Some distorientation, but no real trouble as you might see it," Mutsumi replied. "It should go away soon enough."

"I hope so." A pause. "Um, Mutsumi-chan?"

"Hai, Kasumi-chan, what is it?"

"Why are you naked?"

Mutsumi blinked, and then she gasped in mock-horror. "Why, good heavens! However did I get to be THIS way?!"

Kasumi jolted, she bolting into a sitting position. "EH?!!"

Not noticed until it was too late to stop it, the blanket covering her body fell away to show off her considerable charms to the bespectacled Avalonian. Not to mention the OTHER Avalonian and the two Sagussans by the door to the small cabin where Kasumi had been taken to after her spirit had been transferred to her new body in the "Konggh'cha's" sick bay under Chiyo's supervision. Before Kasumi could snap up an arm to cover herself, a camera flash went off. "As Yo-chan might say it," Nabiki declared. "'Cute Nude Girl Checky!!'"

Insta-blush time! "NABIKI!!!!"

Laughter filled the cabin as Koyomi walked in, a folded civilian-pattern casual jumpsuit and slip-on shoes in hand. "Here you go, Kasumi-san! You better get these on before Nabiki decides to develop that shot and plaster it broadside across Sagussa!"

"I...! Oh, thank you, Yomi-san!" Kasumi said as she took the jumpsuit in hand, and then she allowed it to unfold.

It was a short-sleeve design, Nabiki quickly noted, coloured in the light green-and-gold that marked civilian medical personnel on Sagussa. Unlike the deep "W" cut of the tops of the duty jumpsuits she had seen so far, Kasumi's top was designed like a polo shirt, with fold-down collars and a row of buttons reaching down to below the curve of the breasts. The base Sagussan national insignia was plastered in gold over the left breast -- effectively over the heart, Nabiki noted, no doubt to signify the ultimate loyalty of the wearer -- and the wearer's name was scripted in stylized Roman letters on the both the right breast and on the left hip forward. *Is English a spoken language on Sagussa?* Nabiki then wondered; she had guessed that Japanese had been adopted as a second language due to the *Daishi'cha's* selection of Moroboshi Ataru as their *Daimon'cha* over a decade before. *Or are they just using Romanji because that's also used in Japan?*

As soon as Kasumi had tied down the jumpsuit at her waist and slipped on her new shoes, she found herself in Mutsumi's embrace. "As I said before, dear sister," the bespectacled Avalonian whispered before she kissed Kasumi's cheek. "Welcome to your new life."

"Arigatou," Kasumi replied with a blush, and then she started to fluster. "Ano, Mutsumi-chan..."

Mutsumi chuckled as she pulled herself away from the Tendou matriarch to slip on her own clothes. "Hai, hai, I know. But if you change your mind and want me to be with you for the evening, Kasumi-chan, I'll be close by," she vowed with a raised finger.

Kasumi's blush deepened as Mutsumi slipped on her panties and bra, and then she headed out of the cabin, carrying her outer clothes with her. The Tendou matriarch was quick to notice both Koyomi and Tomo giving the lovely Avalonian a critical eye as she departed. The engineer articifer and the SISF master chief warrant officer then exchanged a knowing look. "We'll leave you two alone," Koyomi then declared before she and Tomo stepped out of the cabin, the intent on both their faces quite plain for Nabiki to see.

Kasumi blinked confusedly as the two Sagussans left, and then she turned to gaze on Nabiki as the latter came up to stand beside her. "You should've held onto that girl, Onee-chan," the middle Tendou daughter declared as she gave her sister a knowing leer. "By the looks of things, there's gonna be a really hot menege-a-trois in their cabin tonight...! What?!" she then asked as shock crossed Kasumi's face.

"A...! A WHAT?!?!" Kasumi then shrieked. "B-but Koyomi-san and Tomo-san are...!! Are they REALLY going to...?!"

Familiar laughter echoed from the doorway. Nabiki jolted on hearing that noise, and then she turned to sink herself into Priss' awaiting embrace. "Tadaima," the first officer of Pathfinder Troop Six whispered into Nabiki's ear before they kissed. "Miss me?"

"Pretty much so," Nabiki admitted. "So what's the situation with Ranma-chan's baka mother and her aunt?"

"Hisayo's crossed over already," Priss declared as she guided Nabiki to sit in the lone armchair in the room, she planting herself on one of the arms to her would-be lover's right. "Nodoka's still passed out from finding out the truth about her parentage."

The Tendou sisters blinked. "What parentage?!!" they demanded in sync.

"Thoughtmaster-prime Happousai," Priss replied. "He's Hisayo's and Nodoka's real father."


"You. Must. Be. JOKING!" Nabiki exclaimed a word at a time.

"But that's impossible, Priss-san!!" Kasumi added. "Ojii-san's chi levels always indicated to me that he was nearly sterile!"

