Book 1: Brooding Responsibilities
Chapter 13: Maternal Acceptance
Formerly: Retreat and Redemption
The Drake looked at his eldest, but youngest, daughter. She had finished crying and was leaning her head on his chest. The educator looked up to see the girl's mother sitting on the other side of the kitchen table with a blank expression on her face. It was an unnerving way to spend the evening, but he was happy to see his child again.
Nariko's mother, Ranma, did not look... well. Her eyes blinked more frequently and her hands twitched. The redhead had one arm around her blonde daughter and her gaze kept returning to Nariko.
Drake supposed that this was proof that she did trust him, and value his role in Nariko's life. Otherwise she would not have let this meeting take place. Drake sighed. He wished her luck in destroying this Alexia.
Under the current situation, he was unable to leave his mansion and had to make sure that neither Soun or Genma left their protective custody or even Soun's house. Drake eyed his own protective detail, standing off to the side in the kitchen. Ranma did not need to worry about more people, especially after Nabiki.
"It's okay, Nari-chan," Drake reassured. He tilted the photograph that she was holding. It was a somewhat provocative picture of a fully demonic Akane in a bikini. It showed signs of careful folding and unfolding.
"I will get her back," Nariko swore as she clutched onto her father.
Drake hugged her and noticed one of the agents hold his hand to his earpiece and stiffen. He and Ranma both made inquiries as to what was going on. The agent's response was cut off by the ringing of his phone.
The agent blinked at the ringing but after checking with base motioned for Drake to answer. Nariko reluctantly pulled herself off of him and went back to her mother. "Hello," he said, knowing full well the line was tapped and being traced. "I see. Yes... she's here."
Ranma's gaze hardened when she was handed the cordless phone. "Speak."
"It's a good thing the humans you keep at your house are such buffoons," an almost child-like voice laughed. "One of them practically fell apart when I called. At least he managed to say where you were before his blubbering became incoherent."
"Nabiki?" Ranma inquired. The voice was close to hers, but it was wrong too.
"Yuki," the voice hissed. "But you're perceptive. I'll give you that," Yuki giggled.
Ranma understood why the agents had gotten more nervous. They had recorded Yuki's first call and expected this one. "You know you're being traced right?"
"I'm not stupid." Yuki's tone was defensive, but still vapid. "I'll even help you. There's an abandoned hotel off 401. Halfway between here and Kitchener. It's in Morriston or do I need to be more specific? I'd hope you guys can figure things out from that." She taunted.
Ranma growled. This seemed wrong. It had to be a trap, but it seemed too stupid. "What game's Alexia's up to?"
"She's tired of playing with you," Yuki said in a bored tone. "Oh, and don't think of just having your human lapdogs flatten this place. It'd be a shame to kill big-sister Eclipse, who you so dearly want back."
Ranma snorted. "Is that it? I'm disappointed. Alexia didn't even call me herself. What's the matter? She couldn't figure out the phone." The redhead asked as she absently licked her lower lip. "If Alexia's really there... well at least she can stand up to her death."
Yuki hung up the phone with a smile and a slight twitch. Her plan for mother was going perfectly.
"They're the same?" Ranma asked loudly as the Company APC raced down
"Yes, the trace on the call matched the location described," Jarvis replied in a shout to be heard over road noise of the all-terrain tires. He was sitting up front, next to the driver and looking over his shoulder at Ranma and her children. "A helicopter has just arrived on scene and confirms the presence of Pattern D's. As per your... suggestion, it's holding back."
"Good, I want those jamming trucks you have in position first. She's not getting away, not again."
"It has to be a trap," Captain Jarvis pointed out loudly from his position next to the driver.
"Even if it is, Sir, we can't avoid it," Kasumi pointed out. She returned back to checking her and her team's equipment. She could feel her fiance's optimism and hoped that it was not unwarranted. There was hope that she could get her sisters back... thanks to Ranma.
"Of course, but she won't blow up the building. Not if she can't escape." Ranma smiled as her eyes flickered.
"You do know what to do... when you see her?" Kasumi asked.
"Of course," Ranma mostly succeeded in a warm smile. "I know what we have to do."
"I do wonder if Alexia's prepared for us, for the Company" Jarvis smiled.
"She never seemed to care about you guys. Even though you've destroyed so many of her minions." Ranma shook her head. "Amazing, she still thinks this is a game. Even after what I did to her. Well... this'll be over soon enough."
"Indeed," the officer agreed. The change in the demon was intriguing. The prospect of revenge and rescue rejuvenated her. On a suspicious lead, she had bounced back from desperation and despair. She was a fascinating... person, and he sincerely hoped that this time she got her daughter back and disposed of Alexia.
Alexia lounged on her throne. It was a smaller affair than the one she had when she first turned Eclipse, but for now it was enough. Yuki had just given her the good news.
It was only a matter of time now. If Yuki had followed her directions then the interference from those humans would be minimized. While she waited, Alexia extended her sense and allowed her mind to drift.
She imagined herself kneeling before another throne. Her three concubines and two, soon to be gifted, minions were behind her in the correct positions. They all had the same identical expression of joyous adoration and submission. Each was wearing light silks and jewelry. Eclipse had bare breasts and a tiny almost bikini-like wrapping around her waist and legs. Aurora wore a translucent green silk dress that was unnecessarily cut very short. Yuki had some measure of modesty in her tiny silk skirt and top.
Alexia wanted to show off her craftsmanship with the other two. It had taken time for Alexia to alter them to bear that hated face, but it was fitting, those two young succubae had been spawned by that treasonous human-lover. Naturally, they were both now redheads and were presented to the one on the throne as a gift; the spoils from defeating the Traitor.
They knelt behind Alexia's concubines, their blank expressions betraying what they were. Alexia left them able to speak and understand commands but not much else. They were to be empty vessels, ones that her grandmother would do with as she pleased.
In her mind, Alexia could hear the amused chuckle coming from above her and see her gaze slowly rise. It was always the same. Seated on the throne with a superior and... almost pitying smile was her grandmother, BlackSky. Her deep, dark eyes were the only thing that gave any indication to her true age. Glossy black hair spilled down her shoulders, back, and seemed to surround her and mix with the shadows. Her leather dress was elegant, but lacked ornamentation. Even her throne was only grand because of its scale, not for any detailing or material.
Alexia smiled. She would show BlackSky who really was the strongest. Being raised on the melancholic but saccharine stories of that... traitor's exploits had infuriated her. Though it was not until Alexia had been sent from their homeland to this human-infested dirtball that Alexia's hatred had truly boiled over.
She had seen the proof. DarkStar had been reincarnated. Something that was impossible, blasphemous, for demons to do. The stink of Serenity was all over this. DarkStar was clearly a traitor - she had to have sold out her race.
However, once Alexia presented the remains of the Traitor to BlackSky, she would reap the rewards. She would prove to her grandmother that her fond memories of DarkStar were all lies, that she was being tricked by that human-loving redhead. Alexia would be allowed to return, allowed to go back home. She could return to Silvana in honor.
A smile formed on her face as she considered giving one of her girls to her grandmother as another token. While it would not hurt to curry more favor, she was loath to break up the set.
Alexia's face darkened when she sensed something wrong. There was an interference, not in her normal senses but in the background. She had felt it before around those damnable humans, but it was never this apparent. The brood mother opened her eyes, and called for her daughters.
Ranma surveyed the hotel. It was really more of a slightly tall motel, but it was clear that Alexia lived here. Like her other lairs, her... odor lingered around the grounds. There was also the powerful demonic presence that indicated that Alexia was home. WIC had done their part, and now, Alexia was boxed. The redhead allowed a large smile that showed her fully extended canines.
"Just give us the word," Jarvis said before checking to make sure Red and Gold teams were in position for insertion and the targeting of the rocket crews.
"This is risky," Ukyou noted as she looked over the layout of the building. Despite her nervousness, she maintained her ready position.
"The explosives should not bring the building down. Besides, Red's information on where they are should be sufficient." Jarvis stated.
"Should be?" Nariko asked.
"They're anti-personnel with sub-munition grenades."
"I rather like it," Ranma smiled as she flexed her wings. It was a calm brisk night. Cloud cover obscured the stars and moon, but reflected ground lights. "Do it."
The brood mother smiled as a half a dozen rockets launched from their tubes. From various points at the quarantine line, they stuck out and hit several rooms in the five story hotel's upper floors. The building erupted in a handful of flashes that destroyed the few minions that were guarding the approach.
Ranma was the first one to the door. Immediately behind her, on either side, were Ukyou and Nariko. A bewildered pair of succubae turned to the intruders. One slid out her claws. It was enough.
Rushing the two, Ranma dove between them. A pair of economical swipes with her fingers spread out dug into their sternums and ripped out at their shoulders. Both minions fell to the ground in messy, flopping heaps.
"Are we supposed to be impressed by your ability to kill newly recruited minions?" Eclipse laughed as she entered the lobby from a side door. She had removed some of the ornamentation and embellishments that normally adorned herself; this was a fighting night.
"She does seem so pleased with herself when she does it," Aurora agreed, following her sister. She was decked out in similar "fighting" clothes as her sister.
"This is stupid," Ranma growled. "Is Alexia even going to try? You know I can beat you two. You're not even bringing out-" she paused to recall Nabiki's new name. "-Yuki?" Contrary to her tone, she was amused.
She then felt a new presence. "There you are, finally going to fight?" She asked without turning to face Alexia who had entered from the opposite side that Aurora and Eclipse had entered.
"They're not here to fight you." Alexia's smirk died when Ranma flipped back, twisted in midair, and fired a pair of narrow eyebeams before landing in front of her rival.
"It ends tonight," Alexia snarled as an intense flaming aura around her absorbed the attack. "Girls, take care of the traitor's spawn," she said as she formed a pair of fireballs.
"That's just insulting," Ranma spat. "I mean this is your plan." She was slightly wary. Yuki had been the one to call her but she was nowhere to be found. Three against two would at least give her kids a bit more of a challenge.
Alexia screamed as she lobbed her fireballs at Ranma, who neatly dodged them.
"Well Aurora, are you going to be difficult?" Ukyou asked as she flexed her hands.
"Mother will defeat the traitor and free you from her tyranny."
"You know... same can be said for our Mom. Well not for you though." A look of pity crossed Ukyou's face when she looked at her former partner. After Mother finished with Alexia...
"Is something the matter?" Aurora taunted.
"I'm going to save you," Ukyou swore. "I don't care what mother thinks. I'll save you." The blonde then pounced.
Eclipse snorted as she watched her little sister fight with that blonde bimbo. Those two did make an... appropriate couple. Mother's plan to divide the Traitor from her minions had succeeded. "What do you think?" Eclipse posed in front of Nariko. She had to keep her mate occupied and fighting was not the most desirable way to do that.
"You look even worse, Akane," Nariko noted sadly.
"What?" Eclipse's eyes flared. "You lie! Do you know how much work goes into looking this way?"
"I never thought there would be something you'd do worse than cook." Nariko sighed as she stepped towards Eclipse. Her voice gained a new seriousness and edge "I just want my mate back."
Nearly transfixed by the change in those red-eyes Eclipse took a step back and nearly stumbled on her platform heels.
"You forgot mother's lesson on footwear." Nariko gave a nasty little smile. "Heels are stupid, but if you've gotta wear them, wear ones you could actually fight in, and then train in them. You've been slacking off, haven't you?"
Yuki shook her head as she waited in her spot. She could hear the fighting. It was only a matter of time. Mother would defeat the traitor and then teleport them out of here. Mother had to win. She was perfect. She was stronger. She protected Yuki from her big sisters when they were mean.
Yuki blinked. Mother also made her sisters. More importantly Mother made her. Yuki knew her purpose, and sometimes... it disturbed her. More and more Yuki's mind raced in circles. Mother made her, mother made her to help her defeat the traitor, but Mother was stronger than the Traitor... she had to be...
