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The Unbroken Circle: Chapter two

Kaigan

Part A

 

Disclaimer: Takahashi provided the paints, I'm just working on my own easel.

What has gone before:

Ranma's normal life had been disrupted by the arrival of a strange visitor, Chame. She is intent on removing Ranma from Nerima. Her reasons are unclear, but things are not as they seem. Chame has managed to cobble together a plan to take Ranma away from Nerima under the pretense of a 'training trip'. Thanks to a little mind control, Ranma agreed. Ryouga, under the influence of a magical weapon, attempted to kill Chame while they were on their way... After healing her, Dr. Tofu left her with Ukyou, while he and Ranma stay in the spare room at Ukyou's restaurant.

Previous chapters are archived at: http://ranma.stassen.com/uc/

Key:

"" Speech

<> Thoughts

"{}" speech in Mandarin

 

"Musical pitches do not exceed five,

Yet all their variations cannot be heard.

Colors do not exceed five,

Yet all their variations cannot be seen.

Tastes do not exceed five,

Yet all their variations cannot be tasted.

The /shih/ of battle do not exceed the extraordinary and the orthodox,

Yet all their variations cannot be exhausted.

The extraordinary and the orthodox circle and give birth to each other,

As a circle has no beginning.

Who is able to exhaust it?"

Sun Tzu - from chapter 5 of 'The Art of War'

 

Ukyou stirred in her sleep and, for a moment, she lay on the verge of waking. A comforting mumble from her partner reassured her and she let herself drift back into slumber.

***

Chame's eyes drifted open, slowly. The light filtering in through the windows indicated that it was late morning. She sighed, and embraced the other woman sleeping near her more tightly. She cooed contentedly, and let sleep overtake her again.

***

Ukyou yawned, and stretched. She sat up in bed, slowly taking in her surroundings. Observations began to trickle into her sleep-slowed mind. Someone's arms were wrapped around her. She blinked, and lifted the covers. A girl. A short redheaded girl. A short redheaded girl who was not Ranma.

She shook her head, and climbed out of the bed. She dressed slowly, as memories of last night began filtering back in her head. She heaved a sigh if relief, and laughed to herself quietly, <I'm glad I can take waking up in bed with a woman so well.>

Chame sat up, started to say something, then collapsed back to the bed.

Ukyou finished adjusting her clothing. She had lost her chest bindings last night for bandages, though she had to wonder at the necessity of them, at this point. She helped Chame to a sitting position, asking, "You okay?"

Chame nodded slowly, blinking to focus on Ukyou's face. "I think so. I feel awfully weak, though. What happened?"

Ukyou pursed her lips, then explained, "We got Ranma from his- ah, the Tendo house last night." Chame nodded, and Ukyou continued, "We were on the way back here, when Ryouga attacked."

Chame shook her head, frowning. "I think I remember that, then there was some noise, and an umbrella..."

Ukyou put her arm around Chame, hugging her reassuringly. "Yeah, Ryouga got you pretty good. We were afraid we were going to lose you, but Dr. Tofu healed you."

Chame sighed, closing her eyes for a moment. "I ache. My entire body is resonating pain." She put her hands over her face and groaned, "I feel so weak."

Ukyou opened her mouth to say something, but was interrupted by a knock at the door. Frowning, she called out, "Just a minute." She carefully pushed Chame back down onto the bed, and pulled the sheets up to cover her.

When she opened the door, she was surprised to see Akane there. Akane looked somewhat nervous, and at the same time, a little irritated. Confused, Ukyou asked, "Akane? What's going on?"

Akane glanced around, still seeming slightly nervous. "Sorry, the door was unlocked downstairs, and I wanted to ask you if you'd seen Ranma lately."

Ukyou shook her head, trying to block the view into her room with her body. "Actually, I haven't seen Ranchan since yesterday."

An anxious expression dominated Akane's face for a moment, before she examined Ukyou closely. Ukyou was wearing a T-shirt and jeans. The shirt was somewhat tight on her, since she normally had her chest bound.

Ukyou reflected that she should have chosen something that fit her more loosely. Akane blinked, and Ukyou shivered. The air in her bedroom was much warmer than the air in the hall.

Akane's eyes widened, and she backed away. "Um, are you hiding anyone in there?"

Ukyou paused, thinking, <Would letting her know Chame is here be a bad idea?> "Uh, no... I'm not hiding anyone." She realized how lame the attempt was as soon as she said it.

Akane narrowed her eyes, and pushed Ukyou backwards, pressing into the room. She stared at Chame, just now sitting up, and covering herself with the blanket. Akane's jaw dropped, and she looked at Ukyou. Ukyou flushed, not quite knowing what to say.

The end result left Akane viewing a naked girl hiding mostly under a sheet, and another girl wearing a _very_ daring outfit. The shirt she wore concealed nothing; the cold air had made its presence known to Ukyou, and the shirt quickly revealed this fact. Both Ukyou and Chame had slight flushes on their faces, and Chame was breathing hard.

Akane sputtered, "I thought, but, you, I-Ranma." She blinked again, shook her head, and walked to the door. "Um, never mind. I guess you were probably too busy last night. If you see Ranma, let me know. I'm... kind of worried about him."

Ukyou nodded, confused. "Right..." She closed the door, joining Akane in the hall. "Um, about that there, in the room-"

Akane put her hands up in front of her, crying out, "No! You don't need to explain, I mean, I understand everything. I should have seen it sooner, actually."

The okonomiyaki chef blinked, taken aback. "What do you mean?"

Akane swallowed, and backed away half a step. "I didn't know. I thought you liked Ranma, but it makes sense."

Ukyou shook her head, still not understanding. "_You_ aren't making any sense at all."

Akane grinned sheepishly, babbling, "I mean, you wear men's clothes, all the time, so I should have guessed, but-"

Ukyou flushed bright red, as she understood what Akane was saying. Trying to correct the other girl, she said, "Wait, Akane, it's not what it looks like, you see, I DO like Ranchan, it's just that, last night, Chame and I slept together-"

Akane cut her off, protesting, "No! I don't need to know. It just makes sense now, that you like Ranma as, uh, never mind. I have to go!" She fled down the stairs, and a moment later, Ukyou heard the door close.

Chame staggered into the hall, wearing one of Ukyou's robes and using her staff for support. She winced, looking at Ukyou's beet red face. "What was that all about?"