Priss sighed. "*Shoima'cha,* 'nearly sterile' doesn't mean 'sterile!'" she declared. "All it would take is just ONE lucky night for the Thoughtmaster-prime and he could become a father just as easily as any other man." She snapped her fingers in emphasis before she turned to look down on Nabiki. "And Nabikivayae, I hope you realize that I would *never* lie to you about something like that."

Nabiki blinked as her cheeks began to redden on her hearing the Pathfinder's assertion. "Is Ojii-san alright?" Kasumi asked.

"He's okay. Passed out like Nodoka, but I think he'll come out of it soon enough." Priss then thumbed in the general direction of Earth. "I've got Catty Ray keeping an eye on them right now up in Onogawa, where Nodoka's bond-mate runs that onsen hotel."

The Tendou sisters perked again. "'Bond-mate?!' Who're you talking about, Pri-chan?!" Nabiki asked.

"Yamashina Mizuho, also known as Kaili bedai-Tythya. Avalonian created to be the bed-warmer of a Niphentaxian doctor about ten years ago," Priss answered. "She fled to Earth with a pack of prostitutes from a brothel on Phentax Three -- Mutsumi was one of them, by the way -- six years ago because she was pregnant with his child. The Niphentaxian authorities, even to this day, have this MASSIVE hard-on when it comes to part-Avalonian children." A pause, and then Priss smirked. "Mizuho's had a thing for Ranma's mom ever since they first met."

"Does Auntie know about her?!" Kasumi asked.

"If she doesn't, she'll find out first thing tomorrow morning," Priss asserted. "I told Ray to give me a call in case Nodoka gets it into her head that she has to take a knife to her throat, so I can go down there and smack her back into line. As I'm sure both of you will readily agree with me on this, the LAST thing Ranma needs right now is for her mother to take the Magic Carpet Ride to Eternity."

The Tendou sisters nodded. "Agreed," Kasumi spoke up. "Much that I do understand Auntie's desire to maintain honour..."

"A situation like this was never covered in 'The Book of Five Rings,'" Nabiki finished.

A knock was then heard at the door. "Excuse me?"

"What's up, Chiyo?" Priss asked as everyone looked to the doorway.

Chiyo bowed her head. "Sorry to bother you at a time like this, Kasumi-san, but I just received a signal from our friends on the other side of the galaxy concerning your late sister," she declared. "Akane-san would like to have an autopsy on her template's body done."

"An autopsy? What for, Sensei?" Nabiki asked.

"To check for any signs of mental manipulation, like what had been done to the *Daimon'cha's* Other by her father."

Kasumi and Nabiki tensed on hearing that, and then they exchanged a look...

* * *

"Oooooh...! Wha' happened...?"

Happousai blinked confusedly as consciousness returned slowly to him. As his vision started to clear, he found himself staring at the ceiling of what seemed to him to be a very well-maintained hotel suite somewhere. Reaching out with his chi senses, the aged grandmaster was quick to detect the large spots of hot chi which indicated that he was near an onsen spring, probably somewhere north of Tokyo. Blinking several times as he tried to make sense of what just happened to him, he then jerked as a raven-haired woman, appearing to be about twenty or so, appeared before him, concern etched on her face. "Oh, Happousai-sama, you're awake! You had us worried there for a bit!"

Happousai stared quizzically at the newcomer, his inner eye already telling him several things. "You're an Avalonian," he said.

She nodded. "Hai, I am. My Niphentaxian name is Feiya dai-Hainyo. Here on Earth, I live under the alias 'Arima Fumiko.'" She then reached up to gently brush her fingertips over his forehead. "Well, you seem to be alright. I guess the shock of learning that you've had two daughters all these years and never once came to suspect it must've hit you hard. Are you hungry? I can get you something to eat."

"No, I'm not really hungry right now...! Oooh!! Whoa!!! What are you doing...?!"

Fumiko stopped, blinking. "I'm just brushing my hand over your forehead, sir. Do you have some sort of sinus problem?"

Happousai blinked several times as that -- well, WHATEVER it was! -- warped through him. Oh, DAMN! To actually come into physical contact with one of these beautiful space-women...! He could forego stealing women's underwear for the rest of his life if he managed to get one of these nice girls to live with him full-time. Stopping as that particular thought coursed through his mind, the aged grandmaster then shook his head. Nah! He had so few things to occupy his spare time these days! Why cast aside something that was just so much fun?!


He started on hearing Fumiko's worried voice, and then he smiled. "I'm alright, dearie. It's an affliction I possess; I've actually had it for quite some time. My chi's interacting rather strangely with your own. It's nothing dangerous, though."

"Ah, soo ka! That's a relief!" Fumiko then straightened herself. "Let me get you something to drink at least. Excuse me."

Happousai watched her go before he laid back on the bed. Whooo, nice body on that one! Damn, if ALL Avalonians were like that...?

A knock. "Father?"

