A Different Viewpoint: Curses and Demons, Chapter 19

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 part II

Chapter 19

After Venus was convinced that this did NOT mean she was engaged to Ranma, Sailor Pluto spoke up with a sigh. "As I was saying, is there anyone else missing?"

Urd answered her first. "Akane and I were looking for some little guy called Gosenkugi, but we couldn't find him."

"I found Ryoga, Nabiki, Dr. Tofu and the cats." Mamoru chipped in.

Ukyo spoke up, sounding worried. "Has anyone seen Ranko? I missed the end of the fight. Where'd she end up?"

Setsuna frowned. "Ranko, Shampoo, Mr. Gosenkugi... this does not bode well."

"The Ghost Cat!" Ami's eyes were wide. "It's still out there, and it's got Shampoo and Ranko!"

Urd spoke up. "Don't forget Mara and whoever it was she took with her. They're still on the loose as well."

Kasumi spoke up. "Cliopatra. She hates us, especially Misty and me. We never meant her harm, but she'll never forgive us. Things have gone too far for that now."

Akane picked herself up off the ground, growling. "I don't care about that bitch. I just want to find Ranko... and Shampoo for that matter!" She turned to Ami. "Can't you find them with your computer or something?"

Ami nodded. "I'll try, if they haven't gotten too far out of range...." She pulled the Mercury computer out. "Jusenkyo itself produces a lot of background noise, but...."

Skuld looked over her shoulder with interest. "That's a neat computer!" She enthused. "I bet I could increase the scanning range on it though."

Ami blinked. "Really?"

Skuld nodded earnestly. "Sure, all you have to do is...."

As the two computer heads conferred, Setsuna started giving orders. "OK, everyone try and stick together. Until we're back up to full strength, we can't afford to split up. The Demoness alone, or Ranko, Shampoo, the Ghost cat... any combination of these forces is very dangerous. Belldandy-san, Saturn, please continue doing what you were doing. Everyone else, collect all the injured and bring them out here where we can watch over them."

Michael suddenly broke in. "Wait a second. No one has mentioned it, but where is Johnathon Dwire/Tendo?"

Setsuna looked at him. "Michael Allen Dwire, all your questions will be answered soon enough. As for your brother...." Setsuna turned to Kasumi. "Where is your husband, Kasumi-san? He was present earlier."

Kasumi pointed toward the hills. "He went looking for Misty. I believe they headed off that way."

Setsuna's eyebrow twitched. "Two more half-cats missing? I find it difficult to believe this is a coincidence. The Ghost Cat is probably behind their disappearance as well." She sighed. "There is nothing we can do about it now. If I'm right, this threat is far from over. We must regroup and prepare for another confrontation. When everyone has recovered, we will search for them all."

For Akane, Kasumi, and many of the others, it seemed like days passed while they waited for Belldandy and Hotaru to finish healing everyone, but it was really closer to twenty minutes before all the injured were up and around.

Everyone, that is, save Ranma. Concerned that if healed he would still be under the Ghost Cat's influence, Hotaru and Belldandy left healing him till the last.

"I could release him from the possession." Belldandy explained to Akane. "But the Cat-fist itself would be more difficult. That sort of trauma will require a great deal of work to overcome, although I sense much of that work has been completed already. Never-the-less, as long as Ranma is affected by the Cat-fist, he is vulnerable to the Ghost." She turned to Usagi. "Sailor Moon has the power to heal his mind, at least temporarily, correct?"

Usagi nodded firmly. "I can heal him."

Nabiki spoke up. "Wait a second! The Ghost Cat is grabbing everyone with any kind of cat curse, right? So if Ranma wakes up he'll head straight for the Ghost Cat, won't he? We just have to follow Ranma to him, while making sure the Ghost Cat doesn't know we're doing it."

Ami spoke up. "I can put a tracer on Ranma. I'm not sure what the range will be though."

Skuld chimed in. "Leave that to me! I've got a great tracking unit at home. I'll go get it!"

As Skuld and Sailor Mercury prepared a tracer for Ranma, Nabiki spoke with Setsuna and Belldandy, trying to come up with a workable plan. "The only thing I can't figure out is how the Ghost Cat is pulling this off." Nabiki grumbled. "He's never been able to control people like this before. Normal cats maybe, I've even seen him possess one person at a time, but four? I don't buy it. If he grabs Ranma that would be five people at once. How can he pull it off?"

Belldandy spoke up. "Mara is probably helping him. If we can get close to him, however, we should be able to cut him off from her, and exorcise his influence over your friends."

Nabiki nodded slowly. "I'll take your word for it, Belldandy-san. Anyway, the Ghost Cat IS pretty slow on the uptake, so we can probably fool him into thinking he can grab Ranma without us knowing about it, but this Mara character sounds like she's a whole lot smarter. It has to look real, or she'll never fall for it."

Setsuna nodded. "I agree, so this is how we'll do it...."

Neko-Ranma woke up to find himself tied up with several strong ropes and guarded by Sailor Saturn and Sailor Neptune. After accessing the situation, he broke his bonds and vaulted into the air, felling Saturn and Neptune with a surprise attack, then bounding off as fast as he could go. There was a general outcry behind him, but he soon left the Senshi far behind, doubling back around with uncharacteristic intelligence as soon as he was out of sight.

Mara had suggested the switch in direction to throw off any possible pursuers who might have thought to locate Ranma's destination based on his original course. She had, in fact, been against the Ghost Cat attempting to retrieve Ranma at all, but as she hadn't been able to persuade him otherwise she had suggested the ruse, hoping that it would be enough. Mara, hadn't, however, waited around to see if the trick would work.

"If you manage to pull it off, I'll locate you." The demoness had informed him. "If not, my presence wouldn't be enough to save you, and could very well lead to my own downfall." She shrugged. "So you're on your own." With that she had left, taking Cliopatra, still unconscious, and Gosenkugi, who was still bound to serve Cliopatra, and though her, Mara herself, with her.

