Chapter 32
(06/25/99 0800 New Avalon, Blue Continent)
                The Grandelf looked up as Shikarou stalked up to her desk. “Good morning, sir.” She suddenly squawked as he slapped a small disk onto her monitor. “What are you doing?”
                I’m in. Accessing systems. Backdoor installed.
                Slipping around the desk, Shikarou caught her hands before she could hit the alarm. “Naughty, naughty.” She resisted and he cranked up the pressure until she whimpered.
                Alarm system compromised. Mainframe accessed. Reviewing records. Establishing contact with Selene. Downloading. Complete. Beverly is in her office. She has an override on her com. I’ll let it ring.
                A window opened in the monitor and the Quillara appeared, blowing on a cup of tea. “What is it?”
                Shikarou leaned forward. “Where is he?” His voice was a low snarl.
                Beverly dropped her cup and a second later there was the sound of shattering porcelain. She jumped. “How did you?” She broke off and tried to regain her composure. “How did you get back?”
                “Where. Is. Banzai?” He bared his teeth in something that was not a smile. The Grandelf froze beneath his hands. “I am keeping a very tight rein on my temper but if you start playing games with me, I am going to get seriously pissed off.”
                Her eyes flicked to the right. “He’s not here.”
                Shikarou sighed. “Very well.” The window closed. He released the Grandelf and stood. “I’m sorry to have caused you any discomfort.”
                A map appeared as an overlay in his vision. Here is Beverly’s office. Shikarou grabbed the disk as he headed for the elevator. As the door shut he could see the Grandelf accessing her computer.
                To his surprise the elevator door opened on the correct floor. He trotted down the hall to the security gate. Belinda was standing on the other side. “You can’t come any further. I’ve contacted security.”
                I can open the gate.
                So can I. Shikarou took the security gate in his hands and pulled. Metal screamed as he peeled the door open.
                He smiled at the stunned Quillara and forced his voice to a conversational level. “Now, let’s continue our conversation where I can reach you when you lie to me. Your boss almost got me killed and his communications device failed me when I was ready to come home. I want to have a word with him. I won’t hurt anyone, but the games are going to end. I don’t have time for them.”
                He smiled and she flinched. He sighed and tried again, putting some humor into it and watched her relax slightly. “I’ve had a couple of months to brood over what happened and I’m really trying to stay calm. Now, how about we stop the runaround?” He shook his head slowly. “I realize he’s a busy man, but if he took off the day after he almost killed me, I’m going to think that shows a severe lack of character.”
                Beverly bristled. Literally. The tips of her spines became visible for a second through her clothing. “I’ll have you know that Dr. Banzai has been working frantically to try to rescue you.”
                “So where is my hero?” he asked sarcastically.
                “I put him to bed three hours ago.”
                “So he got a nice nap. Roust him out.” He smiled again without humor and she stiffened. “And don’t bother giving me a defiant ‘no’. It wasn’t a request and he’s going to get up if I have to do it.” Another amused smile. “You’re much prettier than me so I’m going to assume he’d prefer you be the one awakening him. Besides, that gives you time to shove some coffee and maybe a quick breakfast into him. My way, he just gets up.”
                When she hesitated, he cocked his ears. “I’ll stay here and be a good boy for twenty minutes, unless security comes to bother me or I get the impression that you are trying to flee. Any longer than that and I’ll come looking for both of you. It’s the best offer you are going to get this morning, ok?”
                Beverly gave an abrupt nod and touched a button on her computer before rushing from the room. Shikarou placed the remote jack on her monitor.
                The security alert has been cancelled. There was a significant explosion in the gateway lab the day you left. Dr. Freeman was injured and the gateway was damaged. The extent isn’t reported, but the indications are that some major repairs will be needed. There is a spare waveguide in storage.
                Would you like to play a game of Go?
                “Blood no, I’ve been playing that thing for over a century and I’m sick of it. I think I would prefer a game of chess?”