His head snapped around to allow him to gaze at the doorway to his bedroom. There, she dressed in a simple housecoat that only reached to mid-thigh, was Asagaya Hisayo, a delighted smile on the younger woman's face...!


Hey, wait a minute...!


His eyes went VERY wide. "You're an...!!"

"No less than twenty minutes ago," she confirmed with a wink as she walked in to sit on the bed beside him. "How do you feel?"

Happousai took a moment to consider what sort of answer he could give his daughter. Thinking that, he tried his best not to boggle. His daughter! This was his honest-to-goodness DAUGHTER, by the gods!! And she was one of a pair of TWINS, too!

How did THAT happen?

Those idiot priests from the Moroboshi Clan who cursed him all those years ago, after he tried for the third time to free the *Saikoo Jinseijitsu* and allow the sentient ninjitsu database to live her own life, had vowed that he would NEVER know any offspring born directly of his own loins. And like most people at the time, the thought of NOT being able to father his own heirs had weighed heavily on Happousai. His future actions concerning the Nyu-che-zuu -- actions he, deep down, regretted to this very day -- resulted from that damned encounter.

Well, at least Negako had posthumously dealt with those monsters when she got the chance...


He blinked before he gave Hisayo a light smile. "I'm alright," he breathed out before he perked. "How's Nodoka?"

"Still passed out. Mizuho-chan's keeping an eye on her, along with that friend of Priss-san's. When she wakes up, we'll pop the surprise on her." A knowing look crossed her face. "And believe me, Father, we'll make DAMN sure that she goes along with it."

"Instead of her slitting her throat, you mean?"


He closed his eyes. "Isao brainwashed her too much!"

"Tell me about it," Hisayo muttered before she breathed out, "Well, at least I made sure that he won't be able to lean on me anymore."

Happousai stared at her. "What did you do?"

"You don't know this, but I've been the one who's been helping support 'Otoo-san'..." -- the disgust flowed in torrens from Hisayo's mouth on her saying that -- "...and his imbecile sons over the last twenty years or so. Oh, yes, they all have their own sources of income which could keep them and their families whole and hearty if they just decided to put their brains to it. But a damned month hasn't passed by whenever Ichihara and Ryuuzuke haven't come crawling to me to get a 'loan' for some stupid money-making project of theirs."

"Why haven't you cut them off beforehand?" he wondered.

"Their daughters," Hisayo admitted. "Each of them has three daughters along with one son. The sons are just carbon-copies of their fathers. Lazy, selfish, thinking that their world-view is all that matters and that everyone lives to serve them. The daughters..."

"Are a lot nicer," Happousai finished for his daughter.

"Hai, they are that. And I want so desperately to get them away from those two fools. Their wives won't do a damned thing to stand up to Ichihara and Ryuuzuke. Not a damned thing! And with me worrying about Nodoka-chan atop that..."

"I can see how much you finding out the truth about us must've relieved you."

"That it did," she admitted.

"What did your mother tell you before she died?"

Hisayo sighed. "I didn't get the actual truth about our relationship from Mother, if that's what you're interested in knowing. But when she told me that you had done the horizontal Lambada with her EXACTLY nine months before Nodoka-chan and I were born, well..."

She shrugged, grinning. "You don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure that one out," he finished for her.

"Hai, you don't," she said before they both burst out laughing. After a moment, Hisayo sobered. "Mother missed you so much, Father. To believe that a mere underwear thief, who was only interested in stealing Mother's panties and bras, could have actually made her so happy in one evening. That's what you did for her, Father. You gave her one of the few moments in that pathetic farce of a 'marriage' she had been forced into with that monster Isao which really, truthfully made her happy. For that ALONE, I can never thank you enough." She then leaned up to place a tender kiss on his forehead. "Though I must admit, given that you WERE the one who gave my sister and I life..."

Happousai shuddered as that touch send torrents of chi to flood every muscle and bone in his body. "I only wish that I had thought to go back to look in on Nana-chan. The next thing I heard from your family was that Nodoka was getting married to Genma."

Hisayo nodded. "And by then, you had pretty much become so used to the belief that you were sterile..."

"I never once thought to fully examine Nodoka's chi signature to see the truth." He then closed his eyes. "Then again..."

"Given that Nodoka-chan was pregnant with your own grandchild..."

A rueful nod. "Hai. I wonder how Ranma-chan'll take to learning of her relationship to me."

"Well, if you don't force it down her throat like everyone else's loved to do to her over her lifetime..."

"I know, I know!"

Both chuckled for a moment, and then Hisayo reached over to draw her father into her arms. "You get some sleep now," she urged as she placed him back on the bed before she stood to leave. "I'll see you in the morning."

"Good night, dear," Happousai bid her as Hisayo walked out. Taking a deep breath, he leaned back on his pillow to gaze on the ceiling once more. "Damn..." he breathed out before a knock turned his attention back to the door. "Yes?!"