When Ranma had arrived, the Ghost Cat was ecstatic. Gathering his minions he prepared to move out, only to hear a low chanting in the distance, slowly coming his way. Against his will he suddenly found himself growing visible. Turning towards the source of the chanting he spotted the three goddesses, walking slowly in his direction. Frantically, he tried to escape, but found he could not.

"Mrrow! Help mme my mminions! Attack themm!"

Each of the cat cursed people heeded their master's command, but as they ran toward the goddesses, each one was met by a single defender. Neko-Ranma was intercepted by Akane Saotome several meters before he could reach the Norns.

The short haired girl held her arms out wide as a barrier. "You'll have to go through me to get to them, Ranma."

Ukyo did the same to Ranko, she held her arms out wide, her spatula sheathed. < I hope this works!>

Dr. Tofu intercepted Shampoo with a bit of trepidation. She had already attacked him once while controlled by the Ghost Cat, and he didn't believe this time would prove any different.

Kasumi stepped in front of Johnathon serenely, no doubt in her mind.

Nabiki had at first protested that Ryoga should be the one to intercept Misty, but after a consultation with Belldandy, had agreed to do the job herself.

The Ghost Cat felt a surge of triumph as he saw what a pitiful group of defenders stood between the goddesses and his minions. < Surely they can't hope to stop my warriors with such a weak group.> Triumph turned to shock as his pawns came to a halt instead of attacking.

Ranma and Ranko halted in confusion, not moving at all except to shake their heads in confusion. Shampoo had her claws inches from Dr. Tofu's throat, and seemed to be struggling with herself, while the young practitioner exercised his considerable self control not to make any moves to defend himself. Johnathon had somehow stopped in mid pounce upon seeing Kasumi and had plowed into the ground at her feet rather hard in an effort to avoid crashing into her. Seeing Misty advancing on her menacingly, Nabiki shrieked and turned to run.

From the side, a familiar voice yelled. "No! Don't do it, Kasumi!" At hearing a voice so like Johnathon's, Misty paused in confusion long enough for Ryoga to reach her. He pinned her arms easily, keeping her claws away from his face with a negligible effort. He spun her into his arms and held her tightly while Michael ran up with rope to tie her more securely.

The Ghost Cat looked in in horror as one by one his minions began to throw off his mental control.

Akane moved up to Ranma and patted him on the head. "Good Kitty... there now." The Neko-ken crazed youth responded with a purr, butting up against her for more attention, all other thoughts leaving his feline mind.

Encouraged by Akane's example, Ukyo tried the same with Ranko, with similar results. "Um, good cat?" Ranko purred softly, then bowled the Chef over and started licking her face. "Hey! um, aww... good Ranko."

Dr. Tofu's nerves finally got the better of him. Shampoo had kept getting closer and closer to him, and before Shampoo could overcome her indecision, he made a lightning fast move, and tapped her sleep shiatsu spot. < As I thought, her Chi was unfocused.> He caught her as she fell. Then he had his hands full with an enraged half cat amazon. < Uh oh! Guess the sleep spot's slightly different in her altered form!> He struggled to pin her, but found her all too strong and fast for him. He was only saved from severe damage by the fact that she was much more interested in getting at the goddesses than killing him. Finally, just before he lost his grip on her entirely, he kissed her firmly on the lips.

Shampoo froze, this new attack confusing her out of her rage. She found herself suddenly aware of her surroundings, of who she was, and what she was doing. She happily leaned into the kiss, and hugged her Tofu tightly.

Johnathon slowly rose to his knees, shaking his head as if he were coming out of a daze. Kasumi knelt down in front of him and placed her hands on either side of his face. She looked into his eyes intently. "Come back to me Johnathon, my love."

His eyes cleared and he blinked. "Kasumi?"

The Ghost Cat, paralyzed, his power fading, howled silently for release, but the goddesses were implacable. Moments later he was gone, fading away to nothing. The goddesses stopped chanting with a long sigh. "He's gone." Skuld said unnecessarily.

In Ryoga's arms, Misty stopped struggling. "Oh my." She said quietly. "I'm all right now Ryoga, Michael." She looked down at her hands. "Could you please untie me?"

Nabiki walked up to the goddesses. "I'm sorry if I seem a bit ungrateful, but where is he gone to? He's caused my family more than enough trouble."

Belldandy blinked. "Oh dear, I am sorry. Well, don't worry Nabiki-chan, he will not return to bother you again. He's been avoiding his reincarnation for far too long. Somewhere, just now, a litter of kittens is being born. He'll be much happier growing up with a nice family somewhere."

Nabiki's eyes went wide as she absorbed the implications of that. A sudden, "Hey, stop that!" Distracted her to other things. Ukyo was trying to get Ranko off her, unsuccessfully.

Nabiki laughed. "Guess she knows her 'mate', eh, Ukyo?"

Ukyo blushed brightly at the word mate. "Don't give her any ideas, Nabiki. From what Akane tells me, Ranchan here isn't to fussy about privacy when she's in the Neko-ken..."

Nabiki blinked. "I was just kidding. You don't think that she'd..." A thump behind her caused Nabiki to turn toward Akane and Ranma. There, the pigtailed boy had knocked Akane down as well, although rather than just curling up in her lap, he was rather actively rubbing up against his wife in a very provocative manner. Nabiki blushed. "Oh... I see she might, at that."

Akane was blushing bright red as Ranma continued to rub against her, threatening to dislodge her improvised halter top at any moment. "Er... if you all wouldn't mind...."

Urd watched with interest. "I don't mind at all. Go right ahead!"

Nabiki couldn't help but chuckle. "Would you like some privacy, little sister?"

Akane glanced at her older sibling as Neko-Ranma finally managed to get her top off. "Unless you're planning on snapping Ranma out of the Cat-fist, yes! In this state, Ranma doesn't exactly understand the word no."