                I’d love that but I calculate that I will win 92% of our matches.
                “I see. And what percentage of our matches would you win if we were playing Go?”
                Only 84%.
                “Only? I think I’ll read instead.”
                Spoilfun. What would you like?
                “I’m in a gloomy sort of mood. How about Inferno?”
                Dante or Niven and Pournelle?
                “I’m not familiar with the second one. Let’s try it.” He retrieved the remote jack and stuck it back in his pocket as words appeared in a visual overlay.
                The Niven and Pournelle version wasn’t gloomy, but Shikarou enjoyed it and was busy reading when Banzai appeared, looking immaculate.
                “Shikarou! I’m glad to see you’re well.”
                “How’s Freeman?”
                Banzai smiled. “He was pretty badly injured in the explosion, but our medical staff is top notch and he’s already up and around.”
                “So when will the repairs to the gateway be completed?”
                Banzai blinked. “We’re still evaluating the extent of the damage, so I’m not sure. How did you know it was damaged?”
                “I saw lightning, the natural kind as opposed to what a pokegirl generates, strike the portal as it was closing. Bits of the lattice came out on my end, so it was easy to guess that there was some damage. Since Freeman wasn’t behind any protective barrier, it was natural to presume he’d been injured.”
                Banzai nodded. “Thanks. Knowing the source of the power surge will help a lot in repairing the portal. How did you get back?”
                “That’s not important. I did bring back the Ranma you requested, so I’d appreciate it if the repairs were expedited so he can be returned to his home as quickly as possible.”
                Banzai nodded. “Where is he staying? I’m afraid we really didn’t plan for accommodations for him and his harem.”
                Shikarou snorted. “I figured as much. He’s staying with me for the time being and you can reach him by contacting me.”
                “Thank you for keeping him. I’ll be in touch as soon as we are ready.”
                “I’d prefer regular updates instead. He and I both have lives too and we don’t just sit around waiting on you.”
                “I’ll see what I can do. If you have any more questions, contact Beverly.” That, of course, was administrativese for “don’t bother me anymore”.
                “I’ll do that.”
(06/25/99 1100 Caomh Sith, Blue Continent)
                “You got married again.” Kerrik sighed. “Am I condemned to miss every one of your weddings?”
                Shikarou flashed a grin. “Since I don’t expect to get married many more times, it’s likely.”
                Kasumi smiled. “We’ll try to issue invitations for when Shikarou and Poppet get married, if they don’t do the same thing that he and Branwyn did and elope.”
                Branwyn gave her an amused look. “And you didn’t have a quick wedding as well?”
                “I recognized that if I gave him half a chance he might disappear on me.” Kasumi sipped at her tea. “I am very pleased to meet my father-in-law.” She smiled. “Shikarou needs to get some books from you.”
                Kerrik gave her a bland look. “I know. He told me what he wanted when he contacted me about your marriage.”
                Her eyes lit up. “Did you bring them?”
                “I did.”
                “Good.” She gave him another smile. “I can’t wait to get started studying magic.”
                Kerrik gave her an amused look. “Ok.” He turned back to Shikarou. “I’ve actually brought you a full library for your school and a possible instructor.”
                Shikarou blinked. “Sib?”
                “No, this is your project and I didn’t think you were quite ready for siblings to attempt to horn in. I’m giving you the original Moonblood library, and all that goes with it, as part of the library for your school.”
                Shikarou’s eyes went wide. “I am deeply honored, father. I will treasure this gift for the rest of my life.” He bowed formally. “Thank you.”
                Kerrik smiled. “I’m glad you’re pleased.” He glanced around. “The Moonblood library is a fairly comprehensive magical research library. It’s a little out of date, but that’s easily corrected. However, the true gift that comes with it are the collected journals of one of clan leaders, a man by the name of Caspa. He was a powerful mage, one of the best of his generation, and he was killed in a raid by a rival clan who sought to steal several rare texts from the clan library. It was his death that started the slow spiral that doomed the Moonblood clan.