Impossibly, Ukyou's flush deepened, and she mumbled, "Uh, Akane thought that the two of us slept together." Ukyou studied her feet intently.

Chame shrugged, looking vaguely annoyed. "We did. So?"

Ukyou's expression became tinged with an even deeper shade of crimson. "Uh, no, she thought that you and I, uh, you know."

Chame stared at Ukyou, blinking for a minute, then realization dawned on her. "Oh! She thought that you and I-"

Ukyou nodded quickly, not wanting it to be said out loud. "Right."

Chame thought for a minute, then shrugged. "That's good. If that's what she thinks, then she won't think that Ranma's here."

Ukyou growled, "What about my reputation! People will think I'm into that kind of thing!"

The diminutive redhead considered, then sighed. "Well, find Akane, and explain it to her, then." Shaking her head, she grumbled, "I'm sorry. I'm going to take a bath now, is that okay?"

Ukyou nodded, marching back into her room. "Yeah... I have to catch up with Akane. After I change."

Chame shrugged, and made her way to the bathroom, smiling to herself; she hadn't slept that well in a long while. <A long relaxing soak would be the perfect compliment to a good night of rest.>

***

Ryouga woke up. This was something he was used to. He looked around, and didn't recognize where he was. He was used to that as well. He sat up slowly, and looked for his possessions. His things were all there.

He shook his head, noticing that a migraine was beginning to work its way into his head. He sighed, and set about making something for breakfast. <Where am I today?> He sighed, taking in his surroundings. It looked like an abandoned lot. If he was lucky, it was still Tokyo. <Ukyou sent me towards Okinawa, since she said that's where Ranma and his father were.> He clenched his fist. <Damn that coward!> As soon as he felt anger, Ryouga felt his mind numb against the pain of the migraine.

He let go of his anger, clutching his skull. "Oooh..." He shook his head, and opened up the first aid kit he carried with him. He had some aspirin, but was running low. After a moment of hesitation, he took a few of them, followed by a sip of water from the canteen. He eyed the canteen angrily; he used to like water, but now... <Curse you Saotome! If you-> He cut off that train of thought again, as the migraine redoubled. He gasped for breath, his eyes tearing from pain.

He concentrated on things that made him happy. The anger caused him pain, now. Too much pain. When it took him, it could carry him for days before it let him return to himself. He snarled internally, <Damn Ranma! If it weren't for him-> He stopped himself before the pain started again. <Think about nice things. Happy things. Akane.> He sighed, smiling, and the pain receded.

He shook his head, <Akane. Maybe I should see her. With Ranma around - Always treating her so poorly! The-> Ryouga grimaced. <Nice things. Happy things.> He held himself, rocking back and forth, muttering the litany out loud, until the pains faded. He cast around him; he needed to find something that didn't make him angry. His gaze fell across the umbrella he always kept with him. He reached towards it, thinking, <Yeah. This protects me from rain. It's harmless, it can't make me angry.> He pulled his hand back, noticing that half of the umbrella was stained with blood, and looked away. <Best not think about that now.>

He reflected on the start of the pains. How long ago was it now? <Almost four weeks ago, longer if the rage took me recently.> He sighed again, the old man had promised that it would let him defeat anyone. It would fill him with righteous wrath, and strike down any who crossed him. Ryouga shuddered again. He had fought Ranma... No, he had confronted Ranma, and then attacked him.

<What happened then? He was in girl form, and he said that he didn't like Akane, and he wanted to talk things out.> Ryouga sighed. <But the weapon took over again. And it wasn't even really Ranma.> He sulked. He had thrown the weapon away, but later that day, he found it in his belt when he was looking for something else.

He had thrown it away again, under the wheels of a passing train. It showed up again. He tried a few more times, and finally had to give up. The rage could overtake him even if he wasn't using the weapon. He knew that now. He cursed again, <Damn you Ranma, this is _your_ fault!> Then the pain overtook him, and reduced him to a whimpering mass, and a mocking voice laughed at him, "Maybe it's not, this time. Maybe you can only blame yourself."

Ryouga screamed as the pain and anger became too much to bear, and he slipped again, letting the rage rule him.

***

"Akane! Wait!" Akane turned around, and was startled at the sight of Ukyou rushing towards her. She was dressed in her okonomiyaki seller's outfit, not the tight fitting outfit she had on earlier.

Ukyou caught up in a moment, and Akane regarded her cautiously. The darker haired girl fidgeted nervously, then asked, "Um, yes?"

The okonomiyaki chef heaved a sigh, explaining, "Akane, what you saw wasn't what you think it was."

Akane raised an eyebrow, slowly taking a step back. "Um, okay. I won't tell anyone."

She sighed again, irritation evident in her tone as she said, "Akane, I'm serious. Let me see... how I can explain this?" Ukyou trailed off, desperate for a solution, <Okay, I can't tell her the truth, but, damn, I have to tell her _something_.>

Akane waited patiently. "Yes?"

Ukyou wracked her mind, <What was the story that Chame told Akane? I can't afford to contradict--> Ukyou blinked, as an answer came to her in an unsettling flash of insight. "Um, last night I ran into her, she was cold, because she had gotten wet and it was the middle of the night. She's a really small person, so she doesn't generate a lot of body heat. I took her in and we shared a bed because I was afraid that she wouldn't warm up fast enough, and I didn't want her to get sick."

Akane looked downcast, seeming to slump slightly. "Oh. I'm sorry. She said something about that, actually. That she didn't really have a place to go, I mean. I shouldn't have jumped to conclusions." She sighed deeply, turning away for a moment. "I guess I hoped somehow that she, uh, was happy with you, instead of only surviving. From what Nabiki's told me, she's been through a lot."

Ukyou nodded, relieved. <At least that's one rumor I won't have to live with.> "Yeah. Now what's this about Ranchan?"

Akane looked pensive, straightening up. "He disappeared last night. I heard from someone at school that he ran off with Shampoo, and I went to the Nekohanten to ask Shampoo about that, but it looks like Shampoo, Mousse, and Cologne are gone. There's a bunch of boxes in the back, but no one's there, and the signs were all taken down."

Ukyou bit her lip, knowing both the truth, and that she couldn’t tell Akane. "Akane, I'm sorry. I don't know what to tell you."

The short-haired girl stared at her hard. "You think he's run off with Shampoo, don't you?"

Shaking her head, Ukyou stated, "You think I would be this calm if that's what I thought? No, maybe he needed a little time to himself to think, or something. Do you remember yesterday, at all?"

