Converging Series: A Crossover of Unexpected Dimensions.

Act 7






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 organization. Finally, they stopped in a
reality where Ranma & co.  were still teens, but had never
met them before. 

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 took 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-dimensional 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 foreseen 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, 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. 

ACT V: 

    Ryo Muhoshin, having borrowed the locket from Ryo
Saotome by means of an umbrella applied to the back of the
head, found himself whisked away to a post-modern,
futuristic world populated by thousands of Kasumis, Ryougas,
and other familiar faces (Ministry of Confusion). After
losing the locket in a fall, he settled in and tried to make
the best of it, striking up a friendship with a Kasumi
extender named Ami. The relationship progressed to the point
of a date, at the end of which Ami was murdered by a berserk
Ryouga extender. Muhoshin killed him in retaliation, and
began a slow but methodical hunt for Ryougas across the
city. 

    Ryo Saotome, having remade the locket with some help
from three goddesses of time, arrived in this world just as
Muhoshin killed a Ryouga to recover his own locket. The two
fought inconclusively, with Muhoshin escaping. 

    Leaving 'Ministry of Confusion' in a hurried fashion,
Muhoshin rescued one world's Kasumi from a group of
terrorists intent on beating her to death. A veteran
time-jumper already, she took the name Kaeri to distinguish
herself from the more serene person she had been. The two
stayed together for a few weeks, with Kaeri recovering and
picking up some of Muhoshin's skills.  Still obsessed with
the need to protect her family, Kaeri prevailed upon
Muhoshin to take her to Nerima - and off they went. 

ACT VI

   Nabiki unwisely allowed Ratiko to take the lead in a
brisk walk through Nerima.  As a result, she found herself
lost in Africa.

   Obeying her wishes, Ryo Muhoshin brought Kaeri to Nerima,
the version of Nerima that just happened to be the resting
place for Ishido, Childra, and the others...

   Miyabi hatches a plan to use Nabiki's tape recording
equipment to make a fake conversation between Ranma and
Akane, so as to discourage the other rivals and possibly
nudge the two closer together.

   Ratiko, after having just one of those days, hunted for
Ranma.  Instead of finding him, he had another one of those
days.

   Ryo Saotome chased Ryo Muhoshin across the worlds,
stumbling through across strange realities, and learning
that he has more power over the locket than he knew.

   Ryo Muhoshin and Saotome confronted each other once more,
with the end result being dozens of injuries and a destroyed
building.  This convinced Ryo Saotome that bringing in
Muhoshin would require a team effort.

   Kaeri spied upon the Tendo household, finding out (much
to her distress) about the fate of her family in Ratiko and
Childra's world and causing much confusion among them until
Ryo Saotome, returning from other worlds, runs into her. 
She tells him her tale, leaving out her involvement with Ryo
Muhoshin, and asks for his help in putting an end to the
timeline that creates Ratiko and Childra's world. 

   Ryo said no.

   Kaeri hit him when he wasn't looking and took the locket.

   Just before she disappeared, Ryo Saotome, Ishido, and
Ratiko jumped into the fading afterglow of the locket and
all disappeared.

   And now...



                          * * * * *

   Reality _shifted_, folded.... 

   And she was standing in front of a gorilla. In a tuxedo. 

   No, Kaeri thought calmly, gorillas don't have six arms.
It's just something that resembles a gorilla in a tuxedo.

   "May I ask if Madam has a reservation?" 

   Ah. A six-armed gorilla in a tuxedo with an upper-class
British accent. She was rather surprised at how easy it was
to stay calm.

   "Oh dear...no..." 

   The gorilla looked at her kindly. "May I ask Madam's
name?" 

   "Kas...Kaeri Tendo." 

   One of the hairy, black-clad arms fished in a pocket
large enough to accommodate a mailbox, withdrawing a list.
"Tendo section, K's...... several Kasumis, a Konatsu, a
Kentaro, a Kedo... ah, here you are. Tendo Kaeri. A
reservation was made for you by a Mr. P. Noone. Your table
is in the East Wing, number 546. May I wish you a pleasant
meal, Madam."

   Kaeri was feeling rather befuddled by all this. She had
asked the locket to bring her to the start of Reiraku's
timeline.  Instead, she was being told that her table was
ready, and seemed in imminent danger of having a wine list
thrust at her. It was all very odd...

   For the first time, she noticed her surroundings. It was
a large, lushly-carpeted, oak-paneled reception area, lined
with green leather sofas and armchairs. A set of bronze
double doors stood at one end, vibrating in their doorframe.
Aside from that...there was no way out, or in.

   Then there was a flash of green light, and Nabiki
appeared in the center of the room.

   Well...it looked like Nabiki. Mostly. Nabiki wasn't quite
as...bulked out...as this person, and didn't go in for
military uniforms. Nor did she tote around large,
futuristic, impressive- looking firearms.

   The gorilla gave a smile that probably wasn't intended to
be menacing. "May I ask if Madam has a reservation?"

   "Yes. General Nabiki Tendo." 

   Out came the list. "Hmm... _which_ General Nabiki Tendo?" 

   The General frowned. "I'm the commander of the entire
RDF."

   "So are four of the others, I'm afraid. Can the General
perhaps be more specific?"

   "We're fighting the Ravening Commie Argyle Death Fleet,
in a heroic struggle to make the galaxy safe for
capitalism."

   "That narrows it down to two, then...." 

   "I was last here with Brigadier Fokker?" 

   "Ah. That General Tendo. North Wing, Table 523. I'm
afraid the General will have to check her plasma ejector at
the door." 

   "Here you are." 

   "Have a pleasant meal, General." 

   The Nabiki strode off towards the doors, as Kaeri stared
in confusion. 

   "Is Madam waiting for someone?" 

   The gorilla was peering down at her with what she hoped
was an expression of polite concern. She shook her head.
"No, thank you.  Where am I?"

   "Madam is in the reception area." 

   "No, I mean...oh dear. Where in..." 

   "Ah. Madam is in the Cafe Eternum." 

   "Oh." 

   "Perhaps madam would care to be shown to her table?" 

   Kaeri briefly considered this. "No, that's all right.
I'll find my own way. Thank you." 

   The gorilla watched as the rather bedraggled girl in the
apron made her way through the doors, and sighed. She had
been through that spiel before, but usually it was with a
Ryouga. You got all types in this job. Just two more hours,
and it was back home for a nice spot of tea...

   The phone rang, and one of the arms reluctantly reached
out to take it. 

   "Cafe Eternum, Front Desk, Kasumi Tendo speaking, how may
I help you?"

                          * * * * *

   The first thing to hit her upon opening the doors was the
wave of noise. Make that the tsunami of noise. 

   Chattering, yelling, laughing, clinking of glasses...all
the sounds one hears in a normal restaurant, only much,
much, much more of them. A rather good swing band was
somehow managing to be just on the verge of drowning it all
out, presumably by using speakers the size of Buicks turned
to the "Lethal" setting. 

   The second thing to hit her was the size of the room.
She'd seen smaller sports arenas. Mind you, most sports
arenas aren't done in tastefully stained wood panels with
lots of leather, ornate picture frames, and gilding. They
don't often have kilometer long wet bars, or enough tables,
alcoves, booths, and nooks to seat the entire population of
a small African nation.

   The third thing to hit her was the people. Despite the
reference above, most of them didn't resemble the population
of a small African nation. Many of them, however, did
resemble Ranma.  And Akane. And Ryouga. And lots and lots of
people who seemed to look a bit like Muhoshin-san.

   The fourth thing to hit her was a very, very drunk Ukyou
Kuonji, who managed to plant a neat left cross on her jaw.

  She fell to the floor, feeling rather hurt at this
treatment.  And Ukyou-chan had always seemed like such a
nice girl...

   "UKYOU! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?" 

   Kaeri blinked. Ranma? 

   Ukyou turned, swaying rather noticeably. "Shee took my
Ryouga-chan, the violent, tomboy shlut...." 

   Ranma took her by the shoulders and shook her a bit.
"Ukyou, that's the wrong Kasumi. C'mon, give me the earring,
I'm taking you home."

   "Shee can't cook, shee hits him, an, an, I'm cuter..." 

   "C'mon, Ukyou..." 

   The pair walked off, Ranma supporting a madly sobbing
Ukyou, as Kaeri struggled to her feet. The people sitting at
the nearby tables stopped staring and went back to their
respective conversations. 

   "...so it was a bit of a shock to discover that P-chan
was actually Akane! I mean, here she acts like she hates me,
always the "Ranma no Baka" and the mallet, and it turns out
that she's actually been my pet pig; sleeping in my bed with
me at night, trying to hump my leg..."

   "...so strange, Ryouga's male in my world. You say
he...sorry, she actually married Ranma? Go figure...."

   "..the Collective can get stuffed, Tsubasa. You're the
girl I love, and if they can't handle that, then they can go
to..." 

   She shook her head. Life had been odd of late, but
this...her grasp of reality was hanging over the cliff of
insanity by the fingernails of instinct, scrabbling
desperately for the protruding tree root of normality and
wishing the writer wouldn't use such bad metaphors.

   Well...she could either stand here all day, or move on.
Moving on seemed like the better idea.

   So she pushed her way through the tables, past clumps of
merrily chatting copies of people she knew, until her path
was blocked by a rather large party of gaijins. Loud, noisy,
slightly tanked gaijins. And Kodachi Kuno.

   "Excuse me..." 

   One of them, a scruffy-looking young man, looked up from
his inspection of a whiskey stein. "Yah? Wot can I be doin'
fer ya?"

   "I'm trying to get by..." 

    The scruffy gaijin nodded politely. "Right yah are.
Ko-chan, can ya be movin' yer chair outta the way o dis
lady?"

   Kodachi obligingly transferred her person to his lap, and
Kaeri walked past, colliding as she did with another gaijin,
this one in a floppy, wide-brimmed hat and a multicolored
scarf.

   "Excuse me. Would you, by chance, have seen a young lady,
name of Sarah?"

   She stared at him. "Who?" 

   "Yes, actually. But about Sarah..." 

   "I'm sorry, I don't know her." 

   "Oh well. Sorry to bother you." He walked off, scarf
fluttering behind him, vanishing into a nearby blue phone
booth.  Shrugging, she continued her trek.

   Taking a left at a stand of potted palms, she found
herself staring at Ryo Muhoshin. All three dozen of him.

   "M...Muhoshin-san?" 

   "Yes?" they asked in unison. 

   "Oh my....are any of you the Muhoshin-san I know?" 

   The Ryos adjusted their Havana cigars and considered
this.

   "I'm afraid," one finally replied, "none of us are. Are
you Kaeri Tendo?"

   "Well, yes..." 

   The Ryo waggled his cigar at her. "Hrumph. You've been
involved with that other Muhoshin, haven't you? The one
going around wiping out timelines?"

   "Yes, I suppose I have...Muhoshin-san's a nice young
man..."

   "He," the Ryo said with gravity, "is a menace." 

   "Not that he isn't a extremely clever, resourceful, and
stylish menace," another one added.

   "A very witty fellow, I think," chimed a third. 

    "But," the first one finished, "a menace nonetheless.
Why, he wiped out Ryo's home reality!"

   "Who?" 

   He pointed to a glum-looking Muhoshin playing backgammon
in a corner booth. "That one. Was in the Cafe when it
happened, luckily."

   "Oh my!" 

  "Yes, it was quite a shock, poor chap. He just looked up,
said drat', and got blind drunk when they told him."

   She looked at the unlucky Ryo with sympathy. "The poor
man. My home's gone too, you know..." 

   "Oh? That mad Ryo blow it up?" 

   "No, I did." 

   The assembled Muhoshins stirred uneasily at this
pronouncement.

   "I'm on my way to stop this horrible future timeline
right now..." 

    The Ryo stuck his cigar back in his mouth and hastily
led her away. "You might not want to say that in public,
Miss Kaeri. We lot are about as sympathetic as you'll get,
and I think some of the lads are considering running you
through for that statement." 

   Kaeri looked shocked. "They wouldn't!" 

   "Well...no. We like you. But for your own safety, please
don't talk like that. Eh?"

   "Okay." 

   "Good girl. Oh, and do steer clear of that other pack of
Ryos.  Frightful scoundrels. Give us a bad name. They
actually want to _kill_ Ryouga, can you imagine?" 

   "Don't you?" 

   The Ryo looked shocked. "Certainly not! We want to beat
him at cribbage." 

   "Oh?" 

   "Oh yes. We're very keen on cribbage. Play the cursed
Hibiki every week. Good luck, and mind what I said." With
that, he headed back to his armchair. 

   "There you are!" 

   She spun, to come face to face with a rather annoyed
looking fellow dressed...well, like Ryouga. "Excuse me?"

   "We told you people not to leave the reserved room. Come
on!"  With that, he dragged her off by the arm. Somewhat
curious, she followed, apologizing to a group of Gosunkugis
she brushed against.

   They stopped at the door to a side room, and the man
knocked. "I found her!"

   The door opened, and a Gosunkugi... no, Gos wasn't a
gaijin...in a black trenchcoat stuck his head out. ABBA
could be heard in the background.

   "You found..? Aw, damnit, Rod found her in the broom
closet five minutes ago."

   "You mean...?" 

   "Yup." 

   The man turned to her, sweating. "Um. Sorry, mistaken
identity. Bye." He vanished inside the room, the door
rapidly closing behind him. 

   She stood staring at the door for a few minutes, an
unexplainable feeling of dread moving through her. 

   Once, she dimly recalled, long ago, life had made some
sort of sense. On occasion, it still did.

   And then there were times like now. It was moments like
this that prompted people to shoot themselves, or refuse to
ever talk again, or start conversations with trees. At times
like this, insanity was much less odd than what was feebly
trying to pass for reality.

   Well. She wasn't going to take this anymore. Fishing out
the locket, she stared at it, focusing her will. "Take me
to..."

   It flared like a roman candle, causing her to yelp in
pain and drop it. Across the room, diners were swearing as
their coat pockets, purses, and, in a few cases, cleavage
erupted with azure flame.

   Whoops. That's right. You can't use it by other copies. 

   Fortunately for her, no-one seemed to know who had
triggered the flareup. Several Muhoshins were loudly
insisting it to be the fault of a Ryouga, while a quintet of
Akanes began pounding their respective Ranmas (or, in one
case, Gosunkugi) into the ground.

   It would probably be a good idea to leave the area,
before someone started to make a serious search for the
offender.

   Her table, she dimly recalled, was in the "East Wing". 
Perhaps someone would feed her. That would be nice; she
hadn't eaten in quite a while. Should she go find it? Yes,
said her stomach (which was filling in for her rather
overburdened mind), she should.

   The East Wing, she reasoned, was probably east. Whichever
way that was. They had taught her in school how to find
north by seeing on which side of trees moss grew on. Sadly,
five-star restaurants have a distinct lack of moss-encrusted
trees.

   So she did the sensible thing, and walked over to an
Akane eating dinner with Nabiki.

   "Nab-chan, I still find it hard to believe we've only
been married a year. I don't think I could have asked for a
better wife."

   Oh. Oh my. This was interesting. "Excuse me," she asked,
"which way is the East Wing?"

   Akane turned, smiling politely. "Take a left at the clump
of pewter flamingos over there, and go straight on."

   "Thank you, Akane-chan!" Kaeri strode off, her eyes
misting a bit. Even in alternate dimensions, Akane was
polite and kind.  Mother would be proud.

   The Akane turned back to her wife. "I still can't figure
out how you managed to fall in love with me, with this curse
and all..." 

   Nabiki smiled. "Don't be silly, Ryouga-chan. I love you
no matter what you look like. Besides, I'm sure you could
have picked worse springs to fall in than Akaneniichuan..."

                          * * * * *

   She was lost. 

   That is, even more so than usual. 

   The swing band was gone, and in it's place was something
by Bach. Not churchgoing Bach, either. This was the kind of
Bach Count Dracula enjoyed pounding out.

   The walls had become faintly less cheery, and distinctly
more gothic. You wouldn't catch a potted palm dead in this
wing. On the other hand, maybe you _would_ catch it dead.

   And then there were the people. They looked a lot like
Muhoshin-san, at least in that they were pale, thin, and
looked like they had been staying up past their bedtimes.
And those were the younger ones. The older ones
looked...well...embalmed. And not by a particularly
competent mortician, either. 

    "...Collective is insisting something be done! Four
realities, #843, four of them, all with Collective members.
Gone.  And people are saying it's our fault, look at the
guy..."

   "...my sister' is a fool. Worse than a fool. And that
white...shows the dirt and blood far too easily. Give me
basic black any day. Now. It's very simple. All you have to
do is..."

   "...My brothers? Not a chance. They last saw me falling
into the abyss, with an arrow in my neck and another by my
heart. No, they all are safe in the knowledge that Brand is
dead.  This Collective of yours, they can move through
shadow? How do they manage..."

   She sincerely hoped this wasn't the East Wing. None of
these people looked as nice as Muhoshin-san. But it would
probably be a good idea to make sure. Walking over to a
young lady in a black dress, she tapped her on the shoulder.
"Excuse me? Is this the East Wing?"

   The woman turned, and Kaeri noticed the alcohol blush on
her cheeks. Judging from that, and the half-empty bottle of
wine, the woman was likely a few sheets to the wind. "No,"
she replied, her voice annoyed and slightly slurred. "This
the the Northwest.."  Her eyes, bordered by tattooed
diamonds of black, focused on Kaeri and went wide with
shock. "YOU!"

   Oh dear. "Me?" 

   Leaping back from her chair, the woman in black reached
for a sheath by her belt in a smooth, practiced motion
(marred only slightly by a noticeable swaying), drawing
forth an ornate dagger. "You......you should be dead! How
did you...." Abruptly, her demeanor changed, going from
shock to contempt. "So, Our Lady of Mindless Saccharine
still lives. What a pleasure. Normally I'm only able to kill
people twice..."

   She trailed off, suddenly noticing that every eye in the
immediate (and not so immediate) vicinity was trained on
her.

   An elderly man stood, an expression of disapproval etched
on his face. "Sicarii. That's really the wrong sort of knife
to butter a roll with."

   Several Gosunkugis chuckled. Sicarii turned an
interesting shade of purple, and curtly nodded.

