Chaos Lord Productions Brings You.

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Stars in the Sky

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Written by Chaos Lord

Disclaimer: All entities and devices in this story belong to their respective owners.

WARNING: Extreme OOC ahead. If slavish adherence to the originals are your bag, read no further.

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Chapter 3 – Fate in Mortal Hands

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As fires burned the once proud Musk civilization to ash, as Lime slowly trudged eastward through the thick forests of China, as the Sailor Senshi met to discuss the newest arrival to Minato Ward, a young couple slept peacefully upon the roof of a palatial estate. Though the pair had a room of their own, it was currently beneath them, the male, Ranma, wanted some time to stargaze. His companion, Kasumi, willingly followed, and the couple set up shop on the hard roof. Normally, when a person looks up to the sky in a busy metropolis, the stars are just assumed to exist, as their light was completely blocked by the perpetual haze of illumination. Like many things with Ranma though, the assumed was not necessarily reality. As if some powerful force had commanded it, for the couple the haze faded away and the vast canopy of the universe was laid bare before them.

In years past, many a soul had stared up into that endless sea of stars. Even the most arrogant could not help but feel humbled by the force of creation bearing down upon them. One could say that all the light of man had been dedicated to riding himself of the oppression of the night. Yet, for Ranma, the eternal starry night held no oppression. Whenever the pain and heartache got too much to bare, whenever it felt as if all of reality was spiraling out of control, he would just look up into those stars and loose himself in their majesty. The stars became his dearest companions; they were his playthings and his silent confidants. Many a night had been spent playing hide and seek between supernovae and nebulae. He even learned from the constellations and the stories they told. So important were they that, instead of sleeping in a soft bed, Ranma brought Kasumi up to the roof with him in order to introduce her to them. Soon though, the long day finally caught up with the pair, and both fell gently into sleep's warm embrace.

Slowly, as Ranma opened his eyes, he realized that he was no longer on a roof of any sort. The stars were still above him, but now they seemed closer, more intimate, than they had ever been before. Beneath him there was a soft warmth, like he was laying on a cloud on a spring day. Lazily looking to his side, Ranma saw not the roof, or the Tokyo skyline, only a vast ocean of stars. The only thing missing from the scene was the burning line of stars that denoted the plane of the galaxy. It did not take long for him to realize that he and Kasumi were not on the roof any longer.

With a gentle shake of his girlfriend, he said, "Kasumi, wake up."

"Mmm," she groaned. "Do I have to?"

Taking a quick look at their surroundings, Ranma said, "Yeah, I think ya do."

With a put upon sigh, the Tendo woman slowly opened her eyes. The look of concern on Ranma's face quickly banished any remaining traces of sleep from her. "What's wrong?"

"I don't know," he answered truthfully. "Just let's get up. Don't let go of me though."

Despite her best efforts to appear brave for her beloved, Kasumi could not suppress the fearful quaking of her body. Ranma sounded scared, and, other than cats, there was nothing that he feared. Which meant that this was something new, and, quite possibly, something fatal. Still, if Ranma wanted her up, she would oblige him. Making sure to always remain in contact with him, Kasumi slowly got to her feet. As she stood, the Tendo daughter suddenly knew what it was like to be God. All around, creation lay before her. Even the surface they had been laying on turned out to be a glowing band of tightly packed stars which seemed to stretch on into the infinite. "Where are we," she asked with awe-filled fear.

"No clue. But it looks like space."

"Shouldn't we be dead?" Though she did not know much about space, Kasumi had seen enough on television to know it was not conducive to human health.

"I think so." Now that he got a good look at his surroundings, Ranma was beginning to realize that he was back in his old playground. All the stars but two were in the same positions as they had been in all of his mental escapades. The two rogue stars were a softly glowing white one, and the other was a brilliant orange. Not only were they out of place, Ranma's eyes told him that they were getting closer. Gently, so as to not alarm her, Ranma moved Kasumi into a position behind him and away from the approaching lights

Curious at her boyfriend's actions, Kasumi looked around Ranma. Like him, she saw the stars approaching. Yet, she did not feel the apprehension that plagued him, as something about those lights created a sense of peace in her. "Ranma, I don't think we have to worry about them."

Ranma looked behind him quickly, "Ya sure?"

She nodded and smiled. "Yes, I don't know why, but I feel safe." Kasumi's smile only grew as she felt Ranma relax some. "He's actually listening to me," she thought happily. She knew, from Akane's stories of her own adventures, that her boyfriend wasn't exactly the sort to listen to others, preferring instead to rush in where angels fear to tread.

"You are safe here Kasumi Tendo," spoke a sourceless male voice.

"Be at peace, Ranma Alexander." Though the source of this new utterance was just as unknowable, it was different, softer and more feminine than the first.

Suddenly, the two lights spread out and began to form into shapes until they had become large birds. The white light transformed into a large swan. Its feathers, as white as new fallen snow, seemed to glow with a holy light. And its eyes shined with love and compassion, the type of which knew no differences between races. As the swan's companion, there was a magnificent phoenix. Across the bird's body, fire hotter than the sun danced merrily. Looking at it, one could see the wisdom of the ages, lifetimes of knowledge and experience invested into an eternally young soul.

"Greetings," echoed the male voice. Though it made no movement save the slow beating of its wings, both Kasumi and Ranma somehow knew that the words had been the product of the phoenix.

"I trust your awakening was not troubling," this time it was the female. Her's was a warm and tender voice, almost like a mother speaking to her child.

"Uh, yeah," said Ranma. "Where're we?"

The swan laughed softly, "Surely you remember this place Ranma. You played here so often."

Indeed he did recognize his surroundings. Ranma had played here too many times to not know it. But that was just the dreams of a troubled youth, not what he was feeling right now. "That was a dream though."

"What is a dream but reality in another form," said the phoenix cryptically.

"Besides, you were in so much pain that we had to bring you here."

"Luckily, your undeveloped gift allowed us to temporarily bring your spirit here. I am only glad our time together allowed you to turn out so well. Even if you were a trying child at times," chuckled the phoenix.

"So it wasn't all a dream," said Ranma with awe.

"Not all of it at least," answered the swan happily.

Kasumi took that moment to speak, "Um excuse me. But who are you?"

"I am Phoenix, and this is my mate, Cygnus."

"They're constellations," added Ranma helpfully. Seeing the questioning look his girlfriend turned his way, he explained himself. "Learned it from a book."

"Ranma is right," replied Cygnus, "we are what you know as constellations."

In the last year, Kasumi had seen many an amazing thing, but even this was beyond belief. "But how?"

"Just as homes and planets can have a spirit of their own, so do we," explained Phoenix. "At the beginning of time, the gods set about their plans for the universe. Our race was created to guide and inspire. The heavens became our home so that all could view us and follow our example."

"And for countless millennia we did our job well," said Cygnus proudly. "Your races grew quickly and spectacularly. Though, I must say that we are not always happy at the course you all take, goodness seems to eventually triumph." The warm and happy demeanor of the swan grew sad, "But conflict, it seems, is not reserved for you alone."

"There was a fight," asked Ranma.

Phoenix seemed to nod, "Since the earliest days, ours has been a policy of non-interference when it comes to the affairs of mortal races. We may perform our functions, but never try to change the course of history. Yet, one of our own broke that covenant. Several weeks ago, by your reckoning, Draco witnessed a fierce battle between your galaxy's protector and a being of darkness and chaos. Instead of maintaining his distance, Draco charged in to help the woman."

"He always chafed at the rules," muttered Cygnus weakly.

"And this time he paid for it," replied the fiery bird hotly. "Seeing a more powerful target, the darkness turned its focus onto Draco. Theirs was a trying battle, but in the end our friend fell to his opponent. Not satisfied with simply winning, the darkness reached out and took control of Draco. Soon, it began to corrupt our brothers and sisters."

"But why," this time it was Kasumi asking the question.

"For power," spat Phoenix angrily. "There is an item, a crystal of such beauty and perfection that it staggers the mind. The darkness wishes to find the crystal and destroy it."

"So, our dear Draco has come to your Earth," continued Cygnus sadly. "Already his dark forces have corrupted the poor boy known as Herb."

Ranma gasped, "They got Herb?!"

"Yes. Draco is using Herb as his vessel. He is in so much pain," the swan cried.

"Even though we are powerful, our kind can not walk freely among your people. Our power is such that we would quickly die. But, by taking possession of individuals from your realm, Draco and his minions have managed to find a way around that. Now, they are amassing their forces in order to lay claim to the crystal for themselves."

"So why do ya need us? I mean what you're talkn' about is bigger than Saffron. And there's got to be guys like him." Though Ranma took a great deal of pride in his abilities, he knew that Saffron had been on opponent he had no honest right in defeating. Only a spot of good luck and a stroke of inspiration got him through that encounter.

"You are correct," replied Phoenix with a nod of his head. "As you are now you have no hope of surviving an encounter with the tainted."

"But we want to offer you both a way to fight them."

While the prospect of fighting was not that appealing to Kasumi, sharing an aspect of Ranma's life, even if it was battle, certainly seemed like something she could get behind. "How?"

"As Ranma suggested, there are those on your world who could dispatch our brethren, a group who call themselves the Sailor Senshi."

"Oh I've heard of them," exclaimed Kasumi. "Such scandalous dressers."

Ranma looked at his girlfriend questioningly, "How's that?"

"Think Happosai," she said dryly.

"Oh."

Both Phoenix and Cygnus laughed at the exchange. "Besides their choice of battle garb," said Phoenix with some mirth, "these Sailor Senshi are a very powerful force of good. If the opponent were any other, their skills would prove more than capable at performing the task at hand."

"But they can not fight our siblings."

"Why not," asked Ranma. Though he was beginning to trust these beings, he was going to continue operating from a position of caution.

"We are creatures of balance. Our enemy and these Senshi operate at differing ends of the balance. Though they mean well, and their cause is a just one, should they fight the tainted they would inadvertently kill the very ones they are trying to save."

"You see," started Cygnus. "their power is like a poison to us. And their leader's power is the most poisonous. Even if we wanted to have their help, it would do more harm than good."

"Yet they have proved to be an example by which we may further our own cause. We wish for you to become our avatars on Earth. Like the Senshi, and those who wield the power of our brethren, so to would you use our own energies."

"You want to take us over," asked Ranma incredulously.