Akane frowned, scrunching her features in concentration. "Not really, I remember up till lunch, and then everything got a little hazy." She rubbed her temples. "I woke up with an awful headache, too. I shouldn't have eaten that Amazon's cooking."

Ukyou sighed, wishing she didn't have to lie. "Uh, maybe you should ask some of your classmates what happened, then. I should be heading back, I want to make sure that Chame isn't sick, or anything."

Akane nodded, looking at Ukyou closely. "Okay. Is that why you're missing school today?"

Ukyou nodded back. "Yeah. I'm not sure if I'll be there on Monday, either. Uh, anyway, I'll see you around, okay?"

Akane smiled weakly, and wandered off. Ukyou sighed, and trudged back home. It wasn't until she was back in the restaurant that she realized it didn't matter what people in Nerima thought, since she was leaving anyway.

***

She warmed up the grill, and looked at the timepiece on the wall. It was already eleven o'clock. She sighed, and started getting ready to open her restaurant. After a few minutes, Chame came down the stairs. She still looked a little unsteady, but she wasn't using the staff anymore. She smiled at Ukyou, a smile the taller girl returned, if somewhat unsteadily.

Chame held up an apron, offering, "Need help with anything?"

Ukyou nodded, eyeing the small redhead speculatively. "Sure. But why don't you have a seat, first? You should probably try and take it easy; you lost a lot of blood."

Chame's expression darkened a bit, at that. "I suppose I would have. I'm not sure how I survived, actually."

Ukyou shrugged, concentrating on preparing her restaurant. "Ask Dr. Tofu about it later."

"Do you know where he is?"

"Yes, they should be upstairs in the other room."

"Oh, okay. Let's let them sleep for now."

Ukyou smirked, readying the batter for the okonomiyaki. "I thought you would be the last to wake, actually. Now then, what would you like to eat?"

Chame examined a menu. "I don't know, what would you suggest?"

"How about a few deluxe okonomiyaki?" Ranma's voice called down. Ukyou glanced up the stairs at the noise. Dr. Tofu and Ranma were trudging down, and Ranma looked a little pale, but they were both grinning widely.

Ukyou nodded, and set to work. "Okay, eight deluxe okonomiyaki! Some time, when you're feeling up to it, I'll show you how to make these, okay Chame?"

The redhead smirked at that, her eyes dimming and losing some of their natural luster momentarily. "Sure."

Dr. Tofu took a seat next to her, and put a hand on her head. "I'm surprised you're up this early. How do you feel?"

She smiled back at the doctor. "I'm okay, I guess. I'm surprised I'm doing this well, all things considered."

Ranma nodded, taking the other seat near Chame. "We were kind of worried about you. I've never seen Ryouga like that before. I mean... I've seen him mad, mad enough to want to seriously hurt me, but... He's _said_ that he wanted to kill me bunches of times, but I've never seen him like that." He shook his head, staring at the grill in front of him.

Chame sighed, and brushed Dr. Tofu's hand off her head. "Ranma, that's not the Ryouga you know. I don't know what's wrong with him, but until we learn more, we should probably avoid him."

Ranma said nothing, staring at the grill for a long moment. Finally, he sighed, muttering, "You aren't planning on a one-month training trip, are you?"

Chame bit her lip, admitting, "No. I'm not. I suppose you have a lot of questions. I guess I owe you explanations, at this point."

Ranma frowned, thinking. "Yeah, there's a couple of things. How did Dr. Tofu know to come and save you? How do you know so much about, well, everything? Why do I listen when you speak, and do what you say I should? I hardly even know you, but I still trust you."

The small redhead sighed, looking at Tofu for a moment before returning her attention to Ranma. "It's complicated. The short of it is that blood calls blood. As far as how much I know, well I attribute that to your memories. I can read minds to some extent. And as Ukyou discovered earlier today, I can write in minds, too." Ukyou stiffened, startled, but continued monitoring the okonomiyaki she was tending.

Ranma scratched his head, then shrugged. "Okay, give me the long version."

Chame sighed, and began to speak, "Three thousand years ago, a tribe lived where Jusenkyou is now. They were called the Machin. The Joketsuzoku destroyed us. The survivors dispersed, and that was the end of the tribe.

"However, we are very long lived. Myself and Sir- Ah, Dr. Tofu are both over three thousand years old."

Ranma snorted, "Okay, I actually believe you, but what does this have to do with me?" Ukyou nodded silently to herself, flipping the okonomiyaki. She remembered from the night before.

Chame put a hand on Ranma's head. "You have Machin blood. I don't know how, or why, I've seen your father and he hasn't a trace of it. Not many of our people chose to have children after our village fell, and I would have expected the blood to thin. However, genetic fluke, magic, or whatever reason, you are a full blooded Machin."

Ranma frowned pensively. "So does this mean I'll live for three thousand years?"

Chame paused, then shrugged. "You might. I'm not certain. We can control how we age to some degree, it's much easier to stop the process than reverse it, but to some extent... yes."

Ukyou's eyes widened at that admission. "You can make yourself younger?"

Dr. Tofu shook his head. "In appearance. Though it's not possible to reverse oneself past puberty. I believe that certain hormones released in that stage prevent it."

Chame shrugged. "I didn't study medicine that much. I'll take Dr. Tofu's word for it."

Ranma nodded slowly. "Okay. Why do I trust you?"

Chame shrugged again, explaining offhandedly. "Blood ties. You would know if I were lying to you. Maybe even Dr. Tofu, I'm not certain. I'll admit to being more of a mystic than he is."

Ranma regarded her evenly. "So does this mean I have powers? I can read minds?"

Dr. Tofu shook his head, interjecting, "Not necessarily. Having Machin blood means you're more likely to have magical affinity than someone who doesn't. You might be able to learn, and given how well you can control you ki, I'd guess that you actually might have some competence. But magic is a difficult thing to learn."

Ranma frowned at the doctor. "But you healed Chame last night, wasn't that magic?"

The doctor shrugged. "Yes. I can do some things, but my only real magical competence is warding and healing. I can do simple things in other areas, and I can read minds somewhat. That's how I knew the way here last night. I can control emotions of people around me a little, but that's not something I need to do very often."

