­Hgeocities.com/Tokyo/Dojo/1449/advcd24.htmlgeocities.com/Tokyo/Dojo/1449/advcd24.htmldelayedxр╝НJ                    ╚агэsхOKtext/htmlђџ &sх    bЅ.HTue, 27 Aug 2002 04:03:12 GMT/3Mozilla/4.5 (compatible; HTTrack 3.0x; Windows 98)en, *▀╝НJsх A Different Viewpoint: Curses and Demons, Chapter 24

A Different Viewpoint: Curses and Demons, Chapter 24


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:

Chapter 24

Three informal meetings all began, conveniently, over lunch. The Tendo and Saotome families gathered for a delicious meal brought by Nodoka, while the majority of the senshi snacked and talked in the living room of the Tomoe house. At approximately the same time as those two meetings were going on, Rei's grandfather and Ikuko Tsukino had gotten together with Ami's mother in a quiet corner of the cafeteria of the hospital where she worked. The purpose of their meeting, to try and puzzle out their charges recent behavior.

Ikuko sighed. ''So Ami won't talk about it either? What could they possibly be hiding?"

Dr. Mizuno shook her head. ''I couldn't begin to guess. My daughter asked me to trust her, and told me clearly that it was nothing illegal or immoral... and I believe her. Ami has always shown good sense in the past, and I have no reason to doubt her now." She frowned. "Although I am still worried. She's too young to know when she is in over her head, and I know she feels protective of her friends, especially Usagi-chan....''

Ikuko winced. ''She's not the most responsible girl in the world, I admit. I'm sorry she's dragged your daughter into this... whatever this is.''

The doctor shook her head. ''No, it's not necessary to apologize. Ami chooses her own friends, and I think she's chosen well. Your daughter, Tsukino-san, may not have the best study skills in the world, and she may be forgetful from time to time, but she is one of the most caring, generous, loving people I have ever been privileged to meet. Before she met your daughter, Ami was... well, alone. Usagi has managed to pull my daughter out of her shell, and helped turn her into a much more stable, happy individual.'' She smiled. ''I can't help but think my daughter is better off for having met Usagi. If a bit of trouble is the price for my daughter learning how to be a real person... well then I feel that it is worth it." She blushed slightly. "I didn't intend to ramble on so, it's just that I really do value the friendship your daughter has shown mine. If Usagi-chan is in some sort of trouble, I'm glad that my daughter is trying to be there for her."

Ikuko blinked, looking a bit stunned. "Mizuno-san, that's... I don't know what to say...?"

The old priest chipped in. "I agree with Mizuno sensei. My Rei was also alone before she met Usagi. Talented, popular at school, but alone none the less. She had no close friends until she met your daughter." He smiled. "It made my old heart rest easy, hearing the talk and laughter coming from her room these last few years." He shook his head. "No, while the current situation does worry me, I'm still glad that they met."

Ikuko's face was flushed with pride and embarrassment but she shook her head in denial. "I do appreciate your feelings, but I think we all realize that it's my daughter that's at the center of all this. Both Rei and Ami have been good influences on Usagi, but she's still irresponsible at times. I just can't figure out what she's hiding."

Rei's grandfather nodded, looking serious. "Well, let's put together everything we know and see if we can figure anything out.. We already know that Rei and Usagi were both missing this past week. Rei led me to believe that she would be visiting an out of the way shrine at that time, so I believe that they knew they'd be leaving ahead of time. What else do we know?"

Dr. Mizuno spoke up. "Well, you were right about Ami borrowing clothing from Rei. In fact, when I questioned her, she could not explain what happened to her own clothes. I'm not sure what that means but it does seem significant."

Ikuko blinked. "That reminds me of something. Last month a something similar happened." She blushed. "We caught Usagi and her new friend Diana... together in Usagi's bedroom. To be honest, looking back, I'm not sure if they were actually doing anything, but they were both... well, naked. Anyway, the reason I'm bringing it up is because Diana didn't have any of her own clothing at our house. She had to borrow my daughter's clothing to leave in. The two of them both insisted that nothing happened, but that's not what really concerned me. You see, after we caught them together like that, we questioned Diana closely. She couldn't explain why she was at our house without any clothing and she wouldn't or couldn't give us any information on her parents or where she lived." Ikuko sighed. "She couldn't even give us a last name. We asked her to stay away from Usagi in the future, unless she could give us some information about herself, and we haven't seen her since, but I suspect that she is involved in this somehow."

Dr. Mizuno nodded. "I see. Do you have any information on this girl at all?"

Ikuko hesitated. "Well, she started showing up about the same time Usagi started taking those martial art classes, and the night I found them together Usagi had just come back from class, so I assume she goes to the class as well."

