Ranma's Ascension - Chapter 1
By Mike Breslau

Disclaimer: Better folks than I own most of the characters that appear in this scribbling. The original characters (you'll know them when you meet them) in this work are mine, all mine! (But you can borrow them if you'll treat them kindly.)

This story is dedicated to the notion that a mortal cannot become a god and still carry on as if nothing had changed.

This tale is set after the end of the Ranma manga. Nodoka has dragged Genma away from the Tendo's in an effort to reduce the chaos and pressure that Ranma is subjected to. Unfortunately, Ranma's life has not gotten much simpler.

Odd things may happen when the Almighty gets bored. For example, a few tens of millennia ago He tweaked the genes of a tribe of great apes so they would evolve into modern humans-just so He would have a soap opera to watch. When you're older than time itself, omnipotent, and responsible for the entire universe, boredom can be a dreadful affliction. Freya, wise in the ways of Heaven, had seen Him bored before. This time she had a good idea about how to deal with the situation.

The goddess of love and fertility glided softly across the glowing marble floor towards the brooding monarch and quietly asked, "How goes it, my Lord?"

"You know me too well, Freya," sighed the Creator, "Time weighs heavily on my hands-again."

"May I offer a suggestion?" she prompted. He nodded. Freya leaned forward and whispered into His ear.

Kamisama's gloom vanished, replaced by elation. "What a wonderful idea, Freya." A telephone handset materialized in His hand. Of course, He didn't need to dial...

In the Tariki Hongan temple on the outskirts of Nekomi, the telephone rang. The goddess Urd answered it. She straightened up as she recognized the voice of the caller. "Yes, Sir, I'll get her at once." Urd covered the microphone with her hand and called out, "Skuld, it's for you." Urd secretly hoped that the brat was getting in trouble. However, Kamisama was not through speaking to Urd. Her shoulders slumped. "Yes, Father, I'll keep my hands off her assignment." Drat!

Skuld was in her lab upgrading Banpei again. She hated to interrupt her project, but she could tell from the tone of Urd's voice that delay was not an option. She put down her tools and hurried to the telephone. After listening for a minute she answered, "Oh thank you, Father. Yes, I'll get on it right away...and I'll read his entire file before I begin." She hung up the phone.

Skuld hopped up and down with glee. "I've been temporarily promoted to First Class and I get to grant a wish! If I do a good job I can keep the rating. Father says he's a very special client, and you can't interfere, Urd."

Urd tried to make the best of her situation. "Do you think He'll mind if I look over your shoulder? It should be more interesting than watching TV."

"As long as you absolutely, positively, don't meddle it should be okay, big sister." As they made their way to Skuld's lab both goddesses wondered what was so "special" about this client. Skuld booted her computer and brought up the indicated file. After a minute of reading her eyes grew as large as saucers. Urd emitted a long, low whistle. She was going to have a hard time keeping her hands off this client.

The Tendo family and their guests had just finished a typical Kasumi dinner. The pleasant mood was shattered as Akane emerged from the kitchen bearing a tray of some unidentifiable goo. "Ranma, I've baked some cookies just for you." The rest of the diners cautiously began to edge away from the table.

Ranma examined her offering with a skeptical eye. Cookies don't usually slosh around like unset jell-o, nor do they emit a miasma of sulphurous smoke. "Ano, Akane, what are those blue things that are tryin' to crawl off the plate?"

Akane replied, "I added some raisins because I know you like them."

Just then two "cookies" began to battle each other for supremacy, like a pair of pugnacious amoebas. That was too much for Ranma to take. "Are you tryin' to kill me, ya uncute tomboy? If those are cookies, then I'm the Prince of Pottsylvania!"

You all know what happened next. "Ranma No Baka!" Crash, Smash. Blackness.

Somewhat later, as evening was falling in the land of the rising sun, a dark-haired young man soaked in a furo. He muttered imprecations about a "stupid tomboy" as he nursed his new bruises. "Why can't somethin' good happen ta me for a change? 'Fraught with peril,' indeed." His musings were interrupted when something unusual caught his attention. At the other end of the furo, the water had begun to swirl-without visible cause-and a small vortex was forming.

Suddenly, the vortex began to glow, and a teen-aged girl with long black hair emerged from the surface of the water. She was dressed in an unusual costume, mostly white with red trim, that exposed her slender but shapely legs. Ranma sensed her aura of power, but he flinched when he noticed the mallet strapped to her back.

"Ranma Saotome?" asked the stranger.

"Do you mind, lady? I'm naked in here."

"Sorry," replied Skuld with a faint blush. She gave him a towel and turned away. She thought, 'That's not the first time I've surprised a man taking a bath. I really must get out of the habit.'