Chame nodded, explaining, "I have a bit more power than Dr. Tofu in many areas, though I think he's somewhat modest about his power. He's a better healer than I've ever met, and his wards are strong enough to give me pause. I can influence emotions as well, though the practical applications are limited. That's why people trust me, and listen."

Ukyou served up the first round of okonomiyaki, setting one aside for later, "So you're saying that you're using magic to control us?"

The redhead bit her lip. "No, not quite. I'm afraid it's a subconscious thing. I don't think I could make you do anything you didn't really want to without a lot of effort. Ryouga certainly didn't have any qualms about striking me." She winced at the memory.

Ranma paused, considering. "Okay. Can you stop making me trust you?"

Chame nodded, and made a subtle gesture with one hand. "Certainly."

Ranma studied her intently for a moment. Then he shook his head. "I still trust you."

Chame shrugged, setting down her chopsticks again. "Okay, then try this, reach deep into yourself, and ask yourself if I'm lying." After Ranma nodded, Chame pronounced, "I am not making you trust me."

Ranma's eyes widened. "I believe you. It's like there's a soft voice inside me that tells me-" he broke off, staring at Chame. "Do it again."

She blinked, and her eyes unfocused for a moment. "Okay, it's active."

He frowned. "I don't feel any different towards you, though."

Chame smiled, and chirped, "Maybe that means you trust me. Now eat." She turned towards her meal and began eating.

Ranma inhaled his own, and another was tossed down to replace it. He smiled at the okonomiyaki chef. "It's good, Ucchan!"

She smiled back at him, and winked. "Thanks, Ranchan. Anyone else want more?"

Chame nodded, pushing her plate forward. "Please! I feel very hungry for some reason."

Dr. Tofu shook his head and rolled his eyes. "You've lost a lot of blood, you need to replace it. Try and drink some juice. Actually, try and drink a lot of juice." Chame nodded obediently, and Tofu turned his head towards Ukyou. "Thank you for the breakfast, Ukyou. I'd love to stay, but I have to get to work."

Chame smirked, and teased, "Afraid that Kasumi might have called while you were out?" Dr. Tofu paled, and she patted him on the shoulder, consoling, "Don't worry about it. You should call her when you get home, though. Remember, you have to try and protect the Tendos." She frowned suddenly, mumbling,
"It's lucky I didn't die from blood loss."

He sighed, grinning, and tousled Chame's hair, too distracted by the thought of Kasumi to mention that Ranma had donated his blood for her. "Okay. Take care, alright? I'd like to give you a checkup before you leave."

Chame nodded, and waved at him. "Sure, I'll drop in before I go."

Ukyou frowned, looking at the grill thoughtfully. "Dr. Tofu, would you like me to have some okonomiyaki delivered to you later?"

He shook his head. "No, I'm hoping, er... no thanks." He blushed, and left the restaurant.

Ranma rolled his eyes, grumbling, "That's really cute and all, but I'm a bit worried here."

The atmosphere sobered up, and Chame nodded again. "Okay. What would you like to talk about?"

Ranma chewed one end of a chopstick absently. "Well, what's going on with Ryouga?"

There was a pause before Chame replied, "I'm afraid I don't know. Either he is nothing more than a vessel for his rage, or he is being controlled by something. Or a combination of the two. If he allows his rage to control him, then there may only be slight influence on him, and the bulk of his anger _is_ his alone."

Ranma frowned, shaking his head. "I don't know. I know he lets his anger control him, but he's never been that... calculating about it, I guess. Normally he goes on a rampage to get me. I don't know if I've ever seen him that mad at anyone, even me." He shook his head again, mulling it over.

Ukyou shrugged, eyeing the okonomiyaki closely. "I don't think anyone knows him as well as Ranma. If he doesn't know, then I doubt anyone does." She sighed, and flipped the next batch of okonomiyaki onto plates, setting some aside for herself.

Chame nodded slowly. "I saw his anger. I couldn't say for certain if it was real... his alone, or not. His mind was in too much turmoil to be read, and he wasn't about to stand still and let me try. He has something else, too. I don't know what it is, but it's dangerous."

Ranma glanced at her between huge bites of his meal. "What does he have? Do you think it's what's causing the trouble?"

Chame paused thoughtfully and set her chopsticks down. "I'm not certain. It's possible, but he wasn't using it when he attacked us last night, so I don't think so."

Shrugging, Ranma muttered, "Well, anyway, he's out to kill me and he means it this time. What do we do now?"

Frowning, Chame said, "I don't know. We need to make this place safe, though. Ryouga could just walk in, or any of the other people we're worried about. That wouldn't be good."

Ukyou shrugged, looking annoyed at the subtle insult to her restaurant. "What can we do about that?"

Ranma waved a hand dismissively, "I could probably hide as a girl. What about you two?"

Chame shook her head, studying Ranma closely. "No. If you're open to the idea, I could try and teach you wards. We could set up a few that would last for the days that we're going to be here."

Ranma frowned, thinking about it. "I'm more of a martial artist than a mystic, but I guess it couldn't hurt. You aren't just going to teach me tricks, are you?"

Chame smirked, a slight gleam in the corner of one eye. "No, I'm planning on teaching you a lot of things. About the Machin, magic, and martial arts."

Ukyou snickered, and set about cleaning the grill. "The three 'm's, eh?"

Ranma laughed as well, and Chame blushed for a moment before joining in. After they had settled down, Chame grinned, and managed, "Well, that always makes me feel better after being stabbed with an umbrella. Come, Ranma, let us start teaching you the basics. Once we're done, and things get busy, I'm going to try and help Ukyou out."

Ranma flashed Ukyou a grin. "See you later, Ucchan!" Ranma and Chame retreated up the stairs, and Ukyou frowned to herself once they were gone.

She sighed, and began to prepare for the lunch rush. <This isn't quite how I hoped it would be. I wanted to spend time with Ranma, and he's spending time with Chame instead.> She brightened suddenly. <But I _am_ getting to spend more time with him than I would otherwise.> She nodded to herself and smiled, prepared to face the day with renewed vigor.

***

Chame sat in the middle of the spare room. She folded herself into a meditative position, and gestured for Ranma to do the same.

He obliged, and they stared at each other for a bit. Ranma spoke first, "Chame? What kind of problem do you have with certain noises?"

She considered for a moment before answering, "Well, its difficult to explain. I'm more sensitive to certain noises than normal people are. It's the tone more than the volume. I don't like shrill piercing noises."