"Heavens no," gasped Cygnus. "We would never do that."

"Quite right," agreed her mate. "All we wish to do is imbue you with our power. In that way, you may combat the forces which assail your world on an equal footing. Our essence though, would remain separate from your own. We could not possibly control you."

"Why us," asked Ranma, a tinge of suspicion hovering in his voice. "I mean, why not Saffron, he's more powerful."

"Right now, Saffron is not an option. Since you defeated him, he is too weak to be a suitable fighter. Besides, it is only fitting that the man who slew our son is the one to take up the mantle as my avatar."

Ranma paled at that piece of news. Here were the parents of the one person who, on any other occasion, could beat him hands down. "Uh, listen, sorry bout that."

"Do not trouble yourself Ranma," said Cygnus warmly. "We understand your reasons. Saffron was out of control. You did what you had to in order to save your friends."

"He was always too headstrong for his own good," muttered Phoenix.

"Why me," asked Kasumi meekly. As all eyes turned to her, she felt even shyer. "I mean, I'm not a fighter. I just cook and clean."

"Kasumi," muttered Ranma sadly. These past few days had shown him facets of Kasumi that he had never known existed. But this lack of confidence was the most troubling to him. He had always been filled with the emotion, and to see someone he cared so much for have a lack of it, hurt him greatly.

"Do not denigrate yourself so, Kasumi. Yes you are not a fighter, but you are a light bringer. When sadness and unrest arise, your smile and gentle demeanor banish all such negativity. Which makes you the perfect candidate for my power."

"It does," said a wide-eyed young woman.

"Yes," Cygnus' smile was clear in her voice. "As my champion, you will be granted the power to heal and bring peace to those who would cause harm. Furthermore, you will be able to banish the darkness plaguing our brethren."

Ranma raised an eyebrow at that. "Why can't you?"

"We only discovered the secret after the corruption started. No more of our people can be infected. Unfortunately, those on Earth are beyond our reach. That is why we need you," replied Phoenix.

"So," started Ranma, "let's say I go fer this, what'd happen ta me?

"Good. It is the fool who rushes into a situation with no information. As your mate would be Cygnus' champion, you would be mine. Yours would be the realm of heat, the application and the removal there of. There is also what can be done about your curse."

"You can cure it," exclaimed Ranma with an almost giddy air.

Phoenix shook his head, "That is not possible. Like us, Jusenkyo was created by the gods, for what purpose we do not know. We cannot totally rid you of the transformation, but as my champion, you will be able to retard or even reverse it. If you are well rested, then you will even be able actually trigger the change at will. And, before you ask, no there is no cure to the curse. It will be with you forever."

Ranma, sighed. "Oh, I guess that'd be okay." Before now there had been the hope of a cure somewhere out there, now though, that hope was gone for good. "Least I have Kasumi, and nights like yesterday." Looking the fiery bird straight in the eye, he asked the question. "Okay, what's the bad news?"

"What do you mean Ranma," asked Kasumi, her face a mask of confusion.

He shrugged, "Everythin' but you has a way o' bitin' me in the ass. Figure I'd know early."

"Ranma is correct Kasumi, there is a price to my power. Cygnus' power can be handled by mortals without consequence." Phoenix sighed, "Mine cannot. To truly contain my heat you would have to become at least a partial phoenix."

"What do you mean, at least," asked a concerned Kasumi. Suddenly the offers being made did not sound as appealing a they once did.

"You must understand, what we suggest has never been done before," replied Cygnus sadly. "We have no idea how Ranma's body will react. Though we are positive that he will not be permanently harmed."

"Anything else we should know?"

"Only that others of our kind have contacted humans for similar positions. Should you accept our proposition you shall not fight alone," replied Phoenix weakly. "I know that we ask much from you both, but believe me, if we had any alternatives we would have pursued them."

Ranma looked at Kasumi and saw that she had the same concerns as he did. A part of him wanted to accept, it was a way to save others and a promise of control over the curse. But this was not the kind of decision that he could just agree to by himself, not when he had others to think about. Not when he was in love. So, heaving a sigh of reluctance, he looked to the two bird constellations. "Can we think bout' this fer a bit?"

Phoenix and Cygnus turned sadly to each other and shared a look. As he turned back to the pair, the fiery bird nodded. "Very well. Your hesitance is understandable. This is a decision that should not be made in haste. We shall give you the time you require."

Suddenly the couple felt a warmth around their necks. Each looked down and, to their amazement, they found a chain with a bird attached. The links of Kasumi's chain were made of silver that seemed to glow with its own light. As for the avian, it was a beautifully detailed silver swan. Its wings were extended outward as if it were gliding majestically upon unseen air currents. Inset within the delicate structure of the wings was mother of pearl. A single diamond was used as a glittering eye. Ranma's gift was no less beautiful than his girlfriend's. His chain was made of a gold so bright it appeared molten. The bird displayed for Ranma was phoenix, its form made of the same molten gold. Whereas Kasumi's swan was graceful in its stillness, the fiery bird displayed a certain restless energy. Its flaming appearance was only magnified by the ruby inset in the wings. But, instead of rubies or citrines, a pair of soft blue sapphires were crafted for the phoenix's eyes.

"Please take these," said Cygnus. "They are yours."

"And, should you accept out proposal, take hold of it and think our names. We shall be there."

"Its beautiful," muttered Kasumi as she stared at her gift. "Thank you."

"Yeah, thanks."

"You are more than welcome. Consider what we have asked, please."

The couple nodded and joined hands. "We will," they replied. With that, the stars and their hosts began to fade. Before they knew it darkness surrounded them utterly as unconsciousness consumed them.

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As the two humans returned to their earthly realm, Phoenix sighed. "I had thought they would accept our offer."

"They will, love. It will just be in their own time and way."

"I just hope the others were more successful." As if his words were a spell of summoning, several other lights joined the couple. Phoenix looked at his brothers and sisters. Their numbers were diminished, but if the fates were kind then their plans would recover the fallen. "I trust you all were successful?"

Though their answers were not in words, they all replied in the affirmative. Smiling at their good fortune, he said, "Good. Ours are reluctant to join, but our plans can still unfold without them, should the need arise."

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With a gasp, Ami bolted awake. Looking over at her alarm clock, she saw that it would be another thirty minutes before it rang. Suddenly, thoughts of the dream she just experienced flowed through her mind. "Oh god," she groaned, "not another one." The smell in the room though only confirmed her fears. She had had another one of those dreams. Now dreaming was not a new thing for Ami Mizuno, they occurred frequently in her life. As she grew there were the dreams of her future, ones where she was a princess in a magical fairyland, and just the plain old day-to-day ones that no one really remembers. Once she reached an age where her body started noticing boys as more than simple sources of grief, dreams of encounters with them began to play out. Of course these grew in intensity over the years as hormone levels rose and her knowledge on the subject expanded. Then, one day, they started.

She had no idea where they came from, or why they continued, but a certain set of dreams disturbed and excited her greatly. They started the same way, though the actors were often different. Ami would find herself in her own bed and completely naked. A man would be in bed with her. Their bodies would rub against each other in carnal delight. Despite its status as a dream, the sensations felt so real that, when she woke up, her body felt as if it had been engaged in those wonderful acts. Had a romp between the sheets been the end of it, then Ami would have had no problem about the dreams. It was what came after the delicious sex. Her lover, and he would vary between a nondescript male and whomever she may have a crush on, would slide out of her and begin to kiss his way down her body. As his tongue explored her most intimate of places, Ami arched back, her body reacting to the pleasure in a manner similar to an electric shock. When the taughtness of her form subsided, and she was able to gaze upon the face of he lover, the Mizuno girl was shocked to see that the man who had so expertly pleasured her had become an equally attractive woman. Instead of freaking out and pushing the fellow female away though, Ami continued with the love making until one final cataclysmic orgasm jolted her awake.

Had there only been the bi-sexual dreams, Ami would have explained them as subconscious manifestations and ended it at that. Unfortunately, the dreams were not alone. No matter how thoroughly dressed she was when falling asleep, when one of those dreams hit Ami found herself completely naked the next morning. Even that was not the most disturbing aspect of the dreams. Since they had started, she began seeing other females in the same light as males. It had started small, a glance, a stray thought, but as time passed it grew until she was scrutinizing every aspect of woman with the same level of care and lust as she had with men. Even her closest friends were not exempt from her new wondering eye. The only really good thing about the whole ordeal was that Ami gained an insight into why Haruka was always looking at them the way she did.

As she climbed from her bed, Ami grimaced at the sticky feeling between her legs. A quick glance to her sheets confirmed a need to change them. Last night's dream had been one of the most powerful she had yet to experience. It had proceeded as they always had in the past, but this time the man was this Ranma that Setsuna told them about. He had been so incredibly strong, yet so gentle. And when he became Ranko the pleasure had only increased. The passion had been so exquisite that even thinking about it sent minute aftershocks of pleasure zinging through her body. Had she not been warned that Ranma was seeing someone else, she may have harbored thoughts of pursuing him. "Although," she thought lustfully, "Setsuna never mentioned anything about Ranko." Those thoughts followed her as Ami pulled on a shirt and a pair of panties on her way towards the bathroom.

By the time she left her home, Ami found her mental state back to what she was now calling normal. Plans for her day now ran through her mind, as did some quick review for the upcoming quiz in math. Though she did find herself admiring both men and women along her walk to school, Ami managed to keep those on the back channels of her mind. They stayed there until an announcement was made by the teacher. Ranma Alexander was going to be in her class! Looking up from her book, Ami saw the young man at the front of the room. Unbidden, memories of her dream came flooding through her mind and she felt her cheeks turn bright red.

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As she looked at her friend's blushing face, Usagi could not help but feel glad. For a while she had begun to think Ami had no desire for companionship of a romantic kind. Now that the blond girl knew otherwise, she started thinking of ways to channel that interest onto men other than Ranma. Sure, he was attractive. There was a feral ruggedness that wet even her whistle. But, as Setsuna had told them, the new guy was already with someone. To Usagi, that meant he was off limits for everyone in her little group. So, using her ultra cool ninja skills, she pulled out a sheet of paper and wrote, "Stop undressing him." With careful ease, she folded the paper and casually tossed it in Ami's direction. Usagi was a bit surprised when Ami went from beet red to pale white, but she just attributed the change to the girl's natural shyness. Still, the former Moon Princess smiled at her friend just to ease any bad feelings.