Nevertheless... Yuki shook her head. Mother would take care of this. After the traitor was killed everything would be okay, Yuki assured herself. Her eyes flicked when she saw movement in front of her. Mother had given her the task of taking care of any humans that might interfere.
She was honored that the youngest like her would be given such a task and worried about failing mother. Yuki steeled herself. She knew what these humans were capable of and was very worried about failure.
As the succubus stepped out, claws extended, she took comfort that she did not have to defeat the humans, but merely delay them. The humans heard her and instantly pointed their weapons at her. Yuki focused. This was going to be the tricky part.
"Nabiki," the human in the lead stated.
Yuki snarled and stepped forward. Her expression softened . "Yes... you... have to.. Mo- Alexia..." she started, her tone halting and pleading.
"Yes," Kasumi agreed. She looked over the overly cutesy, pink mini dress-wearing, demon that resembled a much smaller and younger version of her sister.
Inwardly, Yuki smirked. Suddenly there was a flash, and she yowled in pain. She crumpled as a pair of bullets perforated her belly. She tried to rise, but only managed to glare at the human who had shot her.
Kasumi kept pressure on the trigger but held her position. "This is Lieutenant Tendo, we've run into one of the... hostages," she stated into her headset.
Yuki looked at the blood pooling around her and smiled slightly. The human's sentimentality would delay them. All Yuki had to do was make sure they wasted their time watching her, instead of simply killing her and moving on. She shivered when she actually studied the weapons they were carrying. Even her big sisters had trouble with these humans, a little demon like her would have no chance.
Yuki slumped back down. She would do what was best for mother, even if it meant surrendering. Besides, once Mother defeated the traitor she would rescue her youngest daughter. Yuki believed in her mother, and the pain in her wounds kept her from thinking too much.
Kasumi frowned. The succubus appeared to be pacified but... any false move would result in the death of one of her men... or of her... sister. The officer evaluated the demon and fired again.
"What the hell was that for?" Yuki cried as she held onto her chest. "I'm already down."
"You were getting a bit lively. Besides, Akane took three the day she was turned."
Yuki sighed and leaned against the wall. All that was left was for the best succubus to win.
"Is this it?" Ranma snarled as she blocked one of Alexia's attacks.
The blonde succubus smirked as she withdrew to the side of the room and grabbed a large cylinder that had been stashed there. She twisted the top and tossed it at Ranma, who extended her claws and sliced open the container. The contents sprayed out and covered her.
The fluid burned and the redhead screamed in pain.
At first Ranma thought she was hit by acid or perhaps assembly holy water, but it only tingled and burned from the heat of the nearly boiling water itself. "The hell?" A soaked redhead glared. Her skin had reddened and cracked in places but it was rapidly healing.
"Why didn't you change?" Alexia demanded as she blocked the barrage of attacks. Yuki's advice had come to naught, a gallon of pressurized hot water was worthless.
Ranma ignored the question. "Were you trying to broil me?"
Alexia smirked. She would show the traitor broil. A small fireball formed in her hand and a lance of magical napalm spurted out of the orb in a continuous stream. It took concentration, but she guided it right over the impudent redhead. It was her strongest attack, and it was too draining to use normally, but this was not a normal situation.
Ranma dodged to the left to try to get outside the stream, but it followed her too fast. Her right arm was hit directly, the spray bounced off her arm and lit her side and face on fire. Her aura mitigated those wounds somewhat, but the lance rapidly burned through her arm and then continued to clip half of her right wing off.
The flames over her body were a mixture of her aura and Alexia's attack. With her remaining arm she summoned a DarkStar Burst and launched it at Alexia's crotch. Alexia snarled and managed to maintain enough bone structure to stand, despite the fall of blood that came from her mangled loins.
Alexia's stream of napalm intersected with her pouncing rival before it sputtered out due to lack of energy. For half a heartbeat she enjoyed the impressive, fire wreathed hole to the left of the redhead's sternum just before being knocked back by a pair of thin beams of light that hit the edge of her forehead and bored in. Ranma gasped, feeling drained from her DarkStar Burst attack as she slammed into the other succubae, both landing in a snarling, slicing, burning, biting heap. Alexia's attack continued through the wall, igniting surprisingly small fires where it went through and dripped.
Alexia wildly, and then blindly started clawing her opponent. She could feel her claws and tail sink into her rival's flesh, but the traitor did not relent. Summoning her fire stream again she tried to burn the traitor off of her, but her energy reserves were depleted more than she expected.
Ranma growled as she eviscerated Alexia yet again. Her prey's regeneration was getting frustrating, especially when she had to cut into her with just one arm. The redhead chuckled at the thought and attempted to limb Alexia, who thrashed with every ounce of her strength.
Their tails entwined around each other and had shredded both ends and were now flailing about damaging both demons. As Ranma lunged with her fangs she slammed Alexia's jaw closed and pinned her head to the floor. As this happened Alexia brought her claws to Ranma's ribs and in spite of Ranma's aura started cutting into the traitor's organs.
The grim embrace continued as Ranma began to chew through Alexia's neck. It was slow going. Alexia was tough, and the battle had already taken a toll on Ranma's body. Right now, both of them were being held together by their demonic powers, but Ranma was at an advantage...
She was feeding. The blood and meat she received from Alexia's wounds was less than what was being sliced out of her by Alexia, but it was something. The redheaded demon made contented noises as Alexia's motions got weaker and weaker. She pulled off of Alexia's neck and caught one last, desperate, slash in the face from her almost helpless enemy. Ranma grabbed the offending hand and broke the arm it was connected to with a little smile. She then licked the blood off of Alexia's cheek before tearing off a piece of it. Alexia mewled in pain and closed her eyes.
The redhead frowned at the grumbling in her stomach, and the pain in her limbs and the gaping wound where her lung was. Her need for nourishment outweighed her desire for a slow, careful revenge. Draining bits of Alexia's energy was a start, but she needed more...
She cracked open Alexia's chest and began to feast on the relatively undamaged choice organs before moving onto the flesh and other parts. When Alexia finally died, Ranma paused briefly at the rush of life energy and redoubled her efforts. Strength had returned to her brutalized body.
Ranma could feel energy coursing through her. Waves of shadows bounded over her form and blooms of deep violet light sparked as her flesh began repairing itself. It all made her more keen on getting everything she could out of her catch. She had eaten succubae before but nothing like this... this was a mature piece of meat that was saturated with power, and it was not too gamey.
When she finished, the redheaded demon rose over a collection of entrails, hair, and broken marrow-sucked bones. The immediate area was cleaned of blood and other drippings, but the surroundings, where Ranma's fire and tongue did not reach, were still splattered and streaked with blood. The room itself was heavily damaged and was dotted with spreading fires.
The revitalized demon held a contented and full smile. Her rival was gone, and her next task would be simplicity itself. As she looked at the detritus that used to be her rival a chuckle welled within her. It grew into laugher and was developing into a deep, evil laugh that seemed to permeate the building and echo with increasing force when she coughed and started hacking.
"Stupid lung," she complained as she wiped her chin. "Grow back already."
During her fight with Aurora, Ukyou kept getting glimpses of her mother's fight with Alexia. Ukyou blinked when she felt a sudden burst of energy pass over her. The reaction she saw in Aurora was even more profound. The green-eyed succubus stopped and turned to face the fighting brood mothers.
Her expression was a combination of horror and disbelief. "Mother... no," she cried as she watched Alexia get devoured.
Ukyou saw her chance. She leapt onto the Aurora, who was not resistive. She was about to bite down onto her former partner when Aurora faced her. It was not an arrogant demoness who was looking at her, but a lost young woman. Ukyou knew what she had to do. She would not let mother have a second meal tonight. Aurora's shock and mental retreat made her job quite easy.
"Mother!" Eclipse cried when she felt the impossible happen. The connection to mother, the presence in her mind was... gone. Her mourning was cut short by a fireball hitting her side. She angrily glared at Nariko who had that insufferably pitying expression on her face.
"It's over," Nariko said, but kept her claws ready. "Just look," Nariko said as she made a grab for Eclipse's neck.
Caught by surprise, Eclipse found her gaze forced onto the grim view . Even when the other demon's hand pulled back she found herself unable to look away. "No, Mother... Mother can't lose."
"She hasn't. Mother has won," Nariko said, for once giving a truly demonic smile.
Eclipse watched her mother be consumed. All that she was, all that she had was being taken by that redhead. The victorious demon rose and after indulging in an triumphant laugh, turned and looked right at her.
"I know what you want," Eclipse said straightening herself. The victor wanted everything that Alexia had, not just her body and power.
The redhead stepped closer. Her numerous wounds were already healing, but she was still covered in gore, only some of which was hers.
"Mother..." Eclipse gulped. She would not run. "Mother failed."
The redhead chuckled as she got close enough to touch Eclipse. "Yes she did," she said as she flexed her newly reformed arm.
It was then that Eclipse felt the fangs sink into her neck. She closed her eyes and let darkness consume her.
Nariko stepped in to capture the falling Eclipse. "Thank you mother," she brushed her mate's hair and sighed.
"Watch her," Ranma smiled. She had only remade her into a daughter. She was still Eclipse. Ranma had other demons to take care of before she started working on healing Akane. "I've got other business." She walked over to Ukyou and blinked. "What's this?"
"You're not killing her," Ukyou said as she cradled a blinking Aurora.
"Ucchan..." Ranma started.
"No Mom!" Ukyou's eyes flashed orange. "I wanted to save him, and now I can save her."
Ranma gently caressed Aurora's dazed face. "You have spirit, Ucchan. Another daughter?" She studied the subdued succubus. A smile formed as she took Aurora into her arms.
"Thanks Mom." Ukyou whispered as Ranma did it. Later she would ask why the water was ineffective.
Ranma nodded and sniffed the air. There was one last demon to take care of.
Kasumi eyed the bloody mess that entered the corridor. Only the skirting of the demon's Senshi uniform was still intact. "Nice of you to drop in. The scanners really flared when you killed her."
"That's nice," Ranma said as she walked over to the delicate succubus. "How many times did you shoot her?"
"Enough," Kasumi stated flatly.
"Are my sisters alive?" Yuki asked as she flexed her bloodied hands.
"Yes," Ranma said as she crouched down over Yuki.
"At least part of the plan worked," Yuki frowned. "I did everything I could for her and it... it wasn't enough." She looked up at Ranma in the eye. "One request," Yuki pleaded.
"Don't punish my big sisters too much." Yuki's blue eyes started to tear. "They did what they did because they were forced, and they thought they were helping."
"Uh... okay," Ranma shrugged. She did not expect Nabiki, let alone a demonic Nabiki, to care about others, though being unsurprised at the outcome... Yuki was the one who apparently planned all this. Ranma acquired her fifth daughter. She picked up the sleeping succubus and marveled at how light and short she had become. Unconsciously, she started releasing energy and letting the little succubus nurse. She had several gunshot wounds to heal.
Kasumi's expression flickered between a slight frown and a smile before she got it under control. "Let's go."
"Right," Ranma and Kasumi and her team returned to the burning room where the battle had happened. Agents were just starting to arrive and put out fires and catalog the scant remains.
Eclipse opened her eyes and looked at her... mother. Despair and love grew within her. The redhead had even gotten her littlest sister. She sighed and bowed before the demon.
"What are you doing?" Ranma inquired.
"You defeated Mo- Alexia. You were right to take us... Mother," Eclipse stated with resignation.
"There's hope for you yet," Kasumi stated.
"Perhaps, but it isn't your concern," Eclipse spat.
Kasumi narrowed her eyes. "I'll let that slide, for now."
"Whatever." Eclipse dismissed.
"I haven't even done anything to you." Ranma cried as she held the sleeping Yuki. "Aside from bring you back into the brood."
"You're the stronger mother. You showed no mercy," Eclipse paused and looked at her sister. "Against Alexia."
"That's because, she's our rightful mother," Nariko said as she pulled Eclipse back to her standing position. "Don't you remember?"