Ranma frowned, considering. "I'll say. That looked pretty painful last night. How did you survive three thousand years with that kind of problem?"

Chame stared at the ceiling speculatively. "It's only a problem I've started getting in the last twenty years or so. I suppose I should ask Dr. Tofu."

Nodding, Ranma said, "That's probably a good idea, otherwise you might get hit with an umbrella again..."

Chame returned the nod. "You're right. I'll visit him before we go. In the meantime, I want you to meditate." Ranma closed his eyes, and prepared to follow her instructions. "Good. Now concentrate on a single point of light. Imagine that this light is surrounded by infinite blackness."

Ranma concentrated.

"Okay, now. In the blackness, you can see all of your worries, your hopes, your fears. Let them all sink into that point of light."

After a few minutes, Ranma felt an odd sensation sweep over him, and he nodded.

"Now there's nothing in the darkness. It's empty, and the point of light is the center of everything. Let yourself sink into that point."

Ranma nodded, feeling another odd sensation. It felt like he was floating in a warm liquid of some kind, and he could feel ripples as something moved near him. He resisted the temptation to open his eyes, focusing on Chame's words instead.

"In the light, in the very center, is a window. Look into that window, and tell me what you see."

Ranma looked. In his mind's eye, he saw the light, and let himself drift deeper into it. In the center, there was a round portal. The light surrounded it, but didn't blind him. He looked through it. He saw the room he and Chame were in. Marveling at how distant his voice sounded, he said, "I see this room."

"Very good. Now look around, and tell me what's different. Tell me what you see when you look at me."

Ranma looked around the room. It was much the same in this view as the last, except that the colors seemed... less vibrant. Everything seemed muted. He glanced around. His pack wasn't here. Concerned, he said, "Chame? I see the room, but everything is dimmer, and some things are missing. Like my pack and the futon." He glanced around again, adding, "I don't see you."

Chame's voice reached him. "The room has a weak presence in the spirit world. Only important things, or things with emotional value will show up here. Your pack might show up in a few days, but this world is slow to accept change. Now, look behind you. Don't move," She cautioned, "Just let yourself see behind you."

He nodded, and tried to let his sight drift in a circle around him. Surprisingly, it did. He glanced down at himself, and was only a little surprised to notice that he couldn't see his body. Chame sat behind him, looking the same in this world as in reality, "I see you now. You look the same, though."

"Not quite," Ranma observed that this Chame did not appear to speak when he heard the voice, "There is one difference. Look very closely."

He nodded, and examined more closely. All of the details he could remember were the same. She seemed brighter, compared to the room. Ranma frowned. <That's not it, is it?> He studied her again, then said, "I think I see it. You have an aura around you. It's very dim, and small."

"Actually, it's not. Focus again. You're new at seeing auras. Imagine that you are able to focus your gaze closer, and see auras wider than they appear."

Ranma nodded, and focused. After a moment, Chame's aura unfolded, and seemed to swell enough to fill the room, like butterfly wings. Ranma gasped, "Wow! That's impressive!"

"Don't get distracted, what colors do you see?"

He looked closely, listing them off, "I see an intense blue swirling around from your face, but it's mixed with indigo and violet as well. I see a strong yellow and red, and a weak orange and green. It looks like there are holes in your aura where I can see right through it."

"Very good! Okay, can you open your eyes?"

He blinked. "My eyes are open."

"Back in reality, I mean."

Ranma tried opening his eyes, and noticed with a twinge of panic that he was unable to. "I can't!"

"Don't worry," Chame's voice was soothing, and her aura suffused yellow and blue, "Reach back, deep into yourself, and twitch your hand."

Ranma did so, and opened his eyes. He glanced around. <This is reality, right? Everything looks the same, more vibrant, more real.> He peered at Chame, asking, "Did I do it?"

She nodded, smiling, "Yes. You've done quite well, for your first time."

Ranma grinned, and allowed himself relax from the meditative position. "So, what does that do?"

Chame shrugged. "It's a start. Next time, it won't be so difficult for you, and eventually you will get to the point where you can see auras without having to close your eyes. You will be able to see from both your real eyes and your spirit's eyes simultaneously. Still, I think that's enough for one day. Do you have any questions?"

Ranma nodded, rolling his eyes. "Do I ever. What are the holes in your aura, and what do the colors mean?"

"Well, the colors you see are going to be different for you when you look, than when I will. I'd guess that your view is tinged by whatever philosophy you follow. The colors correspond to Chakras, so the colors would each have different meanings. The holes are there because I'm weak right now. In a few days, when I'm back up to normal, they should be gone."

Ranma considered this. "Chakras, eh? But what do the colors mean?"

Chame frowned. "Don't think of it as colors, think of it as emotions. When you look at a color, it will have two aspects in your paradigm. Either it will be light, or dark. The positive of an emotion, or the negative. Practice what I taught you, and when you look at an aura, try and feel the colors. Then you'll know."

Ranma bobbed his head again. "Okay, what next?"

Chame smirked. "I'm going to ward this place, for now. Why don't you help Ukyou?"

He paused for a moment, the sighed. "Oh, right. Um, you probably heard something about this earlier, but I have a kind of... problem."

Chame looked at Ranma patiently. "Yes?"

Ranma frowned, fidgeting nervously. "Um, when I get hit with cold water, I change. Hot water reverses it, but it might be useful as a disguise."

Chame nodded. "I'm familiar with Jusenkyou. Aside from that, I read your thoughts a while ago. It's something you think about a lot."

Ranma blinked. "Oh yeah. You'll have to teach me that trick someday."

"After you master the one I gave you. Now go and waitress for Ukyou while I'm working on the wards. And don't worry, I'm polite enough to not eavesdrop on your mind. The spells should keep anyone from recognizing you."

Ranma raised an eyebrow, and took a change of clothes to the bathroom. A few splashes of water later and she was ready to help Ukyou out. She was wearing a pair of loose-fitting pants and a shirt, patterned with bells and ribbons.

Ranma cinched up an apron as she descended the stairs. Ukyou giggled, at the sight, teasing, "Cute outfit, Ranchan. Where'd you get it?"

Ranma rolled her eyes. "Working at the Nekohanten. Still not busy?"

Ukyou shook her head. "The lunch rush is over. I'm glad for the help, but aren't you worried about someone recognizing you?"

She shrugged, sitting down for a moment. "I can't just sit around all day. Aside from which, Chame said the spells would keep anyone from recognizing."

