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The Unbroken Circle: Chapter ten

Shikakejirai

Part B

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

What has gone before:

Ranma is driven, and searching for another three daughters before he heads to China. Finding Kodachi's child, and Yuukie (Nabiki's daughter), he bonded with them and moved on, searching for one last daughter before leaving. Akane returned from searching for Ranma again, only to narrowly miss him, and spent some time bonding with her niece. Mousse has been added to the ranks of the Band of the Dead. The Lord of the Roads is weaving the dreams of Ranma, Shampoo, Akane, and somehow, Ukyou, with the assistance of the Fates, who are exacting a price from Ranma...

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

Brief key, trying to stay simple.

<> frame thoughts.

"" frame speech

"{}" frame speech in Mandarin

 

"Nine at the top means:

Isolated through opposition,

One sees one's companion as a pig covered with dirt,

As a wagon full of devils.

First one draws a bow against him,

Then one lays the bow aside.

He is not a robber; he will woo at the right time.

As one goes, rain falls; then good fortune comes."

I Ching - The Book of Change

 

"Dare one ask,

'The enemy, amassed and in good order, is about to approach.

How do I await him?'

I say,

'Seize what he loves, and he will heed you!'"

Sun Tzu - The Art of War - Chapter 11

 

Akane paused, seeing another figure before her, and shifted immediately to an offensive stance. The wooden hallway was empty, with no furniture to distract them or hide behind.

She blinked, seeing the other woman standing in a relaxed stance, wearing nothing more than a confused expression. She frowned, then glanced down at herself, blushing to find herself clad in the same.

The other woman made a gesture, and a copper bracelet and a book coalesced from nothingness, the book floating near her and the bracelet firmly on her wrist. She approached, peering forward intently. "Akane?" she asked after a moment of scrutiny. "Is that you?"

Akane flinched, then nodded, not shifting out of her stance. "Yeah... what are you doing in my dream, Shampoo?"

Shampoo grumbled, "Bad enough you have to intrude in my dreams, can you at least say my name right?"

Akane blinked at that. "What?"

The amazon scholar wore a particularly pained expression, and enunciated, "Shan Pu. Not Shampoo. It's quite simple, Shan Pu. See?"

Akane dropped her fists to her sides, stunned. "What the hell is going on here?"

Shampoo shrugged, glancing over her shoulder. "Not sure what to make of this myself, but something tells me that it's important, one way or another."

Nodding in response, Akane focused her willpower for a moment, fabricating a simple white gi around herself. <The Amazon might be comfortable running around naked, but I'm not...>

Shampoo cocked her head to one side, then imitated Akane's feat, forming an elaborate blue robe with gold trim about herself. Smirking, she opened her mouth, then fell silent as another voice whispered through the air between them. "Megumi..."

The women looked towards each other, confused, and spoke at the same time, "Was that you?"

Shaking her head to banish an errant thought, Shampoo consulted the book as it hovered before her, the glimmering chain writhing through the air while the pages flipped. "Ah," she said, after a moment. "That explains a little bit about it, then..."

Akane scowled, shooting her a questioning gaze. "What's that?"

The Amazon smirked, explaining in a knowing voice, "Someone has pushed us into this dream with someone else." She frowned suddenly, shivering. "I think Ranma's wife was banished here, and someone thought to summon us here to her... I don't know why, though."

Flinching violently, Akane shook her head. "Wife?"

Shampoo winced, realizing the impact her words might have only too late. "Ah... that is to say..."

Akane straightened, waving a hand dismissively. "Doesn't matter. You didn't win him either."

Shampoo's expression became strained. "I somehow doubt we were summoned here to bicker, Akane. Maybe Ranma's wife needs help. Shouldn't we be looking for her?"

Embarrassed, Akane dropped her head. "Sorry. Here I am, acting like a petulant child..."

The Amazon scholar smirked slightly, turning towards a doorway. "I do not sense anyone else nearby... can you?"

The young Tendo closed her eyes, casting out with her senses, and flinched when she received a bizarre and distorted response. Filtering through two layers of stimuli, she realized that she was sensing the Tendo home, where her body was, in addition to the dreamscape.

"No..." she began slowly. "I don't..." A blinding flash of energy flooded through her, as a blazing font of mystical energy ignited, seeming ready to threaten Akane's balance. "Ah... I got something."

Shampoo merely raised an eyebrow, then gestured with one hand. "Well then, shouldn't we be going?"

Scowling, Akane toned down her senses, and marched to a nearby door, slowly navigating her way towards the source of the energy. The Amazon trailed behind her, book in hand. After a few minutes of traversing uniformly blank corridors and hallways, Shampoo offered, "Interesting place, isn't it?"

Akane shrugged, unnerved by the blankness of the scenery. "Er... I guess. But where is it?"

The Scholar consulted her tome for a moment, then pronounced, "A reflection of a static holding on the edge of the horizon of eternity." She snapped the book shut, dropping it to hover near her again. "A dream, more or less."

Snorting, Akane rolled her eyes and slid open another door, knowing that who or whatever else was in the realm with them, it was in that room.

***

Ranma tensed against the chains binding him, nervous and unable to fight back the overpowering fear. There were cats... in the darkness... Above him, dimly glowing and ever so far away was an opening, slowly receding, as Genma's silhouette gazed down at him.

Not just Genma, everyone that Ranma had displeased, melting into one another in rapid succession, Akane, Nabiki, Kasumi, Tofu, Ukyou, Shampoo, his mother, Sana, Chame... And again and again they cycled, slowly drawing away, leaving him deeper in the darkness, alone with his fear.

And the cats. His throat was going raw from the force of the screams he was unleashing, but he did not stop.

***

Shampoo nodded to herself and knelt on the floor next to Ukyou. "Ranma's wife," she announced. Frowning, she studied the woman closely. She seemed to be in a deep sleep, resting on a sturdy futon and covered in a heavy blanket.

The scholar clicked her tongue as Akane knelt on the other side of Ukyou, examining her intently. "How come she has clothes already?" she complained, noting the repeated lack of any other furnishings in the room outside of the futon.

Sparing a glance towards Akane, Shampoo focused back on Ukyou. "Not sure. At a guess, she's much better at this than you are, and much, _much_ better at this than I am." She frowned, glancing around the room. "Let's try and wake her."

Akane nodded, shaking the brown-haired woman gently. After a moment, there was the sensation of a presence being drawn from the room, resounding against Akane as Ukyou shifted. Her eyes opened, then she opened her mouth only to abruptly disappear with a soft inrush of air.

