Converging Series: A Crossover of Unexpected Dimensions.

Act 5





The story so far...

ACT I:

     In an alternate reality where Ranma married Shampoo, their
daughter had somehow obtained a magic locket that allowed her to cross
dimensions.  A few accidents later, several of Ranma's 'children' from
various realities ended up in one reality, where Ranma was still a
teen-age youth.  One among them, Ryo Saotome (son of Ranma and Ukyou)
managed to get a hold of the locket before Cologne was about to do
something devious with it.  Following his victory, Ryo sent all the
children of Ranma & company to their proper realities, and then
prepared to go home himself. Something, however, went wrong.  He ended
up in a bizarre version of Tokyo in 2096 and accidentally dragged
along Ratiko Hibiki and Childra Jansen in his attempt to fix this
mistake.  That attempt dragged him to two other realities with amazing
speed.  From them, he accidentally brought Miyabi, daughter of Ranma
and Akane, and Ishido, a mysterious amnesiac hunted by a shadowy
organisation. Finally, they stopped in a reality where Ranma & co.
were still teens, but had never met them before.  And now...

ACT II:

     Childra, curious as to what caused their dimensional/reality
shift, watched Ryo Saotome closely, and discovered that the locket is
the source of their troubles.  She tried, and succeeded, in stealing
the locket from him without his noticing. Ratiko schemed to make sure
that the history of his world takes place, and began a plan to kill
Ranma and frame Miyabi for the murder. He succeeded in getting a blood
sample from her and a torn piece of her clothing, but was interrupted
before he could go through with his plan. In a talk with Ishido, he
found out about a certain umbrella-wielding maniac threatening to kill
Ryouga in Ishido's reality.  In a panic, Ratiko rushed to Childra, and
accidentally triggered the locket. The three of them found themselves
on a bridge somewhere.  Before they left, they accidentally dragged
along Ryo Muhoshin, a person that looked amazingly like Hikaru
Gosunkugi, but in truth was a bit more devious. Bringing him along,
the four crossed several realities, narrowly escaping danger, capture,
and death. Then they returned to the Nerima they had left from, with
an irate Ryo Saotome waiting for them. Meanwhile, Miyabi had put up
with the antics of her grandparents (Soun and Genma) who were
overjoyed at her existence, distressed at the way her parents were
fighting, greatly annoyed at her trans-dimensonal half brother Ryo
Saotome, and had decided that a talk with Grandmother Nodoka was in
order.

ACT III:

     Miyabi went to Nodoka's to talk, unaware that Ranma's life was in
danger due to the promise Genma made to Nodoka regarding manliness and
Ranma's upbringing.  The end result was that Nodoka was invited to
dinner, expecting to see her son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter.
Miyabi's age, almost that of Ranma, was, unfortunately, not forseen as
a major problem by Miyabi. Upon returning from her accidental trip
through time, Childra surrendered the locket to Ryo Saotome once
again.  Meanwhile, the extra passenger they picked up along the way,
Ryo Muhoshin, passed himself off as 'Ryo Gosunkugi, son of Gosunkugi
and Ukyou' and had everyone fooled. Nabiki got a hold of the material
Ratiko was planning to frame Miyabi with and used it to blackmail him
into buying her dinner, among other things.  They end up at Ucchan's,
where he washed dishes to pay for things.  He eventually got drunk,
hit on Ukyou, and was knocked out by a blow to the head. Childra and
Ishido became more... intimately attached.  When his guard was down,
Ryo Saotome was knocked out by Ryo Muhoshin, who then accidentally
triggered the locket and disappeared into times and places unknown.
Ryo Saotome woke up much later to find the locket gone, an image of it
burned in his hand, and discovered what was inside the locket:

     A picture of him and Bell-chan, his fiancee.

ACT IV:

     Ryo Saotome began making plans to assemble the locket that he was
apparently destined to create (the photo from the locket being proof
of that).  Meanwhile, Ratiko spent the day with Nabiki, buying her
food and treats while also beginning to feel somewhat attracted to
her.  Ishido and Childra sorted through their fears and anxieties, but
in the end came together in a happy reunion within the local
graveyard.  Miyabi & the Tendo household held a dinner for Nodoka, who
was expecting to see her son at last.  What happened instead was that
she had an interesting experience with a time traveler (Happosai) and
realized that Miyabi was, in fact, Ranma's daughter from the future.
She also assumed that 'Ranko' was Genma's daughter from an affair.
Soun briefly assumed Akane was Genma's child from an affair with his
deceased wife.  Things got ugly, but got better again as they usually
did (although Nodoka still thinks Ranko is Genma's illegitimate
child).  Meanwhile, Under the distrustful eyes of Childra and Ishido,
Ryo Saotome used the arcane resources within Happosai's room to create
the locket.

     And then he vanished.

=====================================================================

     Jade fire engulfed Ryo, and he burned.  _Green?_ he thought.
_It shouldn't be green.  And I don't remember this much pain._

     Ryo concentrated, fighting past the agony, willing his way
back to reality, or the local equivalent thereof.  The emerald flames
thinned.  He found himself lying on a cold surface, smoke rising from
his clothes.  And he heard someone crying.

     There was something familiar about those tears, something more
painful than the fires that delivered him to this world.  "Bell-chan?"
he whispered.

     The crying stopped.  "Who are you?" the girl asked.  "What are
you doing here?"  There was hysteria in her voice, trapped within the
sobbing.  "I thought they were going to leave me alone."

     Ryo rolled to his feet.  "Bell-chan, don't you know me?"  They
were in a room no more than three paces wide on a side, but the
pig-tailed boy held back, afraid of her answer.

     "No, I don't know you.  Is this another test?  I thought you
were through with that."  The girl looked up from where she sat curled
up on a bench, the cell's only furniture.  "I thought you were ready
to decide my fate."

     "I've learned you make your own fate," Ryo mused.  A more
frantic mind would have accepted only one possibility, that something
had happened to his one true love, but Ryo knew the perils of
traveling between realities.  _So close!_ his mind screamed at him.
_So close!_ But now he saw the differences, the slightly darker eyes,
the more pouting lips, the subtle nuances of body language that told
him this woman was not his fiancee, and that this was not his world.

     Still, she was _his_ Bell-chan's doppelganger, and she was in
distress.  Ryo had promised himself he wouldn't hold the crimes of one
duplicate against another reality's counterpart, but the inverse held
as well.  He could not help but give credit to the face of someone he
respected, and that went a hundred times over for Bell-chan.

     "Of course you make your own fate," the faux Bell-chan said.
"That's the purpose of these new 'Consistency Courts,' isn't it?  To
judge you by the rules you've made yourself."

     "Consistency Courts?  Judge?"  Ryo took a step back in
confusion, bumping up against the cell door.  "I don't understand.  I
know someone like you enough to be your twin, and I can't imagine her
ever being tried for _any_ crime."

     Bell-chan laughed.  Ryo shivered; there was no levity in that
laugh, only mockery and self pity.  It reminded him of Tachi's aunt.
"Of course you can't imagine me on trial.  Who would ever have
imagined that sweet, innocent Belladonna would kill her own mother?
Not even to ease her suffering?  And since no one would believe it,
they'll find me guilty."  She swallowed.  "A year ago I wouldn't have
believed it.  A few months later, though..."  The tears started up
again, drowning out any other words.

     _Belladonna?_ Ryo's sleep-deprived mind whirled.  _She killed
Kasumi?_ He backed himself into the corner, trying to get far away
from the monster wearing his beloved's flesh.  _What hell have I
damned myself to?  This is not my world.  This is not my fiancee.
Belldandy is a goddess on earth, not a matricide._

     In answer to his unvoiced plea, the locket hung around Ryo's
neck blazed with bright green fire and tore him from the cell.


                              * * * * *

     Ryo Muhoshin was ABOUT to send Ryo Saotome to some place
unpleasant.

     About to.

     Except just when he was about to do the deed, the locket suddenly
came to life, engulfing him with azure flames and blinding him with
the sudden brightness.  He felt the ground beneath him shift slightly
and the world around him was consumed in a blinding flash of azure
flame.

     "Eh?"

     He stumbled forward, unsure of his surroundings and still blinded
by the flash of light.  At this point, he discovered (the hard way)
that he was at the top of a modest skyscraper.

     "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagggh..."

     Fortunately, there was a dumpster below.

     *WHAM*

     Unfortunately, the stuff inside wasn't that soft.

     "OW!"

     Fortunately he was spared an hour of pain by being knocked
unconscious.


                              * * * * *

     The nighttime sky in Tokyo was fairly nondescript, mainly
because it was gray and drizzling for a day now and looked to be going
on for the next several weeks.  Detective Ed Ryouga Marlowe, homicide
division, Ministry of Sanitation looked up into the night sky from his
vintage 1996 Hyundai.  He thought he saw a flash of light up there in
the clouds...

     "Now my eyes are going bad," he muttered to himself, and drove
on.

                              * * * * *

     In a trash bin, hidden in the shadows of the skyscrapers, a
loud scream of horror and frustration boomed out as someone suddenly
landed from a 90 floor drop and into a trash bin.  Nearby, something
metallic sounding bounced along the pavement and finally settled on
the sidewalk.

     A vagrant, hungry, tired, and weary, saw all this and merely
shrugged.  Must've been one of the old faithful of the Nabiki regime
gone suicide after the downfall of their leader.  Sorta thing happened
often enough nowadays.

     He blinked.

     There seemed to be something on the ground.

     Something shiny.

     Something silver.

     Looked nice.  He figured he could get a pack of MacNougets for
it.  Not very tasty, but cheap.

                              * * * * *

     The fall into the dumpster was bad enough to leave him sore
all over.  Muhoshin limped out into the dim light of a streetlamp and
leaned on it warily.

     He blinked.

     There was definitely something wrong here.

     Something... missing?

     He checked his right pocket, then his left.  He checked his
shirt pocket.  He checked his back pockets.

     "Nooooo.  Not fair!  NOT FAIR!  NO!"

     The locket was gone.  He immediately fell to his knees and
began looking for it.

     A group of construction workers walked by as he frantically
searched the ground.  Someone tapped him on the shoulder. "Hey, you,
get outta the way, people are walking through here."

     Not in the mood for snide remarks, Muhoshin looked up, ready
to break the offender's nose.

     Then he saw his face.

     And his friend's faces.

     And a few dozen faces walking by.

     "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!"

     Ryouga shook his head sadly as he watched the strange guy run
off like a maniac.  "Jeez, more sanitarium escapees running around the
streets these days.  Ministry of Sanitation oughta see about that."

     "No kidding," said the other Ryouga.

     "C'mon, let's get to work," said yet another Ryouga.  "The
construction site was around here somewhere..."

                              * * * * *

     The city was bleak. Bleak, ugly, modern, and busy.

     Normally, Muhoshin wouldn't have minded this, might even have
approved.  That was a Ryo Muhoshin with a purpose in life, money in
his pocket, and a locket in his hand.

     Most importantly, it was a Muhoshin who didn't see hordes of
Ryougas everywhere

     The way things were at the moment, he hated the city and everyone
in it. Especially the logically-certainly-probably nonexistent
Ryougas. The place was in desperate need, he thought, of urban
renewal. The thermonuclear kind.

     His stomach growled, and he winced. He'd been wandering the
streets, doing a little scouting, waiting for his head to clear and
the Ryougas to vanish. He was beginning to realize that he'd been
doing this for almost two days. Time to get some food, sit down for a
second, and...think. He had passed a tiny bar and grill a few blocks
back, that should do nicely.

     He turned around, and strode off, his step going from an aimless
stumble to a purposeful stride. Yes, this had been a good idea. Just
the knowledge that he was going _somewhere_ picked him up a bit, began
to ease him out of his depression.

     He reached the bar, opened the door, and there was Ryouga.  And
Ryouga. Ryouga was there as well, as were Ryouga and Ryouga.

     The whole place was one big Ryouga-fest.

     His temples began to throb, and he slowly forced himself to close
his eyes and slow his breathing. They weren't really there.

     It was JUST a hallucination.  Had to be.

     Be steady, just stay calm...

     "Either come in or get out!"

     That was Ryouga's voice, all right.

     "Yeah, yer letting in a draft!"

     And that one, only from a different part of the room, was his too.

     No.

     Calm, calm, must stay calm.

     He opened his eyes and walked slowly across the room, nervously
eying the patrons. Odd, really. Why was he imagining Ryouga dressed as
a horde of bikers?

     "Whadda ya want?" asked Ryouga, from his position behind the bar.

     Your severed, bloody head on a platter. "I'll have some tea."

     "We got beer."

     Die slowly and painfully. "Aheh. Water. And a sandwich."

     The bartender grunted, and Ryo slumped against the bartop.  They
weren't really Ryougas. His addled brain was just making them look and
sound like them. Why, by this time Hibiki would have....

     Wait a minute. Why was there a hand on his thigh?

     "Hello, big boy," said a Ryouga.

     Outside, the sound of horrified screaming was heard, quickly
replaced by the sound of extreme violence.

                              * * * * *

     o/~ CRAZY.....from the things that I can see
     YOU CAN'T HEAR THEM...only talkin' at me
     LIVING ON THE OUTSIDE...looking inside to
     Be free...o/~


     Ryo Muhoshin distractedly smashed the ghetto blaster over the
cranium of its owner. He looked like Ryouga, so he had it coming. The
song was annoying. Aimed at him. He wasn't crazy. No, no, no, no, no
not very crazy, even if the RYOUGA HIBIKI(s?) WERE EVERYWHERE
EVERYWHERE EVERYWHERE no, no, despite that he was sane.

     Ryouga...

     Muhoshin shuddered, and firmly reminded himself that that _hadn't_
been his hated enemy. No, Ryouga wasn't like that (please, please,
please) it had just been someone who his rather concussed (NOT CRAZY
NOT CRAZY) mind had made to look like his hated enemy. No, Ryouga
wasn't like that (please) it had just been someone who his wrath...

     With an effort, he pulled his thoughts from the circular track they
had been wearing in his brain.