Ukyou smiled, then studied the okonomiyaki grill for a moment. Gathering her courage, she asked, "Say, Ranchan?"

She leaned across the counter, towards the okonomiyaki chef. Right now the restaurant was empty except for the two of them. "Yeah, Ucchan?"

"So, ah, what did Chame teach you?"

She smirked. "Well, I guess she taught me to see auras."

Ukyou raised an eyebrow. "What does my aura look like?"

Ranma frowned, narrowing her eyes. "Let me see, this might take a moment." She concentrated, going through the same exercise that Chame had walked her through. In almost no time, she was able to see Ukyou's aura. It wasn't as vibrant, or as large as Chame's, but he noticed that it held an odd beauty of its own. "Well, Ucchan, I can see a lot of orange, and some hints of other colors, but your aura is mostly green."

Ranma was aware of Ukyou's voice, but it felt distant. "What does green mean?"

Ranma paused, then shrugged. "Let me try and find out." She tried to remember Chame's advice on the subject. <Feel. Huh.> Ranma reached out with her mind's eye, and tried to touch the swirling green aura around Ukyou. She felt like she touched it for a moment, then it faded away, slipping from her grasp.

She paused, and tried again. This time, she was able to reach it. She paused for a moment again. <Now what?> After a moment, she tried to sense the green. Nothing happened. She tried to read it, and studied it more closely. Nothing happened. She paused, considering, the mumbled, "I think I've got it, hold on a moment."

Ranma grasped the color tightly in her mind's eye, and let it flow through her.

Ukyou gasped, as Ranma's eyes shot open, and she fell backwards off her stool. She leapt over the counter, concern evident on her face. "Ranchan? Are you okay?"

She blinked up at Ukyou for a second, tears forming. "Yeah, Ucchan, I think so." Ukyou helped Ranma up, and Ranma grabbed onto Ukyou tightly. "Ucchan, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I never knew. I mean, I knew, but I never realized, I'm sorry."

Ukyou patted Ranma on the head consolingly. "Don't worry about it Ranchan, don't let it bother you. Now... what was it?"

Ranma sniffled, then dried her eyes and backed away a little. "Ucchan, I have to see Akane."

Ukyou frowned. <No! Why?!> She struggled not to yell, as she spoke, "Are you sure that's a good idea, Ranchan?"

Ranma shook her head. "No. It's not. She doesn't have to see me, but I have to see her."

Ukyou put out a hand to stop Ranma, but she was already gone. "Ranchan..."

Chame descended the stairs, looking slightly irritated but more concerned. "What's going on?"

Ukyou glanced back at Chame, before turning to stare at the doorway. "Ranchan said he needed to see Akane."

Chame frowned, confused. "Why? What brought this about?"

The okonomiyaki chef sighed. "I asked him to show me what he learned, and he said that my aura was green. I asked him what that meant, and he said that he didn't know. He said he was going to try to find out, and then he was quiet for a few minutes. Then he fell off of his stool, and ran out to find Akane. What happened?" Ukyou looked at Chame pleadingly.

Chame put a finger across her lips, deep in thought. "I think I have an idea. Wait here, I'll bring him back." Ukyou nodded in relief, and Chame bounded up the stairs. She bounded out the door after retrieving her staff, and waved to Ukyou in passing.

***

Chame decided to take a rooftop route to search for Ranma. She was wearing her black pants, and another silk shirt with embroidered dragons. The one she wore last night was a little torn. And bloodstained. These clothes let her move around more easily than a skirt. She shook her head, returning her mind to the task of finding Ranma. She cast out with her senses. <Ranma, Ranma... Where are you?>

She headed towards the Tendo Dojo, trying to keep her eyes peeled for any sign of Ranma, or Ryouga, or any of the other innumerable people that might be involved.

She found Ranma first. Ranma was still in girl form, cowering at the feet of... <Kuno?>

Chame gritted her teeth and leapt down from her perch, to land between the two. Ranma was whimpering, and muttering something she couldn't understand.

Kuno faced Chame, and his expression changed from lecherously pleased, to noble and concerned. "Ah! 'Tis none other than the fair maiden who wishes to pledge her heart to me-"

Chame cut him off, "Tatewaki, I already told you that I'm honor-bound to kill you. Now you've gotten my sister mixed up in your schemes. Shall we fight?"

Kuno laughed haughtily, while Ranma continued to whimper, holding her knees in her hands and rocking back and forth slowly. "Very well! I shall fight with thee. If thou should win, I shall allow thee to date with me."

Chame rolled her eyes, "I don't want a date with a corpse. This is a blood feud, Kuno. My honor will not be satisfied until the street runs red with your blood."

Kuno backed away a trifle. "I sense much anger within thee, but I know that my love can-"

Chame had had enough. She caught Kuno in the stomach with her staff, picked him up, and hurled him across the street. He slammed into the side of a building, leaving an indentation and throwing up a giant cloud of dust. Chame grumbled, and helped Ranma stand up. "C'mon, 'sis,' we got witnesses."

Ranma nodded, and let herself be carried by Chame. Chame stopped a few rooftops away from the scene, and sat Ranma down. Scanning the horizon momentarily, she asked, "So. You want to talk about it?"

Ranma shook her head violently. Chame stared into her eyes for a quite moment, unquestioned challenge in her gaze, and the taller redhead nodded reluctantly, looking away.

Chame patted her on the head consolingly. "It's okay. Tell me about it."

Ranma drew in a ragged breath, explaining, "I tried to feel his aura, like you said. I always thought he was kind of crazy, and I still think he is. The funny thing is, I always thought that as messed up as he was, he believed that he... When I looked into him, and I saw his mindless pursuit of me, and the fact that he... He has no real emotions. He only acts like it, to appear normal. What he thinks is normal."

Chame winced. "That's not an easy thing to take into yourself. Luckily, it will fade soon."

Ranma nodded. "I never realized, and when I had that, I read it and it became _part_ of me, I had a struggle, I couldn't tell what feelings were mine, and what I was doing to try and be normal." She shook her head, shuddering. "To be him."

Chame rocked back onto her heels for a moment, crouching near where Ranma sat. "Well, I don't know. I think he still has feelings, he's just hidden them from himself. He needs someone who actually cares about him to love him and unlock those feelings. Unfortunately, I don't think we have the time to help him, and to be honest, I'm not sure I have the inclination."