Shampoo frowned, as the futon and blanket dissolved. Akane scratched her head nervously, asking, "What the heck was that?"

The Scholar sighed, shrugging. "I can only guess. Wherever she was, she's just been pulled completely away from here, to be..." she trailed off, frowning. "Perhaps she's been taken fully into the Home of the Wayward Spirit. She must have been there only in part until now." She exchanged a glance with Akane, leaden with concern. "Now tell me, Tendo Akane... why do I have a true dream where I meet both you and Ranma's wife?"

Akane shifted to lean against a wall, frowning. "I'm not sure... I actually have no idea. I was dreaming I was searching for a child... and then I was here."

Shampoo nodded slightly. "I wonder then, who drew us into this dream together... there must have been a reason."

Staring at the uniformly smooth ceiling, Akane sighed. "I don't know... I don't think anyone else is here with us anymore." She frowned, checking the sense of urgency that drove her to seek out the child... but it was gone. "Nope," she concluded. "Just us. What now?"

Shampoo shifted her own position to sit against the wall near Akane, and considered. "I don't have an answer for that either. Perhaps if Ranma were here..." she trailed off, brightening suddenly. "Of course! You can warn Ranma! You can warn him that he's walking into a trap."

Akane blinked at that, then frowned. "Care to explain that?"

Shampoo nodded solemnly. "Kuh Lon has set an elaborate trap for Ranma. I don't have to power to stop her, but I don't want Ranma to be trapped."

Akane nodded, inquiring, "So how do I warn him?"

The Scholar dithered for a moment. "I'm not sure," she admitted nervously. "You won't remember much of this upon waking. Doubtless I'll forget as well..."

Groaning, Akane leaned her head back, closing her eyes. "Well, that makes this entire thing kind of pointless."

Shampoo frowned, not totally convinced. "What if we find Ranma's dream, and tell him?"

Akane sat up straight, and eyed Shampoo in a questioning manner. "Won't he forget it if we tell him anyway?"

She hesitated, then shook her head. "I'm not certain." Shaking her head again, she brushed aside a strand of lavender hair. "But it's worth a try, if anything is."

Akane nodded, then stood up. "So. How do we get to Ranma?"

Shampoo gestured, and consulted with her tome, mumbling, "Well... first, we have to concentrate on Ranma... then allow ourselves to fade from this dream, and into his."

Cracking her knuckles, Akane asked, "Is this safe?"

Shampoo shrugged, dropping the book again. "Probably. Ready?"

Akane grumbled, then shrugged. "What have I got to lose?"

***

Ranma opened his eyes slowly. He raised his head lethargically, feeling drained. He peered around himself, confused. "Where am I?" he croaked out, his throat aching, and feeling suddenly parched. He forced his eyes open wide, absorbing as many details as he could.

A white, marble railing. He was sprawled across it, his body supported limply with his clothing hanging off him loosely. Gathering his strength, he tottered to his feet, and looked beyond the banister before him.

A few feet below him was a green lawn, lushly carpeted in green with an explosively blinding array of colored flowers. He blinked, his eyes tracing across the vibrant display of life until they locked on a fountain.

It was coruscated black marble, easily a dozen meters across with a wide, deep basin and a thick, sturdy lip. In the center, the jade statue of a water nymph poured water into the rippling surface below from a wide-mouthed jug.

Ranma frowned as the statue turned briefly, winked at him, then returned to peering into the depths of the fountain.

Turning away he blinked, blinded by the sudden and severe sterility of the passageway on the outer edge of the garden. A roof covered the walkway, and darkened entryways marked the wall at short intervals, lined with white marble pillars.

Blinking, Ranma narrowed his eyes, trying to remember. He knew this place... he knew this place... but he couldn't remember it.

And then he saw her.

***

Shampoo extended a hand, and closed her eyes. "I feel... something is wrong."

Akane nodded, shrugging uncomfortably at the odd prickling sensation across her back, as though someone were warning her of something. "I... think you're right, but I'm kind of new to this whole dream walking thing... what do we do now?" It took all of her effort to keep her voice steady.

The Amazon said nothing for a moment, simply holding her hand out, then shook her head. "I don't know. There's... It's Ranma."

Rolling her eyes, Akane took a half-step forward, peering into the swirling black mists before her before turning back to stare at the Scholar. "It's always Ranma... now let's go save him."

Her dark violet eyes opened slowly then turned to meet Akane's intent gaze. "I do not know... but I doubt that this is going to be easy. Maybe we'll wake up -- or be woken before we can finish... and it's dangerous, and there's not much of a point, because we're not going to remember it when we wake anyway... But yes, let's go save Ranma.

Akane swallowed back a retort, nodding silently for a moment before trusting her tongue. "So. What's the worst thing that can happen?"

***

Ranma felt that nagging, tingling sensation that he was being watched... but steadfastly ignored it, staring at the woman before him.

Waist length midnight black hair tumbled across her shoulders, constrained to numerous small braids that seemed to swirl and dance about her as she swept forward with a regal grace that put Ranma's memories of Kodachi's best to shame. Her dark eyes studied him, scrutinizing, taking in his appearance, while her smooth, pale face split in a smile, perfect lips curving gently upwards.

He swallowed, knowing that for some reason, as little as he could understand why... he belonged to her.

She smiled, smoothing her dark blue gown about her hips and leaning forward to look down at Ranma, who hadn't even noticed when he had slumped to the floor. He stared at his knees dumbly, his legs splayed awkwardly beneath him, momentarily breaking the captivating eyes... those depthless... captivating black eyes.

Shivering, he tensed himself, gathering his will, and looked again. She was beautiful. Gorgeous. Stunning, even. Ranma shuddered again, fighting back the urge to like her. "Who..." he began weakly. "Who are you?"

She sighed, shaking her head, and her lips parted ever so slightly as she smiled again.

***

Shampoo consulted the book again. Akane closed her eyes and took a deep breath, resisting the urge to scream. Calming herself slightly, she opened her eyes and studied the surroundings. "So..." she began, eyeing the blasted and sundered earth that lay about them in every direction. "Where the hell are we now?" Her eyes traced the broken line of the horizon, seeing nothing but uniformly black and lifeless soil.

The place, even in dream, held no ki. It was empty. There was no life in it.

Shampoo grumbled, then shut the tome. "This would appear to be the outskirts of the Summer Lands."