"Okay, you can look now," said the young man. "I'm Ranma Saotome, who are you?"

"I am Skuld, Goddess of the Future, and I am here to grant your fondest wish," she announced happily.

Ranma hung his head. "Oh no, I don't need this. I've got enough trouble already."

The goddess hadn't expected that reaction. "I'm here to solve your problems, not to cause trouble. Why are you so upset?"

He looked her in the eye and answered, "I've had wishes granted. I've dealt with gods and demons, magic and potions, spells and curses. Every time it only caused trouble. I'm better off without your help."

"Ranma, I am not a magic mirror or a cursed pool. I am a Goddess First Class and I am acting as an agent of Kamisama himself. I will not cause you any grief unless you explicitly wish for it, and I doubt very much that you would make such a wish."

"Okay," he answered resignedly, "What's your deal, and what will it cost me?"

"You get only one wish in a lifetime, so consider it carefully. You can wish for almost anything, but it has to come from the heart-it must be something you really want. You cannot ask for more wishes, and you cannot wish for me. All it will cost is a few minutes of careful thought to choose the best wish."

"You really mean it, I can ask for almost anything?"

She flashed a mischievous grin. "Actually, just for you, there is a special additional restriction. You cannot wish to be the best martial artist who ever lived."

Ranma was disappointed. "Why not?"

Skuld's grin grew wider. "Because it would be a waste of a perfectly good wish."

Ranma froze in place for a moment as his brain tried to deal with the implications of that answer. "You mean..."

"You already are the best martial artist ever, and you'll certainly get even better than you are now."

"Wow." He hesitated for a minute, then continued, "You know, I really don' wanna wish for ya to solve all my problems."

That was unexpected. "Why not, Ranma?" asked Skuld.

"It wouldn't be right. I hafta take care of my own troubles-havin' a goddess fix everything would be taking the easy way out. My sense of honor forbids it." He slumped. "Besides, with my luck, I'd have a whole new set of problems soon enough, and then I'd be right back where I started."

"Yes, you have led a hard life. But despite everything that has happened you remain uncorrupted and pure of heart. That's why you're qualified to receive a wish. I'm glad you are thinking this through, that's the best way."

Ranma considered for a minute and then suddenly brightened. "Can I make a complicated wish?"

"Of course you can, but be careful. Overly complicated wishes are hard to control, and they tend to have unexpected effects."

"Okay. I think this isn't too complicated. I wish I had the power, wisdom, skill, judgement, and ability to solve all my problems, past, present, and future, and do so in an honorable, swift, legal, respectable, and efficient way."

Skuld was impressed. "Wow. That's the best wish I've ever heard of, Ranma." She prepared to begin the wish-granting when a bolt of lightning struck the floor.

Akane burst in a moment later responding to the noise and found Ranma clad only in a towel and a beautiful young woman studying some odd marks on the floor. She gasped, then lost her temper. "RANMA, WHO IS THIS GIRL?" she yelled.

Ranma tried to answer, but he was silenced by a gesture from Skuld. "Got to go. Back in a minute," she said hurriedly. There was a quick flash of light and Akane was alone in the room.

"Oh Ranma, what have you gotten into now?" Akane was usually the one to get kidnapped, not Ranma. She looked around the room and noticed the writing on the floor. The marks were burnt into the floor, yet as she watched they were fading away and the floor was healing itself. How could burn marks fade? The writing was in an exotic script that she had never seen before, yet somehow she was still able to understand the message "Skuld and Ranma report to my office immediately." The signature was in smaller type, and almost faded to illegibility, but it seemed to form the name "Kamisama." Akane repeated herself, "Oh Ranma, what have you gotten into now?"

As his sense of disorientation faded, the first thing Ranma noticed was that he was in the presence of something immensely powerful-something so strong that it made Saffron and Herb seem insignificant by comparison. He was standing next to Skuld in what appeared to be a large Zen meditation garden. The ground was covered with grape-sized spheres of gray transparent stone. Four distinct shades of gray formed swirling geometric designs. Somewhat larger red stones (could they be rubies?) outlined the edges of a large pond. There were a few fragrant evergreen trees, and a single boulder of sparkling rock. The sky was a green, the color of grass in the springtime. "Where am I?" he wondered.

Skuld spoke to a figure Ranma hadn't noticed before. "Father, I have brought Ranma Saotome."

The person she addressed was reclining comfortably on nothing at all, floating about a foot above the ground, and clad in a large white towel wrapped toga-style around himself. He appeared to be of no discernable age, but was clearly in the prime of life. Skuld assumed that His towel was a way of putting Ranma at ease.