Ranma laughed, slowly regaining her composure. "You're right, though. But I don't think I would either."

Chame smiled, patting the other girl comfortingly. "Okay, now what's this about seeing Akane?"

Ranma's expression straightened out. "I want to read her aura."

Chame nodded slowly. "Okay. I think I understand. I don't approve, but I can't really stop you. Just don't let her see you. I'll stick with you- oof." Chame sat down on the roof hard, blinking. "Um, can we go see Dr. Tofu?"

Ranma blinked, concerned. "Right now?"

Chame winced. "Please?"

***

Dr. Tofu sighed. "Okay, you can put your shirt back on." Chame did so, silently. The doctor shook his head, and gave her a stern glance. "Chame, I told you to take it easy. You need to rest."

Chame looked somewhat guilty. "I'm sorry. I will. There's something else I wanted to ask you about, too."

Dr. Tofu waited, attentively. "Yes?"

"Well, I've got this reaction to loud noises..."

Dr. Tofu considered, after Chame told him the story. "Well, I'm not certain, but I will research it. Come back in a few days, and I'll tell you what if I find out."

Chame opened her mouth to say something, but Ranma charged into the room, a panicked look in her eyes. "I gotta hide!" Before anyone could say anything, she dove behind a curtain. Chame and Dr. Tofu exchanged a glance, and then there was a knock at the door.

Dr. Tofu shrugged, guessing who it was. "Come in."

Chame wasn't surprised at who came in. It was Akane, looking both irate and confused. "Excuse me Dr. Tofu, I - Chame?"

Chame nodded. "Yes, I'm seeing the doctor, since I think I caught a cold from last night."

Dr. Tofu grinned. "Yeah, I think you'll be okay if you get some rest. You should try not to move around too much."

Akane shook her head, confused. <Why is that girl around everywhere?> "I'm sorry for interrupting, Dr. Tofu, I just thought you might know something."

Dr. Tofu looked confused, then asked, "About what?"

Akane sighed. "Ranma's gone. His stuff is missing, and the Nekohanten is deserted. The rumors at school are that Shampoo said she got Ranma to go back to China with her." Akane's eyes began to tear up. "I can't find anything about him anywhere. I checked Ucchan's, but Ukyou said that she hadn't seen him either."

The doctor was quiet for a moment, then asked, "Do you think he left with Shampoo?"

Akane sighed again, staring at her feet. "Maybe, I mean, he might have, for..." She paused as she glanced at Chame. "That, uh, thing he was always looking for."

Tofu nodded, though he wore a doubtful expression. "I suppose. But does that really sound like the Ranma you know?"

Akane paused, thinking, then nodded. "Yes. That's the kind of thing he would do if he thought that it would get him a cure." She sighed again, staring at her feet. "I'm sorry. I'm going to go home. Kasumi invited you over for dinner tonight, if you were interested."

The doctor kept the glow on his face minimal, until Akane had turned away to leave. "Sure, Akane! I'll see you later."

Chame sighed, and opened the curtain once it was safe. Ranma was standing there, her face bearing an expression that conveyed both hurt and anger. Chame smiled weakly. "Want to talk about it?"

Ranma sighed. "No. Yes." She sighed again heavily, and let the anger drain from her face. "I think so."

Chame smiled encouragingly at Ranma.

"She does care about me. But she's got so much anger, and so little trust. It hurts, but maybe it's my fault. I probably never helped matters."

Dr. Tofu was quiet for another long moment. "No, Ranma. She's always been that way. After the loss of her mother, she was afraid to love anyone, since she loved her mother, and... She's afraid if she lets anyone into her heart, she'll lose them too. And you lead a dangerous life. There are a lot of factors to consider. In the end, it's no one's fault."

She frowned, staring at her feet. "Didn't you once tell me that she was really a sweet girl?"

Dr. Tofu winced, "True. And she still is, deep inside. I was hoping that if someone showed her love that she would change back. But the point is you can't blame yourself. If anything, give it time. Maybe things will still work out. I'll be spending more time with her family now, and maybe we can break her out of her shell." He smiled softly. "When you come back, who knows?"

Ranma sighed. "You're right. We just need some time." <Which 'we' don't have...>

Dr. Tofu shrugged, not catching the thought. "Okay. Can you help Chame get back to Ukyou's?"

Ranma looked up at Chame, still frowning. "Yeah, that's where I'm going anyway." Shaking her head, she asked, "Can I use the spare room for some time to think?"

Chame nodded, thinking of the thought from Ranma. "I only needed an empty room to set up the wards." <And at least I know which direction to push now...>

She smiled at Chame thankfully. "Okay then, let's go."

Dr. Tofu waved to them, and they walked back to Ucchan's in silence.

***

Ukyou smiled when she saw Ranma and Chame return. "Ranchan! Chame! Are you guys okay?"

Chame nodded, still slightly pale. "Just a little weak. I'm going to help out, since it will be dinner soon. Ranma will hide in the spare room for a while... The wards will work fine for a small number of people, but a crowd might strain them."

Ranma nodded, looking distracted. "Yeah. I need a little time to think about things."

Ukyou waited until she was up the stairs before she pounced. "So, what happened?"

Chame frowned pensively, as she tied on an apron. "I really think it would be better for Ranma to tell you on his own."

Ukyou grumbled, "Okay, okay..."

The bell over the door rang, as a customer entered. Ukyou sighed, and prepared to lose herself in her work for a few hours.

Chame smiled softly to herself, as she waited tables. <Patience, child. Patience.>

***

Ranma sat in his room, considering, and letting the turmoil of emotions wash through him. He glanced around. <Heh. My room. I'm living with Ucchan now.> He frowned. <Why does it have to be this way? I could really like Akane, but...> He lapsed into a sigh. <This was much easier before I learned that trick.> His mind began to wander to other things. <I wonder what I should do. Maybe I should talk to my mother...>

He considered the idea. His mother only knew him as Ranko, but soon he would be leaving. <I might not get a chance to see her again, not for a long while. Even if it's only as Ranko, I'd like to see her before we go.> He paused, thinking about that further. <Chame's going to need to stay for a while, since Dr. Tofu is researching her hearing problem. I think I have enough time.> He nodded to himself. <I'm leaving anyway, so I should tell her the truth. I'd better bring Ukyou with me, though.> He pondered, wondering if his mother would really make him commit seppuku.