"Ah, you're still awake, Happousai-sama," the chestnut-haired woman with the dark eyes declared as she walked in, a tray with some cold cut snacks and a kettle of tea in hand. To the aged grandmaster's surprise, she was draped in a housecoat of the same cut as what Hisayo had worn. And just like Arima Fumiko -- and like what his own daughter had just become -- this woman was yet another Avalonian. "I'm Orihara Sanae, one of the staff here at the Hotel Kiraboshi. Fumiko-chan told me you were hungry, so I brought you some snacks and tea."

"Oh, thank you, Sanae-chan," Happousai said as she placed the tray down on the nightstand beside his bed. "Tell me something," he then moved to ask as she poured him a cup of tea. "Is everyone at this hotel Avalonians?"

"Except for Naho-sama, unfortunately," Sanae replied as she handed him the tea cup. "With the bioroid factory itself now in orbit over Tomobiki, we hope to change that sometime soon. If it wasn't for Naho-sama -- and later Negako-sama when she came to live with us after she was freed from Ataru-sama's mind -- we would've had a much harder time settling down here on Earth after we fled Phentax Three."

"I noticed Fumiko-chan's ears. I take it they're typical of your kind."

"Typical of the Niphentaxians, in whose image we were all constructed," Sanae amended. "The brothel owner felt it was only right to provide a more 'native' feel to his workers even though it was as obvious as coal in a ballroom that we were Avalonians." A chuckle escaped her as she speared a hunk of cheeze with a toothpick, and then she held it out for the grandmaster. "When she visits next, we'll get Negako-sama to straigthen around Fumiko-chan's and Minari-chan's ears so they don't have to always comb their hair to cover the points."

Happousai blinked after he took the cheeze into his mouth and swallowed it. "They're not from your group?"

"Iie. Fumiko-chan and Minari-chan were two of the observers sent by the Niphentaxians' 'Church of Lum' to spy on their 'holy city.'"

"Tomobiki, you mean?"

Sanae nodded. "Hai. Undoubtedly, they were created at the request of couples who had lost their children in childbirth and saw the bioroid factory as the perfect way of getting their children 'back.' That's been a profound trend in Niphentaxian society for a long time, almost right from the time they discovered the factory itself on Phentax Twelve." She then rolled her eyes. "But, of course, there was no way in Eternity that the Niphentaxians would have wanted information on the factory to escape the Union. So if any Avalonians were caught anywhere outside of Niphentaxian territory..." She then shrugged, the frown crossing her face telling Happousai a lot.

"I'm sorry to hear that," the grandmaster said. "Then again, it's pretty typical of slave-owning societies, isn't it? So how did..."

"Well, fortunately for us, Mizuho-chan's ex-husband was a doctor who was assigned as chief physician to the Church of Lum's observers in and around Tomobiki," Sanae explained. "And it was Ishi-sensei -- that's his name, Ishi bedai-Tythya -- who prompted Mizuho-chan to flee from Niphentaxian space when she became pregnant with their child. And it was because of what happened to Mizuho-chan which ended up with our coming to Earth." A pause. "Ishi-sensei and Mizuho-chan ran into each other about three months after Lum moved into Tomobiki full-time. Sometime later, when he discovered the truth about Fumiko-chan, Ishi-sensei contacted Mizuho-chan so that Fumiko-chan could be sent here to Onogawa for her own safety. Minari-chan was discovered just recently; she only came up to join us on Monday, believe it or not."

"Well, it's good to see that there is something of an 'underground railroad' active to help you girls."

"Thank you, sir," Sanae replied with a grin. "And now that Ataru-sama, Negako-sama and your own granddaughter are involved -- to say anything of the Sagussans being involved, too! -- the chances of freedom for everyone born of the factory have increased considerably."

"Don't you worry about that," Happousai promised with a raised finger. "If there's one thing I know about Ranma-chan, she won't stop until those who're oppressed are free. That's the one very GOOD thing Genma taught her over the years!"

Both laughed, and then Happousai turned to finish his tea. Sanae stared at him for a moment, and then she stood up. One flick of her wrist later, the tie holding her housecoat in place was undone. A shrug of the shoulders later, it fell clear of her body, exposing all her delightful charms for the wide-eyed grandmaster to behold. Happousai nearly choked on his tea as Sanae slipped onto the bed, twisting herself down so she could place herself well within his reach. Having NEVER had this happen to him for a VERY long time, the aged grandmaster was utterly rendered speechless for a moment. That was enough for Sanae to reach over to take his tea cup away and place it on the nightstand, and then she leaned in to give him a tender kiss. "Um...!" Happousai sputtered as his whole body nearly went into shock as the warmth, the honesty, the sheer DESIRE behind that kiss surged through him, and then he croaked out, "Sanae-chan, you don't..."

"I want to," she said with a smile and a wink. "Do you want to know what I'm seeing before me now?"