Akane stared at her blankly for a moment before prompting, "And?"

The Scholar fidgeted for a moment. "We don't want to go much deeper than this. We're... in the outer edges. The gods' plane is not far above us." Akane resisted the urge to look up, knowing that Shampoo was speaking metaphorically. "But we stand on the threshold of the Gloaming."

Frowning, Akane stared into the distance, still seeing nothing that she hadn't before. "Okay," she drawled. "And that means?"

"Quite simple, really." Shampoo frowned, darting a glance to Akane before resuming her scan of the ruined terrain. "The planes near us mirror the states of mind that a person can have. The Summer Lands are the edge of mortal thought, and the beginning of the thoughts of the ancestors. Perhaps thought isn't the right word. Comprehension, perhaps. It's not much further, but Ranma's in there, I think... and that would place him..."

She squinted, seeing something Akane couldn't make out. "That means," she began again. "That Ranma is in a concept, or an ideal... the alternative being that Ranma is trapped in the extreme of a human sensation... be it pain or joy."

Akane blinked at that, assimilating the information, then nodded. "So you're saying that Ranma's trapped or being held in one of these conceptual extremes?"

Shampoo nodded, then began walking away.

Gnashing her teeth in irritation, Akane bellowed, "What the hell happened to just finding him and telling him what was going to happen to him!?"

The Scholar shrugged, maintaining her pace.

Lowering her head in annoyance, Akane found herself walking forward to catch up. "So how much time do we have?"

Shampoo called back, "The further we go away from the center, the more slowly time passes outside... so the further we go the more time we have."

"Oddly enough, that's not comforting."

"I don't imagine that it is." Then the blasted landscape was empty again.

***

Chame squinted at the horizon. Something at the edge of senses was bothering her, to faint to be completely understood... But it was there. She frowned, closing her eyes and ignoring the empty lot around her.

Casting out with her will, she sensed the minds near her. The larger ones were almost all deep in dream, while the smallest of them scurried about, chasing transient ideals of food. She frowned at that, sending a larger, more focused, yet more primal intelligence. An animal was nearby, and slowly moving away.

Its thoughts said that it was wounded, and searching for a safe haven.

She frowned, trying to understand things. There was no reason for her to be worried about an animal, and there was no sense intentionally seeking out a large one that had been wounded... But then that sensation that it was important compelled her.

Gathering her possessions quickly, she packed them away, momentarily jealous of Ranma's ease in creating pockets to hold his things.

<Nothing for it,> she decided. <I'll find out what this animal is, and what it wants.>

She patted the Soyokaze at her side once, then trotted towards the creature, swiftly disappearing into the night.

***

Akane paused, on one end of a long marble walkway. "Okay," she said. "We were just walking on a dirt path on the side of an island. You said that was despair, right?"

The Scholar nodded once, not consulting her book.

Akane gestured off the side of the walkway, briefly thankful for the pillars that were lining it, and the sturdy looking rails between them. "So... where the heck is this?"

Shampoo looked off the edge of the walkway, seeing nothing but endless sky in every direction. Shrugging nervously, she admitted, "I don't know." After a pause, while Akane stared steadily at her, the Amazon hazarded, "I think this is the very edge of the Gloaming. And when we pass this marker... more than any other one, then... time will more or less stop in the real world, until we get back."

"And we're not going to remember any of this anyway?"

"We might remember parts of this, but not what's going to happen in the Gloaming."

The two stared at the marble walkway, suspended in the infinite sea of the sky before them silently.

Akane grumbled, focusing herself briefly. "Right. Well, like I said, what's the worst that can happen?"

Shampoo raised an eyebrow, pointing to a slowly forming pool of blackness before them. "That, I suppose. We've waited too long, and managed to attract undue attention."

The warrior grimaced, immediately slipping into her battle stance. "Of course. I assume you still know how to fight?"

Casting an irritated glance at Akane, Shampoo drew herself into dignified pose. "Most certainly I remember. However, shedding blood of foes when we don't know whose lands these are might be considered unwise."

Akane blinked at that, watching the pool ebb and fade away. "So... what was the point of that?"

Shampoo took a step forward. "A test, I'd imagine. I've seen enough of them. Whoever governs this particular shard of unreality wanted to find out about us."

"And then what?" Akane asked, striding forward again.

The Amazon sighed, falling into step just behind Akane. "Then they'll either kill us, ignore us, or proposition us. Who's to say? This could be a minor god's realm, for all we know. Or even a concept."

Akane grunted, her eyes and senses sweeping out to monitor any approaching threats. "This is just plain weird. I hope you realize that."

"No stranger than a boy who turns into a girl."

Akane paused again, and turned to look at Shampoo very closely. "You've changed a whole lot, haven't you?"

The Scholar nodded, one hand absently stroking the cover of her book. "As have you. For the better, it would appear."

Flushing slightly, Akane faced forward again, as their surrounding shifted. White marble pillars became low gray boulders lining a dirt path as it wended its way up the side of a mountain. "You know," Akane commented. "We have no idea if we're going the right way or not."

Shampoo grumbled at that, pausing to consult the book. "This should lead to Ranma... and he should be very close, I think."

The path shifted again, and evened out, soft dirt giving way to rounded cobblestones. Akane frowned, looking ahead.

The Amazon nodded to herself. "I'd guess we're here, then. What now?"

Akane said nothing, merely glancing around the area. The sides of the path were carpeted in lush grass, with the occasional piece of marble statuary setting off random shrubs. Frowning, Akane turned to look at the end of the cobbled path, at the startlingly cheerful yet gothic abode. "Figure out where the hell this is, and what we're going to have to face."

She gathered herself, preparing for a fight, and a thin battle aura radiated off of her, suppressed and nearly hidden against her skin. Shampoo nodded her approval, and did the same. The pair walked forward past the wide-open and curiously delicate wrought-iron fence.

Shampoo hesitated at the top of the wide marble stairs, tempted to smash the door in... but settled for knocking and looking dangerous instead. Akane smirked, shifting her stance and mirroring the Scholar's posture.

The door creaked open slowly, revealing a long, deserted hallway, disturbingly comforting in its appearance. Sunlight streamed in through open windows, illuminating slightly dimmer alcoves, and in the distance, the women could hear a soft feminine voice, speaking too faintly to be made out from down the hall.

Exchanging a wordless glance, the pair trod forward silently, hoping to catch whoever was speaking unawares. The two froze before the doorway, Shampoo motioning Akane back and peeking in carefully.

