A Ranma ½ / Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon / Ah! My Goddess crossover story
by L. S. McGill
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ characters property of Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video. Sailor Moon characters property of Takeuchi Naoko, Koudansha, TV Asahi, and Toei Douga, and DIC. Ah! My Goddess property of Fujishima Kosuke, Kodansha, TBS and KSS films; AnimEigo, Studio Proteus, and Dark Horse Comics. Other characters who may cameo are property of respective owners. All are used without permission. I did not write this for profit, but for practice. Will be removed at request of original creators or authorized rep.
Zhu Shu (who shoo), Tao-Ching (dow ching), Xi'an Chi (zy-an chee), and Clans Dragon and Skorpion are mine, and may be used so long as I am asked beforehand.
Book Three: The Black Dragon
Chapter Five: A Night of Fire and Storm
The corridor was nondescript, painted an off-white that made it as bland and featureless as a hospital hallway. The doors leading off of it were unnumbered and unmarked, but the woman traveling down the hall needed no directions.
She was fairly tall, with a golden hue to her skin that spoke of long hours in the sun, though she rarely saw daylight, and it made a vivid contrast to her long white hair. She was dressed in a form-fitting dress of night-black silk that matched the dead-black six-pointed stars on her face, and she walked with purpose, the spike-heeled stilettos she wore impacting the carpet almost hard enough to penetrate it.
Hild was not happy.
The two demons that followed her, one male, one female, were doing their best to fulfill their roles as escorts and bodyguards while trying to avoid Hild's actual notice. When Hild was in a bad mood, anything could happen, and neither one of them really relished nonexistence, or any one of Hild's punishments that could be worse than death.
It had started with the reports that Mara had been stricken from Nifilheim's computer system. As Mara had been under intense surveillance, this had been a mystery. And it had occurred just moments after Hild had administered a chastisement, which had angered the Goddess of Nifilheim even further. Subsequent investigation had revealed Mara's defection, apparently aided by the Dragon, and her reassignment as a minor goddess under Urd's tutelage.
Needless to say, none of that had improved Hild's mood in the slightest. She had long been aware of Mara's infatuation with her daughter; indeed, she had encouraged it to a degree. She had tolerated Mara's consistent failures solely to use them as a tool to force the demoness to do her bidding at this time, when Mara's love for Urd and her constant humiliation and shame could be used to drive the demoness, goad her into making Urd's test a failure, all so she could finally possess the goddess she so loved.
And Legend had interfered!
It was time for that overgrown lizard to learn that one did not cross Hild lightly.
The door at the end of the hallway opened to reveal a plush room and an impeccably dressed Japanese gentleman.
"Greetings, Mistress Hild. It is a pleasure as always."
"Is she ready?"
"Of course, Mistress. She was unconscious for the first few days, but has awakened."
"And her memories?"
"Alas, she is still a blank slate. She can follow orders, but she has neither spoken nor shown any signs of reasoning. She follows orders, but no more."
Hild grinned nastily, making even the demons shiver. "That is something I will address personally. Has she been taken care of?"
"Yes Mistress. We have groomed her and such. Her wounds have healed quickly, and with very little scarring. As yet, we have not trained her as a servant."
"I am unconcerned with that. All I need is the body. Bring her."
The man bowed and clapped his hands. A door to the side of the chamber opened and a young woman entered. She was naked, her shapely body showing a flawless, pale complexion, and the faintest of scars on her right shoulder. Her golden eyes were slit-pupiled, and her ears came to delicate points. Her hair was mainly white, with streaks of pink and black, and it highlighted her exotically pretty face. She knelt before Hild, her eyes showing no glimmer of emotion
Hild nodded. "She shall serve nicely. For as little time as you have had her, you have done well."
"Our doctors are very well trained, Mistress, and the wounds she came to us with healed amazingly fast." He hesitated a second. "As to the method of payment, Mistress, I did have one request."
Hild's eyes narrowed. "Yes?"
"We would be willing to forgo the normal cash payment in exchange for genetic material from this subject. Our laboratories believe we can clone her within a few years, and she would make an excellent model for a line of sex slaves."
Hild raised her eyebrow, then laughed. "You are welcome to her blood. I have no use for it as is." She reached out and drew the girl to her feet, her eyes darkening to empty pools of black as she leaned down to kiss her. The girl's body stiffened as her eyes opened wide in panic, and for a moment they focused on her tormentors face. Then they darkened to a solid crimson as tears of blood began to fall. A jar appeared in Hild's hand and she caught the fall of blood, the smile on her face vicious.