Ranma had no doubt about the identity of this being. He dropped to his knees and began to prostrate himself.

"Stop that at once, young man," Kamisama commanded, not unkindly. "We have no bowing or honorifics up here-it gets old fast and serves no purpose."

Ranma scrambled to his feet. "Sorry, Sir."

"Be seated, Ranma. No need to stand on ceremony."

"But there aint any chairs," protested Ranma.

"We don't need any," said Skuld. She too was reclining on nothing at all. "Just sit down and make yourself comfortable."

Ranma tentatively tried to sit, and was surprised at how good it felt to sit in midair. He was in a state of shock; gods and demons he could cope with but now he faced Kamisama himself and even good old reliable gravity seemed to be optional.

Kamisama said, "Ranma, we will grant your wish exactly as you specified, but there are a few details I want to discuss with you. I don't think you understand the full implications of what you asked for."

"Is there a problem?" asked Ranma, feeling concerned.

"You may not realize it, but your troubles are so numerous and intractable that it would take god-like powers and abilities to solve them all. The simplest way to do what you wished for would be to make you a full-fledged god, but if you don't want to go that route we could make you a demigod."

"Errk! I mean...Oh...Wow." Ranma was stunned by the implications of that statement. This was an overwhelming development, far beyond anything he had experienced before.

Kamisama continued, "Becoming a god involves much more than just grafting immortality and magical power onto your present self. A god is a different kind of person than a human is, with different rules and a different culture than you are used to. Being a god is a job, Ranma, just like being a bus driver or dojo master. It's not all work and no play; you would have considerable freedom. On the other hand, if you became a demigod you would be a sui generis, a unique thing. There are no other demigods at present, so you would have no peer group. You wouldn't fit in fully with gods or mortals."

Ranma hesitated. "Are ya sure you want me ta be a god? I did kill Saffron, after all. Don' I get in trouble for that?"

Kamisama made a dismissive gesture. "Actually, you did Saffron a favor. He'll be raised from childhood again, but this time he'll be trained to be a civilized and decent deity. We are in your debt for that."

Ranma felt relieved. Saffron had been weighing heavily on his conscience. "Would I still be me?" he asked.

"Oh yes, your sense of self would be preserved either way. Turning you into somebody else would be a poor way to grant your wish."

"I see. Can I still interact with people, or marry one?"

"Yes, that's no problem. Gods spend most of their time here in Asgard, the home of the gods, but they can make brief visits to your home world. Of course, for an immortal, a decade may count as a brief visit. As a demigod, you would spend most of your time on Earth, with brief visits here. Either way, you could still socialize with your friends. Be aware that it wouldn't be the same. Your mortal friends will grow old and die while you continue to be young and healthy-this will cast a shadow over the relationships you could have. You could marry a human in either case, but the same shadow would still be present."

Ranma scratched his head. "Bein' a demigod doesn' sound so good; I'd hate ta be one of a kind. But I also don' like outliving all my friends."

Skuld spoke up. "My sister Belldandy wanted to marry a man she thought was a mortal, even though she expected to outlive him. If your feelings are strong you can marry a human, but if not it won't work."

Ranma nodded, then asked, "What does a god do?"

"Every god has a domain, or area of expertise. Skuld is Goddess of the Future-quite a large domain, but it gives her limited influence in the present. You would be the God of Transformations. Among other things, this would give you dominion over the Jusenkyo pools and all shape-changing individuals."

"No way," objected Ranma heatedly, "If I'm gonna be a god of anythin', it had better be martial arts!"

Skuld was shocked by the young man's effrontery. It had been over a thousand years since anyone had said 'no' to Kamisama.

Kamisama was delighted. "Ranma, I've been surrounded by a cadre of yes-men for thousands of years. It is so refreshing to hear someone say exactly what's on their mind. Do me a favor, and keep that innocent honesty. Now as to your objection, I think we can work something out." He seemed to change the subject. "Tell me, what to you really think of your gender-changing?"

Ranma considered his answer before speaking. "In the beginning, I hated it. Pop had taught me that girls were 'weak and silly,' and here I was becomin' one. Pop is often wrong, or flat-out lyin' to advance his own greed. In the last two years I've learned a lot. Girls have a different kind of strength than boys do-they bear burdens that would flatten a guy. Now I wonder if women don' deserve somethin' better than men..."

Kamisama interrupted with a laugh. "Sometimes I wonder the same thing myself. Ranma, the 'curses' of the pools are a teaching aid; each pool attracts people who most need to learn the lessons that they can teach. That is why the area is called 'Jusenkyo training ground.' Your father didn't realize that the training they offer extends far beyond martial arts. If you become the master of Jusenkyo, you'll have to keep that in mind."