After a moment she pulled herself away from the doorway, turning to give Akane a confused and baffled look. Scowling, Akane squeezed past Shampoo, carefully setting her face against the wooden doorframe and glancing inside.

***

Chame lit upon a utility pole, her pack forgotten and left on the street for the moment. Below her, the animal crept. But there was a frighteningly familiar quality to the animal's mind, something she knew she should know.

Cursing under her breath, she removed a mirror from her pocket, breathing on it softly and incarnating a spell. <Enough of this nonsense, I'll just see what the damnable beast is,> she thought to herself. Her next thought was one of shock and worry, <Oh no. Ranma... in the neko-ken.>

She pocketed the mirror, crouching low on the utility pole and wondering how she would resolve the situation.

***

Ranma peered into his teacup, listening to the lady speak. After a moment, he managed to rouse himself from his odd lethargy, and sipped at his tea. "Good tea." He said after a moment. It was good, even better than his mother's.

She beamed at him, refilling his cup. "Please," she said, her soft, dulcet voice threatening to sweep him away. "Have some more. I so rarely get visitors." She frowned slightly, then shrugged. "Perhaps I am visited often. But so rarely does anyone come so completely, or stay so long."

The boy nodded twice, trying to brush aside the cobwebs on his brain. "Who... are you?"

She said nothing, a frown creasing her delicate features, as her seemingly perfect face turned towards the doorway. "I think we have another pair of guests... ladies, would you care to come and join us for tea?"

***

Shampoo and Akane exchanged blank glances before the Scholar shook her head and marched into the room, shadowed by the warrior.

The lady in the room smiled bemusedly. "You two don't belong here... you seldom touch my realm. What brings you here?"

Ranma's face contorted, as he struggled for control and to wipe the fog from him brain. There was a way to escape the fog... to be in a state of mind that was beyond this place. He groaned, focusing on it and trying not to succumb to the overwhelming pleasantness of the situation.

Akane darted her eyes towards Ranma, her heart beating quickly. <Apprehension,> she told herself. <Nothing else.> Scowling, she confronted the lady. "I demand that you release Ranma from your clutches!"

Shampoo hissed, and edged away for a moment, her eyes shooting between Ranma and the lady. Ranma concentrated his head bowed and peered deeply into the teacup, as though it were somehow going to be the central element in his release.

The lady smiled serenely, completely non-threatening. In a soft tone, she said, "I cannot release him, unless he chooses to go himself." She shrugged, gesturing to empty seats at the small square table. "Many come to visit my gardens, but few stay for long. I treasure my guests."

Akane frowned, seeing Ranma's demeanor darken with concentration, as he slowly developed an ever-denser leaden aura. The lady noted it and sighed longingly, but did nothing more than sip at her tea by way of response.

Shampoo frowned, then leveled a stern gaze at the woman. "Who are you?"

She raised an eyebrow and rose from her seat, sweeping the pair an elegant curtsy. "I am Fear."

***

Chame licked her lips nervously, kneeling on the ground in what she hoped was an unassuming posture. "Nice kitty... good kitty..." She swallowed nervously. "Come on, Ranma... Come here..."

The boy made an inquisitive noise at her, seemingly untrusting, then padded over on all fours cautiously, sniffing at the air.

The redheaded Machin swore under her breath. <Of course,> she reflected bitterly. <He can still sense my wards...>

Hesitantly, realizing just how vulnerable she would be leaving herself, she lowered the wards.

***

Shampoo relaxed instantly, while Akane bristled, ready to unleash a flurry of attacks at the Concept before her. "Okay," the warrior snapped. "I want you to let Ranma go _right_ _now_, do you hear me?"

Fear blinked at that, then shrugged. "My garden is open to all. One merely has to want to leave, to do so. I know that you do, and thus you can... but this boy doesn't, yet."

Shampoo frowned, studying Ranma closely. "He is still a boy," she murmured. "He has not aged since the day he left."

Ranma found his voice then, still struggling with the thick chains on his mind, placed by the Fates. "Machin... do not... age... unless..." Snarling, he stood from his seat, emitting a stronger glow and shedding the weights. "Why are you here?" he demanded, not taking his eyes off of Fear.

Akane scowled. "I risk my life to help you in the dream world beyond this... 'Gloaming' place, and this is the thanks I get?" She stepped closer to him, raising a single fist, trembling and wreathed in ki-flame. "You run off with some other girl, get married and who-knows what all else, and you don't even bother to say goodbye!? And why the hell did you run off in the first place!"

Fear blanched in a properly ladylike manner, and drifted near the Scholar, whispering, "Are they like this often? I understand that she's quite adept from removing the boy from my garden."

Shampoo said nothing, simply coloring at the un-realness of the situation, and trying to choke back laughter.

Ranma grimaced, his aura flaring brightly. "It's because of you! Because I looked into your aura and saw what you really felt for me, damn it! Because I saw that you never trusted me, and I saw..." he trailed off, coming to his senses abruptly. "Interesting."

Spinning to face Fear, he intoned in a soft voice, "I apologize for disturbing the peace of your gardens, Lady Fear." He bowed to her at the waist, bending low and not rising for several heartbeats. "It was not my intent to come here, but in dreams we ever remember so much more than in the waking realm... the Weird Sisters have done this to me. I wish to ask a boon of thee, Lady Fear."

She nodded graciously to her young guest. "Of a certain. It is rare that I find as captivating an individual as yourself. What would you request, then, small one?"

He smiled at that, then sobered quickly. "I wish to be banished from your garden, Lady Fear, until such time as I am ready to re-enter."

She pursed her lips in a frown, and looked at him sternly, while Akane tried to make sense of the situation, and Shampoo simply raised an eyebrow. "Small one... it is... rare that one would wish to be banished from my garden... it is in your nature to wish to come here. It is in the nature of all your kind," she said, then gestured to the pair of women. "And their kind also. Why do you wish to be banished from my garden?"

Ranma spoke quickly, his words carrying a resonance that hinted at his arcane heritage, "Needs be that I must, Lady Fear. I require this one's presence to leave your realm." He broke off, pointing to Akane, who had calmed to the point of merely looking displeased. "I wish you to extend that... permission to her." He pointed to Shampoo, who suddenly looked alarmed.

The Amazon spoke before Ranma could continue, "Ranma, do you intend to come here when... then..." She stopped, confused. "You know it's a trap and you're coming anyway? Why?"