Ami's mother raised an eyebrow. "I see. Ami has been attending those classes as well. She's quite intense about it actually. I see her practicing almost every morning."

"It's the same for Rei." The raven haired priestess's grandfather noted. "She's constantly practicing in this new style. It seems to be rather unique, although I won't deny it seems effective." He looked thoughtful. "I wonder if there's a connection between that class and our girls disappearing?"

Mrs. Tsukino nodded thoughtfully. "I suppose it's possible, although I think it's more likely that this has something to do with Diana. When I kept Usagi from seeing her... I'm afraid that might have been what caused her to run away like that."

Dr. Mizuno nodded slowly. "Do you think that this Diana and your daughter are... ah... in a relationship?"

Ikuko pursed her lips. "I'm not sure. I know my daughter cares a great deal for her, but she cares a great deal for her other friends as well. It's hard to be sure. She swears she's only interested, romantically that is, in Mr. Chiba, but she might be hiding her relationship with Diana because she's afraid we disapprove of her...." Ikuko was quick to clarify, in a manner that suggested that her words were rehearsed. "It's not that we disapprove of Usagi having a romantic relationship with another girl, but that this Diana is such a mystery. If Usagi wanted to have such a relationship with one of your girls, for example, we wouldn't have such qualms..." She blushed. "Not that I'm implying that either Rei or Ami are... er... interested in that sort of thing."

"I would not be offended if you were implying such, Tsukino-san." Dr. Mizuno replied calmly. "I decided quite some time ago that my daughter's romantic life was her concern. I will support her no matter what her orientation or preference for a partner." She nodded thoughtfully. "Actually you might have something there. A secret rendezvous with Diana might explain why your daughter left without telling you. Naturally, Usagi's friends would help her with something like that."

Rei's grandfather sighed, shaking his head. "Such a shame."

Ikuko and Dr. Mizuno both raised their eyebrows at his statement. "Excuse me?" The doctor said acidly.

The old priest blinked. "Oh! I was just thinking it was a shame about poor Yuuichirou. He's been studying under me for a few years now, and he had the most terrible crush on my granddaughter the whole time. In vain, it looks like."

Ikuko blinked. "Do you think that Rei-chan...?"

Rei's grandfather shrugged. "Well she did go away with Usagi for that entire week. If you're right about why then...."

Ikuko shook her head. "There's no way to know for sure."

Dr. Mizuno nodded. "That is true, but it would explain what happened to my daughter's clothing, especially if Ami does happen to have a relationship with one of your girls, or this Diana."

The old priest chimed in. "Or Makoto-chan, or one of the other girls. Makoto was there this morning as well, and she was obviously wearing one of Rei's sweaters. She's several sizes larger than Rei, so it was easy to tell." He smiled to himself just slightly at the memory.

Ikuko frowned. "But what in the world could they be doing? Some sort of sex game?" She blushed. "How... etchi...."

Dr. Mizuno shook her head with a small smile. "That's probably it. Teenagers can be very... daring about those sort of things." She frowned slightly. "Still, we can't be sure without more evidence. It could easily be something more dire, or more innocent than we are assuming. I think the course of action most likely to produce results right now is to find out more about this Diana."

Grandfather Hino nodded in agreement. "She does come to our temple from time to time, along with the rest of the girls. Our girls, Minako, Atlanta, and a few others." He blinked. "Now that I think about it, Atlanta and Diana could be sisters. They look very similar, although Atlanta usually has her hair dyed white." He shook his head wryly. "Kids these days." He nodded. "Anyway I noticed that Atlanta-chan always shows up with Minako Aino, while Diana usually arrives either by herself or with Chiba-san...." He blinked. "Well isn't that interesting."

Ikuko started to turn purple. "You mean Diana and Mamoru Chiba... you've seen them together?"

Dr. Mizuno raised a hand placatingly. "We still don't know enough to draw any conclusions, Tsukino-san. As I see it you could start either at the class at the Tendo Dojo, or by checking with Minako Aino or Mamoru Chiba directly." She hesitated. "Have you considered hiring a private investigator? I know of one or two professional services that are efficient and completely confidential."

Ikuko hesitated. "I don't know, investigating my own daughter?"

Ami's mother looked back at her. "I understand that it seems like a large step to take, but aren't we doing the same thing now? If nothing is going on, the at least we will know not to worry any longer, but if it is something serious, I think it is important that we find out."

Ikuko was still hesitating. "I'm not sure...."

Dr. Mizuno nodded again. "Well, think about it. I have some business cards at home if you decide to try a P.I." She checked her watch. "I'm sorry, I've got patients waiting. I've really got to go."