     A low growl from his stomach reminded him that he still had his
initial problem. Namely, he had no food, he hadn't slept in hours, he
was unbearably tired, and his immediate goal seemed to be wandering
aimlessly.

     Wandering aimlessly was far too Ryouga-like to be tolerated.

     There. A diner. It was grimy and small and full of neon light and
glare, but so was everywhere here, including the street. And the
street didn't have a special on coffee and donuts.

     The street did, however, have a cash machine. He was named Sean
Ryouga Izigawa.  Muhoshin, of course, never learned this tidbit of
information. All he knew and cared about was that he looked like
Ryouga and looked almost wealthy.

     He had a ATM card. It was called an umbrella.

     He used the blunt end to make a withdrawal.

     [A Hibiki and his money are soon parted.] Ryo thought, walking
inside the diner. [If that's not a proverb, it should be.]

                              * * * * *

     Unlike the Hibiki bar, the diner was almost homey.

     Formica, a rather odd clock shaped like a cat with swinging eyes
and tail, a jukebox which obviously hadn't worked in years, his
mother, and a long row of Men In Gray Suits.

     He blinked. Item four on that list did not match his admittedly
shaky notions of reality.

     Oh. It wasn't his mother, it was only Kasumi.

     There _did_ seem to be an awful lot of Kasumi about too.  And
Akane.  And that other Tendou sister.  Odd, that.

     Still, he could think of worse people to see. Making his way over
to a free table, he sat down and began to relax just a bit.

     Glasses clinked. Silverware rattled. The Men In Gray Suits made
murmuring noises and watched TV in between bites of dinner. Diner
noises. Normal, blessedly Hibiki-free sounds.

     "Are you ready to order?"

     He looked up, startled. Kasumi was smiling down at him, an order
pad in her hands. Of course, she was the waitress. The apron normally
would have tipped him off, but aprons were standard issue with most
Kasumis.

     "Er, sure. I'll have...one moment..." He thumbed rapidly through
his new wallet; not nearly as much as he had hoped.  "I'll have the
coffee and crullers."

     She smiled, a warm, sincere thing that differed dramatically from
the plastic variety waitresses normally handed out. "Okay. Back in a
bit."

     He watched as she walked off, and he felt, oddly, a little better.

                              * * * * *

     //And in today's news, another store was hit in a
smash-and-grab robbery.  Several suits were stolen, and the store's
safe was emptied.  This is the fourth of a rash of...//

     "Terrible, isn't it?" asked Kasumi.

     "Oh, certainly," agreed Muhoshin, brushing a little lint off
of his newly acquired clothing.  "So, do you like my new suit?"  He
stood up from the counter stool and posed a bit, showing off the gray
Armani.

     "It's nice!  I like it a lot," said Kasumi.

     "Thank you miss," said Muhoshin with a grin.

     "But I'm not sure about those black leather gloves.  And no
need to be formal.  You've been coming to this diner so much now it
seems like you belong here, Ryo-kun."

     "Oh, aheheh, sorry, Miss Kasumi, it's just the way I am."

     "My name," she replied, poking him in the nose gently, "is
Ami.  A-mi.  We've been through this already, ne?  And here's your
coffee."

     "Thanks, and sorry, sorry."  Ryo unfolded his newspaper and
sipped his coffee with a smile.  "I ever tell you how much you remind
me of my mom?"

     "Oh, stop that," she replied with a giggle.  Ami the Kasumi
Extender Waitress patted him on the arm and went around to serve the
other customers.

     She sometimes wondered about Mr. Muhoshin.  The first time he
came in to the diner, he looked so _poor_ and just ordered an endless
refill of coffee whenever he visited.

     But as the days passed, he seemed to have gotten some good
fortune, and lately he'd been leaving generous tips.  The one thing he
always did since the start was come around on her shift.  She sensed
that he was looking at her sometimes, and she couldn't help but blush.
Did he like her?  She looked over at him briefly, and caught him
looking at her again.  She smiled.

     Muhoshin mentally stumbled as the Kasumi extender caught him
staring at her.  He'd been hoping that this odd little vision problem
of his would go away, any minute now, but it wasn't.  Muhoshin had
been stuck for two weeks now, stranded in this strange sort of
reality.  He was still seeing hundreds of Nabikis, Akanes, Kasumis,
and annoyingly, Ryougas.

     He did what any person trying to hang on to their sanity would
do.

     Ignore it.

     At least, he _tried_ to ignore it.  He'd occasionally trip a
Ryouga or shove one into traffic, but it was by reflex.  They
_couldn't_ all be Ryougas, and if those _weren't_ Ryougas he was
looking at, then getting them killed might draw the wrong kind of
attention.

     It wouldn't be worth the trouble he'd get if he killed a
Ryouga and it turned out to be just a hallucination.  It'd be a sick
tease.

     This, he felt, was one twisted world.

     Despite that, he felt content to hang around at this cozy
diner. Maybe the waitress looked quite a bit like his mom (as well as
several thousand other girls in the city), maybe she was just a
hallucination of his, but she was nice, polite, and friendly.  And
there was that...  that... that _something_ about her that made him
feel... well... odd.  But not in a bad way, certainly not.

     The Men In Gray Suits laughed silently as a comedian made
admiring fun of Ukyou Kuonji on the TV. Ryo was surprised to find that
the sound didn't irritate him. In fact, he was actually smiling a bit.

     Some of them might have money, but he would never hurt them.  The
diner was Ami's.

     The streets were his, though, and business was good.

                              * * * * *

     The sun rose.

     The birds warbled.

     Ten thousand Ryougas marched through the city.

     It was a normal day for Ryo Muhoshin.

     He woke up, walked a bit, mugged a few people, and walked a bit
more.

     Then he had lunch. If he had done particularly well, he allowed
himself a second espresso. Today was one of those.

     Then came the afternoon robberies. Jewelry stores had jewelry and
armed guards and alarms. Pawn shops had jewelry. He emptied three
different shops, then called it a day.

     He whistled his way into the diner, cheerfully called a greeting to
the Men In Gray Suits, dropped a dime in the broken jukebox out of
pure whimsy, and chatted with Ami as she brought him his club
sandwich.

     Being stranded here, he was beginning to realize, wasn't so bad
after all. Sure his little vision trouble was still there, but he was
beginning to look at it as something nearing an asset. After all, he
got to beat up Ryouga, take his money, spit in his face, and walk away
chuckling. Every day. Multiple times.

     He had been worried about the police catching him. Then he realized
that the police here were under-funded, overstretched, and on occasion
incompetent. They had as much chance of catching him as they did a
microbe.

     And he had Ami to talk to, which was undeniably nice. He had
forgotten that simple conversation could make one feel good.

     No, this really wasn't that bad.

     It was a normal day for Ryo Muhoshin.

     "Hey, Muhoshin," asked Ami.

     "Hm?"

     "What'cha doing later?"

     "A little business, I guess you might call it.  Why'd you
ask?"

     "Oh, nothing."  Ami smiled.  "Just thought we might want to go
somewhere later, I dunno."  Ryo looked at her oddly, then resumed
reading the paper.

     "Hm... tell you what," said Muhoshin.  "I'll treat you out to
dinner tonight, okay?"

                              * * * * *

     The night was a rather whirlwind event for him, entirely
unused to being in the company of a woman, much less making a woman
smile.  Much to his alarm, she had led the way, bringing them to THIS
cafe and THAT club and THIS scenic view of the city in the park... he
just wasn't used to it at all, but was enjoying himself rather
immensely.  And without having to beat the hell out of someone else,
too.

     It was an entirely alien feeling for him.

     As was the concept of a romantic stroll 'round the city, which
he was doing now.  Although he wasn't doing too bad, strolling
casually with Ami's arm entwined with his.  Fortunately, he didn't
realize he had a somewhat awkward and goofy grin on his face.

     "Ryo-kun?"

     "Hm ah er uh wha?  Y-yes, Miss Kasumi?"

     "Thanks for taking me out tonight."

     Muhoshin laughed.  "Ah, I think it's you that's shown me the
town tonight... yes?"

     Ami laughed with him.  "I guess so, but still... I had a
wonderful time with you.  See you tomorrow?" she asked.

     "Hrm?  Wha?  See me tomorrow?  Oh!  Yes, of course."

     "Well, there's my apartment," sighed Ami, pointing to an
apartment complex nearby.  "Good night."  Then she did something that
drained Muhoshin out of any sense at all, sent his mind reeling, and
made him forget all the old memories that made him the stylish little
bastard that he thought himself to be.

     She kissed him.

     Only on the cheek, but again, all this was something entirely
new to him.

     As she walked away, Ami couldn't help but giggle a little at
the silly grin that was plastered to his face.  She couldn't wait till
tomorrow.

     Ryo, meanwhile, was looking at his Ami, hearing really nice
violins and birds with ribbons flying about and all that other odd
romantic special effects nonsense.  He wasn't entirely sure, but he
thought he could be in love, which was all at the same time an
unbelievable high and a truly horrifying possibility.

     And as his Ami was a block away, in the doorway of the
apartment complex, she turned back, smiled at him... and then there
was a Ryouga blocking the view.

     And it looked quite upset.

                              * * * * *

     Isamu Ryouga Daimon was not having a good day.  He'd been
'activated' just a month ago, and there was an error in shipping.  The
persons he was sent to were apparently expecting a fiancee for their
son. Needless to say, he was promptly rejected.  Due to a problem in
the paperwork, he couldn't be returned to the MoD, so he was SOLD
instead to a factory.  A sweatshop, really.  Lousy pay and a real ass
of a boss.  Despite all this, he managed to scratch out a meager
living, barely keeping up with payments for the ultra-tiny apartment
of his.

     Then he was fired.

     Then he lost his apartment.

     Then he was just mugged.  Ten minutes ago.

     Isamu held his head in his hands, rubbing his temples.
[Dammit, this is NOT a GOOD day.] He wanted to go out there and KILL
his boss, KILL his landlord, and KILL the punks that mugged him.  KILL
KILL KILL.  He had this throbbing headache...

     Then a car drove by, splashing him with mud and water.

     Somewhere in his mind, something burned away.

     "I'M NOT TAKING THIS ANYMORE!!!!"

     The maddened extender suddenly felt a massive headache, and
his anger surged to a berzerker peak.  He looked around for someone to
hurt, someone to PAY for the lousy day he was having.  With reckless
abandon, he tore a streetlamp down and flung it into the street.  The
extender stomped away as cars swerved and the beginnings of a massive
pileup began.  He swung his fists wildly, striking randomly at people
passing by.  A man was flung through a window, a woman felt her ribs
crack from a wild punch, and then another woman was flung against a
brick wall, her head hitting brick and blood trailing from her mouth
as she slumped to the floor.

     Ryouga swung wildly again, but this time his fist was caught.
He found himself flung into a dark alley.

     A skinny figure paced angrily towards him, twirling an
umbrella.

     "Damn you," the figure said, "damn you to hell."

     There was a flash of metal, a gasp for air, then silence.

                              * * * * *

     In a dark alley a dead body was being dragged.  It was being
dragged by a very incredibly upset person, who had just had his first
love killed before his eyes.

     Muhoshin was feeling week and feeling lonely and feeling angry
and this feeling was just TOO familiar and he was feeling generally
belittled by the world and REALLY felt like lashing out at it for just
daring to continue existing after Ryouga... damn Ryouga...

     He sighed, tossed Ryouga's body into a dumpster, then slowly
sank to his knees.

     For the first time in a very long time, he started to cry.

                              * * * * *

     A Week Later...

     "More coffee?" asked the waitress.

     "Yes, please."  Muhoshin smiled unevenly as the Kasumi
refilled his coffee mug.  He felt as if he had passed a major point in
his life. He had been, in the past, somewhat underhanded, somewhat
dishonest, but now he had blood on his hands.

     Ryouga had killed her.

     No reason, no reason at all.

     He just came out of nowhere and killed her.

     So what else was there to do?  He killed Ryouga.  An eye for
an eye, right?  It was, at first, somewhat shocking, and a sick
feeling almost began to overwhelm him.  He'd hurt people before, even
crippled them... but to actually kill was... it was just different.

     But in the end, a peculiar calm overcame him.  He watched
Ryouga's dying twitches with fascination, wondering what was going
through his mind.  Fear?  Hate?  Regret?  The mysteries of life?
Murder wasn't so bad, or so hard.  In fact, it was easy too...

     But Ryouga wasn't dead.

     Wasn't dead.

     He was evERyWHeRe.

     The question of the hoards of Ryougas, Kasumis, and others
wasn't really in his mind anymore.  It didn't matter.  Were there a
thousand Ryougas walking the streets?  So be it!  He did it again,
Ryouga did.  Just strolled into Muhoshin's life and took away
something that was important to him.  He took away Kasu... Ami.  That
was her name.  Ami.  Maybe there was a thousand other Kasumis in this
city, but they just weren't quite the same. The were a row of Men In
Gray Suits here, but they weren't his. None of them knew his name.
None of them told him the latest joke. They didn't know him, and
neither did the Kasumi who had filled his cup. None of the Kasumis
were players in his play, save as props in the background.

     But... they still were the innocent ones in this Hibiki
infested city, and someone had to keep things in line, right?  He owed
it to Ami to clean out the Hibiki infestation.

     His logic, after a few more anxiety attacks of confusion and
paranoia, was shortened and simplified to this: Ryouga-] kill /
Kasumi-] defend.  Not much else to think about.  Why were there a
thousand Ryougas out there?  Why ask why?  That only leads to a
headache.

     As he finished his drink and left, he left the usual fairly
big tip to the girl.  She was a Kasumi, so she had it coming.
Especially when that cash was from a few Ryougas he killed.  He hummed
a little tune he heard once, somewhere, somewhen...

     o/" Once that you've decided on a killing, o/"
     o/" First you make a stone of your heart.  o/"
     o/" And if you find that your hands are still willing, o/"
     o/" Then you can turn a murder into art. o/"

     If that was the case, he thought, then he decided that he
would be every bit as great as Da Vinci, Bosch, and even Dali.