                He died protecting those books and almost immediately after his death, he came back as a powerful ghost and actually completed his self appointed task by wiping out the raiders.”
                “Caspa continues to guard the Moonblood library and will not let any of it be taken away or sold. He will also guard any other books that are placed with them.” Kerrik’s eyes gleamed. “While this normally might mean that the he’d kill anyone who even tried to touch the books, he’s more reasonable than that and will allow copies to be made by persons with the legitimate authority to do so.”
                “Essentially, I’m giving you a library that can’t be stolen from or damaged. Caspa has tracked thieves for millions of kilometers to get revenge on an attempted theft and there has never been a successful one. As for protecting it from damage, for a while I had the Moonblood library stored in a small building on a remote piece of property. At one point, that property was attacked by another clan eager for the knowledge in those books.
                When they realized that they couldn’t take the library because they weren’t the rightful owners, they nuked it with a thirty kiloton weapon. Caspa protected the entire library from any damage at all. The rest of the building was vaporized.” An unhappy expression flicked across his face and vanished. “What annoys me is I still don’t know how he did it.”
                Kerrik smiled. “Anyway, I’ve spoken with him and he’s shown some interest in becoming a teacher at your proposed school. You’ll have to make arrangements for a classroom in the vicinity of the library, but I suspect that won’t be a problem.”
                “And he should be willing to help teach Kasumi.” Shikarou nodded to his wife as her face lit up. “I’ve known him since I was a child and he is nice enough to call me his friend.”
                Kerrik nodded. “You’re one of my few children who treated him as a real person and one of two who was his friend. That’s why he thought this would be a wonderful idea when I asked him.”
                Branwyn cocked her head. “Who is the other person?”
                Kerrik gave her a grave look. “Dead.”
                “Oh, I’m sorry.”
                “My children die sometimes. It happens.” Kerrik’s light tone was belied by the sudden darkness in his amber eyes. “I’ve learned to accept it as much as I can.”
                Branwyn nodded. “I don’t understand, but I do remember when my sister died. Poppet cried for weeks.”
                Kerrik nodded slowly. “Death is a part of life. I know this and, intellectually, I accept it; but when it comes to my children, I still have problems with it. Most parents do.”
(06/25/99 1330 Caomh Sith, Blue Continent)
                “How are you doing?”
                Ranma threw the ball again and Kasumi dove to catch it, her wings flashing in the sun. “Are you aware that you’ve got a feral pokegirl at the clinic?”
                “The Moonflower? Yes, she’s happy and we leave her alone. She tends the area around the clinic.”
                “In Indigo, someone would have captured her by now.”
                Shikarou shrugged. “We’re trying something new. She’s not a problem, so we let her do pretty much as she wants. There’s a gazebo around back that she sleeps in when it rains and Alice puts out food for her. Did you see the sign?”
                “Don’t pick the Moonflowers? Cute.”
                “I thought so too. Candace put it up and she has an odd sense of humor.” He watched as Kasumi dropped the ball into Ranma’s lap as she flew by and the young man threw it again.
                “This is a nice place. We don’t have any worries here.”
                Shikarou continued watching Kasumi as she dove for the ball. “I wish I didn’t have any worries, but someone has to so you don’t.” One ear rotated. “Hello, Nabiki.”
                An annoyed voice sounded. “How did you know?”
                “Fade is a good ability, but it doesn’t do a thing to mask your scent.”
                Nabiki slowly appeared and sat down next to Ranma, folding her arms and glaring at Shikarou. “You could pretend not to know I was there.”
                “Yes, but that would have been doing you a disservice and might make you careless around someone who meant you harm.”
                Nabiki blinked and stopped glaring.
                “I spoke to Dr. Banzai today. He’s not sure when the portal will be up and running. He didn’t say ‘if’, but I think I heard it in his voice.”
                Ranma turned to look at him and winced, grabbing his crotch. Kasumi had dropped the ball when he wasn’t paying attention. Kasumi landed. “Are you all right, master?”