"You are lucky to be so blessed. I seldom eat the souls of mortals," she whispered. She leaned forward and licked a drop of blood from the girls face. "And yours is such a delicious soul. So full of hate."
The girl fell to her knees, the blood pouring from her eyes in a continuous stream, draining away all traces of heat and color from the girl's body, leaving even her hair white as newly fallen snow . The man looked on impassively, waiting till the jar was nearly full and the tears had ceased to flow. He picked it up and bowed. "You are generous, Mistress. If ever you require our services again, please call."
"The Yakuza has ever served me well," she said, dismissing him. She waited for him to go and lifted the girl to her feet again. The girl stood limply, listlessly, her eyes utterly vacant of life, and as cold as her skin was to the touch. Hild reached out her hand, and the male demon hurried forward to place a small box in it. Hild brought it forward and opened it to reveal a large pearl. She picked it up and smiled grimly.
"Such a pretty empty vessel. Your soul devoured, your blood drained, your mind emptied." Hild stepped around the motionless figure. "You would make such a lovely decoration in my palace, had I no better purpose for you." She lifted the pearl, and the girl's eyes fixed on it. Hild laughed. "Yes, I have a soul for you, and blood." She grabbed the girl's hair and pulled her head back, lifting the pearl above her mouth and squeezing. With a sharp crack, the pearl opened, blood pouring out in a stream to be greedily swallowed by the pale girl. She drank the flowing stream, color returning to her limbs as her face grew ecstatic, then a hazy ball of light formed as the pearl disintegrated. The glowing orb drifted down and melted into the girl's form as she let out a long shuddering breath and collapsed to the floor.
Hild gave her a few minutes before reaching down to draw her face up to meet her eyes and she smiled, pleased by what she found there. The girl's irises had changed to a jade green instead their original golden hue. She blinked, and looked away from Hild's gaze.
"Do you recall who you were, now?" Hild whispered.
"I-I…." The girl stopped, the confusion in her eyes strong, and her voice was an odd mixture, as if two people were speaking at once. "I was once Herb, Prince of the Musk Dynasty. I am Herb no longer. Memories swirl inside me, but Herb's are distant, and full of rage, fading… I-I am not Herb."
"Then who are you?" Hild asked, an amused lilt in her voice.
The girl closed her eyes for a long moment, and when she spoke again her voice had shifted a half octave higher, and lost the peculiar echo. "I am Clove."
"Yes. Long ago, Xian Chi slew you, drowned you in a pool at Jusenkyo."
The girl nodded, lifting her hands to flex them, long golden claws springing from their tips. "You have brought me back."
"Your descendant was cursed with water from the spring in which you were drowned. I have returned your soul into the body of Herb."
Clove nodded. "Yes." She shuddered. "I can feel the magics that have been wrought on this body. It still remembers being male."
"That will fade shortly, as your soul assumes full control." Hild leaned forward, her lips caressing Clove's ear. "I have returned you to the flesh, to live once more the life that was cut so short, but there is a price, a debt of honor that you now owe."
Clove nodded. "I am a princess of the Musk dynasty. I and my clan will honor your price."
Hild smiled. "Your clan is no more, princess. The body you wear is the last descendant of your blood." The smile grew chilly. "But I think you will find my price a most agreeable one." She ran a finger along Cloves shoulder as she stepped around her. "I want you to seduce a girl. A girl you will find most delectable. I want you to seduce her, sate yourself on her, make her a slave to your passions. Destroy the ties she has with those who care for her, tear her free from those who protect her, so that she worships only you. And when she does, then you shall bring her to me, and together, we will slowly cut the life from her body an inch at a time."
Clove tilted her head, her face impassive. "And who is this child?" she asked, her voice betraying the slightest signs of anticipation.
"A child made possible by your betrayal and death. A child responsible for the fall of the Musk." Hild waved her hand and an image of the ruins of the Musk Castle appeared. "Little more than a week ago, she led the Amazons on a raid that destroyed your home, Clove, and brought about the destruction of your clan."
Clove's eyes were locked onto the ruins, and her face was grim. "So, Clan Dragon has finally defeated us." A bitter laugh escaped. "I would have made Shi Emperor of all China, had he not denied me. I would have even happily shared him with Mu." She shook her head. "I never told him that. I am a true daughter of the Dragon; and the blood of Lin Tzu flows in my veins as well. Father accepted my play-toys, dreaming of the day Shi would be my husband, as had been promised at our births. Shi's refusal of our betrothal could only be met with war." She raised her head. "Very well, sorceress. I will meet your price, I will seduce and enslave this girl. I will make her love me." Her eyes lifted to meet Hild's. "I ask one boon though."