Eclipse blinked. Without Alexia, her mind felt a bit different. The reassuring, constant, crushing presence was gone. In its place was a no less intense presence but it was softer and warmer. It was familiar. She looked at her new, and old, Mother. "Is this how I'm supposed to feel?"
"Huh? But I haven't done anything yet," Ranma said.
"What are you talking about, Akane?" Nariko asked as she hugged her mate.
"Don't call me that!" Eclipse bristled. "That's- well, is it my name? I remember, but Alexia said it was all a lie."
"Oh, it's Alexia now?" Ukyou asked as she cradled Aurora.
"I don't know!" Eclipse whimpered.
"It's okay. We'll get everything straightened out," Ranma said as she shifted Yuki so she could hug Eclipse too. She wondered what Alexia had done to these girls, to get Akane to act like a whipped puppy.
Kasumi watched the scene, her fingers tightening over her weapon. Revenge on what was done to her sisters was taken from her.
Aurora's eyes opened scanned the room and then closed again. They were held tight yet not enough to keep the tears from falling.
"Oh come on," Ukyou sighed, while hugging Aurora. "You and Akane were acting so tough. Were you two really just big wimps?"
"Ranma did it again!" Aurora cried. "She took everything from me! Even my sisters!"
"You remember your time as a human?" Ranma asked, now comforting a gently sobbing Eclipse.
Aurora simply glared at her.
"She didn't take your sisters," Ukyou said. "Can't you feel it? They're still your sisters."
Aurora seemed to study Ranma before her face turned into a scowl. "Fine. Then do what you will. Rewrite my mind. You've already done it with my sisters," she spat.
"No I haven't," Ranma sighed. "It's all Alexia's death. I don't know what she did to you girls."
"Her will. It's gone." Aurora's determination faltered and she slumped down.
Ranma looked down at the crying mess that had become of Eclipse and the innocently sleeping child-woman that was once Nabiki. She now, finally, had some idea what Alexia had done.
"Don't worry, Mom will help you." Ukyou comforted.
"Mother?" Aurora blinked. She turned to Ranma with rising horror. "Oh no."
"Hey," Ukyou said as she knocked Aurora on the head. "She's a great mom. Much better than the fashion disaster that almost got you killed."
Aurora started crying again.
Ranma's eyes widened. She was also getting her first glimpse of what raising these girls would be like.
"Come on mother of five, I think we should leave," Kasumi suggested. She looked between her sisters and hoped that Ranma could handle this.
"Yeah," Ranma agreed as she started prodding her kids out of the hotel. She noticed that a Company APC had part of it's front melted. Ranma looked back to see that it was in-line with the wall destroyed by Alexia's attack.
Aurora gave a brief hiss at some of the agents, but was quieted by Ukyou. Eclipse hardly noticed as she was leaning on Nariko. Ranma judged that she was enjoying her mate's presence. The purring alone was a strong hint. As Ranma sat down the demon she was holding opened her eyes.
Yuki studied her new mother. Alexia was dead, but this was not a bad consolation prize. Her sisters were alive, and she was getting a whole new class of feelings from this Mother, a mother that was happy just holding her. The perfect taste of the energy she was nursing off of Ranma was simply amazing.
Not bad at all - better than a mere consolation prize, Yuki reappraised the demon holding her and gave an adorable smile that melted Ranma's heart and went back to sleep with a contented purr.
"That went well," Jacob said to Stillwater. The two men had withdrawn to Stillwater's office.
"Her actions tonight were expected," Stillwater agreed.
"Anything less from her would be a disappointment." Jacob looked at the footage of what little remained of Alexia's body and the condition of the interior of the APC that Ranma and her brood had ridden home in.
"And Major Koster? What will the General's man think of tonight's actions?" Commander Stillwater asked while leaning his face on his steepled hands. It was a standard contemplative position.
"He will tell us tomorrow, but this is nothing new from Miss Saotome. Koster knows she eats demons. His concern is us," Jacob pointed.
"Yes, he needs to make sure we're not compromised," Stillwater sighed as he eyed the roster of active agents. It was looking more and more that one of them was playing for more than one team.
"It is a valid concern." Jacob looked at the document that held his superior's attention. "We have narrowed down the list of suspects. We will nail the bastard that thought they could betray the Company."
"Good. Though, Miss Saotome is still a concern." Stillwater picked up a different document. "The scans from her… we will have to reevaluate our contingency plans," Stillwater noted.
"Ranma's increase in power is not our primary concern."
"I know. Miss Saotome took more than power when she killed Alexia," Stillwater shrugged. "We've gone this far, and with Alexia out of the way..."
"Yes," Jacob nodded as he started to pace the office. "She can't be it. Something more is coming, and I'm not just talking about the prophecy."
"Alexia was a distraction," Stillwater agreed. "How do you see Miss Saotome taking these new children?"
"Motherhood defines her," Jacob simply stated.
"Lieutenant Tendo could be an issue," Stillwater continued. Instead of comforting her sisters she had taken her team to the range for practice. There was also the Lieutenant's past history.
"That all depends on how she sees her sisters and what they've become."
Jacob activated the video feed from a locker room where Miss Saotome, her mother, and her children were. "Five children. Perhaps it is time we talk to our young mother about her compensation."
Stillwater smiled. "I don't think she'd balk at so called 'blood money.' Not anymore."
"You did it," Nodoka smiled as she entered the locker room where her family was. The redheaded brood mother had changed her clothes, but she had yet to shower. She wanted to see her mother first.
"Yup!" Ranma said as she hugged her mother, a slight purr escaped her.
"You're very familiar with a human, why?" Aurora asked. It was one thing to be in a facility filled with human soldiers, especially ones that showed proper deference to them, but hugging a human like she was family was another.
Ranma wished that Kasumi was here to help with her sisters, and felt a slight pang in her heart as if realizing that a gulf was starting to form between them. Ranma turned to lecture her daughter but was interrupted by Eclipse.
"Mother relied on... grandma greatly." Eclipse turned to Nodoka and almost smiled.
"That explains things," Aurora shrugged. She held back her tongue. Both out of fear of punishment from Mother and a lack of surety on her own feelings.
Nodoka gave a little smile as she looked over the bloodied demons. "I enjoy you presenting your young, Dear, but you could all use a good washing."
"Of course, Mother." Ranma blushed and ushered her daughters into the adjacent shower rooms. Their bathing as a group was without trouble, but difficulties came when they started dressing themselves.
Yuki bit her lip and walked over to her mother. After a hushed conversation which made Ranma very embarrassed, much to Yuki's amusement, Yuki dressed herself in a slightly more modest, but cuter, version of her customary pink cheongsam and makeup. It was nice to be able to dress her age.
Ranma's thoughts on what, and who, Alexia had made Yuki do, were shaken by an argument between Nariko and... Eclipse. "What's going on?"
"I don't think this looks good on her, Mommy," Nariko scowled.
"What? This is how I dress," Eclipse's eyes darted between her mate and her mother. Mother normally loved her fashion or decided it for her.
"The clothing's gaudy, but you've worn this style before," Nariko stated.
Ranma nodded. Her daughter's tiny top and hot pants were similar to what she wore when she was first turned. "It's the makeup isn't it?"
"My makeup's fine!" Eclipse defended.
"It looks like slut war-paint," Ukyou noted.
"Hey! Aurora helped me with this!"
"You bitch!" Eclipse growled. She charged forward but found herself caught held by mother.
"If you don't like your fashion, change it then," Ranma stated, looking her daughter in the eye.
Eclipse looked away. "How can I?" she asked with uncertainty. "This is all I've known."
"No it isn't. Don't you remember?"
Eclipse paused. "No- at least I don't think..." she said softly. "It's hard."
Ranma sighed as she hugged her daughter. She could feel her daughter's pain, and followed it right into her mind... and the part that was blocked off. "Do you want to remember?" she asked, experimentally tugging at whatever Alexia had done.
Eclipse looked into Nariko's eyes. "Just a bit, just the fashion."
Ranma nodded it was a start. She then concentrated and unraveled that specific block
Eclipse blinked and looked at herself. "I see." Her clothing lost some of it's embellishments and her jewelry simplified, but the largest change was in her makeup. She still wore complete makeup, but it was no longer overdone and served to emphasize her beauty, not bludgeon it.
"Well?" She turned to her mother with an eager expression.
"Nice," Nariko smiled. "That makeup was what really got to me."
"Better." Ranma looked at her daughter, but her concentration was really on Eclipse's mind. She blinked when she felt the other blocks connected to it start to crumble. It was like watching cracks slowly spider web outward. She deserved the truth. "I couldn't just remove that block. The rest are weakened too."
Eclipse blinked, then shrugged. "Those are just memories. I'm still the same person." She could remember some things more clearly.
Yuki nervously giggled.
Ranma turned to Yuki. "And what about you?"
"Alexia wanted my memories intact. To use me to get to you." Yuki blushed. "It's going to take more than clearing my head to make me into Nabiki again. Or any of us."
"Just overwhelm our minds, reprogram us and be done with it," Aurora suggested with conviction as she adjusted her eveningwear.
Ranma paused. "No. I'm not like Alexia. What about your mind?"
"Go to town, Mother." Aurora stepped in front of Ranma.
"I don't believe Mother works that way," Eclipse stated as she adjusted her top. She still preferred her earlier, skimpier clothing tastes. "Mother's got more-" Eclipse paused to find the right word. She loved both her mothers, but with Ranma there was no fear. "-class than that."
"You're saying Alexia had no class?" Aurora said lividly. She felt an urgent need to defend Alexia.
"What did she do aside from dress us up like her dolls and have us go out and feed?" Eclipse taunted. "Unlike you I've had both as my mothers! She gave a smile to Ranma. "And I'm remembering, now. There's a reason a less powerful, younger brood mother was able to kill Alexia." She flared her eyes at Aurora. "Alexia put a spell on us! Made us blind to what she was doing!"
Aurora continued to glare at Eclipse with hot, smoldering eyes.
"You think I'm lying? Sure it's nice to feed and look nice, but my mate kicked my ass tonight. We were even when Alexia took me, when she ruined me. Why else would Alexia alter my memories?" Eclipse's eyes narrowed. She started controlling her breathing and seemed to calm.
"She made us!" Aurora defended.
"She did that well, but then what? There's more to being a brood mother than that." Eclipse said pointedly. "I love her for what she gave us, but there's also what she took from us!"
"Nicely said, Akane," Ranma nodded.
"Eclipse, Mother," she paused. "Unless of course you want me to change it," she said with a slight bow. She knew that Alexia had named her Eclipse when she was reborn, but did not recall how she returned to the name Akane, only that it was very joyous.
Ranma looked over her daughter. It would be easy to force her into being Akane, but it was clear that she was recovering, and she never took the easy way with Nariko or Akane the first time around. "Uh... no. I want you to do it, yourself. When you feel like Akane."
"Understood mother," Eclipse nodded, flush with an alien but familiar feeling, responsibility. It was her responsibility, her choice to determine when she was ready to change her name. It was a heady feeling.
Ranma shook her head. Eclipse being her daughter was stranger than the one that hated her.
"Fiddle with my mind then," Aurora stated bowing her head before Ranma.
Ranma narrowed her eyes and studied the daughter presented before her. "This is bad. It's all a jumble. How many people messed with your mind?"
"There was Alexia and then all those times at the Assembly," Ukyou stated.
"Just wipe it and start over," Aurora urgently said. "I'll be happy then."
"No. I told you, I'm not like her," Ranma stated.
"So, you're going to force me to have a mother that I hate?" Aurora laughed bitterly. "You are cruel."
Ranma's shoulders sagged as she continued to study her daughter.
"Hey!" Ukyou slapped Aurora on the back of the head. "Don't say that! She's trying to save your mind. What little there is of it."
"Why do you want me to lock you down?" Ranma asked as she studied Aurora's green eyes. "What are you afraid of?"
"Nothing," Aurora's eyes flickered.
Ranma's eyes widened as she watched the mental house of cards that was Aurora's mind shift. "That's exactly it."
Nariko tilted her head. Aurora's posture was familiar. It was something she saw in her own reflection when…. "Mommy! Hold onto her now! Ucchan you too!"