Belldandy was also blushing. "Oh dear, perhaps I'd better...."

Kasumi, also blushing bright red, helped her husband to his feet. "You looked rather pale, Belldandy-sama. Perhaps I should get Sailor Moon?"

Akane broke in. "No. Ranma might attack her! I'll... calm him down first, but please... aah... could you all please...?"

Belldandy blinked. "Are you sure?"

Akane nodded firmly, keeping a straight face somehow as Ranma clumsily tried to push her cut offs off her hips. "Ranma won't hurt me. I'll be fine. Just... ahh... give us some privacy please?"

Johnathon, now back in full command of his faculties, spoke up. "Right, lets give them some space, OK?" Quickly and quietly everyone left the area, most sporting huge blushes. Ukyo, however, was still pinned by Ranko, and when she tried to pick up the petite red head to carry her off, Ranko apparently thought she wanted to play and pounced on her.

Kasumi, the last one to leave, paused in concern. "Ukyo, do YOU want me to get Sailor Moon?"

Ukyo glanced over at Akane, who shrugged a naked shoulder in response, then shook her head. "We'll be OK..." She glanced back at Akane again. "Right?"

Akane sighed. "We might be tired out, but they won't HURT us."

Ukyo gulped, then turned to nod at Kasumi firmly. "We'll be fine, go on."

Kasumi heard Ukyo gasp in surprise as she turned to go, and heard Akane giving her some helpful advice before getting out of earshot. "You'd better help her take that off before she gets frustrated and just shreds it." Blushing from ear to ear, Kasumi hurried to catch up with the others.

Ukyo felt Ranko give her skirt another, harder tug and quickly pushed it down off of her hips before the she could tear it. "I can't believe I'm doing this." Ukyo glanced over at Akane, who was completely naked by then, holding onto Ranma and trying to get comfortable on the bare ground. "Akane, how can you take this so calmly? I mean you're... we're... being...."

"Raped?" Akane asked quietly. "I don't think of it like that. I mean, you can't rape the willing, right?" She rolled her head back slightly as Ranma licked one of her breasts. "Ahh... this isn't... ohh... exactly forced... exactly... ahhh.... and it's certainly... ahh... not painful."

Ukyo started to frown, then her eyes rolled back as Ranko's hot breath teased the hairs of her mound. "Oh gods." She reached down to the top of Ranko's head, intending to move the smaller girl away, but instead inadvertently ended up pushing the smaller girl face first between her legs. Ranko seemed content to be there and started licking vigorously. Ukyo's hips jerked against her will and she moaned loudly. "Oh... Ranko!"

Akane grinned at her mischievously. "You're not fighting this very hard either, are you Ukyo?"

Ukyo tenderly stroked Ranko's hair, breathing deeply. "No, I guess not... but this is Ranchan, you know? If he... she, wants me, I'm hers. It's just... how can I face anyone after this?"

Akane had her eyes closed in pleasure, but opened them to look Ukyo in the face. "I asked myself the... oh my... the same question when this first happened to me... ahhh...." She took a deep breath before continuing. "Johnathon, Kasumi, the... ahh! the Senshi... they were all there, saw me... and Ranma... in the Neko-ken... naked... they had to have known, but... but they never said a word." Akane smiled faintly. "They never will." She groaned as Ranma ground his hips into hers and glanced down. The pigtailed boy was still wearing his boxers and hadn't apparently thought to remove them. She sighed and reached down, helping him out of his shorts, then gently guided him into position.

"Might as well give him a hand." Akane muttered wryly. "Or we'll be at this for hours." Feeling her around him, Ranma thrust forward powerfully, causing the short haired girl to grunt in reaction. Before long, Ranma had settled down into a steady rhythm.

Ukyo watched wide eyed, even as Ranko continued to eat her out. "Wow." She said quietly in wonder, feeling a bit jealous. "Doesn't it hurt?"

Akane, her whole body being rocked back and forth by Ranma, glanced at Ukyo incredulously. "You're... you're asking that now?"

Ukyo gasped as another wave of pleasure ran through her from Ranko's agile tongue. "Well.. is there a better time?"

Akane's eyes were a bit wide and she was panting in short gasps. "I'm... kind of busy... you know."

Ukyo winced. "Sorry, right."

Akane closed her eyes, rocking into Ranma's rhythm, then spoke between strokes. "Only... only the first time... really... although that hurts a lot. After that though... if you know what you're doing... ah... it's ohh... indescribable." There were no word after that, save a few mummers of pleasure or encouragement. When Ranma and Ranko finally quit, over an hour later and decided to take a nap, both Akane and Ukyo were more than ready to join them.

The sun was starting to set when Ukyo finally woke back up. Ranko was laying draped over her in a very unguarded, very human manner, and Ukyo couldn't help but smile at the sight of her. < I wonder if anyone would believe me if I told them I was raped by a red head half a head shorter than me, who thought she was a cat at the time?> Ukyo shook her head. Ukyo frowned. < But this Neko-ken stuff, Akane said they're almost over it, but obviously not completely. What can I do to help Ranchan get over her fear of cats for good? Ranchan is kinda endearing when she's a cat, but she's dangerous to others, not to mention completely out of control. I wouldn't mind her jumping my bones from time to time, but not in public!>

Ukyo sighed. < Time to worry about that later. I wonder if she's snapped out of it by now?> "Ranchan?" Ukyo whispered softly. "Ranchan wake up." The short red head had failed to stir.. Ukyo rolled her eyes. < Silly me, Ranchan isn't exactly a light sleeper after after all.> The brown haired girl slowly sat up, setting Ranko gently to one side, or trying to, for as soon as she started lifting the smaller girl Ranko started awake.