Extended pause. "Um, wh-what...?"

"A very lonely man who, just because he tried to do something good, had his whole life turned inside-out and upside-down to the point where he could never know the simply joy of a woman's touch," Sanae replied. "And even though Naho-sama and Negako-sama have done a lot to give me control over my life, there's one thing I can never deny about myself. I was brought into this world to give others pleasure, to give them -- even if only for a brief time -- a sense of warmth, of love, of BELONGING. And I want to do that for you tonight."

Happousai gaped at her. "W-well..."

Sanae then leaned in, her mouth parting as she gently draped herself over him...

* * *

Deep somewhere in the forest near the Hotel Kiraboshi, something howled...

* * *

Negako perked. "Tedai, are you alright?" Inaba Ayano wondered as she gazed concernedly at her would-be lover.

Everyone else in the room paused to stare at the ninjitsu grandmistress. "Negako-san...?" Tatsumi probed.

"Negako-chan, what's wrong?" Naho asked.

Negako breathed out. "It appears that one of Happy's mistakes is coming back to haunt him."

"Happousai-sama?" Tendou Kimiko cried out. "Is he in danger?!"

"No, Kimiko, not really. I have already made an arrangement with the sentience who would desire to claim Happy's soul." Negako then stared at Shinobu. "I believe you might remember this being, Shinobu."

Shinobu blinked as she considered what Negako just told her, and then her eyes widened. "Him?!!"

"Yes, him. Ten, the phone."


Ten handed Negako the communicator unit she had used to speak to Sakuya earlier in the day. Tapping controls, the grandmistress then set the machine on the coffee table. A second later, a voice then called out, "This is the RSS/C 'Konggh'cha.' Who's calling?"

"This is Moroboshi Negako, Priscilla," Negako said. "Kasumi and Nabiki are aboard your craft, are they not?"

"I'm right here, Negako-san," Nabiki's voice then cut in. "What's the problem?"

Negako thinly smiled. "There is an incident in Onogawa which will interest you and your sister..."

* * *

As Happousai found his face buried within the delightful warmth of Sanae's generous cleavage, his chi senses then perked on feeling three incoming objects possessing a LOT of dark, demonic energy racing right for his position. Quickly, he slipped out of his would-be lover's embrace, positioning himself on one of the corners of the bed. Sanae looked concernedly at him. "Happousai-sama, what's wrong...?"

Her voice trailed off as her internal senses came alive, they locking in on the incoming objects Happousai himself had just sensed. "It appears, my dear, we're about to have uninvited guests!" Happousai warned. "And I'm sure that you and your friends certain DON'T want to see your hotel wrecked if these fellows decide to make an issue of it. So, if you'll kindly excuse me..."

"Come back soon," Sanae mewed as she gave him an inviting wink. "I'm hot and ready."

He gave her a jaunty salute. "I'll certainly do that!"

With that, the grandmaster lunged for the window, opened it, and then he bounded off into the night...

* * *

"Um, Ryouga-kun, are you SURE this is the direction to your house?"


"Tamako-chan's got a point, Ryouga-kun. I don't see Fuji-san anywhere close to here."

"Well, it's nightfall..."

"Where ARE we, anyway?!"



"ONOGAWA?!!" the other Avalonians shrilled as they glared at Kitahara Yukimi.

"That's by Yonezawa, Yukimi!!" Kodama Hiro protested. "We're nowhere CLOSE to Fuji-san!!"

"Well, that proves one thing, then."

"What's that, Kanami?"

Kurosu Kanami indicated Ryouga with a hand. "Ryouga-kun's direction curse is more powerful than even WE predicted!"

Hearing that, the others in the mini-van blinked before they noisily exhaled. "Sorry," Ryouga muttered apologetically.

"Don't apologize...! Eh?!"

Yukimi then perked. Eyes turned to the east. The mini-van was currently on Prefecture Route 233, a kilometre west of the Hotel Kiraboshi. "What's that?!" Momose Tamako asked as she rolled down her window to peer into the darkness beyond the roadway.

"What is it you're sensing, Tamako-chan?" Ryouga wondered; in the half-day he had spent with Kanami, Tamako and the others, he had learned that they all possessed very powerful extrasensory abilities which rivalled if not overshadowed his own well-honed chi-senses.

"I think it some sort of extra-dimensional type of entity! Three of them, in fact...!!"

"And there're a whole pack of Avalonians there, too!"

Eyes locked on Kashima Namie. "Are you sure about that, Namie?!" Kanami demanded.

"Wait! I can sense them, too!!" Hiro called out.

"Well, no sense passing by and not saying 'hi!'" Yukimi declared.

With that, she gunned the motor. The mini-van slipped back into traffic, heading north for several hundred metres before making a right turn at the road that would connect Route 233 with Route 234 and Onogawa village itself...