"Still, the curse is very inconvenient. I get splashed all the time, and I can't ever tell what gender I'll be two minutes from now. I have to check my body before using a public restroom..." He trailed off, lost in thought.

Kamisama smiled and nodded. "Ranma, I think we can work something out..."

Akane was pacing back and forth in the bathroom. A strange girl had taken Ranma away, and Akane couldn't do anything about it except worry. At exactly one minute after he disappeared there was another brief flash of light and Ranma and Skuld reappeared. Ranma quietly tossed a damp towel into the hamper.

Akane stared at Ranma-he had changed considerably. He was wearing a vest of red-brown leather, embossed with a diamond-shaped pattern that made it look like dragon skin, and held almost closed in front by eight fine golden chains. The opening in the vest gave tantalizing glimpses of a very masculine chest. He wore black tights, with a stripe of the same ruddy leather along the outside seam. Mid-calf high boots of matching leather and black arm bracers completed his costume. She noticed a small golden hoop earring on each ear, and some strange new marks on his face. His forehead mark looked like two distorted yin-yang symbols, one above the other, forming a figure-eight shape. All in all, he looked like the swashbuckling hero of an adventure movie. Ranma's body language had changed too-his posture suggested confidence and maturity that he had never exhibited before. Akane sensed that she was in the presence of great power, but she couldn't tell who was the source.

Overcome with emotion, Akane whispered, "Ranma, is that you?"

He beamed at her. "Yes, it's me. I'm still Ranma."

"What happened?" she croaked.

"I'll tell you all about it soon. I don't have as much time as I'd like to have, so I can't beat around the bush. First I have to ask you two important questions-and I need honest answers, straight from your heart. Can you answer truthfully?"

Akane nodded nervously. Ranma had seldom been so serious before.

Keeping his voice carefully neutral, Ranma asked, "Akane, do you love me?"

Akane's habits almost got the better of her. She stopped herself from blurting out a reflexive denial. She had to answer truthfully. Akane searched her heart, trying to find the words to express what she really felt. Finally she announced, "Ranma, I love you so much it hurts. I hate it when all those other girls throw themselves at you..."

Ranma beamed at her fondly. "I love you too, tomboy. I knew you loved me, but I didn't know if you knew it." He hugged her. Akane thought she heard him murmur, "I've missed you so," but that couldn't be right. He'd only been gone for a minute. Skuld smiled fondly at them.

"Question two: Will you marry me, even if we can't have children?"

"Oh, Ranma, I'd marry you even if you turned into a cactus every time I hugged you."

Ranma chuckled. "I turn into something much stranger than that." He produced a small box out of nowhere. Akane's eyes grew wide. The box held a simple platinum ring with a three-quarter carat diamond of unusual clarity.

Akane looked at the ring, then at Ranma. "How did you know exactly what I wanted?"

"You'll see. Right now it's time to let your family know what happened." He turned and opened the door quickly, revealing Nabiki eavesdropping with a glass held to her ear and the other Tendos behind her. There were several exclamations of surprise at Ranma's new costume. Nobody commented on Skuld's presence, they were used to strange girls showing up near Ranma.

"Since we can't all fit in the bathroom, why don't we adjourn to the living room?" suggested Ranma. Nabiki noted that Ranma didn't normally use words like 'adjourn.'

When everyone had settled in the living room Nabiki demanded to see Akane's ring. Akane proudly showed it to her. Nabiki produced a jeweler's loupe and examined the diamond. "Good stone, but a little small. Couldn't you afford something larger, Ranma?" The twinkle in her eye showed that she was only teasing.

Akane defended him. "It's not small, it's just the right size, and I love it."

Ranma displayed a polished transparent stone the size and shape of a large hen's egg. It was mostly clear, with a pink starburst in the center. The starburst resembled a three-dimensional snowflake with tapering arms or the star in a star sapphire. "Well, Nabiki, since you appreciate large rocks, this one is for you."

Nabiki accepted his offering and examined it closely. She seemed to get lost in admiration. "Wow, this is really beautiful. What is it, rose quartz?"

"It's a natural diamond, Nabiki, the largest one on Earth. And it's all yours." Ranma looked smug.

Nabiki had to sit down before she fell down.

Kasumi exclaimed, "Oh my." (Big surprise, huh?) Skuld did a double-take and examined the eldest Tendo sister carefully. She was sure she had heard Belldandy's voice.

"Is it really a diamond?" Nabiki asked.

Ranma answered, "It is. I cannot lie, Nabiki."

"Thank you, God," breathed Nabiki.