                “I asked you to stop calling me that.”
                “Sorry.” She shifted to her humanoid form and settled down next to Nabiki.
                Shikarou smiled. “How are you today, Kasumi?”
                “I’m ok. Are you coming with us when we go home?”
                Ranma sighed. “Shikarou just said that Dr. Banzai may not be able to get the way home working soon.”
                Kasumi’s wings rustled as she shrugged. “So? Shikarou said he was taking us home and that means he will. Whether or not this Dr. Banzai can help us is beside the point, Shikarou will take us to your home.”
                Reaching over Nabiki, Ranma patted the Griffon’s hand. “Dr. Banzai is the one with the dimension spanning device, remember?”
                Shikarou sighed. “She’s right. I said I would take you home and I will. I’d like to wait a little while to see if Banzai can fix his toy, but if you want to leave right away, I’ll use my magic.”
                Nabiki spat on the ground. “Your way seems safer than any portal we’ve gone through. We got dumped on Ranma and you got blown up.”
                Shikarou exchanged a look with Ranma. “She’s got a point,” someone muttered.
                “I still want to wait a day or two. I’m having the savings that you left here liquidated and turned into gold and silver bullion.” Nabiki looked up at Shikarou’s words. “Ranma originally intended it to be divided up among his harem after he left, but you went with him. You might as well take it with you.”
                Nabiki frowned. “That’s not a lot of money.”
                “Every little bit helps.”
                Ranma frowned. “I thought the money you gave me back on the other earth was my savings.” Nabiki suddenly looked nervous.
                “Yes, you did, didn’t you?” Shikarou shrugged. “I never said that.”
                That got him a glare from Ranma. “You lied to me.”
                “I can’t lie. You made that little assumption on your own.”
                “A lie by omission,” he began.
                Shikarou cut him off. “Is not a lie, no matter what you may believe. Of course, you can try to blame me for your failure to seek the whole truth, since humans are quite good at that sort of behavior. However, if you try, I’ll just ignore you.”
                He decided to change the topic before someone said something precipitous. “Now, in order to properly take care of your harem, you are going to need money. Your alpha, Nabiki, pointed out, quite correctly, that your savings aren’t going to be much. Therefore you are going to have to find a way to make money because foraging is an uncertain business at best, especially in an urban area.”
                Ranma looked interested. “What do you think we can do? We can’t exactly get jobs.”
                “I would also be inclined to doubt that would work well for you. However, if I’m not mistaken, Rei is a militant Angel, right?”
                “What do you mean?”
                “Angels are usually divided into two camps. One camp believes in the milk of human kindness prevailing no matter what and the second one believes you have to slap it in the head to get its attention and kick it in the ass to get it moving.”
                Kasumi snickered. “She’s definitely a second camp Angel.” Ranma and Nabiki nodded in unison.
                “That makes things easier then. What you’ll probably want to do is identify criminals and beat them up.” He grinned. “You can claim anything they have as spoils of war. I’d recommend taking only cash and things that can be easily converted to cash.” He rubbed an ear.
                “Art can be very valuable, but it can be easy to identify and you run the risk of being arrested for having stolen property. If you find drugs, destroy them. While it could be argued that they are easily converted to cash, you have to know who’s doing the buying and, frankly, they’re not worth the trouble they can bring.”
                “If there is a reward, you can think about turning them in for that, too. However, I would only consider that away from the area around your home base, lest your identities get out and someone’s associates come looking for revenge.”
                Ranma looked interested. “That I can do.” He grinned suddenly. “That, we can do.”
                Shikarou grinned back. “I’m always glad to help someone on the path to righteousness and easy cash. Besides, it beats rummaging in dumpsters. The menu is more than slightly irregular.”
                Kasumi gave him a shrewd look. “So, are you going to answer my question?”
                “Which one?”
                “Are you coming with us?” Tension suddenly filled the air.