* * *

Happousai bounded over the tops of trees as he sought out an area cleared of trees about a hundred metres away from the Kiraboshi. By what he could sense, the plot of rocky land had been recently levelled of all plant growth, no doubt to make way for yet another onsen spring hotel to be constructed. A quick glance behind him told the aged grandmaster that his pursuers were just thirty seconds or so away. Enough time for him to lay out some basic traps so he could get some time to think his way out of this mess.

He hoped.

Landing in the middle of the clearing, he summoned his chi. "HAPPOU-DAIKARIN!!!"

A dozen chi-bombs streaked off to different places in the clearing as he lept for a nearby tree to hide himself in its still-bare branches. Seconds later, three golden-furred husky dogs -- all of whom were wrapped up in sulfur-smelling spirit-flame, their eyes glowing with the burning incense that could only originate from the deepest pits of Hell Itself -- arrived. They were instantly innundated with explosions from Happousai's chi-bombs, the devil-dogs yelping in shock and fright as they backed away from those blasts. As smoke started to blur the scene from Happousai's vantage point, a ringing noise echoed over the clearing. Looking right, his eyes widened on seeing a small group of people appear in a shower of light and energy some distances from the devil-dogs. He was quick to recognize one of them.


* * *

"Um, Negako-san, what exactly ARE those?!"

"As you will probably remember from his encounter with Ataru, Shinobu, they were formerly Virility's dog team when he made use of a chariot to get around," Negako explained as she beckoned the people she had beamed over from Nerima and aboard the "Konggh'cha" to follow her to the centre of the clearing, where the three devil-dogs were standing. "Do not concern yourself with them; in my presence, they will not harm you." Then, to everyone's shock, a delighted smile crossed her face as she knelt on the ground. "Hello, boys!!"

Seeing her, the dogs yipped with delight as they trampled up to nearly knock Negako over with lapping tongues and quivering bodies. "Oh, my, Negako-san, please be careful!!" Kasumi called out. "That fire might hurt you!!"

Negako gave the Tendou matriarch an annoyed look, and then she glanced toward the trees. "Stay where you are, Happy!" she called out. "I need to speak to their owner for a few minutes before you can safely come out from there!"

"I'd really appreciate that one, Negako-chan!!" the aged grandmaster called back.

The devil-dogs all whined on hearing that voice, they stepping away from Negako as they scanned around to locate the source. "Boys, stay!! Heel!!" Negako barked. "You will feed soon enough!! He is not on this evening's menu!!"

The dogs whined even more. "That is enough!" Negako scolded as chi appeared in her hand. "I said you will feed tonight, did I not?!"

Nods from the three spirit-creatures as they yipped with anticipation. Watching Negako as she aimed her fingers at a clear spot in the ground about twenty metres away, Nabiki then turned to Ayano. "Ayano-san, you want to know something?!"


As the raven-haired Avalonian stared curiously at her, the middle Tendou daughter pointed at Negako. "You calling Negako-san there the 'Earth Angel' might be closer to the mark than you think!" Nabiki declared.

Ayano tittered. Then, a hush fell over the onlookers as a bolt of spirit energy lashed out from Negako's hand to form an intricate pattern shaped like a skeleton key (minus the holder) over a few loops mixed with the Cross of Lorraine. Once the pattern had been formed, Negako then fed a considerable burst of energy into it through thirteen regimented and controlled Psychic Shuriken Storm attacks. Once the last bolt of spirit-energy had pulsed through the pattern, the ninjitsu grandmistress then flashed the "V" for Victory sign.

With that, the pattern exploded, the flame morphing into a huge circle of burning energy wrapped around some sort of space-warp. The warp then opened, allowing a rider on a Harley-Davidson, it fitted with passenger sidecars on both sides of the back tire, to drive out. He screeched to a stop not a metre away from Negako, and then after shutting his machine down, he reached up to take his helmet off, revealing a severely handsome face pierced by coal-black eyes and framed with slicked-back reddish black hair and sharply tapered ears.

Gasps echoed from some of the people behind Negako as the devil-dogs scampered over to crowd their master. The ninjitsu grandmistress remained in place as the rider gave his companions friendly rubs on the neck, and then he turned to gaze on her, a delighted grin crossing his face. "Negako!!" Virility called out. "It burns me up so much whenever YOU summon me!! But what brings you here?!"

"It concerns my rather foolish friend, I am afraid," Negako replied as her eyes flecked toward the place where Happousai was still cowering. "I did not realize that those fools who first cursed Happy had actually called upon your services to enforce it."

The demon hummed for a moment, and then he tapped controls on a palmtop computer fitted on his mount's gas tank. A printout then scrolled out from the machine. Ripping it out, Virility gave the printout a close scan, and then he sighed as he handed it over to Negako. "I must say, Negako, your friend certainly pissed off a few people when they made the incantations to give his soul to me."

"Yes, I know who these people are," Negako grimaced. "Would you desire their souls in exchange?"

