A Different Viewpoint: Curses and Demons, Chapter 18

All Ranma characters are property of Rumiko Takahashi, first published by Shogakugan in Japan and brought over to North America by Viz Communications.

A Different Viewpoint: Curses and Demons: Deus Ex Machina Chapter 18

As Cliopatra felt her consciousness going, she silently pleaded for help from her one remaining ally.

The demoness' voice came back her her.

Clio hesitated only a moment before agreeing, feeling the blackness closing in on her. Mara's laughter was the lastthing she heard before losing conscious entirely. The demoness blinked into existence in the middle ot a battle already lost. Happosai was already out of sight, Ranko wasn't attacking anymore, and all her other possible allies were either unconscious or frozen by Cliopatra's last command.

Thankfully the remaining Senshi and that annoying man in black were too busy trying to stop the Kasumis from plunging into the Jusenkyo springs to have noticed her arrival yet, and she meant to take advantage of that. She commanded mentally She sensed him partially materializing nearby.

"But the Senshi...." He started plaintively.

"Are no match for us if we work together." She whispered back. "Not in their weakened state." Mara pointed. "Now get Ranko back into the fight!" She glanced at the ghost. "And stay out of sight, you idiot!" The Ghost Cat faded out of sight while moving in Ranko's direction, and Mara considered her options quickly. Cliopatra was out of it, so there was no commanding her minions. Healing was definitely not her strong suit. Still, of those remaining, Sailor Saturn was the only one with the power to seriously threaten her, so all she had to do was wait for the Ghost Cat to distract her, then attack. Mara nodded to herself in satisfaction, watching while Saturn fished Kasumi out of the spring of drowned bird folk. A seemingly lucky coincidence that, although Jusenkyo sometimes seemed to have a weird sort of justice with it's curses.

Seeing Ranko suddenly sit up then start to stalk in the direction of the remaining Senshi, Mara started to power up a bolt of black lightning. Saturn wouldn't have time to dodge it, especially if she was concentrating on Ranko. As the Senshi went to help Sailor Neptune and Mercury with Misty, Mara shook her head in derision. Before she could attack, however, the man in black finally glanced in her direction. Mara couldn't resist taunting the poor mortal a bit before blasting him, which gave the Senshi just barely enough time to prepare for her next attack. To compensate, Mara threw a huge wave of energy to blind them, following it up with several lower power force bolts using her first blast as cover.

Saturn used her Silence Wall to block the first attack, while the others jumped clear. Mara's follow up attacks caught Sailor Mercury, who was still to unused to her new form to dodge as quickly as she needed to, but Tuxedo Kamen and Sailor Neptune managed to stay out of harms way... at least until Ranko reached them, using Mara's attack to cover her own, much as the demoness had planned. Jumping up behind the two warriors, she sent them flying with a flurry of well placed swipes, the two Senshi were injured enough that they were unconscious before they hit the ground. As they fell out of the sky, Mara was already focusing all of her energies back on Saturn's Silence wall, confident in her victory.

Mara gloated to herself. Straddling Misty defensively, Saturn held her ground while Mara continued to attack from the front, and Ranko from the rear. Exhausted as she was, the Senshi of destruction refused to give up, throwing everything she had left into her Silence Wall. Mara's brow furrowed in concentration, and sweat started to run from her hair line as she maintained the energy flow. The demoness wondered in consternation.

Mara started to grow nervous. Suddenly she noticed a flash of light coming from amidst the springs. Three women were rising from within a hole in the middle of the water of one of the springs, Skuld holding hands with Urd and Belldandy, taking them through her medium of transportation. Mara crowed. Mara redirected her energy into a wave aimed at the goddesses, then dove for Cliopatra. She heard a splash in the distance but didn't wait around to see who it was, grabbing Clio and teleporting them both away before the goddesses could recover from her attack.

When the wave of black energy hit them, the three goddesses found themselves flying out of control into one of the springs. The only one of them able to react in time was Belldandy. The goddess of the present concentrated and cast a wind spell at the last moment, deflecting her sisters, at least, away from falling into the spring. She had calculated the spell precisely, and it had been clear that she could at most save two of them. The choice was, of course, obvious.

"Umph!" Urd landed hard with a grunt, but was up in a second, readying a lightning bolt of her own to pay back Mara in kind for the attack.

Skuld was, at the same time, looking at the spring Belldandy had fallen into with a great deal of concern. "Sister?"

Urd grimaced as she spotted Mara teleporting away. "Damn it! She's getting away... uh oh...." Urd turned to look as a searing light came from the Jusenkyo spring that Belldandy had fallen into and her voice trailed off in consternation.

Skuld, having had a bit more time to consider the possibilities of her middle sister's mishap, ran past Urd, grabbing her hand to pull the older goddess along behind her. "Run for it. It's gonna blow!" Moments later Skuld's prediction proved to be accurate, as with a sudden out rushing of air, almost a dozen Belldandys went flying from the spring, along with all of the water. The light spray was not enough, by itself, to cause a change in anyone touched by it, but that was the least of their worries. A naked Belldandy fell on top of Urd, knocking her to the ground, and a second one hit the ground just ahead of Skuld, causing the smaller girl to trip and plant herself face first into the older girl's cleavage. Other Belldandys fell all around the now empty spring, half falling into other Jusenkyo springs, the other half hitting the ground between. One Belldandy narrowly missed crashing into Akane, who was standing quietly, still under the influence of the hypnosis incense.