     He really liked Dali.

                              * * * * *

     Somewhere, in a small pawn shop, a small, battered, silver
locket was laid out under a glass counter.  It was a fairly plain and
ordinary locket, next to necklaces and bracelets of gold in good
condition.  With such trinkets around it, who would even want to buy
it?  The owner of the pawn shop bought it from the street bum out of
kindness... but he didn't think that anyone would really buy it from
him.

     Although...

     Sometimes he'd swear that it flickered.

                              * * * * *

     [Meanwhile, somewhere else...]

     An explosion rocked the temple.  Keiichi looked up from his
textbook.  "Urd?" he asked.

     Belldandy set her knitting down and cocked her head to one
side, listening to echoes of magic.  "No, that was Skuld."  A second
explosion shook the walls, filling the air with the tang of ozone.
"That one was Urd."

     Pictures rattled in their frames and glasses threatened to
leap from their coasters as the goddesses of past and future continued
their argument.  "Why don't we go outside?" Keiichi suggested.
Belldandy nodded, so together they gathered their belongings and
tiptoed out to the patio.  Dust and smoke followed them out the door.
"It looks like we got out just in time."

     Belldandy didn't answer; her eyes had a glazed, faraway look.
"Is something wrong?" Keiichi asked.

     "Someone just gated in."

     "Who!" Keiichi demanded.  His textbook fell to the ground as
he interposed himself between Belldandy and the temple.  "Is it
Marller?"

     "No, it's a-"

     "Hey, Belldandy!"  Urd called.  "You'd better come take a look
at this."

     "He seems familiar," Keiichi declared.

     "Yeah," Urd agreed.  "He looks like one of those guys I was
sharing a house with a couple months back."

     "What do we do with him?" Skuld asked.

     Belldandy returned with a pillow and a blanket.  "We make him
comfortable until he wakes up, of course."  She studied the large bump
on his head and noted how his hair, particularly the braided pigtail,
was standing on end.  "I wonder how he managed to get hurt."

     "Uh, good question, Belldandy," Urd stammered.  Skuld
whistled, trying her best to hide Mjolnir 2.0 behind her back.

     "Bell-chan," the boy whispered as Belldandy tucked the blanket
under his chin.  He thrashed, tearing himself free, then settled
again.

     "He seems to know you."  Keiichi possessively stepped closer
to his significant other.

     "I've never seen him before."  She reached out again, her palm
cupping a glowing ball of energy.  Green fire flared from the locket
around his neck.  Startled, she pulled back.

     "Pretty hot stuff," Urd commented.

     Skuld produced a pair of goggles from Hammerspace.  "Do that
again, Oneesama.  I want to get some readings."

     "Are you sure that's safe?" Keiichi asked.  In his mind he saw
visions of the temple exploding.

     The look Skuld shot him would have burned through steel, if
her glasses had been configured to do that.

     Belldandy reached out again.  Emerald energy poured from the
silver heart, fountaining around her like a transformation effect.
"Fascinating," Skuld declared.  "The power is similar to yours,
Oneesama, so it's producing a harmonic wave amplification increase.
It's just slightly out of synch, though, and that's what's causing the
pyrotechnics."

     "So what you're saying," Keiichi surmised, "is that it needs a
tune-up."

     Skuld huffed.  "In layman's terms, yes."  She pushed her
goggles to the top of her head.  "It's really much more complicated
than that."

     "Well."  Urd cracked her knuckled.  "When do we get started?"

                              * * * * *

     The three goddesses clustered in the kitchen, leaving Keiichi
to watch their newest visitor.  "I still think it needs more salt,"
Urd complained.

     "Nuh uh!" Skuld countered as she stirred the steaming
cauldron.  "That would make him explode.  We're already close to the
limit as it is."

     Urd smirked.  "What's life without risks?"  Skuld stuck out
her tongue in rebuttal.

     "Enough!" Belldandy demanded.  "It's ready."  She set the
stove to "simmer," then stretched her arms wide.  The goddess markings
on her face began to glow, and a wind from elsewhere caught her hair.

          Bend, oh Time and Space,
          listen to wishes, answer dreams;
          the Worlds That Are beckon.

     Skuld took up the incantation next; her face shining like an
LCD screen in the growing light of the spell.

          Bend, oh Time and Space,
          follow patterns, obey rules;
          the Worlds That Can Be are fragile.

     Urd stood straight, letting the wind whip her dress as she
composed her stanza.

          Bend, oh Time and Space,
          remember fantasies, revisit memories;
          the Worlds That Were will not be forgotten.

     The room darkened; all the light was drawn into the cauldron.
It began to hiss, and steam rolled over the sides, but the surface
became still as glass.  The three goddesses could see their
reflections; the images spun round and round as they continued
chanting.

          A strong heart holds the key.
          A clever mind solves the puzzle.
          A burning love sets the stage.
          We command this in the name of the goddesses of
          Present
          Future
          and Past.

     "And may you have an interesting time of it," Urd added.

     "No!" Belldandy and Skuld shouted as one, but it was too late.
The cauldron exploded in a shower of bright blue light, blinding
everyone in the kitchen and washing away all sounds.

     The mystery boy hadn't moved since Belldandy and the others
went into the kitchen, so Keiichi recovered his textbook and tried to
study.  His grades were precarious enough with all the local zaniness;
he couldn't afford to let today's events distract him too much.

     Thin beams of cerulean fire slipped between the cracks in the
door jam.  Keiichi ignored them; as long as there wasn't an explosion,
everything was fine.

     Then there was an explosion.

     "Belldandy?  Are you all right?" he called.  Dense green smoke
poured from the ruins of the kitchen door, but he paid it no heed and
rushed into the room.  "Is anyone hurt?"

     "We're *kaff, kaff* all right," Belldandy assured him.  "Let
me open a window."

     "It's all *kaff* Urd's fault, anyway," Skuld announced.

     "I was *koff* just trying to *koff* to liven things up."

     "Um, excuse me," a new voice asked.  "Does anyone need any
help?"

     "Well, well, well."  Urd struck a pose.  "Look who's up."  She
sauntered over to where Ryo stood and poked him in the chest.
"Feeling any better, Mystery Man?"

     "I-" he stammered, "that is, yes.  Um."  He scratched his
head, gathering his thoughts.  "This may sound strange, but what world
is this?"

     "Midgard!" Skuld replied promptly.

     Belldandy noticed Ryo's puzzled look.  "That wasn't the answer
you were expecting, was it?"

     Shock erased Ryo's next few words.  Instead he stared at
Belldandy, unable to take his eyes away.  Keiichi took exception to
this and moved closer to his goddess.  "How do you know Belldandy?" he
demanded.

     "Bell... dandy?"  Ryo said her name slowly, tasting it.  His
head bowed and his shoulders slumped.  _Not so close this time, at
least, not in form._ He looked up again.  "I think I know where I am,
now, and how I ended up here."  He shrugged, palms up, then quickly
hid the brand behind his back.  "I'm sorry I dropped in unexpected
like this.  I'll be going now."

     "Not so fast, hot stuff," Urd countered.  "You can't just pop
in and pop out without an explanation."  She gave him a full, crooked
smile.  "And I just bet there's a lot more to your story than meets
the eye."

     Ryo met her challenge.  "How long do you have?"

     "You'd be amazed," Urd answered.


     [A brief explanation later...]


     "I thought you looked like Ranma!" Urd declared, slapping the
table with her free hand.  "So, did you inherit his... magnetic
charm?"

     "No, thank God."  Ryo held his teacup with both hands.  "Just
his ability to attract disasters.  But this transdimensional jaunt
rivals anything I ever heard him doing, at least in scope."

     "And your Belldandy..."

     "Sound just like yours, Keiichi."  Ryo frowned.  "You both act
alike, too," he told the goddess, "but you don't really look like each
other.  The last Bell-chan I saw, though..."  He shivered.

     Belldandy poured Keiichi more tea.  "So now you want to go
home."

     "After I clean up the mess my fellow travelers have made."

     "That's easy," Skuld declared.  "You find the bugs
responsible, then you hit them."  She demonstrated on a hapless
section of floor with Mjolnir 2.0.

     Ryo shook his head.  "It's not that easy.  Finding 'Gosling'
will be like looking for a needle in a haystack."  He toyed with the
locket.  "I'm not even sure I can find the right farm."

     "Oh, we fixed that," Urd said offhandedly.  "Just think about
where you want to go, concentrate, and, 'Poof,' there you are."

     "You... fixed..."  He wobbled dazedly.  "It took me all night
to create and cast the spell to empower this cursed thing, and even
then I still didn't get it right.  The three of you just 'fixed it?'"

     "I'm good with mirrors," Belldandy said proudly, "and we're
all used to magic jewelry."

     "What, are you goddesses or something?"

     Ryo didn't understand why everyone around him burst out
laughing.

     "Remember," Skuld lectured.  "Focus on where you want to go,
then activate the portal."  She stood on tiptoes and poked the locket
hard; it sparked blue.  "And don't let it get damaged!  It's fragile
enough as it is.  What made you use _silver_ of all things?  Plastic
or ceramics would have worked just as well."

     "Don't mind her," Urd advised.  "She's always this picky."
Skuld gave her oldest sister a raspberry.  "Just go with the flow.
You'll have more fun that way."

     "At this point, anything that works would have to be more fun,
just by definition."  Ryo took a deep breath.  "All right, all of you
stand back.  I don't want anyone getting caught up in this by
accident."  He gave them all a wry smile.  "I've had enough of that to
last a lifetime."

     "Good-bye, Ryo-san"

     "Good-bye, Belldandy,"  There was a catch in Ryo's voice; those
were two words he never liked to see in the same sentence.  "I wish
you and Keiichi more happiness than I've had of late."

     He closed his right hand around the locket.  Blue fire burst
from between his fingers and engulfed him, then spun around him to
form a glowing azure gate.  "Ryo Muhoshin, you're mine."

                              * * * * *

     It was more than a month into his stay when Muhoshin decided
to explore a few nagging questions that had been on his mind before he
was unceremoniously dumped into this surreal world.  It required a
little bit of research, some experimenting, and, of course, a test
subject.

     In an empty warehouse, Ryouga extender awoke strapped down to
a table.  Actually, he was nailed to it.  He screamed in pain and
weakly tried to escape.

     Sitting across from him, and watching like a spider watches a
fly, Ryo Muhoshin gazed, as if he was studying.

     "LET ME GO!!!" screamed Ryouga.

     [First things first... what did Ishido say?  "punching people
with glowing gloves," yes?] That, he felt, was easily solved.  He
actually wondered why he didn't think of it earlier.  He put on the
leather gloves and fastened them tight, flexing his fingers.  Then he
focused his ki, channeling them to his hands... and to the gloves.
They flared with bright yellow energy.  He tightened one fist and
punched at one of the Ryouga's arms.  There was a sickening *snap* and
more screams as the arm became horribly bent out of shape.

     "And that," he mused quietly, "was with me holding back."

     [What else... the one called Ishido also said something about
a needle umbrella attack... making bones explode... let's see...]

     "WHAT DO YOU WANT?!  WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?!"  The extender
struggled more, and more blood began to flow from the spikes that ran
through his arms and legs.

     Muhoshin paused for a moment, as if thinking about that
question.

     "Well, you see... you LOOK like a Ryouga to me, a lot of you
do."

     "OF COURSE I DO, I'M A RYOUGA EXTENDER!!!"

     Muhoshin frowned.  "So... you _are_ Ryouga?"

     "YES I'M A RYOUGA!!!" screamed the extender.

     "Well, that's about it then."

     "What are you talking about?!?!  HEY!" ranted Ryouga, but
Muhoshin just ignored him and continued studying his victim.
[Exploding bones. Exploding.  Hm.  Wait, the bakusai ten-ketsu?]

     The exploding point technique, or bakusai ten-ketsu, was a
technique that came close, but it did _not_ work.  He poked Happosai
and the little troll didn't explode a bit.

     He thought again. Needles. Why did Ishido mention a needle?
Muhoshin gave a quick glance at the Ryouga extender, examining the
breaking points on his body. When the breaking point is learned, the
person 'sees' breaking points.  The curious thing was that people who
learned it saw the breaking points in a lot of places... trees, rocks,
other people... but it seemed to work mostly on rocks, and never on
people.

     Why didn't it work on people?

     "A-HA!"  Muhoshin stood up with an evil smile.  It was so
obvious now, the secret to the technique.  The reason that the
breaking point had never worked on people was that the creators of the
technique never thought to compensate for all that flesh that got in
the way...

     "Stay right there," said Muhoshin as he walked away, ignoring
the screams of pain from the pinned Ryouga.  "Need to get something."
An hour later, Muhoshin returned with a metal spike sharpened to a
needle-sharp tip.  "Stand still," he said, grinning.  He saw the
point... a very precise point, much more precise than those found on
stone, but still...

     The screams of pain would've been heard, if it weren't for the
noise of the traffic and construction of the city around them.

                              * * * * *

     The weeks passed on, and soon two months had passed.  Muhoshin was
fairly settled in, occupying the apartment of a fairly isolated
Ryouga. He'd picked this one carefully.  Had no frequent visitors, and
had been recently unemployed.  As he expected, nobody'd been around to
bother his privacy.

     Muhoshin made a mistake on a previous Ryouga, and that
resulted in the police ousting him from his temporary abode. He had
been shot at - not in a very effective way, but still enough to make
him wish to take precautions. Hence the lightweight kevlar vest he was
wearing underneath his shirt.

     He'd held back his war on Ryouga to a once a week affair.  Any
more, and the pressure from the law enforcement people may become too
much.  Even with only one strike a week, it was enough for the moment.

     At the moment he was mulling over the month's killings as he
watched the flashing lights and heard the sirens heading his way.
_They take quite a while to get to the scene of a murder_ he mused.