"Waz it? Huh? Ucchan, what...?" Ranko looked around quickly, her face getting redder by the moment as she pieced together her current situation. < I'm naked.> She realized. < I'm naked and lying on top of Ukyo.> Ranko blinked. < We're naked, and outside...> Ranko swallowed as she spotted their companions. < And Ranma and Akane are also sleeping naked next to us.>

Ukyo had to suppress a giggle as she watched the expressions on Ranko's face. < I can just imagine what she's thinking.> Impishly she planted a kiss on Ranko's nose. "You were great, Ran-chan."

Confusion warred with pride on the red-head's face. "Er... of course I was..." Ranko scratched her head, obviously trying to remember what exactly she had been so great at, when Ukyo relented.

"You don't remember anything because most of the time you were in the Cat-fist. We were all hypnotized by hypnosis incense, you and Ranma got put into the Neko-ken... it's a long story."

Ranko's eyes were wide. "No way!"

Ukyo nodded. "Yes. Good guys won though."

Ranko blinked again, then grinned cockily. "Heh, I still got it. Ranma.. I mean Ranko Saotome never looses."

Ukyo coughed. "Ah, well actually, you did. You were working for the bad guys at the time. When you were hypnotized into thinking you were a cat, the Ghost Cat apparently mind controlled you."

Ranko's eyes were bulging out in rage. "No way no how! You're kidding!"

Ukyo shook her head. "Sorry Ran-chan, but it's all true. Some demoness named Mara helped him. At one point he was controlling you, Ranma, Shampoo, Johnathon and Misty!"

Ranko looked incredulous. "How'd you beat us?" Ukyo shrugged, causing fascinating things to happen to her breasts. Ranko refused to be distracted. "Come on, give!"

Ukyo shrugged again. "Apparently Nabiki gathered together Ryoga, some of your students, and the Sailor Senshi, and they all came to our rescue... and after you beat up all the Senshi, three goddesses came down and helped out, and with their help, Akane and I finally stopped you and Ranma."

Ranko's voice was echoed from behind her. "I know it couldn't have been that easy..." They both glanced at Ranma, who had spoken at the same time as Ranko.

Ukyo blushed, seeing Ranma and Akane were both awake. "How long have you two been listening?"

Akane shrugged. "Long enough to notice you embellishing a few points anyway. You seem to have skipped a great deal as well."

Ukyo paled slightly. "Hey, I was summarizing, OK?"

Ranko hesitated but finally spoke. "Um... but... how did we all end up... um... you know... like this?"

Akane sighed. "Naked, you mean?" She blushed brighter. "Well, it's simple really. Once you were freed from the Ghost Cat's control, you went back to your normal selves. Normal cat selves anyway. Apparently you were both a little um... excited at the time, so..."

Ranma and Ranko both paled. "I didn't!"

Akane and Ukyo both nodded solemnly. Akane muttered, "Right in front of everyone too. If we weren't married, Ranma, I'd have knocked you clear back to Japan, Cat-fist or no Cat-fist." She leaned up to kiss her husband on the cheek. "But we are... and I'm not the same person I once was."

Ranma shook his head in shame. "Ah, dang it Akane, ya should have belted me. I can't understand why you put up with me sometimes."

Akane smiled softly at him. "Because I love you, Baka." She shook her head. "Besides... I may never get to see the 'cat' personality of yours again. At least he got a proper good-bye."

Ranma looked at Akane, incredulous all over again. "Your kidding!"

Akane shook her head seriously. "Actually, no. In a way, I'll miss the cat side of you. You may have been selfish, lecherous, and completely without any sort of morals as a cat, but you were innocent too. Guileless, straight-forward. I never had to wonder what you were thinking about..." She chuckled. "Your kinda cute like that too... not to mention... er... other benefits."

Ranma blinked several times in confusion. "Other benefits? Like what?"

Akane blushed. "Never mind, Ranma. It's not important."

Ranma opened his mouth to ask, but the look on Akane's face warned him off and he wisely dropped the subject.

Ukyo was both impressed and surprised by Ranma's restraint. < He's learning. Still, maybe I'd better have a talk with him later. I can guess what Akane was getting at, and Ran-chan would never think of it on his own.>

There were several uncomfortable moments of silence which Ranma finally broke. "Um, has anyone seen my boxers?"

Akane giggled before reaching around for where she had put them. "Here Ranma." She started fishing around for her own clothing as Ranma slipped on his boxers, taking care to keep his more 'interesting' bits concealed behind Akane as he did so.

Akane figured out what he was doing just after he finished covering up. "Ranma, don't tell me that Mr. 'No feminine modesty' is actually shy?!"

Ranma flushed. "Hey! I don't got no 'feminine' modesty cause I ain't a girl. That don't mean I ain't got no... um masculine modesty."

Ukyo pouted slightly. "That's not very fair, Ranma. You've gotten to see all of us in the all together, but we don't get to see what's you've got to offer?" She looked pointedly at his boxers. "Why are you being so modest Ranma? Got something to hide?"

Ranma looked shocked. "What?"

Akane protested. "Trust me Ukyo, he's got nothing to be ashamed about."

Ukyo looked dubious. "Are you sure? I mean, you're married to him. You've got to defend the big lug. Besides, what basis for comparison do you have? I've been in a few boy's locker rooms in my time, so I'd know, but have you?"

Akane flushed bright red. "I've never...!"

Ukyo shrugged. "Well then, how would you know?" She turned to Ranko. "You can tell me Ran-chan. How does he... size up?"

Ranko blinked. "What... me? Uh uh. No way I'm jumping into this one."

Ukyo pouted. "Can't you even give me a hint?"

Ranko shot a look at Ranma, who only shrugged helplessly. She rolled her eyes. "Fine." Leaning in close, she whispered something in Ukyo's ear, making a gesture with her hands only Ukyo could see.

"Really?" Ukyo blinked. "That big?" She glanced at Akane. "How in the world do you fit it all...?"