Skuld looked up from between the pair of breasts her face had landed in to see her middle sister's slightly confused expression. "Big Sister!" The youngest goddess exclaimed. "You're alright...." She blinked, pushing herself slightly off Belldandy. "Er... what happened to your clothes?"

"I'm not exactly... sure...." Belldandy's voice came from two places at once, and the Belldandy under Skuld and the Belldandy on top of Urd looked over at each other in astonishment, their voices once again speaking in unison. "Oh my."

Skuld looked from one Belldandy to the other in shock. "... Why are there two of you, big sister?"

Both Belldandys looked around with dawning comprehension. "I believe...." They started together. The twin goddesses glanced at each other and exchanged a significant look. "I believe," The Belldandy under Skuld began again. "that there are quite a few more of... me... than that." Skuld sat up fully and looked around, her eyes widening. There was a Belldandy hanging precariously from a bamboo pole, one getting up to check on a short haired girl standing zombie like near her, and yet another peering into the now empty spring they had been flung out of.

That last one waved toward the pool. "I think I'm the one down here!" She blinked twice. "I mean the original me." Beldandy amended. "There are little pieces of her... my clothing all around her." She knelt down at the lip of the empty spring. "Belldandy?" She called out. "Belldandy are you alright?" When there wasn't an immediate answer Skuld got worried and hopped up off of her Belldandy to run over and see for herself. At the same time, animals started to climb out of several of the pools around them, also looking like they were going to check on the Belldandy down in the empty spring. Skuld looked around with wide eyes at the Bengal tiger, deer, fox, ferret, cat, and even a gold and black banded hawk which had started heading in her direction.

Seeing the tiger caused Skuld to pull a bomb from an extra dimensional space, but before anything could happen, one of the Belldandys spoke up. "Don't worry little sister. They are all me too." Skuld blinked and took a closer look. All of the animals had Belldandy's characteristic goddess markings, as well as a very similar, and familiar look in their eyes.

"It is you!" Skuld exclaimed. "I mean they are you.... I don't know what I mean!" She shook her head in confusion and looked to the closest version of her sister that could talk. "Belldandy, what's going on? Why are there so many of you? Is this like mini-Belldandy?"

Belldandy frowned thoughtfully. "I'm not positive, but I believe the Jusenkyo Spring I first fell into was the spring of drowned twins. I reacted defensively when I fell in with a burst of magic... which seems to have been a mistake. Apparently my energies reacted with the magic of the spring to create a violent backlash, which resulted in my multiplication, as well as in the destruction of the spring."

Skuld blinked. "And the animal yous?"

Belldandy nodded to herself. "The explosion threw all of the duplicates of me clear of the original spring and several of... us... fell into other springs. I believe when we split we may have ended up dividing my... our power between us, so when we hit the other springs, we did so without the excess energy, and therefore the springs worked as they would on a mortal."

Skuld blinked again. "Oh." Her eyes went wide and she turned and ran over to the side of the original spring. "I almost forgot! Belldandy? Belldandy! Are you all right?"

From the bottom of the now dry spring, surrounded by scraps of her goddess robes, Belldandy sat up slowly. "I'm... I'm alright, I believe." She slowly got to her feet and put a hand against the sides of the fifteen foot pit she was in. "Is everyone else alright?"

Urd came over and looked down at her sister. "We're all right, but the Senshi took a beating, and Mara's long gone. What now, sis?"

Belldandy's expression became serious. "We must repair what damage we can, then find Mara before she does more harm. It is our fault that she escaped, after all."

Skuld's lip quivered. "It's my fault, Belldandy. Why do you have to get cursed because of it?"

Skuld looked ready to cry and Belldandy was quick to reassure her. "We all share the blame, Skuld-chan, and we knew the risks of coming here. I will be fine." She smiled brightly. "And it certainly won't hurt to have a few extra hands now and then." Belldandy started gathering up the scraps of her clothing. "I'll just um... pull myself together, so please go and see what you can do for the Senshi and their friends. I'll join you in a minute or two."

Urd rolled her eyes. "I'm not all that great at healing, Belldandy. How about I help you, so you can help them?" She winked. :"Trust me, I know what I'm doing." She raised her hands and started to speak in a musical form. "Winds of Change, Gather force, return Belldandy to One Form!" Belldandy winced at the wording of the spell but didn't interrupt, not wanting to add anything more to the chaos of the area, and too low on power currently to want to attempt a spell of her own. As the spell started to take effect, however, causing a great wind to scoop up her cursed forms and sweep them toward her, she did what she could to minimize the side effects.

When the wind died Belldandy stood up and blinked. Suddenly the dry spring she was standing in appeared much smaller, almost confining. She could easily reach up and grab hold of the edge and she did so, pulling herself up to the top with ease. Belldandy looked down at her sisters, noting that she was now taller than either of them... sitting down!