     It is said that criminals always return to the scene of the
crime.  In Muhoshin's case, he just stayed a while longer.  He'd just
finished off another Ryouga and was relaxing in the after-glow of
murder high atop the rooftops.  He watched carefully as the police
arrived on the scene of his last workout.  He thought he saw something
interesting last time, but was too far away.  Now he was observing
from a safe and good vantage point, with some binoculars.  As usual,
the police arrived far too late, taped off the area for investigation,
called in other police, examined the body... ah.

     There it was.

     Ryouga Hibiki.

     Ryouga Hibiki AS A COP.

     Tsk, corruption in the law enforcement agency.  How could they
let RYOUGA into the police?  No, no, no.  This would have to be fixed,
and soon.  He strolled away upon the ledges of the building for
several blocks, unseen by all, then jumped off, opening his umbrella,
and floated into an empty alley.

     Moonlight, a cool breeze, only a few clouds in the sky.

     It seemed like a good night for a stroll, and to plan future
recreational ventures with glee.

                              * * * * *

     Meanwhile... a little later...

     High atop the Daitokuji Towers, a circle of fire suddenly
flared into being, then transformed into a swirling column, with the
outline of a man within.  Then, the fires flickered out, leaving a boy
with a pig-tail standing there.  Ryo Saotome looked around carefully,
wondering if he'd finally made it to the right destination.

     "Now, where am I."

     Whatever reality this was, it looked to him to be an
industrial/corporational world gone wild.  Skyscrapers were all around
him, with interconnecting tunnel tubes linking the buildings. Video
screens flickered everywhere promoting governmental ideals.

     Ryo froze a moment as he stared at the screen in disbelief:
there, larger than life, was an image of his mother, Ukyou Kuonji.
The subtitles under her name read //Ministry of Finance// and it
seemed that she was saying something about the state of the economy.

     [Mom?  A government leader?  Wow.] Ryo was speechless.  He
knew his mother could run a business well, but an entire national
economy?  He found himself wondering if there was another Ryo Saotome
around here, and maybe even another Bell-chan.  He shook that thought
off quickly.  Even if there was a Bell-chan here, it wasn't _his_
Bell-chan.  Besides, there was another person he was looking for.

     Ryo looked down at the street below and saw a familiar figure
standing by a storefront window, gaping at something.  [There you
are,] he thought.  [Time to end this].

                              * * * * *

     Muhoshin stood in front of the store, his jaw dropping in
disbelief.  It was, he thought, amazing what one finds during a
leisurely stroll.

     It was HERE.

     The LOCKET.

     In a simple pawn shop display case!

     This changed everything.  Now he could go anyWHERE, anyWHEN.
The plans to toy with that Ryouga cop would have to be put on hold,
there were bigger fish to fry.

     He held back the urge to laugh, twirled his umbrella happily,
and walked into the store.

     Why, with it he could go to what was _surely_ the source of
all his woes, Ryouga from _his_ world.  He didn't know why that would
be, but he was sure Ryouga was to blame somehow for all this mess,
especially Ami's death.

     Ami.

     He could go back and...

     No.

     It would be Ami, but it wouldn't be _his_ Ami.  She'd be some
other Ryo Muhoshin's Ami, and the one thing he didn't care to do is
get him angry or envious over himself.

     Wait.

     That didn't sound quite right.

     "Damn, I have a headache," he muttered.

     No, enough of this.  He was going back to where he belonged,
and he'd put an end to Ryouga once and for all.  Even if he had to
kill him a hundred times over.

     He strolled casually into the pawn shop, smashed the display
case, took the locket, and ignored whatever prattling the store owner
was saying.

     The proprietor was Hibiki.  He thought about it.  Muhoshin
calmly grabbed Ryouga's face and rammed his skull into the wall.

     Ryouga's lifeless body slumped to the floor, leaving a trail
of blood on the wall.  "Art happens," said Muhoshin as he looked at
the red and white masterpiece that had been Hibiki.  "If that isn't a
T-shirt, it should be."

     Pausing only a second more to admire his work, he raised the
locket up in his clenched fist, feeling a euphoric sense of triumph.

     "Bring me home."

     Nothing happened.

     Muhoshin stared at the sputtering, sparking locket.

     "BRING ME TO MY REALITY!"

     Nothing.  He wondered what the hell was going wrong, but
someone else managed to interrupt that train of thought.

                              * * * * *

     Ryo looked down and watched as Muhoshin lingered in front of
the storefront window.  He had to get down there as fast as possible.
Were he as fit as his father, he'd have merely done a few jumps, floor
by floor to get down there.

     He looked down apprehensively, and slid down a long pipe,
somewhat cautiously.  Not the fastest route down, but faster than the
elevator.  Then he cautiously entered the store.  Fortunately, the
door was still open, so he entered quietly...

     And saw Ryouga's head smashed violently into the wall.

     He was speechless.

     Ryo Saotome looked in horror at the streaks of blood running
down the wall and the body lying on the floor.

     [He KILLED him.  Oh God, he KILLED him!]

     He'd known many a martial artist in his life, and seen a few
fights.  His father had too.  But nobody ever got hurt.

     Not seriously, anyway.

     Nobody got killed when he managed to stop all that madness
that Cologne had started with the locket that first time. Now it
looked like Ryouga was paying for Ryo's failure.

     The game had just gotten very serious.

     [He'll PAY for this!]

                              * * * * *

     Muhoshin finally noticed something was wrong in the air.  He
heard... breathing.  Turning around, he saw a familiar looking figure
with a ponytail, and a peculiar little locket around his neck.

     "You," he growled.  "INCONCIEVABLE!"  Wasn't that the locket?
Didn't he TAKE the locket away from him?  But then he's got a locket
too?  What was this?!?!  What the _hell_ was this?!

     Ryo took a small second to collect his thoughts, then looked
Muhoshin straight in the eye.  In a calm, level, and threatening
voice, he said, "Muhoshin, hand back that locket."

     Muhoshin scowled.  "Well, give back the locket, give back the
locket... hm.... hey Ryouga, what do you think?"  He reached over and
turned over the dead Ryouga, and moved his jaw up and down in a
macabre puppetry show, ignoring the bloodstains he was getting on his
hand.  "Give back the locket? No way!"

     "I'm serious, hand it over now," said Ryo, having the distinct
feeling he was being mocked.

     "Oh, he's serious!" said Muhoshin to the dead Ryouga.  He
moved Ryouga's jaw up and down, saying, "Oh no!  What're we gonna do,
Muhoshin?"  Muhoshin replied, "Well, Ryouga, I _just_ _don't_ _know_."

     "STOP IT!" yelled Ryo.

     "Feh, no sense of humor, you.  Ja ne Saotome."  Muhoshin
concentrated on just LEAVING the area. He had yet to gauge Ryo's
abilities, but if he was anything like the other Saotome, he was
formidable enough to warrant caution.

     Much to his alarm, the locket _still_ didn't work.  It
sputtered even more violently, flickered a bit, but did nothing else.
Meanwhile, Ryo Saotome noticed his locket was behaving in the same way
too.

     [Old fashioned escape it is, then.] He slashed out with his
umbrella, making Saotome back away, then tapped a side wall, yelling
"BAKUSAI TEN-KETSU!!!"  Suddenly, the wall exploded with a deafening
boom, sending dust and debris everywhere.

     Ryo Saotome instinctively covered his face protectively as the
explosion hit, while Ryo Muhoshin quickly scrambled out of the hastily
made exit.  He bounded out into the street, looked around, then sprang
up to the second floor ledge of an adjacent building.  He cursed as
the sounds of sirens echoed in the air and got closer.  Muhoshin shook
his head and frowned.  He did _not_ want the direct attention of the
authorities, not like this.

     As he was about to make his escape, Muhoshin was tackled.
"I'm leaving and you're coming with me!" yelled Saotome, who began to
concentrate on bringing Muhoshin back to the reality where he
belonged.

     To his surprise, nothing happened, although the locket was
still sparking and sputtering.

     "Get... OFF!!!"  Muhoshin squirmed, then managed to sling
Saotome over his shoulder.  Ryo flailed in surprise, and managed to
get a grip on the ledge before falling off, and flipped himself back
up.  He and Muhoshin eyed each other warily.

     The two Ryos observed each other, and both silently took note
of something:  both of their lockets were flickering much more than
usual.

     Muhoshin took an experimental step forward, and the flickering
became more erratic.  Ryo noticed too, and they both realized the
implications of this at the same time.  The lockets interfere with
each other.  Nobody was going anywhere unless one of them gave up
their locket. Exactly why this was so was a mystery to both.

     "Nice nice nice niiiiice looking locket you've got there, oh
Saotome of the same name as I.  You found another one of these?" asked
Muhoshin.  "Wherever at?"

     "I didn't-" said Ryo before he was cut off by a sudden slash
from Muhoshin. He dodged the blade, then came in with a punch of his
own.  It hit solidly with Muhoshin's chest, but the only thing that
happened was a light wheeze.

     Muhoshin sent a punch of his own towards Ryo, charged with ki,
and slammed into Ryo's shoulder.  Saotome stumbled back from the force
of the punch and clutched his shoulder while Muhoshin looked at him,
puzzled. The force of that punch should have been enough to severely
hurt him, and especially a solid punch like that should have snapped
some bones. Saotome seemed to have taken it like an ordinary punch.
He mentally took note: Ryo Saotome - high stamina levels.

     Down below, several police cars parked and spotlights were set
up.  They turned them on and the two figures above blinked in reflex
and stepped away from each other.

     "We do NOT have time for this," said Muhoshin, glancing at the
police down below.

     "Then give that locket back and we'll all go home," replied
Saotome.

     Muhoshin scowled.  "Love your name, admire your obsession, but
you are REALLY beginning to bother ME."

     "I'm the owner of that locket, and you're giving it back."

     "Not gonna.  Nonono."

     "It's not right," replied Ryo.

     "Not right to who?" sneered Muhoshin.  "Fate has put this
little trinket into MY hands.  I'm not one to argue."

     "It didn't belong to you!"

     "It does now."

     "I can't let someone as evil as you roam free with that, you
know."

     Muhoshin blinked.  "Evil?"

     "I'll hunt you until the end of the worlds if I have to," said
Saotome, "you're not killing another Ryouga."

     "Feh!  You don't understaaaand don'tdon'tdon't."  Suddenly,
Muhoshin's demeanor snapped into a cold, sharp, intelligent one.  "You
call me evil?  Very well, I return the favor. Evil is a label we apply
to those who's goals do not walk in the same direction as ours do."
Then he snapped back into his deranged look and muttered, "some gaijin
named Vennering said that once, I think.  BAKUSAITENKETSU!"

     Ryo was taken by surprise as Muhoshin stabbed into the
concrete and set off another Bakusai ten-ketsu.  The explosion flung
them both away and into the air as a gaping hole was left in the side
of the building.

     Muhoshin used the shockwave of the blast to propel himself to
the building ledge across the way, then ran into the night.

     Saotome was flung away by the blast, but landed on his feet on
the street below, where a mob of policemen immediately grabbed him.
He struggled to get free, yelling, "LET ME GO!!!  HE'S GETTING
AWAY!!!"

     Muhoshin looked back from a distance, smirked, then raced off
into the night.

                              * * * * *

     Ryo Saotome fumed, angry at himself, as he occasionally tried
to break free of the handcuffs.  He found Ryo Muhoshin, but he failed
to get the locket back.  He failed, and now the element of surprise
was gone. Muhoshin knew that he was being chased now, and that's when
things get dangerous.

     [What if... what if he goes after Bell-chan?] A cold fear
washed through his heart.  If Muhoshin did anything to her, he'd never
forgive himself.  [No, I can't start getting depressed now, gotta
think... gotta think...]

     What DID he learn today?  Ishido had said that while Muhoshin
had often _tried_ to kill Ryouga, and a few others, he'd never really
succeeded.  Obviously, that has changed.  He was a killer now,
definitely.  And he had plans for that locket.  Whatever those plans
were, he didn't know, but they couldn't be good.  The lockets...

     He smiled as he found one thing of interest that would be VERY
helpful in the future.  It seemed that the locket reacted violently to
being near another locket (actually, it was the same locket but looped
back in time, so technically the locket reacted violently to being
near itself) which meant that the locket could be used as a sort of
Muhoshin-detector.  Not only that, but once he was near enough, the
lockets would cancel each other out and they'd be stuck in the same
reality.  That eliminated the possibility of ridiculous cross-reality
chases.  He hoped.

     Now, if he was far enough from Muhoshin, he just might be able
to get free of this reality...

                              * * * * *

     "Who's the nut in the back?" asked one officer to another as
they drove the Law Offender Containment Vehicle (i.e. a reinforced
van) towards downtown.  The driver eyed the narrow slit that looked
into the containment area, where an angry young man with a pigtail was
sitting and brooding, occasionally trying to get out of his handcuffs.

     "Dunno, claims he's Ryo Saotome but he don't show on the
records."

     "He doesn't?  That's odd.  Must be an illegal immigrant or
something, eh?"

     "Hey, what was that flash?"

     "What flash?"

     "Thought there was a flash'a blue for a moment there."

                              * * * * *

     Muhoshin continued springing from skyscraper to skyscraper,
making sure that he'd not been followed.  While he saw the 'other Ryo'
get dragged away by the police, he doubted that he would be held for
long, especially if he was as formidable as Ranma Saotome.  He stopped
along a fairly large ledge, across from a clock tower.  From here he
liked the view.  Maybe it was the great view of the clock tower, or
the unobstructed view of the lands around the city.  It was,
inarguably, a nice view.

     He hadn't a clue as to what was _in_ the building, but then he
wasn't of the peeping-tom sort.  So long as they didn't bother him,
things were fine.  As he relaxed and focused on nothing in particular,
he sensed movement below and peered.  A car pulled, up, a somewhat
beaten up one.  Looked familiar too.

     [Oh, it's one of those police cars from earlier tonight.] He
pulled out his binoculars, peered down below, and grinned.  A lone
figure was dropped off, a Ryouga.  The police car didn't stick around,
so they certainly weren't after him.  Or were they?  He walked around
the building to make sure, and spotted no trap.  The Ryouga cop turned
slowly to walk into the building, paused, and started chatting with
the doorman. Muhoshin took this moment to jump off the ledge, snap
open his umbrella, and drifted down below.