Aurora screamed as she fell to her knees. The order imposed by Alexia was gone and she felt her mind begin to fragment. The programming the Assembly gave a young acolyte and the tenets to the family style taught to an eager young boy were insufficient and too far removed.
Green flames burst over Aurora's body as she mentally scrambled for something- anything to grab onto. She found two forms: one was primal and maternal; the other a trusted peer, who had always been at her side and never betrayed her.
She screamed, cried and growled as her mind seemed to explode. However, the fragments were not lost; they were captured by the two presences in her mind, holding her mind together. It was like an egg. Everything was kept inside a strong, yet fragile, outer shell.
"So, that's why she wanted Mother to erase her mind," Eclipse noted. The flames had died down, and the three succubae sat on the bathroom floor in a tight embrace.
"Mother mentioned once how easily that Assemblyman's mind broke when she was turned, and how quickly she became Aurora," Yuki said. She watched the shuddering form of her older sister with interest.
"Our minds are fragile," Nariko stated. "She's lucky she had people to catch hers when it broke."
Eclipse turned to her mate. "Is this normal for you?"
Nariko smiled. "I have experience, remember?"
Eclipse nodded, despite her memory still being spongy, she felt something.
After several minutes Ranma and Ukyou pulled back from their charge. who opened her eyes.
"How do you feel?" Nariko asked.
"I don't know," the green-eyed demon blinked.
"Ryoga?" Yuki asked, hedging on some kind of regression, and recalling the name Mother had once used for a certain Assembly Acolyte
The orange-haired demon nodded.
"But... Aurora?" Eclipse asked.
"Yes?" The orange-haired demon asked.
"Who the hell are you?" Eclipse demanded
"I... I don't know," the green-eyed demon cried. She leaned onto her mother and closed her eyes.
"What happened?" Eclipse asked her mother.
"Her mind couldn't take it. She needed the reinforcement, the pressure from Alexia's will to keep herself together," Ranma said as she brushed the crying demon's hair.
"Like those deep sea fish. They spend their whole lives at enormous pressures and when they're brought up to the surface they explode," Yuki said.
"Yeah, that's about right," Ranma said, hardly noticing the grossness of the example. She had, after all, committed extremely violent cannibalism earlier that night. "Ukyou and myself. We helped as much as we could..."
"I don't have his body," the orange-haired succubus mumbled. "I have hers. Yes. That will do. For now I'll be Aurora."
"For now?" Ukyou asked.
Nariko smiled, fully understanding what "Aurora" meant.
"Sis," Eclipse asked as she knelt in front of Aurora.
"Are you still you?"
"Are you?" Aurora smiled.
"If you girls are dressed, I think we can get some food," Ranma said as she helped Aurora to her feet.
"Mother, you really should have waited four days," Aurora said as she shifted back into an evening dress with matching jewelry, makeup and styled hair.
Ranma blinked in recollection. "Oh yes that. Well... sorry?" she offered.
"It's okay. My fault, and in the end it all worked out," Aurora laughed as she put her arm around her partner's waist. She remembered getting lost quite often when she was younger. The physical contact also felt really nice.
"I guess she's still our sister," Eclipse whispered to her littlest sister.
"Yes, but you're both changing," Yuki whispered back. She would talk to Mother about her own issues later.
"Honey, is there something wrong?" Ranma asked as she watched Yuki pick at her meal. Her daughter was still draining energy from her, they all were, but Yuki seemed less enthusiastic.
Yuki froze mid-bite. She could not lie - not to mother. "Yes." Her eyes were downcast.
"Yuki-chan?" Eclipse asked. Her little sister was not normally like this... at least not in her memory. Yuki was confident, but knew her place.
"What is it?" Ranma confidently asked.
Yuki fidgeted and tried to meet her mother's gaze, but could not manage it. "Can... can we talk about this in private?" she quietly asked. Her eyes darted between her older sisters.
Ranma put her hand on her nervous daughter's shoulder. "Of course." She said before turning to her other daughters. "I trust you girls will be okay?"
"Don't worry, I'll keep an eye on Aurora," Ukyou answered. "I'll make sure she doesn't wander off and try to eat someone."
"Hey! I'll be fine!" Aurora bristled. "Though a snack would be good," she mumbled after taking a bit of her stew. These humans could cook well too.
"No eating agents." Ranma glared.
"Not even a little drain?" Aurora whined.
Eclipse perked her ears. A little draining sounded good
"No," Ranma repeated.
"Yes, Mother," Aurora responded in a disappointed voice. She understood following orders. Mother's will was Mother's Will.
Eclipse returned to her soup, also disappointed. She recalled some of those strange rules about humans that Mother had. She also recalled agreeing with Mother about humans... both of her mothers.
"Come on, Yuki," Ranma helped her daughter up and led her out of the commissary.
"Thank you, Mother," Yuki whispered uneasily.
"What's wrong?" Ranma asked as she opened the bathroom door for Yuki. "Is it about your sisters?"
Yuki looked away and caught her mother's reflection. "Not entirely."
"What is it then?" Ranma asked as she put her arm around Yuki's waist amazed at how much her new arm felt like her old one.
"I wasn't always this adorable little cutie," Yuki stated.
Ranma nodded. "Alexia did it?" she surmised.
Yuki's pink lips formed into a bitter smile. "She set the pieces and watched it happen. My body was made into this but my mind..."
"Yes?" Ranma quietly asked.
"Alexia... she had my big sisters 'take care' of me." Yuki's eyes finally met Ranma's. "Remember what I told you before you turned me?"
Ranma paused to remember the earlier conversation. "Not to punish them?"
"Yes, you can't tell them," Yuki's body shook with a bit of fear. "Or if you do... please protect me," she whimpered. "I can't stand up to them; I'm the little sister," She continued, ashamed.
The redhead kept her anger in check, but it still radiated from her in waves. Even death did not stop Alexia from causing trouble. "Of course. What did they do?"
"They were just Alexia's pawns." Yuki's smile became sincere. "Besides, they stopped beating me when I started acting proper." She knew Eclipse would not think this was proper, unless Mother told Eclipse that it was.
Ranma frowned at that eager smile and her face flushed in anger at the statement that followed it. "It was still wrong what they did," she haltingly stated. She should not get angry at her daughters for what Alexia made them do.
"I know mother." Anger bloomed over her adorable features. "It was Alexia! It was her! Big sisters are supposed to protect and look out... not beat and abuse! She turned our family into a mockery! Stupid gaudy, bitch. She made my sisters mean bullies and worse!"
Yuki gasped, horrified at what she had said about her big sisters. She feared that Mother would hurt them, tell them, or hurt her.
"They're not going to do that again," Ranma promised.
Yuki's face brightened. "Thank you!" she cried as she hugged onto her mother with all her strength.
"I'll make sure they don't abuse you," Ranma said as she brushed her daughter's hair.
"But... how?" Yuki's eyes widened. The latitude mother was giving her was amazing. "You're not going to hurt them? Not because of me."
"No," Ranma blinked. "I'll tell them not to bully you. If they keep it up, I'll have to be more drastic I guess."
"What about me? Will I be punished? For telling?"
"No." Ranma noticed the relief on her daughter's face and that it was not total. "There's something else?"
Yuki turned to look at her mother. "I was forced to be the little sister." She signed. "I turned myself to please them, but it wasn't enough..." Yuki laughed. "Mother- Alexia, she did one final alteration to me."
Ranma simply held her daughter.
"Look into my mind, Mother," Yuki requested. She then felt Mother's presence mingling with her psyche.
"What do you want me to do?" Ranma asked as she held Yuki.
"You're asking me?" Yuki was full of awe.
"Of course, I'd rather not muck with your personality or anything. No making you Nabiki," Ranma shook her head. "I didn't make Akane... Akane either."
"Just remove that... cap Alexia put on my mind," Yuki respectfully asked.
Ranma smiled and tugged at the block that was put in place; she left it weak enough that it would crumble on it's own. "What are your plans?"
"Plans?" Yuki asked.
"Yeah, what do you want? To stay this age?"
Yuki looked down. "Well... I had some ideas, but..."
"You can tell me; I'm your Mom," Ranma put on a smile that was mostly genuine. The situation, baby demons and all, still struck her as strange, but there was no denying it.
Yuki paused. This Mother felt warm and safe. "I have three ideas."
"I knew there was a chance that... Alexia could lose. It wasn't something I liked thinking about, but if she did." Yuki paused. "I wanted to be prepared for my new mother."
"I see. Go on," Ranma encouraged.
"I can stay like this," Yuki offered.
"Like this? As Yuki?"
"Well, you are a sweet and smart girl," Ranma complimented.
"Thanks, Mother," Yuki blushed.
"What are the other ideas?"
"Status quo might not work," Yuki sighed. "I'm... I've been damaged."
Ranma hugged her. "I know, it's hard."
"I don't want to implode... not like big sister," Yuki's expression became pained. "It'd be worse. She was never... abused." She blinked. She was able to say it. "If it gets too much.. maybe you could... regress me."
"Regress? That's not what I think it means." Ranma looked down to see Yuki's big blue eyes.
"Please mother. I could get a restart. Be put to before my trauma."
Ranma held her peace. "Is getting younger a way out? Would that help things?"
"I hope it doesn't come to that," Yuki sighed. "This is if I can't handle things."
"This is the last resort, right?"
Yuki nodded. "If I can't handle the other plans."
"What's the third idea?" Ranma asked. She tried to remove the thought of an even younger daughter, a little girl to take care of.
Yuki blushed. "I make a go for Nabiki."
"Nabiki?" Ranma looked over her daughter. "Is there any Nabiki in you?" her tone was quiet, delicate.
"I think so," Yuki sighed. "I'd like to think so. I think... I want... to be able to
be more than just... Yuki-chan."
"Recovery? I knew you had it in you," the redhead noted with pride. If she could still be Ranma, to some extent, then why not the same for her cute little daughter?
"I know it's gonna be hard. Maybe too hard," Yuki admitted.
"But... but if you want to do this I'll help you best I can," Ranma promised. Yuki having an interest in her human life was a very positive sign. "I think this is the better option."
"I won't become Nabiki, not all the way," Yuki warned. "Maybe not any at all."
"I don't care about that," Ranma assured. "I just want you to be happy. To be what you want to be."
"You do?" Yuki's eyes widened and she leaned onto her mother with a happy purr. "You're the best,"
"Err... right," Ranma said thinking of how she screwed up with Eclipse's memory blocks and let Aurora's mind shatter. She should have been able to stop those things, and then there was the potential problem of them resuming their bullying Yuki.
Given the neglect she heaped on Nariko and the outright destruction Alexia gave her other three daughters, Ukyou was the only girl without overt damage to overcome... if one ignored she was a former member of an insane militant cult.
"You're the best," Yuki repeated. "You care."
"Of course." Ranma said as she hugged her daughter. Yuki purred once again feeling happy and safe. Ranma held the smaller demon and took a quick glance at her own reflection in the mirror and noted that her eyes were now all purple. After the moment had passed, Ranma led Yuki back to the rest of the family.
"You get out fine?" Ami asked as the girl ran up to her.
"Yup," Janet smiled. "Mother went to bed an hour before I left."
"Clever girl. I knew that's why I... liked you," Ami joked as the two started walking down the street.
"Are you sure about this?" Janet asked as she rubbed her bare shoulders. The dress she was wearing was a bit too revealing for her tastes, but Ami had talked her into it.
"Don't worry, None of the Senshi would ever think of going where we're going," Ami assured, while putting an arm around the other girl's shoulder. "What are you afraid of, they'd brand us as traitors?"
Janet nervously laughed.
"We're still good little Senshi. Usagi trusts us," Ami assured.
"Yeah... but that demon's a Senshi, and this is the exact kind of place she'd go to," Janet stated as she fidgeted with her knife, her transformation item. It had started to... change, but Ami assured her that everything was okay. That she was just evolving into another Senshi mode, like the others have done, and will shortly come into her new powers.