Rei's grandfather nodded. "Go on. Tsukino-san and I will handle things from here."

Ikuko nodded slowly as well. "Yes... I'll call you tonight and keep you updated, all right?"

The doctor nodded. "I'd appreciate that. I really doubt it's anything too serious, so try not to worry too much, all right?"

Usagi's mother nodded again, somewhat weakly, her brow furrowed. "I suppose." Dr. Mizuno waved once, then left quickly, heading purposefully back into the main part of the hospital.

The priest patted Ikuko's hand reassuringly. "Why don't we see what the two of us can find out first, before resorting to a professional?"

Ikuko sighed. "All right. Where do you think we should start?"

Rei's grandfather smiled. "I have an idea or two about that."

*******************************************

At the Tendo home, a different sort of conversation was going on over a delicious lunch that had been prepared by Nodoka Saotome. Kasumi had arraigned things carefully, having Genma and Soun sit in the living room and play Go while she helped Nodoka prepare lunch. It wasn't until everything was ready that she called everyone into the living room to eat. Ranma, Ryoga and Ranko came in from the dojo first, followed moments later by Johnathon and Misty, the tall english teacher keeping an arm wrapped around her shoulders for emotional support. At the sight of the cat-girl walking next to Johnathon, Nodoka let out a startled gasp and Soun's eyes started to bulge. Genma raised an eyebrow but seemed otherwise unsurprised.

Before Soun could start shouting, Johnathon spoke up, having been chosen as their spokesman nominally as he was the oldest, but more accurately because he was the quietest in refusing the job. "As you can see." Johnathon started firmly. "We have returned from Jusenkyo." He gave his furred wife a squeeze. "Misty tried the spring of drowned girl, but as you can see, even separated, the curses still mix." Misty nodded to her husband and gently extricated herself from under his arm to go to her father.

The black furred cat-girl knelt slightly awkwardly in front of her father and put her hands on his. "I'm all right father. I decided that being like this would be better than being stuck as a cat for the rest of my life, even before we decided to go to Jusenkyo."

Soun gripped his newly cursed daughter's furred hands and tears ran down his face. "K-kasumi... oh... K-kasumi!"

Misty looked him in the eyes with a gentle expression. "It's Misty now, father, remember?"

Soun nodded slowly, still crying. "I'm... sorry Misty-chan. You know your daddy will always be there for you, right baby?"

Misty nodded, smiling slightly. "I know, father"

Soun continued to cry, quietly, and Johnathon spoke up again. "Naturally, the rest of us avoided the springs after that. Ranko remained a girl, and there was no further purpose behind staying at the springs." He sighed. "Unfortunately, before we could leave, we were attacked." He held up both hands to forestall any panicking. "We were all unhurt, thankfully." He sighed again. "Unfortunately, in the Chaos, both Shampoo and Kasumi fell into springs. Shampoo fell into the spring of Drowned Girl, getting a curse like my current one, while Kasumi fell into the spring of drowned bird person."

There was a thunderous silence. Soun's face turned purple. "My baby got cursed... AGAIN!!!?"

Kasumi nodded. "I'm sorry, but yes, father. Thankfully it's not a bad curse, as they go. I grow wings from my back, and my hands and feet become... well, more bird like, with scales and talons... but I'm pretty much the same otherwise." She blinked. "I know, why don't I just show you?" Kasumi started to get to her feet as if to go into the kitchen.

Nabiki picked up a glass of water. "Here you go, Sis."

Kasumi hesitated. "Er, Nabiki, I don't think...."

Nabiki, not really paying attention to her older sister's feeble protest, splashed Kasumi in the face.

"Wait!" Johnathon lunged for the glass a moment too late.

There was a large tearing sound and Kasumi's house dress was torn apart in back as her wings extended from it. Kasumi gasped in pain and surprise and closed her arms around her shoulders as the remains slipped to her waist. Ranma, Genma and Soun gaped in shock at her for several seconds before forcing themselves to look away.

Johnathon moved to her side to comfort her and cover her up better. "Are you all right Dear?"

Kasumi nodded slowly, blushing a bright red. "Oh my."

Nabiki was blushing even brighter red than her older sister. "Oh no... I'm so sorry, Kasumi, I didn't think...!"

"It's alright." Kasumi said, shaking her head forgivingly. "It was an honest mistake."

Ranko jumped up. "Be right back!" She shot into the kitchen and returned a few seconds later holding a plain white apron that Johnathon was in the habit of using. She helpfully slipped the apron over Kasumi's head. "Here ya go Kasumi. I don't think your regular one would fit over your wings."

Kasumi quickly tied the apron around her waist, smiling gratefully at Ranko as she did so. "That was very thoughtful, Ranko, thank you." Still blushing, Kasumi slipped the remains of her bra into the pocket of the apron and smoothed out the remains of her dress as best as she could.