Hild nodded, reaching out to caress the girl's heartbreakingly beautiful face. "Above and beyond your resurrection? You have fire indeed, Clove of the Musk. What is your desire?"
Clove's eyes hardened. "Her final death must be mine. I will rip her heart out, and as she dies in my arms, I will tell her why I have killed her, and she will die knowing I have avenged my clan."
Hild threw back her head and laughed.
"Ranma is certain he no wish Shan Pu be catgirl?" Shan Pu asked as she curled against Ranma's side. "Shan Pu is happy Ranma not afraid of Shan-kitty anymore, but she not mind if want be catgirl."
Ranma smiled at the Chinese girl stretched out on the bed next to her while they shared the textbook their homework was from. Shan Pu had, reluctantly, kept her clothes on when they had retired to Akane's room after dinner to do the homework they'd put off for sex earlier. Rather, she'd stayed in her cheongsam, but nothing else, as the high riding skirt revealed her shapely derriere. Ranma pulled her eyes back to the book. "Truth to tell, Shan-chan. I don't know what I'd prefer."
Akane looked over from her desk. "I happen to like her as a cat."
Ranma nodded, turning the page of her textbook as Shan Pu indicated she'd finished reading the page. "I know. I just can't decide if I'd feel better if Shan wasn't so… helpless when she's transformed."
Shan Pu stopped reading and looked up at Ranma. "Shan Pu have claws."
Ranma reached over and scratched the back of Shan Pu's head. "I know. But watching you, being held by Kodachi that way. I don't ever want to feel that afraid that someone I like might be hurt." She sighed. "I know you're a warrior Shan-chan, and I truly am not trying to insult you. I– I–" She stopped and closed her eyes. "I failed to save one of your sisters when she was helpless as a rabbit. All I could see when Kodachi had you was the rabbit I wasn't fast enough to save. I won't ask you to be a catgirl against Akane's wishes, or your own wishes, but I can't promise I won't do everything to protect you when you're a cat. If you take that as an insult, I'm sorry. I don't mean it as one."
Akane raised her eyebrow. "Kami, but you can be a downer sometimes." She stretched, the short top she was wearing teasingly revealing a hint of her breasts. "But I can see your point. Cuddly as Shan-kitty is, you're right." She looked over at the curvaceous Amazon. "I'd have gone ballistic seeing you helpless too."
Shan Pu shrugged. "Shan Pu not insulted. Know kitty form not very good fighter. Not matter in village. No one have so little honor would attack Shan Pu with water." She smiled. "Shan Pu decide. Ranma no should have fear, Akane should not have fear." She bounced up from the bed and kissed Akane on the cheek. "Shan-kitty will still like get scratch between ears. And being petted. Hope Akane will forgive Shan Pu for not be China anymore."
Akane blinked. "You're going to do it?"
Shan Pu nodded. "Grandmother say curse will mix like Akane. Shan Pu just need pour over self."
"You don't have to do this if you don't want too Shan Pu." Ranma said. "I can't ask you to do this just for my fears."
Shan Pu leaned over and gave Ranma a kiss too. "You no decide, airen. Shan Pu decide for self. Will not find self in shameful situation again." She straightened and pulled her skirt straight. "Shan Pu go get water. Will airens come to furo with Shan Pu?"
Ranma closed the textbook. "You don't have to do this, really."
Shan Pu put her hands on her hips and gave her a stern glance. "You no make Shan Pu do anything. Shan Pu do to self. Should have done long ago. Shan-kitty form too big weakness for Amazon Champion." She waited till the redhead had nodded. "Good. No more argue."
Akane sighed. "But I like you being a cat."
Shan Pu stepped up to Akane and held her head to her stomach. "Shan Pu know. But Akane still be able to have Shan-kitty girl. And no have be cat to purr." She demonstrated with a deep thrumming that sounded exactly like her purr as a cat.
Akane sighed happily with the hug. "All right. If you're sure this is what you want."
Shan Pu nodded. "Meet in furo." She turned and stopped at the edge of the door. "Shan Pu have thought." She tilted her hips and lifted her skirt to show off her bare rear. "Shan Kitty will have tail. Make hard to keep skirt down, no?" She giggled as she vanished through the door.
"She doesn't have to do this," Ranma said softly.
"No, but our fiancée is ever so stubborn. She's made up her mind."