"She's busy tonight," Ami promised. A sly grin formed. "Besides, even if her... family did meet us there, so what? They of all people would be sympathetic."
"I guess succubae would get two girls out having fun," Janet allowed.
"That's the spirit," Ami laughed. She adjusted the hem of her short dress, and pulled a card out of her purse. "Here's your ID."
Janet took the offered card and examined it critically. "You're right, the right makeup does add two years."
"It's what we need to get in," Ami agreed.
"You also look great with your hair up," Janet complimented.
"Thanks," Ami blushed. "Though I don't have enough to have it up properly, not yet at least, but I'll take care of that soon, I promise."
"I wonder what Usagi would think of all this?" The underlying wariness in Janet's tone betrayed the casual nature of the question.
"Her two 'brainy' friends wearing nice clothes and actually going out?" Ami laughed. "I think she'd gush, and wish us luck in snagging some nice boys."
Janet smiled at Ami's joke. "I dunno... I saw the way she acts around Rei. It wouldn't surprise me if it turned into a double date."
Ami paused at that and started laughing. Janet may have been new to the Senshi but she had picked up their personalities quickly. "That's rich."
"Now, now," Janet said between her own laughs. "There aren't any lesbian Senshi. Well... aside from Michiru and Haruka... and Saotome."
"And Setsuna if you believe the rumors about her."
"Oh... that's true," Janet nodded and the two continued to walk. "Well... I'm sure there's plenty of rumors about us."
"Oh, there will be." Ami promised. "But that doesn't matter."
"I suppose it doesn't. Whatever happens we're working for the Princess," Janet's tone quieted down as she spoke.
"No matter what the others say." Ami's eyes hardened. "We're doing this for her."
"I know, I... I know." Janet sighed. "We're her Senshi. We protect her from all threats."
"External and Internal," Ami added cryptically.
"That's good," Ranma appraised as she stepped around her daughter. "Your arm should be just a bit higher and you want to do more with your hips,." She then adjusted the younger demon's limbs accordingly.
"Okay, Mom," Yuki blushed at the compliment.
"Now do it again," Ranma told the pink unitard-wearing succubus. She turned to look at her other two daughters, who were glaring at each other at the other side of the dojo. "I'll be right back," Ranma said before walking over to them
Yuki nodded and resumed her practice. Mother had seen potential in her and encouraged her; Yuki would not let her down.
"What's going on here?" Ranma asked.
"Akane is being a pain," Aurora smirked.
Eclipse's brows knitted at the use of that name. "You're just getting too uppity for your place."
"My place?" Aurora's voice dripped with incredulousness. "I'm challenging you to show you what my place should be."
Ranma sighed and put her fingers to her temple. "This isn't Alexia's brood. There's no pecking order here."
"We tried to tell them that," Nariko agreed with a ghost of a smug smile.
"It's good that you guys are practicing, but... what?" Ranma shook her head. "Are you two going to fight to find out who's better?"
"Yes!" Aurora said. "It makes sense. It's how things were always settled."
"I don't know," Eclipse paused and looked at mother. "This isn't how we do things."
"Exactly. You girls can spar, but it's not like I have a favorite," Ranma stated.
"Then why are you still lording over me and Yuki?" Aurora asked.
"I... I'm the big sister." Eclipse replied, hesitantly.
"No. Nariko is," Aurora smirked.
""That's true, I am the eldest here," Nariko innocently reminded, "but that's not important right now."
Eclipse looked down. "Yeah..."
"Wait... did you just give up?" Aurora asked. "That's not like you!"
Returning her gaze to Aurora, Eclipse raised an eyebrow.
"Okay fine, maybe Akane's more reasonable and less of a..."
"Ill-tempered and arrogant makeup-disaster?" Yuki offered while she continued to practice. Her face devoid of any malice and as innocent-looking as Nariko's.
"A bit bluntly put, Yuki-chan..." Nariko said.
"Hey! I'm being nicer," Eclipse pouted.
"Alexia's eldest daughter being nice?" Ukyou laughed.
"Alexia's dead. Dead and eaten." Eclipse flatly said.
"I still want to spar," Aurora reminded.
"Keep the damage to a minimum. To the building." Ranma cautioned "And yourselves, but you girls can take a fair bit of damage, but growing back chunks of your body is not fun. Trust me on this."
"Yes mother," Aurora said as she slipped into a ready stance.
Eclipse smirked and stretched her tail.
Ranma critically watched her daughters spar. Aurora was intriguing; she would transition from one style to another. Ranma spotted bits of feral succubus attacks, the Assembly tactics that Acolyte Hibiki used, and parts of what Ranma dimly remembered as Ryoga's family style.
Eclipse countered with the familiar moves of her family's styles. Ranma smirked. Soun's and Ranma's versions of Anything Goes were present, but there was nothing Alexia taught her being used. She was somewhat hesitant and rusty but she was improving.
"They're very stubborn girls aren't they?" Ukyou asked. She had moved to stand next to her mother and watched as Aurora and Eclipse danced around each other. Both were bruised, sweating heavily, and bleeding from a number of cuts.
Ranma nodded and allowed the match to continue for a few more minutes. She stopped when it degenerated into a brawl with the girls on the ground.
"But Mom! You fought like this," Eclipse pouted, before using her tongue to check that she had not lost any teeth.
"Good match still." Aurora smirked and adjusted her neck. She whimpered when pain started to shoot up her back.
"Yeah," Eclipse agreed as she limped over to Aurora and gave her a hug that made both gasp in pain.
"She has a point, Mom. You and Alexia were rolling around on the floor like that." Ukyou reminded.
"She got the fight to turn into a brawl," Ranma grumbled. "Then she forgot to protect her neck."
"Maybe you should train us in that kind of fighting too?" Yuki asked simply.
Ranma blinked. "Now that's an idea." She nodded. "Yes... good idea, Yuki."
Yuki blushed at the compliment.
"This seems nice," Kasumi said as she entered the dojo.
"Agent," Aurora said with a slight bow to her head.
Yuki eyed Kasumi. Part of her wanted to squeal "sister" and run over to Kasumi and glomp-tackle her, but... Yuki could read Kasumi's expression. She looked to Eclipse for advice, but her big sister was similarly unsure. Neither demonic sister felt that Kasumi really wanted them.
Ranma shook her head. "You finally get off from work?"
"Yes," Kasumi responded. She smiled as she looked at her sisters. It was familiar to see Akane like this, and strangely fitting for Nabiki. It made Nabiki more like herself and Akane.
"It's... good that you're back," Ranma noted.
"Yes, it is good. I missed... all of you."
"When are you going to mate with her?" Yuki asked, her voice actually not being totally innocent.
"Nabiki..." Kasumi glared. Despite her best efforts she blushed slightly.
"You would make a good mate for Mother," Eclipse said.
"Is that all you see me as?" Kasumi's light tone was betrayed by the hardness of her eyes.
Eclipse tilted her head. "We were sisters, right?"
"Yes," Kasumi agreed, wondering if the use of past tense was accidental or not.
"We're close." Eclipse smiled at the memories. She recalled a strong, protective, vicious older sister. "You would make a great succubus."
"I've been told," Kasumi's eyes narrowed. She looked into her fiance's purple eyes and frowned. "Can we talk in private?"
Ranma glanced at her girls, then returned her gaze to Kasumi. She really should expect people to want to keep secrets, if only for a time.
"Yes we can." She turned to her eldest, "Nariko, lead the others in finishing up their practice for today."
The demon mother shifted into a form that passed for human, and the two stepped out of the building and started walking around the grounds. "What do you want to talk about?"
"They seem..." Kasumi paused and looked off into the forest.
"Like demons? Not the sisters you remember?" Ranma's voice gained an edge. "Maybe they would be better if I had some help. I'm just one person."
"You're their mother."
"Yeah, and if you want them to see you as their sister you better damn well act like it."
Kasumi stopped walking and turned to make direct eye contact with Ranma.
"Remember just after the battle? That critical time when they had just been freed from Alexia? After we got back to base where were you? Where were you when Akane argued with Aurora that Alexia ruined them? Where were you when I had to coax out of Nabiki that she was abused and tormented by her own sisters?"
"I had work to do."
"Bullshit." Ranma smirked. " You know they would have released you after the operation at the hotel. Your bosses are pretty damn accommodating when it comes to keeping us demons happy."
Kasumi's hand spasmed. "I wanted..."
"What? You wanted the sisters you remember back?"
"You wouldn't understand."
"Really now?" Ranma stepped forward and into Kasumi's personal space. "I lost my daughter. Oh, I got her back, but she's different. Unlike you, I can make them into what I remember them to be."
"Why didn't you then?"
"Then I'd be no better than Alexia. They'd be mockeries. Puppets. It would destroy them. If you want any hope of them recovering, it's going to be hard. Did you expect me to bite them and to have Alexia's evil spell lifted instantly?"
Kasumi kept silent.
"So, that's how it is. Can't you have some patience? It's been less than twenty-four hours and Nabiki's already making sarcastic comments. You'd know that if you had spent any time with her."
"She still looks..."
"Oh, you see cute and pink and can't see anything beyond that. Shallow." Ranma spat.
"And what am I supposed to think?" Kasumi demanded. "I can't 'feel' them like you do. I can only see someone who says she's my sister but doesn't dress or act any thing like she used to!"
"That's why you avoided them?" Ranma sighed. "Look... they could use your help. I could use it. And are they really that bad? I thought Akane was making good progress."
"She's like just after when you turned her last time."
"So? That shows potential. Akane will be fine. It's Nabiki that worries me."
"Yes," Kasumi agreed.
"She does want to become Nabiki again," Ranma pointed out.
"She... does?" Kasumi asked, disbelief coloring her face.
"Yup, she confided in me that she wanted... more. She's scared though. A big sister that was always nice to her could help," Ranma offered as her expression warmed.
"I'll do what I can," Kasumi promised.
"Great," Ranma said as she put her arm around Kasumi's shoulder.
The agent paused but let the hand stay there.
"Are things back to normal?" the Drake asked the man who sat in the bar stool next to him.
"You're out in a bar in public," Jacob said as he straightened his tie. He then ordered a drink. He allowed himself a slight smile. The Drake's idea of "back to normal" was charming.
"Good, my daughter told me that bad demon was dead," Drake smiled.
"I still recommend that you have some security. Alexia may be gone, but there are other threats."
"I guessed as much," the educator noted before emptying his glass.
"We investigated your problems," Jacob remarked.
"Oh? What took you so long?"
The bartender handed Jacob a glass. The officer sipped the scotch before speaking. "We had other... internal matters to deal with first. You were right, it was a simple extortion scam."
"I told you I wasn't a traitor," the Drake stated, eyeing the man.
"I know. We still have to be careful," Jacob sipped his drink again.
"You're not going to ask why?"
"No." Jacob took care to gently place his glass. "I recall you loved your wife very much. Losing her... you never got into a real relationship again did you?"
"I dated some... then stopped," the Drake admitted. "However, I still...
"You're human, and got lonely. Then that news reporter found out about your... lady companions."
"I had a reputation to keep up."
"Yes, a real estate mogul is allowed some eccentricities, but not a high school principal."
The Drake nodded sadly. "There's also my children. I didn't want them to think I was a pervert."
"One is a succubus and the other is a WIC cadet," Jacob quietly pointed out.
"I'm still human," The Drake said, almost petulantly.
"Yes, and your indulgence almost cost us this operation." Jacob took another sip. "Next time your urges get you in trouble call us. Don't try to handle it yourself."
"You had to have found out what he wanted," the Drake noted.
"Of course, he was digging into the reason why exactly WIC had been hired by the Canadian government. He was able to connect us to you. His theories on the missing persons and other events was... interesting," Jacob smirked.
"I tried to stick to the cover story." The Drake's hands shook; he steadied them by clutching his glass.
"Yes, and your deviations from that where what our intrepid reporter didn't believe. It was too fanciful for his tastes."
"What will happen to him?"