   Kaeri felt that she should say something polite to help
break the tension. "My, what a nice knife! What is it for?"

   Sicarii stared at her for a second, gaping at the sheer
gall of the question. Then her face contorted into a feral
grin, her eyes gleaming with a unhealthy light. "Let me show
you!" she snarled, and leaped. The dagger in her hand flared
with green fire as it thrust for the heart, and scarlet
ki-flame rimmed her in a flickering aura.

   Kaeri jumped backwards, her staff coming up in an arc
intended to catch the madly grinning Gosunkugi on the
stomach. 

   Luckily for both of them, Sicarii tripped over a chair
and fell to the floor. Kaeri's staff whistled over her,
ultimately coming to rest in a gentleman's groin. He made a
peculiar whistling sound, akin to a football being deflated,
and folded over.

   Aghast, Kaeri walked over to apologize.  Sicarii picked
this moment to tackle her from behind, sending both tumbling
to the floor. The waiter picked this moment to walk in with
Souji Gosunkugi's Duck Flambe. No-one picked that moment to
knock the waiter on his tuxedoed rear, but that's what
happened. 

   The duck rose like a gourmet meteor, and then fell to
earth.  Or, rather, to Gosunkugi. Kento #25 found his jacket
alight, and immediately grabbed the nearest glass of water
to douse it.

   Unfortunately, the nearest glass of water turned out to
be the nearest glass of Old Brainmelter Vodka.

   *splash* *WHOOSH!* "AAAAARGH!" 

   Kaeri, had she seen this, probably would have apologized.
But having a yowling, squirrelish maniac in black trying to
strangle you is a tad distracting, and so she instead
concentrated on keeping Sicarii's hands off her windpipe.
Her hand fell on the edge of a plate, and she brought it
down on what she hoped was Sicarii's head. It wasn't.
Sicarii expressed her displeasure about being hit on the
bottom with a plate of Jello by attempting to remove Kaeri's
kneecaps with her teeth.

   Several Gosunkugis had begun incanting extinguishing
spells, and unleashed them on the screaming Kento #25. Most
of them worked. But Hodoko #12 (who was not just teetering
on the brink of senility but was instead already in
freefall) managed to botch a simple incantation in truly
brilliant fashion.

   With a flash of ruby light, all of the tables in the area
began to move. Several of them grew teeth of the sort
normally found on the more impressive types of carnivore.

   The Gosunkugis began to blast them with mystical
energies, arcane enchantments, and handy platters of
sweet-and-sour pork.

   The tables tried to eat the Gosunkugis. 

   Sicarii had found a perch on Kaeri's back, and was trying
to twist her head off. 

   Kaeri, on her hands and knees, was bringing up her staff
to remove her unwanted passenger when Joey #54 (of the San
Francisco Gosunkugis) lost control of his Symphony for
Flamethrower and Blender spell, and tossed it at her by
mistake.

   Sicarii, her sense of self-preservation belatedly kicking
in, jumped for the relative safety of the floor. Kaeri,
running on instinct and not a whole lot else, placed her big
piece of wood in between her and the oncoming ball of
razorsteel and inferno.

   The ball hit. And vanished. 

   The carvings along the staff erupted with crimson energy,
setting the nearby carpet aflame. Sicarii shrieked, and
frantically tried to put out the merry blaze that had
erupted in her hair. Kaeri took the opportunity to introduce
Mr. Skull to Mr.  Chair, and the Assassin slumped into
unconsciousness. 

   And that's when the sprinkler system turned on. 

   Kaeri sighed, and began to crawl for the exit, unmindful
of the Giant War Dingos pouring through the rift that Hodoko
#12's latest mistake had just opened.

                          * * * * *

   Three miles, five hours, and six sets of contradictory
directions later, Kaeri entered the East Wing. 

   The familiar faces had vanished several minutes back. No
Tendos or Saotomes, Hibikis or Muhoshins or Gosunkugis. The
most you could say about the East Wing was that some of the
diners were human. 

   She tried to place the music, a dreamy, outlandish, oddly
familiar jazz riff. Somehow, it fit. The walls here, a smoky
black marble, were almost invisible in the dim light. A
single candle was set in a wine bottle atop each table,
casting shadows that loomed at her before being lost in the
deeper blackness along the wall.

   "...Miller, I tell him, you're keeping her on too tight a
leash. It could cost us our jobs, and Heaven isn't much for
layoff benefits..."

   "...I'm sorry, Mr. Ishmael, but we're fresh out of
positions.  I wouldn't be discouraged, though. We aren't the
only Hell in the realities..."

   "...I HOPE THE STABLE IS ADEQUATE. BINKY GETS CROSS,
OTHERWISE. TRY THE NACHOS, BY THE WAY..."

   "Kaeri Tendo?" 

   She spun, to find herself face to face with a man. What
sort of man, she couldn't say. It wasn't precisely that he
was unremarkable, or hidden by the shadows that swirled
around the room...he was just...hard to focus on. If eyes
needed handholds, this fellow was covered in an inch of
grease.

   "Yes?" 

   "I'm Mr. Noone. Your table is this way." 

   "Oh! Thank you..." 

   He led her across the room (it did have a ceiling, it had
to have one) and seated her, and gave her a menu, and sat
down across from her.

   She had the bouillabaisse. He ordered wine. 

  Setting down the menu, she tried to catch his eyes with
her own. When this proved impossible, she settled for
staring firmly in his general direction.

   "I'm very grateful for the reservation, Noone-san. But,
please excuse me, do I know you?"

   He smiled. "Yes, and no. I know a good deal about you,
and you, in return, know a good bit about me. You just don't
realize it yet."

   Kaeri frowned. Her dinner companion was talking in
riddles, which she found rather unnerving, and slightly
rude. "Was there something you wished to discuss with me?"
If he danced around things, she would be direct. It ran
against her nature, though...  no! Against Kasumi's nature!
Weak Kasumi! Blind Kasumi!

   "Do you really think this plan to destroy Reiraku's
timeline will solve anything?"

   Her mouth went dry. "How did you know..." 

   Noone chuckled, the sound somehow sad. "I have my ways.
But back to the question. What good will it do?"

   She stared at him. "What good? Do you even need to ask?
The very idea of it is _obscene_. I wept at each word I read
of it. It's as though some mad, evil, twisted god decided to
to destroy everyone I love as thoroughly and completely as
possible. I'll cleanse it. Kasumi scrubbed floors. I'll
scrub worlds." She glared at him, waiting for him to
challenge her claims.

   "And then what?" 

   She blinked. "What? I don't.." 

   "What happens afterwards? When you've destroyed..." 

  "Cleansed," she said, a bit too quickly. 

   "Either one. What happens then? There are worse worlds
than Reiraku's, Kaeri, and there are more of them than there
are tables in this restaurant. Will you destroy...
cleanse... them all?  Their number grows daily, just as do
the worlds of love and joy. Will you ever see those bright
worlds? By the time you stop, will you even belong in them?" 

   It was a staggering concept, and one she had deliberately
avoided. There were infinite worlds. Infinite Akanes.

   Infinite futures of pain and death. 

    "Of joy, too." 

   She looked up at the strangely elusive face. "Why are you
telling me this? Why?"

   "You took a good choice for a name, Kaeri. Kaeri ni - on
the way home. Go home. Find that other broken soul, and help
him, for he needs your help more than the echoes of 2096.
You were born to serve, to nurture, to care, and he needs
that. You need that. Go home."

   "But... father... Akane... Nabiki..." 

   "Are waiting for you, should you need them. But you
don't. That time is over, Kaeri. Go home. If you follow this
path you take, if you go on to do your deed, you will suffer
for it, and the one who truly needs you will suffer even
more. Go home. Before the graveyards of 2096 and it's ilk
become more your home than a kitchen full of sunlight and
laughter."

   She shrank back, hearing truth in his voice. It was not a
pleasant fate he described, and it would be so nice to rest
for a while...to bring soup, to tidy rooms, to bake cookies,
to _love_...

   No. Her duty was to her family. If that meant doing
without happiness... so be it.

   "Not just that. Your soul." 

   She met his eyes. 

   "So be it." 

   Her hand tightened on the locket, and she summoned her
will. Save them. Damn Kasumi, she deserves it. Save...

   Blue fire flared, and her chair was empty. 

   Noone slowly sipped his wine and stared at her seat for a
while. After a time, someone sat down in it.

   The newcomer looked at him kindly. "You knew it wouldn't
work." 

   Noone shrugged. "I had to try." His voice was had changed
from the rough male baritone he had addressed Kaeri with. It
was now a clear, smooth female one. 

   "So does she." 

   'Noone' sighed, and raised her glass to her now obviously
feminine lips. "You know what will happen. I couldn't tell
her directly..."

   "I know. Maybe things will turn out differently as a
result of your..."

   "No. The Cafe has rules for these situations. There is
one clear choice, one path that leads away. If you don't
take it, nothing changes. She didn't take it." 

   "How do they manage that?" 

   She laughed. "Why don't lockets flare in the Cafe when
they come near each other? Who runs the place? Don't ask me.
It's just the way the Cafe Eternum is." Her glass had run
dry, and she poured a fresh draught. "She ran into Skeride,
you know."

   "Oh? A nice girl, if you overlook..." 

   "Not _that_ Skeride." 

   "Ah. That one." 

   Silence for a while, and then the newcomer stood. "I've
got to check on my young charge. Take care of yourself,
dear." 

   'Noone' smiled. "Be careful." 

   He nodded, stepped sideways into nothing, and vanished. 

   "Excuse me?" 

   She turned, to see a spectral Akane looking up at her.
"Yes?" 

   "Can I possess you for a while? There's a Ranma in the
South Wing I'd really like to have dinner with..." 

   She shook her head. "I've got to go. Sorry." And with
that, she held up a locket, closed her eyes, and vanished in
a flash of cerulean fire.

   The Akane sighed and slowly walked off, translucent shoes
scuffing the carpet. "Great. Another Saturday night, and I
ain't got no body..."

               [[[[[[[[[[[[[[(*)]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]

   He felt dizziness as disorientation took hold and spun
his senses around and blinded him with azure light.  The act
of shooting across realities recklessly tended to do that. 

   By now, he'd felt this sensation more than a dozen times,
and was getting used to it. 

   Ryo Saotome was getting sick of it anyway.  He didn't
_want_ to get used to it.  He wanted this madness to end. 
He wanted to go home. 

   And at this moment, he was really hoping for a normal
landing.

   -POP-

   He hovered in mid-air awkwardly, and unfortunately,
upside-down, and crashed on a hard, cold floor.

   "Ow." 

   A second later, two quick bursts of azure flame heralded
the arrival of Ishido and Ratiko... right above him.  In
that small space of a second before they landed on him, Ryo
wondered why, as of late, whenever he traveled with company,
there was a tendency for the landings to be rough.

   -THUD- "Ow!" 

   -THUD- "Augh!" 

   "Will you guys get off of me?!" he yelled, his patience
already worn thin.  He shoved a few unidentified limbs out
of his way as he struggled to get up, ignoring any feelings
he might've been bruising. 

   "Hey, back off," grumbled Ishido, yanking his leg away
from Ryo's arm.  Along the way, it whacked Ratiko in the
face.

   "OW!  Hey, watch it!" whined the Hibiki. 

   "A-hem." 

   The three paused. 

   "Good evening, gentlemen." 

   Ishido and Ratiko froze, jaws hung low.  Ryo, on the
other hand, summoned up his willpower and utterly refused to
be surprised.  Instead, he brushed the dust off of his
travel-worn clothes, quickly combed his hair with a fold-up
comb he had in his pocket, straightened his jacket, and
said, in perfectly polite tones, to the six-armed gorilla in
a tuxedo...

   "Good evening." 

   The gorilla seemed to approve of it.  "May I ask if sirs
have a reservation?"

   Ryo frowned.  "Reservation... mmm... no.  I'm afraid
we're here accidentally."

   "Ah.  I see." 

   "You wouldn't happen to have seen a woman somewhat taller
than me, with three fingers on one hand and a few facial
scars?"

   The gorilla hmmed.  "Well, yes, there was in fact a lady
of that description.  She passed by about thirty minutes
ago."

   Ryo frowned.  Thirty minutes?  "If you don't mind, we
really need to find that lady.  Could we get in without a
reservation?"

   The gorilla frowned and thumbed through a book.  "Hrmm... 
well... we do have some room... but sirs simply can't be let
in."

   "Why not?" asked Ryo, trying to remain civil.  "It is
_very_ important that we find this woman!"

   "My apologies, sirs, but there _is_ a dress code." 

   Ryo sighed.  Ishido and Ratiko were still marveling that
Ryo was negotiating with a multi-armed gorilla that,
apparently, had an aristocratic accent and was the doorman
of the place.

   "However, if it IS important, the cafe DOES have a way
for you to be admitted."

   Ryo raised an eyebrow.  "Oh, is there?" 

                          * * * * *

   The trio stood, embarrassed, baffled, and naked as a
conveyer belt moved them down a long white hallway.

  There was one exception:  Ratiko still had his headband
on.

  "Um, guys, what was this again?" he asked nervously. 

  "We're headed to the showers, I think," answered Ryo. 

  "I don't like this," said Ishido, looking around
suspiciously.

   - INITIAL SOAK CYCLE: BEGIN -

   "Soak cycle?" asked Ratiko. 

   And then the large water cannons emerged from the walls. 

   "What the-" 

   *****FWOOSH******

   "AAAGH!  WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?!" yelled Ishido. 

   "The soak cycle, apparently," said Ryo. 

   "They could've used warmer water, dammit," replied
Ishido.

   *SQUEAK*

   Ryo and Ishido paused, then looked down between them
where Ratiko once was.  In his place there seemed to be a
small fruit bat.

   "So.  Jusenkyou, huh?" asked Ryo. 

   The bat managed an embarrassed squeak. 

   -INITIAL SOAK CYCLE COMPLETE-

   "Well, that was interesting," said Ryo. 

   -SOAP CYCLE: BEGIN-

   "This can't be any worse than the soak cycle," said Ryo. 

   Ishido and Ratiko-bat looked at him doubtfully. 

   "Of course, I could be wrong." 

   Many small hoses mounted to mechanical arms lowered from
the ceiling.

   Ryo frowned.  "Oh not again." 

   -FWOOSH-

   "EYOW!" 

   Soapy water slammed into them from all angles.  The water
was, fortunately, enough to get Ratiko back to human form. 
Otherwise, there wasn't much that was pleasing about the
experience of hot soap and water being sprayed at all odd
angles and occasionally up orifices that the men would
prefer to keep dry.

   -SOAP CYCLE: COMPLETE-

   Ryo wiped some foam from his eyes.  "Well... that was... 
ah..." 

   "A lot more violent than your usual shower, yeah,"
finished Ratiko.  "What kinda shower is this?!" 

   -SECOND SOAK CYCLE: BEGIN-

   "Ohnotagain," whimpered Ratiko. 

   They waited for the water cannons to appear. 

   Instead they fell. 

   Ratiko flapped his arms around, forgetting that he wasn't
a bat.  "I REALLY HATE THIS SHOWERRRRRRRrrrrrr-" *SPLASH*

   They felt dizziness as disorientation took hold.  There
was much awkward splashing and blindness as water got in
their eyes. The act of being dropped suddenly into a giant
pool of warm water tended to do that to people.

   The trio coughed and splashed about until finally they
felt the floor rise up to meet their feet.

   "*COUGH* Well... *COUGH*COUGH* that was unexpected,"
grumbled Ryo.  The others didn't talk.  They wanted to kill
whoever designed the system.

   Three small robots hovered into the room, each carrying a
tray and a towel.  On the tray was a glass of tea. 

   //REFRESHMENTS, GENTLEMEN?  TOWELS?//

   What the heck, thought Ryo, why not?  "Yeah, thanks."  He
put the towel around his shoulders and held the beverage in
one hand. The others, following his lead, did the same.

   "Now this... this is much better," said Ratiko with a
grin. He leaned on the edge of the pool and casually slurped
his drink. Ryo did the same, while Ishido looked around
nervously.  In his eyes, the whole experience was bad so far
and this part was surely a trap meant to lower his defenses.

   After five minutes soaking in warm water, he had his
doubts.

   "Okay, we're soaked and soaked well, where's the exit?"
asked Ryo.  Immediately after he spoke, a door previously
unseen opened with a big //EXIT// sign in cheesy neon
letters appeared.

   "That answer your question?" asked Ratiko. 

   -SECOND SOAK CYCLE: COMPLETE-

   The three went through the door and found themselves,
once again, on a conveyer belt.

   "Aw man, I got a bad feeling about this," whined Ratiko. 

   In front and behind the trio, large air vents suddenly
dropped.

   -DRY CYCLE: BEGIN-

   Ratiko 'eep'ed. 

   -FWOOOOOSH-

   Hot air blasted them from front and back, pressing them
flat with incredible air pressure for an incredibly long
stretch of time.

   Ishido really felt like hurting someone. 

   Ryo was getting used to the rough treatment by now, and
only rolled his eyes as he was blown about.

   "WE'RE DRY! WE'RE DRY! TURN IT OFF!" yelled Ratiko. 

   -DRY CYCLE: COMPLETE-

   "THANK YOU!  Sheesh." 

   -YOU'RE WELCOME-

                          * * * * *

   Ryo fidgeted slightly and pulled at his necktie.  Ishido
bypassed the irritation and undid his entirely. 

   "I hate this," grumbled Ishido. 

   "It isn't so bad," said Ryo as he scratched at his neck. 

   Ratiko adjusted his slightly and brushed off some lint
from the fine ebony cloth.  "Heh... you know the difference
between you guys and me?" he asked.  "I make this outfit
look _good_."

   Ryo sighed.  Just great, he thought, the
trans-dimensional Diners In Black. 

   He tapped the two on the arms.  "Time's wasting.  C'mon,
let's go find her."

   "How do you know she hasn't left yet?" asked Ratiko. 

   "I don't." 

   "Then... we're stranded?!" 

   "We'll confront that possibility when it comes.  Until
then, I'm going on faith.  You can either just stand there
gaping or do something useful.  Now c'mon." 

   The three wandered from the lobby into a large dining
area, with a bar of seemingly infinite length running down
the side and fancy chandeliers everywhere.  There was a
stage for a band, but they seemed to be on a break at the
moment.  The sound of silverware clinking and people
chattering created a steady buzz.