Soun and Genma were studiously looking anywhere in the house except for Kasumi, while Nodoka simply stared in astonishment at the transformed girl.

"Oh dear...." She looked like she couldn't chose between being shocked or breaking out into laughter. "Oh... oh my... that was rather... Oh dear."

Kasumi bowed to Nodoka, still blushing. "I must apologize, Saotome-san, for such an improper display...."

Nodoka shook her head quickly. "Oh no, I quite understand. Think nothing of it. These things do seem to happen around those with Jusenkyo curses." She looked at Nabiki with a frown. "I'm slightly confused however, how you weren't aware that your sister's curse would do that."

Nabiki blushed brighter still. "I didn't think... I don't know why it didn't occur to me... but I had no idea...." The middle Tendo sister looked down, frowning. "I'm really sorry about that, Kasumi."

Kasumi shook her head again. "Oh no, Nabiki. I hadn't worked it out either at first, although I did realize it later... However when I fell into the spring I wasn't actually... wearing a top... you see... so at first it didn't occur to me that my wings would... I really should have said something...."

Nodoka blinked. "Not wearing one?"

Kasumi would have blushed further, if it had been physically possible to do so. "You see... Master Happosai took the top I was wearing before I fell into the spring...."

Nodoka blinked. "Oh my. I see. He was there too."

Soun and Genma paled at hearing about their old master, and Nodoka frowned. "That man simply goes too far. A bit of peeking is manly enough, but groping a married woman and stealing her clothing is too much!" She paused. "Soun tells me that the Sailor Senshi went to help you, with Nabiki and Ryoga-kun. What happened to them? Did you have to face that... Ghost Cat Soun told me about?"

Kasumi looked at her father in disappointment. 'Father, you really shouldn't tell anyone about the Senshi helping us." She turned to Nodoka. "Auntie, I hope you haven't told anyone else about this."

Nodoka was taken aback. "Oh dear. I wasn't aware that it was a secret. I may have mentioned it to one or two other people in passing...."

Kasumi wilted slightly. "Oh my. Auntie, hopefully it won't matter, but you must be aware that the Sailor Senshi have secret identities, so that their enemies do not attack their friends and families."

Nodoka went white. "Oh dear! I'm so sorry, Kasumi, I didn't realize."

Johnathon shook his head. "I don't think it should be too bad. The Senshi help out a lot of people. As long as no one thinks we know them...."

Nodoka was gazing at her knees in embarrassment. "I'm afraid I... may have mentioned something about Ranma fighting alongside them..." She looked at her son entreatingly. "You have, haven't you? When Soun told me that they wanted to help you because you had helped them in the past, I just knew you had been helping them fight monsters." She turned to Ranko. "And you too of course! I realized that you must be the new senshi, Sailor Earth, that everyone's been talking about."

Ranma and Ranko glanced at each other warily, then Ranko slowly nodded. "Well... yeah Mom, we helped the Senshi out with some monsters a while back, but I'm not really Sailor Earth... I just wore a costume that one time cause there were TV camera's around, and I didn't want anyone finding out who I was." Ranko looked worried. "Mom, please tell me that ya didn't... I mean, you didn't tell anyone I'm Sailor Earth."

Nodoka winced slightly. "Well, not in so many words exactly, although I did well... imply...." She sighed. "I'm sorry, I know I shouldn't have but I was so proud of you, and Mrs. Ichinosei was saying such awful things about you and your father..." She bowed her head. "My sincere apologies. I was weak."

Ranko and Ranma both looked uncomfortable. "Mom... Mom it's OK. I'm not mad or nothin." They said in unison. While the two pig-tailed martial artists attempted to comfort their mother, Johnathon Dwire/Tendo tried not to groan out loud with dismay.

Controlling his outward expression with an effort, he looked at Soun and Genma seriously. "I hope you understand not to reveal the Senshi's involvement with us to anyone. This must all be kept secret to protect both them and us."

Genma frowned back. "The Anything Goes School accepts all challenges! Don't tell me you'd have my son hide behind a group of girls in short skirts?"

Johnathon fixed him with his most steely glare. "The foes that the Senshi fight are not rival martial artists. They are demons, invaders from other worlds. They do not fight honorably. They will not challenge the Dojo by coming in the rear entrance and demanding your sign. They will attack they weak, the sick, elderly or child, woman or man. You must keep this secret!"

Genma hesitated, obviously uncertain, but Soun nodded vigorously. "I understand completely, Son. Quite right, quite right. It's a martial artist's duty to protect the frail and weak after all! Such dishonorable tactics do require extraordinary measures, certainly." He nodded again. "Don't you agree Saotome?"