The now gigantic goddess raised an eyebrow. "Well... at least that got me out of the spring." Belldandy got to her feet, towering over her two sisters, and carefully began walking out of the springs. "I think perhaps we should get well clear of the springs before anything more happens."

Skuld gawked after her humongous sister, who had to be nearly twelve feet tall now, in a cross between confusion, wonder, and excitement. "What happened now?" She finally asked, running to keep up with her tremendous sibling. "Why are you so big?" She glanced at Urd. "What did she do to you?"

Urd frowned. "I think it's perfectly obvious. I... er... combined all of Belldandy's duplicates into one... er... Mega Belldandy!"

Skuld sweatdropped. "Rrightt." She said sarcastically. "You meant to do that."

Belldandy smiled beneficently down at her "little" sisters. "Well, I certainly am rather large, aren't I? I also seem to have gotten most of my power back."

Skuld looked hopeful. "So... can you change back into a normal sized Belldandy?"

Belldandy blinked. "I'm not sure." She concentrated and a normal sized Belldandy split off of the larger version and landed lightly next to her." Both Belldandy's blinked. "Urd seems to have combined our ability to split into multiple smaller versions of ourselves with the effects of the Jusenkyo curse." She concentrated again, reached out, and absorbed the normal sized Belldandy again. "How very ingenious of you, Urd!"

The goddess of the past swallowed nervously and shrugged. "Heh. Wasn't it?"

The corner of Belldandy's mouth quirked up in a tiny amused smile at her elder sister's discomfort, knowing perfectly well that Urd hadn't planned for the results she had gotten. After enjoying that guilty pleasure for a few seconds, Belldandy relented, giving Urd a look of understanding and forgiveness. "It was well intended, Urd, and has turned out quite well. Don't fret over it."

Urd basked is her sister's smile for a moment then nodded slightly. "Thanks, Belldandy."

Belldandy simply nodded back, then got down to business. "Alright. Lets see what we can do to undo the damage Mara has done. Skuld, we will need plenty of hot water and clothing for everyone. Urd, see what you can do about reversing the effects of whatever spell everyone's under. I'll do what I can to heal everyone."

Urd and Skuld nodded immediately. "Right." The three goddesses began their various tasks quickly and efficiently. Moving off a good distance from Jusenkyo, Skuld used one bomb to open a medium sized crater, then another to create a large explosion of hot water to fill it up with.

Skuld grinned triumphantly. "I knew that bomb would come in handy today!" She stepped out over the water and vanished into it.

Meanwhile, Urd had made her way through the springs to Akane, who was still standing there motionless. "Now let me see... what caused all this mess?" She stared at Akane for several seconds, staring off into space while she scanned the girl. "Ah, so that's it!" Urd declared after several long seconds. "Hypnosis incense eh? Been a while since I've dealt with any of that stuff...." She frowned. "Now where did I put that universal antidote?" Urd started going through her robe methodically, finally locating the vial she wanted tucked between her cleavage. "Of course, always the last place you look." She opened the stopper and turned to Akane. "It should just take a drop." Putting action to words, she tipped the vial carefully to Akane's lips. For a moment nothing happened, then the light of consciousness slowly returned to her eyes.

As consciousness returned, a look of horror came over Akane's face. "What was I...?" Akane started to glow bright blue with a powerful battle aura as her horror turned to anger. "Where...?!?" She began dangerously. Urd, slightly alarmed, did the first thing she could think of to calm Akane down, promptly kissing her full on the mouth. Akane's battle aura winked out and she looked at her incredulously. "Why... why in the world did you just kiss me?"

Urd glanced meaningfully at the spring nearest to them. "It's not that good an idea to lose your temper right here, eh?"

Akane blinked, taking in her surroundings again. "Oh." She frowned. "Couldn't you just have asked me nicely to calm down?"

Urd raised an eyebrow. "Would that have worked?"

Akane hesitated, then grimaced. "Probably not."

Urd shrugged. "Well there you go." She grinned impishly. "Besides, my way was more fun."

Akane just rolled her eyes.

Hotaru blinked tiredly as she woke, then her eyes went wide in shock. A gigantic naked woman was kneeling above her, and Hotaru jumped to a terrifying conclusion. The woman seemed to sense Hotaru's internal distress.

The giantess' reassuring smile was incredibly calming. "Don't worry, Hotaru-chan. It's all over. Everything will be alright."

Hotaru felt herself relaxing. She couldn't help but smile back up at the woman. Hotaru raised her hands to the beautiful woman above her, then froze at the sight of her familiar purple gloves. "I'm still Saturn? I didn't die?"

The woman shook her head calmly. "No, you didn't die, Hotaru." The Senshi of destruction suddenly came to the realization that the woman not only wasn't wearing any clothing, but she also had to be absolutely gigantic! Noticing the sudden shift in demeanor on Hotaru's face, Belldandy sat back, giving the Senshi some space. "How are you feeling?"

Hotaru hesitated, then realized that she was no longer in any pain. "I... I feel fine." She admitted, looking up at Belldandy with more curiosity now then fear. "Who... who are you?"