                Shikarou nodded. “I want to make sure you get to the right world.” The tension disappeared almost instantly.
                Ranma slid to his feet and stuck out his hand. “I, ah.” He looked away. “I.”
                Shikarou cut him off again. “You’re welcome.” He glanced at the hand. “And you’ve spent too long in the West.” He bowed and Ranma laughed and bowed back.
                “Come on, girls.” Ranma headed towards the tent, followed closely by Kasumi.
                Nabiki stopped in front of Shikarou and held out her hand. “Oh, great and powerful kami, please give of your munificence.” Shikarou sighed and handed her a small pile of gold coins. She grinned. “Thank you, oh wondrous one.” Turning, she raced after her Tamer.
(06/25/99 1830 Caomh Sith, Blue Continent)
                Urufu Kasumi stretched and settled against her husband. “This is nice, but I would like a house. Besides, we both know that this tent is Branwyn’s territory and I want some territory of my very own.”
                Shikarou chuckled. “Already with the demands.” She gave him an amused look. “A Japanese style house would probably not take the winters here well.”
                “I know that. I want a Western house. It will be nice in the winter, but, actually, I think that the most important reason to build a Western style home is to keep the ferals outside should one come by.” Kasumi smiled slowly. “I already have to share my husband with a small army of women and I don’t want to accidentally add to that number. A good stout door and rock walls are an excellent starting point. Walls around the property are nice too, but some pokegirls can bypass that easily.”
                “We’ll start looking for a place to build just as soon as I get back.” He gave her an odd look. “Do you want to come along?”
                She shook her head. “I don’t want to see another me. The Griffon Kasumi that Ranma has is spooky enough, but to see another woman just like me, in my house and in my room? No, that I can live quite well without.”
                “Are you worried about me being there?”
                “No. Shikarou, I know we don’t love each other yet, but I also know you are one of the most honorable people I’ve ever met. If you thought there was the most remote chance you’d come back with another Kasumi or even another Tendo girl, you wouldn’t go.” She cocked her head. “What happened to this world’s Akane?”
                “I understand she ended up with someone named Ryoga Hibiki.”
                Kasumi giggled. “P-chan?”
                “I don’t get the reference.”
                She kissed his chin. “There is a Ryoga Hibiki on our world. He’s got the worst sense of direction you can imagine. One time he tried to leave our bath and it took him three hours to get to the living room.” She snickered. “He once had a duel with Ranma in the lot behind his house and he got lost on the way and didn’t get there for four days. Ranma had gotten hungry and gone home by that time and Ryoga swore vengeance.”
                “My. That is bad.”
                “That’s not the worst of it. After the failed attempt at the duel, Ryoga went on a trek to find and defeat Ranma. During the course of his trek, he ended up at Jusenkyo. There he fell into a spring and got turned into a baby pig. Later, he found his way back to Nerima and Akane adopted him as her pet, which she named P-chan. He’s madly in lust with her and has no idea about how to express it. Only Ranma and I know who P-chan really is, and Ranma doesn’t know I do.”
                “How do you know?”
                She gave him a sweet smile. “I’m Kasumi. I know everything.”
                He peered at her for a minute. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
                Kasumi smirked. “When are you going to leave?”
                “We’ll leave in two days unless I hear good news from Banzai. Ranma is anxious to get home. He won’t admit it but I think he’s worried about his father.”
                Kasumi snorted. “That old bandit will be just fine. He should be worried about the Tendo women.”
                “So you think there is an agreement there too?”
                “That world is only four D points from the universe I come from. Of course there is.”
                “Yeah, I think so too.”
                Kasumi glanced up at him. “Do you think I should become a Tamer?”
                “The first thing you need to ask yourself is if you are interested in having sex with a woman.”
                She shrugged. “Sex with you is a lot more fun that I thought it would be. I’d be willing to give it a try, if you didn’t mind.”
                “A pokegirl would be able to help protect you from potential danger,” he said musingly.