Ranko blanched. "Ah man, I do not want to hear this!"

Akane winked at Ukyo. "We'll talk later."

Pretty soon, everyone but Ranko was dressed. There had been no sign of the Chinese shirt she had been wearing, and none of the others had anything to spare. Finally, Ranko sighed. "Ah, the heck with it. It's not like I'm gonna get embarrassed or nothin. Let's just go back. I can grab a shirt or somethin from one of the others."

They started back toward Jusenkyo, finally heading heading for the light from several campfires as if began to get truly dark. Skuld intercepted them with a pair of Yukata for Ranma and Ranko. (Akane and Ukyo had refused them before, as being inconvenient to fight in.) The young goddess lead them to the largest of the camp fires, where a very unusual council of war was being held. Belldandy, still gigantic, sat at one end of the fire, while the others stood. Setsuna and Usagi (the later looking bored) stood in for the Senshi, while Nabiki, Johnathon and Dr. Tofu were there representing the Nermia crew.

Belldandy smiled at them as they came up. "Ranma, Ranko, I'm glad to see you back to yourselves." Both Saotomes blinked at the sight of the huge goddess. They both glanced at Skuld for a moment, then back to her again.

"You!" They shouted together. "I remember you!" The twins glared at each other, then Ranma motioned with his head for Ranko to go ahead.

Ranko pointed at Skuld. "And you... there was a third one of you...." She turned back to Belldandy. "When did you get so big?"

Belldandy nodded in the direction of Jusenkyo. "A gift of the cursed springs that reacted... differently to my own to my own nature than it would have otherwise."

Ranko blinked in incomprehension, then shook her head, dismissing it. "So... you're really a watchamacallit... one of the fates? You're a goddess?"

Belldandy simply nodded. "Yes."

Ranko looked interested. "That's pretty neat. Are you related to Saffron?"

Belldandy blinked twice, then giggled. "Not directly, Ranko-san, although there is a distant connection I believe." The goddess' face turned serious. "Ranma, Ranko, we have been piecing together everything we can about what has happened, and we were hoping you might add what you know to the puzzle." She paused. "I think it might be best if we went over what you know first, so you will know what information we do and do not have."

Ranko scratched her heard. "Well... I'm not sure if I know anything useful, but I'd sure like to find out what happened. Shoot, I'm listening."

Belldandy nodded. "Very well. This all began with the last batch of Youma attacks that you and the Senshi were forced to deal with." Belldandy frowned. "Actually, that is rather imprecise, but I'll explain. The Demoness Marller was behind the Youma attacks that you thwarted with her defeat. In particular, Ranko, you and Ranma were pivotal to her defeat, which is most likely why she became involved in this quest for revenge against you."

Ranko interrupted. "Wait, the lady in the black leather was some sort of Demon, and she's out to get me? Oh great, why not?"

Belldandy inclined her head sympathetically. "You were not the sole target for her ire, only perhaps the first one. >From what Kasumi and others have told us, a woman who called herself Cliopatra was Mara's primary pawn in all this. Cliopatra was also motivated by revenge towards you, and primarily against Kasumi herself. Somehow they found each other. Mara assisted Cliopatra with both planning all this and rescuing her at the last moment. I fear greatly for her soul. How they located each other I cannot say, although little is impossible for a Demoness of Mara's abilities. Somehow Cliopatra was able to gain control of Hikaru Gosenkugi, and through him, most of her other allies."

Ranko held up her hand. "Wait. Gos? Creepy little guy? Mallets and voodoo dolls? Cameras and stalking? That Gosenkugi?"

Belldandy frowned just slightly. "Yes. Mr. Gosenkugi recently helped Nabiki Tendo with Master Happosai when the grand master of your school had been manipulating her with his hypnosis incense. They managed to catch him in his own incense, and Gosenkugi-san used the opportunity to make Happosai into his loyal servant... at least until Sailor Moon's attack managed to free him. Apparently Cliopatra learned of this somehow, and managed to gain control of both Gosenkugi-san and the incense. Before he left, Mr. Taro informed us that under her orders, Gosenkugi-san and Happosai used the incense to capture him as well as the Kuno siblings. Later, presumably also with Mara's help, Cliopatra located and recruited the Ghost Cat to her cause, apparently promising it yourself, as well as Shampoo, in payment. Mara boosted the Ghost Cat's abilities so that it could control not only normal cats, but those with any sort of cat curse."

Ranko shivered at that. "Man, that's pretty scary. So what happened to the Ghost Cat, anyway?"

Belldandy smiled sadly. "Like most Ghosts, he had avoided his next cycle of life, and was instead desperately hanging on to one last goal he had never been able to fulfill. We simply enabled him to pass on to his next incarnation, where he will hopefully be able to find the happiness he sought."

Ranko just blinked for several seconds, and Skuld jumped in to explain it in other terms. "She means that he was a big glitch in the system, and we rewrote his program!"

Ranko's brow furrowed. "Uh... I think I followed Belldandy's explanation better." She nodded to herself. "OK, so the Ghost Cat's gone on to his next life, so he's out of our hair. What about Mara and the others?"

Belldandy shook her head. "Mara, Gosenkugi, Cliopatra and Happosai have all escaped, and we have not been able to trace them as of yet, undoubtedly due to Mara's efforts. Everyone else has been freed from the Hypnosis incense, but of the incense itself there is no sign. We must assume that either Cliopatra or Mara has it, if any is left."

Ranko groaned. "So it ain't over, is it?"

Belldandy shook her head. "Not until Mara at least is found. Unfortunately at this time there is a little is little we can do but wait and watch." Belldandy was silent for several long moments before speaking again. "Do you have any insights to share with us on these events?"

Ranko hesitated. "I don't know. I never remember anything when I'm in the cat-fist, and I can't think of anything I can tell you that you don't already know." She looked thoughtful. "Nah, you told me a lot I didn't know, and I ain't got nothing new to add to it, sorry."