The goddess smiled again, causing Hotaru to relax once more almost involuntarily. "My name is Belldandy. My sisters and I are here to help you."

Hotaru swallowed. "Sisters? Are they... um... anything like you?"

Belldandy blinked twice then glanced down at herself. "Oh my... you mean my size? Oh no. I'm not normally this way myself. I fell into one of the springs you see."

Hotaru's eyes widened. "Oh! That explains it!" She blinked. "Wow, I didn't know there was a spring of drowned giant! That's neat!" Hotaru suddenly blushed. "Although I suppose it would be inconvenient if none of your clothes fit."

Belldandy blushed slightly herself. "Yes... although it wasn't the spring of drowned giant exactly... although the end result does certainly make it seem like that." The goddess's face turned serious. "Hotaru, can you help me help your friends? Many of them are injured and my own powers have been reduced. I could use some help."

Hotaru's eyes widened again. "You can heal? And you know that I can heal?" Hotaru paused in realization. "And you know who I am? How do you know all this?"

Belldandy hesitated for only a moment. "I am a goddess, Hotaru-chan, one of the fates. I know all about you and the other Senshi. The Demoness that engineered all this is our responsibility, and we're here to do what we can to repair the damage she has done."

"The woman in black!" Hotaru exclaimed. "I knew she looked familiar! She's the one behind that was behind all those Youma attacks... she had beaten us, but Ranma stopped her... and he told us that three strange women told him how to beat her.... That was you?" Hotaru shook her head. "We never found out what happened to her...." She looked at Belldandy with a frown. "If she is your responsibility, what happened? Why did she come back and start attacking us again?" Hotaru suddenly remembered that she was supposed to be talking to a goddess and swallowed nervously. "Um... I don't mean to be rude...."

Belldandy shook her head. "Do not apologize. We failed to hold Marlier, and you have every right to blame us for that."

Hotaru shook her own head, not able to think of a proper response. "How am I supposed to blame a goddess, or forgive one?"

From behind Belldandy came a familiar voice, sounding slightly shocked. "You're a goddess?" Hotaru and Belldandy both turned to looked at a stupefied Akane and a smug looking Urd. The bronze skinned goddess looked like she was on the verge of laughing, and Belldandy frowned just slightly at her older sister. Akane turned to Urd accusingly. "You're a goddess too? A goddess kissed me?"

Urd winked at her. "Urd, goddess of love, at your service. Disappointed?"

Akane double blinked. "Okay...."

Belldandy took a deep breath. "I apologize for my sister, Akane-san, I hope you weren't offended."

Akane hesitated, then shrugged. "No, I guess not. It was well meant, anyway." She glared at Urd. "Just remember that I'm married, All right?"

Urd nodded quickly, Knowing when to quit. "Sure, sure, no problem." She quirked her head at Johnathon and Tatewaki Kuno. "I'll go unzombify the rest of your friends, OK?"

Akane nodded quickly. "Oh please! Can I help?"

Urd shrugged. "You could try and calm people down when I bring them out of it. They'll respond better to a familiar face."

Akane nodded again. "Of course." She glanced up at Belldandy with a tiny frown. "Er...."

Belldandy blushed, reading the reason for Akane's hesitation from her expression. "I'm afraid my clothing suffered from my accidental exposure from one of the springs. I sent my younger sister for some extra clothing, but... I'm not sure if anything I have will fit me." She bowed. "I'm sorry about this."

Akane raised an eyebrow. "I thought you were a goddess? Can't you just...?" She made a vague gesture with her hand.

Belldandy shook her head. "I am limited in this place, and healing everyone, even with Saturn's help, will be quite taxing. Creating something from nothing is much more difficult than you might believe."

Akane was nodding slowly. "I can understand that, I think. The conversation of matter and energy, right?" She wrinkled her brow. "But how does that explain Jusenkyo? I mean, where does all the extra mass come from?"

Belldandy mused. "Well, Jusenkyo IS extremely powerful, but I believe it draws upon an extradimensional space for the extra mass it provides."

Akane blinked. "Uh... OK, if you say so... but why did Jusenkyo effect you? Aren't goddesses immune to that sort of thing?"

Belldandy shook her head. "Oh my no. Haven't you read any mythology? Curses can effect even the gods... although not without some cost." She nodded to the newly dried out spring. "I'm afraid I burned out that spring when I fell into it. It may never recover."

Urd rolled her eyes. "Alright already. Enough of the Magic and Myth 101. We've got work to do."

Belldandy flushed. "Of course, Urd." She looked down at Hotaru again. "So, can you help me?"

Hotaru nodded earnestly. "I'll do my best, Belldandy-sama."

Belldandy shook her head. "Oh no, Hotaru-chan, san is fine."

Just then, Skuld levitated up through her newly created hot spring, arms full with a large cloth bundle. "Belldandy, I've brought the clothing you wanted!" The youngest goddess ran over with the large bundle rising over her head, and she nearly tripped three times on the way over to her 'big' sister.

Belldandy put out a restraining hand to catch her little sister before she could fly past them and risk falling into a spring herself. "Careful Skuld-chan."