   "Fancy place," muttered Ratiko.  He looked around
further. "And the people... er..."  He watched, carefully,
as three Nabikis walked by, followed by two Elvises and
Akira Kurisawa.

   "I don't like it here," said Ishido, almost in a snarl. 

   Ryo glanced at the table full of Egyptian kings and
sighed. "I'm trying not to be shocked anymore."

   The three wove their way through the crowd carefully,
trying not to lose sight of each other.  Ryo lead the way,
with Ratiko in the middle and Ishido bringing up the rear.

   Unfortunately, with the crowds being thick and the noise
being high, Ishido found himself separated from the two.  He
growled in frustration and tried to push his way through the
masses, but was soon entirely separated and lost in the sea
of people.

                          * * * * *

   Ryo was getting that nagging feeling something was going
wrong.  He turned back to Ratiko

   "Hey, where's Ishi..." 

   Ishido was gone. 

   "...do..." 

   And so was Ratiko. 

   "Damn!" 

   He was alone. 

   Ryo tried not to scream in frustration as he wove his
way back, retracing his steps.  Now was NOT the time for any
more delays.  He wove around the tables and made his way
to the bar, where there was a walkway with a good view of
the room and a better flow of traffic.

   Moving with the masses, he headed down the hallway once
more until a hand grabbed him by the shoulder.

   "Hey, you." 

   The voice seemed eerily familiar.  Then again, everyone
he'd met so far was eerily familiar, since they were usually
related to him in some trans-dimensional way.

   He sighed.  "Listen, I don't have time for..." 

   Their eyes met. 

   And Ryo Saotome met Ryo Saotome. 

                          * * * * *

   "Where on Earth am I now?!" 

   A passing penguin tapped him on the leg. Ratiko looked at
the animal. It had an oversized flesh colored beak, a red
bow tie, and was wearing a button that said "Opus 'N' Bill
in '92. This Time Why Not the Worst?"

   "Yeah?  What?" 

   "You're not on Earth.  Just thought you should know." 

   Ratiko blinked.  "Oh... thanks." 

   "No problem."  The penguin waddled off, leaving the Rat
at a loss for words.  After thinking things through for a
few minutes more, Ratiko tried again.

   "Where in the Universe am I now?!" 

   This caused a passing waiter to pause. 

   "Hibiki?" he asked. 

   "Um, yeah." 

   "Ryouga Hibiki?" 

   "No, Ratiko.  Ryouga's my ancestor." 

   "Ah, the Ratiko Hibiki group.  Right.  This way." 

   Having nothing better to do, Ratiko followed the waiter,
walking down the banquet hall/corridor for what seemed like
a strangely odd time.

   "We almost there yet?" 

   "Yes sir." 

   That, thought Ratiko, was good. 

   "Where are we going anyway?" 

   "The Ratiko Hibiki group.  You _are_ Ratiko Hibiki, are
you not?"

   "Oh, yeah, I am."  That seemed to make sense.  He didn't
recall having a party, but the waiter's logic seemed sound. 

   Ratiko followed the waiter further, until at last they
came to a stop at a side booth enclosed by a curtain.

   "Through the curtain, sir," said the waiter. 

   "Huh?" 

   "Your party, sir, through the curtain." 

   "Oh.  Right.  Um... thanks."  Ratiko pushed the curtain
aside and walked nervously in.  And then he nearly fainted. 

   Looking at him was a room full of Ratiko Hibikis. 

   "You lost too?" asked one of them. 

   At this point, he decided fainting would be a good thing
to do.

                          * * * * *

   The Great Reiraku Hibiki party of Cafe Eternum was a
grand example of what happens when one isn't specific with
instructions in a restaurant that deals with the vagueness
of time.

   Hibikis, by their nature, get lost.  They get incredibly
lost. More than any beings in the realities, Hibikis tend to
cross dimensions and time barriers.  A handful are bound to,
sooner or later, run into each other.  Two particular
Hibikis, both being Reiraku, had one day made arrangements
to do lunch at the Cafe Eternum. 

   They had left instructions to the restaurant regarding
the matter. 

   It went, basically, like this. 

      Epsillion room reserved, Hibiki Reiraku.  Will need
      guidance to reserved area. 

   The staff interpreted said instructions as, basically, to
reserve a room and to toss any Reiraku Hibiki they found in
it.

   The original two Ratiko Hibikis had long since left,
having grown irritated at the suddenly crowded room of
themselves. Since then, it had become a revolving door of
Ratikos.  They didn't mind, since there was a drink and
snack bar as well as a neat view of the galaxy.

   Woe be unto the last one out, though, since they were
going to be stuck with the bill...

   One particular Ratiko, recently re-awakened, decided that
it was all a bout of temporary insanity and decided to
mingle and go with the flow until he was sane again.

   "Hey, is that cheese dip?" 

   "Sure is." 

   "Cool.  Pass it over, willya?" 

                          * * * * *

   After much wandering, Ishido ended up in a side room of
sorts, separated from the main room by a curtain.

   What really set him on edge, however, was the occupants. 

   It seemed to be, in his eyes, a room full of Ryo
Muhoshin.

                          * * * * *

   The Gosunkugi wing was still in a chaotic state following
the mess that had happened earlier.  No one was sure exactly
how it started, they only knew that the tables were still
trying to bite their ankles off and the sprinkler system was
FINALLY off.

   "Damn," said Gosunkugi #289, "what ELSE can go wrong
tonight?"

   And then there was a growl. 

   There are many kinds of growls.  There's the growl that a
chihuahua makes when it's threatening to piss on your shoe.
There's a growl that a dog makes when it wants you to stop
yanking on the collar. 

   This sort of growl was along the 'someone will die in ten
seconds' variety.

   All the occupants of the room turned around... very...
slowly.

                          * * * * *

   Ryo looked at his counterpart in silence, still surprised
by the turn of events.  He knew that it was a possibility
that this sort of thing would happen, but it still didn't
prepare him for the event.

   "C'mon, let's go to the bar," said his other self. 

   Looking him over, Ryo saw a few things immediately that
set them apart.  The other was older by a few years, five
was his guess. The biggest difference, however, was how he
carried himself. 

   The other him seemed... tired. 

   "You're still chasing Muhoshin?" asked the other. 

   Ryo nodded. 

   "And you?" asked Ryo. 

   "I've... finalized things."  He turned away from Ryo with
a dark expression on his face and ordered a drink.  He
looked Ryo over and hmmed.  "Bell-chan's still okay?" 

   "Yeah, the last time I saw her." 

   "Good, good.  At least you have that." 

   "What do you mean by that?" 

   His alternate looked away.  "Bell-chan... my Bell-chan... 
she's dead." 

   Ryo suddenly felt a chill hit him.  Bell-chan?  Dead? 

   No.  Oh no. 

   "It happened after a month of chasing him."  The other
Ryo took a long drink, then closed his eyes.  "I was chasing
the bastard through realities... and somehow he managed to
focus enough to land in mine.  He killed Tachi and Godai,
then kidnapped Bell. Muhoshin wanted my locket in
exchange...  when we made the trade he killed her anyway. 
For five years after, I've been chasing him across the
realities, and I ended it all tonight." 

   "You stopped him?" 

   "I killed him." 

   Ryo blinked. 

   "Caught him while he was having one of those weird
epileptic fits of his.  Snapped his neck.  He never knew
what hit him. More than he deserved." 

   "You killed him?" 

   "Don't look so damned surprised!  You don't know what
I've gone through!  You haven't had to see all the people he
killed because you couldn't stop him in time!  If you end up
in my shoes, pray that you don't, then you'd do the same!"

   Ryo didn't reply.  A month.  It was after a month that he
went after Bell-chan.  He'd been chasing Muhoshin for only a
few days now.  He still had time. 

   He had to plan. 

   "The locket," said Ryo, "the one Muhoshin's got.  The
last time I saw it, the thing was burned into his chest. 
What's happening to him?"

   "Chronal radiation.  The locket he's got is older than
you even suspect, nearly at the end of its life.  It's
spitting out enough chronal radiation to warp flesh and
really do some nasty things to the mind.  When I finally got
to him, Muhoshin wasn't much more than a rabid dog.  Be
careful, though.  His link to the locket is stronger than
yours. Don't underestimate what he can do with that thing." 

   "What's the worst he could do?" 

   "Make a small town disappear." 

   "Oh... oh hell." 

   "That's where he said he sent them." 

   He was about to ask more questions, when there was a
sudden and familiar yell of rage. 

   It sounded very much Ishido-esque. 

   "Damn, that sounds all too familiar," muttered Ryo. 

   "Sounds like Ishido," said his alternate.  "You'd better
go stop him before he goes and wrecks the place.  Besides,
the last thing you want is to be tossed into their version
of a jail."

                          * * * * *

   Ryo cut through the crowds as fast as he could, feeling
very much like a salmon going up a waterfall.  Nearly
knocking over waiters and customers alike, he slowly but
surely made his way to the end of the crowded and noisy
corridor.

   He paused a moment, took a few steps back, quickly walked
into a side room and winced.

   "Hey, which one of you was with me?" 

   The room full of Ratikos blinked, except one sucking out
a can of cheese whip.  That one paused, waved at Ryo, and
motioned for him to come over.

   "Hey, Ryo!  They got a snack bar here!  Want some cheese
dip?"

   Without a word, Ryo marched over, grabbed him by the tie,
and pulled him out of the room.

   "Hey!  What's the big deal?!" 

   "We don't have time for this," grumbled Ryo.  "Don't get
los-"

   There was a loud growl.  It was followed by many screams
of terror.  From a curtain many feet away, a body rocketed
forth. It looked very much like he was thrown.

   "Oh no," muttered Ryo. 

   Another person was ejected forcibly from behind a
curtain.  A third person scrambled away, yelling, "HELP! 
PSYCHOTIC IN THE HOUSE!" 

   That person, and the two before him, were clearly
Gosunkugi-esque in nature, if not the man himself.

   Considering how much Gosunkugi resembled Muhoshin, and
then add the odd surroundings and stress that Ishido was
going through, and Ryo had a really bad feeling about it.

   He grabbed Ratiko's arm and stomped towards the
commotion. "C'mon, this way."

   "That way?  But that's where everyone else is running
_away_ from!" 

   "No kidding." 

                          * * * * *

   When the fifth Gosunkugi screaming his head off ran
through the foyer, the maitre'd knew exactly who was causing
the problem.  He also knew who to talk to about it. 

   Leaving the head waiter in charge of the reservation
desk, he proceeded to the upper level bar of the east wing.
There he found a young woman dressed in black pants, a blue
turtleneck, and a tan sportjacket enjoying a friendly drink
with a woman dressed in red. He tapped the lady in the
sportjacket on the shoulder. 

    "Pardon me, Ms. Tsereba," said the Maitre'd. "But there
is a bit of a problem in the Gosunkugi Wing with one of the
members of your party.  We were wondering if you could
assist us?"

     The young woman looked at her watch and sighed. "They
just can't seem to stay out of trouble, can they? All right,
I'll need my gun, a pitcher of ice water and a copy of the
New York City Telephone Directory."

    "The Yellow Pages, ma'am?" 

    "Better make it the residential listings. And make sure
it has the complete listings for all five boroughs. I'll
need the weight." 

    "Right away, Ma'am." 

    "Oh, and get me a private booth, please." 

                          * * * * *
  
  Ryo and Ratiko dashed into the room. 

  The first thing they noticed was the mountain of
Gosunkugis piled on top of each other all on one table. They
were conscious, quaking in fear, but conscious. 

   The reason they were quaking in fear was due to the fact
that Ishido was bouncing the head of one hapless Gosunkugi
repeatedly against another table. With the result that the
Gosunkugi in question, on the verge of passing out, now
believed himself to be "Tattoo" from Fantasy Island. 

    "I... WON'T... LET... YOU... HURT... CHILDRA!" Ishido roared,
redoubling his efforts. 

   "But, Boss... what is....Mr. Hubert's... fantasy?" said the
Gosunkugi between the impacts. 

    Rat and Ryo looked at each other. 

    "Jai-ken-po?" Rat asked. Ryo rolled his eyes. 

    "Just come on." he said. "Before he kills someone." The
two of them made ready to attack the lunatic assassin. But,
before they could do anything, an extremely thick book
sailed through the air, impacting neatly at the base of
Ishido's skull. The mentally unbalanced one's eyes rolled
back in his head, and he collapsed to the floor, releasing
the Gosunkugi, who also mercifully lapsed into
unconsciousness. 

    Ryo and Rat turned to find a young woman with long black
hair behind them standing next to the Maitre'd.

    "Excellent shot, Ms. Tsereba." the gorilla commented.
Ms.  Tsereba merely nodded. She turned her attention to the
two boys. 

    "Ryo Saotome?" Ryo nodded, frowning. 

   "Reiraku Hibiki?" Rat nodded, dumbfounded. 

   "And I assume the psychotic is Ishido Takashima.  I've
been expecting you. If you'll follow me, please." 

   "Wait a second." Ryo said, stepping forward. "No offense
meant. We appreciate your help Ms.--" 

   "Tsereba. Reiko Tsereba." answered the woman. 

   "Ms. Tsereba." Ryo finished. "But, we're kind of in a
hurry. We're looking for--" 

   "A woman named Kaeri Tendo, right?" Reiko finished.
"Well, I'm afraid you're too late. She left about half an
hour ago." 

   "What?!" Rat shrieked. "She destroy it all! We've got to
find her."

   "Not right now." said Reiko. "Right now, I need you to
come with me."  Ratiko frowned at her. 

   "And why should we do anything you say?" he demanded.
Reiko glanced downwards. Rat and Ryo followed her gaze to
the pistol she held in her hand. 

   "You'll do it because this gun is loaded, and bullets
tend to make nasty holes." Reiko said, smiling. "Besides, we
have some business to discuss.  So if you would care to
gather up your friend over there and follow me."  Reiko
turned and spoke to the Maitre'd. Ryo sighed. And to think
this had all started out with such promise. He turned to get
Ishido, but Rat grabbed his arm. 

    "Are you seriously going to do what she says? Let's just
knock her out and get the hell out of here." the Hibiki
whispered. Ryo shook his head. 

   "I didn't hear her pull that gun out, did you?" he asked. 

   "No. So what?" 

   "So what it means is that she's pretty damn fast with
that thing. And in my experience, Fast Draw plus Gun plus
Martial Artist equals Dead Martial Artist.  Got it?" 

    Rat thought for a moment. 

    "You get his arms, I'll get his feet." he said. 

                          * * * * *

   After a trip up three flights of stairs and through a few
dozen wings, Reiko led the two boys and their unconscious
friend to a large booth. As they got situated, Reiko pulled
the cord that closed the curtains of the booth.

    "Okay," Ryo said. "We're here. Now what's this all
about?"

    "First things first." Reiko said, picking up the water
carafe. She glanced at Ishido who was snoring slightly and
drooling on Rat's shoulder. "Sorry about this, Hibiki." she
said, turning the open mouth of the carafe towards Ishido. 

  Ratiko barely got out of the way in time. 

   After calming Ishido down and getting him a towel to dry
off with, Reiko produced a card. She tossed it to Ryo.

   "I'm a representative of this organization. I've been
assigned to your case."

   Ryo looked at the card, then back at her skeptically. 

    "The 'Save the Universe' Foundation?" he asked. 

    "What do you do? Prevent people from polluting the
spaceways with junk?" Rat asked, smirking.

     "That's another branch." Reiko answered, frowning. "I'm
part of the branch that deals with reality hopping idiots
like yourselves."

     "Hey!" Rat yelped. Ryo glared at him to keep quiet. 

     "So what are you going to do?" Ryo said. "Keep us from
jumping around anymore? Sorry, we can't oblige."

     "I didn't expect you to. That's why I'm here. I'm a
Guide." 

     "A what?" 

     "A Guide." Reiko explained. "When a group of reality
hoppers like you makes a total mess out of every reality
they visit, my superiors sends a Guide to help them clean up
the mess.  Especially if they've lost their means of
transport." She looked pointedly at Ryo.

     "What about Kaeri?" Ratiko piped up. "She's on her way
to destroy my time! I won't exist!"

     Reiko looked at Ryo. "Let me guess. He hasn't gotten
the concept of alternate realities yet, has he?" Ryo shook
his head.

     Reiko sighed. "All right. In that case we'll just have
to stop her."

     "And what about Muhoshin?" Ishido said coldly. Reiko
looked at him. 

     "What about him?" 

     "Aren't you going to help us do anything about
Muhoshin?"

     "Sorry, friend," the Guide responded. "The SUF believes
in the old philosophy; 'You made the mess, you clean it up.'
I'll help you get the locket back from Kaeri, but after
that, you're on your own. Unless, of course, you totally
botch that bit, too."

     "Fine." Ryo said, hoping to get on with it. "Where do
we go from here?"

      Reiko reached into a pocket of her jacket and produced
a small brass disc. She pressed a hidden catch and the disc
opened like a pocket watch. Ryo noticed that the cover of
the item had the legend "Reality Is Not An Absolute"
engraved on it under a stylized design of seven hexagons
bordering on one another.

      "What is that?" Rat asked. 

      "A Reality Compass." Reiko answered. "Standard issue
for all Guides." She turned it around to show them. The dial
had a standard compass face, only all the directions were
missing.  Where "North"  usually was were the words "Nerima
138."

       "What's Nerima 138?" Ryo asked. 

      "It's where I live. You didn't think I spent all my
time here did you?" she turned the compass back to herself.
"Let's see... aha! Found her.  Dimension 347890, Tendo dojo.
Ready?"

      The three boys looked at each other and nodded. Reiko
turned an outside dial on the compass. There was a flash of
blue light.
 
               [[[[[[[[[[[[[[(*)]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]

    Contrary to the image that the authors have thus far
painted, crossing dimensional realities is not as easy as
crossing the street. A far more accurate analogy would be
that crossing dimensional realities is like crossing a busy
interstate highway at rush hour, where the majority of
traffic is taken up by enormous eighteen wheelers
transporting who knows how many crates of nitroglycerin and
unstable plutonium, and there's one rabid lunatic postal
worker on the opposite side with a bazooka looking to have a
bit of fun.