Ranma turned to face her and smiled winningly, projecting calm and trust. "Worry about that later, Shampoo." Spinning to face the Concept before him again, he restarted, "I need the bearer of the Machin Book of Knowledge to be able to retrieve me from your realm. It... is necessary. But until such time, I request that you banish me."

The Concept pouted, then nodded, leaning forward to plant a gentle kiss on Ranma's forehead. "Very well then, small one. That permission is yours to extend, however, not mine. I do so hope you will return to visit me at some point."

Ranma bowed deeply again. "I would be a fool to wish to never see you again. Now I must leave. Thank you."

He spun abruptly on his heel and marched out the door. The two women spent a moment staring at each other, then dashed to follow, meeting him outside the gate.

To their surprise, Fear was waiting, and waved them goodbye as they stepped through the gates and onto the cobbled path. Akane grumbled, stopping on the path before it shifted to something else, "I know that you may be in a hurry, but... can you tell me what the hell that was about?"

Ranma nodded, coming to a halt and turning to face her. He concentrated for a moment. "I'm in the Ascension right now. This leaves me less... vulnerable to human emotions. I'm going to drop it. Try not to be alarmed."

Shampoo said nothing, simply holding her book and raising an eyebrow, while the aura that seemed so much a part of Ranma... winked out.

He staggered to his knees, grimacing. "Uh... been... too long. I overestimated how much I could handle..."

The dark-haired girl put her hands on her hips, smirking. "I never thought I'd see you this soon..." She trailed off, her eyes drinking him in. He hadn't changed a whit. He seemed untouched from the last time she had seen him, right down to the Chinese clothing he wore.

His pigtail was the same length, and he hadn't... changed in the slightest. She cleared her throat nervously, uncomfortable with the thickness she could feel when she attempted to swallow, and turned to the Scholar. Shampoo was shifting uncomfortably, then shook her head. "My name... my name is Shan Pu, Ranma. Not... Shampoo."

He blinked at that, suddenly seeming to be very uncomfortable, then frowned. "Oh..." he said in a small voice. "I'm sorry. I..." He took a deep breath, and turned to regard Akane seriously. "I'm sorry. I made a horrible mistake, and let... something I did not understand... affect my judgment. I'm sorry."

Akane blinked, stunned at the boy kneeling before her, staring at the ground beneath her feet. "What?" she asked, confused.

Ranma sighed, then shook his head. "I... looked into your aura, because I wanted to know how you felt about me... and I looked at the surface, and I ignored what lay within."

The warrior blinked at that, stunned. After all that... "You're saying that you left me for Ukyou because I was angry, and you didn't bother to look deeper than that?" she asked, her face rapidly turning into a mask of incredulity.

Ranma said nothing, still not raising his head. After a time long enough for Akane to wonder if he was ignoring her, he nodded weakly. "Yes... I did. And I'm sorry."

Akane took a deep breath, while Shampoo continued to study the pair curiously. Studiously ignoring the Amazon, Akane said, "Well... damn. I... I don't know what to day... I... I'd forgive you, I guess... but it wouldn't mean anything, because we're going to forget this when we wake up anyway, aren't we?"

Ranma shook his head, climbing to his feet without raising his head. "I will..." he said softly. "You might remember some. He raised his face and Akane was shocked to see tears working their way down his cheeks. "I'm sorry... I shouldn't be doing this... I still have to find Ucchan... But my heart is a traitor!" he spat.

Spinning around to face away, he took a few heaving breaths, then lowered his head. "Oh... gods... I've hurt so many, and I know that I'm going to do worse before it can get better... and behind this I'm nothing more than an arrogant, selfish..." he trailed off, staggering to his knees again. "I'm sorry," he whispered hoarsely. "I don't know what to do..."

Akane gawked, stunned by the range of emotions that she had been pulled across over the journey, however brief it was. "R... Ranma..." She sighed, sinking to her knees on the cobble, and doing the only thing she could think of. "It's... okay. It's not... we'll..." She trailed off, her face contorting as she searched for words. "You'll figure something out, I have faith in you." She wrapped her arms around Ranma from behind, embracing him gently.

Shampoo knelt to the other side, and lay a comforting hand on Ranma's trembling fist. "I suspect... that we will be seeing each other soon, Ranma. I swear upon my honor and my ancestors' blood, I will do everything in my power to help you."

Ranma sobbed a single word out, then there was a rending, shifting sensation, and a sudden discontinuity.

***

Akane sat up in the furo, feeling strangely relieved and tired at the same time. She wiped away tears that she had shed in her sleep, and mumbled to herself in a shaky voice, "Huh... I wonder what I dreamed about."

She climbed out of the furo and dried herself off before retreating to her room to sleep, and have dreams of her own.

***

On the floor of her study, Shampoo stirred briefly, tears trickling out through her still closed eyelids. She whimpered softly, that word she had not used in so long, but said with such aching desperation that it would have made her weep anew if she were to hear it herself, "Airen..."

But her words found no ears to fall upon, and she found herself pulled deeply into slumber once more.

***

Chame gritted her teeth, expecting the worst, as Ranma lunged towards her then leapt... and seemed to change in midair, completely dropping the aura of blood and malice that were the only way she could sense his Ascension. The young dragon-kin seemed to nearly doze in midair, and landed neatly on the ground before her, laying his head in her lap and purring.

She released a sigh of relief, and set about erecting wards to keep anyone from stumbling into the area before Ranma had recovered. <Thank the gods! Whatever this was about...>

The pigtailed martial artist shifted, becoming slightly smaller and redheaded, then nuzzled against Chame briefly before settling down to sleep.

The elder Machin smiled worriedly, running her hands through Ranma's hair and shaking her head slowly. She flicked a glance towards someone that touched briefly upon the edge of her wards before turning away. Relaxing slightly, she summoned her staff and maintained a vigil over the larger redhead. Eventually, Ranma would wake, and all would be well again -- or that much closer to it.

***

Ranma woke with tears in her eyes. She blinked them away slowly, sitting up when she realized that she was laying across Chame's lap. The elder Machin smiled, relief plain on her features. "Are you okay, Ranma?" she asked quietly.

Ranma reached up dazedly, brushing a tear out of her eyes. "I... I hurt..." She screwed her eyes shut, scrubbing at them with the heels of her palms. "It hurts... Ucchan... I... I don't... I don't think I can do that again, Chame... What if I fail? What if the other daughters get taken to the House of the Wayward Spirit as well?"