"You're welcome," answered Ranma with just a hint of amusement, followed by a slight bow. "I have another gift, this one for the whole family." He produced a DVD and gave it to the middle sister.

Nabiki read the label aloud: "'Fists of Lightning' - a video game? Why do we need a video game?"

"I designed it and Skuld coded it. I thought you could sell it to your cousin Nin, to defray some of the costs you've incurred by hosting the Saotome freeloaders."

Nabiki was confused. "I'm not aware of any cousin Nin..."

Skuld covered her smile with her hand and suppressed a giggle.

Akane looked confused for a moment and then she groaned.

Finally, Nabiki got the joke. "Nin Tendo - Oh, that's awful, Ranma."

The new god turned towards Kasumi. "I have a gift for you too." A potted orchid appeared in his hand.

Kasumi accepted the flower and sniffed it. "Oh my. It's beautiful, and it smells lovely too. I've never seen anything like this. What is it?"

"This is a magical orchid-it will last forever without having to be cared for. The blossom will change color depending on what the weather will be in the near future, and the aroma will change to reflect your mood. You can take one or two leaves per day and add them to your cooking-they'll contribute an interesting flavor, never the same twice. I thought you'd appreciate it."

"Really? It sounds wonderful," Kasumi said.

"Oh, it is wonderful," Ranma answered.

Kasumi answered, "My goodness. Thank you very much, Ranma, I really appreciate this." Turning towards Skuld, she added, "Who is this girl, Ranma? Another one of your admirers?"

The girl in question replied, "I am Skuld, First Class Goddess of the Future." This was greeted by murmurs of disbelief from the Tendos, which ceased as soon as Skuld unfurled her radiant snow-white wings. Soun fainted. Skuld retracted her wings, having made her point.

Ranma made a gesture and Soun revived. "Skuld is my mentor for the next few years. Kamisama sent her here to offer me a wish. I asked for the ability to solve all my problems. What I didn't realize was that my troubles were so numerous and so severe that I had inadvertently asked for god-level powers."

"What happened?" asked Akane. "It looked like Skuld took you away and brought you back."

"Kamisama ordered Skuld to bring me to His office for a conference. After some discussion we decided on the best way to grant my wish. I am now the new God of Martial Arts."

"That figures," muttered Nabiki.

"Oh my," said Kasumi.

Ranma displayed his newly-acquired wings. The Tendo girls gathered around to examine them, exclaiming about how soft the snow-white feathers felt. He retracted his wings when their curiosity was satisfied.

"But that's not all," continued Ranma. He shifted to his girl form without benefit of water. She now wore a bright red bodice that showed off her figure, a black skirt that reached almost to her knees, black fishnet stockings, white boots that reached to mid-calf, fingerless white elbow-length gloves, an elaborate gold choker necklace, and golden hoop earrings similar to those Ranma had worn while male. This outfit proclaimed "here is a proud, tough, confident, woman." Her forehead mark now looked like two distorted yin-yang symbols side by side, resembling the "lazy eight" symbol for infinity.

She put her hand behind her head in a parody of Ranma's gesture of nervousness and said, "Hello. I'm Ranko, Goddess of Transformations. Sorry about this."

"Show off," muttered Nabiki.

"Oh my," said Kasumi.

Soun fainted again. Skuld gestured and he revived.

Akane rose to the occasion. "My name is Akane. Would you like to be friends?"

Ranko's smile was radiant. "Yes, I'd like that." She hugged Akane, who returned the hug.

Ranko said, "One more revelation and then we can call it a night. Chaos, come forth." Ranko's angel emerged from her back. Chaos resembled both Ranma and Ranko, in an androgynous sort of way. He/She had dark red hair unbound and free, and the same blue-grey eyes that had captivated so many hearts. Chaos was dressed in a modified toga-style wrap that allowed its white wings to more freely. The angel bowed to the Tendos and smiled.

"Oh my," said Kasumi. She says that a lot, doesn't she?

Skuld glared at Soun, who did not faint.

"Who or what is Chaos?" asked Nabiki.

"Every god has an angel, which is an extension of his or her soul. Angels generally have to obey their hosts, but they can act independently when necessary. I named mine 'Chaos' because I'd been surrounded by chaos all my life. Now I'm still accompanied by Chaos wherever I go, but now it's under my control."

"Chaos is very beautiful," observed Kasumi, "Is it a boy or a girl?"

"Normally an angel is the same gender as their deity. Because of my unique condition, Chaos is sometimes male, sometimes female, and sometimes neuter."

Chaos blushed slightly and merged back into Ranko.

Nabiki, whose powers of observation missed very little, asked, "Ranko, are you a real girl now?"