Skuld nodded, handing her oversized sibling her bundle. "I got a bunch of yukata, and the sheet from Urd's bed, Belldandy. It's the biggest in the house, so I thought it might fit you."

Belldandy took the large silk sheet off the top of the pile and handed the yukata's back to Skuld. "Thank you, sister. I'm sure it will be fine." She stood and carefully wrapped the sheet around herself as if it was a medium sized bath towel. The sheet was barely enough to cover her from chest to hips, and there was no material to spare, but is was sufficient. Belldandy took a deep breath, then nodded. "Alright, let's begin." She knelt down above Misty and Ami (the later who was currently a medium sized black panther) readied herself. "Shall we, Hotaru?"

Hotaru nodded. "OK... but... Misty... I think that's Misty, anyway... she was trying to get to the springs before she was knocked out... she's still hypnotized."

"I understand." Belldandy turned to the others. "Akane, could you assist us in restraining her?"

Akane nodded immediately. "OK, I'll hold her so Urd-san can dose her."

Belldandy smiled. "Thank you." Waiting until Akane had gotten a grip, Belldandy placed her hands over Misty's form and started quietly chanting a prayer of healing. Hotaru got down to business as well, laying her own hands on the panther that was Sailor Mercury and letting her own healing abilities take over. Misty woke up and started struggling a moment before Ami herself regained consciousness, and Akane held her firmly for Urd, who promptly fed the half-cat woman a drop of her potion. Misty stopped struggling immediately, her eyes going wide in awareness, much as Akane's had.

"Oh my." Misty's voice was rough from more than just her feline vocal cords. She looked up at Belldandy in wonder. "Who... who are you?" The goddess smiled softly. "I am Belldandy. My sisters and I are here to help you."

Akane helped Misty to her feet and squeezed her shoulder. "Come on and help us with the others, and I'll try to explain... as much as I know, anyway."

With a little help from Hotaru the panther struggled to her feet as well, glancing at the gigantic woman next to them nervously. Hotaru patted Ami on the top of the head. "Don't worry, Mercury. She's here to help." Hotaru pointed towards Skuld's miniature spring. "There's some hot water for you, so you can change back, and Skuld has a yukata for you to change into.

Skuld came over. "I'll take care of Sailor Mercury, Hotaru-chan. You should start healing the others."

Hotaru nodded firmly. "Alright."

Skuld smiled kindly at Ami. "Come on. Lets get you changed back!" Ami nodded and obediently followed Skuld to her pool. "I made it myself!" Skuld announced proudly. "With a hot water bomb I created just for this sort of emergency." She nodded at the water. "Go ahead, it's nice and warm." Ami hesitated for just a moment before jumping in, surfacing on the far side with a gasp, now fully human. Skuld ran around to join her and gave her a hand out of the spring, handing her a yukata when she was all the way out.

Ami took the yukata with a grateful smile and slipped it on. "Thank you... Skuld? That was your name, wasn't it?"

Skuld nodded. "Yup!"

Ami belted her yukata. "That's a very pretty name, based off the Norse... One of the fates, right?"

Skuld nodded again, cheerfully. "That's me! Goddess of the future, Skuld! You know, you're pretty smart! Not many people guess who I actually am just from my name."

Ami blinked twice. "Goddess...?"

"She is." A familiar voice came from behind Mercury with a flat finality. Ami and Skuld both turned to look. Setsuna sat calmly on one side of the small heated pool, dangling her legs into the water idly. Her skin glistened wetly and her hair was damp, and it was obvious that she wasn't wearing a stitch.

Ami's face lit up happily. "Pluto! I was really worried about you! I'm so glad you're alright."

Skuld came around the spring to hand the elder Senshi a yukata. "I think I'm going to need more of these than I first thought." She commented thoughtfully.

Setsuna nodded in agreement. "I'd say so."

Over by the springs, Urd had dosed Ukyo, Kasumi, Shampoo and Pantyhose Taro with Akane's assistance, while Hotaru and Belldandy were busy healing Sailor Neptune and Tuxedo Kamen. While healing them, Belldandy expanded her spell slightly to include their costumes. It took very little excess power, as they had already begun to mend on their own. Unfortunately, while Tuxedo Kamen's clothing was easy enough to mend, all she could do for Neptune's fuku was close a few cuts. The missing material from the leotard was unrecoverable.

Mamoru and Michiru both woke slowly, but with near identical reactions. Both of them feigned unconsciousness for just an instant to assess the situation, then looked around quickly. The quiet, and Hotaru's presence calmed them, and the (currently) littlest Senshi began to explain the situation to them. Belldandy moved on to heal the man in black, while Hotaru went to Ukyo's side to heal her, while at the same time Akane and Urd moved over to Johnathon Dwire and Tatewaki Kuno to give both of them a dose of Urd's potion. They dosed Johnathon first, just to be on the safe side, and the half-cat man came out of the hypnosis almost at once with a shudder, then started to bitterly swear in English.

Akane blushed, acutely aware of being in the presence of divinity, however mortal she seemed on the surface, but Urd didn't show any sign of disapproval, actually looking a bit disappointed when Johnathon cut off his stream of invective in mid word..