Genma grunted noncommittally, and Johnathon and Soun both shot him baleful stares, Soun's head expanding in a terrifying manner to the elder Saotome's eyes. "Saotome...!" Soun said warningly.

Genma was quick to nod then. "Of course, of course, Tendo!" He agreed. "We can't endanger any innocents, surely!"

Soun nodded, satisfied, the apparition fading out, and Genma shot a small glare at Johnathon as Soun looked away, obviously blaming the younger man for getting his friend angry at him.

Johnathon noticed this but gave no reaction besides a slightly raised eyebrow. Inside however, he was seething. < I'm going to have to kick that Panda's ass one of these days.> He decided grimly. < But for now, better just keep an eye on him and make sure he doesn't do something stupid.> At the same time, Ranma was glaring darkly at Johnathon, who completely missed the pigtailed youth's angry look.

Johnathon went on to give a highly edited version of their trip to China, concentrating on explaining the tactics and abilities of Happosai, the Demoness Mara and Cliopatra, while avoiding details about the Senshi's abilities, the goddesses' arrival, or how much clothing they had ended up wearing by the time they had reached Jusenkyo. Genma and Soun were both horrified to learn that both a youthened Happosai with his strength returned and a powerful demoness were on the loose and looking for revenge. Upon learning the graveness of the situation, both men came to a quick and unanimous decision almost immediately.

"Well then." Soun began. "Ranma, Ranko, your course is clear."

"Indeed." Genma nodded sagely. "You must face these Demons and vanquish them to protect your family and friends."

Soun patted Ranma on the shoulder. "Which is why it would be best if you were to leave for awhile, Son."

Genma took hold of Ranko's shoulders. "Yes, just until the Demon's wrath is... I mean, just until the Demons are defeated of course...."

Johnathon leapt to his feet in a blind rage. "ARE YOU INSANE?!?" He shouted at the two men, almost spitting his words. "Did you pay any attention at all? My wife, your daughter, is just as much a target here as Ranma is!"

Soun blinked. "My baby... in danger?"

Johnathon's voice was clearly condescending. "That's right, Tendo-san. Would you prefer Kasumi and I leave with Ranma and Ranko?"

Nabiki spoke up a moment later. "Perhaps Ryoga-kun and I should leave as well, Daddy. I mean, we did interfere with that Demoness' plans too, so there's no reason to think it won't attack us." She sniffed disdainfully. "That way at least you and your pet Panda will be nice and safe."

Nodoka spoke up quietly, her voice sounding choked from her silent tears. "I will go as well, to protect my children, if they are no longer welcome here."

Soun had gone from shocked, to angry, to ashamed as his family and friends made their stand against him. He sighed, shaking his head. "No, you made your point... and I can see now that we were wrong. We will face the danger as a family. All of us." He frowned. "I refuse to let any harm come to my girls."

Ranko nodded firmly. "That's the spirit Mr. Tendo."

Johnathon sat down, visibly calming. "It takes a big man to admit he's made a mistake, Tendo-san." Soun nodded quietly, looking a bit subdued. Johnathon settled back next to his wives. "All right, now that we know what we're up against, let's see if we can come up with a plan on how to protect ourselves from another attack."

Lunch broke down into a scattered and mostly nonproductive brainstorming session, with just about everyone pitching their own idea on what to do. After half an hour the only basic plan anyone could agree on was that no one should go out by themselves, and that they should stay in groups at all times. Ranma and Ranko excused themselves immediately thereafter, going after Ukyo and Akane respectively, now that the threat they were facing had been brought to the forefront of their minds again. Before they left however, Ranma pulled Johnathon aside.

"Dwire." Ranma said roughly but quietly. "I don't appreciate you making Mom cry like that. I know you're worried about Kasumi and Misty, so I'll cut you some slack, but that don't mean I gotta like it."

Johnathon blinked. "Ranma?... I...." He nodded suddenly, comprehension in his eyes. "Damn. You're right. I have been feeling a lot of stress, but I did go overboard there. I'll apologize to Nodoka-san right away."

Ranma smiled, and the not so subtle menace in the air vanished. "Great, John-san, thanks. I've got to go check up on Akane, so see ya later, right?"