"He tried to get critical information out of a government defense contractor through extortion. That could be considered treason. He's in a prison somewhere," Jacob's voice was flat.
"And me?" Drake appreciated that his... friend was not being so overt in the implied threat.
Jacob studied the man before replying. "What did I say when I first came in? If there was a serious problem with you... you would already have been taken care of. Of course your leash has been tightened."
"You're here to make my problems disappear?" The Drake asked.
"Depends on the situation," Jacob said. He turned to his old friend. "Sometimes it's more expedient to make the person causing them to disappear."
The Drake nodded and ordered another drink. This was the price he paid for dealing with people like this.
"You girls get what you needed?" Ranma asked as she entered the house from the back door. She had been training in the dojo when she sensed that her daughters had come home from their errand with Kasumi.
"Oh yeah," Aurora smiled. "It was getting real dire without my dresses."
Yuki and Eclipse were less enthusiastic with their agreement. Going back to... the hotel had been... sobering.
"We still had a good time," Kasumi assured as she put her hand on Yuki's shoulder. It was an interesting experience, watching her sisters sift through the debris that marked that part of their lives.
"You girls didn't get everything, did you? We're cramped for space as it is." Ranma joked.
"I didn't, but Aurora did," Eclipse laughed.
"That's not fair! You already had a wardrobe here!" Aurora glared, her grip tightening on the large makeup case she carried.
"Yuki-chan took less than you, and none of her old clothes fit."
"That's because a lot of those clothes were just costumes I was forced to wear. Like that horrible maid outfit," Yuki glared.
"You still brought plenty of cheongsams, mostly pink and other cute things," Kasumi noted.
"I like pink," Yuki stated.
Ukyou entered the room with Nariko. She smiled at her partner. "Careful there, Sugar. You'll break that box," the blonde cautioned while putting her hand over Aurora's.
"It's... it's important."
"Why? You don't wear that much makeup," Ukyou noted. "And what you do wear you put on more by your powers than anything else."
"I was trying a more... natural look, but what if I... need this?"
"Are you saying that a skilled martial artist, elite demon hunter, and strong succubus needs a makeup kit so she'll feel nice and pretty? Like a real girl?" Ukyou asked.
"Like you can talk," Aurora grumbled. "You don't even have a makeup kit."
Ukyou sighed. "I'm not all that girly. You've seen Nariko's makeup. She doesn't have that much. Neither do the rest of us combined. Look at this thing," she pointed to the immense box. "What are you - a fashion model?"
"It's okay," Ranma said as she stepped in and hugged the trembling Aurora.
"Yeah, sis. I didn't save my old makeup stuff," Eclipse reminded.
"That goes without saying, Dear," Ranma reminded. "Aurora, if you want to keep this... tackle box you can, but... I think you're just holding onto it out of fear. You look beautiful without all that extra nonsense."
"Easy for you to say. With your perfectly balanced blush, precise mascara, and great lashes. Not to mention your lipstick," Aurora sighed.
Ranma tilted her head. "Huh? I got what now?"
"Don't kid me. How much makeup do you have? Or do you just use your powers? It can't be an accident that you look this good."
"I... I don't know how it works. I just look in the mirror after I get dressed and..." Ranma paused and tried to remember when she started thinking of her makeup as normal. She was pretty sure that was after she had accepted being a demon mom, but before she had started eating people. Which, when compared to things like that, a bit of makeup was pretty minor.
"Teach me how you do this," Aurora waved her hand at her mother's face, " and I'll throw out this," she said tapping her makeup box.
"You're kidding?" Ranma asked.
"You do look very lovely, Mother," Nariko reminded.
"I'm serious," Aurora said as she put her makeup box down on the kitchen table. She looked to see the rest of the family staring at her and mother. "I... I guess we'll finish unpacking the car."
"That's great. I'll be showering."
"Why? You're not covered in blood." Yuki asked.
"I was training. Don't you guys notice the purple unitard, or that my wings are still out? How about that I'm all sweaty?"
"You repaired your makeup after you trained," Aurora noted. She turned to her sisters. "And you guys call me vain!"
"Hey, this just happens automatically," Ranma defended.
"It's okay, Mom," Eclipse laughed. " There's nothing wrong with wanting to look nice."
"Unload your stuff," Ranma sighed. "Oh and put some of that in Nabiki's and Akane's rooms. Our bedroom's too full as it is."
"Maybe if you didn't have two full beds crammed in there," Kasumi noted.
"Not my fault succubae sleep like this."
"Actually, Alexia had us sleep in our own queen-size bed," Yuki said with a slight blush. She recalled that Alexia would often use her minions in the bedroom, but... Yuki shuddered. Sometimes she wondered what Alexia was planning for them, but she was able to banish those fearful thoughts - Alexia was gone. She had been eaten by mother and what little remained was incinerated by the Company.
"Sleeping with mother is much better. It's a wonder Alexia never did it," Aurora said as she and her sisters went back out to the car. Ukyou and Nariko went to help the other three, leaving Kasumi alone with Ranma.
"I know why Alexia never did that," Kasumi noted.
"She was afraid that if she actually comforted her daughters, held them as they slept, that she might... actually see them as daughters. Real daughters, not whatever cruel joke of a family she had made."
Ranma eyed the agent. "How do you know this?"
"Look what it did to you," Kasumi noted. After a slight hesitation, she gave Ranma a quick kiss on the cheek before walking off to her room.
The brood mother blinked a few times. She banished her wings and tail and made her way to the bathroom, grumbling about crazy kids and fiancees the whole time. She was going to talk to Kasumi about this... later.
"What's going on?" Nariko asked as she walked up to the trunk of Kasumi's sedan.
"Nothing," Yuki poorly lied as she shifted what she was carrying.
"That's all Akane's stuff," Nariko noted after looking at the pile of clothes.
"I'm just helping," Yuki defended.
"Hey! I didn't tell you to stop," Eclipse growled as she brushed past the others and up to her little sister. She glared at Yuki.
Nariko narrowed her eyes at her mate.
"I... Nariko was just asking me what I was doing - and she's older," Yuki said, her face flush with embarrassment. She did not want to deal with this.
"I told you to unload this for-" Eclipse was cut off by a hand grabbing her shoulder and spinning her around. She found herself looking into a pair of strangely intense red eyes.
"What do you think you're doing?" Nariko carefully asked.
"To me it looks like you're bullying our little sister. Something mom told us not do to," Nariko noted with a hard edge to her voice.
"Eclipse, how could you?" Aurora gasped.
"You got her to help carry your stuff," Eclipse said defensively.
"I asked her nicely," Aurora corrected, managing to look offended and haughty.
"Ucchan, please tell mother about this, but tell her that I've got it handled," Nariko said in a polite tone as she released her grip on her mate's shoulder.
"Right," Ukyou nodded before walking back to the house.
Nariko sighed as she ran her hand over Eclipse's cheek. "Now what should I do with you?"
Eclipse swallowed; she did not like the way her mate was looking at her, evaluating her.
"For starters you're cut off from this," Nariko said with a wave over her body.
"I'm not going to have sex with someone who bullies my little sister," Nariko stated.
"Come on Yuki, this is between those two," Aurora said as she guided her little sister back to the house.
"Okay," Yuki said while smiling. It was fitting to see big-sister-Eclipse taken down a peg or two.
"Calm down, Akane," Nariko advised. "This is just my punishment. I have no idea what Mother will do when she finds out."
Eclipse paled the slight amount that was physically possible for her.
Ukyou ran up the stairs. Then the blonde succubus opened the bathroom door; she could tell that her mom was the only one in there. Still in the shower, Ranma spun around an gave a surprised shriek. Ukyou almost laughed at her mother's embarrassment. This was not the first time mother had been caught in the act of "tension release", and until she found a mate it would not be the last.
"Ucchan!" Ranma gasped as she shut off the water and grabbed a towel. These actions had the important task of keeping both her hands busy. "What's going on?" she asked using her towel more to dry off than for modesty.
"Akane was being a jerk. Nariko said she's handling it though," Ukyou said as she closed the door behind her.
"I see. It's not important?" Ranma said. She finished drying her body and slipped on the clean clothing she had laid out. One of the violet leather dresses that Nodoka had bought her went over a pair of lacy purple bra and panties. That set was a surprising gift from Aurora.
"Nariko said she was handling it, and it looked minor," Ukyou said.
"Good." Ranma said. As she dried her hair it started to spike. She brushed it a bit to help it gain body until her hair became the familiar teased, fluffed structure that added a couple inches to her height before cascading down her shoulders and back.
"Wow, Aurora's right," Ranma admitted as she watched her reflection. Matching makeup appeared on her face as she put on her obsidian earrings and silver necklace.
"That shower was hot wasn't it?" Ukyou asked.
"What about your curse, Mom?"
"What about it?" Ranma asked as she ran over to her room to get a pair of boots to put on.
"It's activated by hot water. You didn't change in the shower, or when you fought Alexia."
"Oh yeah, I turn into a guy don't I?" Ranma asked as she slipped on her tall leather platform boots.
"Well, do you? I think you're locked, Mom."
"Let's see: I added two kids to my brood, I ate Alexia, and my eyes are all purple," Ranma said as she walked back to the bathroom. There she washed her hands with their simply manicured and gloss-coated nails.
Ukyou noted that Mother had used the hot water to wash her hands and that Mother had frowned for a split second before returning to her normal expression. "Well?"
"Well what?" Ukyou's mother asked as she put an arm around the blonde's shoulder. "Don't worry about it. I'll look into it, but I've got Eclipse to talk to."
"Er... okay," Ukyou said as she reminded herself to tell grandma about this as soon as possible. She could feel... anxiety in her mother, but the redhead was pushing that emotion to the side.
"Great. Now let's see what Akane did. I hope she's not bullying her little sister again."
Yuki frowned at the two piles of clothes. One pile fit her and was the style she liked – soft pastels and pinks. The other... was what used to fit her and what she used to like. She lifted her gaze and looked around her room.
"Well, Nabiki's room," she quietly corrected. She slept in Mother's room with the rest of the brood. This was just where she kept her stuff. She returned her attention to the clothes. It was best to try little steps. If she spent too much time wallowing in what she was she would not get anything accomplished.
Yuki promised herself to return to Nabiki's - her personal effects. She would read through her old notes and emails and other things. It was important to look at her past, but first she had to go through her clothes.
The bras were the easiest. They were almost the same size as what she wore now and would only need slight transformation to match. Her underwear was a bit more complicated, but it was doable.
Most of her blouses and skirts could also be saved. They might work when she did not feel like wearing a cheongsam. They would have to be taken in, but their plainness would make a good base for a more understated type of cute.
Her brow furrowed when she came to her jeans and slacks. Yuki remembered how comfortable and casual these clothes were, but... She sighed wondering what to do. She wanted to keep them, but could not see herself wearing... pants. Then again mother looked quite good in pants.
Picking up a pair she was struck with inspiration. She extended her claws and made a pair of cutoff shorts; a bit of her power gave them a pink hue.
"Very nice," Eclipse commented from the doorway. "I think those would look great on you."
"Is that a compliment?"
"Sure," Eclipse nodded. "They're cute but they're more... rugged. Shows you're more than just an adorable doll."
"What are you doing here?" Yuki said as she placed her new shorts on the bed.
"I'm here to apologize. It was wrong for me to treat you like a servant..." Eclipse bowed her head.
"Mom must have given you quite the talking too," Yuki smirked.
"You have no idea," Eclipse pouted. "I am sorry. I've been trying to be... good, but.. you know."
Yuki walked over to her sister and gave her a slight hug. "I know. You got used to the place you had under Alexia and all the stuff you could do."
Eclipse sighed as she returned the hug. "Since when did you end up being such a good sister?"
"Since I realized the value of a family that actually loves you."
"That is really nice. I'd forgotten what mother's like." Eclipse nodded. It made her ashamed to disappoint her like that. She promised to never fail mother like that again. She changed to a more benign topic. "I was just sorting clothes, too. Though it was easier for me. I had done this once before."