Lowering her head and closing her eyes, Chame took a deep breath. "You're back?" she asked, her voice trembling slightly. "You aren't going to hide in the Ascension anymore?"

Ranma shook her head, wiping away further tears. Hoarsely, she whispered, "No... I'm not. I'm not." She stood, steadying herself. "But... what do I do now?"

Chame flinched from the hopelessly lost tone in Ranma's voice, and regained her own footing, dispelling the wards that had surrounded them. "I'm not sure, Ranma... what have you done so far?"

Closing her eyes tightly, Ranma shook her head. "I put... I put children at risk for my own petty... because I wanted Ucchan and my daughter back... I..." she trailed off, hanging her head.

The elder Machin winced in sympathy. "There's... no other way, Ranma. Only by claiming the Daughters and fulfilling the prophecy can you get Ukyou back..."

Ranma shook her head, balling her fists up and trembling with barely restrained power. "No," she breathed. "NO! I will not sacrifice anyone for myself! I can't... I can't do that..." trailing off weakly, Ranma stumbled to her knees, shaking her head in defiance of the situation.

Chame bit her lip, studying Ranma closely. "Ranma," she began, voice quavering, "It's too late... you've set events in motion that are making it inevitable anyway. If you don't... if you don't claim the daughters, then something will intercede, and you'll lose no matter what. But... If you claim the daughters, there's a chance to bring them all back."

Whimpering, Ranma shook her head. "Then I don't have a choice, do I? I... I have to..."

Chame nodded, her aura radiating nothing but honesty and worry. "I'm... sorry, Ranma. I never thought things would end up like this..."

Ranma's eyes flashed with anger, and her gaze met with the elder Machin's. "What did you intend, then? What did you think would happen?"

Chame raised her hands in a warding gesture, a faint blue glow wreathing them as she raised a barrier without conscious thought. "Ranma!" she called out in a warning tone. "I never wanted you to be hurt. I wanted your help, and to help you. That's all..." She scowled, releasing the barrier and turning away. <How can I tell him what I feel? Would he understand?> "I... don't know why... but something about you... even before I knew that you were tangled up in this prophecy, and your heritage... you were special, somehow. There was... something there.

"I knew that if I could get your help, that... that you could help me and my father... we could finally break the circle, and then I could be together with my family again." She shook her head, staring up at the sky and blinking away tears. "And then something screwed up. It was something I couldn't deal with, and it ended up putting us both in the same situation... you lost... Ukyou and your daughter... I know what it's like to want them back.

"Don't think for a heartbeat that I wanted this to happen to you," she warned. "Because I care about you too much to want to see you hurt. I... guess you're like a little brother to me..."

She trailed off, feeling Ranma's arms wrap around her in a gentle embrace. She whirled to face him, seeing he was again male, then buried her face in his shoulder, and wept.

How long had it been since she trusted herself with someone? How long since she had been close? Finally, someone who could understand and accept her. Someone to trust, that trusted her...

His voice rumbled down to her ears. "Sorry... I didn't mean to lash out... you... you know what it's like, right?"

She nodded wordlessly, relishing the contact with Ranma. A brother. Family. She had been neglecting that far too long, and it was going to lead to their ruin if she weren't careful. But now, maybe it would be okay. "Well," she admitted after a moment. "My father chose to be without me..."

Ranma grumbled, "Your father's a real asshole, you know that, Chame?"

Unable to restrain herself, Chame released a quiet giggle. "I guess so..." She pushed herself away form Ranma, breaking the embrace. "I never really thought poorly of him, though. I'm sure he's got a good reason for what he did."

Unconvinced, Ranma shrugged. "I guess."

"Ah... anyway, what are we going to do now, Ranma?" Chame asked, reasserting control over the situation, and trying not to remember how pleasant the closeness was.

Ranma said nothing for a long moment, then nodded decisively. "Everything we can to stop things from going wrong."

***

On the island of Izena-Jima, part of the chain of the Ryukyu Islands directly north of Okinawa itself, lay the city of Izena. Occupying only the southwestern corner of the island, which was a mere four miles across, it lay claim to a small harbor and a seldom-used airstrip.

A rural village, for the most part, with a small group of farmers, and a slightly larger group of fishermen, along with a trio of token mansions scattered about the town.

In the light of a faint crescent of moon, a single figure crawled out from a deserted fisherman's boat, and from there, crept across a narrow pier, its old planks creaking with faint protest.

Repressing a giggle, the figure pulled back a cloth, revealing a shock of flaming red hair, along with a delicate, effeminate face. The girl nodded to herself, whispering, and skulked along the pier until she found a small dinghy. Repressing another giggle, she climbed in, fumbling with the knots of the mooring line for a mere second before grimacing, and making an absent gesture.

The thick cord dissolved to ash instantly, leaving the boat free. Unbalanced, the girl sat heavily, frowning again for a moment before grabbing the oars and laboriously rowing out of the harbor.

There were numerous small islands scattered about the region, but she knew exactly where she was going. A miniscule island, a mere quarter-mile across. It lay across the bay, and she rowed towards it relentlessly, unable to hide a fierce and determined grin. Nozomu Okibi had found her master and companion at last.

And she was going home.

***

On the islet that was Nozomu Okibi's destination, a dignified woman paced across a great hall, enjoying the quiet, and the storm that had settled about her home. Stout wooden walls that could resist the worst of nature's temperament, their interiors adorned lavishly with relics from bygone eras.

Her elegant kimono trailed behind her, while her waist-length hair appeared to float though the air in her wake, the scarlet strands seeming to move of their own volition.

One lip twitched upwards in a slight smile, as the woman glided towards a window. It had been years since the Lord of the Roads had graced these halls, gone to reassemble the Band of the Dead. But until returned, she would bide her time, and assemble her own...

She stopped, gazing out the window towards the roiling sea. It only became stormy when outsiders encroached, giving the woman cause to study it. Who would be trying to come to her island?

One hand retrieved a folding fan from... somewhere... and she snapped it open, covering all her face below her eyes, and watching intently. "She is coming for you," she whispered, her hair coiling around to leave only her eyes visible.

"She is coming for you, but you aren't here... Oh, she wishes to make you her own, hmm? And how shall that be dealt with, I wonder?"

Her cerulean eyes flashed for a moment as a bolt of lightning struck in the distance. "Indeed... I shall welcome her to our cause." She paused for a moment, then nodded imperceptibly. "Mine, perhaps."

Eyes softening in a smile, the swirling hair slowed its motion, seeming to calm. "And tell me, have you found our daughter? Have you found Ileya yet?"