With that done, Usagi turned back to the newest member of their class. As she had previously thought, this Ranma was rather easy on the eyes. And had things been different, she could see herself falling into those arms forever. But this wasn't some alternate reality, and she was quite happy with her darling Mamoru. There was also a certain level of envy towards the pig-tailed young man. Somehow he had gotten an exemption that allowed him to where normal clothes instead of a uniform. What she didn't see in him was the power Setsuna had spoken of. He looked like a normal guy, not some super powerhouse capable of feats beyond human reckoning.

Power or no, there was one thing that Usagi was absolutely positive of. Ranma would make an excellent new friend. And, if the befuddled expression on his face was any indication, he was in need of a few friends.

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Staring out at the smiling faces of his new classmates, Ranma again wondered at the speed with which Setsuna got him enrolled. In an incident eerily similar to his first morning with the Tendos, Setsuna handed him a satchel and a sheet of directions to a nearby school where he would be attending classes. All the way there he pondered at the speed with which others got him into the education system. Back on the road, it had been like pulling teeth to get him in. All the paperwork and tests severely limited the amount of effort Genma had wanted to employ. A quick look in his new satchel told him that all that work had already been completed and that he was to report to a certain room for his first class.

Upon arriving at his new school, Ranma was immediately amazed at how clean the campus was. Everywhere he looked there was no sign of explosives, or combat of any sort. The students also appeared completely normal, well normal by other people's standards. As he looked at his surroundings, Ranma was of two minds. One was glad to be in a place where normalcy and peace were the norm. But the other was quite distressed. In his experience, such long-term blandness was just asking for trouble. And, if there was going to be any source for trouble, Ranma knew, it would be him.

The walk through the school was equally as dull. Other than some whispers that he was sure were about him, Ranma passed through the halls practically unnoticed. That changed though when the pig-tailed young man reached his class though. As he entered the room, every eye was focused completely on him. Even though he was used to being the center of attention, all those stares, some of which looked to be sizing him up like a piece of meat, were a bit unnerving.

"So, you must be our new student," said the teacher.

"Um, yeah. Here's my note."

Taking the sheet of paper from Ranma, the man looked it over. Seeing that everything was in order, he nodded and sat it down on his desk. "Okay students, we have a new student today. His name is Ranma Alexander. Ranma, do you have anything to say to the class?"

Ranma thought for a moment before saying, "Well, I'm a martial artist. Spent most'f my life on the road. Also, I'm seeing someone and I'm very happy." Normally he wouldn't have added the last bit, but after the debacle with Furinken, he wasn't going to leave any ambiguity when it came to his love life.

"Well that's good to know Ranma. Why don't you have a seat next to Makoto and we can get today's lesson going.."

Ignoring the sighs and looks of longing, Ranma wove his way between chairs in a line to the desk next the brown-haired young woman who had waved when her name had been called out. As he looked at Makoto, she smiled warmly and pointed at the desk beside him. Returning the smile, he nodded and examined the girl. She was stronger built than her fellows and her chi was a bit stronger and more defined as well. It told him that she either worked out, or practiced martial arts, either way though she was a rank amateur compared to him. "Then again," he thought with a smirk, "most people are."

Sitting down at the desk, Ranma pulled out the paper and pen he had been provided and, in a move that would have shocked those back at Furinken, he began taking notes. The implement flew at almost blinding speed across the paper's surface as he struggled to commit every word to paper. He knew that this probably wasn't proper note taking procedure, but since he didn't know what that was, Ranma was going to write it all down. "Someone back at the house should be able to help me with this," he thought hopefully.

All around Ranma, people were having a hard time concentrating on what they were doing. Though the lecture was actually one of the teacher's more interesting ones, their attention was constantly being pulled towards the new student. He was not making a single sound to cause their interest. In fact, he looked to be taking notes like a dutiful student. But, how he was doing that was what got their attention. With wide-eyed wonder they stared on as Ranma's hands blurred across the paper.

Even the Senshi, who had been forewarned as to the abilities Ranma possessed, were amazed. As they looked between their teammates and Ranma, each could not help but be amazed. He moved with such speed, yet it appeared as if he was under no strain. Even they couldn't do that as Senshi. They all shared a look that said, "How can he be human?" Such acts were what people dreamed of when they watched television or read books, and the Sailor Senshi were no different. Each looked on with varying levels of envy.

Makoto looked on with an almost lust filled expression. But her's was not a desire for carnal pleasures. Her friends probably thought that she felt that Ranma looked like her old boyfriend. "He does look a little like him," she thought wryly. But that wasn't what she wanted from him, not by a long shot. The Senshi of Jupiter wanted that speed, that power, that grace. She wanted to have the kind of skill that Ranma practically flaunted.

Though Ranma was making not a sound, those watching him did. A low murmur was making its way through the classroom as students talked to one another about their new classmate. The teacher, Mr. Koji, was used to a certain level of background noise in his classes. As an educator, it was impossible to realistically expect complete silence, but he did have his limits. Currently, his students had exceeded those limits by a sizable degree. Turning to scold the children under his charge, he caught sight of his newest student and, like the students, he stared on in awe. "Um Ranma?"

Without missing a beat, Ranma looked up from his work. "Yes sir?"

"Is . . . everything okay," he asked hesitantly.

"Yeah, why?" And that was the truth. For the first time in as long as he could remember, Ranma was actually mildly interested in a teacher's lecture.

"Um, nothing," replied Mr. Koji quickly before nervously turning back to the board and continuing on with the lecture. Unconsciously copying his colleagues from Nerima, he wrote the entire event off to a lack of sleep coupled with a trick of the light.

So, until the lunch bell rang several hours later, things continued in a similar manner. Each new teacher would have an issue with the noise only to be cowed by Ranma's phenomenal speed. One or two would make a half-hearted attempt to stifle the noise, but any silence gained didn't last long. Finally though, the clang of the bell sounded throughout the school and every student poured out of the room in an attempt to regain some much needed food and sanity.

Though the clarion call of lunch still resounded in his hears, Ranma slowly packed his school supplies. Only when everything was in its proper place did he calmly stand and make his way out of the room behind his fellow students. For a moment, he had toyed with the idea of simply jumping from the window. The height would be nothing, and it would get him to his meal all the quicker. That plan was soon tabled in favor of his current course of action. "I'll ease them into crazy," he thought with a grin. Descending the stairs, Ranma felt his stomach begin to grumble with desire for the bento Yori and Kasumi had so lovingly crafted for him. As he crossed into the yard, the various cliques looked at him before shaking their heads and turning back to their lunches. Had he actually cared much about the opinions of others, then he may have felt some small measure of unhappiness. Since he didn't, the multitude of tree branches looked to be positively wonderful perches for lunch.

Just as he was about to jump up onto one of the branches, a flash of motion caught his eye. Looking fully in the direction it was coming from, Ranma saw the brunet from class smiling and waving him over. She was sitting with several other girls from class, along with several others, all of whom were now looking at him and waving too. The prospect of hanging out with a pack of girls was somewhat daunting. After all, one or more could be long lost fiancés or something. "But its not like I've got a lot of friends here," thought the part of him which longed for the company of others. It was that thought that drew him in their direction.

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Gathering at their usual spot, the girls known as the Sailor Senshi talked and ate their lunches. Normally the topics of conversation varied from boys to the most recent Youma attacks. On this meeting, their talking turned to the same issue that everyone else was, Ranma Alexander.

"Did you guys see how fast he moved," gushed Usagi.

"See it," asked Makoto incredulously. "I want to see how I can do that!"

"Surprised that you're not comparing him to your old boyfriend," quipped Haruka.

Makoto waved a hand dismissively, "Forget that. You should have seen how fast he was going."

"How fast," asked Michiru.

Ami, who was running the numbers on her computer looked up with awe. "His hands were moving at the same speed as your motorcycle." Her voice was filled with an extreme level of shock.

"That doesn't seem physically possible," exclaimed Michiru.

"I should say not. At those speeds a normal human body would fly apart. Ranma though, seems to be enhanced by some energy field. According to my scans, it was holding him together."

"So is he evil," this time it was Usagi asking, and from her tone it was clear that she hoped the answer was no.

The blue haired girl shook her head. "From available evidence, I would say no. Though his energy levels are great, there is nothing about them to lead me to believe a malevolent intent."

"How so?"

"From past experience, life energy of the type Ranma is surrounded by is similar to what Beryl's minions drained from people. Now when we killed one of the draining Youmas the energy stolen would flow back to the victims. Following the life force would be a residual taint from the Youma." Seeing the looks of shock and horror on the faces of her compatriots, Ami smiled and shook her head. "Don't worry, it faded after a few days. At most anyone with the taint would have been more irritable than normal. As how this pertains to Ranma, well there was no trace of that or any other negative influence. There is some small background magic in him, but nothing of the power he was exhibiting in class though. Everything prior experience has told me, leads me to conclude that Ranma Alexander is just as safe as Setsuna said."

"Well that's good, because I'm inviting him over," chirped Makoto as she began waving madly.

Soon, everyone else joined in as well, and a whole gaggle of glorious girls were gesticulating for the new guy to gravitate towards them. Keeping her smile, Minako let out a pained groan. "Oh god, look at that hunk of man meat."

"He's got someone," hissed Usagi through a smile.

"Doesn't mean I can't look."

"Quiet you two, he's almost here," stage whispered Makoto.

Sure enough, Ranma walked up to the small group of young women; a nervous smile on his face. "It's okay fer me to eat here?"

"Sure," exclaimed Makoto and Usagi warmly.

As he got seated, Ranma looked around at the young ladies who had welcomed him. They ranged in hair colors and expressions, but they were all extremely attractive. Even the tomboy was a looker under all those male clothes. "Um, listen, I appreciate you letn' me sit wit' you, but I'm seeing someone. Just wanted ta get that out 'for ya want something like that."

Usagi nodded her head quickly. "Don't worry. We heard that when you first showed up in class. None of us are going to break that." She cast a quick and pointed glance to her friends, "Right?"

Minako nodded her head, "Yeah, I know when not to poach." But then she looked at Ranma and smiled wickedly, "Just don't ask me not to look, I could hurt myself"

Ranma smiled roguishly, "Can't have that, can we?"

Haruka rolled her eyes, "Typical." Though Michiru jabbed her in the side with her shoulder, the blonde didn't cease her mildly disgusted glare.