Belldandy shook her head. "Not at all. You were the last one. I would have been surprised to hear much more information at this point, although we did hope...." She sighed. "Never-the-less, most of those present have elected to return home at this time. Mara will be some time returning, and it is best that you return to your own lives for the present. My sisters and I will be watching in case Mara does come back. I promise you that." Skuld and Setsuna both gave a start at that, staring wide eyed at Belldandy.

"Sister...." Skuld whispered.

Belldandy looked over at her younger sister calmly. "Father would approve. We are responsible, after all."

Setsuna bowed deeply to Belldandy. "We are grateful for your assistance."

Belldandy bowed back, equally formal. "It is our duty, and we must all perform our duties."

Setsuna nodded firmly. "Indeed."

Skuld spoke up. "So, should I start taking everyone home? I already dropped off the Kuno's" She shrugged. "They weren't doing too well, so I though they'd feel better at home."

Belldandy nodded. "That was probably best, Skuld. Yes, please start taking anyone home who wishes to go." She turned to Ranko and company. "If there is anything you wish to do while you are here. You might wish to do so. Skuld can take you home in an instant, as soon as you are ready."

Setsuna bowed to Belldandy again. "We will be able to get home on our own, Belldandy-san, but we appreciate you making arraignments for for anyone else." She put a hand on Usagi's shoulder. "Come Usagi, we should see what else needs to be done before we go home."

Usagi blinked. "What? Oh... right, Setsuna." The two women started walking back toward the other Senshi, and Setsuna looked down at Usagi in concern.

"You seem distracted, Usagi-chan, more so than usual. Would you like to talk about it?"

Usagi shook her head. "I just... what are we going to do? When it was just me getting in trouble with my parents... well I could handle that. I mean, I hate being grounded, but it wouldn't be the end of the world or anything... but now everyone's been cursed!" Usagi started to cry. "Mamo-chan and Haruka and Ami and Mina and even you...." Oh Setsuna, this is all my fault!"

Setsuna shook her head, gathering Usagi up for a hug. "It is not your fault. You did the best you could, just as you always do. We will survive. Trust in your Senshi, princess. We're stronger than you think."

Usagi sniffed. "I know. Mamo-chan will pretend that it doesn't matter what he looks like, and it doesn't, not to me! Michiru will still care for Haruka... but what is Ami's mom going to say when she finds out that Ami turns into a panther?" Usagi shuddered. "And what about... Mina... and poor Akane... what should we call her, anyway? I mean, there already is an Akane. How can there be two Akanes?"

Setsuna shook her head. "In much the same way that there can be two Ranmas, or two Kasumis." She sighed. "But you're right, this is in some ways worse. Our new Ms. Tendo shares a body with Minako, but only one of them can exist at a time." She frowned. "I had almost considered suggesting she use the water from the spring of drowned twins as a solution, but Belldandy's accident has eliminated that possibility, along with the spring itself."

Setsuna shook her head. "There is nothing else I can think of. Mina and Akane are both generous, giving personalities. I think they will come to an understanding in time." Sailor Pluto suddenly froze in shock as her words triggered a vision of the future. Ranma Saotome, standing in a graveyard, was gently laying a bouquet of flowers at a grave site. It was obviously the future, for the Ranma she saw was middle aged, looking hardened and weather-beaten.

The viewpoint changed, and Setsuna gasped involuntarily as she realized just how far in the future it was. Crystal Tokyo was visible in the distance behind Ranma, causing Setsuna to wonder just how old Ranma was. Then a young woman in a Sailor Fuku walked quietly up behind Ranma. The Fuku was Sailor Venus's but Setsuna easily recognized the face as Akane's, still young and vital. Ranma obviously sensed her coming up behind him but didn't react.

"I waited." Akane/Venus said simply.

Ranma closed his eyes for a moment, then turned to face her. "I knew." He replied quietly. "I always knew."

"She'd want us to be together." Akane/Venus's face was a mask.

Ranma grinned slowly. "I know that too."

Akane/Venus stamped her foot impatiently. "So how much longer are you going to make me wait, idiot?" Ranma laughed out loud and Akane/Venus got visibly madder by the second. When he finally stopped laughing and regarded her seriously, her anger vanished and she appeared to stop breathing under the strength of his regard.

"Akane Tendo?" He said formally, dropping to one knee before her. "Will you marry me?"

Akane pretended to think about it. "I don't know." She finally answered. "I'll have to ask Mina first." Ranma blinked twice, and the two of them started to laugh, long and hard.

"Pluto? Setsuna? Hey! Wake up!" A familiar voice cut through the Senshi of Time's vision, causing it to fade.

"Setsuna blinked to see a worried looking Usagi peering up into her eyes. "Hmm? Usagi?"

Usagi sighed in relief. "You had me worried. Why did you space out like that?"

Setsuna blinked away a tear. "It's nothing serious, Usagi-chan, but... I think that things may turn out alright in the end after all." The Senshi of Time was so ecstatic with her vision that Ami had to address her three times to get her attention. Crystal Tokyo was back! The vision of Ranma and Akane/Venus in the future was pleasant, but to see Crystal Tokyo again intact was the real gift.

"Setsuna!" Ami sounded a bit frazzled but the green haired Senshi couldn't really blame her.

"Yes Ami?" Setsuna turned to the water Senshi with a soft apologetic smile.

Ami coughed. "Yes, well, Urd-san helped us to recover most of our costumes from the springs we fell into, but in both cases the leotard was missing. I believe Happosai is the most likely suspect. So far, unfortunately we have not been able to locate either Happosai or our missing fukus. Apparently he has managed to make off with Neptune's leotard as well, not no mention Sailor Moon, Mars and Jupiter's entire costumes."