After a moment she lowered the fan, snapping it shut and stowing it... somewhere. "Hmm... Only... in dream..." Raising her voice ever so slightly, she called out, "Konatsu."

A lithe figure crept into the room, kneeling at the one edge.

The woman smiled widely, and strode towards the boy, dressed as he was in a feminine kimono. "I shall be halting the storm, small one..." She stopped near him, leaning slightly forward, and tracing one hand across Konatsu's cheek. "I have a task for you. There is a girl coming to us. Bring her here, then retire."

The boy nodded and smiled, his perfect make-up easily fooling all but the most capable of observers. "As you wish, Lady."

With that, the boy disappeared, leaving the woman alone in the great hall, her hair swimming about her slowly in tranquil forms. "Yes..." she said, narrowing her eyes. "Her, too. How much longer, I wonder, until the circle is complete? And will it be perfect, this time?"

***

Konatsu wended his way down through the rain-slicked rocks, thankful that his mistress had seen fit to stop the storms and allow another guest to reach the island. She allowed too few guests in, and Konatsu was very worried that she would simply choose to let whoever their guest was get dashed among the rocks.

But she had chosen to let the girl that was approaching on her little rowboat come.

Konatsu stopped at the edge of the island, a sandy beach strewn with boulders. Leaping towards one, he produced a coil of rope from his kimono, ready to offer assistance to the brave girl that was approaching in her own little boat. "She must really want to see the Lady," he murmured, knowing just how far it was from Izena-Jima to the little island.

Not that Konatsu could fault her. The Lady had spared Konatsu a life of drudgery, allowing him to live with her as he wished; though he could not imagine a finer life than serving the Lady. He was given food regularly, and was given fine clothing... Konatsu sighed in admiration again, looking behind him towards the house that sat atop the cliff, suspecting that she was watching him.

He had nothing to complain about. There were eleven nights a year where she remained in her room the entire day, and refused to leave, but over the months, Konatsu had found that it was simple to manage the house... truly, it seemed to manage itself more than anything else. A little quirk like that was perfectly understandable, really.

<The Lady is the epitome of femininity,> Konatsu thought. <Perhaps more traditional, but she allows me to dress as I please.> He sighed in admiration again, then shook his head, looping the end of the rope into a small circle, and throwing it carefully as the little boat bearing the flame-haired woman drew within range.

<Wow,> he marveled, noting that the color began a ruddy-orange, and lightened to a yellowish white at the tips. He felt a momentary surge of envy, wishing that his own hair were more stylish than the drab black he wore, but in truth, only about half of the population that he had seen before coming to his current residence were lucky enough to have one of the more exotic hair colors.

The girl peered up at him, holding the rope loosely, blisters showing on her hands from hours of hard rowing. "Who are you?" she asked cautiously.

He smiled brightly, his effeminate voice calling back over the waves, "My name is Konatsu, and I greet you in my mistress's stead." The girl frowned, but pulled the boat to the shore with the rope, stepping off onto the sand and losing her footing on a loose rock. Konatsu dropped the rope and darted forward, catching the girl and putting her on her feet before she could fall. "Be careful," he cautioned. "The shore is uneven."

She nodded, her red eyes searching his for a moment. "I'm known by many names, though in this life I'm Nozomu Okibi."

He released the girl, smiling brightly and stepping away. "That's a lovely name!" Glancing towards the house again, he asked, "Do you know the mistress?" The girl didn't look to be old enough, in Konatsu's estimation. The Lady herself seemed timeless, perhaps twenty, but her air carried with it a certain sense that there was much more to her than that. And of course, some of the guests seemed to know her anyway...

Grinning widely, Okibi gestured absently, a stray fistful of flames lashing out to lick at the rocks behind her. "I'm here to meet the Lord of the Roads," she stated firmly.

Konatsu shook his head, apologizing, "He isn't here. But you can come in and rest a bit, the Lady said she wanted to meet with you."

Okibi's grin faded. "Who is here? I thought I felt him..." she trailed off, frowning.

"This is home of the Scarlet Tempest, Miss Nozomu. The Lord of the Roads is away..." Konatsu smiled broadly. Most of the people who came to meet with the Lord of the Roads were satisfied with meeting the Lady.

Okibi's smile returned full force. "Oh, is that the name for this time? I'll meet with her then..."

Konatsu nodded, turning away and walking along the path towards the cliff top for a short distance before making sure that she was following him. "She seemed to be pleased with seeing you," he commented.

"I expect so..." Okibi replied, her voice seeming distant.

***

Ranma shivered, encased as he was within the Breath of the Earth. <Where are we going to search?> he sent towards Chame, travelling beside him.

He blinked, dropping the trance as the dirt gave way to pavement. Chame slid to a halt next to him, her braids flapping as she decelerated. Coughing at the slight cloud of dust that they had managed to kick up, she peered around, scanning for something of interest. "So," she commented dryly. "What's here?"

Ranma licked his lips nervously, shrugging. "Not sure. Sana's around here. I don't... I don't... Aww.... I don't know if I can do this, but now you're telling me that there's no choice in the matter, right?"

Chame cringed, seeing Ranma's pain at the thought of what he would have to do. "I'm... sorry... Ranma. This... I wish things could be otherwise, but we'll get through it, right?"

The boy scowled, then nodded, relenting and settling back into a more hopeful visage. "I'm going to do everything within my power to make sure that none of the daughters are harmed..." he trailed off, then smiled and summoned Chame's quarterstaff.

The elder Machin frowned slightly, but said nothing as Ranma drew a cut across one palm with a stray glimmering of force, and allowed a few crimson droplets to descend. The drops wobbled in the air for the few inches that they fell, slowing and seeming to become diffuse as they struck the reddened wood of the ancient weapon. In a somber voice, Ranma intoned, "I swear that I will do all within my power to save the Daughters, and Ukyou."

Chame nodded dubiously, as Ranma banished the staff again. "Such a blatant use of power... will we ever teach you subtlety, Ranma?" she questioned.

Ranma shrugged, closing his eyes and casting out with his senses. "Close," he mumbled. "She's... she's near."

Brightening, Chame watched Ranma. "Good, then," she opined. "It brings us that much closer to getting them all back safely."

Ranma's face creased in a frown, but he remained silent, scanning with his senses. After a moment, he shook his head. "Right." Turning to look at Chame again, he commented, "Tanaka Sana lives around here. It seems like things are twisted around to place the Daughters in my path."