     Soon, the Ryouga extender entered the building, oblivious to
the footsteps behind him.


                              * * * * *

     Ed Ryouga Marlowe, Detective, Ministry of Sanitation, was
tired.  It was just one of those days.  They had the suspect right in
their sights, but somehow he got away again.  The explosion site again
had zero traces of any sort of explosives, and the suspect displayed
ridiculous jumping ability.

     Add to that the involvement of someone claiming to be a
Saotome.  The only Saotomes on record were a Genma and Ranma Saotome,
and Ranma was the fiancee of the Head of the Ministry of Peace, Akane
Tendou.  More links to the higher powers in this case, again.  It
smelled like DNA experiments and government cover-ups to him, and that
meant they'd probably shut the door on the case.

     He stood in front of his door for a moment, feeling very
tired, and muttered, "What a hellova day."  He reached for his keys,
then lapsed into unconsciousness as a somewhat lanky figure suddenly
appeared behind him and slammed his head into the door.

     Muhoshin grinned as he dragged Marlowe's unconscious form
inside the apartment.  He was ready to leave this particularly strange
reality now, but not before leaving the endless others of Ryouga
something to remember.  He whistled happily as he took some duct tape
and bound Ryouga's arms and legs together, then eyed the tower clock
up above.  [This'll be nice] he mused.

     Today was a Thursday.  He met Ami on a Thursday.  He planned
to mark the occasion, that wonderful anniversary, before he departed
from this wretched reality, with a bang.

                              * * * * *

     Muhoshin gleefully smiled as this latest reincarnation of
Ryouga woke up groggily.  It seemed the blow to the head was heavier
than he thought it'd be.  He'd soon be dead again in a few minutes
anyway. Muhoshin wondered if the symbolism would be entirely lost on
the citizens of this city. Ryouga, strapped to the minute arm of this
rather large clock tower.  It was almost a good replica of London's
Big Ben clock...  except that the rest of the building aside from the
clock was decidedly modern.

     Minutes away 'till fun began... minutes...

     That was the problem.  A few minutes.  Muhoshin laughed
silently as he stared at the clock, glanced at the locket, then looked
over to Ryouga once more.  [Might as well kill a little time.]

     "Hello again," he said calmly, "Nice view, isn't it?"
Muhoshin watched with some amusement as Ryouga tried to struggle out
of his bonds. Originally, he'd wanted to crucify him on the clock
arms, but that lacked a certain... pizazz.  This was, after all, his
last kill before leaving this world, and he wanted to leave with a
bang, so to speak.

     "What the hell is this?  Who are you?"

     Muhoshin sighed.  Why did Ryouga forget who he was with every
reincarnation?  It was becoming somewhat insulting.

     "Ryouga, Ryouga," he said, sounding genuinely tired, "if you
STILL have to ask," he added, tightening the bonds on Ryouga's feet,
"then you are dense beyond belief."

     "I'm warning you, I'm a MoS officer!  Crimes committed against
officers of the law will get you SERIOUS punishment! Do you hear me?!"
yelled Ryouga.

     Muhoshin decided to play a little game of intimidation with
Ryouga.  That was always fun.  He walked over and locked eyes with
him, their faces inches away.  "Policeman, plumber, delivery guy, ALL
your little disguises, Ryouga, they don't matter to me."

     "My name is Ed Ryouga Marlowe, NOT just Ryouga, and you'd
better untie me NOW, Gosunkugi."  At the mention of the name
'Gosunkugi', Muhoshin flinched.

     "WHY you keep on adding on names to your own I've never
figured out, Ryouga," Ryo chidingly informed him, "and I most
certainly am not Gosunkugi."  With that said, he punched Ryouga in the
nose.  There was a muffled snapping sound and Ed grunted in pain.
"Offend me again and I'm do more than break your nose."

     Muhoshin glanced upwards, where the hour hand of the clock was
up high. "You see that hour arm up there?  You notice the time?  It's
about... 12:17am right now."  He paused, looking a bit meditative.
"You know, I've never talked to you much before... in all those times
I've killed you, that is," mumbled Muhoshin.  "But now...  you see...
I'm leaving.  And I wanted to make a statement before I left.  You see
up there?  There's a bomb in that arm.  I know, I know, I've never
done bombs before, not really my style... but I wanted to stretch my
wings a little. Artistic growth, you see."

     Ryouga opened his mouth to say something, but a quick punch to
the jaw ended that attempt.  "Don't interrupt, I'm ranting.  Now,
where was I... oh.  The bomb.  When next the minute and hour arms
touch... there should be a big red spot on the clock face for all to
see."  Muhoshin peered at Ryouga, as if thinking things over.  "Oh...
I almost forgot, you could still call for help.  Must fix that."  He
stopped twirling his umbrella and brought the blade tip up next to
Ryouga's throat.

     "Any last words before I momentarily disable your ability to
speak?"

     "Yeah... why?"

     "Why?  Why what?"

     "Why me?  Why Ryougas?  Why'd you do it?"

     Muhoshin's face darkened.  "Oh... oh oh oh... there's too many
reasons... you were first just a thorn in my side... then you became a
REAL PAIN... and then... and then you JUST HAD to kill her, didn't
you?  But... butbutbut... I cut you I stab you I choke you I beat YOUR
BRAINS OUT and there should be only ONE of you... only one of you
HERE, anyway, but you STILL WON'T GO AWAY!  WHY WON'T YOU STAY
DEAD?!"  His face turned red with anger, and then after a deep breath,
the mask of calm and order returned to his features.  "And there you
have it."

     "What... what the hell are you?"

     "Sorry, I've wasted enough time.  Good-bye."

     Muhoshin reared his arm back, intending to make a nice clear
impalement of Ryouga's throat where the vocal chords were.  He'd
probably bleed to death after that sort of cut...

     Instead, there was a gunshot.

     Time slowed down.  He saw the flash of light coming from the
muzzle of a gun, in the darkness of the upper ledge. He felt the
bullet slam into his left shoulder, splattering itself against the
kevlar with incredible force, pushing him to the edge. He felt his arm
go numb, dropping his umbrella. And then he was over the edge.

     He was in free fall, spinning helplessly downward. His
shoulder had been badly bruised, if not dislocated - but the fact that
he was about to become one with the pavement below was of far, far
greater concern.  He had only one hope left, the locket.  Muhoshin
closed his eyes and concentrated.

     Ami...

     ...no, safety, escape....

     Ami....

     ...have to save...

     Muhoshin became a blue streak of fire, a plunging comet, a
falling being of light...

     And then he was gone.


                              * * * * *

     The rays of the tropical sun shed their gentle warmth upon the
face of Akane Tendou, while a moist, warm breeze brushed against her
lips and cheeks, and a firm hand shook her shoulder.

     In her dream, Akane blinked.  She liked to be in control,
especially of her fantasies, and something wasn't quite right.

     She ran a mental checklist.

     Beach?

     Check.

     Palm trees?

     Check - no Principal Kunou along with them, she was happy to
note. (That had been a quirk of the beta version of this reverie.)

     Breeze?

     A bit moist, and it smelled funny, but there.  Check.

     Hand.

     Her shoulder was shaken again.

     Hand.

     Hand was not supposed to be there.

     Hand was alien.

     Hand was bad.

     Wherefore was there Hand?

     With a sigh, Akane concluded that the problem did not lie in
her dream, which only meant that Real Life must be intruding on her
fun, and she'd better check it out, just in case she was being mugged
in her sleep, or something.

     She felt her shoulder being shaken again.

     With an air of resignation, she bid adieu to the tropical
setting and opened her eyes.

     "Eeeew! Ranma! Don't you ever brush your teeth in the morning?
Your breath is TE-"  Akane blinked.  Ranma's face was above her.
That, she was used to.  But... She followed the line of his eyes.
Ranma blushed. Akane pulled her sleeping back up to her neck.  "What
are you doing staring at my CHEST, you PER-"

     Ranma caught the mallet before it could hit him or the ground.

     "Quiet, will ya?" he whispered, and pointed to Akane's bed.
"You'll wake our ki-" Another blush. "You'll wake Miyabi up."

     Akane's angry scowl melted into a smile.  He actually... cared
about their future child's proper sleeping patterns? Maybe he wasn't
such a barbarian, after all...

     "Oh, Ranma..." she sighed contentedly.

     "Man, if she goes to school, I'm TOAST.  You know how Hiro 'n
Dai react to every li'l thing - not to mention Gos an' Kunou.  I'll
NEVER hear the end of it."

     "Why, you self-interested, hypocritical..."

     "Ssssshhhh!"

     "Oh. Right."

     Ranma stood up from his crouch and helped his fiancee out of
her sleeping bag.  Once up, they tip-toed out of the room and shut the
door quietly behind them.

     A day later, they would regret not having drawn the curtains,
as well.

                              * * * * *

     Miyabi yawned and stretched her arms as the morning light woke
her from her slumber.  She'd been having such a pleasant dream, about
a picnic in the park with Mum and Dad, back...

     Home.

     She opened her eyes, then promptly closed them again.

     [Too bright.]

     A few squints, blinks, a couple of yawns and her vision
finally adjusted to the new photon density.

     She looked around.

     It was her mother's room, of course, but not as she knew it.
The 'feel' was the same, it had the same touch, and some of the same
items, but...

     It lacked something.

     No, that wasn't right.  It was complete; it just wasn't _her_
type of complete.  There were a few pictures on the dresser, but none
of her.  There were no wedding photos either, no portraits of all the
other happy couples - just a few group shots of rivals thrown together
by circumstance.

     There was no room for _her_ here.

     Miyabi grinned.

     [Not yet, anyway.]

     She just couldn't understand why all these people made such a
big deal about hiding what they felt about each other.  Wasn't it more
fun to get along, to... to...

     To be in love?

     Words to an old song came unbidden to Miyabi's mind.

     o/~ To be in love, is the greatest feeling that a girl can
feel o/~

     That was every young girl's dream, wasn't it?

     To find true love?

     And here these silly people were just looking the other way
when _it_ found _them_.

     She'd show them how to get it right.

     Oh, she'd show them.

     Miyabi stood up and stretched.

     Considering what she'd been through, she felt remarkably
refreshed.

     The girl giggled.  She hadn't slept in her mother's bed since
she was a baby.  Then it'd seemed so big, so comforting, and now,
fifteen years into the past, she could barely fit into it - or into
the pajamas she'd borrowed from Mum.  They were too tight in front and
loose in back. But it still WAS comforting. She had no doubt that it
was the maternal aura that infused the room that had refreshed her.

     Which reminded her, as he noticed the empty sleeping bag lying
on the floor - where WAS her mother?

                              * * * * *

     "Oh, my! Ranma, aren't you going to finish your breakfast?"

     "Nah, that's all right." Ranma flashed his patented 'I'm
actually doing this for an ulterior motive but want you to think
everything's fine and dandy' smile.  "A martial artist has to watch
his calories, you know."

     "Since are YOU worried about eating too much?" growled Akane.

     Ranma jerked a finger at a nearby panda, who was busily
inhaling a bowl of rice.

     "Since I saw what happened to HIM."

     "Oh."

     "'Sides, I've gotta get to school on time."

     "Are you sure you're feeling well, Ranma?"

     A rather large bead of sweat formed on the boy's forehead and
trickled down his cheek.

     "Yeah! Everything's swell!" He grabbed his lunch, not
bothering to sniff it in the usual way. "C'mon, Akane! We're gonna
be-""

     "Otoosan! Okaasan! Are you actually going to school without
me?"  shouted Miyabi from the top of the stairs.

     "Aaaaaaaaaaaaawww, man!"

     "Growf?"

     "Sorry, Miyabi, but we don't 'ave time. Maybe some other-"

     "Oh, but I'm already dressed!"

     The girl grinned and stepped into the dining room.  She was
wearing one of Akane's school uniforms, and it fit her perfectly.
Well, almost.

     "L'il tight around the chest, ain't it?" observed Ranma. "An'
flabby in the back, an' the sleeves are-"

     "How come you know so much about Mum's dresses, Dad?"

     "Hey, it ain't like that!"

     "Oh, but it IS," said Akane, in her let's-kill-a-diabetic
voice.  "Ranma ENJOYS wearing my clothes, except he usually finds them
too BORING, don't you?"

     "WHAT?!?!?"

     "Why don't you tell her about that time you dressed in a bunny
suit and went exposing yourself to all the guys in Nerima?"

     "Bunny suit? Expose?" Miyabi felt her stomach churning. There
were some things she did NOT want to know. "So..." she interjected,
"When do we go to class?"

     "How about now?" suggested Akane.

     "Waitaminute! You can't let 'er come!"

     "Why not, Ranma?"

     "I mean, she's our _daughter_! What'll everyone SAY?"

     *sniff* *sniff*

     "Waaaaah! My own parents don't want me to get an education!"

     "Wait a minute!"

     "Who knows HOW long I'll stay here... If I don't go to school,
I might suffer irreparable damage to my learning!"

     "Hey, look, I-"

     "She's going," pronounced Akane.  "Why are you so against it,
anyway?  It's not like there hasn't been gossip about us _before_, and
I... I..."  Her cheeks reddened. "I kind of _want_ Miyabi to meet all
our friends."

     "Well, I-"

     "Thanks, Mum!" The girl beamed.  "See you in class!" With a
hop and a giggle, Miyabi grabbed her father's lunch from his hands and
bounded out the door.

     Ranma shook his head.

     "I've gotta bad feelin' about this..."

                              * * * * *

     Flames snapped and hissed around him.  He felt himself
tumbling downwards in this endless azure flame, then suddenly slammed
into earth.  He would've screamed in pain, except that he was too
surprised.

     Muhoshin blinked.

     Apparently, it was the suburbs, at night.  He'd landed in the
back yard of someone's house, and it seemed nobody noticed his
entrance.  He winced, gingerly touching his shoulder.  Bruised badly,
maybe dislocated slightly.  Moving it didn't feel good at all.