"Of what," asked Ranma, the surprise he felt at her tone was clear on his voice.

"You've got a girl and you're flirting with a different one. Typical male."

The blood in Ranma's veins began to boil at the implication. "Have three chicks bomb your wedding and try to kill your fiancé, then tell me how typical I am," he roared.

Everyone in the circle, including a wide-eyed Haruka, looked at Ranma with open-mouthed shock. "D, did that really happen," squeaked Usagi.

"Yeah," muttered Ranma softly, while focusing his gaze on the one who questioned his fidelity.

Michiru chose that moment to speak up for her lover. "Listen Ranma, Haruka is sorry. She just has some issues with men." At the same time, she sent a glare towards said woman.

Haruka nodded her head. "Yeah, sorry." Even she could see the truth of Ranma's words on his expression.

Ranma stared at the offending young woman for a few moments more before nodding and then looking away. "Maybe I should go sit somewhere else."

"No Ranma," exclaimed Usagi. "You don't have to do that. We were hoping we could be friends."

The prospect of friendship was really tempting to Ranma, so much so that he said, in a eager voice, "Really?" To his surprise, and joy, all the girls, even a somewhat reluctant Haruka, nodded. "Wow."

"Yeah," said Makoto. "I'm Makoto Kino, and you've met Usagi and Haruka. The rest are Ami, Minako, and Michiru." In turn, each woman nodded or waved at their new friend.

Not able to restrain her curiosity any longer, Ami broke in on the conversation. "How did you do that back in class? I mean, it shouldn't be possible."

"What, the notes?"

"You were taking notes," squeaked Usagi. "But why so fast?"

At this Ranma's look of confusion became one of embarrassment. "Um, well, I wasn't sure what to write, so I copied it all."

Now it was the girl's turn to look surprised. "Everything," repeated Minako in awe. "No wonder you were going so fast." In her mind, the non-fighting possibilities of such speed began running through her mind at a break-neck pace.

"Yeah, the speed was no prob, had the damnest time keeping the stuff readable and not setting the freaking paper on fire." The way he talked, it was obvious that the feat was of no real consequence.

"Can you teach me how to do that," asked Makoto eagerly.

"Um, I don't know 'bout that. Not sure I can teach anyone. Even if I could, there is no way in hell you'd be moving that fast any time soon."

Makoto frowned, the time equation wasn't something that she had thought of initially. "How long did it take you to learn, I mean you're our age."

"I started learning before I could walk," replied Ranma flatly.

"Oh."

"Still. I can start ya on some easy stuff everyone should know. That'd get ya ready for the big stuff if I can teach ya," offered Ranma. He hated seeing a girl go disappointed, and if teaching her even a bit of the art would make her happy then all the better.

"Oh that would be awesome," gushed Makoto happily.

"But ya should know. I'm not goin' to go easy on ya. Hell," he laughed, "you'll probably hate me before yer done."

Makoto slowly swallowed a bit of food at Ranma's ominous tone. "O, okay."

"Great," cheered Usagi. "You can teach us that and Ami can teach you how to study." A quick, but regal glance, got any recalcitrant Senshi in line and she turned a blinding smile Ranma's way. "That sound good to you?"

With no small bit of trepidation, Ranma looked around at the girls who had just appointed themselves his students. "A, all of ya?"

Not realizing the world of hurt she was about to open up for herself, Haruka crossed her arms and smirked. "What is this? Is the big, bad, martial artist afraid of some girls?"

Once again, Ranma felt a spike of aggression at Haruka's words. But this time, was accompanied by the rush of a challenge invoked. "Hell no, I'll teach the lot of ya! And I think I found my training "assistant"," he chuckled evilly.

Haruka could not suppress the icy tendrils of dread that slid down her back at Ranma's laugh. "Y, you don't have to. I mean, Makoto was the one who wanted it the most."

"Nah," replied Ranma, a wicked grin still splitting his features. "'Koto here's going to be learning from watchin' how ya do things." Just to mess with her mind a bit further, he broke out in maniacal laughter. Fortunately, he wasn't really good at doing such a thing, and the others joined him in his dark revelry. The laughter continued for a while before he broke it off to look at Ami. "So, you the smart one of the group?"

Ami smiled and shrugged, "We are all smart in our own way. I just so happen to excel at school."

"Cool, cool. You mind helpin' me wit' this studying stuff?"

"Of course not. But, if you don't mind the question, why do you not know how to do that already? Surely your previous classes have taught you how."

Ranma shook his head, "Nope. Spent much've my time trainin'. Had only a little schoolin', though I did get decent grades when I could."

"What kind of grades," asked Ami. If she was going to tutor this guy, then she would need to know what sort of student she was dealing with.

"Nuff to pass, not much more," snorted Ranma.

Ami winced, but nodded all the same. "Okay, I will require some further examinations when we get together for studying, but that should give me a good place to start."

"Cool," mumbled the young man around a pork bun.

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For the next few minutes, Ranma and his new friends enjoyed the presence of each other's company. Laughter was shared, as were stories of deeds long since past. As they reveled in their merriment, none could know the terrible battle being waged. At the far edge of Tokyo, Maomolin the Ghost Cat was fighting a desperate war of survival.

When the Lynx first came to him, it had promised power. Power to beat the accursed Ranma Saotome, and power to claim Shampoo as his own. Such promises were intoxicating to the phantom. Yet, even though he would like nothing more than to claim what the Lynx spirit enticed him with, Maomolin felt a measure of reluctance. As a spirit, he was invested with powers and senses mere mortals could not hope to fathom. On occasion, he could see the dark presence hovering behind the warm smile of his fellow feline. Unfortunately, such sights proved a less than able warning and, before he knew what was happening, the Lynx struck.

The battle was the most agonizing and slow that Maomolin had ever participated in. Almost instantly, Lynx had dove into him and the fight began in earnest. Across the plains of his soul, the Ghost Cat desperately attempted to hold the invader at bay. But it was a hopeless pursuit and Maomolin knew it. Still, he did not yield an inch without fighting like hell. With each inch taken away from him, the Bakeneko was able to peer ever deeper into the darkness assailing him. Though his own past had been questionable, what he saw chilled even his undead soul. In his heart of hearts, he knew that only one person could save others from the monster he was becoming. With the last of his strength, Maomolin focused all his thoughts on a singular phrase, "Ranma Saotome has the Crystal." Even as the darkness consumed him, the Ghost Cat prayed that Saotome would be able to end it quickly.

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As the final bell of the day rang out through the school like the starting call of the Kentucky Derby, students from all walks of life rushed from the class like rampaging cattle. Though he wished to leave just as much as his classmates, Ranma packed his satchel with the same diligence taken to load it at lunch. With the last item firmly secured, he felt a presence at the front of his desk. Looking up, Ranma saw the wide-smiling Usagi standing there. Her whole frame was positively shaking with anticipation. "What's up," asked Ranma.

"Weeellll," she drawled with a smile, "we were going to get some ice cream and then study some. I was hoping you'd like to come along."

Seeing her expectant gaze, and her wide, glistening, eyes, Ranma had trouble even thinking about turning her down. Still, Kasumi had told him before he left that she wanted to have an outing after class. So the question was how can he satisfy both? "I wish I could bring her," he muttered softly.

It was obviously not soft enough to obscure it from Usagi's ear, and she leaned forward with a smile. "You talking about your girlfriend?"

Ranma nodded, "Her name's Kasumi, and yeah. She wants ta do somethin' after school."

"Well why don't you bring her," asked Usagi.

"You don't mind?"

"Nah, bring her. We'd love to have her."

"Great," cried Ranma happily. "I'll go get her."

"Cool, we'll be at the Crown Arcade," said the happy girl before she bolted from the room.

Ranma watched the girl run from the room with a smile. With his introduction to the "real" world, the newfound Alexander was beginning to enjoy the normalcy others took for granted. Picking up his satchel, he walked from the room slower than his fellow students. Taking his time was a new experience for him. For all his life normal had been something that happened to other people. "Normal" for Ranma was always martial arts. It was always traveling, never knowing when the next meal may come. Normal was princes, fighters, and other assorted weirdoes assaulting him and those who were nearby on some damn-fool crusade for vengeance or a bride. Now, as he walked the halls and listened to the gossip flowing around, Ranma realized that what he considered the norm, was in actuality the very far edge of sanity. Even Furienken, a place he had long thought to be the norm for schools, was looking to be just another fringe hotbed of craziness. There, the topics could, and did, range from inquires about a certain boy, to plans for a large scale attack, from the next class to an in-depth discussion on which type of trigger was best used in commercial land mines. Here at this new school, Ranma saw that normal people did talk about boys, and girls, but also their hopes, their dreams, what they feared, and what gave them joy.

All of that, and more, cris-crossed around Ranma, in a teeming mass of souls all looking to quench their own desires in a world were mediocrity was a more common element than oxygen. He had tasted the glory and excitement they all craved, and for a long while it was good. Now, as he looked upon them all, as they went about their lives, Ranma knew that its exquisite flavor was nothing more than a bitter ash. Here was life, where people found true heroism and glory. And Ranma envied every one of them. "Things are changin' though," he thought happily. Before, he had himself and his art, and maybe his Pops. Now, he had a family, and a girlfriend, and, if everything played itself out, friends. Total normalcy would never be his to have, that much Ranma was sure of, but perhaps he could, if only a little, drink from the cup of normality. "A man couldn't ask fer more." That thought singing though his mind, Ranma smiled and, with a tightening of his leg muscles, jumped up onto the nearest building. Kasumi would be waiting and he'd be damned if he let her down.

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Sitting in one of the large recliners resting in the Alexander's small library, Kasumi Tendo was thoroughly engrossed in the pages of a book. It was an English copy of J.R.R. Tolkien's work, The Hobbit. Though she had read other stories before, this was the first of his works she engaged. Tolkien's style was unusual to her, as she was used to Japanese tales, but it intrigued her greatly and, like her boyfriend, the novelty of the situation was exciting. For years, reading had been something she rarely enjoyed, and it was almost always at night when all other chores had been completed. Today though, Yori had put a kibosh on any work done by her and as such Kasumi had the whole day to herself.