Virility jolted. "But they've already passed on into the Heavens!"

"Their stay will not be long once I have located their mortal remains and disposed of them. I have an arragement on that matter."

The demon's eyes widened as he took in the grandmistress' words. "That must be some arrangement."

"With the right personages," Negako confirmed with a grin.


Nearby, Nabiki had walked over to stand beside Shinobu. "Momoe-chan told me about this guy. What do you know about him?"

"He disappeared a couple days after his fight with Ataru," Shinobu reported as Negako handed the printout to Virility. "Other than that, I knew he had a Vespa -- it's what he was using to travel around. Believe me, I've NO idea how on Earth he got hold of a Harley!"

"I purchased it for him."

Eyes locked on Negako. "Um, no disrespect there, Negako-san, but WHY DEAL WITH A DEMON?!!" Nabiki demanded.

Negako smirked as she stared on the middle Tendou daughter. "Nabiki, sentients like Virility here have their uses in my eyes..."

"Twenty souls!" Virility crooned, drool pouring like Niagara Falls from his lips in anticipation as his eyes darted over the printout he had just got back from Negako. "Twenty BEAUTIFUL souls...!! Soon to be mine!! Mine!!! ALL MINE!!!! ***MINE!!!!***"

Mad laughter followed. Negako gazed in annoyance on him. "Even if they can be somewhat single-minded at times," she muttered.

Nabiki faintly nodded. "Ah...! R-right..."

"Take it easy, Nabikivayae," Priss said as she moved to steady the swaying Nabiki.

"Um, Negako-san?"

Negako looked back. "What is it, Shinobu?"

"Have you actually met any...?"

"Gods?" Negako finished as her adopted brother's former girlfriend stuttered on that last word in the question. After Shinobu slowly nodded, the grandmistress then replied, "I did. Shortly after your little re-enactment of Amaterasu's hiding herself in Heaven's Cave."

Shinobu perked. "Why then?!"

"Amaterasu and her friends asked me to thank you for allowing them to have such a good time when they visited that day."


"What...?" Shinobu gasped, and then she sputtered, "You m-mean to say th-that..."

"That was really them," Negako finished for her again.

Shinobu's eyes rolled into the back of her head as she dropped to the ground in a dead faint. Fortunately for her, Sawada Minako was there to prevent her from cracking her head on the rocky ground. "Okay, that settles it!!" Nabiki said. "Tomobiki IS wierder than Nerima!!"

"Nabikivayae, what did you expect for a place that actually calls itself a 'toghmoghbiki?!'" Priss wondered.

The middle Tendou daughter blinked as she considered that, and then she sighed. "That's true, isn't it, Pri-chan...?"

* * *

Ataru shuddered as a yawn took away his voice for a few seconds. "Are you alright, Ataru?" Akane asked.

He blinked before he gave her a light smile. Both were standing in front of the door to Marie's cabin. "Just a little tired, I guess," he said. "It's been one heck of a busy day and we didn't get much sleep last night because of what happened to the other you."

"Sorry about that," she apologized before turning to head into Marie's space. "I'll see you later."


Akane headed inside. Ataru smirked as he noticed the bioroid moving to untuck her shirt just before the closing door blocked his view. Well, that was Marie's problem right now, he mused to himself as he turned to head back to his own cabin. As he moved to open the door, it then opened to reveal Irene. "Oh, Ataru-sama!" she greeted him in a hushed voice. "You're back!"

"What's wrong?"

"Ranma-sama's gone to sleep," the "Kiboo'cha's" chief engineer reported as she stepped out of the room. Following her were the other new members of Pathfinder Troop Six, they all dressed and looking smart. "We'll head back to our ship now."

"Unless you want to come over and stay with us aboard our ship for a while," Megan proposed with an inviting wink and a smile.

Ataru groaned. "I'll have to take a rain check on that one, Meg. Sorry."

The girls flashed him understanding smiles, and then -- much to Ataru's inner annoyance -- they got into a line-up so they could give him warm kisses and hugs before they headed back to the beam-over point for the return trip to the "Kiboo'cha." Once Sylvie had parted from him, he walked into his cabin, and then he closed the door behind him before he took the chance to stretch himself. "Man, have I got to do that to every girl on Sagussa?" he muttered to himself before another yawn escaped him. "Okay, okay! I'm comin'! I'm comin'..."

Staggering over to the bed, he plopped down on the mattress. Kicking off his boots, he proceeded to strip down to his boxer shorts. Setting the clothes on a nearby chair, he pulled the covers back to gaze on the dozing Ranma. Quickly noting that she was totally nude, Ataru blinked. "Oh, what the heck..." he whispered as a hand reached down to slip the shorts away from his hips. Once draped only in his birthday suit, he moved to slip under the covers beside her. "Lights off. Dim the windows," he ordered.