"I know." The redhead sighed. "Gods. She really does everything to try and win our love, no matter what it might mean to her personally. Just like Zhu Shu." She sat back and let her head fall backwards to stare at the ceiling. "Argh. It's no wonder they're Blood-Sisters."
Zhu Shu was sitting on the edge of the roof outside the window to the room she shared with Shan Pu, looking up at the moon and feeling the link in her mind to Ying-Ying. It had definitely grown stronger since her dream meeting with her first love. She could almost feel like Ying-Ying was just outside the room instead of…. Does being a spirit guardian really qualify as being dead?
<<No. More like being merged into your head, love.>>
Zhu Shu giggled at the thought, knowing at last her love really was speaking to her.
Shan Pu's entry into the room distracted her from her musings. She smiled over her shoulder to her Blood-Sister. "So, did you actually get any homework done?"
Shan Pu stuck her tongue out. "Yes, we did. It's not done yet, and I'm horny as hell and teasing my fiancées mercilessly, but we are doing our homework."
Zhu Shu giggled. "So why are you back over here?"
"I have made my decision. Ranma made a really good point."
"Oh? So you're going half and half?"
"Yes." Shan Pu pulled the small cask out of her closet and sat down on the chair. "He told me about a woman he could not save, one of my sisters who died as a rabbit during the attack on the village. He reminded me of how vulnerable I am as a kitten. I could have been of far more use then had I been a catgirl instead of just a cat."
Zhu Shu nodded. "True. But at least you didn't become a cabbit."
Shan Pu stuck out her tongue as she tapped the cask. "This made my sisters able to be warriors again, and it will remove the fear my airens share as to my wellbeing when I am transformed. As much as I do not wish to deprive Akane of my kitten self, it is too much of a weakness. My Amazon pride will not accept my airens continuing to be afraid just because of feline vanity. Being a kitten can be enjoyable, and now that Ranma seems to be able to accept me as a cat, well…." she shook her head. "No. I'm the Amazon's Champion, and I've allowed myself for too long to be helpless when I get wet. I should have doused myself when the rest of the village did. Being a kitten was fine when I was young, but I'm not thirteen anymore. I'm going to be a wife…" She looked towards Akane's room with a blissful smile. "…and my airens deserve to have me at least mostly human."
Zhu Shu shook her head. "I think you're rushing into this too fast, Shan Pu. It's only been two days since Ranma rescued you—"
"That's just it, Zhu Shu. Ranma shouldn't have had to rescue me! I could have beaten Kodachi had I not become a kitten. As wonderful as the outcome was, he shouldn't have been forced to confront such a horrible memory because of me," Shan Pu said as she flounced on the futon. "I'm learning that as good as my fiancés are as martial artists, they are not truly warriors as we Amazons have always been. They have not been tested on a field of blood."
"No. Neither of them have killed. They've had the luxury of not having had to have made that choice. That's one thing I cannot agree with you on, Sister. The Amazons are far too ready to take life."
Shan Pu raised an eyebrow. "To quote Akane, you are being a real downer, Sister. I'm in way to good a mood to want to debate Amazon customs right now."
Zhu Shu sighed. "Sorry. Don't know why that came out so confrontationally. Don't mind me. Go to your beloveds and have some fun."
Shan Pu rolled her eyes and stuck out her tongue again. "I plan to." She hopped up and tucked the cask under her arm. "I've had to listen to you and Rei, not to mention you and your dream lover. I plan to have an enjoyable bath with my loves."
Zhu Shu chuckled. "Only fair, Sister dear. Only fair."
She turned back to look at the stars and reach for Ying-Ying again, wondering where her momentary vehemence had come from. Shan Pu hadn't been complaining that Ranma and Akane weren't trained to kill first, she'd been upset that Ranma had been forced to deal with death because of her. She hadn't deserved to be snapped at.
A shiver ran down her spine as she looked out into the night a vague feeling of unease creeping up on her. Something's not right. Something….
The night offered no clues, but Zhu Shu knew something was out there. Something just on the edge of familiarity….
Clove examined herself in the mirror and smiled. Hild had given her an excellent body, one that not only flowed with the blood of her clan, but carried the blood of her mother as well. Herb had never learned magic, but the flows of energy through his body were strong and well disciplined. Too bad he had never sought to learn the powers his feminine side could have granted him.
She closed her eyes and reached out with her senses, feeling the coursing rivers of power flowing within her, and with a thought, she transformed them, reveling in the sensations she had once despaired of ever feeling again. Xi'an Chi had stripped her of her birthright before drowning her, and humiliated her, taking from her that which had been hers alone to give. This new body was young, in excellent physical condition, and carried the ties which only a daughter of Lin Tzu could claim. Hild had given back to her everything Xi'an Chi had stolen.