Johnathon was glad Ranma wasn't the sort to carry a grudge, unlike his rotund father. "Right." He nodded. "You be careful out there." Johnathon noted that no one was objecting to Ranma and Ranko going out alone, < But I suppose that if anyone can take care of themselves, it's those two. Besides, they'll be with allies soon enough.>

*****************************************

The Senshi meeting had started on schedule at Dr. Tomoe's mansion, with all but two of the Senshi present, Rei and Usagi not being able to make it, and with one extra person present as guest, namely Akane Saotome. Akane had learned of the meeting when she had called Minako at home to talk, and had agreed to meet the blond haired Senshi of Love at the meeting to discuss things. Akane had been the last to arrive, having the furthest to travel, but the Senshi had delayed starting any serious discussions until she arrived. Everyone killed time eating the snacks Makoto and Michiru had made, and catching up on the other important details in their lives. When Akane arrived however, they got serious.

Hotaru greeted Akane at the door with a smile. "Akane-san! Please come inside, everyone is waiting for you."

Akane smiled back at the younger girl. "Thank you! Hotaru-chan. I'm sorry I couldn't make it any sooner."

Hotaru led Akane into the living room. "That's OK, Akane-san, you had a long way to come!"

As Akane and Hotaru entered the room, Setsuna stood and gave Akane a short bow, which Akane quickly returned. "It is good of you to come, Saotome-san."

Akane flushed slightly at the reminder of her married status. "I'm glad to be here." Akane answered simply.

Setsuna nodded. "Well then, now that everyone that is coming is present, let us begin the meeting."

As Setsuna spoke, Akane found a spot on the floor between Ami and Minako. With eight girls, one young man and a pair of moon cats in the room, there was no where near enough chairs for everyone, even in the rather large european style living room. Artemis and Luna had both come to the meeting in their cat forms, and were currently sitting on opposite sides of the room. Artemis was next to Minako, and Luna was perched on the sofa Mamoru was sharing with Michiru and Haruka. If the future King of the Earth was uncomfortable being the only guy (with the possible exception of Artemis) in a room full of women, or in sharing a sofa with a pair of girls that were usually right on the verge of making out, he gave no sign, regarding the others with a calm expression.

Setsuna began the meeting with a brief rundown of the events of the previous week, while Ami took notes on her computer.

Setsuna summed things up with a list of the curses they had received. "Therefore, when splashed with cold water, Mamoru becomes a girl, Haruka becomes a boy, Ami a panther, and Minako into a slightly younger version of Akane, one who has yet to meet most of us."

Ami spoke up. "You got cursed too, didn't you Setsuna-san?"

Setsuna sighed. "Unfortunately yes. I suppose it would be best if I reveal the nature of my curse as well, although I am loath to do so."

Hotaru moved over and took Setsuna's left hand in her own. "Setsuna-mama, we all care about you. Whatever it is, that won't change."

The oldest Senshi sighed again. "Very well. When splashed with cold water, I become... a common field mouse, I believe." She looked pained. "You can not know how helpless one feels at that size. It is not an experience I wish to repeat soon, although, due to the nature of the curse, I suppose I will not be able to avoid it...." Setsuna blinked in astonishment as several people handed money to Haruka. "Don't tell me." Setsuna said wearily. "You had a betting pool going."

Haruka shrugged. "Well, you were being so secretive about it...."

Setsuna sighed again. "In any case, now that you know, I'd appreciate everyone being careful where they step in the future, all right?" Everyone nodded quickly, though it was obvious several people were muffling laughter. Setsuna ignored this and continued. "Now, the issue before us is what action we need to take to deal with our current situation. We have a number of problems to overcome, including dealing with the demoness Mara and the pervert Happosai, recovering our stolen costumes if possible, and figuring out ways to deal with our various Jusenkyo curses. At this point I'd like to declare the meeting open to a general discussion.

Ami spoke up first. "A problem connected to my Jusenkyo curse is the fact that if my curse is revealed to my mother, it could very well lead her to figure out my identity as a Senshi...." Ami went onto explain what she had told Rei and Usagi, concluding. "Therefore, the best plan would seem to be to ask Tendo-san and the others who know about our trip to Jusenkyo to keep their knowledge of all this a secret."

Akane spoke up. "I'm sure that I can get father and the others to agree to that. I'll talk to them when I get back." She looked around the room slowly. "I guess I know about as much about Jusenkyo as anyone without a curse can. I'll be glad to help in anyway."

Minako spoke up. "Can you think of anything that might help with my curse? Split us into two people or merge us or something?"

Akane hesitated. "Well, the spring of drowned twins would have worked, if there was any left.... There was some magic incense Master Happosai used to split Ranma and his girl form one time... except it turned out to be an evil spirit using his curse to kill him... er... the cursed mirrors wouldn't work, it would just look like you...." She shook her head. "I don't know how we could merge you... jumping into the spring of drowned girl would just merge Akane... your Akane, with the girl who drowned there... I think." Akane scratched her head. "Well, if there was a spring of Drowned Minako... no that wouldn't work, that would just make your cursed side half Akane, half Minako, while you'd stay the same." She shook her head in defeat. "It wouldn't help, Jusenkyo curses aren't meant to be helpful...." She frowned. "I'm sorry, I just can't think of anything."