Chame nodded knowingly. "Prophecy, Ranma. So who is 'Tanaka Sana,' anyway?"

Ranma smirked, walking away. "Nice girl. You'll see."

***

Rocking back and forth slightly, Sana sat comfortably on her front porch, her child contentedly making a cooing noise from her lap. Ryu sat near her, staring at the ground with a largely vacant expression. Sana frowned, and worked one arm free from the little girl she was holding to poke Ryu. "Hey." she called out to him, softly to avoid waking the child. "What's going on over there?"

Ryu's head jerked up sharply in alarm, and he blinked repeatedly before calming down, and smirking at Sana. "Sorry," he commented. "Got a little distracted, there." Leaning back slightly, he gazed up towards the sky, an endless expanse of light blue, though the roof covering the porch hid the sun.

He shook hid head, sighing deeply. "Before I met you... I never saw myself living this kind of life."

Sana frowned at that, shifting the child's weight slightly. "What do you mean?" she asked. A tremor of fear entered her voice, "Are you... are you unhappy?"

"No!" Ryu spun to face the woman, his gaze intense enough to scare Sana. "I would _never_ wish it to be any other way, Sana... I... I never saw his happening... but I'm glad it did." He sighed again, shaking his head and smirking. "I really... I'm glad that things worked out this way. I'm just..." He looked away, frowning, then shook his head. "I'm afraid," he admitted. "I'm afraid of what we're leaving for our child... and..." he trailed off, looking away.

Sana bit her lip, hugging her daughter close. "Ryu," she called softly. "I... I understand. I know..." she too trailed off, wondering. What legacy could they leave for their child? Sana was beginning to have doubts about her ability to fight. And the battles, while less often, were more intense. Sakura had joined the young couple on every battle they had been on since they had met Ranma last, and the battles were still too close for comfort.

Sana's inability to fight once she was pregnant -- Ryu and Sakura both forbade her risking the child -- had made the worry worse, and put that much more pressure on Ryu... "I think," Ryu stated slowly, still looking away, "that Ranma bought us time... but even with what he gave us... it's only a matter of time. I love you, and I'm worried about what's going to happen next. I don't want to make Kazue grow up in a world without parents..."

Their ruminations were interrupted as Sakura stepped onto the porch nodding to both of them, trying to hide an approving smile towards the young parents. Far too young, in her estimation, since they were both only a little older than nineteen. "What are you two talking about?" Of course, they were both giving it their best, and... she couldn't fault them for it. They might not have the chance, later.

Ryu waved a hand absently, as though the gesture would bat the problems away. "Nothing... just Kazue's future. You know. Parent stuff." He nodded knowingly, while Sana rolled her eyes.

Sakura narrowed her eyes slightly, and cocked her head to one side as though she were listening to something. "I think... " she said slowly, seeming to strain at hearing something. "That a solution will be coming along, one way or another..."

The parents traded a worried glance, as Kazue cooed softly. Sana hesitantly asked, "What are you talking about, Grandmother?"

Smirking, the older woman shook her head, turning back to enter the house. "Looks like I'm going to be cooking for guests tonight."

Ryu scratched his head, frowning slightly. Surging to his feet suddenly, he bounded out to the yard, and leapt up to the roof, surveying the area. "Hey," he called down, as Sana stepped into the yard, cradling Kazue gently and craning her neck to look up at her husband. "I think it's Ranma!"

Sana raised an eyebrow at that, then nodded to herself, unable to resist the urge to smile. Ryu jumped down to the yard to stand next to her, and shook his head slowly. "You know," Sana commented, "it's like he shows up every time I think things can't get worse."

Ryu pouted, affecting a hurt expression. "What, I'm not your hero?"

Rolling her eyes, Sana walked towards the house again, settling herself comfortably on the wide seat that occupied one corner. "No, silly. I was just saying that whenever things seem hopeless, he shows up and helps us out. Remember, he helped you out, too."

The martial artist nodded, crossing his arms over his chest and admiring his lovely wife and their child. He frowned suddenly, looking up towards the house as the phone sounded, its loud ring interrupting his further ruminations. He heard Sakura's mumbled reply to the caller, then a moment of silence before the old woman swore sharply enough to make Sana crane her neck towards the window, wondering at the outburst.

Sakura dashed out of the house, then paused, hearing something that the teenagers did not. Shaking her head, she turned back to the open doorway. "Ryu, be a dear and help the Tanawas, will you? They called about a disturbance. Sana, if you don't mind, I need some help in the kitchen." That said, she disappeared into the house, followed by a worried Sana.

Still, Sana knew that Sakura would never do anything to put her husband in danger, and he was more than capable of handling himself.

***

It was some time later, when Ryu actually returned, completely unscathed, that Sana actually let herself relax. There was always that knot of tension and worry when he left without her... and it was worse when Sakura wasn't along to help out. Sana fully intended to rejoin Ryu in his battles, now that Kazue was born... The trouble there was merely finding a babysitter.

Throwing aside those concerns for the moment, she tackled Ryu in a warm embrace, nearly causing him to tumble over. His balance was too great to be offset by that, and he spun her around in an whirl of color before setting her on her feet, and giving his usual cocky grin. "Hey, you'd never guess who followed me home!"

Sana rolled her eyes again, commenting, "Oh, I don't know. Could it be Ranma?"

Ryu nodded, gesturing behind him, where Ranma was watching them with a slightly pained expression, next to another woman, who might have passed for Ranma's sister.

The green-haired woman blinked at that, surprised. "Uh... Ranma?" she asked, unsure of herself.

The boy nodded, tugging at the collar of his Chinese shirt uncomfortably. "Yeah... it's been a while, Sana. I see you and Ryu are still doing well?"

Sana bit her lip, and shook her head. "Not... really," she said, over Ryu's protests. "In all honesty, we're kind of worried about Kazue..." She brightened instantly. "Oh yes, you have to meet our daughter!"

Sana froze, as Ranma spoke again. "Actually... Sana... that's exactly what I came here to talk to you about..." The green haired girl blinked, hearing fiercely burning pain echoing in Ranma's voice. "About your daughter's welfare, as well..."

The other girl near Ranma, the one that could have passed for a sister, nodded. "You may want to sit down..."

-----

Author's notes:

I'm not sure I'm completely happy with this chapter. And there's some more bad news, as well.

Chapter 10 is going to have a part c, because a lot of the stuff I want to put in hasn't been gotten to, yet.


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