     He turned his attention to the house, attracted by the sounds
of violence like a moth to flame.  Making his way slowly inside, he
found where all the noise was coming from.

     Peering in from the entrance, he spied upon several suspicious
men beating and mauling someone on the floor.  Next to the toaster
there were a pair of fingers.

     He wondered what this was all about, and who was on the floor.
As the noisy and violent men shifted around, he finally saw the
victim's face.

     What he saw made his blood run cold.

                              * * * * *

     She was being torn apart, the men just kept laughing...

     ...the world was red and whirling, a rioting dance of pain,
and the laughter went on...

     ...She felt something break inside, and the pain moved in a
different direction and the laughing speared through her and she
couldn't reach the pan for some reason...

     ...Howling laughter, as the blows and boots and fists rained
down into her haze of self, she heard someone scream in agony and
realized it was her, and the silly pan was just out of reach, how
would she make dinner without it? And they were so hungry, and she had
the work still to do so that nothing bad would happen...

     The laughter changed, going from cruel to gentle. "Kasumi?
Kasumi dear?"

     Mommy wanted her. She ran over, and Mommy tucked her into bed.
"You sleep now, Kasumi. You've had a long day."

     ...The blows rained down, somewhere, and someone's ribs broke
and speared deep, sending a wrench of...

                              * * * * *


     They were beating her to death.  Damn them.  HOW DARE THEY?

     Ryo advanced silently, thinking things through.  One arm
useless, and he didn't have his umbrella either.  This would have to
be quick and lethal.  He smiled grimly as he spied what was available
on the countertop.

     There was a knife.  A rather big one.

     He had one good arm.

     This was going to be messy.

     But... then again... mess could be artistic too.

     Slide behind the first one, unsuspecting... *slice* the
throat.

     One down, two to go.

     The other two noticed.  One reached into his jacket.

     Must be a gun.  Can't let that get out.  *Slash* and there
goes his wrist.  One more.... *slash* gracefully raking across both
eyes just to make sure.  Two down.

     He winced as the other one landed a solid punch to his injured
shoulder.  If it wasn't dislocated yet, it was _now_.

     No time to waste on anger.  Had to finish this fast.

     With an audible grunt, he tossed the knife at the last one's
throat.  It impacted quietly, imbedding itself in his throat with a
slight squishy noise.

     Time to check on Kasumi.  He strode towards her quickly,
massaging his injured shoulder, when someone grabbed his shoe.

     Ah, the gunman.  Still alive.

     Muhoshin sighed, went back to the other dead fellow, -yanked-
the knife from his throat, then planted it in the gunman's chest.
That should take care of that.  He wouldn't be needing the knife any
more, after all.

     He finally turned to her, lying on the floor.  Savage cuts
across her body and face, blood coming out from her nose and mouth, an
eye swelled shut, and her fingers...

     Apparently, it was her fingers that were on the kitchen
counter.

     Muhoshin removed his bloodied suit jacket and wrapped it
around her. "Hold on, Miss Kasumi... don't die, please, don't die
again..."  He kissed her gently on the cheek, then focused, as the
locket awakened once more to its master's will.

                              * * * * *


     Kasumi was tired, and snuggled down beneath the cool sheets.
"But the work, it's not done..."

     Mommy smiled, and kissed her cheek. "Tomorrow we'll do it
together, you and I." Kasumi gave a sigh of contentment, and held
Mommy's hand.

     ...Pain, somewhere somewhere distant...

     The clock hit 9:30, and Kasumi fell asleep.

                              * * * * *

     The doctor sighed and leaned against the desk, taking a small
moment to catch his breath and organize his jangled nerves.  Being
part of the emergency room staff was never easy, but it was his
career.  Trying to catch your breath and get your bearings in the
middle of the emergency room wasn't easy either, but he didn't have
time to step outside.

     "Hectic day, isn't it?" asked one of the nurses.

     "Yes, it has been," answered the doctor.  "I don't think I can
take another surpr-"

     *FWOOSH*

     The entire emergency room screeched to a halt as everyone
stared at the two sudden newcomers.

     "Excuse me," said one, a lanky boy holding a very battered
girl in his arms.  "Is there a doctor in the house?"

                              * * * * *

     The talk of the Mendou Plaza Hospital in Osaka was of the two
mysterious visitors that had arrived in the middle of the emergency
room in a flash of light.  The hospital staff figured it was one of
those mysterious super-hero things, and that they'd get answers soon
enough.

     Until then, they decided to just treat the girl and leave the boy
alone.  After all, he seemed like the jittery, disturbed hero-type
anyway.  It was probably a better idea to ask the girl what was going
on.


     Probably.

                              * * * * *

     She was.

     She could feel her heart beating, and there was a horrible pain in
her side.

     After a while, her name came to her. Kasumi Tendou.

     And after that, the rest fell on her like an avalanche.

     Somehow, she had survived. Which meant the bomb hadn't gone off,
because there was no way anyone could have survived the blast. The
monsters were alive and well and laughing, and would kill her family
and there was nothing she could do to stop it and they had cut off her
fingers and they were killing her Akane and Nabiki and Daddy and she
rotted here like poor Ukyou as they killed them to corpses again and
again and again....

                              * * * * *

     In his seat by the bed, Ryo Muhoshin was jerked awake by the sound
of Kasumi screaming her lungs out.

     Every Kasumi he had ever known had given off an aura of
tranquillity. The first one had. His Ami had, pouring coffee, laughing
at something funny, even as the life had faded from her eyes. Even
then, peace.

     To see Kasumi scream like a damned soul was somehow the most
obscene thing possible, even in a universe of infinite Ryougas. It was
like spitting on God. It made him want to run.

     But she needed him.

                              * * * * *

     ...and again and again and again....

     "Please Miss Kasumi, you're safe, please stop, they won't hurt you
any more, please stop screaming..."

     The voice was pleading, desperate. Was she screaming? It looked
like she was. What did it matter. They were dead, burned, broken, gone
forever. All her fault.

     "Please, you're all right now..."

     They had done things to her, done them with the things she had
thought were good. You cooked things on stoves and you sewed bright
yellow scarves with needles and you chopped vegetables for stew with
knives and they had beat her

and cut her

and burned her

and taken her hands

and pierced her

and killed them

and nothing mattered but them

deadAkaneRanmadeadDaddyNabikideadDEADEADEADE

     "Please, they won't hurt anyone any more, please..."

     The world stopped.

     "Please," the voice sobbed.

     With a supreme effort of will, Kasumi spoke. "The...men..."

     "They're dead," the blessed voice replied.

     They were dead. Her family was safe. She hadn't failed. It was
finally over.

     Oh God, what had happened to her? What had they done to her?

     Slowly, painfully, Kasumi began to cry, and something black and
dreadful fled. She cried, as relief and horror and pain coursed
through her.

     Arms enfolded her, and she heard the voice weep as well, heard the
pain in it, too. Her good hand reached out and found his, and together
they drowned the rest of the world in their tears.

     And as the world left, so did she, a wave of nothing rising to
swallow her.

                              * * * * *

     Muhoshin gently eased Kasumi back into bed as she once again fell
asleep.  He took a deep breath, stepped outside, then gripped his
shoulder and stomped around while muttering foul language.

     He really had to have that shoulder looked at.

                              * * * * *

     The people who walked by the room paused often and looked around at
the occasional sound of minor construction.  Muhoshin didn't mind them
at all.  While waiting for Kasumi to recover sufficiently, he'd taken
it upon himself to go out and scrounge up parts for a replacement
umbrella.  A quick trip to a hardware store and a department store got
him all the equipment necessary.

     It was while he was putting together his weapon of choice that he
meditated over the current situation.

     It wouldn't do.

     The situation, that is.

     Time was the enemy and his current position did not bode well
strategically if his enemy in time, Ryo Saotome, somehow appeared.  It
was miraculous enough that the locket brought them to a hospital that
had, thus far, asked no questions.  But he needed Miss Kasumi on her
feet, up and mobile, or else _they_ might catch up with them.

     As if that wasn't enough, his shoulder was still aching badly.  The
doctors looked him over and did the best they could, but he was in no
condition to defeat anyone he considered an enemy.

     And if that Saotome showed up...

     No, no, no, couldn't allow that.

     He took the magic artifact in his hand as he paced back and forth
at the foot of Kasumi's hospital bed.  She was in no condition to go
anywhere, no, no, no, too many bruises, too many broken bones, DAMN
RYOUGA FOR THIS HE'S ALWAYS TO BLAME, she just wouldn't heal in time!

     "Must leave," he muttered, "must leave soon get better fast hm?"

     His words went unheard, as Kasumi slept on.

     We're panicking again, thought Muhoshin.  Mustn't panic.  Nooo, not
going to panic.  Think it through.  Yes.  What was called for was a
cure.  A miracle.  Surely there was something out there.  After all,
there was the locket, a miracle in itself.  Maybe there was some sort
of... hm... healing water, mayb-

     *FWOOSH*

     He was blinded by the azure light, afloat in the air, not knowing
WHAT he did to set off the locket THIS time, and it really made him
mad. He held the locket to his face and screamed at it, "YOU DAMNED
PIECE OF SHI-"

     *SPLASH*

     He thrashed around violently in the water, angry and furious at
the chaotic set of events and really unhappy that he'd been dumped in
the water in a good suit YET AGAIN.  With much thrashing, splashing,
and occasional cursing, he made his way to the shore, where he spent a
few seconds on his back and breathing.

     When he stood up, he finally saw his surroundings clearly.  It was
a forest, an incredibly thick forest, the kind of forest that reeked
of mystery.  Not because of the large tacky billboard that read
'Ryugenzawa Springs: The Natural Healing Waters'.  Definitely not.
Partially because of the dense fog, partially because of the really
large spring he'd just finished getting out of, and partially because
of the ten foot tall garden variety lizard that was staring at him.

     He blinked.  That couldn't be right.

     He looked again.

     Yes, a ten foot garden variety lizard.

     Damn.

     *CHOMP*

     "AAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!"

     Muhoshin pounded on the creature savagely with his umbrella at a
frantic pace as it casually munched on his hand.  After a few seconds,
he realized what he was doing wrong, switched to the blade end, and
blew its brains out with a bakusai-ten-satsu.

     His hand was a bloody mess, with cuts everywhere and one or two
holes as well.  Fortunately, no fingers were missing, but still, it
was an ugly sight.  He knelt down to the spring and put his hand in,
hoping that the cold waters would ease the pain.

     "Stupid locket!  Stupid locket!  My HAND chewed off!  STUPID
STUPID F*#%@%@ PIECE OF S#!* LOCKET!!!  Erh?"

     His angry ranting disappeared as he noticed his hand had somehow
been healed.  No cuts, no holes, it was... well... a miracle.

     Wait... if his hand was well...

     He tested his shoulder, moving it around slightly.

     Hah.  Hahah.  He was surprised he didn't notice it earlier.  His
shoulder was _perfectly_ recovered.

     "Oh ho."  Muhoshin grinned.  This... this would do perfectly.

     Now all he needed was something to hold the water in.  Hmm.

     He snapped open his umbrella and plunged it into the waters,
letting it fill with liquid.  A bit leaky, but for now it would have
to do.  Right then, this should do wonders for Ami.

     He held the locket, glaring at it.  "No surprises, understand?"
The locket made no reply, staying silent and awaiting the will of its
master.  "Back to the hospital, now."

     *POOF*

                              * * * * *

     It was a terribly disappointing day for some in the hospital.  The
mysterious duo that had been staying there had vanished, leaving some
in an irritable mood and the accountants really grumpy (who, after
all, was going to pay the bill?).

     Then Ultraman crash-landed in the parking lot and everyone felt
better again.

                              * * * * *

     The island was small as islands go, and rather isolated. Not to
mention pretty. White sand beaches, a waterfall gurgling down a gentle
slope, a cozy little house; it was like something out of a second rate
"trouble-in-paradise" style cop show. Only without the annoying cast
and tacky shirts.

     In fact, Ryo mused, the locket had behaved itself pretty well
during the last few jumps. He had gotten everything Miss Kasumi
needed, and hadn't come across a single Ryouga. "Take us somewhere
safe and peaceful," he had said, after soaking the hospital bed. This
place seemed to fit the bill nicely.

     Not that he would really mind killing Ryouga again. But killing in
front of Kasumi wouldn't be right. Not right at all.

     She was still sleeping peacefully, slumped in the hammock on the
porch where he had put her. Now and then she cried out, and sometimes
it was in fear and sometimes anger.

     The water, whatever it was, had done wonders. Her bones had
knitted, the gashes healed, the abused organs brought back to health.
But it had taken a lot out of her in exchange.

     And you couldn't heal some things, it seemed. A long scar ran down
from beneath her eye, surrounded by pink-white tissue where the skin
would never quite recover from the burns. Much of her chest and back,
he knew, was the same.

     Her poor fingers...well, they looked as if they had been severed
years ago. But they were still missing, all three of them.

     He saw, in his mind's eye, the gang of Ryougas beating her. He had
killed them, and he would wipe out the rest of the whole stinking
person if it took him...took him...well, a very long time.

     A tiny corner of his mind tried to remind him that the men really
hadn't looked at all like Ryouga, but he ignored it.

     He looked at her poor, maimed face. It didn't hold peace, but it
wasn't in agony either. Maybe she would be better later. She was
better now than the way she had been, after all...

                              * * * * *

     Her eyelids fluttered for a few seconds, and then opened.

     She woke to a surprising absence of pain. It no longer hurt to
breathe, and the drugged, nightmare quality of the painkillers was
gone as well.

     A breeze blew across her face, and she smelled the salty tang of
the sea. A seagull was crying somewhere, the sound lonely yet somehow
pleasing.

     It all reminded her of that island Kunou-san had managed to
shipwreck them on. She had secretly rather enjoyed that.

     Maybe opening her eyes would be in order? Yes, she decided it would
be.

     The visual aspect was pretty nice too, it seemed. She was in a
hammock on a porch, with waves lapping at a beach in the distance. And
a concerned-looking young man in tidy clothes, carrying an umbrella.
Wasn't he one of Akane's friends?