    In the case of Ryo, Ishido, Rat, and Reiko, the rabid
lunatic postal worker had the name Kaeri on her name tag.

   There was a flash and the next thing Ryo knew, he was
face down in something cold and wet. Then something landed
on him with a loud "OOF!"

   "Get off of me!" the Saotome exclaimed. The weight rolled
off of him.  Ryo got to his feet and looked around. Snow
blanketed the landscape for miles around. The four of them
were in a valley surrounded by huge mountains and glaciers.
There wasn't a single person besides them to be found.

     "Everybody all right?" Reiko asked, brushing snow off
her jacket.  There was a loud squeaking coming from a
snowdrift.  Reiko reached in and pulled out a very annoyed,
very cold fruit bat. 

     "Oh, it's you." Reiko said. She tossed Rat to Ryo and
got out her compass. 

     "What happened?" Ishido asked. "This doesn't look like
Nerima to me."

     "It isn't." Reiko said, consulting the compass. " We're
too late. Kaeri's already done whatever she planned to do."

      "WHAT?!" Ishido roared. Reiko gave him a look. 

      "Relax, Childra's okay. Apparently, she found a nexus
point. She's just created a whole sub-dimension from the one
Childra and Batboy over there are from."

      "What's a nexus point?" Ishido asked. 

      "Nexus points are events that occur in various
realities that can change the world in an instant." Reiko
explained. "But, if someone tries to change or prevent that
event from happening, it can have disastrous consequences."

      "What sort of consequences?" 

      "The complete unraveling of time and space as we know
it."  The guide answered. "Fortunately, the universe knows
better than to let that happen, so if an outside force
fiddles with that event, it compensates by giving them the
outcome they wanted, but lets them know that the original
event will still continue. I imagine Kaeri isn't too happy
right now." 

      "That still doesn't explain where we are, or how we
got here." Ryo pointed out. 

      "We were in transit when Kaeri's sub-dimension was
created.  My compass is designed to keep up with the number
of dimensions out there.  It recalibrates itself every time a
new dimension is created. Which means that when Kaeri did
whatever she did, the resulting 'shockwave' for want of a
better term, played hell with the compass, so it set us down
in the nearest dimension so it can recalibrate itself."
Reiko said.

      "So where are we then?" Ryo asked. 

      "Iceplanet." Reiko responded. "It's a place where a
second Ice Age hit the Earth, but the human race managed to
survive.  Don't worry, I've been here before."

      "How long before we can leave? Kaeri may try something
else." Ryo said. Reiko checked the compass.

      "We got hit with a pretty big shockwave." she said.
"It'll take time."

      "How long?" 

      "About 24 hours." 

      "24 HOURS!" Ryo yelped. "She could do who knows how
much damage in that time! We can't wait that long!" Using
the speed he inherited from his parents, Ryo reached over
and plucked the compass from Reiko's palm. 

      "What in the hell are you doing?" Reiko demanded. "You
don't know how that thing works, we could end up anywhere!"

       "It's better than freezing to death waiting for this
thing to decide to work!"

      "And how do you know we won't end up someplace worse?" 

      "Could anyplace be worse than this?" 

       Suddenly, the group became aware of a distant
rumbling sound. It was too close to be thunder. There wasn't
a cloud in the sky. Reiko looked off into the distance.

       "Ryo," she said quietly. "Give me the compass. We're
getting out of here." 

      "What is it?" Ishido asked. Ryo looked at the guide. 

      "No tricks?" 

      "No tricks." Reiko agreed. "Give me the compass." 

      The rumbling sound got closer. Ryo handed the compass
over.  Reiko popped the lid and set the dial. The rumbling
was almost deafening by this point. 

      "Where are we going?" Ryo yelled above the din. 

      "What's going on?" Ishido hollered. 

      "We're going home and it's an avalanche!" Reiko yelled
back. She twisted the dial and the four of them vanished
just as a wall of snow slid down from the mountains and
blanketed the area they had just been standing.

               [[[[[[[[[[[[[[(*)]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]

   Muhoshin appeared about three feet off the ground, and
proceeded to land on his behind on a cobblestoned street. A
cobblestoned street of an oddly familiar style...

   He looked around. London. He was back in the London of
the barbarian Queen Victoria. Damn it all, this was NOT
where he had been wanting to go....

   Wait. 

   Wasn't that a Ryouga walking by? 

   Picking himself up, Muhoshin padded after his quarry,
idling wondering what the hell Hibiki was doing here, years
before he was supposed to be born. Perhaps he was another
reality jumper?  The thought sent a shiver of pleasure down
his spine; killing Ryougas, while satisfying, didn't
really... mean much any more.  They weren't _real_, not
really. Kill one, and there were plenty more. But a
jumper... That was different. They were unique. 

   There. Hibiki had turned into a alley. Cat-quiet,
Muhoshin followed, noting with pleasure that it was empty.

   He cleared his throat, and Ryouga turned. 

   "Ready to die, Hibiki?" he said. Or tried to say. 

    o/~ Oh hated hated hated enemy o/~
    o/~ It's time to shuffle off this mortal coil o/~
    o/~ For sadly sadly sadly do you see o/~
    o/~ Your existence I shall lance like a boil! o/~
    o/~ Prepare to die... o/~

    Ryo blinked. THAT certainly wasn't what he had meant to
say, and where the hell did that music come from?

    o/~ Your plans I'll foil," Ryouga sang back, o/~
    o/~ For although I'm afraid I know you not o/~
    o/~ Your murderous plans and toil o/~
    o/~ Against me shall come to naught! o/~
    o/~ For you see... o/~

    o/~ What do I see? o/~ 

    o/~ For you see... o/~

    o/~ WHAT DO I SEE? o/~

    o/~ You face the mighty Ryouga Hiiiiibikiiiiiii! o/~

    o/~ I face the mighty Ryouga Hibikiiiii!o/~ chorused
Muhoshin, backing up a step. What the hell? Why was he
chorusing? NO CHORUS, he mentally yelled at his mouth, which
ignored him. 

   Right then. He wasn't certain, but he suspected killing
his old enemy would give him back control of his mouth.

    o/~ I'll have your head and see you dead, o/~
    o/~ Oh source of my miiiiisery o/~
    o/~ The street I'll flood with your lifeblood o/~
    o/~ YOU DIE NOW, HIBIKIIIIIIII!" o/~

   A nice swipe, he thought. Ryouga didn't even try to
dodge, just reached for a pistol at his belt. His hand had
almost reached it when Ryo's blade slid into his chest.

    "I breathe my last..." gasped the Ryouga

    o/~ You breathe your last!o/~ Muhoshin gleefully sang,
as the music swelled grandly and died with his opponent. 

   Wiping the blood from the tip, he strode back out onto
the street, smiling. He had never killed to opera before,
and he found it a novel and satisfactory experience. If
somewhat puzzling.

  Glancing about at his fellow pedestrians, he noticed that
they were gesturing somewhat dramatically when they talked.
And a bit of music, ever so vaguely, came from each...

   It would seem that this reality had a soundtrack, and
made it's dwellers conform to it. How novel.

     o/~ Alms, Alms o/~
     o/~ For a miserable womaaaaaaaan o/~
     o/~ On a miserable... chilly... morning... o/~

   He turned, startled. He had heard that voice before... 

   Well, well. Akane Tendo, clothed in rags and looking
decidedly out of her head. How the mighty have fallen.

   "Off, I say! To the devil with you!" Odd. No singing,
although a burst of rather bleak music did accompany it. 
Akane glared at him, and hurried off.

   No, he'd had enough of this place, amusing as it was. 
He'd depart for more normal climes... 

   The odor of fresh okonomiyaki wafted past, and Muhoshin
stopped in his tracks. Hmm.

   He'd depart. Right after he had a bite to eat. 

                          * * * * *

   Ryo Muhoshin stared at the shop he was approaching in
disbelief.

   //Ucchan's Okonomiyaki//, proclaimed the sign. Tables and
benches, filled with Londoners, stood in front. And there,
he noted, was Kuonji herself. Singing. Of course.

    o/~ Gosling! o/~ she sang. Muhoshin snarled, then
noticed that she wasn't looking in his direction... 

    "Yes, mum?" returned Hikaru Gosunkugi, appearing out of
a alcove. 

    "Ale there!" 

   "Right, mum!" 

   [Mum?] wondered Muhoshin. 

   "GOD THAT'S GOOD!" bellowed the customers. 

   o/~ Have another yaki, o/~ Ukyou sang. 
   o/~  No, we don't do take-out o/~
   o/~  Ain't they very tasty? o/~
   o/~  Gosling! One for the gentleman o/~
   o/~  Spatulated nicely o/~
   o/~  Tender but not flaky o/~
   o/~  Gosling! Throw the old beggar out! o/~

   Muhoshin watched as Gos ushered a protesting Akane away. 

   o/~ GOD THAT'S GOOD! o/~

   Hmm. This posed a problem. If he became a customer, did
that mean he would have to join in the song as well? Not
good at all.  Perhaps there was somewhere else he could-

   His eye fastened on the sign for the shop a floor above
the Ucchan's. //Saotome Ranma, Barber//

   The mighty Saotome, perhaps the most fearsome fighter Ryo
knew. The father of his enemy. A barber.

   Muhoshin grinned. His hair was getting a tad long anyway,
and the humiliation value was priceless. Ranma was probably
a top-notch barber here, too. 

   Something nagged at him, but he quickly shrugged the
feeling off. Maybe he'd have to sing, yeah, so? A real
barbershop quartet.

   o/~ Eat them slow, o/~ sang Gos and Ukyou.
   o/~ And taste the yummy flavor of it o/~
   o/~ Eat them slow o/~
   o/~ Coz every one's a prize o/~
   o/~ Eat them slow o/~
   o/~ Coz that's the lot and now we're sold it o/~
   o/~ Come again tomorrow... o/~

   "Hold it," Ukyou muttered, watching Muhoshin walk up the
stairs to the barbershop and knock on the door. Ranma
promptly answered it.

   "Right this way, sir," Saotome intoned. 

   Ukyou grinned. 

   o/~ Bless my eyes o/~
   o/~ Fresh supplies! o/~
   o/~ Gosling! Warm up the oven! o/~

                          * * * * *

   Ranma ushered Muhoshin into the chair, a fancy-looking
metal contraption, and began mixing a bowl of lather. "And
what may I do for you, sir?" 

   The great Ranma Saotome, calling him sir in an ever-so-
humble tone. Ryo grinned.

   o/~ I am, sir, a man with higher tastes o/~
   o/~ My business you might say is grave o/~
   o/~ So fetch the pomade and pumice stone o/~
   o/~ To give me a suitably dapper tone o/~
   o/~ A sprinkling, perhaps, of fine cologne o/~
   o/~ But first, sir, I think - a shave. o/~

   "The closest I ever gave," Ranma finished, smiling. He
began to apply the lather to Muhoshin's face, whistling
happily as he did. Ryo leaned back a bit, and began to
whistle along with him.  Quaint, this.

   After covering the face before him with white froth,
Ranma took out a rather large, silver-chased razor and began
the business of shaving. Muhoshin, who had been almost
drowsy, came awake. Having a blade that close to his neck
made him decidedly nervous...

   o/~ And are you beautiful, with hair o/~
   o/~ As black as raven wing, like her? o/~
   o/~ I think you'd have such raven hair o/~
   o/~ The way I dreamed you were o/~
   o/~ Miyabi... o/~ Ranma sang, his razor flourishes
becoming more and more artistic. 

    Muhoshin started. Miyabi? Must be a common name, but why
on Earth was Ranma singing like... 

   On pure instinct, he caught Ranma's hand just before the
razor could be drawn across his throat. Ranma gave a puzzled
frown, pushed Ryo back into the chair with his free hand,
and kept moving the razor towards his throat.

   Panicked, Muhoshin tried to keep the blade away... but
Saotome was stronger than him, and his other hand was
pinned...

   That questing other hand fell upon a lever of some sort,
set into the side of the chair. Maybe it lowered the chair
back...  the razor was only millimeters away, now, and Ranma
was smiling in a horribly vacant way....

   He pulled the lever, and was very surprised to have the
bottom of the chair give way, tumbling him down a metal
chute. He landed on something soft, and quickly surveyed the
room he had fallen into.

   It was the bakehouse of the Ucchan's, with a roaring
oven, a grill, and... what was he sitting on? 

   Hmm. A dead body. With it's throat cut. 

   Muhoshin looked at the meat ready for the okonomiyakis,
looked back at the body, and was suddenly very, very glad he
hadn't eaten lunch here. This has ceased to be novel.

   Blue fire flared, and he was gone. 

               [[[[[[[[[[[[[[(*)]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]

   Kaeri stumbled out of the light, her face dripping with
sweat. The locket was fighting her. She could feel it.
Trying to stop her. Leading her astray. 

   She had faltered, there in the Cafe Eternum. The words
had almost turned her aside. Almost. She had a purpose, and
the purpose was the Work, and the Work was her Family, and
her Family was All. This nightmare of 2096 would fall in
ruins, disappear like blown dust, vanish like a bad dream.
And Reiraku would fall with it.

   But she needed her bearings, needed to know where was
where and when was where....

   Her eyes opened. The dojo. She was in front of the dojo,
on a fine, sunny day.

   A voice, inside. Happosai? It had to be. This had to be
the start of that hell-timeline, where the demon was
wrenched from its pit by the horrible little pervert. Her
grip tighted on the staff, and the locket sputtered
slightly. He dies. She would wipe the future clean with his
foul little life.

   Silently, she walked inside. 

    "Ranma-kun, you disappoint me." 

   Kaeri's lip curled in disgust at the sound, her eyes
adjusting to the dim light. Kasumi, happy happy WORTHLESS
Kasumi.  Ranma had probably forgotten to put his laundry in
the basket, or something equally...

   A tanto, she was holding a tanto to his stomach, what... 

   "Mother disappointed me, too," said happy happy Kasumi as
she thrust the blade slowly into Ranma's stomach.

   The blood ran down the blade, Kaeri noted, and the blade
was connected to the handle, and the handle was connected to
Kasumi, who was watching Ranma stare at her in glassy,
helpless horror.  Kasumi smiled. And smiled.

   "I told her I was ready to run the household for her, but
she would just smile at me and say that I could run my own
house..." 

   "NO!" 

   Kasumi jerked around, sliding the tanto out of its
resting place in Ranma's belly. "Oh my. What are you?"

   Numb, feeling strangely ill, Kaeri advanced. "What are
you?"

   "I'm Kasumi Tendo. Oh dear. What happened to your face?" 

   "You're not Kasumi. You're not me." 

   Kasumi smiled reprovingly at her. "I certainly am
Kasumi... it looks like you are too, which is strange. Are
you from the future?"

   No, no, no, she would never have done that, never...find
out, she had to find out somehow..."What...what's the name
of the bear on my dresser?"

   "Mr. Buttons! Although he's on the bed, not the dresser." 

   Her teddy bear. She had named him that. And she hadn't
told anyone, not even Mommy. It was her special name for
him. Hers.

   "Are you here to warn me about the future?" 

   "Mother wasn't sick here, was she." It was a statement,
not a question.

   Kasumi laughed, the sound musical, bearing peace and
serenity.  "Mother was too healthy. She didn't understand
that it was our turn. We were meant to do the Work."

   She tried to grasp it. Tried. Mother had been healthy.
Would have lived. But Kasumi couldn't wait. 

   SHE couldn't wait. 

   It's not me, she told herself. Not me. 

   Yes it is, replied Mr. Buttons. You. 

   The smiling, gentle, happyhappyhappy Kasumi turned. "I'd
better finish Ranma-kun. Afterwards, I'll make some tea and
we can talk. Everyone else is asleep, so..."

   Filth. Obscene. Kasumi was a stain, you clean stains, you
wipe them out, you scrub them away...

  Kaeri leapt, the blade sliding from the end of her
outstretched staff. As if she expected it, Kasumi darted to
the left, the tanto held in a knife fighter's grip.

   "Damn you. You evil, sick _thing_. You had everything
important, and you KILLED her."

   "I had nothing! I was just another daughter. Someone to
do what they told! Now, now, I tell them everything...I run
the house, their days, their lives...me! US!"

   And the worst thing was that it was true. Us. She had
enjoyed being the head of the house. Overseeing things.
Giving orders.  Us. And it was all she had ever wanted to
do. Us. Both of them.

   Was she any different from Kasumi? If Mommy had lived,
would she have.... 

   Kasumi sensed her distraction and struck, knife thrusting
in short, vicious arcs. Kaeri barely had enough time to
bring the staff up to avoid being disemboweled.

   The battle was short, crazed, a nightmare of blind fury
and instinct. Kasumi kept clawing ever inward, fighting with
hands, tanto, and teeth, while Kaeri found herself
frantically trying to get her doppelganger at arm's reach,
where her staff would be effective.

   There was a bad moment for her, when Kasumi had gotten
her free hand around her neck, the smiling, empty face
leering into hers. She wrenched loose, Kasumi's fingernails
leaving bloody trails along her throat. It was only a matter
of time, time and focus, before one of them made a
mistake...

   The moment came. Kaeri's leg swept out to trip her
double, and with a strength born of desperation she pushed
Kasumi away. Her hand stabbed the button controlling the
needle, and she thrust towards the leg of the charging,
snarling, dreamy- eyed murderer... 

   "BAKUSAI TEN-SATSU!" 

   The first stab to piece the leg didn't do anything.
Neither did the second. The third was right on target.

   Kasumi's femur exploded as the needle hit the breaking
point, sending her crashing to the ground with a shriek of
agony. The tanto fell from her hand, skidding across the
floor to land at the base of some piled practice mats.

   Kaeri stepped forward. Time to finish it. 

   "Let's... oh my...talk about this...you won't really kill
me..."

   "The world will be a better place for it." 

   "Mr. Buttons! That's...ahhh...the name of the bear! The
teddy bear!"

   "I know." She raised the staff, positioning the blade.
"He had a green cap. Mother knitted it for us."

   "I'm you! You can't do it! You're killing yourself!" The
blade rose, a hungry gleam sparkling along the edge. "I'M
ONE OF YOU! I AM YOU!"

   "THEN THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE OF US!" 