The room around her faded as she rose through the ceiling and out into the night, the powers within her seeking their true form, and she coalesced in the air above the skyscraper, her midnight wings sweeping downwards as she settled on the roof. It had been too long, imprisoned in the timeless void of a trapped soul, since she had last been a dragon. She laughed as the air crackled and swirled, the power she flung to the winds drawing the sky into a vortex of storm. Lightning struck the top of the radio tower that shared the roof with her, and she roared into the forming storm with the thunder.
Blood of the Dragon, Daughter of the Dragon, Child of Musk, I am REBORN! She thought, as the rapidly forming clouds broke and rain began to cascade across the city. But the joy was tempered by a natural suspicion. Yet all she has asked is a vengeance I would have sought anyway. This is too simple. The Queen of Demons would not ask so little for such a boon. I must be cautious.
Her eyes turned towards a distant part of the city, an outlying residential district were she could feel a distinct tug, a call almost. The storm flung an arm of cloud out towards the huddled houses, its winds and rain growing ever stronger as she played with the vortex of energies around her, renewing her ties to the ebb and flow of the magical forces around her. The brat must be that way, she thought as her eyes sought out the shadows and lights of that far off locale. I am almost tempted to just go and burn her to ashes, she thought, tongues of flame curling around her toothy muzzle as she licked her lips. But such a death would be too quick. Shi Wang abandoned me to Xi'an Chi, left me for the wizard to do with as he wished. I cannot allow his seed to die a less shameful death. She must suffer as I did, feel the horror of knowing her love was wasted, know whose crimes she is paying for.
She shifted back to her human form as she raised her face to the heavens. "I will make her pay for what you did to me, Shi! I will make her curse the day you turned your back on me!" She screamed into the howling winds, hoping that he would somehow hear her in the afterlife and know despair. But I must see her first. I must know this girl you have spawned. I will make this false Child of the Dragon face the true. Then I shall wrap her around my finger as a human. I will make her suffer the vengeance you escaped, Shi, and then I will go and avenge myself on Xi'an Chi.
The wind whipped her white hair as she stood on the edge and turned her eyes toward that faraway call, then she stepped over the edge and rode away on the storm.
Rain crashed without warning against the windows of the room where Ke Lun was training her nieces Ling-Ling and Ran-Ran, startling her. She stood and looked out at the rapidly growing storm and grimaced. This was no natural weather. Something powerful rode the winds, something just on the edge of familiarity. She bade the twins to their room and made her way to the roof.
She knew what created the storm, she knew she did, but the memory would not come. Only a sense that a new danger had appeared, or an old danger had reappeared. She ignored the rain as it began to fall, the shift in form causing only a seconds lapse in her concentration as she adjusted her footing to deal with the increased height., and searched the sky for some clue.
You're getting forgetful, old crone, she told herself. You know what this is. Think!
Then a sound filtered down through the howl of the wind and the spatter of the rain, and a chill ran down her spine. A sound she had not heard in centuries.
From far overhead came the creak of vast leathery wings as a shadow slid through the clouds.
Her hand found her cell phone and the speed dial was ringing by the time she had it to her ear. She kept her eyes locked to the clouds as she waited impatiently for an answer.
Finally, she got an answer. Lo Shen's voice came from the speaker, tinny and distant. "Hello?"
"I need you here." Ke Lun said tersely. "There's a dragon over Nerima."
She didn't wait for an answer as she leapt off the roof into the night. A dragon could mean nothing, but so few remained these days, and this one followed the pattern of one on the hunt, and in Nerima, there could only be one thing a dragon hunted.
The scent of another dragon.
Shan Pu opened her eyes and blinked away the water. The first thing she focused on was Akane's face, and the concerned look it bore.
"Airen? Is there problem?" she asked, and startled herself with the fact that she was wet, and it hadn't come out a meow. Silly, that was the whole point! She reminded herself as Akane shook her head.
"No, Shan-chan. No problem; just hoping that there weren't any unforeseen problems."
"She looks pretty okay to me," Ranma chimed in from the tub's edge. " And I'll say she has a nice tail if she promises me she won't hit me for it."
Akane giggled as Shan rolled her eyes. Then finally, Shan took a deep breath as she nerved herself to turn and look at her new self in the mirror.
"Oh… my…." she said finally.
Akane smiled as Shan Pu examined the large cat ears poking up in front of her odango, and the long pink tail tipped with purple that swayed behind her. "You look really cute, Shan-kitty. Very sexy."