                She kissed his shoulder gently. “I have you for that.” Leaning her head against him, she sighed. “But you won’t be around all of the time.” There was a moment of silence. “You can forbid me from doing it, if you want.”
                “You do want to try this, don’t you?” He wrapped an arm around her. “Once you get a pokegirl, it’s like having another lover. I don’t want you to discover you don’t like it and then we have to find a home for your starter.”
                “It sounds like you have a suggestion.”
                “I do. Why don’t you ask a member of my harem to introduce you to taming a pokegirl? That way if you don’t like it, there’s no harm done. I’ll let Branwyn know that this is something I approve of.”
                She sat up and kissed him gently. “Thank you for approving.”
                “It’s actually better for me, too. If you have pokegirls of your own, it would mean that you wouldn’t be alone thinking evil thoughts about me on nights when you knew I was with members of my harem.” He shivered. “Thoughts about knives or chainsaws.”
                She laughed quietly. “Nights? How about mornings and afternoons and evenings?”
                “Well, yeah, those too.”
                She changed subjects suddenly. Shikarou was learning she did that. He suspected that she was one of those really intelligent people who just did that sort of thing, usually making those around them think that they were scatterbrained. “Would you mind if I asked Helen? She’s already my friend and I think she’d be gentle with me.” She looked worried. “What if she says no?”
                “She won’t. She likes you too.” He frowned. “This does not mean that I’m going to give her to you.”
                Kasumi poked him gently. “Helen thinks the sun rises and sets because of you. I would never take her away from the man she loves.” She kissed him on the nose. “Even if that man is my husband.”
                He shook his head. “You are a wonderful woman.”
                “Yes, I know.” She gave him a stern look. “But continue to tell me every chance you get.”
(06/26/99 0830 Caomh Sith, Blue Continent)
                The com screen lit. “Good morning, Beverly.”
                The Quillara gave him a wary look. “Shikarou. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
                “Dr. Banzai made you the fall girl for giving me information.” He smiled slightly. “So, I’m calling.”
                “Wonderful. I’ll have to find a way to reward his generosity.” She sighed. “Are you going to tear my door down again?”
                “I have no intention of doing so at this time. I was a little upset at the way I’d been left hanging.”
                “Please remember that it wasn’t my fault.” She frowned and rested her chin in her hand. “So what information do you want?”
                Shikarou cocked his head. “You know, you’re right and I owe you a formal apology. Can I take you to dinner?”
                She raised an eyebrow. “I’m Dr. Banzai’s pokegirl.”
                “All I was offering was dinner,” he smiled, “nothing else. I’d rather apologize to your face so hopefully you can enjoy my discomfiture that much more.”
                “Don’t like giving apologies, do you?”
                He shrugged. “Who does? If you’d like, you can bring him.”
                “I’ll have to see what he thinks about the idea. Pokegirls don’t usually receive invitations to dinner.”
                “I’m rather unconventional.” He settled back. “So what’s the progress on the portal equipment?”
                “Very little. The damage is proving to be very extensive. It wasn’t designed to withstand lightning strikes.” She smirked. “Apparently they never considered weather effects. Dr. Freeman is talking about a whole redesign of the system.”
                “That sounds ominous for those of us who’d like to use it sometime before the next decade rolls around.”
                She nodded. “If it helps, I happen to agree with you. I wish I had better news to tell.”
                “So do I. Well, thank you for your help. Do you think I should bother calling tomorrow?”
                She flashed a tiny smile. “Sure, why not. After all, who knows, Snorlasses might fly.”
                “Thanks. I’ll talk to you then.” He ended the call and leaned back.
                Branwyn rubbed his shoulders gently. “So what now?”
                “Tell Ranma and Nabiki we leave in the morning.  We’ll go like we did last time, taking everything and everyone we did before. Please ask Candace and Stardust if they’d like to come with us.”
                She tugged his braid to the side. “Stardust has already said she’s had enough travel, but I’ll extend the invitation. Candace should come.”