Urd shook her head. "You're going to need more practice if you're planning on doing any more serious swearing." She commented politely. "That was a little weak."

Johnathon's right eyebrow twitched and he nodded tightly to Urd and Akane. "Sorry, I don't have all that much opportunity to practice." He looked around suddenly, catching a glimpse of Kasumi, then heading in her direction without taking the time to thank his rescuers. "Kasumi, are you alright?"

Kasumi nodded immediately. "I'm unhurt, although I seem to have picked up another curse."

Johnathon nodded, his eyes sad. "I saw. I'm sorry, Kasumi, this isn't the slightest bit fair, is it?"

Kasumi sighed. "At least I'm still mostly human this time."

Johnathon stroked her hair. "You're as beautiful as always, love. We'll make a very interesting couple, eh? A pair of half-cats and an Angel." He looked down at the man she was sitting next to. "Michael...."

Kasumi nodded. "I'll keep an eye on him... but I think you should look for Misty."

Johnathon frowned. "I'm a bit worried about her. I hope she's not blaming herself for all this."

Kasumi looked worried. "I think she very well might, Johnathon. Please go find her."

"I will." The half cat's eyes narrowed. "I'll be back as soon as I can." He eyed the surrounding cliffs and hills uncertainly. "Hmm...."

Kasumi pointed helpfully. "I'd have gone that way, I think."

Johnathon looked at the section of low cliffs Kasumi had pointed out and nodded. "Right." Without further thought he ran off, going out of sight in seconds.

Akane pried the bokken out of Kuno's hand, then nodded to Urd. "OK, go ahead. I should be able to handle him without this." The bronze skinned goddess fed the kendoist a drop of her potion and after several seconds his eyes cleared.

"What trickery is this?" Kuno began. "But no, my eyes are cleared, an it is I who have been duped! Where is the villainous witch that has so rudely ensnared me?" Kuno's eyes were wild. "Has she escaped me? Never!" The deranged kendoist started running off and Akane made a grab for him, missing his hakama by only a few inches as he flew by.

"Wait a second...!" Akane started to go after him, then stopped. "Oh forget it. He'll just end up going off and attacking someone.... on second thought, maybe I should go after him." Fortunately for her, Pluto had a similar idea, and as Kuno ran by her, she pulled her time staff from thin air and brained him.

Urd watched the drama with interest, then spoke up. "So, is anyone else hypnotized?"

Akane nodded. "I'm pretty sure Kodachi was... and Gosenkugi?" She looked around. "Now where were they?"

Urd shrugged. "Lets go look for them. Can't be too far." Akane nodded again and the goddess and martial artist walked off.

Kasumi watched in concern as the gigantic woman chanted in a strange language over Michael. Belldandy herself was no worry, as soon as she had laid eyes upon the goddess she had known that she meant them no harm, and the situation itself seemed to have been mostly resolved. The fighting had stopped, and it looked like they were out of danger. What really worried her was the consequences they would soon have to truly face. From what she could see, as well as what she could remember from earlier, Jusenkyo had claimed many more victims today.

Her own new curse did not concern her greatly, the sacrifice that their friends had made to save them, however, horrified her. She could see Sailor Neptune and Tuxedo Mask going over toward Mercury, Pluto and a black haired girl called Skuld who was apparently another goddess. Mercury, Pluto and Tuxedo Kamen had all obviously been cursed. Ami as a panther, Mamoru as a girl, and even Pluto, although no one seemed to know what curse Pluto had gotten yet. Kasumi glanced over her shoulder and winced. Haruka had obviously been cursed from the spring of drowned young man, and Shampoo had fallen into the spring of drowned girl, giving her a cursed form like Johnathon or Misty's. Kasumi looked back to the goddess Belldandy and was relieved to see Michael recovering.

The man in black shook his head and blinked, sitting up suddenly. "What...?" He flinched away from Belldandy suddenly as he caught a glimpse of her massive form looming behind him. "Whoa!"

Kasumi put a hand on his shoulder to calm him. "It's alright, Michael, she's here to help."

Michael glanced back at his brother's wife in confusion. "Huh? Kasumi? What is... er... going on here?" Michael had blushed mid sentence, his eyes dropping momentarily to her chest, then immediately going back to her face. Kasumi took a moment to recall that Happosai had stolen her top earlier while she was hypnotized, and realize that she was currently flashing her brother-in-law.

"Oh my." Kasumi exclaimed softly, covering her breasts up with her arms, noticing once more the scaly texture of her hands and the claws at her fingertips with mild distaste. She blushed in involuntarily before bowing to Michael. "My apologies, Michael-san. I must seem like a terrible person to you."

Michael shook his head automatically. "No, no... I don't mind, really!" He glanced back at Belldandy again, his eyes going a bit wide. "Er,,, hi?"

Belldandy slowly stood. "I see you two have a lot to talk about. I need to get to the others, so I'll leave you two alone."

Michael's eyes became even wider as he realized just how large Belldandy was, and Kasumi sighed. "It's my fault. Belldandy-sama is cursed too. I'm surprised I didn't notice earlier."

Michael turned back to her with an incredulous expression. "She's cursed? She's huge!"