   The staff came down. It made a noise like slicing a
watermelon, Kaeri thought, watching Kasumi's head fall to
the floor. The carvings on the staff flared, the red light
matching the gouts of blood flowing from the corpse in the
yellow dress.  And now, she had to kill Ranma.

   She raised the blade once more, watching him stare with a
sick, uncomprehending horror at her...

   Ranma? Why was she... 

   Kill him! Kill him! 

   Why was she about to kill... 

   KILL HIM! 

   She lowered the staff, horrified at the incredible urge
she had to chop him to bloody rags. 

   Ranma, poor Ranma looked worried. And he was bleeding,
too. She carefully tore off part of Kasumi's apron, and made
a makeshift bandage.

   "I'll call an ambulance, Ranma-kun, and they'll make you
all better. All better."

   He managed to make a low, mewling sound. The poor boy was
still scared, silly boy, nothing to fear, nothing at all.

   "Kasumi can't hurt you, Ranma-kun. She's all better, and
I won't hurt you. See?" Picking the head up by the long,
flowing hair, she held it up to him.

   Ranma made gurgling noises. Kasumi's head smiled at him,
and dripped.

   Patting him on the shoulder, she set it on top of the
corpse's apron and watched the blood congeal for a few
minutes. Then she went to summon help.

   The phone was lying on the floor of the living room,
carelessly dropped. The dispatcher assured her that an
ambulance would be sent, and he seemed to know what he was
talking about.  Ranma would be fine, just fine.

   The naughty, naughty locket wasn't taking her to the
right place.

   "Now, listen," she said in her best cheerful-but-firm
voice. "You will take me to this 2096 dimension, the one
Reiraku is from. You will put me in a position to kill
Happosai before he can kill them all, kill them with the
thing, the demon. You will do this and YOU WILL NOT DRAG ME
THROUGH THIS AGAIN! DAMN YOU!"  And the monsters jumped out
from the walls and the Kasumis scrubbed and hummed and
whistled and danced without heads and the staff howled and
spun and cleansed....

   Above, a sick and dizzy Akane awoke to the sound of
shrieking and crashing. As she unsteadily descended the
stairs, an eruption of blue light blinded her for a second. 

   She noticed the near-total destruction of the living room
almost immediately. She found the dojo only seconds before
the ambulance arrived, and for a minute the paramedics were
worried that the sedative wouldn't kick in. 

               [[[[[[[[[[[[[[(*)]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]

   Kasumi was in a daze. 

   Having your mother's ghost telling you she hates you does
that. 

   Couldn't hide in her room forever.  Everyone would worry. 
Couldn't have people worry; it would give them wrinkle
lines. 

   But she really didn't know what to do.  This was beyond
her experience.  She was really confused. 

   Having your niece from another universe screaming for her
father in the throes of orgasm does that. 

   Kasumi buried her head under a pillow.

   So what was she to do?

   This was the sort of thing not covered in the Housewife's
Little Handbook.  Somehow, they seemed to have missed the
section on this kind of thing.  She couldn't think of
anything about daughters loving their fathers
inappropriately.  Poo.  Maybe there was something else she
could find. 

   She mentally flipped through the little handbook. 
Nothing. There MUST be something she could do.  After all,
she had to keep the family together. 

   Together.

   Right.  Family together.  If they wanted to show their
togetherness like that, who was she to say no? 

   Still, it bothered her.  Something should be done. 
Something she could do.  She mentally flipped through her
little Housewife's Handbook for things to do when something
was beyond comprehension. 

   Maybe chopping a few vegetables might help.  Yes, that's
right.  Those nice long sharp knives in the kitchen.  They'd
help her feel better.  After all, chopping things always DID
help her a lot.  And it was almost time for lunch.  Maybe
cooking would help her aching head.  Yes, perhaps that was
what she needed, time to think?  Yes.  Now what to make...? 

   Ah.  Cold sliced pork for lunch might do nicely.

                          * * * * *

   Miyabi sighed as she headed down to lunch.  After all the
recent chaos, she realized, it was even more important to
make sure that her parents got together. 

   Ranma HAD to marry Akane, if Miyabi's reality was to come
about.  And if it didn't... 

   Well, she _really_ hoped she wouldn't be around to see if
a future with that (%*#@(*%# Ratiko could happen in this
reality. 

   She silently admonished herself for cursing, and for
thinking such bad thoughts as that about the little ratbat. 
After all, if her plan worked, she would never ever have to
see that little piece of excrement again.  She smiled as she
headed into the dining room. 

   There was everyone.  Daddy.  Mum.  Grandpa Soun, and
Grandpa Genma. And of course, Auntie Nabiki was probably out
taking perverse pleasure in the Art of the Deal.  Wait,
where was Auntie Kasumi?  Oh there she was, just coming in
from the kitchen. 

   Miyabi smiled to herself.  This was such a nice pleasant
family gathering.  She hoped there would be more of them in
the future.  Mentally, she smacked herself.  Of COURSE there
would be more of them! After all, her tapes, the ones she
was going to send to all Ranma's fiancees, were going to
help show everyone that Ranma really DID love Akane.  And
they would all give up and let her parents get together like
destiny always meant it to be.  It'd work, it had to work,
so that everyone could have a happy sappy warm and fuzzy
ending.  After all, love conquers all, right? 

   She giggled to herself.  Kasumi looked at her curiously.

   It looked like a good lunch.  Then again, Kasumi always
made good lunches.  It was Auntie Kasumi, after all.  And
that cold sliced pork looked absolutely delicious.  Even if
there wasn't that much pork on the plate. 

   Wait, why was Auntie giving her those strange looks? 
Miyabi frowned, then shrugged to herself.  Kasumi hadn't
been feeling well lately after all... 

   Miyabi smiled at Kasumi.  "It looks delicious, Auntie!" 

   Kasumi absentmindedly smiled, a strange and vacant smile
empty of any true cheerfulness. 

   Miyabi looked down at the table and sighed.  Then she
smiled as she reached out for several choice bits of pork
and veggies with her chopsticks.  Maybe Auntie Kasumi would
feel better soon.  Check that, definitely feel better soon. 
After all, a lot of Auntie Kasumi's troubles would be gone
once she got the tapes to Ranma's other fiancees. 

   Miyabi paused.  She picked up a bit of pork with her
chopsticks and put it in her mouth, chewing thoughtfully. 

   Hmm.  How was she going to deliver those tapes to the
other fiancees?  Mail?  Overnight delivery?  UPS?  Carrier
Pigeon? 

   Ah well, she was sure she could find something. 

   You know, the pork was pretty tasty.  Thin, smooth,
tender...  not tough at all.  Must have been quite a young
pig. 

   Wait, what was that horrible bawling sound?

   Miyabi blinked, and looked around.  Why was Grandpa Soun
screaming and tearing his hair out?  Oh no, Daddy's chokin'
on something...  Oh good.  Mum's helping him out.  Wait, why
is Mum hitting him?  Why is she screaming "PERVERT!!!!"? 

   Miyabi slowly grew aware of Kasumi's stare.  "What?"

   Kasumi said, without a trace of ingenuity in her voice,
"I said, I hope you and Ranma have been using protection. 
You did, didn't you?" 

   Miyabi blinked, then realized with a sinking feeling what
Kasumi had done with that one question. 

   Kasumi had destroyed all her plans and hopes, and trod
on them with dainty little slippers. 

                          * * * * *

   Kasumi didn't understand why Miyabi and Ranma were quite
vocally denying it all.  After all, there was nothing wrong
with closeness between father and daughter, was there?  Even
if, she had to admit, it bothered her a little. 

   She frowned a little.  Her harmony was disturbed.  She
needed a nap.

   But she had to make sure that Ranma and Miyabi understood
that, if they couldn't abstain, they really should be
practicing safe sex.  After all, if Ranma had another child
through his daughter, Kasumi thought, she'd never be sure
whether to call the child a nephew or a grand-nephew, or a
nephew once-removed.  Or a niece, or a grand-niece or... 

   "But Auntie! Grandpa! Grandpa!  We REALLY didn't do
anything!" 

   "See, you uncute tomboy?  Stop doing that!"

   "PERVERT!  BAKA!  With OUR DAUGHTER?! *WHAM*"

   "WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!"

   This was going to give her a migraine if the chaos didn't
stop. 

   Kasumi quietly *AHEMED*.

   Everyone stopped and looked at her.

   Kasumi gave her friendliest smile.  "Now, Miyabi,
Ranma...  it's all right to love.  Just be sure you do it
safely." 

   Ranma turned quite red in the face.  "I DIDN'T DO
NOTHIN'!!!"  Goodness, that vein in his head didn't look
good at all.  She smiled warmly at him, hoping to get Ranma
to calm down. 

   Miyabi put her head in her hands.  Then suddenly, she
ran out of the room.

   Kasumi blinked.  She looked at everyone else, then walked
over to her father.  "Now, now, father..." 

   Miyabi came running back into the room, holding a few
audio tapes.  "See?  This will show you all what happened!" 

   Everyone didn't understand, Kasumi realized.  Well,
except herself. 

   Kasumi smiled.  "It was nice of you to record your love
and share it with us, Miyabi." 

   Kasumi blinked.  She really didn't understand why
everyone was making such a big fuss over such a perfectly
wonderful thing. 

   Maybe she really should go take that nap now.

                          * * * * *

   Miyabi sulked outside the Tendo dojo.  Beside her was a
large trash can. 

   She had played the tapes for everyone.  She had to.  She
explained how she was trying to make sure her parents got
together.  She explained how she had spliced Ranma's words
together using Nabiki's audio equipment, and pretended she
was Akane and make everyone think that Ranma and Akane were
really in love.  And she had explained how she was trying to
scare off the other fiancees using the tapes, hoping to make
them give up. 

   Genma and Soun were alternately bemoaning how deceitful
Miyabi's act was and berating each other for not thinking of
it themselves.  But what made Miyabi's heart ache the most
was the sight of Ranma and Akane looking everywhere except
at each other. 

   It wasn't much condolence that Kasumi had apologized,
Miyabi thought.

   After all, her parents were no longer speaking to her.

   Leaving her in this strange reality, one that was nothing
like the warm and comfortable reality she had grown up in,
where everyone loved each other and were very happy and
mushy and sappy. 

   Here, nothing was like what she knew.  Not Dad-... no. 
Ranma didn't love Akane here, so she couldn't call him
Daddy.  Not Mu...  Akane either.  Everything was too
different.  Here, everyone hated each other. 

   Including her.

   She had never felt so alone in her life.

   Sighing, Miyabi looked at the matchbox she was holding. 
She took out a match, and lit it.  She stared at the burning
match briefly, then slowly put it in the trash can. 

   She watched as her papers, her tapes, her notes... 
everything she had ever used in trying to put her parents
tog-

   No.

   No, they weren't her parents.  They were two strangers
who she had thought she knew. 

   And quietly, as she watched her hopes and dreams go up in
smoke, Miyabi began to cry. 

               [[[[[[[[[[[[[[(*)]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]

   The locket was an odd device, with all sorts of quirks,
flaws, and annoying features. But, when you came right down
to it, operating it was pretty simple. You just pictured
something in your mind, summoned your will, and commanded
the locket to take you there.

   Sometimes, if the locket picked up especially strong
images, it would ignore the bits about "will" and "command",
and just take you places.

   Sometimes, if another mind nearby was thinking strongly,
the locket would attempt to please both people. And
inevitably fail. 

   Sometimes, when other strong magic was nearby, the locket
would be affected. 

   Sometimes, if the mental processes of the user were
incredibly strong and, at the same time, completely
uncontrolled... the locket would have a hard time stopping.

   In the terribly long and terribly confusing and
annoyingly circular history of the locket, these conditions
have only twice occurred all at once.

* * *

   KaesumiiiiiiTENDOKaseri was her name and the world was
blackgreyred and the seas were blood and the blood came in
seas and the foes were legion and all of them were her, her,
her with her face and hands stained redcrimson though she
tried to wash them off but IT WOULDN'T COME CLEAN WHY WON'T
THEY COME CLEAN still still still there was work that needed
doing, yes yes yes, mustn't forget or they're dead why did
they did I kill them maybe just possibly it seems so NOT ME
NOT NOT NOT NOT kill them no no no KILL THEM no I won't KILL
THEM-

   She ran down down down the maze of twisting walls that
bled bright red, and there was something following her. You
don't want to turn, she knew, you don't want to turn and
look because it will be something you really verymuch don't
want to see, no no no. But she looked anyway, and, of
course, it was the Dead running behind her. 

   She took a left at the pile of charred sisters, and
brushed blue fire from the sleeve of her apron as she walked
through the dojo. The things with claws and fangs left off
gnawing a femur and chased her across the kitchen until she
dived into a pool of cool light, and surfaced in a black
cistern somewhere under the bones of the earth. For a little
over a year she trod water and tried to stop thinking,
but the chittering grew louder and louder and the grub-white
hands began pulling her under, so she left.

   The sun shone red and guttering, and the hill she strode
upon began to burn. Ranma was already gone, poor boy, and
the red in his shirt turned alive as flames began to engulf
the body.  Weaponsfire in the distance, screams and screams
and screams and turquoise flame....

   The box was closing in on her, so she tore her way out
with her good good staff, and flung the cardboard pieces
across the alley. A vagrant looked up, startled out of her
repose.

   "Shh," said KaTendoMiRi, "go back to sleep, Nabiki-chan." 

   Nabiki took a long pull from the bottle of sake, and fell
back into a world far away from rotting clothing and
streetdeath. Kaersumi began to stumble away, away, not nice
to watch Nabiki-chan drink and decay....

   So she stumbled into a warehouse, where Akari's corpse
dangled from a gaff hook set in the ceiling, and drew a map
in the pooling blood to find her way. After a while the map
was true, and when the halo of blue cleared she was in the
City of Dead Names.

   The streets were paved with skulls, and they had raised
the spires with the bones of ancestors. But it was empty,
and she wandered for a time down the boulevards and
fountains, past the banks of lilies, under bridges of cold
iron. In time the wind began to tell her things, but then it
occured to her that wind couldn't talk. So she was probably
in the wrong place, she reasoned, and turned right out the
Gate of Sun's Exit. 

   She walked through the train and found her seat, and
watched Muhoshin-san and Ryouga play at cards. The maggots
began to catch up with the train, and soon her car would be
consumed... 

   ...Muhoshin-san?... 

   So she began to get up and.... 

    ...what? Where...who.... 

   She walked out the aisle and up the stairs as Akane's
screams mingled with the ratatatatat of gunfire...

   ...no, it's not like this, who am I..... 

   of gunfire, but she was proof against bullets, and would
turn and sweep them... 

   ..I am... 

   sweep them and their... 

   Kae.. 

   and their owners... 

   Kaeri. 

   For the last damn time, 2096. 

   Blue fire exploded, and died away to reveal a graveyard.
Out of an odd compulsion, she looked at the nearest
tombstone.

   SAOTOME RANMA - 1980-1996

   "No," she said. "Back. You know when." 

   The stone grew brighter, and the wear of years faded, and
the grass grew shorter.

   And for the blink of an eye, Akane's face, wearing more
pain and grief than anyone could ever comprehend. Anyone but
her. 

   The gravestone vanished, and Kaeri smiled. Maybe they
would bury Happosai here, after she got done with him.

   The thought comforted her as she fell into a black sleep. 

               [[[[[[[[[[[[[[(*)]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]

   This... now this was puzzling. 

   He didn't know how, he didn't know why, but Ryo Muhoshin
found himself standing deep within a majestic city made
entirely of crystals. 

   Muhoshin looked around at the people walking by.  They
seemed rather pleasantly happy.   It was all utterly
disgusting to him.

   There was sickening pleasantness and happiness was
everywhere, in the air, in the people, in the clouds above,
in the crystals... 

   The crystals?
 
   He looked around again.

   Everywhere he looked, breaking points.  In every square
meter of the place, a nice loud breaking point shone to his
senses.

   The pitfalls of making a city made of crystal, he mused.

   The reason he was here suddenly became clear.

   Recreation.

   "Heheheh."

   He cracked his knuckles, strolled up to a crystal tower,
then touched it.

   The tower cracked, then shattered in an impressive
explosion that sent crystal bits everywhere and happy
civilians screaming in terror.

   Muhoshin waded through the rubble, a maniacally happy
look on his face.  That, he thought, was quite a rush.  He
took off in a mad dash down the street, striking breaking
points as he went, resulting in a wave of crystal
destruction following his heels.  He sprang into the air,
umbrella twirling in a blur, then launched a spray of
ki projectiles aimed at breaking points across his field of
vision.

   Buildings, streets, all shattered in one thunderous
crescendo as the citizens of this crystal city ran screaming,
a song of mayhem that lifted Muhoshin's soul. Only killing
Ryouga made him feel as good as this.

   He _grinned_.

   "Stop!"

   Muhoshin raised an eyebrow and turned around.  In a
menacing (well, a good attempt to be menacing) pose, a girl
with pink hair tied in two ponytails stood.

   "What are you doing?!"

   "Having fun," he mumbled.

   "You're destroying the city!" 

   "Mm-hm." 

   "You take pleasure in destroying our paradise?  In the
name of the Moon, I will punish you!" 

   "You must be kidding." 

   AN HOUR LATER... 

   Muhoshin took a deep breath, then sighed happily.  Those
Sailor girls, they were quite a workout.  He hadn't beaten
them, but they didn't touch him either. 

   He did, however, manage to destroy most of the city
before they chased him away to the barren outskirts.  At the
moment, he was taking refuge behind a boulder and catching
his breath.

   "Hold it right there, mister!" 

   He blinked.

   Surrounding him, flying in the sky, a squadron of Sailor
Warriors circled.

   "Well, this's ALL been fun, but I do think I'll be
running now," said Muhoshin.

   "No you won-"

   "BAKUSAI TEN-KETSU!"

   Rocks, dirt, and a massive cloud of dust burst from where
he stabbed the crystal earth, obscuring him from view
entirely.  Within the clouds there was a brief flicker of
blue followed by a hollow roaring sound.

   The Sailor Warriors struck with fire, ice and lightning,
but once the cloud dissipated the only thing they saw was
the crater at the center of the explosion, a tiny speck of
blue fire that quickly disappeared, and mocking laughter
drifting in the wind.