Shan Pu nodded, looking at her fingers, and the inch-long claws they sported. "And Shan-kitty no longer be defenseless when wet!"
Ranma shook her head. "Not with those things. But I'm a little nervous letting you play with me with them either."
Shan Pu frowned, then gave a happy mew as her claws retracted to something more human length. "There. Now Shan Pu not hurt airens either."
Akane stepped behind her and encircled her with her arms, looking over her shoulder into the mirror to meet Shan Pu's eyes. "Don't mind her. Ranma's being silly. I like it. I still get my Shan-kitty, but I get a full time fiancée too. A very beautiful one at that."
Shan Pu's eyes caught a glitter in Akane's eyes and she blinked confusedly. "Why airen look at Shan-kitty with tears in eyes?"
Akane laughed, "Because. Three times in my life, I've been a fool. And all within a few months." She nuzzled her head into Shan Pu's hair. "I was a fool when Ranma first came, because I refused to admit to myself he was the man I know him to be now, and I was a fool with Zhu Shu, fighting my own desires and using her badly in an effort to hide my hurt from myself, and now, I have been a fool for being reserved about my love for you, Shan Pu."
Ranma tilted her head but didn't say anything as Akane continued.
"What I'm trying to say is I think I do love you, and I think Ranma does too, in our own ways. I've never been good at recognizing my own feelings, Shan Pu, and Ranma's worse, but I know without a shadow of a doubt you love me, and that means more to me than I can say. I didn't want to believe that someone who barely knew me could really love me, but every action you've taken has showed me how wrong I was."
Shan Pu reached up to stroke Akane's hair. "Shan Pu cannot but love airens. You have conquered Shan Pu's heart as you have conquered her."
Akane nodded. "I know that now. I'm sorry it took so long. That day in the dojo… well… I'm sorry I ran away. And all I can say is that I was confused, and I'm sorry I hurt you."
"Shan Pu forgive Akane. Never blamed airen. Shan Pu was fool that day."
Ranma cleared her throat. "Before we get into a mutual 'no, it was my fault' contest, can I say something?"
They both looked at her.
"Akane, I know I ain't good about saying I love you, but like you said, you know that I'd give my life for you, and well… Shan Pu, I'm sorry I freaked out about you in cat form, and I still say this wasn't necessary, but like Akane, I know you did it because you love us both, and never wanted us to have to worry about you being hurt in cursed form. So, I guess, for me, I have to say I care a lot about you too, and I'm glad you're our fiancée." She gave a wry grin. "And the next time we go back to China, I'm gonna kick that Guide's butt for telling all those stories about how you'd flay my skin off and eat it in front of me and such. You're really a sweet girl, and I'm going to try and deserve all that love you have for me." She scratched her head. "I ain't saying I'm going to be good at it, Akane says I'm terrible at showing my emotions and such, and so does Zhu Shu, but—"
Shan Pu stopped her with a kiss. "Shan Pu understand."
For a long second, there was only the sound of the raindrops outside, then the tender moment was shattered as a loud impact shook the house. There was a shrill scream from upstairs followed by a loud roar and the sound of the roof being ripped asunder.
Without even bothering for her clothes, Shan Pu joined her fiancées' dash for the door.
The change in air pressure was all the warning Zhu Shu had as the dragon dived. She had been watching the storm uneasily, the odd flows and patterns giving her shivers as she had sought to figure out why it had come, and too late, she had tried to dive out the window as the ceiling had crashed inward from the dragon's attack. She screamed as she found herself lifted from the debris by the huge claw and squirmed as she tried to escape. Then the dragon lifted her into the rain, and she transformed. The dragon roared in fury as she forced the claw open and shot for open air. It snatched for her, then spread huge wings as it launched itself after her.
But not before a furious catgirl sprang for its back and latched onto one of the barbs running along its spine. The dragon roared again in pain as Shan Pu drove her bonbori into its side with enough force to snap the weapons handle, and its angry writhing threw Shan Pu off. She spun in the air, trying to land on her feet, then found herself caught by a strong pair of arms, and she and Ranma landed on a roof safely.
Zhu Shu had twisted and drawn her swords, catching the dragon off guard with the chi blast. It roared and lunged for her, its snapping jaws nearly catching her tail. She tried to swing around behind it, but the serpentine form curled too quickly, and she found herself caught in a wave of fire from its jaws.