Ranko nodded. "Yes, by my choice. I'm not a guy in a girl's body anymore. I have a girl's mind when I'm a girl, and a boy's mind when I'm a boy, but I'm still the same person in either form. Before you ask, I'm still attracted to Akane romantically, but I might be drawn to men in the future."

"Thanks. I notice your grammar and pronunciation have improved considerably," said Nabiki.

"I've had quite an education," Ranko answered. "It's getting late, so I'd like this meeting to be over. But before we go, you should know that you will not be able to tell anyone about our engagement or my ascension until I have told that person myself."

"Drat!" exclaimed Nabiki, visions of lost profits dancing in her head.

Tatewaki Kuno was standing on the lawn in front of the high school, leaning forward a bit as he declaimed, "Ah, fairest golden-haired maiden, thou art lovely to behold. Are you new to this school? If not, mine eyes have overlooked a charming, if diminutive, beauty for far too long."

"Why is Kuno coming on to a dandelion?" asked a student who had overheard this speech.

"He's a few cards short of a full deck," answered his friend.

"Kuno's a few seeds short of a full packet, if you ask me," added another friend.

"The damsel answers not," continued Kuno, "She must be shy, or overawed by my magnificence."

A passing girl muttered, "The only thing magnificent about Kuno is the size of his ego."

"He's lost it," replied her friend.

"Nah, he never had it in the first place," the first girl concluded.

Tatewaki tired of his pursuit of the nonresponsive dandelion, and turned to enter the high school. He soon encountered a girl on the path. "Do mine eyes deceive me? A chrysanthemum with ebon petals growing in the walkway-'tis surpassing strange." Kuno leaned forwards and sniffed the girl's hair. "Ah! A most pleasing floral scent..."

Kuno's audible musings were interrupted when the girl slapped him and ran away sobbing. He stood there shocked at this unexpected turn of events. He slowly brought a hand to his smarting cheek. "Perchance I have been stung by a bee lurking in yon fair flower," He paused, then continued, "But lo! The flower is gone!"

"E's gone 'round the bend," observed a passing student in a fake Cockney accent (Nihongo in a Cockney accent? Shudder!)

"E's lost his marbles," replied another, in a similar phoney accent.

Kuno waxed indignant. "I have not lost my marbles!" he declared, "They're under my bed in a little bag...Wait a minute... What am I saying?"

A moment later Tatewaki was sitting upright in his bed, shuddering and sweating. "What an odd dream! I wonder what it means. Am I really so deluded that I cannot tell onna from hana?" Unfortunately for Tatewaki, it was the first of a series of dreams that would lead him to question his grip on reality. Healing requires a certain amount of discomfort.

The next morning Ranma, in his familiar red and black civilian garb, and Akane were walking to school. Ranma was on the ground, not on top of the fence, so they could talk more easily.

"Now that we're alone," Akane began, "Why did you say that you haven't much time?"

"I have only five or six weeks to tie up loose ends and settle any unfinished business. That should be enough time, but I may have to rush it a bit. Akane, we gods have a treaty with the demons - they'll stay away from Midgard (that's what we call the Earth) if we gods stay away too."

Akane shivered at the mention of demons. "Okay, why did you imply that we couldn't have children"

"Not couldn't, but shouldn't. It wouldn't be fair to the kid."

"I don't understand."

"Akane, I'm a god and you're not. If we had a child, we would have three possibilities: Option one-the child is a full god. The adolescence of a deity lasts a thousand years. At the end of your lifespan, he'd be like a twelve-year old who has lived sixty odd years. You Tendo girls know what it's like to lose a mother at an early age."

Akane cringed. She wouldn't wish that on anyone.

He continued, "Option two-the child is a demigod. He'd have a normal adolescence, but would could live for five hundred years or more. As a demigod, he'd have no real peer group, and couldn't find a mate who lived as long as himself. Worse yet, demigods tend to 'live in interesting times,' and I've had enough of that to last a lifetime. I wouldn't want that for my kid."

"Is option three a mortal child?"

"Yes, and he'd resent our not having chosen options one or two. Why should he settle for one century of life when he could have had many?"

"You're right, there are no easy answers. Is there anything we can do?"

"Well, I wished for the power to solve all my problems. If you were to grow old and die, that would be a problem for me, right?"

Akane squealed, "Really?"

"Don't get your hopes up. I could slow your growing older, and I could possibly arrange for you to be immortal, but you don't qualify to be a goddess yet."

"Why not?"

He looked into her eyes and gently answered, "Can you picture the power of a full goddess in the hands of somebody with your temper and jealousy?"

She paused. In a very small voice, Akane replied, "It would be a disaster..."