Kasumi nodded. "Oh, of course. Well, she's wearing a silk bed sheet, and she's the sort of person that would pick out an outfit with more care than that...."

Michael blinked. "Ah... I see...." He hesitated. "Um, speaking of curses...." He inclined his head towards her. "That's... that's what happened to you?"

Kasumi nodded calmly. "Yes. I seem to have fallen into the spring of drowned bird... or drowned bird folk, I'm not quite sure...."

Michael shook his head in amazement. "How can you be taking this so calmly? You've... got wings... and claws...." He shook his head again. "I'd be freaked out by it."

Kasumi sighed. "It certainly could have been worse. Much worse, actually. I'm still mostly human. Most of the others weren't as lucky as me."

Michael looked around. "How many people were cursed?"

Kasumi shook her head. "Far too many. Half of the Senshi, at least, Shampoo, probably some others."

Michael raised an eyebrow. "You seem to know an awful lot about these curses, Kasumi."

Kasumi hesitated for several seconds. "Yes... I'm sorry I never told you earlier. You see, I've had a Jusenkyo curse for months now. We kept it a secret, because we didn't want anyone else to get involved. Jusenkyo is so dangerous, it was better if no one else knew about the curse."

"You were already cursed?" Michael asked curiously. "I'm not sure I'm following. Are you cursed twice now? How does that work?"

Kasumi giggled. "It's so complicated. I wonder if you could possibly believe it. I scarcely believe it myself. Depending on how you look at it, I suppose you could say I have somewhere between one and four Jusenkyo curses now."

Michael blinked. "Huh?"

Skuld came up with a Yukata and a bucket full of hot water. "Four. You have four curses now Kasumi, more than anyone in the world right now...." She paused. "Except my big sister, of course." Skuld nodded informatively. "Big sister has seven!"

Kasumi blinked in surprise. "Oh my!"

Skuld raised her bucket. "Would you like some hot water, Kasumi-san?"

Kasumi nodded shakily. "Yes, thank you very much."

Skuld beamed. "It's no trouble at all. I've got a nice yukata for you too." She carefully poured some hot water over Kasumi's head, causing the eldest of the Tendo sisters to revert to her completely human form, then handed her one of her remaining yukatas. "It looks like I'll have to go back for more clothing. Could you take over getting hot water to everyone, Kasumi-san?"

Kasumi finished belting the yukata and stood. "Certainly. I'd be happy to help."

"Thank you, Kasumi. I'll be right back, OK?" Skuld hurried off toward her artificial hot spring. Kasumi glanced around for a moment, then headed toward Taro and Haruka. "I think this will do the most good over there." Michael stood up to follow her, but as they were passing the place where Hotaru and Belldandy were healing Shampoo and Sailor Venus a sudden commotion broke out.

Moments earlier, Hotaru had knelt down next to Belldandy to start healing Sailor Venus.

The goddess was working on Shampoo at the same time, and nodded at her companionably. "You've been doing wonderfully, Hotaru-chan. I really appreciate all your help."

Hotaru blushed and shook her head. "Please don't mention it." She looked down at shyly and happened to notice something strange about her patient. "What happened to Mina's hair? It's normally blond." Hotaru carefully turned the Senshi of love over, then gasped.

Belldandy turned to look, having just finished healing Shampoo. "What is it, Hotaru-chan?" She blinked, seeing what had caused Hotaru's consternation. "Oh dear."

Just then, Shampoo blinked herself awake and looked around in confusion. Seeing the gigantic woman over her, the cat-girl rolled to her feet, making the unfortunate mistake of rolling over Sailor Venus on the way.

Venus/Akane woke with a start and jumped to her feet as well, coming up in a fighting stance. "What's going on here?!?" She demanded loudly, glancing from person to person in alarm. "Who are you people? Where's that bird woman who tried to drown me?"

Hotaru stared at the transformed Sailor Venus in dismay. "Akane? How can you be...?"

Akane glanced at the smaller girl for an instant, then grabbed her wrist and pulled Hotaru behind her. "Stay behind me." She ordered. "I'll protect you." Akane kept her eyes on the giantess and the cat girl primarily, trying to keep her guard up against them while watching the rest of the area at the same time for further threats.

Belldandy put her hands together in front of her and smiled placatingly. "Akane? Please be calm. Everything will be alright."

The girl wearing Sailor Venus's fuku looked at the goddess doubtfully. "I don't understand what's going on, but I know that I've never seen you before. What should I trust you?"

Hotaru put a hand on Akane's arm. "Akane? Please calm down. We'll explain everything, OK?"

Akane glanced back at the smaller girl quickly before focusing back on the others. "How do you all know my name? I don't know any of you." Hotaru looked around for help, noticing that most of her fellow Senshi were too far away to have noticed what was happening yet, and it appeared that Shampoo was backing slowly away as well. Kasumi and the man in black, however, were just meters away, and were coming closer.

"Akane?" Kasumi sounded confused. "Akane, is that you?" The eldest of the three Tendo sisters came closer slowly. "Akane!" She blinked in surprise. "Why are you wearing that fuku... and your hair...?" Kasumi's eyes went wide. "Oh dear, I believe I might understand."