Minako sighed. "Not anything?" She asked wistfully. "Not even to lock the curse for a while or something?"

Akane blinked. "Er... it is possible to lock the curse, but I REALLY wouldn't recommend any of those methods." She looked confused. "Besides, why would you want to lock the curse? It'd be like killing yourself."

Minako blinked. "Well, I wouldn't notice, and we could unlock the curse after a couple of years... you know, trade off... it's not like I don't have plenty of time to spare. I'm still going to be around a thousand years from now after all."

Akane blinked, then she blinked again before repeating, "A thousand years?"

Mina nodded. "Yeah, and I was thinking, I've got so much time in front of me, why shouldn't I share it? Might make things go faster." She grinned. "This curse could be a blessing in the trees, you know."

Ami sighed. "That's disguise."

Minako shrugged. "OK, a disguise in the trees... whatever.'

Akane blinked again. "A thousand years? Really? How do you know?"

Minako smiled faintly. "I've been to the future, and I was there." She winked. "But I shouldn't say anymore, time para-chameleons and all that."

Ami groaned. "Minako!"

Minako laughed. "Just kidding. I know, it's really para-dogs, right?"

Ami laughed back. "Now you are kidding."

Minako giggled and stuck out her tongue at Ami, who giggled some more.

Akane laughed as well, then sobered. "I guess if you're really going to be around that long, it wouldn't be as big deal to have to be asleep for half of it." She frowned. "But what about your parents? I wouldn't think they'd appreciate it much if you just vanished for a year or two." Akane shook her head. "Besides, while you can make a curse stay locked, you can't lock yourself in your normal form, so it wouldn't be fair to you." She put her hand on Minako's. "I'm sure you and your Akane will be able to work something out that you can both live with, without resorting to anything drastic."

Minako sighed. "I guess I was hoping for some sort of magic cure that would solve everything."

Akane sighed with her. "In my experience, magic never really solves problems like that. It takes hard work."

Minako nodded. "You're right. I'll just have to try hard to make this work!" She hesitated. "Um... Akane, about Ranma... what did happen between him and my Akane? Artemis says that they were talking, but he doesn't know what happened at the end."

Akane hesitated before answering. "Well... she asked him to leave her alone apparently, because she doesn't want to interfere with your life...."

Mina frowned. "Is she just planning on changing right back into me every time she... er... I become her?"

Akane nodded. "I believe so."

Minako sighed. "Akane, you've got to talk to her. Explain how I feel. I'll feel just as bad as she does if she makes herself unhappy for me. I am more than willing to share what is going to be a very long life with her... and everything and anything else I can share with her."

Akane sighed but nodded. "I'll tell her."

Mina smiled. "Great! I'll just go an get a glass of water!"

Setsuna spoke up. "Before you go and do that, Minako, I'd like to ask this Akane some questions about Happosai, and I think we should all be here for that."

Minako nodded. "All right."

Setsuna turned to Akane. "To start with, could you just tell us everything you can think of about him?"

Akane thought carefully. "Well, I'll try. Master Happosai is the grandmaster of the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts, as much as we'd like to deny it. He trained Genma and my father, but around eleven years ago they sealed him into a cave in the mountains..." Akane went on to explain everything she new about the old perverted master, which was considerably more than she wished she knew. "So...." Akane concluded wryly. "If you want to find Happosai, all you really need to do is watch the news. If there's a sudden rash of panty thefts, or women being molested in bathhouses, there's a good chance it's him."

Setsuna nodded thoughtfully. "Does he have any weaknesses that you know of?"

Akane nodded. "Only the obvious one. He's a letch, and if you show him something he wants he'll often drop his guard... you just have to... present it the right way, and he can't help himself."

Makoto nodded. "That's how I beat him the last time... I got the idea from how you beat him, Akane." She shuddered. "I don't really want to do that again though. Isn't their some other way?"

Akane nodded slowly. "Well, you can tempt him with underwear, especially if you've just been wearing it...." Akane grimaced. "The problem is when he steals your underwear before you can tempt him with it."

The other girls all grimaced as well, and Michiru spoke up. "Are you sure that's his only weakness? That... lecher, well he certainly got a good enough look at my body while he was tearing my uniform off me. He didn't seem very vulnerable at the time though."

Akane blinked. "Well... you were fighting with him?"

Michiru nodded, frowning. "I threw everything I had at the old pervert, he dodged it all and laughed."