He sighed, and stretched out on his bedroll. <Probably not. She might make Pops, though. Heh, like he doesn't deserve it.> He rolled to one side thinking back on what he had discovered earlier. <I guess that's something I'll never be able to do.> He shifted uncomfortably. <But then, would it have worked?>

After thinking about it for a while, he sighed again. <No. It wouldn't have, would it? Best look to the future.> He let himself drift off to sleep, still thinking about the future.

***

Ukyou stretched, the shift was over, and it was finally time to relax. "Thanks, Chame. You were a huge help. Maybe I should consider hiring someone part-time..." She shook her head. "But I guess I'm leaving, so it doesn't matter, does it?"

Chame smiled, shrugging. "Maybe not here. You can always start again, somewhere else."

Ukyou nodded thoughtfully. "You're right. Do you think now is a good time to talk to Ranchan?"

Chame frowned, considering, and her eyes went blank for a moment. "No, he's dreaming right now."

Ukyou raised an eyebrow. "What's he dreaming about?"

The redhead colored a little. "I'm not going to say."

The okonomiyaki chef giggled. "Was it about me?"

Chame rolled her eyes. "Ask him in the morning. Are you going to go to school tomorrow?"

Ukyou shook her head. "No, school is out tomorrow."

Chame nodded. "Okay then. I had hoped we could be ready to move by now, but Dr. Tofu is right, I need to rest."

Ukyou regarded her, stating, "That didn't look very restful."

Chame looked innocent. "Compared to carrying people while leaping across buildings?"

Ukyou laughed. "Okay, you have a point there. Let's go to bed."

The redhead grinned. "I'll stick to my bedroll, thanks."

Ukyou smirked, waggling a finger at Chame. "Who was the one who didn't mind waking up with another woman?"

Chame shrugged. "I've been around for a while."

Ukyou's eyes widened. "Uh, you mean you, uh, you like girls?"

Chame's smiled lessened. "No, that's not it. I'm actually not much into either, right now. I guess I just don't think I have time for it." She sighed, "When I was younger, about two thousand years ago, I ended up in a similar situation. It's... nice to sleep with another woman. I liked it because there was no threat of sexuality, just two people, content to share their presence and warmth." She trailed off, seeming distant.

Ukyou looked at the ceiling, thinking. "Yeah, I guess you were right. When I slept with you, I felt... comforted. I didn't feel threatened, and I don't think I've rested that well in a long time." Ukyou shook her head, and looked at Chame again. "But, does that mean you're frightened of, ah, intimacy?"

Chame's look of sadness deepened. "Well, I don't know. I just haven't found the right guy yet. When I was younger, I thought that it might be Dr. Tofu, but now, I know that's not right. He's not the one for me."

Ukyou began to smile, slowly. "Have you ever been married in your life? Had children?"

Chame rolled her eyes again. "I slept in the same bed as a man once, and I'm betting he wasn't the best example of a gentleman, but nothing happened. That's about the closest I've ever come."

Ukyou frowned. "Haven't you even ever kissed someone?"

Chame scratched the back of her head. "I was planning on it, once. But something happened, and it kind of ruined the mood."

"What was it?"

"An army of angry women tore my sister apart, and she bled to death in my arms."

Ukyou blanched. "Oh. I'm sorry. I didn't know."

Chame shook her head. "No, it's not your fault, and it was a _very_ long time ago. We should go to bed."

Ukyou nodded, and followed her up the stairs. She ran back down a moment later, making sure the door was locked.

***

Ranma woke early the next day. He blinked at his surroundings. <Another unfamiliar ceiling,> he thought to himself.

He sighed, and sat up, stretching. After grabbing a change of clothes, he headed for the shower. He reflected on the last few days while he washed. <Magic. I knew Cologne and the old letch knew some stuff, but I never thought I would be learning.> He sighed, shut off the water, and climbed onto the roof after dressing.

No one was up this early, and Ucchan's had a flat roof, so he didn't have to worry about being seen. He tossed his shirt to one side, keeping his plain tank top, and began an intermediate kata -- one that was simple enough to allow him to test himself for how quickly he could do it, without being too simple. The exercises helped keep him in shape, and sharpened his focus. They also allowed him time to think, something he had been doing a lot of lately.

He focused on his ki, trying to take in the entire world around him. He was used to having heightened senses as a martial artist, but the new sensations, seeing and feeling auras, were foreign to him. <I wonder if I really need to learn magic. I'm good enough a martial artist without seeing auras.> He pondered that for a moment, until a nagging voice in the back of his head informed him that maybe there was more to life than just martial arts.

He froze, mid motion. <More to life than martial arts?> Of course there was; he knew that. He read manga, watched TV, and did othCharacters codes for the Microsoft Windows fonts in the range 128 - 159 may not be recognized on other platforms. You are instead recommended to use named entities, e.g. ™ rather than Windows character code 153 (0x2122 in Unicode). Note that as of February 1998 few browsers support the new entities. er things aside from martial arts. He sat down, and thought about it. <I do lots of things besides martial arts.> The nagging voice asked him what, and he didn't have an answer.

Troubled, he began the kata again. What skills did he have, outside of martial arts? <School is embarrassing, I've never paid much attention before, even though I probably should have. What else is there? I can cook.> He smiled. <Maybe it's not much, and I might not be great, but I'm a decent cook.> He nodded to himself, reassured.

The nagging voice rose again, and asked 'what else'?

He sighed, sagging to the ground. Despondently, he shook his head, and went back inside. Ukyou was already awake, and humming something to herself in the kitchen. Ranma treaded down the stairs softly. Chame wasn't anywhere he could see.

He tapped Ukyou on the shoulder gently, and she jumped, startled, exclaiming, "Ranchan!" She spun around, to face him, and her expression changed from amused to worried. "Ranchan? What's wrong?"

Ranma looked at the grill for a long moment. "Ukyou, can you teach me how to make okonomiyaki?"

<Not Ucchan. Ukyou.> Her spatula dropped to the floor as she stared in shock. Ranma picked it up, and handed it to her hopefully. She nodded slowly. "Y-yes, Ranchan, I can teach you."

He smiled as the faint tinge of fear left his face. "Thanks, Ucchan."

------------

Author's Notes:

The title of this chapter, 'Kaigan' means 'spiritual awakening'. For the most part, the intent of this piece is to illustrate the changes in the Nerima Dynamic. Or something like that. :p

Thanks, as always, to Chris Stassen and Druid, for their C&C.


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