As a pale man drove down a highway, he allowed his hands to shake. He knew he should not have been nervous as he drove through that border crossing, especially since his vehicle did not have anything illegal in it. While there certainly were materials that were dangerous to Her, there was nothing that would catch a policeman's attention.
The weapons were being transported via other means. Means that the driver was not told. He almost wished he knew less about the plan than he did. They were following the Path of the Will and that soothed any moral qualms, but what the Master planned...
The driver comforted himself as he checked to make sure that he obeyed the local speed limit. That was now being given in kilometers per hour. He reminded himself that drastic measures were required to deal with such a dangerous foe. They were saving the world after all. Saving it from Her. Saving it from the ice.
While he drove he repeated the prophecy in his mind. His eyes twinkled and his lips formed into a smile when he came to the most critical part
'And there will arise a weakness in distant lands. If the will exists to use innocence as a lance then the new moon will set.'
After a few mantras he relaxed. Soon he would rendezvous with the other members and preparations would be able to proceed to the next step. The risks were higher now than they ever had been, but they were more than willing to do whatever it took.
Lieutenant Richards looked around the drab room. He knew something was wrong. Even if it was just an inquiry on behalf of Major Koster, things were taking too long. The door clicked open and Richards watched as Captain Jarvis entered.
"Hello Richards," Jarvis said as he stepped into the room just enough to allow a pair of agents in full battle dress enter and level their weapons at Richards.
"What's the meaning of this?" Richards demanded.
"Stand up. Hands on your head," Jarvis conversationally stated.
Richards glared at the other officer, but he complied. After a thorough frisking, his sidearm, pattern scanner, phone, utility knife, wallet, flashlight, and metal pens were confiscated. He was pushed back into his seat while the two guards retreated with Richard's possessions.
"I guess, I'm being tested again," Richards sighed theatrically. Sometimes agents were subjected to this in order to see how they handled interrogation.
"Not quite," Jarvis said as he put his briefcase on the table. "I could have my fun. Slowly work at you. Finding your weaknesses. It would be a treat to work against a challenge, but I don't have the time or the patience to play."
Richards silently stared at Jarvis.
"You're curious." Jarvis laughed. It was a hollow, broken sound. He made a gesture with his left hand. After a few seconds the door unlocked and a figure stepped in. She was obviously female and had long red hair and wore a revealing inky-black dress. The door closed behind her and locked, but she hung back in the shadows of the back of the room. The darkness seemed to coalesce around her, especially near her pale skin. Violet lips were pursed in an amused smile.
"What's this? You're having a demon do your work for you?" Richards exclaimed.
"I'm curious too," Jarvis said.
"He's afraid. He stinks of fear," Ranma noted with distaste.
"Yes, I can smell it too," Jarvis noted. "Of course, he could just be aware of what you really are."
"Perhaps," Ranma said as she stepped forward and started examining Richards as if he were a fascinating yet repulsive insect.
"We know he's dirty," Jarvis noted.
"Agents don't just happen to have coffee with Assemblymen," Ranma agreed as she sniffed the air around Richards. Apparently satisfied with her findings she stepped back into the shadows.
"What are you going to play good agent, bad demon?" Richardson asked.
"I'm not a good person," Jarvis stated. "You've seen what I can do. Granted, I don't eat people."
"You're not going to get to me," Richards defiantly said.
Ranma sighed with disappointment. "You said this would be fun, Adam. You said he would be tough to crack and I would be able to have a snack."
Jarvis shook his head. "Come on, Richards. You can be tougher than this."
"You don't have anything."
"What happened Richards? Your conscience hit you? So... you decide to talk to a priest? Have a bit of confessional? Maybe if you gave enough you'd be granted an indulgence?"
"I'm not a traitor, and even if I was it wouldn't be to save my soul."
Ranma broke into laughter. "Who would want it? It's an empty mess."
"That bit about a snack was just a threat?" Richards leaned back. If he kept his cool... he could make it out of here, or maybe finger someone else. He did have a fall guy lined up.
Ranma walked up to him with a large, toothy grin. "It's not your soul I want," she growled as her tail formed into existence and waved over Richard's face.
"It's a good thing we're doing this in a room with a drain in the floor," Jarvis noted
Richards looked down and saw the gleaming steel drain in the low center of the room.
"Just make sure he can still talk," Jarvis advised.
"Why?" Jarvis asked, sitting down across from Richards. He waved the demon off, who returned to her place in the shadows. "Were you planning on running away once you sold enough of our secrets? Maybe the Assembly promised you a nice job working for them."
"You're crazy," Richards laughed. "I am not a traitor to humanity."
Jarvis smirked. "I never said you were."
"Maybe that's why he told the Assembly those things. He thought he was helping things. The Assembly hunts demons too," Ranma said in a bored tone.
"Was that it, Jason?" Jarvis asked Richardson. "Did you think you were helping unite humanity?"
"Maybe he just wanted to be rid of the demons infesting his base," Ranma snarled as she stepped closer to Richards.
"What better way than tipping off the bar. So what if you're using the death of a comrade. You're getting rid of demons." Jarvis eyed Richards for his reaction.
"Why can't you look me in the eye?" Ranma demanded.
"You are letting a demon do your dirty work," Richards laughed.
"Your little friends almost killed her daughter. You have any idea how angry that makes a succubus?"
"You sold me out!" Richards cried.
"It's only fair. You sold out WIC. The brass around here felt that it was a fair deal."
"You can't just feed me to a demon."
"Because you're innocent, right?" Jarvis laughed.
"I see how this deal works." Richards shook his head. "If I talk, you hold the demon back and I get prison time, or maybe just a bullet to the head before she tears me apart."
"It's always nice working with a bright boy." Ranma smirked.
"You underestimate me. What if I kept quiet? I could die before I said anything." Richards leaned forward and smirked at the succubus. "Would you be able to hold back your rage or would you kill me before you found anything out?"
"Is this your last stand? Not going to try to bribe your way out of this?" Jarvis flexed one of his hands. "Selling information to others is your business. Are you so principled that you'll die for people you sold out?"
"Maybe he found God," Ranma laughed.
"You think it was just the Assembly?" Richard's smug expression died when he looked at the other two's faces.
"So... you have quite the cottage industry," Jarvis noted. "All human organizations I trust." His right hand made a slight motion.
"I just wanted you to realize how much you missed, well not exactly how much. That's the point isn't it? I mean... right under your nose, Captain." Richards laughed. He stopped when he noticed the look of... anticipation on Jarvis' face.
Richards and his chair were suddenly knocked down. He looked up to see a snarling face over his. Richards felt a hot pain in his arms as they were held to the ground. He looked to the sides but his vision was blocked by a pair of spread wings. His universe consisted entirely of the succubus that had him pinned.
Richards' vision darkened as he was transfixed by those luminous eyes. A primal fear rose within him as he fell into the violet depths.
He was coherent enough to notice the tail snake between her legs and hover above his chest. Gently the tail came to rest on his ribcage and extend its filaments. Dozens of tiny lacerations formed and started to bleed.
"Squirming will make it worse," Ranma teased.
"I'll talk! I'll talk!" Richards cried
"It's much to late for that," Ranma laughed
"Ranma, I think that's enough - unless you're hungry," Jarvis offered in an approving voice.
Ranma retracted her tail filaments and brought the limb to her mouth. She licked the blood off of the fins. She growled in disgust and spit it onto Richards' face. "Tastes horrible anyway," she grumbled as she pulled herself off of him.
"I'm disappointed," Jarvis said while righting Richards' chair, and Richards. "You fell apart way too easily."
"First sight of blood," Ranma shook her head. "Pansy."
"You know Richards, I interviewed another person. He wasn't an agent, or really even in the business, but he held together, and admitted what he did wrong. He wasn't some smug little bitch like you." Jarvis opened his briefcase. "Now... can we finally get to business?"
Richards blinked and tried to wipe some of the blood off of his face. He felt the wound on his side with a wince. None of the cuts were very deep but they stung. His gaze froze when it came to the demon. She was standing just behind Jarvis, but when he looked at her.. the short demon seemed to somehow loom and twist the space around her.
"Something wrong?" Jarvis asked with a purposefully, ill-concealed smirk.
"Those can't be real. Shadows don't do that," Richards babbled with wide eyes.
"Right," Jarvis deadpanned. "I suppose Miss Saotome could be a mite nicer, but you haven't given her any reason to. Maybe if you enlighten us to your... activities, she can be persuaded to be nicer."
Richards weakly nodded.
"Telling us every thing you know about the people who tried to kill her child would help. If she's off killing them she won't be here to eat you." Jarvis offered.
"Don't forget all the other twits he told. I would like a heads up at what other morons are after me," Ranma added.
Jarvis smirked inwardly as Richards began to talk. In the end, everyone talked. Though having a succubus around did make things more... expedient.
"That was fun," Jarvis noted as he washed his hands. He washed after every interrogation whether he needed it or not. "Thanks for the help."
"I'm glad you enjoyed it," Ranma noted as she leaned on a nearby wall. It was the first time she had been in a men's bathroom in a while.
"You had fun," Jarvis noted. "It wasn't all an act."
"Okay fine. It was fun to break that smug bastard. What a moron!"
"You certainly were impressive," Jarvis noted as he looked at his reflection.
"Thanks. I can't believe he actually thought selling WIC's secrets actually helped things."
"He thought things would work better if all the organizations of our nature were one big happy family. Of course the assurances of payment and an escape from the Company when he earned enough helped too."
"What'll happen to him?"
"He'll get a fair court martial, and given the evidence he'll be shot," Jarvis said as he dried his hands.
"Good," the redhead automatically said. She paused and wondered when she started to get so cold about things.
"Going to ask about Richards' little friend?" Jarvis asked, noting her disquiet.
"It sounds like Agent Platt was an unwitting accomplice. All he did was feed information to Richards." Ranma forced herself to shrug.
"Yes. Richards wouldn't lie to protect someone he was thinking about framing as a fall guy."
"You've still gotta interview Platt," Ranma remarked as she checked out her own reflection.
"Of course, but he should be easy." Jarvis picked up his briefcase.
"If you want, I can help with that," Ranma offered.
"Yes, you could." Jarvis noted. "What you said about how Richards' soul tasted was that true?"
"You should know whether or not demons eat souls." Ranma snickered.
"Quite right. So how are the kids doing?" Jarvis asked as they exited the bathroom.
"Oh? Funny you should mention that," Ranma said before going into a lengthy talk about her spawn. Jarvis nodded and paid attention as best as he could. He knew what asking a mother about her children would be like, or at least he thought he did.
Eventually they came to the room where Platt and the rest of Richards' team was waiting. Agent Platt was quite nervous about being singled out, especially by Captain Jarvis and Miss Saotome.
"Mom!" Ranma cried as she ran over to Nodoka and hugged her. It had been a couple days since the raid on the hotel and the demise of Alexia.
"Dear, at least let me get in," Nodoka said as she tried to step into the house. "How are things?"
"Good. Alexia's gone, and I have time off to take care of my kids," Ranma said as she untangled from Nodoka and led her into the house.
"And your father?"
"See for yourself," Ranma said as they entered the kitchen and walked to the back porch.
Genma and Soun were sitting at a table on the back porch. Their chairs were facing out into the back yard and they were quietly snacking on some sandwiches.
"Thank you daughter," Soun said graciously.
"You're welcome," Yuki smiled before walking back to the kitchen.
"How's things with him?" Ranma asked.
"Oh, it's okay," Yuki sighed. "Father thinks I'm his little girl.
"That's what parents do," Ranma said while Nodoka nodded in agreement.
"Yes, but it's like he's forgotten that I was ever older. Or that I had a car. He's just pretending that I was always the youngest."
"It's how he copes. Remember how long it took him to get used to Akane," Ranma assured.
"Yes - and that was just his tomboy daughter, becoming a lesbian, nudist demon," Yuki sighed.
"At least you're getting along with your father," Ranma noted. She then stepped out onto the back deck. "How's it going Pops?"