     Akane. She had to save her family, what was she doing in this
lovely place when her family was....

     Or had she saved them?

     "Miss Kasumi?" said the nice young man. "How are you feeling?"

     The voice. He was the one.

     She forced herself to sit up, feeling a bit stiff but otherwise
sound. "The men, please, are they really dead?"

     The young man nodded, his hand clenching around the handle of his
umbrella. "Those...things...will never hurt any of you ever again.
Never. Ever."

     Relief and gratitude flooded over Kasumi like a wave. "So the bomb
did go off." But then how had she lived through it?

     The young man just looked puzzled. "What bomb?"

     A cold feeling crept down her spine. "The bomb in the kitchen, the
one that was going to go off at 9:30, I thought you said they were
dead!" Her voice rose, hysteria leaking in.

     Face pale, the young man shifted nervously. "I don't know about a
bomb, but the men are dead. I took care of that myself.  They can't
hurt you."

     He had killed them? He looked like a nice boy, but he was so
thin...

     Then she looked closely, and saw the way he fidgeted, and knew him
for a martial artist, and martial artists were good. Daddy was one,
and Akane, and Ranma, and Ukyou and Ryouga-kun, and funny, wonderful
Dr. Tofu, and she herself had been one too, long ago, before Mommy
went away. Sometimes they took Akane on trips, and acted funny, and
then Ranma would have a match with them. And then everyone would go
back to the dojo and Kasumi would make them lunch.

     They never blew people to corpses, or took away fingers, or did
horrible things. You could trust martial artists. You could trust them
to hit people, for one thing.

     And they could be awfully silly at times, and that's why they
needed Kasumi. To cook and clean and help and keep the men from
hurting them.

     "Where are we?", she asked. This certainly didn't _look_ like
Tokyo.

     "I'm not sure," he replied. "I told it to bring us to a safe place,
and it did." He gave her an anxious look, and she almost smiled. "I'm
Ryo Muhoshin. Or did you know that?"

     She shook her head. "I'm Kasumi Tendou. Pleased to meet you."  It
was always important to be polite.

     But she also had to find out what was happening, and if her family
was truly safe. "What's 'it'? Where's Daddy and Akane and Nabiki?"

     He pulled out a piece of jewelry, and Kasumi shrank back. She knew
what it was. She had seen it in the Nanban Mirror, in the tumbling
maelstrom that lay outside of time. It was an aspect of the mirror,
and there was something wrong.

     "You're a time traveler." It was said flatly.

     Ryo's eyes widened in surprise. "How did you know?"

     "I used the Nanban Mirror," she said, her voice a monotone. "I went
back to save them, to stop the men, to change things. And I did,
didn't I? And I'll get home from Osaka and everything will be all
right..." She trailed off in horror.

     The men were dead. Why wasn't she home from Osaka?

     "...but I'm still here...," she whispered.

     Ryo sat down beside her on the hammock. "The locket moves through
reality. Possible timelines. Universes."

     She listened numbly. A Kasumi had gotten home from Osaka and made
dinner. But it wasn't her. It was happy happy Kasumi, who didn't see
that there were men who wanted to kill and bomb and shoot.

     Kasumi had come home, but she wasn't the right Kasumi.

     "Am I Kasumi?" she asked the ocean.

     "The last time I met you, you were Ami," Ryo said helpfully.

     She would have to get home. She would have to get home and
protect her family, because the old Kasumi couldn't see that there
were bombs and guns and needles that didn't make scarves. She'd start
on the way home, and she'd make it. And then everything would be like
it was. And she'd bake cookies.

     On the way home.

     "Kaeri," she said. "My name's Kaeri."

     He looked at her. "Are you sure you aren't Ami, Miss Kasumi?"

     "No," Kaeri said, kindly. "I'm not."

                              * * * * *

     The rest of the day passed in silence.

     Kaeri slept, dreams of cookies and washing mixing with nightmares
of explosions and knives. It wasn't a very pleasant sort of rest, but
her body demanded it.

     Muhoshin stood guard, umbrella clenched tightly in one hand,
waiting for the Ryougas to jump out from the shadows behind the door.

     Eventually, he concluded that the Ryougas where just as bushed as
he was, and went to sleep at the foot of the hammock. His dreams were
just as unpleasant as hers, though much more original.

     ...He was back in the hospital with Miss Kasumi, only for some
reason he was the one in the bed. And there was Ryouga, damn him, in
the bed across the way! He tried to leap up, to put the damn Hibiki
out of his misery, but for some reason he had to finish the crossword
first...

     ...Ryo Saotome strolled past, a smug grin on his face.  "Clumsy!
Inept!" he sneered. "I'm better than you. I'm the best Ryo. Everyone
follows me. You're a joke, Gosling. A real..." Muhoshin swung,
intending to give his detractor a second mouth below the overly loud
first, but Ryouga blocked with his own umbrella, laughing as he did...

     ...Miss Ami shook her head sadly at him, and walked away, not
seeming to notice the unnatural angle her neck was bent at..

     There were other bits, chock full of imagery and precognition, but
he didn't remember any of it when morning came.

                              * * * * *

     Kaeri was up at dawn. Sleeping in was something that happened to
other people.

     Muhoshin-san was curled up at the foot of the hammock, clutching
his umbrella and making muffled snuffling noises. She permitted
herself a smile; he really was rather adorable like that.

     The floor of the house was covered with the dust of years, and
Kaeri searched for a broom. Sadly, the former resident had neglected
to stock basic cleaning equipment, and she was eventually forced to
lash palm fronds to a pole. Makeshift broom completed, she sunk into
the bliss of housework, humming to herself as she did.

     Muhoshin woke up in a odd mood, dark circles around his eyes.
This was perfectly normal, as dark circles around the eyes are one of
the more noticeable traits of Gosunkugi look-alikes. He vaguely
recalled something about Ryo Saotome and crosswords, which struck him
as being both silly and disturbing.

     The floor now more or less clean, Kaeri turned her attention
towards her rescuer. Leading him over to the table, she began to
rummage through the pantry while Ryo stared in sleepy fascination at
the patterns in the formica top.

     The owner had been fond of Spam. Spam and rice.

     Five minutes later, Ryo was presented with roast rack of spam on
rice, a cup of coffee, a yellowed newspaper, and a dead flower in a
chipped shaving mug.

     Kaeri stared at nice Mr. Muhoshin as he ate. He reminded her of
Ranma, in that he was only half awake and grumpy in a inoffensive sort
of way.

     Ryo, for his part, gulped the spam, drank the coffee, and
mechanically scanned the newspaper. Apparently some sort of alien
invasion was occurring, with the paper rather hysterically insisting
that something called the RDF was capable of handling the threat.

     That had been some time ago, judging by the age of the paper.  Not
that he cared. Reality seemed to be like Kleenex these days;
disposable, easily ripped, and often filled with all sorts of
unpleasant snot.

     Finally, Kaeri decided to ask the big question. "Muhoshin-san,"
she began hesitantly, "do you know how to get me home?"

     His face crinkled in concern. "Yes, but don't do that, Miss Ami..."

     "Kaeri."

     "...Miss Kaeri, it's not safe for you there."

     Her heart skipped a few beats. Not safe? But what about Akane and
Nabiki? Were they in danger? "Why is it not safe?" she asked, worry
seeping into her voice.

     Ryo's face contorted for a second. "Saotome," he muttered.  "Him
and the others, from the other realities. Dangerous." He unconsciously
twirled his umbrella in a tight circle, muttering as he did.

     Kaeri felt confused, and her worry grew. "Saotome? You mean
Ranma-kun?"

     He shook his head emphatically. "Ryo Saotome. Ranma and Ukyou
Kuonji's son. He's an arrogant, self-righteous..."

     Ranma and Ukyou's son. Not Ranma and Akane's. Ukyou's. But Ranma
loved Akane and he only liked Ukyou and he was going to marry Akane,
because that was the way things would be.

     Unless something happened to Akane...

     "Miss Kasumi? Are you okay?"

     Unless someone hurt Akane, and killed her again, in which case
Ranma might marry Ukyou.

     "Miss Kasumi?"

     She forced herself to look at him. "I'm fine, Muhoshin-san.  This
other Ryo...is he nice to Akane?"

     Muhoshin shrugged. "He doesn't like it when Ranma and Akane are
together. It makes him very unhappy." He scowled. "And he hates me.
Hate hate hate."

     Kaeri's eyes narrowed.

     "Then there's the Ratiko boy, who says he's Ryouga and Ukyou's
great grandson...."

     "But you said Ranma marries...!"

     "Different realities. And he's an idiot." Ryo shook his head
slowly, an almost sad look on his face. "To think the architect of all
my misery could produce such an utter fool."

     Kaeri giggled in spite of herself. "You sound like Ranma and Ryouga
always do."

     "I'll kill Ryouga, and then he'll see, again, that..."

     She giggled again. "Just like them."

     Ryo tried to decide whether to be angry at that, but the good mood
was infectious.  "If it weren't for his habit of blowing up in a
ki-explosion, he'd be nothing."

     She paled. "Ki explosion? Explosion?"

     "Big ones."

     The good mood vanished as she contemplated a mental picture of a
huge Ki explosion blowing apart the dojo. She began to shake, and
hugged herself.

     "Are you cold, Miss Kaeri?"

     She shook her head. "No. Is there anyone else?"

     "A delusional madman named Ishido, a lady of questionable morals
named Childra." He snorted in disgust. "'Gosling' indeed."

     "Questionable morals?"

     "Goes after anything male with a pulse."

     Kaeri blushed. "Oh my."

     "Disgraceful," Ryo muttered. "Oh, and there's some girl from the
near future. Harmless.  Miko... Miki... Miya... something like that."

     "That's everyone?"

     "Yes. May I have some more coffee?"

     "Certainly."

     "Thank you, Miss Ami."

     "Kaeri."

     "Thank you, Miss Kaeri."

     "You're very welcome, Muhoshin-san."

     As she set the coffee pot back down, she mentally ran the list of
time jumpers through her head. A anti-Akane, anti-Ryo son of Ranma. A
Hibiki who occasionally detonated. A madman.  A whore. And some girl.

     Her family needed protection, that was certain. But how was she
supposed to give it to them? Any son of Ranma's would be a formidable
martial artist, and the same was probably true of the Hibiki bomb.

     Ryo absentmindedly batted a fly out of the air with one fingertip.

     "Muhoshin-san, are you a martial artist?"

     He nodded an affirmative, his mouth full of coffee.

     "Could you teach me?"

     Coffee sprayed across the table. "M-Miss Kasumi," he stammered,
"It's not really something you can pick up in a few days, and it's not
really you, and your wounds....."

     "I have a black belt in Tendou-Ryuu kempo."

     "Hmm."

                              * * * * *

     While there's no rule that states martial arts training should take
place on a white sand beach with surf gently lapping at the shore,
it's definitely one of the better places. It just _reeks_ of
atmosphere.

     The fact that the budding student was wearing a frilly white apron
made a slight dent in it.

     He had begun by attempting to pass on a bit of Muy Thai
kick-boxing

     "Okay, Miss Kasumi. I take these two coconuts...toss them in the
air like so...."

     *snapCRACK*snapCRACK*

     "...And break the first one on the upswing with my toe, and the
second while bringing my heel down."

     "Oh my!"

     "Now, why don't you try it with just one...that's it, throw it up,
and then..."

     *thunk*swoosh*BONK*

     "Oh dear....are you all right, Muhoshin-san?"

     "...urgle..."

     Five coconuts, three broken windows, and two mild concussions
later, it became apparent that kick-boxing wasn't something Kaeri took
to easily.

     He decided to make a stab at teaching her the umbrella. So to
speak.

     And indeed, she seemed to pick up many parts of it with almost
uncanny speed. Her thrusting and swinging was excellent, requiring
only a good teacher to put the finishing polish on. But in other
areas....

     "No, Miss Kaeri, you can't stab with it like that, it's the
umbrella handle. You have to stick people with the sharp end,
otherwise they just look offended and rip your head off."

     "Oh dear...I'll try to remember, Muhoshin-san."

     But she didn't, not very well, anyway. She kept trying to use the
umbrella like...hmm, like...like a staff.

     Muhoshin squinted at her. If he didn't know better, he would say
she had some sort of bo training.

     "You keep practicing, Miss Kasumi. I'll be right back."

     He quickly jogged back up to the house, and entered the kitchen.
Sure enough, the palm-frond broom was propped neatly in a corner.
Snatching it up, he trotted back down to the beach.

     "Here you go, Miss Kaeri. Try using this." It probably wouldn't
amount to much, but you never knew. Things sometimes just fell neatly
into place, round holes sucking in square pegs.

     Kaeri took the broom with a certain amount of trepidation.  After
all, you used this sort of thing to clean, not to hit people with.

     But monsters used knives to cut and stoves to hurt and they had put
needles _there_ and twisted the good things like jagged pain....

     *swishSWISHswishSWISHswish*

     The broom spun. And wove. And danced.

     *swishSWISHswishSWISHswish*

     It didn't look like a broom. It looked like a fast-moving blur of
brown air. And it was rather hard for the eyes to track; one second it
was above her head, the next behind her back, the next in front of
her...

     Ryo stared in amazement.

     "Miss Kasumi...have you ever used a bo before?"

     "No," she answered. "But I use a mop and broom all the time."

     "I see."

     "The house has some rather hard to reach corners."

     "Does it?"

     "And I have to swat a spider on occasion."

     "Really?"

     "Oh yes."

     Ryo considered this. "Must be really big spiders."

     "No, just tiny ones. Except when they get into Akane's cooking,
then they swell up and grow spikes and fangs. And glow a little."

     He idly twirled his umbrella, trying to focus. Umbrella and stick
work had many common points, and Ryo had taken the basic UWSMA Long
Blunt Things course. But most of his techniques centered around the
fact that he had a razor-sharp piece of metal at the tip of his
weapon, a curved hook at the other, and, of course, the rapier point
for the Bakusai-Ten-Satsu. He wished he had a pole kind of that...