Akane had turned to glance at the familiar sounding voice, and had nearly collapsed at the sight of a familiar face. "Kasumi! Oh gods! You don't know how happy I am to see you!" Akane glanced around worriedly. "What's going on, Kasumi? This is Jusenkyo, right? What are you doing here, anyway?"

Kasumi moved to Venus/Akane's side and set down the bucket she hadbeen carrying. "I'll explain as much as I can, Akane, but first, tell me, what is the last thing you remember?"

Akane hesitated. "A woman with wings... kidnapped me... threw me into one of the springs... then a girl in a tuxedo pulled me out of the water and that..." She pointed at the slowly retreating Shampoo. "whatever it is... was attacking her, so I hit it with a rock. Then I blacked out, I think."

Kasumi covered her mouth is dismay halfway through the story but waited for Akane to finish. "Oh AKANE." She stepped forward and hugged her faux younger sister impulsively. Kasumi sighed, holding the smaller girl close. "You're going to have to be strong for me, Akane. This will be difficult for you to accept."

Akane/Venus froze, pulling back slightly to look her older sister in the face. "Kasumi what...? You're crying?" Her face grew dark. "Kasumi, tell me. My hair, my clothes... all these strangers. I... drowned, didn't I? I... d-d-died."

Kasumi shook her head quickly. "No, no, not exactly. You did drown, but they pulled you out in time. They created a... a spring of drowned Akane, you see, in order to trick Ranma. You... you fell into that spring, I believe...."

As they talked, the other Senshi started to gather around curiously, as well as those Nerimites that were awake, including Ukyo and... "Akane!" Sailor Mercury spotted the young wife of Ranma Saotome as she and Urd were coming back from wherever they had been too see what the commotion was. The Sailor Senshi of water quickly moved to intercept, trying to warn them of the situation in a loud whisper. "Akane, I think maybe you'd better...." From the look on her face, Ami knew it was too late. Akane Saotome pushed past her without slowing, heading straight for her duplicate with deadly intent.

When she got closer, however, she noticed the sailor fuku and red hair bow and her expression lightened in relief. "Oh! It's you, Venus! For a second there I thought you were Kima again!"

Akane/Venus's mouth opened and closed several times upon seeing the original. "You... me... you're me...."

Akane Saotome blinked in confusion. "Um... am I missing something? Venus, what's wrong?"

Belldandy stepped in at that point. "Akane Saotome, meet Akane Tendo. Sailor Venus did fall into the spring of drowned Akane, but she has received more than just your outer form. She has your memories and personality as well, up to the moment you drowned."

Akane Saotome was stunned. "But... how?" Kima only looked like me... why is Venus different?"

Belldandy sighed. "Jusenkyo is a place of curses, curses of transformation. If the physical change from falling into a spring is not a significant one, the curse can change the recipient further, altering their mind. I assume that Kima was not fully human herself at the time of the change, otherwise she could not have used the spring to imitate Akane's form alone without taking on her mind as well."

Akane Saotome looked at her new twin in dismay. "Then... Venus?"

Belldandy answered softly. "Sailor Venus will return with hot water, as with any Jusenkyo curse."

Akane/Venus looked startled. "I'm Sailor Venus. I'm really Sailor V? I'm Sailor V's cursed form?" She shook her head, looking ready to faint. "This is just too much...." She spotted the bucket Kasumi had been carrying and picked it up almost reverently. "Hot water...."

Kasumi's eyes went wide in shock. "Akane!"

Akane/Venus smiled faintly. "Don't worry too much, Kasumi. You'll be seeing me again sooner or later. I know that much about the curse." She tipped the bucket over her head smoothly, triggering the change before anyone could even think of stopping her.

Sailor Venus blinked twice, getting the water out of her eyes. "Huh?" She looked around in confusion. "What happened? Why am I holding a bucket?" She frowned. "And where did Shampoo go? We were just fighting a second ago...." She noticed Belldandy and blinked again. "And who are you!?!"

Setsuna came up to her. "We won, for now. You are holding a bucket because you fell into the spring of drowned Akane, and Akane Tendo just changed herself back into you. Shampoo is..." She blinked. "Where is Shampoo?" Sailor Pluto sighed. "Didn't anyone think to keep an eye on Shampoo?" Everyone in the small crowd started looking around themselves innocently and Setsuna sighed. "I see. Is anyone else missing?"

Venus spoke up loudly, close to panic. "Wait a second! What do you mean I was Akane!?! Akane's right there!"

Akane stepped closer to the frightened senshi. "Venus... the last time I was in Jusenkyo, one of the local bird people, Kima, drowned me in an uncursed spring, and created the spring of drowned Akane so that she could impersonate me. You fell into that spring while fighting with Shampoo... and you turned into me... or at least a version of me, the Akane Tendo that fell into that spring."

Venus blinked. "You mean whenever I get splashed with cold water I turn into you?"

Akane temporized. "Well, into the me from several months ago...."

Venus stared at her. "Does that mean I'm engaged to Ranma too?" Akane fell over with a thump. Venus blinked. "Does that mean I am? Cool!"

End of Chapter 18

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