Akane nodded slowly. "I think I see... you were fighting back too hard... he couldn't afford to drop his guard. He's still a martial artist, and that means he can't drop his guard while he's being attacked. His training won't permit it. If you drop YOUR guard however, and stop attacking him, you can trick him." Akane nodded to herself. "Sure, Ranma used to fight Happosai all the time, and more than once as a naked girl, and Happosai didn't let up a bit. When Ranma wasn't fighting him, and instead showed him some cleavage, or threw him her bra or something, Happosai dropped his guard completely."

Makoto nodded. "That's how I managed to get him."

Michiru blinked thoughtfully. "So I should do something like this?" She cupped her breasts through her blouse and lifted them provocatively.

Haruka perked up slightly at the sight, leering appreciatively, while Mamoru coughed into his hand and tried not to blush.

Akane did blush slightly, nodding. "Er... that should do it."

The meeting moved on to other topics, including plans on how to deal with a demoness as powerful as Mara obviously was.

"The goddesses said that they would help." Ami brought up at one point. "My question is, how do we contact them?"

"Urd-sama said she'd come when I... when we needed her." Minako said quietly. "Maybe they'll just know when we need them?"

Setsuna frowned slightly. "They are who they say they are, that much I'm sure of, although Beldandy did tell me that their powers are limited here on earth."

Ami looked surprised. "How do you know for sure, Setsuna-san?"

The older Senshi hesitated. "I've met them before... or I will in the future. They are who they say they are."

Artemis nodded slowly. "I remember some details from the Silver Millennium. We never learned much about them, except that they are seldom allowed to meddle in mortal affairs. There was some sort of... great conflict between the forces of order and chaos... light and darkness back then, waged on a higher plane of existence. Only when their conflict spilled over into our plane of reality did we discover their existence. In fact it was believed by many that the rise of Queen Beryl to power was caused by the dark forces intervening on her behalf. It was also rumored that the power of the Silver Crystal, and the powers of the Senshi were gifts from the gods themselves... which contradicted everything else we thought we knew about them actually...."

The phone started to ring in the kitchen and Hotaru jumped up. "I'll get it!" She announced cheerfully., hurrying of that direction. "Hello!" Hotaru blinked. ""Oh! Hello Beldandy-sama!... Can you come over? Here?" Hotaru glanced into the living room, where Setsuna nodded emphatically at her. "Sure Beldandy-sama, you can come over... turn on the TV? All right, if you say so...." She started into the living room, still carrying the phone, crouched down in front of the TV set, and switched it on. It went from static to a bright white light in an instant. A shapely, bronzed leg slipped out of the television set abruptly, startling Hotaru and causing the small girl to fall back in alarm. Another leg followed the first, and the goddess Urd began climbing out of the screen. A moment after the TV screen lit up, another light streamed out of the large mirror over the Sofa, and Beldandy stepped out serenely, walking slowly in mid air out into the center of the room and then slowly floating down to the floor in the midst of the startled Senshi.

Urd finished climbing out of the Television and stretched. "Nice TV. Most of them are so cramped, but this on has to be what, 32 inches?"

Haruka blinked. "Um... yeah." Before anyone else could speak, a third bright light shot out of Setsuna's tea cup, which she had been sipping form casually up to then. Setsuna hastily put the cup down on the end table next to her and tried not to appear surprised as it started to rattle and shake. The tea seemed to be sucked away through the bottom of the cup, and a portal opened, out of which Skuld impossibly levitated, suddenly floating above the cup and rotating slightly in mid air before coming to a stop. When she stopped, the portal closed and the cup was knocked over violently, sending it's contents arcing through the air onto the nearest Jusenkyo cursed victim available, Setsuna.

Setsuna spluttered as the cold tea splashed her in the face, then vanished into her clothing. An indignant sounding squeak came out of the pile of clothing, muffled so that it was barely audible.

Skuld 'hopped' down to the floor, turning to face the sound. Her face reddened in chagrin. "Oh no, I'm so sorry! She glanced around the room hesitantly, looking form face to face. "Oh... Setsuna-san!" She said in triumph, having placed the missing face. "Hold on, I'll get you changed back!"

Skuld knelt by the chair and started carefully lifting Setsuna's blouse and skirt. She peered through the folds and reached into the bundle with care, bringing out a small mouse with extreme gentleness. Setsuna-mouse clung to Skuld's hand tightly, obviously feeling nervous about being so small.

Hotaru slipped up and peered at the nervous looking mouse in Skuld's hand. "Cute!" Hotaru blurted out, which earned her a pained look from the mouse. Hotaru giggled. "I'm sorry Setsuna-mama, but you are!"

Urd helpfully produced a kettle from somewhere and held it out to Skuld. "Need some hot water?" The bronze skinned goddess asked with her most innocent expression.

End Chapter 24

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