Though they hadn't been together more than a few days, Kasumi felt a since of loss with Ranma not around. School was important, and she knew it, but she needed him. Not so much in a physical manner, though such needs were there, it was more that she wanted him around. With him at school, there was no one around the house she knew. So she retreated to the library to read and pass the time before her beloved returned. In the silence of the room, the only thing, other than the book, that kept her from feeling too bad was a constant warmth in the background of her soul. It almost felt as if Ranma was there with her, though she plainly knew that he wasn't. Between bouts of Hobbits and Dwarves, Kasumi pondered on whether or not the phenomenon was a by-product of the link she had shared with her beau.

Whatever it was, suddenly there was a spike. A surge of energy flowed through her like a warm wave. It made her shudder with delight. With a smile and an almost giddy laugh, she knew what the source was. Placing the book on the small table next to her, Kasumi practically ran through the halls of the Alexander home like a kid on Christmas morning. Along the way, she saw several members of the staff and other family members. Each received a quick wave and a, "Sorry, can't talk!" The halls and side rooms passed by in a blur until she reached the front door and threw it open. Just as she expected, there, standing on the stoop, was her beloved with his arm extended to open he door.

Kasumi did not give the surprised Ranma a chance to say anything before she hurled herself into his arms. "Mmm, good to see you."

Ranma smiled and wrapped his arms around his newfound love and squeezed gently. "Same 'ere."

Pulling away slightly, Kasumi smiled. "How was your day?"

He shrugged, "Eh, you know. School's school. Met some new friends though."

"That's great Ranma. Its good that you're acclimating so quickly."

"Yeah, well, they sort've invited me to hang with them." Immediately, he knew that was the wrong thing to say, as Kasumi's whole face collapsed in on itself. Quickly, he added, "I did ask if ya could come though, Kasumi."

"Really," she asked hopefully.

"Of course! And they said it'd be fine fer you to come." Finding himself on uneasy ground, he added, "I, if you want to come along that is."

As she looked at Ranma, Kasumi could see that he felt that he was walking a tightrope. Given his track record with women, it was a reasonable position to be in. And while she did feel hurt for a moment, the young woman smiled when her boyfriend admitted to asking about her. That showed a care and foresight about their relationship that he had never shown with Akane; and realizing that made her heart smile. She leaned in for a kiss before saying, "Sure I do. I'd love to spend time with you and meet your new friends." But, before she could let him go, Kasumi added, "But I do want some us time too."

"Yeah, I know," replied Ranma with a shy smile. "Me too."

"As you should," she said with a haughty smile. "So where are we to meet them?"

Ranma shrugged, "A place called the Crown Arcade."

"Oh, Setsuna was telling me about that earlier. Apparently, it is a popular hangout for people our age."

The pig tailed young man rolled his eyes. "Great, teen heart throbs and crappy music."

"He he," giggled Kasumi. "Probably. But who knows, you may have fun. And Ranma."

"Yeah?"

"If they have ice cream, you ARE allowed to enjoy it as a guy."

He answered with a smile and a nod. "Okay. But I'll tell ya, the damn stuff tastes sweeter when I'm a girl."

"Well that's simple," she giggled as she closed the door behind her. "Us girls are just so sweet."

Ranma smiled, but also rolled his eyes at the show of feminine pride by his beloved. "Tell that to 'kane next time ya see 'er, why don't you," he humorously groused as they pair began walking away from the Alexander compound.

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Above the streets of Tokyo, a man was skulking along the rooftops. In the grand scheme of things, Alpha Centauri was a rather small and insignificant star cluster. It had not been blessed with life like Sol or other stars. For centuries, it had looked upon those stars with envy. The dream of every star was to enhance life, to look upon its worlds with a caring eye, all the while knowing that, at least to a minority, it was appreciated. Such was not the destiny for Alpha Centauri though and as such, it was a perfect candidate for Draco's predatory eye. When the corrupted Titan came to Alpha Centauri, he did so as a sympathetic friend. He claimed to possess knowledge on how attain the pure goals the cluster desired. But that path proved to be one of darkness.

Now, Alpha Centauri wanted power and the Crystal. By finding the later, promised his lord, it would lead to the former. So, it came to Earth, the home of the Crystal. Landing near a large gathering of the native humans, it took over the one who was obviously one of the upper class. The man wore brilliantly embroidered silken jacket, vest, and pants. And even the large black crest of hair spoke to nobility and command. With body in hand, Alpha Centauri began his hunt.

The metropolis in which he chose his hunting grounds was vast and filled with countless souls, but soon he came across a likely candidate. It was a young man with black hair. Even to Centauri's meager senses, power rolled off of the being. Added to that was the unmistakable signature of the Crystal. Surely such a person could be the wielder of such a phenomenal talisman. With the utmost caution, Centauri tracked the target through the city streets. As the vessel met up with a young woman, obviously his mate, Centauri smiled evilly. "If I take the woman, he will surely give up the Crystal in exchange for her," he said to himself.

He continued his vigil until the pair turned onto a particularly empty side-street. Once there, Alpha Centauri summoned a ball of darkness into his had before hurling it at the happy couple.

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The only warning Ranma received as to the sudden attack was a slight twitching of his danger sense, but, for the master martial artist, that was more than enough time. Acting on instinct alone, Ranma grabbed Kasumi in his arms and jumped high into the air. Below, the heat of the explosion was searing and its crack like that of thunder. Utilizing the aerobatic acumen of his school, he twisted and turned so that, when he landed, he was far away from the blast and the shock for Kasumi was minimal. With the utmost care, he pushed his girlfriend behind him so that he could devote his full attention to the opponent; and, if necessary, absorb any further attacks with his body.

"What's going on," asked Kasumi fearfully. Though she had seen battles of Ranma's before, this was the first where she was at ground zero.

"No clue. But stay back, I'll keep ya safe." Frantically, Ranma searched the surroundings for a possible adversary. To his surprise, he found none. No weirdly dressed crazy. No absurd speeches about Hell and what part Ranma played in either going there or sending the affronted to said locale. And, quite frankly, their absence scared the hell out of him. It meant that he was facing an opponent who meant business.

Suddenly, from behind, he felt another presence. As he turned, he yelled out, "Behind you!" The warning though, came too late, and as he fully faced his love, Ranma saw that the fiend who had attacked them had her in his grasp.

"I have your woman, boy. She and I will enjoy wine and song, no," asked Kasumi's captor as he ran a hand across her supple curves.

Ranma felt a rage beyond any he had ever experienced before. In the old days, Kasumi had been a non-target for all the crazies who came by. Now, she was more than just a kind soul, she was his heart, his life, and he would be damned before anyone harmed her. "Get yer hands off 'er creep!"

The man shook his head sadly, "Come now, how can you expect me to follow your commands if they are worded so poorly? It is your language, do try to show it proper respect. And, I would have you know, my name is not Creep, it is Alpha Centauri, though I shall permit you to call me Centauri. As for your woman? Well, if you give me the Crystal, then, perhaps, she shall see another sunrise."

Now Ranma was scared. Before, he thought that this Centauri guy was just after him for some damn fool reason like revenge. He didn't want that though, he was after some item and was sure that Ranma had it. That truly chilled Ranma's soul. "What the hell is this freakin' crystal," he thought frantically. His train of thought was derailed by the look of pure terror on Kasumi's face. All his skills and maneuvers vanished and he could only think about saving her. He didn't even feel the chain at his neck grow warm against his skin. "Please," he begged helplessly, "just let her go. I don't know what you're talking about."

"Come now. Surely you jest. I can feel the Crystal's energy on you as clear as day. Just give it to me before my patience runs out."

"But I don't have any crystals on me!"

Centauri sighed, "A shame." With a gently tug, he pulled the girl's terrified face to look at him, "Well, it would be a waste to damage such a beauty a yours, my dear. Perhaps pain will be a better motivator for your intended."

Through her tears, Kasumi gasped, "Please no!"

"He brought this on himself. Shadows, STRIKE!"

From the darkness behind Centauri emerged a pair of creatures. Both possessed a dark translucence and shared a resemblance to spiders, though they were much larger. With a weird, warbling, cry they mercilessly charged forward towards the pig tailed teen.

With this new attack Ranma found himself on the ropes. Both creatures were inhumanly fast and it was painfully clear that they were intelligent. They were also sadistic, for though their talons were sharp enough to cleave cars in twain, the shadows took care to just barely cut into Ranma. Each cut was a font of agony for the young man, but none were enough to kill him. As more and more attacks came in, it was all he could do to maintain even a semblance of a defense.

Fortunately for Ranma, he was a genius when it came to combat. Through the pain and the terror over Kasumi's well being, his battle-hardened mind began to discern a pattern to the shadow's attacks. As one of the shadows cross its teammate, Ranma struck out at its hind leg with a punch strong enough to shatter hardened concrete. To his surprise, both of the shadows and Centauri cried out when the blow landed.

Though she was scared, Kasumi was also the daughter of one of the most capable martial artists on the planet. While she had eschewed serious training for the care for her family, Soun had insisted that his she maintain an arsenal of personal defensive skills. Seeing that her captor's attention was directed elsewhere, Kasumi drove her foot down his shin and into his foot. Kasumi regretted hurting him, but made no attempt to apologize as she extricated herself from his weakened grasp. Free from her captor, the Tendo daughter rushed towards her battered, but not beaten, love.

With the Centauri's loss of concentration, his deadly shadows lost their corporeal forms. Their dispersion allowed Ranma a chance to regain his breath. That was quickly expelled as Kasumi wrapped him up with a iron-strong hug. "Kasumi," he gasped from both a lack of air and her pressure on several of his wounds, "you okay?"

"Yes, but what about him?"

Looking past her glorious mane of hair, Ranma cast a hate filled gaze towards Centauri's crumpled form. "I'm gonna hafta beat his ass inta the ground," he growled.

From the ground, Centauri began to laugh, "Oh ho ho, this is too exquisite. You think your paltry attacks are enough to best one of my caliber? I am the first emperor of the mighty Centauri Empire. I had thought to spare your lives, but now I shall kill you and have my way with your woman until I bore of her then she too will die." To emphasize his claims of superiority, the frilled being stood confidently and unblemished. From the darkness behind him emerged three of the shadows, two to his left and one on the right. The nearest of the left ones made a dark keening sound that wrenched Kasumi and Ranma's brains before skittering over to Centauri. As the two beings touched, the shadow began slide across its master's body like an ooze; all the while, he continued to laugh in that deep east-European voice of his.