"There's still time to smooth out your rough edges, but you'd have to do it yourself. It would be unethical if I were to cast a spell on you to improve your behavior. Kamisama gave us all free will, and I'm not going to override Him."

"I see. Being a god is complicated, isn't it?"

"It is if you want to do it well. If I'm a god, I want to be the best god I can be. It's a job, Akane, and I have to work at it."

Just then the ladle lady appeared on her porch. She took aim at Ranma and then carefully poured the contents of the ladle on her own head. She looked very surprised and quite wet.

Ranma smirked.

"Was that your doing?" Akane asked. Ranma nodded.

"That wasn't nice, Ranma."

"She wasn't being nice either. She had plenty of opportunities to not splash me, and she never took one."

"What did you do?"

"While you were sleeping last night I did several workings. The ladle lady will get a dose of her own medicine if she intends to soak any person, otherwise she'll be able to do as she pleases. I'm not forcing her to be nice, but I'm gently encouraging her to be nicer."

"You said 'several workings.' What else did you do?"

Ranma looked pleased with himself. "I can fix my own problems, but I don't have to fix other people's troubles. As of this morning, none of the Kunos will be able to see or touch either of us. It will seem to them that we no longer exist, except they can still hear us. It's tempting to tease them, but it would be kinder not to."

Akane asked, "Couldn't you just cure them of their madness?"

"Of course I could, but I won't. Akane, imagine you are Tatewaki Kuno. For years you've had delusions of adequacy, or rather delusions of grandeur. You couldn't even tell what century this is and tried to behave like a samurai. Then this morning you woke up cold sober and fully sane. What do you feel?"

Akane paled. "Mortification, dishonor, disgrace. I might even attempt suicide." She shuddered. "You have to be very careful, don't you?"

"More than you can imagine. Have you ever tried to crack an egg with a bulldozer?"

Akane was wide-eyed. "You mean..."

"I have more than enough power to destroy this whole world. Not just kill all living things, but enough to turn the entire planet into incandescent vapor. With great power comes great responsibility." He reached up to touch his earring. "These limiters and my sense of ethics are the only things that keep me in check. I don't have the luxury of getting angry anymore." Ranma looked sober.

"Oh my," said Kasumi's sister. She tried to imagine herself not being allowed to get angry. "I don't think I could manage that, I'm afraid."

"We not only have to tread very lightly, we have to keep our very existence secret. Akane, what do you suppose would happen if it were known that gods were walking the Earth?"

She pondered for a moment. "There'd be riots. Sect would battle sect, the laity would rebel against the clergy for misleading them, even the atheists would be rocked to their core. Fundamentalists would attack the gods themselves for not conforming to their theology. It would get ugly."

"It's worse than that. People would petition us to grant them favors, and they'd stop working for themselves. We couldn't answer every prayer even if we wanted to-many prayers contradict each other-and it wouldn't even be good for those whose prayers were answered. If you think couch potatoes are unhealthy, just consider prayer junkies."

Akane was silent. They were nearing Furinkan, and couldn't continue the discussion where they might be overheard.

Tatewaki Kuno was standing near the main entrance to the school looking in vain for his 'loves.' Ranma stepped back as Akane approached Tatewaki with an expression of distaste on her face. Kuno took no notice. Experimentally, she covered his eyes with her hand. He continued to ignore her. Some nearby students paused to watch. Akane tentatively tried to poke Kuno in the chest. Her finger met no resistance as it slid into his body. The watching students pointed and gaped in surprise as Akane's arm slid through Tatewaki's torso and her hand emerged from his back.

"What are you peasants staring at?" Kuno asked angrily. There was no coherent reply to his question.

The warning bell rang. Rather than be late, Ranma grabbed Akane and leaped upwards, entering their classroom through the third-floor window.

Akane protested, "You didn't have to do that, Ranma. I could have made it on time."

Their teacher, Miss Hinako, rebuked him angrily. "Ranma, how many times have I told you to use the door, not the window? I've even had to leave the...windows...closed?" She stopped in confusion. The classroom windows were closed and had not been opened. Ranma had phazed through the windowpane.

"Gomen. Sensei," said Ranma. Funny, he didn't look sorry at all.

"Akane, take your seat. Ranma, go stand in the hall-bucket duty."

"Hai, Sensei," Ranma answered. He walked over and sat at his desk.

"Ranma, I told you to stand in the hall." Hinako was losing her temper.

"I am standing in the hall, Sensei. I have obeyed your order."

"What are you trying to pull? You are not in the hall, you are seated at your desk in here."

"Go look in the hall, Hinako-Sensei. I am doing bucket duty. You didn't say I can't sit in here too."