The lights in the room flicked off as the polarization cells in the cabin windows activated, tinting them to the point where the room was plunged into darkness. As he reached over to gently pull Ranma against him, Ataru closed his eyes...

* * *


"Virility, there is no need to shout."


"He must be the envy of every demon and devil in Hell."


"Did Negako-san find some way to recompensate him for all the souls he lost when he fought Ataru?"


"Yes, Virility. Five more souls."

Hearing Negako's confirmation, the devil shuddered as joyous tears began to spill down his cheeks. "Oh, my, my, my, my, my!!!" Virility crooned as his devil-dogs began to yelp and bark excitedly around him. "Everyone in Hell'll be SO jealous at me!! JEALOUS, I tell you!!! First, to get ALL those souls from that stupid terrorist group in Afghanistan when Negako went there!! Then to get the souls of those people who cursed Happousai all those years ago!! And now to get FIVE MORE SOULS!!! Oh, the sheer JOY of it all!!!"

Yet more maniacial laughter followed. Negako shook his head before a strange feeling arced through her, and then she glanced off to her left, in the general direction of where Happousai was hiding. "Oh, there you two are. Was it difficult?"

Everyone else tensed on hearing the ominous sound of robotic limbs moving, that accompanied by a throaty, tiger-like purr. "**I had to chase away some girls in obvious heat, Onee-chan,**" a familiar metallic-tinged voice declared.

"**Yeah, tell me about it!**" a growling yet clearly feminine voice added. "**Sheesh!! The way they were looking at you...**"

"**Tell me about it!**"

"Ataru?!" Shinobu gasped.

"Ranma-chan?!" Kasumi queried.

The two newcomers soon emerged out of shadow. Seeing them, almost everyone screamed out, they instantly backing away from the Cyborg and Neko-Ranma. Priss blinked several times as she instantly recalled the few images that had survived the War of Clone Rights concerning Sagussa's very foundation myth, and then she shook her head. "Oh, man, Luf! You really called it right, didn't you?!"

Nabiki gazed on her. "You recognize that?"

"Just Ataru." The Pathfinder returned her look. "Not Ranma's imitation of a sandpanther."

Nabiki took that in, and then she turned back to gaze on the transformed Ataru. By then, the just-arrived Cyborg had taken notice of the demon who was standing close to Negako. "**I take it I don't have to worry about this guy butting into my life again, do I?**"

Negako shook her head. "No. I dealt with Virility shortly after your encounter with him. He was satisfied with the deal."

"**Oh, that's good. So why'd you want us to come back here, Onee-chan?**"

"I made Virility an offer he is most keen to accept," Negako reported. "But I need to speak with someone about that."

Ataru's good eye blinked a couple of times, and then a hollow sigh escaped the skull-like jaw he had as the Cyborg. "**Him?**"



Ataru looked left, focusing his cybernetic eye on the spot where Negako had drawn out Virility's crest with the Psychic Laser Beam. A bolt of starlight lashed out to impact the ground, it creating a geyser of fire that shot into the night sky. Forming from that was a circular, tube-like portal, it extending only a metre or so into a realm of solid blackness. Staring into that, most of the onlookers -- even Priss! -- began to shiver. Negako turned to Virility, she giving him a wink. "Wait here. I have to announce your presence."

The demon silently nodded. Ataru and Ranma trotted up to enter the portal right behind Negako. Seeing that, Shinobu screamed as she moved to follow. She didn't take two steps before Priss' arm wrapped around her throat, yanking her back. "Don't!!" the Sagussan snapped.

"Let me go!!!" Shinobu cried out as she tried to pull Priss' arm away from her. "He can't go in there like...!!"


Shinobu stopped, her head snapping around to allow her to stare into Priss' eyes. "Wha..."

"Shinobu, beyond THAT portal is a place whose very EXISTENCE will bring everything YOU believe in crashing into the rubbish heap," Priss warned in her iciest voice. "Do you understand me? Everything you believe in, everything you understand about yourself and your place in Existence, everything that is of spiritual value to you -- it will all VANISH just like that!" She snapped her fingers in emphasis.

Shinobu blinked as the Pathfinder's words echoed deep within her brain, and then she gazed at the portal. "But..."

"No, Shinobu. Not this time. You won't even come CLOSE to getting your way in a place like that. Do you understand me?"

"Priss, what IS that place, anyway?" Nabiki demanded.

The Pathfinder stared at her would-be bond-mate, and then the others around her. "We don't have a codified type of faith, not like Shinobu here believes in," she declared as she pulled her arm away from Shinobu's neck, though her other hand reached over to keep hold of her sleeve to ensure Ataru's former girlfriend doesn't do anything stupid. "But we do have our own mythological beliefs, our own faith." She pointed to the portal. "Beyond that portal lies the realm of the Entity who, in our minds, is the Herald of the End of All That Is."

Noting the fearful looks crossing everyone's faces on her pronouncing those words, Priss then added...

"The Master of Entropy."

* * *