To Kasumi and Ranma's eyes, their attacker morphed from a regal, if odd, looking man into a creature out of the darkest of nightmares. It had a triangular head with multiple eyes that glowed with an angry golden fire. Its skin flowed like liquid obsidian and each of its many spines looked razor sharp. As the transformation transpired, Ranma desperately sought out a place to flee with Kasumi and keep her safe. The buildings surrounding them were all residential apartments, meaning buzzers and alarms. Sure, he could break in without any problems, but the resulting sirens would bring down every officer in a twenty block radius, and he didn't want them anywhere near the beast. So, he was forced to choose the least favorable of options. "Kasumi," he whispered.

"Yes," she replied over Ranma's shoulder.

"Get in that doorway and stay put. I'll keep you safe."

Kasumi gently touched her love's shoulder. "I know."

As his girlfriend ensconced herself in the alcove behind him, Ranma smiled grimly. With the echoes of Saffron still echoing in his mind, he knew that this was yet another serious battle. All the stops would have to be removed if he was to win the day. So, with a mighty roar, the Alexander male scythed both arms in the shadow-Centauri's direction. A pair of faint disruptions in the local surroundings were the only signs that Ranma had done anything. It was with a heavy heart that he unleashed the sealed schools. Genma had sealed them for a damn good reason, but standard martial arts were no match for this monster.

The blades of vacuum streaked across the street faster than most people can think. One sliced deep into one of the legs of the amalgam creature, while the other grazed its upper arm. These attacks generated a cry of pain and outrage before the wounds healed as if there had never been any damage. Again the creature screamed its terrible call and from a point just below its eyes a violet beam lanced out at Ranma.

Nowhere in any of the schools he had mastered was there an ability that allowed one to shield himself. All of Ranma's training suggested that he dodge the deadly beam and allow it to pass him by a mile. But now, he was in a position of defense, one that he could not possibly abandon. So, he did what he was always best at, he improvised. In an instant a second pair of blades were rushing down range but instead of being nothing but vacuum, they were filled with ki. The attacks proved to be enough, for when they struck the beam all three exploded. Ranma was not even allowed a moment of respite though, as a lance of pain erupted in his shoulder. To his surprise, one of the shadows had used the brief instant of distraction to skitter over and stab him. A quick, low powered, Moko Takabisha was enough to send the thing slinking back for the moment. It was not alone though, and soon its mate joined in on the sadistic pleasure.

On any normal day, Ranma would be considered in the same league as the top one percent of martial artists on the planet. He could perform feats that made anime and the wirework of Hong Kong look like poor imitators. This was no ordinary day though. The ferocity of his opponents, coupled with his immobile shoulder, rapid blood loss, and stationary positioning meant that he was slowly loosing. From the outside, Ranma looked like a fierce typhoon. Those who knew better though, saw that the end would soon come.

As it came upon him, Ranma felt as if his entire world had slowed to a terrible crawl. With a cold pit in his stomach, he felt himself slip on his own blood while attempting to dodge one of the two shadows. The other fiend slid in and capitalized of his loss of balance by slamming one of its arms deep into his other shoulder. From the far side of the street, Centauri dealt the final blow. Screaming towards him at what seemed to be a snail's pace, Ranma saw yet another one of the abomination's violet beams draw a line across the battle field. When the searing lance intersected his body, Ranma knew with morbid certainty that he was dead. The beam had struck his heart, or close to it, either way, there was no coming back from such a wound. As his life's blood poured out irrevocably, Ranma's final thoughts before the blackness consumed him were, "I'm so sorry Kasumi."

While her love fought valiantly to once again stave off death's cold embrace, Kasumi experienced a heady brew of terror, pride, despair, love, and helplessness. She could see that this was different from the standard Nerima fare. But what truly chilled her soul was the terrible, inescapable, truth that she was going to watch the love of her life get slaughtered in a most horrific fashion. What made it even worse was the knowledge that, had she not been there, Ranma may be doing a lot better, he may have even won the day. When the Centauri creature landed his attack and her love's hot blood sprayed across her face like some unholy baptism Kasumi could not contain the scream that bubbled up from the depths of her soul. It was the cry of a wife who had lost her husband, the cry of children yet to be born, it was the cry of a woman who's soul died but her body still lived. As the body of her beloved fell into her arms, Kasumi stared into his lifeless eyes and tearfully kissed his bloodstained lips one last time. "Goodbye, Ranma," she whispered painfully.

Suddenly, a bright light filled the young woman's vision and she knew, without a doubt, that her end was coming too. Not caring one iota of the world she would be leaving behind, Kasumi jumped headlong toward the light and towards peace everlasting.

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For a time incalculable to man, silence descended upon the universe.

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Then, like the crack of some mighty maw against a titanic anvil a sound breached the silence.

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And then another.

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And yet another.

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More and more cracks pieced the silence. One after another. Beat after beat. Until the silence was filled with the steady beating of some colossal heart.

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From the darkness and the silence, the steady thrumming slowly pieced the veil until one who slept the sleep of death woke up. With almost titanic effort, a young man opened his eyes onto all of creation. Spread out into the infinite were the multitude of stars. They warmed and welcomed him like proud parents; and to Ranma's confused mind, they were a welcome sight. Slowly, thoughts and recollections coalesced in his mind and he realized that he was dead.

"Not yet, Ranma Alexander," uttered a voice.

Ranma had heard that voice before, "Phoenix?"

"Indeed."

"Where are we?"

"Between moments," replied Phoenix cryptically. "You were on the razor's edge of death, so I withdrew you in the brief instant before death took you."

"Well thanks," drawled Ranma dryly. "Could've done with some savin' a tad earlier." Suddenly a terrible thought spiked through his mind. "Crap! Where's Kasumi? She okay? How coulda ya leave 'er there?"

"Be at peace," urged the flaming bird. "Here, between the moments, your mate is safe. She is being tended to by another."

Ranma heaved a huge sigh of relief. "Thank god."

"You find yourself in an unique situation, Ranma. No matter what you do, you shall die. Yet, you have the option of what comes next."

"What'd ya mean?"

"Well, I can let you go as you were at the moment before and you shall pass on to the next existence. Or, there is another option. You could choose to accept my initial offer and become my avatar."

The last statement hung in the air for a moment before Ranma asked, "How'd that gonna help me not die?"

"Remember the story of the Phoenix," said the majestic creature, its tone shining clearly with a smile. "You would die, but would also be reborn."

"Like Saffron," gasped Ranma.

"Yes and no. Yours would be a perfect rebirth, like a Phoenix in the fullness of his power. As the fires of your death die to nothing but ash, you shall spring forth fully realized and ready to defeat he who had faced you.

Now, You must choose. Choose your path and your future."

On the very edge of death, with a lifetime worth of experiences yet to be seen, an enemy to be defeated, and a girlfriend who he desperately wanted to see again, Ranma made his choice. And in choosing was consumed by death.

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As the light faded, Kasumi found herself sitting under a willow at the top of a hill, which over looked the ocean. Though the tranquil scene was enough to sooth even the most tattered of souls, she could only stare out and cry. Tracing their bitter lines down her cheeks, Kasumi thought back to her father. For years, she had, on some level, been ashamed of the man. Now though, she knew what pain the man was still experiencing and marveled at his ability to do anything at all. To her, Ranma's passing left a great chasm in her soul. And while time may do some to fill that void, the sobbing young woman knew she would never truly be whole again.

"Do not despair Kasumi Tendo."

Looking to her left, Kasumi saw a graceful woman approaching her. In the cool winds her long hair, the color of the summer sun, flowed like gentle waves in a pond. The woman's demeanor was calm and warm, like a mother approaching her crying child. Though she had never seen the woman before, something about her rang familiar, "Cygnus."

"Yes, dear one. It is I."

Without thinking, Kasumi flung herself towards the older woman and began to sob into her shoulder. How long they stayed that way, who can say, but finally Kasumi was able to speak. "Ranma's dead," she wailed.

"I know, my child. But all is not lost. Your Ranma is speaking with my mate, there still may be a way to save him. So do not burden yourself any longer, I am here to talk to you about our last meeting."

"Y, you mean you still want me?"

Cygnus looked at Kasumi with confusion, "Why would I not?"

"But I was so useless. A, all I c,could do was watch as that monster k,killed Ranma!"

"Sometimes, you must accept that there is nothing you can do to avert the fate before you. But that does not mean you need do so this time. There is another path."

"Becoming your avatar?"

"Yes. By doing so, you will be able to make a real difference in the coming struggle."

Kasumi thought about Cygnus' offer for a moment. When they had last spoken she had been reluctant to participate in combat, such things were the purview of Ranma and the others, now things were different. Now, she had felt the heat of her beloved's blood splashed across her face. She had experienced the frightful horror of facing death and not being able to lift a single finger to protect herself in any meaningful manner.

Now, she had an opportunity to change all that forever.

And if there she learned one thing from Nabiki, it was that opportunity waits for no one.

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Centuari looked on the dead body of the young man and his blood-stained companion proudly. "Such a grand triumph for the mighty Centauri Empire." Just as he was making the thought that would have propelled his body forward, the entire region was bathed in energy. The tidal wave of power was so intense that he and his minions were pushed back like a leaf in the wind. When he finally came to a stop, the dark fiend quickly looked over to where his recent opposition was.

To the creature's horror, the woman was floating several feet above the ground, surrounded by a nimbus of light. On the ground, the earthly remains of the man he butchered were burning, the flames charring flesh and bone. Even as the rank odor of burning flesh ate at his nostrils, the brilliance of the light seared his eyes. Brighter and brighter, hotter and hotter. In death and light the couple were joined in a display that was as primal as it was beautiful. Centauri looked upon neither with awe or wonder, only dread and horror. The waves of power washing over him were terrifyingly familiar. Every ounce of his being wanted to flee the tableau, but the power wrapped itself around his soul and held him in place.

As muscle and fat burned, the flames grew in intensity and height. Higher and higher, until the orange tongues of flame could have singed the hair off a man's head. Given the heat of the fire, it was not surprising when, in a short amount of time, the body was utterly consumed. Even when all that remained of the great martial artist was a blackened pile of ashes, still the flames raged on. They danced and writhed about in that way which so fascinates mortal minds. On and on they danced away, drawing closer in an intimate embrace. Out of the chaos of the flame emerged the form of a man, as bright and as fiery as the sun.