                “All right. You and Bellona prep the harem. I’ll talk to Faelan and Lynn.”
                Branwyn slipped her arms around his neck and leaned against his back. “Kasumi asked Helen to her bed tonight. Should I try to stop that?”
                “No. Just make sure Helen gets a wake up early enough to be ready to go on time and let her know that I’ll take care of breakfast.”
                “You’re worried we might get stuck there?”
                “Branwyn, dimensional travel is always perilous. We could get stuck in a world with low enough magic levels that I can’t open a return gate, or we might get slingshotted so far away I can’t find a return path. Anything can happen on any trip.”
                “So we’re not visiting Kasumi’s world often, are we?”
                “Once you’ve mapped both ends of a trip, it does become safer and that is a good place for procuring luxury items we can use or sell. We’ll probably be making regular trips after things calm down a bit.”
                He sighed. “I’m going to have to settle things with my mother so we can start traveling to Tirsul. There’s just too much stuff there that we could use to make things better here.” He shook his head. “That includes some magic and technological equipment that would make dimensional travel safer.”
                Branwyn’s arms tightened. “How about we take one insurmountable problem at a time, my love?”
                “That sounds like an outstanding idea.”
(06/27/99 0900 Caomh Sith, Blue Continent)
                Urufu Kasumi slipped her arm through her husband’s and leaned against him as they watched Ranma putting his harem away. She yawned. “I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
                “High libido pokegirls will do that to you,” he commented quietly.
                “Are you jealous?”
                “No, I’m not.” He took her in his arms and kissed her thoroughly. “Satisfied?”
                “No, but I am content.” They turned back to watching as Ranma argued with Usagi. “I’m going to become a Tamer.”
                “Good. Are you going to go on a Taming journey?”
                She laughed. “That holds no interest for me. I only need one or two pokegirls and that won’t make a combat harem.”
                “Sounds like you already know what you want.”
                She glanced at him. “I usually do.” He snorted and she smiled. “I’ve got a pretty good idea of what I’m looking for, now I just need to match my wants with various pokegirls and see what I can find.”
                “That sounds rare and expensive. When I get back, we’ll visit the Conservatory. There are a lot of rare pokegirls there and you might find one you like.”
                “Ok. I want to meet my future sister wife anyway.” She leaned closer and dropped her voice. “Branwyn is hoping Poppet and I don’t get along, at least not for a while. I think a little disappointment will be good for her.”
                “Damn, you do know everything.”
                She smiled softly. “I certainly try.” She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed as hard as she could. “Come back to me as soon as you can.”
                “I will.”  
(06/26/99 2300 Caomh Sith, Blue Continent)
                Svetlana sat up with a gasp and reached for Faelan. She shivered when she realized he wasn’t in the bed and reached for her robe.
                He was sitting in the living area of their tent with her sister-in-law Kasumi. She was going to be staying with them until Shikarou returned.
                Kasumi sat with her hands wrapped around a cup of tea. She turned strangely old eyes on the Megami-sama. “You, too?”
                Svetlana took Faelan’s arm and wrapped it around herself. “You can feel it?”
                “If you are talking about the evil outside; yes, I can.”
                He shrugged. “It can’t get in here. That much I know already. Kasumi says it’s looking for something or someone.”
                Svetlana closed her eyes and reached out with that which made her a Celestial. “It searches for an answer and must provide it to its master.”
                Faelan touched his wand. “What is the question?”
                “I don’t know.” She shivered again and opened her eyes. “Kasumi, how did you know about it?”
                She sipped at her tea. “The women of my family have a long tradition of having certain gifts. One of them is the ability to just know certain things. It only happens when we become adult and only if we have a responsibility for others. My mother told me about it when she became ill. I had it when I took care of my father’s household and since I now care for Shikarou’s, I have it here.” Her eyes narrowed. “It’s moving.”