With a cry of pure rage, Akane descended in a glowing ball of gold, her ribbons lashing out with blinding speed to slash at the dragon's wings with a spray of blood, the delicate membranes unable to stand against the razor-like strips of cloth. As it screamed in rage, Zhu Shu emerged from the fireball singed and clothingless, but seemingly unhurt. With a crash the dragon landed, crushing a car as it lashed out with its wings to batter the two girls from the air. Zhu Shu managed to stop her uncontrolled fight before smashing into a wall, but Akane bounced through a rooftop, her chi shield shattering the tiles like glass.
Then a redheaded blur smashed into the dragon's side and knocked it over, the sound of Ranma's fast flying fists a staccato beat against the dragons ebony scales as it screamed in pain. She moved like the wind, but a flailing tail caught her, and sent her crashing into the charging Shan Pu. She and the Amazon went rolling.
In the momentary pause as the quintet tried to recover, the dragon spoke a few words in a tongue none of them understood, and they found themselves caught motionless, held fast by unseen forces. Shan Pu howled in frustration and anger, but it did no good.
With a chuckle, the dragon rose, a glow about it visibly healing the damage they had done. With an assured glance at the fighters, it moved towards Zhu Shu and rose to its hind feet, the long serpentine form towering above the street as it reached for the suspended dragon-girl.
Then, Zhu Shu blinked as the dragon's eyes focused on her and she swore she saw surprise on the scaly face. For several long seconds, she and the enormous black dragon stared at each other, and she wondered why it hesitated.
Then it spoke.
The second passed as a massive catlike form landed on the dragon's back, twelve-inch canines skittering along the dragon's scales as the smilodon growled in fury. The dragon whirled, tossing Tao-Ching aside, unleashing a stream of fire at the great cat that he barely dodged. Zhu Shu wondered where Tao-Ching had come from, but only for a second, as a bunny-eared Ke Lun launched herself off a rooftop to smack the dragon in the back of the head with her stick.
The dragon shrugged off the blow and once again spoke the words that had frozen the others, catching the smilodon and Ke Lun in the same snares of energy, but before it could attack the helpless warriors, something caught its attention, and it looked off into the distance.
A growl of frustration came from its muzzle, then it vanished in a swirl of shadows, and the invisible bands vanished.
Zhu Shu couldn't catch herself in time and fell to the ground with a thump as the others began to run towards her. She righted herself and dusted herself off, answering, "Zhu Shu okay!" to the babble of questions. Then Ke Lun made everyone hush.
"Are you all right, granddaughter?"
"Yes. Zhu Shu a little bruised, and annoyed that lose dress, but Zhu Shu okay. How everybody?"
Akane brushed a few chunks of tile out of her hair. "We've been better. Was that really a dragon?"
"No," another voice answered, and the crowd looked up to see Lo Shen stepping out of an alleyway. "She was like Zhu Shu. Part dragon, but a magic user as well. I was too late to ascertain how powerful she is, but she is formidable."
"A Black Dragon Mage?" Ke Lun sighed. "That is what I was afraid of. You remember how dangerous the last we fought was."
Lo Shen nodded. "Clove was my superior then. I have learned much in the centuries since."
Zhu Shu blinked. "Clove? Clove of Musk?"
Ke Lun nodded. "Yes. The same Clove whose form you used to bear, before your cursed mutated."
Zhu Shu shivered. "This dragon. When she get good look at Zhu Shu, she seem recognize. She call Zhu Shu 'Mu'…."
Ke Lun and Lo Shen looked at each other. "This is not good." Lo Shen said. "I know of no spell to bring back the dead, but there are those beyond me who may. And if this is Clove, she will be seeking vengeance for the fall of the Musk."
Ke Lun nodded. "I agree." She sighed. "But we don't have the warriors to spare to guard the Heir around the clock."
Shan Pu stepped forward. "Great-grandmother, Shan Pu is Blood-Sister. Is her place to guard Zhu Shu."
"And ours," Ranma said, with a nod from Akane.
Ke Lun held up her hand to prevent anyone else from speaking. "I know you all want to help, but you have other duties. Tao-Ching, I appreciate your aid, but brute strength will not help here. Nor will you be able to watch Zhu Shu at all times. You are too old for school."
The cat grumbled but nodded.
Ke Lun turned to Ranma, Shan Pu, and Akane, noting not only Shan Pu's changed form, but the fact that Ranma was standing next to the smilodon without seeming to notice it.
"As for you three, I accept your offers. You are all in Zhu Shu's school, and I think it will be good for all of you to keep an eye on her. As a matter of fact, I'm in need of waitresses at the restaurant's grand opening tomorrow, and it's almost across the street from Zhu Shu's job." She turned to Zhu Shu. "I know you're not too happy about this, but we have to keep close. I swear, I will do my best to be as unobtrusive as I can, but your safety overrides all else."