               [[[[[[[[[[[[[[(*)]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]

   Ryo Saotome & company found themselves in a modestly
furnished apartment.  Ryo and Ishido looked around in
surprise.  Compared to all the places they'd been recently,
something this normal was like being on another planet. 

   "Where are we?" Ishido asked. Reiko took off her jacket
and hung it on a coat peg.

    "I told you, home." she said. "Specifically, my home.
You didn't think I spent all my time at the Cafe, did you?
Do you want some tea?" the Guide vanished into the kitchen.
Ryo followed her.

    "Wait a second." he said, as Reiko put a kettle on to
boil.  "What do you mean, your home?"

    "This is my apartment. It's one of the few places we
could get to without having to worry about the compass
freezing up.  Otherwise, we'd have to go back to the Cafe
and I don't think Ishido would be very welcome there."

    "Can I ask why we're here, instead of out tracking down
Kaeri?" Ryo frowned.

   "Look, I explained that already. Right now,
cross-dimensional travel is not a viable option until the
compass recalibrates itself. Thanks to our emergency
departure from Iceplanet, we've got to wait at least 30
hours before we can go anywhere, otherwise the compass will
become even more out of sync with the multiverse until
things are so screwed up that it would be nothing more than
a useless chunk of metal."

   "But Kaeri--" 

   "Let me worry about finding Kaeri." Reiko snapped. "It's
partially my fault anyway that we're stuck. If worse comes
to worst, we'll go back to the Cafe and I'll talk to my
superiors."

   "Why not now?" Ryo demanded. Reiko sighed in
exasperation.

   "Because the Save the Universe Foundation assigned me to
your case, and it's now MY problem. I can't go to them until
I've exhausted every other solution." She pulled the compass
from her pocket and consulted it.  "Yep, I thought so. We
couldn't get to the Cafe now, even if we tried. The
shockwave is still moving." She turned the face to Ryo. The
young dimension hopper could now clearly see that where one
of the points of the compass had previously said "Cafe,"
there was nothing.

   The kettle began to whistle. 

                          * * * * *

    Night fell over this version of Tokyo. Ryo, Rat and
Ishido were camped out in Reiko's living room. Of the three,
only Ryo was still awake. This was partially due to his
contemplation of his current situation, but mostly due to
the fact that Ratiko and Ishido both snored. Loudly.

    After a few moments, Ryo couldn't take anymore and
decided to go for a walk. He was about to leave, when he
heard Reiko's bedroom door open. He quickly resumed his
place on the floor and assumed a position suggesting deep
sleep.

    Through half closed lids he saw Reiko, fully dressed,
come into the living room, look them over, grab her jacket
and quietly leave the apartment. Ryo silently counted to
thirty, then stood up and exited the apartment himself,
following the guide.
     
    Ryo followed Reiko, keeping to the rooftops of the
neighborhood. She walked for about half a mile before coming
to the local cemetery. Ryo leaped from his perch and followed
Reiko. 

    He found her kneeling in front of a marker. The full
moon shone brightly, casting everything in near perfect
light. Ryo cautiously crept towards her, careful not to make
a sound. 

    His eyes widened in surprise when he got close enough to
read the name on the marker.

   KUONJI UKYOU

   "Well, come on, Ryo." Reiko said without looking up.
"You've come this far."

    As if in a trance, Ryo stepped from his hiding place and
knelt, dumfounded next to Reiko. She looked over at him,
tears in the corner of her eyes.

   "Now you see why I was given your case." she said. 

   The two of them went to a small all-night coffee shop
where Reiko proceeded to spill her guts.

   She was once a cop from a world where Ukyou had died from
a hithertofore unknown disease. It was later revealed that
the "disease"  was a malignant Ki-Spirit that fed on all of
Ukyou's hate and prejudices.  The Ki-Spirit had then
decided to go after Ranma, but was defeated by him. Ranma
then attempted to bring Ukyou back from the dead but had
failed. Ukyou hadn't wanted to come back.

   "She told Ranma that it would cause too many problems
for all of them.  Even if the police left them alone, there
was still the matter of their relationship." Reiko
explained. "Something like that would put a serious strain
on her relationship with Ranma and Akane. So she gave them
her blessing and went on to...wherever she went."

   "And how did you get involved in this?" Ryo asked. 

   "The Ki-Spirit had decided to attack Ranma by making him
think that Ukyou had come back from the dead. My partner and
I were put in charge of the investigation when Ranma was
arrested for grave-robbing.  Anyway, while Ranma was dealing
with the Ki-Spirit in the astral plane trying to get Ukyou's
soul back, Akane and I were kept busy trying to find Ukyou's
body, which it had moved just before it decided to attack
Ranma."

   "So, this is where it all happened." Ryo said. "Wow.
You know, back in the other reality, where Childra and
Miyabi are, it's been kind of hard to see Dad falling for
Akane, but at least here I can see that he does really care
about Mom. It's kind of comforting."

   Reiko smiled. "Yeah. But this isn't my home reality,
either."

   "What?" 

   "It's one where things happened in a similar way, but
with a few major differences. I don't have a counterpart
here, for example. And in this reality, Ukyou died from the
disease, but it wasn't a Ki-Spirit in disguise. It was
closest thing I could find to my real home."

   "So why aren't you based there? Why here?" 

   Reiko sighed and looked out the window. "One of the main
problems with working for the Save the Universe Foundation
is the recruitment policy. In order to prevent a lot of
questions, you have to fake your own death and set up shop
in another reality.  Or, in my case, have your death set up
for you."

   Ryo stared silently at her, realizing how lonely the young
woman actually was. He tried to imagine the solitude of the
job.  Sure, you got to meet a fascinating cross-section of
the inhabitants of space and time, but what good was it when
you had to come home to an empty apartment and a place where
you see people with faces and names that you know, but they
don't know you. He briefly thought about the other Ryo he
had met at the Cafe. Was he to share Reiko's fate? 

   "You can never go home again, Ryo." she said quietly. Ryo
opened his mouth to say something, but was cut off by the
sound of a small bell ringing. Reiko reached into her pocket
and consulted the compass. Her expression brightened. 

   "Great!" she said cheerfully. "The shockwave has
stabilized."

   "Does that mean we can leave?" Ryo asked. 

   Reiko nodded. "Things have evened out enough that we can
travel without any real danger. In fact," she fiddled with
the rotating dial on the compass. "Perfect! I've found
Kaeri. And even better news. She hasn't moved from her
current location.  Let's get back to my place and get the
other two."

   Reiko got out of the booth and went to the register to
pay the check.  Ryo watched her silently, touched by what
she'd sacrificed.  He hoped that he'd never have to do the
same.

               [[[[[[[[[[[[[[(*)]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]

   Kaeri woke, cold and stiff, at the base of a gravestone. 

   Shaking off the morning dew, she glanced fearfully at the
name engraved on the headstone. A giggle of relief emerged
as she realized it was someone she didn't know.

   It hurt to stand, and her joints popped slightly, the
noise audible even over her thin laughter. Was she still
chuckling? It probably wasn't proper to be doing that in a
cemetery, and Kaeri hoped she would stop soon.

   She had had such terrible nightmares, and she wasn't sure
when she had fallen asleep.

   Gingerly, she looked down at herself, straightened the
ragged apron, and froze. In a threadbare buttonhole, a pale
white lily was stuck.

   ...and she walked through the City of Dead Names, along
the court, up the avenues, her shoes clacking on the
pave-skulls, and the spires rose above her as she strode on,
past the frost- encrusted black fountains, past the bridges
of cold iron, pausing by a bank of chalk-while lilies to
pluck one as the moon shone down, cold and sterile....

   But that had been a dream. A delusion. It had to have
been, didn't it?

   The lily remained in her buttonhole, solid, undeniably
real.

   Her laughter peaked, faded, and died. It had all been
real.  She had lost her grip on things, and the locket had
spun her nightmares into flesh. 

   She shivered slightly. Any of her 'delusions' could have
easily killed her. She couldn't afford to go ma... to go
insan...  to...

   Kaeri hugged herself tightly, whimpering slightly. She
was not losing her mind. She was sane. Despite it all, she
was sane. It was all too terribly important to break down in
a mewling heap, too important to run back to Mommy's lap.
All that mattered was the Work and the Work was her Family
and, God but it hurt, it hurt...

   She screamed, a long, shrill, drawn-out shriek of
despair.

   And as the echos faded, she half ran, half stumbled out
of the graveyard. Happosai. His fault, his and Kasumi's.
Kill them.

                          * * * * *

   She slipped though the house like a ghost. 

   Soun was playing shogi. Akane and Ranma were fighting. 
Nabiki was lounging. None of them knew that their lives were
about to be shattered. Blind, blind, blind and innocent.

   But she, she was the Adult, the Eyes, the Watcher, the
Angel of Mercy and Death. And she walked without noise
through the halls. 

   Kasumi turned a corner, and Kaeri smiled at her, the
empty bliss rising though her veins. As the worthless
housekeeper opened her mouth to say something, the good
staff whistled through the air to land with a sharp crack
against her skull. Kasumi fell, crumpling like a puppet with
cut strings, and did not move.

   Stepping over the fallen traitor, she walked the
remaining feet to Happosai's room, the nest of the viper.

   It was a place of filth and disorder. Kaeri marveled
that she hadn't seen the corruption in the squalor before.
Kasumi had been a blind, weak, pathetic girl. Traitor!
Cleanse!

   And in the middle of it all was Happosai, squatting
amidst a pile of soiled clothing, intently studying a book.
He didn't even look up as she entered.

   "Kasumi? Is that you, m'girl?" asked the filth, not even
looking up. 

   "Yes, Master Happosai," she replied calmly, euphoria
filling her soul. "I'm here to clean." 

   "Ah, good, good, just don't bother me." 

   "I won't," she said sweetly, raising the blade. 

                          * * * * *

   She brought the blade down. Happosai turned, far too
late, and the staff sliced cleanly through his neck. The
runes erupted with crimson energy, blazing, glowing, sending
purifying fire sweeping across the defiled room...

                          * * * * *

   She brought the blade down. Happosai turned with
unnatural speed, knocking the staff aside with jaguarlike
force. A withered hand slammed into her throat, snapping her
neck instantly... 

                          * * * * *

   The runes erupted with crimson energy, blazing, glowing,
sending purifying fire sweeping across the defiled room. And
then she split.

   She was two, she was one, she was floating above it all,
she was dying in a pile of dirty undergarments and
triumphant in the midst of an inferno, and suddenly she
KNEW.

   She hadn't changed anything. 

   Unlike her home reality, which her actions had rewritten,
the timelines of this world could not be destroyed. As she
had dropped the blade, the lines had split.

   In one, the new one, she killed Happosai. 

   In the other, the old one, Happosai lived and she died. 

   Both still existed. 

   She hadn't changed anything. 

   Last time she had saved them all. This time she couldn't. 
Ranma would die in flames, and Akane would kill herself, and
Nabiki die in an explosion, and Daddy die broken and alone.

   She hadn't changed anything. 

   With a howl, Kaeri returned to the timeline and died, her
throat crushed, choking on blood and vomit.

   With a howl, Kaeri returned to the timeline and collapsed
in enraged, despairing tears, Happosai's corpse burning
merrily in the dying flames.

               [[[[[[[[[[[[[[(*)]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]

   Energies erupted, and the forms of four apprehensive
reality jumpers flashed into being.

   Ryo rapidly flashed a look around, sliding into a
fighting stance. Hallway in the Tendo home, right... picture
frame on wall, doors.... 

   He heard Ishido's snarl of alarm a split second before he
noticed the apron-clad figure lying crumpled on the floor. 

   His instincts as a healer took over, and he quickly knelt
to have a look at her. She might be insane, but that didn't
mean she didn't deserve... 

   Ryo swore. 

   Craning his head, Ratiko shot him a timid look. "What's
wrong?  Doesn't she have the locket? She's got it, right?" 

   His fingers carefully probed the swollen, blue-purple
lump on her forehead. "This isn't Kaeri. There's no scars,
and the fingers are all here." 

   "Then who's that?" Rat asked, voice rising shrilly. 

   "Kasumi." She had what looked like a mild concussion; 
hard to tell without equipment. Still, her breathing was
smooth and regular. "She should be okay. We should probably
get her a doctor, though." 

   Reiko cleared her throat. "If Miss Tendo isn't in any
danger, perhaps you should find the person you're after?
Before she jumps out again?"

   "She's right!" Rat yipped eagerly. "She hurt poor,
innocent Grandmother Kasumi! We should stop her! Before she,
uh, hurts anyone else!"

   Yeah, Ryo thought blackly, like you. Still, they had a
point.

   "Right," he said, standing. "Kaeri said something about
killing Happosai. We should probably check his room first."

   The others made agreeable noises, and followed him down
the hall.

                          * * * * *

   Failure. 

   Moving figures, somewhere. 

   "Is that her?" 

   "Yeah. That's... oh. Oh, damn. I think this is Happosai." 

   "Gack... what'd she DO to him, burn him?" 

   Happosai? Dead. Alive. Deadalive. 

   "Ryo... she's giggling at us...." 

   "I don't think it's at us, Ishido." 

    Ish-ieeee-dooo.... fit the sounds together, dip them in
blood and bone, watch the names become moving shapes.....

   "Kaeri? It's me, Ryo... are you okay?" 

   Ryo? Muhoshin-san? 

   "Kaeri?" 

   No, no, no, not Muhoshin-san. Other one, other one,
doctornice and polite and unhelpful.

   "Kaeri, can you hear me?" 

   No, let him go away. Him and the terrible things. 

   "go... away..." 

   "Kaeri, do you have the locket?" 

   Locket, ah, locket, blueflame, death, AKANENONONONONO

   "Hey! You'll hurt yourself! Stop that!" 

   Blood, bone, blessed sleep.... 

   "Ish, give me a hand here!" 

   "If she wants to kill herself, let her." 

   "Rat, shut up." 

   Not use struggling, she knew that now. No use at all. 
Hopeless. Failure.

   "Man, now she's crying. This is creeping me out." 

   "She's very sick, Ish." 

   "Tell me something I don't know." 

   "Kaeri? Can you give me the locket? Please?" 

   It didn't matter. She saw that now. He'd learn that too,
eventually. It didn't matter.

   Move hand, open chain.... 

   "I'll be. She actually gave you it." 

   "Thank you, Kaeri. We're all going home now, okay?" 

   Home. Burn, ashes, corpses, rubble, akanenabikidaddyno

   "Hey... hey, it's okay..." 

   "Why is she screaming? What'd you do?" 

   "I don't know! Reiko, thanks for the... hey, where'd she
go?"

   "Probably rode off into the sunset on a white horse. Can

we go home now?" 

   Death, gone, loss, pain, blueflame... 

               [[[[[[[[[[[[[[(*)]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]

   Miyabi mulled.  Atop the roof of the Tendo Home, she
mulled as her father did many times before her, and it was a
mull of equal depth as any mull sessions Ranma had ever
embarked upon.

   Her sulk also accomplished for Miyabi what Ranma's did
for him: Absolutely nothing.

   She sighed again, one of a dozen melancholy sighs that
evening, wallowing in melancholy.  The overcast sunset was
all too appropriate for her mood. 

   What else, she wondered, could happen now? 

   As if to answer, a fiery blue light began to glow from
the back yard. 

   Must be them, she thought.  Miyabi wondered if everything
was FINALLY settled so that she could just GO HOME. 

   If, of course, she still had a home to go to.
The glowing stopped, followed by a startled yelp and a splash. 

   "Might be Ryo," she grumbled.  "Serves him right if he
fell in the pond." 

   "Aargh!  Why me?!" 

   Mm-hm.  It was Ryo. 

   She rose and leaped easily to the grounds below. 

   Seeing a grumbling and soggy Ryo stepping out of the pond
brought a slight smile to her face.  Ishido was walking
away, grumbling something about finding Childra, shaking off
a wet leg.

   She was somewhat puzzled at the fact that they were all
in black suits.  There was even an empty spare half-soaked in 
the pond. 

   Then there was the bat that was flying about looking
dazed, baffled, and lost. 

   Bat? 

   "EEEK!"  With a lightning fast punch she sent the thing
out of the backyard and into the horizon.

   "EEK!" 

   Miyabi frowned.  That wasn't her.  She finally looked at
Kasumi, who wasn't looking quite right herself.

   "Auntie Kasumi?" 

   Kasumi flinched at the sound of her name and started
screaming incoherently, shuddering and with tears in her
eyes.  Then looked at her surroundings and curled up into a
ball on the ground, covering her face with her hands. 

   "A-auntie?" 

   "Um, Miyabi," said Ryo, looking apprehensive.  "She's... 
not what you think she is." 

   Miyabi glared at Ryo, then grabbed him by his soggy
shirt. "What did you do to her?" she hissed. 

   He met her gaze without a flinch, returning a look of
extreme seriousness that was strong enough to halt even her
temper.  "Don't even blame me for this.  I'll explain later. 
Really." 

   "Oh my!" 

   Ryo winced.  Miyabi turned around. 

   Kasumi stood at the porch doorway... looking at Kasumi,
curled up in a ball in the backyard, her face frozen in
shock.  Miyabi looked from one Kasumi to the other in
general confusion, then returned to glaring at Ryo.

   "You'd _better_ explain this later." 

   "Just... dammit," Ryo looked from Kasumi to Kasumi and
frowned.  "Just get Kasumi back into the house, okay?" 

   "Which one?!" 

   "The one in the doorway," hissed Ryo.  "Go.  We'll talk
about it later, okay?" 

                          * * * * *

   A few minutes later, after she ushered Kasumi back into
the house and assured her that everything was, for the
moment, okay, Miyabi headed upstairs to look for Ryo and
that other Kasumi.

   She eventually found them in the guest room, waiting
quietly. 'Kasumi' was lying on a futon, again curled up, but
this time with eyes closed.  She tossed and turned, her
expression troubled.

   "She's asleep," said Ryo quietly.  He neglected to tell
her he'd used pressure points to induce the sleep,
suspecting that she'd just accuse him of going for a cheap
feel.

   "Who is she?" asked Miyabi.  "I mean, she's Kas-" 

   Ryo covered her mouth with his hand.  In response, she
covered his mouth with her fist.