Above, the light surrounding Kasumi pulsed like a heart. Its waxing and waning left no place for the shadows to run. So they were left to contend with the pure radiance of the light. A light, which could have only come from the heart of a woman so full of goodness and warmth that it bordered on the divine. Though the shadows and Centauri skittered at the light's edges, desperately seeking the safety of the darkness, other creatures basked in the light and were renewed by its warmth. Even as the light intensified, it drew in, growing tighter until its radiance was in the shape of a perfectly proportioned woman.

In perfect synchronization, both the fiery man and the radiant woman exploded into a billion motes of light. Such was the brightness of the burst that even the untainted had to avert their eyes, lest they be blinded. As the light dimmed, and the afterimages faded, the two forms reveled themselves for all to see.

Standing tall a proud, the fiery male surveyed the field of battle with a practiced eye. Not one shred of information was lost to his eyes. In the small breeze, which wafted gently through the street, his outfit swayed and rippled across his muscular frame. Looser than one would expect for a fighter's garb, the crimson and charcoal silk robes still evoked an image of power barely restrained. In golden filigree, twin phoenixes danced and flowed between the red and black patches in a glorious display of grace. Even the remaining flames on the surrounding ground seemed to dance in silent supplication as recognition of the man's power.

Where the man was power controlled yet barely harnessed, his hovering companion was grace incarnate. Floating on graceful, but powerful, wings of the purest white, the woman looked down with a smile that promised destruction for the wicked and revelation for the righteous. Her long hair floated lazily on the cooling winds, which attempted to bring peace to the discord of the battlefield. Garbed in long blue and white robes, this angel appeared more at home among the heavens than in the trenches of combat joined.

Looking upon the two people, Centauri could barely suppress the quaking his terror created within him. Though he had been blessed with power by the Great Draco, the soul of Alpha Centauri could admit that it could never best the pair before him. Phoenix and Cygnus were among the most powerful of the traitorous band that had denied the glory of chaos. No star, no matter how bright, could stand against such powerful constellations. And, while he wanted to revel in chaos in the pursuit of his empire, he held no illusions as to the chance for victory. Even escape was denied to him, as Cygnus' light was already sapping his will to flee. With flight no longer an option, fighting was all that was left.

Crying loudly, Centauri pulled on the totality of his power and summoned a legion of followers to crush his foes. From the darkness one shadow after another burst forward to engage in sadistically amazing melee. And, like the darkness from which they sprang, they would never stop, never slow down, until Centauri, or those he battled, was dead.

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As the shadows closed in on all sides the young man who had once been Ranma Saotome grinned feraly. Before, these creatures had played upon his weakness and slew him. Now he was at the advantage. With a cry of warning and challenge, Ranma spun towards the nearest of the shadows. In his wake were hot contrails of fire, as the very air burst into flames around him. Using the spin to enhance his speed, he moved into a harsh spinning axe kick that dropped an ignited appendage on the crown of a shadow. Even as the sickening crunch of bone echoed through the street, Ranma was moving against its cohorts. Thrusting out with both arms, Ranma missed his targets by a wide margin but that did not matter for the martial artist, as twin bolts of flaming death launched out from his fists. Before, he had fought these fiends with at a disadvantage, skills, he had spent a lifetime honing to a razor's edge, blunted by pain and fear. Now, he was the one who had them on the ropes, it was he who sowed terror among the ranks of the terrifying. And he did not fight alone.

Even as Ranma cut a flaming swath through the hordes of darkness, Kasumi floated above the field of battle. Looking down at the whirling tornado of carnage that was her beloved, she felt a glorious, soaring of love and pride. There had been times before when she had seen him as the heroic warrior who saved the day, but never more than she did now. Tears of joy flowed down her angelic face. "He's alive," she thought triumphantly. But, unlike last time she was not the kitten, mewling in fright as another fought and died for her sake, she had power and was one with the light. She put her new powers to good use. With a wave of her hand, a dazzling wall of energy appeared to blunt the efforts of those shadows who wished to capitalize on a perceived blind spot in her beloved's defenses. Some, who sought to undo her, jumped to attack only to find their efforts undone by a shield of the purest light, which enveloped Kasumi like a warm cocoon. At times, when the devils were too much for her walls to hold back, the mistress of light released a calming wave that slowed the creatures to a grinding halt; giving Ranma plenty of time to finish the fiends. And, when Centauri's violent beams looked to have her love's mark, Kasumi dispatched them with a lance of her power.

Between the two of them, the gentle winds and the roaring storm, the shadows were pushed back in short order. Their campaign was made all the easier when Kasumi noticed that the shadows did not return to those places she had consecrated with her light. So, with a slow yeah glorious march, the abominations were downed one after another until all that remained was their leader. Even through his dark armor the pair could see the blind panic on Centauri's face. The surrounding temperature dropped by a fantastic degree, cracking the armor from the rapid change. All the ambient heat was pulled in as fuel for the blazing inferno that was Ranma's aura. With a loud cry, the phoenix-boy released a roaring torrent of fire towards the man that had caused much pain in such little time. Though the armor had withstood some of Ranma's most deadly attacks, the searing heat ripped away that protection as if it had been made of kindling.

When the fires had died down, a singed Centauri was kneeling on scorched parcel of concrete. Only the boy's will had saved him from being utterly consumed and he knew it. "I, I can see that you are merciful people, yes. P, perhaps you will let myself off with a warning," he asked desperately. "Maybe you would join with me. Power such as yours can be used for many great things."

"Ya kill me and scare my girlfriend and you want ta join up?! Are you crazy," cried Ranma indignantly. With long, purposeful, strides, the angry young man moved over to his beaten foe and hoisted him up with one arm. "I should kill ya fer what ya did to us," he sneered, as he pressed a dagger of fire close to the villain's neck. "Yer just lucky that I know yer all messed up by the same guy that's got that idiot Herb. So, I'll do somthin' that yer goin ta think is way worse." With an angry throw, Ranma dropped the seared man down in the middle of the road.

As the still floating Kasumi began to glow radiantly, Centauri looked on in horror. "Please, I beg of you. Do not do this."

Despite all that this "man" had done to both her and her beloved, Kasumi could not suppress the wave of pity that suffused her being at seeing him beg so pathetically. Still, he HAD caused much suffering and allowing the darkness within him to remain would be a bigger sin. With a sigh, Kasumi called upon the powers of purification granted to her by Cygnus. Behind the floating girl appeared a golden circle filled with runes of cleansing and purity from a hundred different languages. Eyes blazing with holy light, she said, "Seed of hatred, back to the cold dark with you." From the purification seal erupted a beam of intense radiance. In an eye blink it streaked towards the prone form of Centauri.

The stricken being cried out in agony as the light began to battle against the darkness which corrupted it. At every turn the taint tried to keep the soul of Alpha Centauri in its vile grip, but the light would not submit. Just as the darkest of nights can be dispelled by dawn's early light, the darkness was driven away. In its place was joy, pure and more wonderful than the greatest of euphorias, every cell of Centauri's human host sang with its wonder. As the cleansing wave withdrew, it left the man healed, both in spirit and in body. Slowly, he stood on unsteady legs. Both Ranma and Kasumi were surprised to see the tears flowing down the man's cheeks. "My friends," he announced happily. "I thank you for sparing me from the creature I had become." He waved the couple over with a hearty laugh, "Please, come here. I wish to give you a token of my thanks."

Ranma cast a dubious look Kasumi's way. But she just smiled. "It's no trick Ranma. I can sense none of the taint in him."

"Okay, "I'll go with that."

From either side of the field of combat, the couple walked to the center and the penitent man who stood there. When they reached them, Centauri gave each a deep hug. "I am but a humble star and what I have to offer pales in comparison to the gifts you have received from Phoenix and Cygnus, but I do have something that I would have you accept."

"Nah," said Ranma. "Ya don't haveta give us something'"

"Nonsense," laughed Centauri. "You have done for me a great service. I am now in your debt. A debt that can be paid, in part, right now. I sense in you both, a connection. It is tenuous at best but it is still there, giving you each strength beyond your measure. It is my wish to strengthen this bond. Would that be agreeable to you both?"

Kasumi looked at her boyfriend with a hopeful smile. Since that night when he almost left her for good, she had felt like she was linked to the handsome young man. When the link was stronger she had felt better, more whole, than she had before. To feel that all the time was a very tempting offer. Such things though, could not be decided upon alone. In a way, what Centauri was offering was marriage, but deeper and more intimate. "He may not even want an old hag like me," she thought sadly.

The implications of Centauri's offer were not lost on Ranma either. Initially, the idea sparked a fear in him that could have only been created in the crucible of the Nerima Fiancé Wars. Yet, as the thought of being joined to Kasumi was further mulled about he began to appreciate it more and more. Like Kasumi, he too had felt the sparks between them. And he had known, on some level at least, that he wanted to wed her. "Hell," he thought wryly, "she's gotten farther than all the others combined." But that had always been a moment that occurred sometime in the future, after the ever-elusive peace had been attained. Then there was the war to think about. Already he had died once. Could he, in good conscious, bond with her then go running off to laugh death in the face for a second time?

Ranma turned and looked his girlfriend dead in the eye. What he saw was so clear that he didn't need his family's gift to understand it. She wanted to be joined to him more than anything else in her life. But she was so afraid, afraid of the rejection she was sure to come. He reached out and took her hand in his own. "I want to do it. But only if you do."

Kasumi squeezed his hand tightly. "I do."

"Glorious," exclaimed Centauri with a clap of his hands. With the little amount of power at his command he reached out to touch the couple's auras. Though nowhere near as powerful as the big boys, he did have his tricks. All that was required was a subtle shifting of certain astral lines and his gift was given. "Ah! There we are." He smiled at the wide, wondrous gaze on the faces of the two he had wounded so terribly. "Now, if you are quite pleased with the results, I must return this poor fellow to his comrades. If you would excuse me."

The dazed Ranma nodded slowly. "Uh, yeah. Sure."

"Good, good." With one last laugh and smile, Centauri jumped away and out of the couple's lives forever.

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Among the shattered ruins of the once great Musk Empire, the crown prince, Herb, sat on the remains of his throne, oblivious to the elements. He just looked out on the havoc he had wrought with dead eyes filled with black clouds. The grimmest of smiles parted his lips as he took dark pleasure in the fruits of his early victories. "Everything is proceeding exactly as I had planed," he muttered proudly. Across this pathetic mud ball, his factors searched for the crystal. He had not expected the entire planet to be inundated with its power. Luckily, the concentrations in the region of Japan were the highest, so that was where most of those in his employ focused their attentions.