Zhu Shu hung her head and nodded.
Lo Shen placed a hand on her shoulder. "I am sorry that this must be, child. We do what we must, and no more."
Shan Pu stepped forward with a shirt retrieved from a smashed in storefront, and draped it around Zhu Shu. "We are warriors, Sister. It is our job to defend you" she said softly in Mandarin, "and we love you."
Zhu Shu nodded sadly. "Zhu Shu know. But never wish to be anything but self. Zhu Shu not empress."
"That doesn't matter to us, Zhu Shu." Akane said. "We don't care about whether you're the Heir. You're our friend. We'll never stand by and watch someone threaten you and not take action."
"Yeah." Ranma nodded, then looked at Ke Lun. "But do we have to be waitresses? Can't you undo this stupid thing that's keeping me a girl?"
Ke Lun shook her head. "I don't think you've learned your lesson yet, 'granddaughter'."
"And that has no bearing on the issue at hand," Lo Shen said. She looked over her shoulder at the noise of Soun's and Genma's approach. "For now, I think we should count our blessings that this fight was mostly in the street, and that only a couple of shops were destroyed. I can make things appear to be lightning damage, but the sooner you get home, the better. The police will be responding to the alarms, and you shouldn't be here to be asked awkward questions."
"No, there's going to be enough of those from Dad," Akane muttered. "The roof to Zhu Shu's room is missing."
"I'll be along to fix that directly." Lo Shen replied. "Now go!"
The group dispersed, leaving Lo Shen and Ke Lun alone in the street.
Clove watched the group disperse from the safety of the shadows and growled in anger. The two women left in the street may have sprouted rabbit ears since she had died, but they were otherwise unchanged. Ke Lun and Lo Shen!
She cursed under her breath. Those two had been major thorns in her side when she had sought Shi's hand. Ke Lun's spite had poisoned Shi's heart against her, and kept him from ever seeing the truth of her feelings for the young weaponsmaster. Lo Shen had been her rival in magic, usurping her place as their teacher's favorite. Both were high on her list of people to whom she owed payback. The fact that both of them sought to protect her quarry was a complication, though, one she felt Hild should have warned her of. This would require preparation.
The feeling of another aura approaching caught her attention. She shifted her focus on the newcomer, and smiled. Concern for her prey was strong in this one's mind, yet she fought against it. She watched the girl peek carefully around a corner, and stop when she spied the two women who were quickly rearranging the wreckage. Reluctance to be seen warred with the suppressed concern, and won easily. The Chinese sorceress smiled as the girl decided to leave before anyone saw her, and as she turned, Clove struck.
Ke Lun's ears twitched at the sound of a gasp, and a body falling, and she looked up from the shop front. Her staff reappeared in her hand as she waved Lo Shen to silence. The Lore Master nodded, small sparkles forming around her hand as Ke Lun edged up the corner from which the sound had come.
Then she looked around the corner and sighed. Lo Shen joined her in looking down at the unconscious form of Ukyo.
"Do you know this girl?" the Lore Master asked.
Ke Lun nodded. "Yes. Our Empress's heart's mate, or one of them anyway. Her name is Ukyo. Looks like she came to investigate the danger to Zhu Shu and arrived to late too help, but not too late to get struck by a loose piece of debris." She brushed the hair away from a nasty bruised cut on the young girls scalp, picking a few scraps of brick out of the cut. "She's going to need to be carried back to her bed."
"Let me look at her cut before you go."
Ke Lun picked the unconscious girl up as Lo Shen held her sparkling hands over the cut and concentrated. As her hands moved away, the cut had already become less puffy and bruised. "There. I can finish up here, and at the Tendo's. Take her home. The last thing we need is our Empress distraught over her love."
Ke Lun sighed. "True. She's upset enough that this girl is unwilling to accept what her heart tells her is there because they are both girls. I've not yet decided what to do about this silliness."
"Children will be children, Ke Lun. Her heart will not let her resist long. Let it be. We must concentrate on finding the man who our Empress can be heart's mate with. And on keeping Zhu Shu safe from tonight's attacker. You know she's not going to attack as a dragon again, not if it really is Clove. She can only hold so many with that spell. She might be able to hold Shan Pu's fiancés, but not all of us at once. She'll try some other, less obvious tactic," Lo Shen said quietly. "I fear they will not be enough."
"I know. But it's the best we have to work with," Ke Lun replied.
"May the gods smile on us."
To be continued.
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