"Fair enough," Genma allowed. He actually looked up and met Ranma's eye
"Say... after I talk with Mom, do you wanna spar? I promise I won't use any freaky demon powers."
"I'll think about it." Genma grumbled but his eyes sparkled a bit.
"Okay," Ranma said before stepping back into the kitchen. She held back a bit of a smile.
"I see what you mean," Yuki said before excusing herself. She left looking for her sisters to warn them that Mother and grandma would need some alone time.
"What's wrong?" Nodoka asked as the two walked to the den where there was more privacy.
"Pops used to spar with me more. It was one of the things where he seemed to care less about what I am," Ranma sighed, and slumped into the couch she had just sat down in. She held onto a bit of hope that maybe his father would change his mind.
"You are maturing into a young woman. Maybe he feels out of place," Nodoka offered.
"He's the one that doesn't want to be a grandpa to my kids. You'd think someone that wanted the houses joined would be happy about this."
"I don't think this is what he expected," Nodoka said as she slid closer to her daughter.
"You're handling this though," Ranma pouted as she leaned onto her mother.
Nodoka paused, unsure what to say. She had spent ten years away from her child, and just wanted Ranma back. "I knew about demons. I had some ability to cope. Genma... he dreamed of you becoming a husband and raising sons and training them."
"Not being a Mom and raising daughters." Ranma forced her violet eyes closed.
Nodoka sighed deeply. She knew she could not ignore this next issue.
"I took your girls out shopping today," Nodoka stated. It was important to keep the girls busy as they were still recovering and not quite ready for school.
"Yeah," Ranma weakly smiled "Aurora finally got rid of her makeup kit, and all her tanning cream, and all she bought was a bit of lipstick, blush and eyeshadow."
"You taught her well," Nodoka smiled while she pulled her daughter closer. She remembered her own experience helping her daughter with "girl stuff".
"It was also cute how Nariko and Nabiki had to help you correct the others on what would actually be good in a stew," Ranma laughed.
"That's good," Nodoka sighed. "Ukyou told me something," she lifted up her daughter's chin and looked into the brood mother's eyes. "Are you stuck like this?"
Ranma whimpered and put her head on her Mother's chest.
"I guess that's a yes."
"It's... it's for the best. I don't... I don't think I could live as a guy anymore. I'm this now. I've gone too far. I... I like being a mother," Ranma closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around her mother.
"You... don't want to become male again?"
"Promise me you won't get mad," Ranma pleaded.
"I won't," Nodoka assured as she ran her hand through her daughter's long hair. She reached into her lab coat and pulled out a brush.
"When Ukyou first pointed out that I wasn't changing I was... happy." Ranma tilted her head so her mother could brush her hair better. "It makes things easier. I don't have to worry about water. No changing into a different gender in public, but most importantly, it's a weakness I no longer have."
"The limitations of your human form can't be used against you," Nodoka surmised as she continued brushing.
"Yes. Alexia tried to turn me back into a human. If it had worked..." Ranma sighed and hugged her mother again. There was more than just her very humanity being a weakness but admitting that her male form, being a male, was physically weaker than her demonic state.
"It's okay. You beat her and you're training your kids; they'll be strong just like you."
"Well, not just like me," Ranma noted. Mother complimenting and reassuring her maternal skills always cheered her up. "I'm part Pattern Silver and... I don't know if the Senshi stuff will transfer."
"That's a minor thing," Nodoka said as she finished brushing her daughter.
"I mean..." Ranma leaned up off of her mother. "Who's to say that I can't transfer... I nurse them every night. If I really tried... what if I..." She started to think.
"It's just an idea. I'll have to see if I can even transfer energy that way. I also should wait until my girls are a bit more... stable."
"Thinking of an energy increase?"
"Something like that," Ranma smiled.
A woman wearing a knee-length black leather skirt with a matching leather jacket over a light violet blouse entered a bar. Her vibrant red hair was long, and while it had significant body, it was carefully styled into a smooth fluid shape. She looked a bit too high class for such a dive of a bar.
However, her mannerisms, the cut of her blouse, the slit on the side of her skirt, and the nature of her expression hinted that she would do just fine here. She sauntered across the bar and made her way to an empty stool next to a man in a rumpled suit.
"That's a new look for you," Murdock said after turning to look over his companion.
"I'm trying something a bit more mature," Ranma shrugged. She ordered her drink and sighed. She would rather not drink, but to not order something would make her stand out even more. Murdock was in his usual state and had his normal amused expression. "What do you want?"
"To offer congratulations on defeating your foe?" Murdock offered.
"You should have sent a fruit basket," Ranma said as she was handed her drink. "Why did you really go through the trouble of sneaking another note in my underwear drawer?"
"There's no small talk with you, is there?" Murdock laughed as he sipped his gin.
"Not when dealing with a potentially dangerous mage," Ranma stated.
"I'm hurt," Murdock pouted.
"Not yet, but if you keep stalling, wizard."
"I can't just see how my favorite succubus is doing?" Murdock asked. "I was the one that helped you when you first turned."
"Interesting bit of charity that," Ranma said as she drank some of her beer.
"You're implying that I had some ulterior motive when I helped a confused young demon." Murdock allowed himself an amused smirk.
Ranma sighed. "Yes, you and Setsuna are cut from the same cloth. At least with her I know what her plans are."
"Fairy-tale ending. Perfect magical kingdom, ruled by a wise queen. Somewhere with no place for demons... or most of humanity for that matter," Murdock laughed.
"Spare me. I know about Crystal Tokyo," Ranma waved off.
"Do you? Are you aware of what Setsuna and Usagi are willing to do to make that future possible?"
Ranma laughed. "Okay... Setsuna. I can see her playing the evil schemer, but Usagi?" the succubus burst into another fit of laughter.
"Leadership changes people. They have responsibility, and they have to deal with life and death situations. Look at how combat's changed you," Murdock stated. "Think of how fighting's changed Usagi. You don't know what she was like before becoming Sailor Moon. Consider how future fights will change her."
"Future?" Ranma narrowed her eyes. "Are you really planning things like Setsuna said?"
Murdock laughed. "There's no need. Among certain groups, events in Toronto are well known. Didn't Usagi tell you about her enemies? How many groups the Senshi have had to fight?"
"They do seem to come out of the woodwork," Ranma admitted.
"And it's not just the Senshi this time. There's your brood and the Company now." Murdock idly rotated the glass that stood before him.
"And it's not just Alexia, the Assembly's still around, and who knows what else is out there," Ranma said leveling her gaze at Murdock.
"Oh, you think I know?"
"Well what do you know? Why are you even here?"
Murdock smirked. "Do you honestly expect an answer? I could tell you something but you would never know if it was the truth or not."
"Try me," Ranma said.
Murdock inhaled. "Alright then. I'm on vacation. All the stuff that's happening here is just an amusing spectacle to me. Maybe my Order sent me here to make sure nothing gets out of hand, to step in if things go to hell in a hand basket. I know! I'm under orders by an unknown third party to orchestrate things. I could be an opportunistic scavenger, selling information to all the interested parties. Like that traitor you and your friend interrogated yesterday."
"That... that wasn't what I was asking for," Ranma sighed, conversing with this man was always a headache. "Maybe you'll tell me something more useful."
"I can try," Murdock happily said.
"Who ordered the hit on Ukyou? Who did that sniper work for?"
"Father Oslo of the Assembly of Man. I believe he was Acolyte Hibiki's mentor. That was why Oslo's team was chosen for this mission," Murdock added.
Ranma nodded, making sure to ask Ukyou and Aurora when she got home, and then follow up with what the Company knew. "Will there be anymore succubae like Alexia I'll have to worry about?"
"Like her?" Murdock swished his drink. "A brood mother like her is pretty rare."
"How can you be sure?"
"I know her family. Besides, this town wasn't big enough for the two of you. Succubae are territorial for one, and Alexia was gunning for you."
"Why was that?" Ranma asked. "Why did she hate me so much?"
"Jealousy," Murdock shrugged. "DarkStar was a legend. DarkStar was the tragic child of that demonic invasion, the favored of BlackSky. Then Alexia saw you... the DarkStar in the flesh, and you were associating with Senshi and demon hunters."
"What so she decided to kill a legend and a traitor?" Ranma asked, remembering what Alexia called her.
"You got it," Murdock said.
"That's stupid. She ruined dozens of lives just to get to me?"
"She was a bitter, stupid creature," Murdock agreed.
"All this because of some crap I did in the past," Ranma sighed. "No, this wasn't even the fault of past me. It was all jealousy on her part." She took another sip of her drink.
Murdock raised an eyebrow. "Accepting your past?"
"Yeah, I'm Sailor DarkStar." Ranma wondered where Murdock was going with this.
"I see. That does explain things." Murdock shook his head. "I guess if anyone could make a demon reincarnate, she could."
"What?" Ranma asked. "Reincarnate? How did..."
"Queen Serenity," Murdock stated.
"Oh yes... she reincarnated all the other Senshi." Ranma smiled. "If that's true... then Setsuna was wrong. If I was already... her... I would have turned into DarkStar... just like I did."
"Yup, there's no need for an evil manipulative mage," Murdock joked, while internally he worried. If true, this prospect disturbed him. It meant he was being played.
"Why are you messing with Setsuna?" Ranma asked. "You can tell me that much. I appreciate messing with her myself."
"Yeah, I heard what you did to her at the bar," Murdock shook his head. "Nice work. Yeah, we're pretty much doing the same thing, but I have much more free time with which to torment her."
Ranma stared at Murdock before laughing. "Only you would be immature and stubborn enough to go through all the trouble to make Setsuna think you were controlling everything."
"It's remarkably easy. I don't even have to know what's going on. I just have to make vague, amused statements, and then lecture her when she tries to do the same to me," Murdock sipped his drink. "The trick is to play into the other person's expectations. Setsuna expects there to be a puppet master orchestrating everything. Therefore she's more inclined to believe 'evidence' that supports her existing view. It doesn't matter that in reality there's a mass of different organizations each with their own goals. Setsuna wants there to be one enemy. One person she can blame."
"And you're taking that mantel just to mess with her. I believe you," Ranma deadpanned.
"What? I've been straight with you this whole time," Murdock assured.
"Uh-huh, so no evil plots going on in the background?"
"Oh I have plenty of those, but you're not a part of them. In fact I daresay you wouldn't want to be a part of 'em. Not your cup of tea. Not enough blood and gore."
"Oh? You don't sound too happy about that." Ranma noted. "You actually have some real work to do? Not just messing with Pluto."
"We can't all get paid to kill monsters," Murdock said.
"I'm sure WIC could give you a nice deal," Ranma offered. "They compensate their freelancers well."
His grey eyes studied her. "What made you take their money?"
"I have a family to feed," Ranma stated. "Besides, I'm gonna fight inhuman monsters anyway, might as well get paid for it."
"No moral qualms? You are taking money from scary people."
Ranma gave Murdock an incredulous gaze.
"Right... the whole cannibal demon thing," Murdock sighed eying the brood mother. It seemed that events had gotten even beyond his ability to control. And now that he was riding the tiger he had no choice but to try and hold on.
End Chapter 13
Revision notes: And that's Book One: Brooding Responsibilities. As the original notes show this was a natural break-point. But the chapter has been edited a bit to have things be more concluded and tied up. Though there's hints of the next arc to come. Still this book establishes the setting and has Ranma go from the reluctant male martial artist to the new brood-mother. She still has a way to go before becoming who she is by Blood Debts, but we're seeing the start of things.
Thanks to everyone who commented, reviewed, critiqued, drew, and read this story.
It was really neat to go back to the first chapters and go over them in detail.
And special thanks to Ellf, J St C Patrick, Kevin Hammel and DCG for their help this time around.
Original Notes: Here it is, the last chapter in the Second Arc of The Return.
I'd like to thank my prereaders for helping me: Trimatter, PyroRaven, Kevin Hammel, J St C Patrick, Wray, Mondu Quiambao, Jerry Starfire, Truk