     Cerulean fire flared.

                              * * * * *

     San Wei was in an interesting position.

     On the down side, he was in the middle of the mightiest fortress in
Ni, surrounded by legions of the Imperial Guard, and presently number
one on the Emperor's list of People-I'd-Like-
To-Kill-In-Interesting-Ways.

     On the up side, he had the tip of his staff pressed to the throat
of the Imperial Princess Akane, favored daughter of the Way of Heaven.
And his finger on the button that would send several inches of
razor-sharp steel through her throat.

     "Back off," he suggested to the guards.

     The guards considered this, and did.

     Slowly, keeping his eyes moving about the room, San Wei led the
Princess towards the door to the great hall. His plan was actually
pretty simple; get out, demand and get a ransom, rape and kill the
Princess (just on general principles), and flee this pesthole of a
nation a wealthy man.

     The snipers in the hidden alcoves in the roof watched his progress.
Some considered putting a few arrows in him, but decided that he would
probably be able to press the button before keeling over. The Way of
Heaven would then congratulate them on their fine shooting, and order
a tub of boiling oil as their reward.

     Just then, the rather unpleasant-looking runes etched along the
side of the staff began to glow with a crimson light.

     San Wei frowned. Normally it only did that when the blade was
immersed in human blood.

     There was a flash of blue light, and the *hisspop* of air rushing
in to fill a roughly staff-shaped hole.

     San Wei's position suddenly got a lot more interesting. But not for
very long.

                              * * * * *

     Muhoshin looked around, wondering where the locket had brought
him this time. It took a few seconds to realize that he hadn't gone
anywhere.

     On the beach in front of him, however, lay a staff of dark-brown
wood.

     "What was that?" asked Kaeri.

     He picked up the staff, noting the squiggly markings running the
length of it. And the two buttons in the middle of it.

     Let's see what pressing the first one does, he thought...

     *SWHINK*

     One end of the staff sprouted fifteen inches of wickedly sharp,
silver-gray steel.

     Another push, and it retracted.

     And the other button....

     A long metal needle emerged from the other end.

     Ryo grinned.  Oooh.  Nice.

     "Miss Kasumi? Why don't you try using this for a while..."

                              * * * * *

     Kaeri eyed the staff with distrust.

     She had used it to practice for over a week now, thrusting and
spinning and swinging it at empty air and crude practice dummies of
palm fronds. It was perfectly balanced. The weight was just right for
her. So was the length. Using it was effortless.

     But something about it _felt_ wrong. Nothing she could put her
finger on, but the weapon made her uneasy. Perhaps it was the carvings
along the side. Because if Evil had a separate alphabet, this was how
it would look.

     Her nightmares had begun changing as well. The man-monsters still
came, but instead of letting them beat her, she fought. The blade
would sever heads, the needle pierce organs, the wood crack skulls.

     And then the bodies would shift, and become Akane and Nabiki.

     The last time the dream had happened she had felt a deep
satisfaction after seeing the corpses change, and had woken up
screaming, horrified at herself. And she thought..she wasn't sure, but
she thought...she had seen a fading crimson glow from where her staff
hung on the wall.

     Kaeri shook her head. She was letting her imagination run away with
her.

     And besides, she had been doing well. She always lost her sparring
sessions with Muhoshin-san, but she had almost had him the last time.
Even if he was pulling his punches with her, he was still very
good...not in Ranma's category, but then _no-one_ was in Ranma's
category.

     Without the staff as a weapon, she would be beaten in a matter of
minutes by Akane. With it, she could conceivably hold her own against,
say, the Kuonji girl.

     She needed to protect her family, and the staff would allow her to
do that. And, just in case she ran into someone who she couldn't take
using martial arts, a Ryouga or a Shampoo...

     Well, something would come up. There was more than one way to skin
a cat. Martial arts was just the most direct and physical way.

     Bombs, Kaeri had found, worked well. So did projectile weapons.

     You didn't need years of training and discipline to use them,
either. Just cash and a dealer.

                              * * * * *

     Muhoshin sat slumped in his armchair, a cup of cocoa rapidly
congealing next to him. He was Pondering.

     Miss Kasumi was very insistent about going back to Nerima.  Ryo
didn't like that much; the place was crawling with Hibikis and
Saotomes of the worst sorts. But she was adamant on the point, and he
knew he'd give in and take her.

     The training had gone well. She had a knack for both the stick work
and that form of Kempo she used; he wondered what she'd have been like
if she hadn't stopped training.

     That's _not_ a command, he mentally snarled at the locket, glaring
at it with narrowed eyes.  For a moment, he thought he sensed a wave
of disappointment coming from it.

     Ryo wanted to make her the best martial artist she could be, so the
Ryougas wouldn't find her easy prey. And, given her weapon, the
Bakusai-Ten-Satsu would be perfect. Problem was, he didn't feel like
throwing her at boulders, which was the normal training method.

     Ami entered, put a fresh mug of cocoa and a spam sandwich on the
side table, and quietly left.

     It was enjoyable, really, living like this. She took care of him
and he taught her. And when the dreams got too bad - which seemed to
happen frequently - the other was always there.

     Sometimes he even felt content.

     But she had to go, and he had to put an end to Ryouga and Ryo
Saotome. Because if he did, the dreams would stop.

     There had been many of them, lately. Odd ones. He had commanded
something called a Super Dimensional Fortress, crewed by a group of
brain-dead, beautiful women (weird, huh?). He had dialed a wrong number
and wound up living with some sort of deity. He even had the normal
falling dream, only in his someone kept screaming "PARNNN!" as he
fell.

     He didn't mind them very much. It was kind of interesting, in fact.
Except that Ryo Saotome and Ryouga always put in an appearance.

     Ryouga, a giant wearing a metal eye-patch, commanding a fleet of
cucumber-shaped battlecruisers. Ryo Saotome, female with marks on her
forehead, hitting him over the head with a mechahammer. Ryouga,
carrying a red-glowing umbrella, tossing a boulder down after him.

     It was bad enough that they polluted his waking hours. But to have
them invade his dreams...how dare they? How DARE THEY?

     "Muhoshin-san, please don't charge your umbrella with ki inside the
house. You're scorching the carpet."

     "Oh. Sorry, Miss Kasumi."

     "Kaeri."

     "Sorry, Miss Kaeri."

     "That's okay, Muhoshin-san."

     His train of thought, momentarily derailed, moved back onto the
subject of the Bakusai-Ten-Satsu. Actually _doing_ it wasn't hard at
all. The main trick was learning to _see_ the breaking points.
Preferably without killing yourself in the process.

     It had to do with the fact that everything was connected to
everything else, and if you pushed something like SO, it would knock
something else out of line, and that would knock something else out of
line, and so on. Of course, no human had the jeweler's touch required
to do that physically. In essence, the jab was the conduit for a
stream of ki.

     Muhoshin grinned. He had an idea.

                              * * * * *

     Kaeri stood, staff held loosely in one hand, listening to
Muhoshin-san explain this new technique.

     She had seen Ryouga-kun do something like it many times. In fact,
she was normally the one who cleaned up after it. No matter how you
used it, it was guaranteed to make a mess.

     "Now," he said, "see this rock? I want you to put the needle of
your staff against it and try to push a little bit of ki down it."

     Do what? "But I don't know how to do that! No-one ever taught me
any ki attacks..."

     "Don't attack. Just try to push yourself along the staff into the
rock. Imagine...the rock is dirty somewhere, and you need to find out
exactly how the surface is so it can be cleaned.

     "All right, Muhoshin-san," she hesitantly replied.

     The needle snapped out and was placed against the rock.  Kaeri
stared at it for a second, and then reached into herself.

                              * * * * *

     Kasumi Tendou, through a curious accident of genetics and mindset,
was a natural ki masseuse.

     She radiated calm. It was almost impossible to summon up fighting
spirit in her presence. It was like trying to sunbathe in a blizzard.

     Of course, Ranma, Ryouga, and Akane managed it anyway; the first
two being insanely powerful walking ki sources and Akane having
developed a slight immunity over the years.

     But when Kasumi turned her full attention on them, even they found
it hard to keep fighting.

     That was Kasumi Tendou. Kaeri Tendou didn't radiate anything.

     But the thing that had done the radiating was still there, and it
was that which got forced down the staff.

                              * * * * *

     Muhoshin watched hopefully. Something was happening; the carvings
on the staff were glowing with ki.

     Funny, that. Normally the glow was blue, not this rather unpleasant
shade of red.

                              * * * * *

     Her ki flowed down the staff, into the rock...

     ...There was someone else in here with her, but never mind that for
now, oh my, the rock...

     ....Who would have thought a rock could be so complex? It was like
a building, a spiderweb, a concerto...

     ...And it was covered with weak spots. She didn't understand how
she could have missed them before...

     ...Carefully, she pulled herself back up the staff, feeling the
other person vanish....

     She opened her eyes, and looked at the world.

     There were breaking points in the rock. There were points in the
house, in the staff, in the trunks of the trees.

     In Muhoshin-san's bones. In her bones.

     She twirled her staff, and in one swift motion thrust it at the
rock.

                              * * * * *

     Ryo watched as the staff flared with red ki energy. The point
struck...

     Oh yeah. Maybe it would be a good idea to duck.

     The rock burst apart in a flash of crimson light, sending fragments
flying everywhere. Kaeri stood, staring at the small crater in front
of her. Her apron was covered with dust, and she seemed to have
acquired several small cuts.

     "Was that the right way, Muhoshin-san?"

     "Um. Normally it's a good idea to learn how to control the
direction of the shrapnel before blowing up large rocks."

     "Oh dear. I think there's some bactine and Band-Aids in the house."

                              * * * * *

     Learning how to control the way in which huge boulders detonate is
a rather tricky thing. On the one hand, practice is vital. On the
other hand, the practice itself can be rather hazardous.

     Kaeri had the good fortune to be using a rather long pole to
perform the Bakusai-Ten-Satsu, and was thus able to put a makeshift
shield (composed of a card table and several bits of palm frond and
bark) between her and the rocks. As a result, she got through her
training period with no more than a few shallow gashes.

     Ryo insisted on supervising her. He neglected to build an
improvised shield, being used to showers of small bits of rock.

     While he hadn't lost _too_ much blood, Kaeri reflected, that really
was a nasty lump on his head. It was hard to get used to fragments the
size of an eggplant.

     At the end of another week, she was able to send a devastating
shower of rock fragments in any direction she desired, with minimal
injury to herself. It was a potent form of attack, and had the
additional advantage of surprise. After all, the most common form is
done using the finger, not a weapon.

     She just wished it didn't make such a horrible mess.

     And that was it, really. She had dusted off her old training, added
a weapon, and picked up a technique that even Ranma didn't know. It
was time to go. Her family was waiting.

     Poor Muhoshin-san. She sometimes got the feeling that something was
bothering him. He ranted about Ryouga-kun all the time, but that was
normal enough. Ryouga did the same about Ranma, Ranma did it about
Akane, Akane about Ranma...loudly and melodramatically vowing to kill
that fiend insert-name-here was a sign of affection.

     But Muhoshin-san _brooded_, which was a new thing for Kaeri. None
of the Tendous brooded. Akane hit things, Daddy cried, and Nabiki
brought international markets to the brink of ruin. It was a good
thing to have people let out their feelings... well, unless you were
the person Akane hit or the company Nabiki gutted.

     Ryo didn't just hold things in. He compacted them, squeezed them
tighter and tighter and tighter...

     But he was a nice young man, which is why she worried about him on
occasion. And a large part of her wished she could stay and look after
him. And have him look after her.

     Kaeri shook her head, flustered. That wasn't who she was. She was
the caretaker of the Tendou family, the only one who SAW the horrible
things bearing down. She was the adult among children. And she didn't
need anyone at all, because they needed her. If she showed weakness,
it would drag them all down.

     But it was hard to remember that in the early part of the morning,
rising shrieking out of a nightmare.

     Who would tell Muhosh...Ryo that it was only a bad dream?  Who
would tell her that?

     Her jaw tightened. She didn't matter. It was nothing that they had
cut her and disfigured her and taken her fingers. There was only the
Work, and the Work was her Family, and she would Finish It. And maybe
then she could rest.

     It was time to go.

                              * * * * *

     It had to happen sooner or later, he reflected. Miss Kasumi was
nothing if not determined.

     "So you'll take me, Muhoshin-san?"

     Ryo shifted uncomfortably, fiddling with his tie. "Yes...yes, of
course. Yes. But...you have to promise me to be very careful, you see?
Of the Ryougas. And the other Ryo, the domineering one. Watch them,
don't let them sneak up behind you. Yes?"

     The *snapSHWINGswish* of the staff's blade extending and retracting
was Kaeri's response.

     He laughed, the sound slightly thin. "And don't tell them about me.
Hate, yes, Ryo hates me. Of course, that's fine, I don't love him like
a dear lost brother either, no, no love there. Brother. Heh heh, ha.
No, say your Mirror brought you there.  Yes?"

     She looked confused. "Lie?"

     Ugly word, that. He leaned forward, eyes glinting. "No, just
reordering events. Reality is flexible, modeling clay for words." An
odd, almost giddy feeling was welling up in him.  Hard to say if it
was enjoyable or not. "Sequence and order, time and stress - they are
most important in this matter. Saotome wishes to Brand me a traitor,
and my allies with me, yes, turn them all against me. Rewrite reality
in your words, for both our sakes."

     She nodded, a determined spark in her eyes. Poor, poor Miss Ami. He
hoped the Ryougas stayed away from her. But if he killed them
all...and their little dog Ryo, too!...she'd be safe, and that was
important. He didn't know how many times you could die before you
stayed dead.

     "I'm ready, Muhoshin-san."

     He'd kill them just as fast as he could.

     Ryo grinned. [Thus, with imagin'd wing our swift scene flies, in
motion of no less celerity than that of thought! Miss Ami is set on
her course, and the stage is now transported, gentles, to Nerima!]

     Blue light took them.

=========================================================================
                                End Act 5
=========================================================================