The teacher stomped over to the door and opened it. Ranma was standing in the hallway holding two buckets full of water. He gave her a slight bow and a faint smirk. She stared in shock-the world was not ready for two Ranmas.

Akane elbowed Ranma and muttered, "Showoff."

Ranma gave her a familiar cocky grin.

Curiously enough, Akane was greatly relieved to see his smirk. She had almost gotten used to Ranma's divine status, but this new Ranma was mature, considerate, and thoughtful-qualities noticeably lacking in the old Ranma. That grin belonged to the Ranma she knew and loved; it proved that he was still the same person, only better.

Hinako came back in, beside herself with frustration. "I don't know what you're trying to do, truant, but I will not put up with it." She pulled out her dreaded 50-yen coin. The students next to Ranma began edging away from him.

"Sensei, don't!" warned Akane.

Hinako paid no heed. "Happo fifty..." the ki-vampire began. She felt as if she had been kicked by a wild horse-her body went from twelve years old to late twenties so quickly that she got friction burns from her clothes. The teacher's hair stood on end, and her eyes were wild spirals. "Aaahh..." said the teacher as she slid down to the floor. Curiously, Ranma did not look at all drained of ki. He made a hidden gesture and Hinako revived.

There didn't seem to be anything else Hinako could do except gather her dignity and begin the day's lessons. "Class, open your books to page 87..."

Nabiki had gone clear across Tokyo to visit a reputable jeweler where she would not be recognized. Mr. Urushihara, the owner, greeted her as she entered the shop. "May I help you with anything, miss?"

Nabiki approached the counter. After making sure that she would not be observed, she took Ranma's gift out of her bag and showed it to the jeweler. "Can you tell me what this is?"

Mr. Urushihara took the stone carefully and examined it. He couldn't conceal his surprise. "Extraordinary," he murmured, and then aloud, "Excuse me, I'll be back in a few minutes." He went into the curtained-off rear section of the store.

Nabiki waited as patiently as she could. After a few minutes the owner returned with an awed expression on his face. "This is a type IIb diamond, the same kind as the Hope diamond. I have to tell you that I have never heard of a diamond of this size. Its clarity and symmetry make it truly unique. Tell me, where did you get it?"

"A friend of mine gave it to me as a gift." Nabiki was having trouble controlling her emotions. Ranma was telling the truth. She had suspected as much-he had always been the world's worst liar, and his sense of honor usually forbade fibbing.

"He just gave it to you?" The jeweler was astonished. "You have a most unusual friend."

"You don't know the half of it," Nabiki thought. She answered, "Money has no value to him, and he knew I appreciated fine things, so he gave it to me. Do you have any estimate of it's worth?"

Mr. Urushihara replied, "It's literally priceless. There is nothing on Earth to compare it to. This stone dwarfs any other diamond we know of. Are you going to have it cut, or faceted?"

"And spoil it? You've got to be kidding. May I have it back now?"

The jeweler reluctantly gave the stone back to her. He still looked somewhat dazed.

"How much do I owe you for your time?" Nabiki asked.

Mr. Urushihara waved dismissively. "Nothing, my dear. I should pay you for the privilege of holding that remarkable stone. If I were you, I'd keep it a secret-it'll never be safe otherwise."

Nabiki bowed. "Thanks. I think I will keep it a secret."

Author's interjections:

Is Akane out-of-character? Why would she confess her love so easily?
She's in a state of shock because of the changes in Ranma; she's in awe of his aura of power and maturity; and finally Ranma's words and piercing gaze make it clear that she has to answer truthfully. After Ranma asks her to marry him, most of her jealousy and insecurity evaporate. Think about it - a great burden has been lifted from her soul.

Does (cannon) Akane really love Ranma or doesn't she?
Yes, I'm sure she does, and she partially explains the reasons why in one of these chapters. She had been the most sought-after girl in school until Ranma showed up, and you know what happened then. Besides, if she didn't love him why would she act so jealous?

Does (cannon) Ranma really love Akane?
Would he be motivated to kill a god if he didn't? He loudly declared his love when he was sure nobody could hear at Jusendo.

If they really love each other, why do they fight so much?
Most people answer, "pride, stubbornness, ego." I add, "how soon would their fathers have them in front of a priest if they were to exhibit the least bit of affection for each other?" They don't dare to not fight, since they know they are too young to marry and settle down.

Nabiki has a priceless gem that she really can't sell, even though it's very valuable. Do you think Ranma is trying to teach her the true value of money?

Kasumi actually says "ara" - but not quite as often as I have portrayed her here. It's a Japanese interjection whose closest English equivalent is "Oh My."