   "Ow!" 

   "What do you think you're doing, pervert?" hissed Miyabi,
keeping the volume low so as not to wake Kasumi. 

   "Don't say that name," hissed Ryo in return.  "Call her
'Kaeri', okay?"

   "Kaeri?" 

   "She doesn't like her old name.  She really doesn't like
it."

   "Well, why's Kaeri here?" She gave him an accusing glare. 
"You didn't accidentally drag her here, did you?"

   "No I didn't," he said angrily.  "Stop trying to blame
everything on me.  Just listen, okay?" 

   "This better be good, 'brother'." 

   "Look... she used the mirror to get here." 

   "The mirror?" 

   "The Nanban mirror.  From what she told me, she came from
a reality where everyone died." 

   "What?" 

   "And it, well..."  Ryo frowned.  "It left her badly
scarred too." 

   "I noticed the scars on her face, yeah." 

   "And she's missing a few fingers." 

   "What?!" 

   "Not so loud!  You wanna wake her up?" said Ryo. 

   Miyabi frowned and knelt by Kaeri's side.  "So why's she
like this now?" 

   "She tried to make everything right, I think.  It's hard
to tell. She just mumbles a lot now.  Anyway, I guess
whatever she did didn't work and she couldn't deal with it." 
Ryo sat on the floor and sighed.  "I hate seeing her like
this.  It just seems so...  wrong." 

   Miyabi gently brushed a few hairs from Kaeri's forehead. 
"Oh Auntie... what're we gonna do?" 

   "Actually, that's what I wanted to talk to you about," 
said Ryo. "Look, that other Ryo's still out there and I have
to stop him. Can you look after Kaeri-" 

   "Who?" 

   "Her," said Ryo, pointing to 'Kasumi'.  "She doesn't like
being called... by her old name, okay?  Call her Kaeri. 
Look after her, okay?  At least until I fix this mess with
Muhoshin?" 

   Miyabi looked thoughtfully at Kaeri, lips in a frown. 
"Yeah, I'll do it.  No problem." 

   "Thanks."  Ryo sat there for a moment more, then left. 
He felt a little uneasy about leaving Miyabi to care for
Kaeri, but he didn't think it was wise to have one of the
Tendo sisters tend for her.  It was bound to get ugly,
especially if Kasumi.... 

   Oh yeah. 

   "Hey, one more thing," said Ryo, poking his head back
into the room.

   "Yeah?" 

   "DON'T let Kaeri and... Kas... you know... don't let
those two see each other, okay?" 

   "Fine.  And Ryo?" 

   "Yeah?" 

   "Since when did you join the Men In Black?" 

   "Huh?" 

   "The suit.  What's with the suit?" 

   He frowned and looked down at his attire, fiddling with
his tie. 

   "This," he said, shaking the tie around, "is a short,
weird story.  You'd never believe me." 

   Suddenly, appearing from nowhere, Reiko appeared with a
large duffel bag and a backpack. 

   "Reiko-san?" asked Ryo, clearly puzzled.  "What're you
doing here?" 

   "You guys forgot your stuff," said Reiko.  "The pack is
Hibiki's, and all your clothes are in the duffel bag." 

   "Oh.  Er, thanks." 

   "No problem.  And keep the suits.  Seeya!" 

   -POP-

   "Do I really wanna know?" asked Miyabi. 

   "Transdimensional guide," said Ryo. 

   "Uh-huh." 

                          * * * * *

   Meanwhile, elsewhere, Childra and Ishido were stargazing
where Miyabi was mulling only a few minutes earlier.  Well,
the idea was to stargaze (Childra thought it was romantic,
and that was all Ishido needed to know) but in the end they
did what everyone else that ever sat on that roof did. 

   They mulled. 

   "So she didn't succeed, huh?" asked Childra. 

   He held her a little tighter.  "You're still here, so she
didn't succeed.  Right?" 

   Childra shrugged.  "Yes and no." 

   This caused Ishido to frown.  "Yes and no?" 

   "Temporal dynamics are weird.  She did and she didn't
succeed."

   "What do you mean?" 

   Childra pointed to one of the backyard trees.  "See that
tree there?  Now imagine the trunk was time.  And see where
the branches start splitting out?  In time, that'd be a
place where things happened differently.  In this branch she
tried and nothing happened.  Somewhere else out there, it
worked.  Get it?" 

   "How can you be sure?" 

   Childra frowned, ever so slightly.  "Tried it myself
once. Long story.  I'll tell you sometime later."  She felt
a little sympathy for Kaeri at that moment.  The realization
that one changed things, changed _important_ things, for the
better but can never enjoy the rewards was a bitter moment. 

   Ishido wasn't entirely sure of what she said, but as long
as she was in his arms, it didn't matter much to him. 

   "And by the way," said Childra, "what's with the suit?" 

   "Oh, this?"  Ishido frowned and tugged at his tie.  "I
forgot I was wearing it.  We had to go to some weird place,
and they wouldn't let us in unless we wore these." 

   "I like it.  You look cute in a suit." 

   "Really?" 

   She snuggled closer to him, and in a sultry voice, said,
"But you look even cuter out of it."

   It was a blissful, romantic moment. 

   Of course, it wasn't to last for long. 

   "Ishido!  You up there?!" yelled Ryo. 

   Ishido groaned.  Childra patted him on the arm. 

   "Now now, Lobis, go see what Mr. Hero wants." 

   "Me?" 

   "You. I-" Jansen sighed and smiled faintly. "I have a few
things to think about." [Like how I'm going to explain this
to Zannen when I get back.]

   Even had he been inclined to, it would have been
difficult for Ishido to resist her dimples and watery eyes. 
With just the slightest frown, he resigned himself to his
duty. 

   "I'm coming!" he yelled, and clambered down the side of
the building. 

                          * * * * *

   Ranma tried something new.  Instead of mulling on the
roof, he was mulling in his room.

   The topic of the night's mull was the ongoing situation
with the miscellaneous time-traveling wanderers.  They'd
been there for about two days now.  That wasn't so bad,
though. The Tendos had tolerated worse for longer, and two
of these were practically family.

   Things were certainly getting stranger since they'd
arrived. Having two grown up children from two different
mothers was a mixed blessing.  Previously unknown parental
pride had emerged in him, as well as fear of the future, or
futures. Which way was he destined?  If anything, the recent
events made clear that his future was wildly undecided and
anything was possible. 

   Shampoo and Cologne would NEVER stop pestering him if a
kid from a Ranma/Shampoo reality showed up, and he felt he'd
definitely have an anxiety attack if a child from him and
Kodachi decided to appear. 

   It was his lack of participation in it that was really
bugging him.  He was Ranma Saotome.  He was the one everyone
in Nerima challenged or went to ask for help.  He was the
guy that eventually solved The Big Problem. 

   Nobody was asking for help. 

   Not even his son, or his daughter. 

   At first it was nice to be left out of it, but now he was
starting to feel ignored, and he hated feeling ignored. 

   From the backyard, he could hear his future son calling
out, "Ishido!  You up there?!" 

   They were meeting again. 

   Without him. 

   "That's it," he muttered.  "I'm in." 

   He stood and walked off, intending to confront his son
about a few matters whether he liked it or not. 

                          * * * * *

   Ishido landed somewhat awkwardly at Ryo's side, skinning
his elbow in the process. 

   "What's going on?" he asked, somewhat irritated. 

   "I need your help." 

   "My help?" 

   "You were right, he was dangerous, and I've been trying
to stop him but I don't think I can do it on my own." 

   Ishido frowned.  "Oh, you mean Muhoshin." 

   "Right." 

   Ishido shook his head. 

   "He's WRONG, if any man ever was." 

                          * * * * *

   With a sigh, Childra looked down from the clouds.  It
didn't seem fair that there should be so many different
kinds of love, and each of them incompatible... Why couldn't
others feel as she did?  Why couldn't they understand that
no matter how much she wanted to, she COULDN'T choose, and
still remain herself? As she raised her hand to wipe the
tears from her face, she noticed Ryo Saotome and Ishido
walking away from the dojo. 

   She waved. 

   "Where you going, boy scout?" 

   Ryo paused hesitantly and looked up. "Out." 

   Three seconds, a flick of the bo and a somersault or two
later, Childra was standing next to the two boys.

   "Out?" she asked, running her hand through her hair. 
Ishido glanced at her elbow, then hid his own and colored
slightly. 

   "Of this universe. We have to-" 

   Childra raised her hand, stopping him mid-sentence. 
"Wherever you're off to, I'm going with you. You've caused
enough trouble on your own." She smirked. "Besides, I want
to-" 

   Ishido froze. 

   "You CAN'T go!"  He protested.  "What if-" 

   Jansen looked him in the eye.  "What if what?" 

   "Well, I, uh..." Ishido looked down. 

   "I'm going, Lobis." 

   "Count me in too." 

   The three looked up to see Ranma, standing at the
entrance to the backyard from the house, arms crossed and
looking as confident as ever.  Ishido and Childra weren't
terribly impressed.  Ryo, on the other hand, looked
horrified. 

   "Ah, dad, no.  I really don't think this is a good idea." 

   "You're facing a dangerous martial artist, right?  Look,
you know it and I know it, I'm the best martial artist
available right now and you need all the help you can get. 
Right?"

   "Maybe I do, dad, but I really don't... well...  Ryo
threw his hands up in the air.  "I REALLY don't need
anything else going wrong right now, okay?  It's bad enough
we're misplaced.  I don't want you getting lost too." 

   "But-" 

   "You gotta admit, he has a point," said Childra.  Ishido
seemed to look just a little envious. 

   "Aargh!  Fine, dad, fine.  Okay.  Come on, everybody." 
He held up the locket and it began to glow.  Childra,
Ishido, and Ranma stepped towards him as the glow became
brighter. 

   "Just please," said Ryo as the blue flame swirled around
them all, "try not to pick anyone else up along the way, and
don't get lost." 

   As they faded away, Ranma's last words echoed in the
wind. 

   "Hey, why are you guys wearing suits?" 

   The glowing column of blue flames began to shrink in
size, from the width of several people to that of a straw. 

   Just when it vanished, a small, battered bat landed
face-first into the ground.  It rose unsteadily, reminiscent
of a drunk and seasick sailor, and then tried to fly, which
was somewhat reminiscent of a drunk and seasick seagull. 

   A violent gust of wind took the unfortunate creature in
its grip and hurled it away into the night sky.

                          * * * * *

   THE NEXT DAY...

   What, Miyabi wondered, in the name of Kami-sama was going
on here?

   She looked at Kaeri.  So like Kasumi, but not Kasumi.

   She sighed, then smiled softly to herself.  Auntie
Kasumi, in any universe, was always sweet, loving, and
caring.  It seemed only fair that she return the favor. 

   Miyabi reached over, soaked a handcloth in a basin of
water, and mopped Kaeri's fevered brow.  Kaeri grew a little
calmer under her administrations, and Miyabi smiled softly
to herself.  Despite that horrendous scar, when sleeping
calmly, Miyabi could see, there was still that sweet Kasumi
in her, although she looked like she was having an
unpleasant dream. 

   Miyabi frowned.  What sort of things had Kasum... Kaeri
seen?  For some reason, she just couldn't picture anything
disturbing Kasumi's inner peace, and... 

   Gods, what kind of sicko would even THINK of harming
Kasumi?

   She reached over to gently brush a stray strand of hair
from Kaeri's brow. 

   "Don't worry, Auntie Kasumi," Miyabi murmured. "I won't
let anyone hurt you. Ever again." 

                          * * * * *

   Kasumi was happy, once again, in the kitchen..

   Fresh vegetables. Fresh meat.

   Just in time for Miyabi's friends, who were here
visiting.

   Well, they were her nieces and nephews, sort of, but it
was easier to think of them as Miyabi's friends.  After all,
she was hardly old enough to be anybody's aunt. 

   Kasumi sighed, and then looked over at Akane, who had
just entered the kitchen. 

   "Hi, oneechan!  What're you making?"

   "Breakfast.  Oh, Akane?  Can you please get Miyabi? 
Breakfast should be on the table in a few minutes." 

   "Okay, oneechan!"

   Kasumi smiled.  It was going to be a wonderful breakfast.

                          * * * * *

   Akane knocked on the door, cautiously.

   She knew she was still upset with Miyabi, but she had to
admit, a small part of her kind of... admired what she was
doing.  But still... Ranma...? 

   She cut that thought off, and opened the door.

   Miyabi started up, her eyes opening wide.  She
frantically began to wave her hands. "Mum! Wait, no,
don't..." 

   But Miyabi was too late.

   Akane's eyes went to the figure in bed, widening in
horrified fascination.  It... it was Kasumi... wasn't it? 
No, it couldn't be, Kasumi had just sent her upstairs... 

   Akane moved closer, ignoring Miyabi's pleas, to get a
better look. 

   Kaeri opened her eyes.

   Miyabi watched, tension showing on her face, as Akane
leaned over. "Kasumi...?" 

   Kaeri began to shriek.

                          * * * * *

   This was not good.  This was definitely not good, Miyabi
thought, as she frantically tried to free Akane from Kaeri's
fierce grasp. 

   "Kasumi!" Akane screamed, as she tried to free herself.

   Kaeri held on to Akane, sobbing as though her heart would
break.  Not even the combined efforts of Akane and Miyabi
could break Kaeri's grip. 

   Miyabi paused.  This was getting her nowhere.  What
would've Mum done?  Slug Kaeri... Miyabi shook her head. 
No, not Auntie Kasumi. Not even if it wasn't really Auntie
Kasumi.  Wait... 

   Quietly, Miyabi began to hum.  A quiet lullaby... one
that her aunt Kasumi had taught her.  Wordlessly, Miyabi
hummed, moving around to hug Kaeri.  If there was anything
of the Kasumi Miyabi knew inside this scarred woman,
maybe... 

   Kaeri slowly began to loosen her grip.  Taking the
opportunity, Akane tore free and ran out the door.  Kaeri
started to reach out after Akane, but Miyabi tightened her
hug, humming that quiet wordless lullaby again. 

   Slowly, Kaeri began to relax against Miyabi. 

   The two of them sat there in the room, in the bright
sunlight, amidst the quiet wordless humming. 

                          * * * * *

   Kasumi smiled to herself. After the disturbing incident
yesterday, it was nice to have such a ... 

   "Kasumi!!!"

   ... peaceful morning.

   Kasumi turned to smile, only to nearly be knocked over by
a sobbing Akane. 

   After a short hysterical period in which Kasumi could
make neither heads nor tails of Akane's tale, she was able
to get the whole story. 

   Oh my.

   Kasumi mechanically comforted Akane, assuring her she was
still there, but her thoughts were running wild. 

   Another Kasumi, this one scarred?  What did this mean? 
Was this her mother's warning?  Premonition? 

   Akane left, finally calm.

   The same could not be said of Kasumi.

                          * * * * *

   Somewhere in Nerima, a little bat was scowling, with her
little fangs showing. 

   Ratiko scowled as only a Hibiki could, as she flapped her
little wings through the air. 

   She knew that Kaeri was going about destroying realities,
trying to eliminate future universes where her family died,
where her sisters and her father had perished untimely. 

   And Ratiko knew that her universe was one of those.  That
much, she could reason out.  And what she knew, the Onocorp
O.P.I.M. chip in her head knew.  And the chip, which
enhanced her self-preservation instincts, knew that the end
of HIS universe meant the end of Ratiko himself, and was
driving him on his mission. 

   There was no doubt about it.

   For Reiraku 'Ratiko' Hibiki to live, 'Kaeri' Tendo had to
die.

   The first major obstacle was finding her way back to the
Tendo dojo after Miyabi punched her over and out of the
Tendo yard when she was in her bat form. 

   Through a minor meteorological miracle, the wind was
rough enough to steer Ratiko about wildly in the air...

   ... and onto the Tendo roof.

   Dragging herself upwards, she managed to flap her way into
the house, and began looking for the bathroom. 

   Being a Hibiki, Ratiko totally overshot her objective
several times. 

   It was during one of those times that she encountered
Miyabi Tendo leaving a room, closing it quietly behind her.
Or at least, almost encountered. She quickly ducked out of
sight. She most certainly didn't want to remain around
Miyabi, not after her discovery that he had tried to kill
Ranma and frame Akane before. And Miyabi was very likely to
strangle her.

   So Ratiko hid, and watched, as Miyabi started down the
hallway, only to stop as Akane Tendo walked down the hall.
She watched as Miyabi began to explain the story of who the
girl was that Akane had seen, and grinned a little batty
grin. 

   So, that was where Kaeri Tendo was hiding herself.

   She flew around, looking for the bedroom...

   Again, her Hibiki heritage betrayed him, and she flew
around aimlessly... 

   ***PLOP***

   ... and into the Tendo bathroom.

   With a conveniently hot bath awaiting.

   Complete with its own Soun Tendo(tm).

   Ratiko calmly stepped out of the bath, muttering a quick
"excuse me," to an utterly stoic Soun, he pulled his clothes
from that mysterious subspace where all Jusenkyou victims
keep their clothing and went in search of his victim-to-be. 

                          * * * * *

   Miyabi sighed, as she walked back to Kaeri's room.  It
had taken some doing, but she had finally managed to
convince Akane that the person that had been crying and
hugging her was not really Kasumi. 

   Even if it did seem an awfully lot like Kasumi.  She DID
respond to familiar things, and so it HAD to be Kasumi. 

   Miyabi frowned to herself.  The same question that Akane
had asked her was the same thing that plagued her. 

   What had happened to the Kasumi Tendo of that universe? 
What would make her become "Kaeri"? 

   She sighed in front of Kaeri's door.  First, she had to
help Kaeri recover. 

   And with a smile, Miyabi Tendo opened the door to see
Ratiko Hibiki hovering menacingly over Kaeri Tendo.

               [[[[[[[[[[[[[[(*)]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]

   He had a headache. 

   Muhoshin staggered across the barren, alien plains, his
mind in a blue haze. 

   Sick. 

   He was sick. 

   That didn't seem fair at all.  Powers of a god and he was
ill.

   Not fair. 

   Not fair. 

   He'd shifted reality again. 