This cause Pluto to pay more attention. "You're not serious... on second thought I can see that you are." Setsuna blinked several times in thought. "What a bizarre man. Such incredible skill... wasted in that manner." She shook her head. "Oh well, the loss is annoying, but shouldn't prove disastrous."

Ami wrinkled her nose. "I suppose not, but..."

Setsuna raised an eyebrow. "What is bothering you? I hope you've realized by now that the costume isn't necessary to be a Senshi. The power comes from within, costume or no."

Ami nodded. "Oh, I'd figured that much out on my own, but... it's the transformation itself that concerns me. Normally when we transform, our regular clothes are taken to an extra dimensional space, correct?"

Setsuna hesitated. "Not precisely, but close enough."

Ami continued more hesitatingly. "And our costumes replace them... so...."

Setsuna sighed. "So what happens when our costumes aren't there?" She raised an eyebrow. "Haven't you deduced the answer yet?" Inside, Setsuna was thinking rapidly. < What would happen?> Outwardly she exuded knowing confidence. "I'll leave that as an exercise for the student."

Ami blinked, then nodded. "All right, let's see...." Pulling out the Mercury computer, she began to type rapidly, imputing calculations. After a few minutes she turned to Sailor Uranus. "Haruka-san, could you please transform back to normal, then into Sailor Uranus again?"

Uranus blinked at being addressed, but then nodded. "Sure." With a muted flash, she became Haruka, wearing the masculine outfit she had been wearing before they had left for China. She glanced at Ami who looked up from her computer long enough to nod.

"Ok, got it. Now go back."

Haruka shrugged, lifted her heshin wand, and transformed again, this time with a much more colorful and protracted light show.

Ami was lost in her computer for a much longer time and when she finally looked up she had a perplexed look on her face. "It's not an extra dimensional space... and it is?" She wrinkled her nose again. "So... our transformations shunt our normal clothing out of phase... while our costumes are... created? Matter from energy? That's...."

"Magic?" Haruka ventured.

Ami shook her head. "Any science sufficiently advanced would appear to be magic. There's a scientific explanation, I'm sure of it." She went back to her computer. "No, no, there's not enough energy in the change for it to be a true matter/energy conversion, it must be a property of the costumes themselves. They form to fit us when they appear, seem to mend themselves, almost as if they aren't matter at all, but fields of force... with matter like properties."

Haruka scratched her head. "So I'm wearing some sort of force field? Seems pretty solid to me."

Ami nodded. "It is solid, or rather it has almost all the properties of a solid... I guess if you wanted to give it a pseudo scientific term you could say our costumes are made up of unstable molecules." Ami nodded to herself. 'Which would explain why physical attacks can tear them but they are sometimes disrupted entirely by high level energy attacks."

Michiru spoke up. "But what does that mean?"

Ami wrinkled her nose again, (Which Haruka was finding almost too cute for words.) "I think it means that our transformations are one way. Calling up our costumes stores what we're wearing at the time, and transforming back to normal causes our clothes to reappear, and our costumes to turn back into their unstable energy like form. I'm not sure if it would work any other way."

Michiru blinked. "So what does that mean?"

Ami hesitated. "Er... I'm not really sure, but one possibility is that if you are wearing anything when you change back into your normal form besides your fuku, it wouldn't trade places with your normal outfit."

"Why not?" Haruka questioned.

Ami sweat dropped. "Um..." She tried to think. "Well it's only a theory, but I believe when we change into Senshi, our clothes get shunted to an extra-dimensional space, while our uniforms are formed from energy and unstable molecules, and when we transform back our uniforms discorporate while our clothes return from that extra-dimensional space."

Haruka blinked. "OK..."

Ami went on explaining, fingering the material of her Yukata. "This isn't made of unstable molecules, so it won't be able to discorporate when my regular clothes reappear."

Haruka's eyes went wide. "Oh! I get it. But what happens when two sets of clothes try to be in the same place at the same time?"

Ami shrugged. "Who knows? One set of clothing could be destroyed, or both. Perhaps they'd merge at the molecular level and be bonded to each other. Perhaps they would interact at an atomic level and destroy themselves and everything in the immediate vicinity." Ami held up a hand. 'That's a worst case scenario, I can't believe whoever designed our uniforms wouldn't have thought of that. Perhaps the dimensional pocket won't open, or maybe our transformation ability could take a different outfit into account and change the way it works...." Ami sighed. "I don't think I'd want to risk it without more testing."

Michiru looked worried. "I'd better warn the others not to transform back for now."

Ami nodded, then brightened. "I wonder if Skuld-san would have any ideas?"


While the Senshi had been talking, Skuld had been ferrying the Nerimites home two by two, until only Ranma, Ranko, Akane, Ukyo, Johnathon, Misty, Kasumi and Michael were left. Johnathon and Michael were arguing about something rather fiercely in English while the others looked on with various levels of concern.

The two brothers had been talking for hours off and on while everyone had been waiting for Akane, Ukyo, Ranma and Ranko to return, and were at it again, going hammer and tongs over something they obviously had a serious disagreement about.

"You're going home!" Johnathon hissed fiercely, his cat-like eyes glittering. "I've already explained why I didn't want you involved in all of this, and you said you understood."

"I do understand." Michael told his half-cat twin, having adjusted to having a furry brother rather quickly once the two of them had started talking. "You were afraid I'd get a Jusenkyo curse, which is why you didn't tell me about your curse, or any of the other weirdness, but I didn't get a curse, and I know about everything now, so why shouldn't I stay and help you?"

Johnathon shook his head. "You've got a life back in the states, a job.... Besides, it's too dangerous for you to stay around us. That Demoness will be back, and you're not going to be much help against something like that, are you? I mean, you're good, but we're talking a whole different level here. I don't want you to get killed trying to help me!"

Michael grimaced. "I haven't been killed yet! Why are you so protective towards me anyway? Kasumi, Akane and the others will be in just as much danger as I would, not to mention you, you idiot!"