Why, just a few moments ago, one of the lesser members of his organization, that deluded fool Alpha Centauri, sent word that he had a lead on a possible bearer of the Crystal. A quick look through the underling's eyes showed Draco the target. To his surprise, it was none other than Ranma Saotome. That was the second factor that had pointed at the young man. The part of him that was left over from the host, Herb, thought that it was fitting that one such as Ranma would be the person to keep safe an artifact of such power. With great interest, the dark dragon watched the events unfold. Seeing the young man fight so valiantly to protect the woman yet fail at every turn left him with a deeply satisfied feeling. And, when the final blow was struck, the blood gushing from Ranma's heart was one of the most beautiful displays he had ever encountered.

Draco's satisfaction with events soon turned sour as both Ranma and the girl began to exude the power of his enemies, Phoenix and Cygus. "Danm them," he cried in outrage. "How dare they interfere with my plans." The possessed constellation could only watch as his weakest operative was slowly defeated by the very whelp he had just bested. Even through the link, the purifying light, which the girl radiated like a supernova, blinded his blackened eyes. He shared in Centauri's terror and pain as the piece of chaos in that faraway man was seared away, forever blocking Draco's access to him.

Crashing back into his own consciousness like a gigaton bomb, Draco/Herb screamed with unholy rage. He bolted up out of his throne, dark fire rolling across his body in an endless torrent. With an inarticulate cry, the vile thing let loose a terrible blast that further devastated the Musk citadel. "Damn you Ranma Saotome!" Bolts of dark power shot out from his hands in all directions as he vented his frustrations out upon the land.

There would be retribution. And just as his blasts carved up the landscape, so too would his claws carve up the hide of Saotome.

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Across the Jusenkyo valley, the village of the Amazon's prepared for war. Only a short while ago some great calamity had befallen the Musk. So great was the devastation that the flames could be seen even from the village. Since the initial blasts rocked the countryside, a steady stream of refugees flooded towards them. At first, the thought was that they were some sort of army sent by the Musk, or those who had attacked them. But when the battered forms of women and children emerged from the mist, the hardened warriors of the Joketsuzoku opened up their hearts and hearths. What people that were capable of combat were drafted to bolster the ranks of the army. Some of the more conservative sisters balked at such an intrusion, but one word from an Elder made it clear that, in this time of crisis, the old rivalries had to be set aside, lest they all fall.

Standing on one of the parapets overlooking the western wall of the village, Elder Di'al reached out with all her senses. She almost killed herself in the attempt, as a wave of dark malevolence reached out to try and scour her soul. Only centuries of combat against arcane foes allowed her the skill to avoid such an attack. Still, it left her winded, and, as her spirit slammed back into her body, she gasped loudly.

At Di'al's side was the head of the guard, and her granddaughter, Victoria. Her father had been a British explorer who had wondered across Amazon lands and fell for a local warrior. Though the woman was only half Chinese, her's was one of the keenest tactical minds in the village. When her grandmother gasped, Victoria quickly reached out to stabilize the older woman. "Grandmother, are you well?"

Di'al gulped in huge lungfulls of air as she desperately tried to quell her raging heart. Still she managed to nod her head and, in a weak voice say, "I'll live. But I do not know for how long. There is a terrible evil there, my child. One far greater than I have ever encountered." The old woman took a long look off towards where the Musk once lived. "I fear that we do not have enough power to face this foe alone," she muttered gravely.

Victoria cast a quick glance towards the distant fires. "I'll trust your instincts on this. So how can we stop it? Should I send runners to the Phoenix?" A short while ago, such a question would not have been spoken aloud. But that was before the resolute Musk fell, before her grandmother looked so worried.

The old woman sighed heavily. "Yes. Do so immediately. And," she added reluctantly. "I have a vital mission for you."

Like a good soldier, Victoria snapped to attention. "Just name it."

Di'al smiled sadly. "Never look eager for an assignment you know nothing about. My child. I need you to deliver a message to Kho'lon. Tell her to gather all the capable warriors she can find. We will need all the help we can get."

With every fiber of her being, Victoria wanted to deny the order. There were a hundred reasons for her to stay and lead their troops in battle. But there was only one reason to go; the look on her ancestor's face. For the first time, Victoria saw fear and doubt in those eyes. Even though the older woman had written her fair share of the Amazon's over three thousand years of history, Di'al doubted whether their civilization would see it through the oncoming storm. If by leaving and finding Kho'lon hope again reigned on her grandmother's face, then by the goddess she would leave. "Okay grandmother. I'll go and I'll find her."

"Thank you child." From within her robes, the elder withdrew a dagger that appeared to be made of molten earth. "Here, take this with you. It is forged from the blazing heart of an elemental. It will keep you safe."

Victoria accepted the knife with a trace of awe. "Thank you."

"Now go. Hurry. And hope that our foe is more timid than we think."

Quickly enveloping the small woman in what could be their final embrace, Victoria took one last look at her elder before jumping off the wall and into the village. For this mission, speed would be needed. Still, even for a resourceful Amazon such as her, some supplies would be required. if she wanted to make it safely to Japan.

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At another end of the valley, the Phoenix looked towards the ruin of the Musk with trepidation. While the Amazons could look across the ramparts of their villages and see the smoke on the distant horizon, the Phoenix could feel the wrongness in their souls. Though their people were mortal, they retained a touch of their grander heritage. The dark magic reeked through the land, setting everyone' nerves on edge.

Yet, even in times of crisis, for a people to maintain order, the cogs of bureaucracy must ever continue to turn. Such a fact the boy-king Saffron loathed with every fiber of his immortal being. With his rebirth came the wisdom he had been lacking when he and Saotome battled. Patience was his ever-present companion, but the Ministers of War and Agriculture were taxing even his divinely inspired tolerance. At his right hand was the captain of the guard, Kiima. Though he was less than enthusiastic, Saffron took exquisite glee in the bored look on the woman's face.

After a particularly long yawn by his captain, the monarch giggled. "Having fun Kiima?"

The normally reserved woman blushed deeply. "Forgive me, Lord Saffron."

"No need," he replied with a grin. "I too find the court proceedings . . . tedious . . ." Saffron slowly turned his head and looked blankly off in the distance.

Kiima was suddenly on guard. Her king was troubled, and he doubted it s because of bickering politicians. Holding her weapon at the ready, she scanned the area looking for any intruder. Though she could not see anything, that did not mean there were no forces assailing her monarch. "What troubles you lord?" Saffron opened his mouth to speak, but before a word was uttered he was enveloped in a towering pillar of flame. Even though the people of the Phoenix were accustomed to the great heat of their volcanic home, they had to retreat in the face of such an intense inferno. Still, Kiima struggled against the waves of superheated air in an attempt to reach her lord and render even a modicum of aid.

Just as Kiima's reserves were about to fail her, the towering inferno abated to reveal an unharmed Saffron. The ruler looked across at the looks of shock on his subordinate's faces with confusion. "Kiima?"

Sweat poured down the guard's face is great torrents, giving her the appearance of a drowned cat. Kiima was a professional though, and, with a tired sigh, she hauled herself up to attention. "Are you well?"

"I should be the one asking that," replied Saffron with a smile. "But yes, I am perfectly fine. In fact, I am ecstatic. How soon can you have an escort detail prepared?"

"Within the day sire," answered Kiima quickly. "Where shall we be going, my lord?"

"Japan," he said happily. "It seems I have a new brother."

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Author's Notes: Holy Crap. This chapter just kept going and going didn't it. Some important things happened in this on though, including killing Ranma. We have Ranma and Kasumi meeting some major players while at the same time learning of the threat to the universe. Ranma has met the Sailor Senshi, though he doesn't know it yet. Several sources of inspiration were used for portions of this chapter. Centauri is a direct rip of Lando Molari from Babylon 5, as are the shadows. Ranma's fire abilities, moves, and dress are pulled from Avatar Fire Benders and the outfit is a slightly more stylized form of Zuko's after he joins Ang and crew. And, of course, Kasumi's dress is ripped from Beldandy while her spells are a mix of paladin and priest spells. Remember kids, if you steal from multiple sources its harder to notice. lol

Some points of clarification.

1) The Senshi are more than capable of handling most of the threat. Herb will still be an immense challenge but they could nuke most of the rest of his baddies. As said before, the raw power of Saturn can sunder planets. In this instance though, finesse and care is needed to save the day. If Chaos had just taken a normal person, Ranma and others wouldn't be needed, the Senshi could have saved the day. Since Senshi magic is like a poison to the spirits of the constellations, other champions are needed. Don't worry though, Usagi and crew are still relevant and will kick butt too. On the other side of the coin, Ranma and the others are about on par with the Senshi's current levels, maybe a tad below them power wise. The key is that the Senshi know how to point and shoot, Ranma can do that and break every bone in your body before you can blink. It's a power vs skill thing.

2) Ranma's education. What little we know of his schooling usually comes from flash backs where someone has been wronged by him in some way. We do know that Ranma is at the same grade level as Akane and that, while not amazing, he maintains grades of sufficient level to half-ass pass. Given his lifestyle and in-class behavior that is astonishing. So, for this, I am operating under the theory that, if he actually applied himself, Ranma could be making respectable grades. No where near perfect, but enough that he can take pride in his accomplishment. Looking at the way he learns martial arts, I think the information is floating somewhere in his mind, he just doesn't have the knowledge to take the data and transform it into anything meaningful. Hopefully that will change over time. He is not going to become a super genius who can suddenly make awesome ki tech or anything approaching that. Oh, and Setsuna backstepped and got Ranma signed up, no clue how Genma did it though. lol

3) Training the Senshi. Often, in the stories I read, Ranma starts teaching the girls and, in a few weeks, they become on par with the rest of the Nerima crazies. That is the DBZ style of learning, and we won't see that here. Ranma worked damn hard over the years to get to his current point, I will not belittle that effort by having him replicate the results with a mere fraction of the time and pain. At the most, we will see an improvement in their stamina and a miniscule rise in skill. But the Senshi are pretty much staying where they are.

Not much left to say, other than thanks for reading and I hope you all enjoyed it.

Chaos Lord

King of the Wicker People.