   It seemed lately that he'd been tripping through time and
space more than traveling through it.  He wandered through a
desert forest swamp with blazing cold fiery sands of icy
monsoons with the sunrise sunset full moon forever across
the night and day, with the blue flame always surrounding
him.  Always. 

   Stop. 

   He had to stop. 

   Muhoshin leaned against the ancient ruins of a city long
forgotten in a world he did not know.

   *COUGH*

   He blinked, looked at the ground, then sighed.  His spit,
it seemed, was glowing bright azure.  Just great. 

   [Where am I?]

   He looked around and was pleased that the world wasn't
shifting around him.  Instead, the world was at the moment a
grassy plain, with a few hills in the distance.  The
structure he was leaning on was ancient, massive, and in
ruins.  It appeared to be the edge of some sort of city, all
built by ebony stone.

   [Lovely decor.]

   *COUGH*

   A grumble from his stomach reminded him that he hadn't
eaten in a long time. 

   Ah.  That was easy to fix. 

   He focused his will and his mind, feeling a slight
headache as he did.

   Somewhere out there in the infinite worlds, an 18 ounce
steak with a potato and a bottle of soda disappeared.

   It reappeared before Ryo's feet a moment later. 

   "Itadakimasu." 

   He had a few doubts about using the locket's power like
that.  It seemed awfully trivial. 

   Then again, the steak tasted awfully good. 

   In mid-chew he stopped, shifting his eyes around warily. 
He felt something, a disturbance, a slight chill in the
spine. 

   They were coming. 

   He'd seen this moment in his dreams and in his visions a
hundred times, the day he'd fall.  And, though he did not
have a reason why, he knew this was the moment of his
downfall. 

   No. 

   No more running. 

   It was time to make a stand. 

   If he was going to fall, he would not fall quietly.  He
would make the heavens scream in terror before he was
defeated.

   He'd do it his way.

   Ryo Muhoshin looked into the fires of the locket... and
he focused. 

   *poof*

                          * * * * *

   There are two major schools of thought on what happened
next. 

   One line of thought theorizes that the locket makes all
things possible, and therefore Muhoshin had actually
_created_ this world he was about to enter into. 

   Another line of thought believed it was already there
to begin with, awaiting his arrival.

   Regardless of what really happened, it was Muhoshin's
personal world. 

   Everything seemed sterile, untouched, new, and yet the
entire city was empty and silent as death.  Surrounding him
were gothic buildings with nice, wide ledges.  They jutted
out into the sky as if they were meant to touch the heavens. 
The street lamps had a dead Ryouga hung on every corner,
swaying in the turbulent winds.

   Atop every tower was a clock that made Big Ben look
modest.  Each one was spinning one way or another, no two
matching in time, and all spinning wildly and
inconsistently.  In the distance, giant bells rang wildly,
counting off hours that were passing in someone else's
worlds. 

   And of course, it was raining, a constant heavy downpour. 
He liked the rain. After all, he was trained on how to fight
in the rain. 

   As lightning flickered and thunder roared from on high,
Muhoshin opened his umbrella and sat at the steps of one of
the buildings. 

   And he waited. 

                          * * * * *

   Within one of the dark alleys of the dark city, a ball of
cerulean flame erupted and dissipated, leaving four people
in its passing. 

   "Aw man, it just had to be raining," said Ranma, now in
his girl form.

   "What kind of place is this?" asked Ishido, barely
audible over the howling wind and rain.

   Ryo wiped the water from his eyes, held the locket before
him, and moved it left and right. Its glow grew brighter,
then darker, then brighter again as he moved it to and fro.
"We're here and he's still here and that's all that counts.
C'mon, this way."

   The four stepped out into the street, their vision
blurred badly by the constantly pouring rain.  They emerged
in the middle of a long and wide street with gargoyle-esque
street lamps lining the sidewalks.  At the very end of the
street was a dark tower, stretching far higher than any of
the surrounding buildings.

   He heard the deep tone of a bell and looked to the tops
of the buildings.  Each one had a clock mounted on its face,
and each clock face was spinning wildly forward or backward.
After only a few seconds of looking at them, he began to
feel disoriented and ill.

   There _was_ something strange about this place.  It was
something he couldn't see, but it was there.

   "Hey, what are those things hanging on the street lamps?" 
asked Childra. 

   They approached one of the street lamps cautiously, then
felt horror when they saw what it was. 

   "R-Ryouga?" stuttered Ranma.

   Ryo closed his eyes.  "Oh no."

   "Um, he's over here too," said Childra, standing by
another street lamp.  "I think they're all Ryougas."

   "What the hell is this?" asked Ranma.

   Ryo's thoughts were assuming the worst.  Was this the
result of Muhoshin's handiwork?  Dozens, maybe hundreds of
dead Ryougas as macabre street ornaments for an empty city? 

   He was snapped out of that line of thought when he
thought he saw something moving down the street.  In the
darkness and the downpour of rain it was hard to see, but
there was _something_.

   Ryo listened carefully for a moment.  Sensing his mood,
so did the others.

   Splish-splash-splish-splash...

   ...splish-splash-splish-splash...

   Footsteps?

   ...splish-splash-splish-splash...

   Fast.  Echoing off the buildings.  Hard to tell where it
was coming from.

   ...splish-splash-splish-splash...

   Running this way?  Yes, definitely getting closer.

   ...splish-splash-splish-splash...

   Ishido stood in front of Childra protectively.  Ryo and
Ranma stood ready, awaiting an attack.

    ...splish-splash.

   And then it stopped.

   "Nice suit, Saotome," echoed Muhoshin's voice.  "Why, I'm
almost envious.  BAKUSTAI-TEN-KETSU!"

   Glowing yellow shapes whistled down from a ledge above,
striking at the ground between them.  As they hit, the
street exploded with a deafening roar, throwing the four off
their feet.  They scrambled for cover as more projectiles
screamed downward, continuing the destruction of the street
around them. 

   Unfortunately, with the savage weather, dark night and
explosions, they found themselves separated. 

                          * * * * *

   Childra stumbled through the doorway of the building,
wiping the rain from her eyes.  As her eyes adjusted to the
dim lighting, she saw that she was in a room lined from
floor to ceiling with black marble.  There was the first
steps of a stairway peaking from the shadows across the
room.

   "Childra!"

   That voice.  Ishido, calling to her.  He was still out
there. 

   "Ishido!  Over here!" shouted Childra.

   "Childra!  Where are you?!" replied Ishido.

   She rushed to the doorway, then stopped as she saw who
was standing in it.

   Dripping wet, with an eerily calm look on his face, Ryo
Muhoshin stood.

   "He's coming too?" asked Muhoshin.  "Convenient."

   Displaying speed that comes from messing about with
Nerima martial artists, she pulled out her bo and swung at
his skull in one graceful swipe.

   He caught it in his hand.  Then he adjusted his grip
slightly.

   A second later, the bo was reduced to splinters and dust.

   "Childra!" echoed Ishido's desperate voice from the
streets outside.

   "Over hee-eeere!" yelled Muhoshin in a mocking tone,
looking behind him for a moment.  Then he was punched
solidly in the jaw, sending him reeling for a second.

   "Don't underestimate me," said Childra gravely.  She
followed her punch with an uppercut aimed at his jaw
again...

   ... and was horrified when he caught that too.

   Muhoshin narrowed his eyes and stared at her.  She wasn't
sure, but she thought she saw his eyes glow.

   "That's enough from you," he hissed.

   -WHAM-

                          * * * * *

   "Childra!"

   Ishido ran around in the rain, frantic ever since Childra
left his sight.

   "Ishido!  Over here!" shouted Childra, her voice coming
from nearby.  To the left?  To the right?  With the
rainstorm from Hell, Ishido wasn't entirely sure.

   "Childra!  Where are you?!"

   "Over hee-eeere!"  Ishido's blood ran cold.  That wasn't
Childra's voice.  It was Muhoshin's.

   He felt it take over, the 'automatic' training that
possessed him in times of extreme fear or stress.

   Instantly, his senses seemed to improve, overcoming the
rain and wind.  A block away, he saw an open doorway and a
slight hint of movement in the shadows.

   "CHILDRA!"

   He charged in a berserker run, storming through the
doorway of the skyscraper and ready to fight.  As he
entered, his eyes adjusted to the dim lighting quickly.

   At the far end of the empty building, standing in another
entrance, he could see Ryo Muhoshin's silhouette and
something Childra-sized slung over his shoulder.

   "Come, oh valiant hero," said Muhoshin flatly.  "The
lady awaits."

   Ishido charged across the room silently, his battle aura
flaring to life around him.

   Muhoshin tapped the floor.

   The building collapsed.

                          * * * * *

   "Dammit, this isn't good," said Ryo Saotome, pacing
around in an empty building he and Ranma managed to get
into.  "This is a mess."

   "He did the breaking point with ki blasts?" asked
Ranma-chan, wringing out her shirt.  "Impressive."

   "Um, dad?"

   "Yeah?"

   "Could you put your shirt on please?"

   "Oh.  Sorry."

   Ryo stared out of one of the giant windows while Ranma
put her shirt back on, frowning at the darkness outside. 
Then he noticed the window was stained glass and formed a
picture.

   "What the heck is this?" he mumbled, taking a few steps
back.  The picture began to take shape as he walked
backwards.  Legs.  A dress.  An... apron?

   "If I didn't know any better, I'd think that was Kasumi."

   "Yeah, you're right," said Ranma-chan.  "She's on all the
windows here."

   Before they could give it any further thought, they felt
the ground shudder under them and a deep rumbling from
outside.

   "What was that?!" asked Ranma-chan.  Ryo raced to the
doorway and peered out into the street.  His eyes widened in
shock as he saw a skyscraper several blocks down collapse on
itself.

   "Uh oh."

   Ranma-chan joined him in watching as it crashed.  The
height of the building was impressive, as after several
seconds it was still crashing.

   "Think he did this?" asked Ranma-chan.

   Ryo looked down at the locket in his hands, currently
held towards the collapsing building.  It was pulsing with a
blue light, occasionally flickering out tongues of blue
flame. 

   "Yeah, that's him," said Ryo.

   Then the locket started glowing brighter.

   "And he's coming."

   The two backed away from the walls, standing in the
middle of the room and ready to fight.  And then Ryo
realized something.

   "Uh oh."

   Ranma-chan glared at Ryo.  "Uh oh?  Uh oh what?"

   "I think we'd better get out of the building."

   "And back into the rain?"

   "This building's made of stone."

   "And?" Ryo stared at her for a moment, until the facts
finally sunk in.  "Ah... oooh. Oh boy."

   Then the walls began to crack.

   Ryo frowned.  "Damn."

   "RUN!"

                          * * * * *
   
   From high atop one of the many towers in the city,
Muhoshin looked down upon the crumbling skyscraper, the
second one he'd leveled today.

   He wiped the rain from his eyes and frowned.  It seemed
to be obscuring the view of the destruction.  He didn't like
that.

   "Enough."

   The rain gently tapered off until only a light drizzle
remained.

   "Hrm.  Really worked."

   Far below, concrete and rock debris littered the city
where two towers once stood.

   "Not bad for a 'gosling'.  Don't you think?"

   He looked above him, where Childra was tied upside-down and
hanging from the maw of a gargoyle.  She wasn't saying
anything, mainly because she was gagged.

   He closed his eyes for a moment and put a hand over his
chest, where a blue glow began to flicker.

   "Mmm, yes.  Not moving.  Down for the count?"

   Muhoshin stared at the wreckage below for a moment.
"Down for the count.  Time to get the locket.  Guess I
didn't need a hostage after all."

   *COUGH*COUGH*COUGH*

   Childra's eyes widened in surprise as a spray of blue
sparks flew from Muhoshin's mouth.

   "You see," he said to her, wiping his hand on his suit
jacket, "I'm a little ill.  Nothing a small vacation won't
fix.  Now, on to the wreckage."

   With a swipe of his umbrella blade, the rope hanging from
the gargoyle's maw was severed, sending Childra into
free fall.

   Then Muhoshin caught her by the foot.

   "Come along, Miss Jansen.  You may be of use yet."

                          * * * * *

   They took the elevator.

   With Childra tied up and slung over his shoulder, Ryo
stood there and whistled idly while the elevator speakers
softly droned out music with strange lyrics.

   o/~ Heads are hanging from the garbage man trees o/~ 
   o/~ Mouthwash jukebox gasoline o/~ 
   o/~ Pistols are pointing at a poor man's pockets o/~ 
   o/~ Smiling eyes ripping out of his sockets o/~ 

   o/~ Got a devil's haircut in my mind o/~ 
   o/~ Got a devil's haircut in my mind o/~ 
   o/~ Got a devil's haircut in my mind o/~ 
   o/~ Got a devil's haircut in my mind o/~ 

   -DING-

   "Ground floor," mumbled Muhoshin.

   This, thought Childra, was strange.  Weren't they on the
87th floor before?  Amazingly fast elevator, that.

   The elevator opened.

   -WHAP-

   "Aaaagh!"

   Muhoshin staggered back, holding his nose, as Ranma-chan
sprang into the elevator and began pounding on him
relentlessly.  Meanwhile, Childra was dropped on the floor
and managed to roll away from the raging battle.

   A few seconds later, Muhoshin was flung out of the
elevator, slamming through the doors and tumbling out into
the street.

   Ranma-chan emerged from the elevator a moment later and
quickly untied Childra.

   "Hey, you okay?"

   "I'm fine, but where's Ishido?!" she said frantically.

   "Ishido?  I dunno.  I didn't see him anywhere.  C'mon, we
gotta get outta this building before-"

   -crack-

   "Uh oh."

                          * * * * *

   Childra and Ranma-chan burst from the building just as it
began to crash down on itself.  Muhoshin stood in the middle
of the street, awaiting them.

   "I'll destroy the whole city if I have to," he said
calmly.  "I won't go dow... d... urgh."

   Suddenly, he doubled over in pain and began to yell.
Blue flames roared from his eyes and mouth as he writhed in
agony on the ground.

   "What the hell is happening?" asked Ranma-chan.  She
felt, with much reason, she'd been asking that too much
lately.

   "I... I'm not sure," said Childra.

   Muhoshin continued screaming and turning, until finally
the flames died down and he settled into a constant and
slight twitching.

                          * * * * *

   World upon world upon world was his to view, tiny specs
of sand in an infinite sea, swirling forever.  More and more
and more and more....

   No human has ever seen the whole of creation.

   Ryo Muhoshin, however, was coming awfully close to it.

                          * * * * *

   "Hey Ryo!  You can come out now!  We got'em!"

   From underneath some rubble, Ryo Saotome emerged.  He
looked a little dusty but otherwise was fine.

   "It worked, huh?" he asked.

   Ranma-chan nodded.  "Mm-hm."

   "You guys actually had a plan?" asked Childra.

   Ryo nodded.  "Muhoshin could tell whenever I got near.
The lockets are a giveaway.  So I just stayed here and
played dead while dad ambushed'em."

   "This guy wasn't so tough," said Ranma-chan confidently.

   "He demolished three buildings, dad."

   "Sorry to interrupt your testosterone moment, boys," said
Childra.  "But have either of you seen Ishido?"

   "Ishido?  Um, no.  He wasn't with you?"

   "Oh... oh no.  Ishido!  WHERE ARE YOU!?"

   Large Pile of Rubble That Was Once A Tower #2 began to
shudder.

   The three backed away, very carefully.

   A large pillar of energy burst from the wreckage,
accompanied by a bellowing roar.  When the dust settled,
Ishido stood at the center of a large crater, breathing
heavily and looking tremendously stressed.

   "Ishido!"  Childra raced to him and took him in her arms,
where he collapsed easily.

   "H... holding a... a ton... of rock... up... is not...
easy."

   And then he passed out.  Of course, Childra didn't mind
holding him in her arms at all.

   Meanwhile, Ryo Saotome looked down at the twitching for
of his nemesis, realization dawning on him.  His future self
did say Muhoshin had some sort of radiation poisoning from
the locket.  Here was evidence he was right about the
future.

   At that moment, he was extremely grateful that he stopped
him before Bell-chan... before she...

   "What're we gonna do with him?" asked Ranma-chan.

   "Well, first, I've gotta do this."  Ryo kneeled by
Muhoshin's side and carefully opened his shirt, revealing
the 'other' locket, pulsing brightly beneath a thin layer of
skin.  The chain, however, was still above the skin,
looping around Muhoshin's neck.

   "Oh jeez," muttered Ranma-chan.  "That's gross."

   "Dad, hold his arms down."

   "Why?"

   "I need to get the locket."

   "You... aw man, this is disgusting."

   "I agree with you entirely," said Ryo. He reached down
and took hold of the chain.  After a moment of hesitation,
he pulled the chain.

   Hard.

                          * * * * *

   The view was breathtaking.  He was seeing everything!
Billions upon billions of galaxies!  Billions upon billions
of realities!

   And across the realities, there was him.

   A legion of him.  Martial artist, common man, salary man,
loving parent, angry loner, wandering student, immortal
conqe-

   And then everything went black.

                          * * * * *

   "I'm gonna be sick," said Ranma-chan, looking a little
pale.

   "Yeah, me too," said Ryo.  He put the bloody locket down
for the moment and turned to his enemy again.

   Muhoshin's only reaction was to finally stop twitching.

   "Let's see," said Ryo.  "What else... oh."  Ryo held the
locket up for a moment.  A second later, after a flash of
blue light, a straitjacket was strewn on the ground. 

   "Help me put this on him," asked Ryo.  With minimal
resistance, they fastened the straitjacket.  Then he turned
his attention to Childra.  "Hey, is he all right?"

   "Just burned himself out, I think," replied Childra.  "We
going back now?"

   "Yeah, we are."

   Ryo Saotome took the bloody locket once more, noticing
that the two were flaring violently now that they were in
close proximity to each other.  He briefly wondered if
having the two would render both useless.  No, that wasn't
right somehow.  Not logical.  Since he was the only one
holding the lockets, his was the only will guiding them
both.

   It should work.  He hoped.

   "C'mon, let's get outta here," said Ranma-chan, looking
at one of the hanged Ryougas.  "This place just isn't
right."

   "You felt that too, huh?  Let's get outta here."

   He dropped it in the pocket of his shirt.  Then, with
the remaining locket held high, he took them away from
Muhoshin's world. 

-End Act 7-