Johnathon shook his head. "It's not the same thing. Kasumi and Ranma are the real targets. Akane is married to Ranma, and I'm married to Kasumi. We can't, and won't be going anywhere. Besides, I'm a whole lot tougher than I used to be. Sparring with Ranma and Akane everyday... not to mention this curse...." He shook his head. "I'm nothing like I was before. Last year I was at your level, maybe a tiny bit better, but now...." Johnathon hesitated, trying to think of a diplomatic way to put it, than gave up. "Michael, now I'm so far past you that you'll probably never catch up, even in my human form. You can't help protect me anymore."

Michael frowned, looking uncertain. "I did pretty well so far, didn't I? I got this far, and I did plenty to help."

Johnathon nodded. "You did. I've heard all about how you helped the Senshi, beat Kodachi on your own. You saved the day when you managed to grab Cliopatra like you did. You're as good as you ever were... better. But you managed all of that because you were an unknown element. If you hadn't surprised Kodachi you couldn't have handled her, and Cliopatra is just a normal woman, even with being a half-cat she's not really all that dangerous. You're quiet, and you choose your battles, but eventually you'd come up against something you can't handle. Sooner rather than later I'd say, especially if you ended up staying with us."

Michael nodded. "Maybe, but how is that any different for you? Sure, maybe you're stronger and faster than me, maybe you've got a year of intense training now on top of what I know, but there's going to be people you can't beat either. I've seen some of them!"

Johnathon sighed. "I'm far from the strongest fighter around, Michael, but at least I could stay alive if a demon or monster attacks, or if someone like Taro comes after me. You can't. You would last about ten seconds... maybe, if a Youma attacked you. I know! I fought one early on before I became a half cat, after only a month or so of training with Akane and Ranma. I didn't stand a chance, and neither would you now."

Michael threw up his hands. "So what am I supposed to do? Run away while my brother fights for his life? I can't do that!"

Johnathon shook his head. "It's not going to be like that. The goddesses should be able to handle the demon, and with Ranma, Ranko, the Senshi and all the rest, there's not much else that we can't deal with. Aside from Kasumi and Misty, who would be targets wherever they went, we can all protect ourselves, at least well enough to survive most things until help arrives or till we can escape. You can't! Frankly Mike, you'd be more of a liability than a help, and getting yourself killed isn't going to help anyone!" Johnathon caught a stubborn look in Michael's eye. "And if you think cursing yourself to get stronger is a good idea, I'll sit on you until Skuld can send you back to California, so help me!"

Michael looked stubborn. "I can handle a curse."

Johnathon looked like he wanted to scream. "I don't care! If you take one step toward those pools I'll kick your ass so hard you'll feel it next century! Getting a Jusenkyo curse isn't just something you have to deal with on your own, it's a problem for everyone around you, everyone who cares about you! These damn springs don't just change your form, they are chaos itself! Your life becomes one disaster after another.... You can't understand how dangerous it can be."

Michael hesitated. "I'd handle it. I can train every bit as hard as you. I just can't walk away now!"

Johnathon sighed, turning away. "I know how you feel Michael, but you've got to think this thing through logically. You're going to just be in danger with us, and you'd end up getting hurt or killed if you tried to stop anyone looking to tangle with one of us. If you got cursed, you wouldn't be the only one to suffer for it. We all would. You'd bring even more chaos down on us, don't you understand it yet? Sure, I'm a lot stronger than I used to be... but I have to be! My curse has brought far more trouble down on me and on everyone around me than what power I get from it can make up for. I'd trade away my curse in a second if I could, because even though my friends might need me at full strength, just being cursed will end up making things worse somehow. It always does."

Michael had started to step away as Johnathon turned his back on him, but stopped when he noticed that even as the cursed man talked his ears swiveled to track his every movement. "I wouldn't make it three steps if I tried, would I?" He asked resignedly.

Johnathon turned back around to face his brother. "Not even one. I'm going to ask Skuld to send you home. Your home, and you're going, one way or another. If I have to I'll knock you out and carry you... not that I'd have to. Awake or asleep, you can't fight me anymore... not like this."

Michael sighed. "I know. You idiot, of course I know that. I can feel your... your ki. It's huge, and maybe I haven't seen you fight in that form... but I can guess. If you're going to force me to leave, I can't stop you. I... I just...." He shook his head. "I'll come back you know. I'll get on the next flight to Japan and come back. I don't know how I can help you, but I have to try! I don't care if I get hurt...."

"But I do." Johnathon said softly. "If I was in your shoes, I'd feel the same way you do... but I also think I'd be able to sit back and look at this thing logically, and come to the right decision. You tell me. Will your being here, protecting us, have any real effect? Sure, you might get lucky again, but your odd of just getting injured or killed are much greater than the chance that you could really help. You're just being... well, selfish. You don't want to be the one left out, you want to take my problems for me, shoulder my burden, because you'll feel guilty about it if you don't. If you could help... if you could really help, and not end up dead, I'd let you. But that just isn't so. Not now. Things will probably calm down sooner or later, and if you want to come and visit, fine. But this isn't your life. It isn't your place to be. I don't know what else I can say to convince you.

Michael shook his head. "You're not going to convince me, John... but I'll go. I don't like it, but I don't have much choice, do I?" Johnathon shook his head sadly. "Then I'll go, and I won't fight. I don't want to fight you, John. I love you."

Johnathon nodded sadly. "I love you too, bro. I'll call you after you get back, OK? I'll keep you up to date... I don't want you to haul off and come back to Japan unless I really do need you... but if I do, you'll know."

Michael frowned. "You'd better be straight with me this time, bro. If I think you're keeping stuff from me I really will come back... and I'll kick your ass, half-cat martial arts badass or not."

Johnathon shrugged. "If you say so. Come on. We really shouldn't stay at Jusenkyo any longer than we have to. I think it's time for us all to go home."

End of Chapter 19

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