                Svetlana nodded. “Yes. It isn’t friendly, but it doesn’t mean us harm, at least not right now.” She turned to Faelan. “Trying to fight it would be a mistake. We’re not ready.” She frowned. “That’s what it is searching for. Threats. It wants to know if anyone here is a threat. To it? No, to its master.” Her eyes widened. “It’s gone now and won’t be back.”
                Faelan untangled himself from his wife. “Svetlana, wake everyone up. I want Derdekea and Tetsuyo and you. Amy, Zorione and Maureen will be the reserve. Let’s find out where that thing went while it was here and make sure it didn’t leave us any surprises.” He turned to Kasumi. “Do you want to come with us?”
                “No. I know there’s nothing out there. But learn its scent. That may prove useful.”
                Faelan blinked in surprise. “I will.”
                Kasumi chuckled suddenly. “It made a mistake, coming when it did. It missed a large portion of our resources.”
                Svetlana frowned and then smiled. “Shikarou isn’t here.”
                Faelan returned the smile. “Neither is his harem. That thing missed two more Celestials and a mage.” His smile turned savage. “If it comes here, its master may be in for quite the shock.”
                Ranma dropped through the gate and onto the rock that he’d been standing on so long ago when his journey started. He looked around and dropped easily to the ground. A moment later, Shikarou landed where he’d been. The gate hissed quietly shut, crackled once and was gone.
                Shikarou raised his head and took a deep breath. “I smell cat. That could be a good sign.” He hopped off the rock as Ranma let his pokegirls out of their pokeballs. “If my spell was right, about fifteen minutes has passed since you left here. I can smell you, but then you are standing next to me.”
                Rei snickered while Usagi gave a great gusty laugh. Shikarou folded his ears back against the sudden noise. Nabiki looked around. “Do you want us to look for a cat?”
                Ranma shook his head. “If it is my pop, he’ll just run at the sight of you. Build a fire and start boiling some water. We’ll need it when we find him.” He looked at Shikarou. “We need to find him.”
                Shikarou nodded and released Circe and Branwyn. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”
                Ranma looked confused. “What?”
                “You’ve forgotten to warn your pokegirls about staying away from the springs.” He pointed with his chin at Usagi, who had pulled out a pail and was headed straight for the nearest spring.
                Ranma cursed and gave chase.
                Shikarou shook his head. “Circe, we’re looking for a cat who thinks he’s an annoying bald glutton. The sex of the cat is unknown, but Shampoo was a female cat. Can you find him?”
                Circe closed her eyes and her antennae lifted and fell slowly. She lifted an arm and pointed in the direction of the Jusenkyo guide’s home. “Over there. It’s angry and hurt.”
                Shikarou released Yushiko. “We’re at Jusenkyo again. Set up an overhead patrol.”
                “Yes, lord.” Her wings shimmered into existence and she launched herself into the air.
                He cocked an ear and listened to the argument between Ranma and Usagi. “I was going to get water like you wanted,” she said crossly.
                “Why didn’t you use Rain? She can make it with her watergun attack, remember?”
                “Oh, yeah. But I’m almost to that pond. I’ll just get it from there.”
                “Usagi! That’s one of the cursed springs. If you touch that water you’ll turn into something else.”
                “Oh. That would be bad.”
                Ranma suppressed an urge to smack himself in the forehead. “Yes, it would,” he said between gritted teeth. “Get the water from Rain.” He followed her back to where his pokegirls were setting up the fire before breaking off and going over to Shikarou. He sighed. “She’s a Megami but she evolved from a Bunnygirl. Is there any hope for her?”
                Branwyn patted his shoulder. “Coming from being a Bunnygirl, she’ll never be a genius.”
                He sighed. “I just want common sense.”
                The Unicorn gave him an astonished look. “From a Megami? Never happen. They don’t have common sense to use until they become Megami-sama.” She grinned maliciously. “Then they have it, but don’t use it.” The look became suddenly contrite. “Svetlana, of course, uses hers all of the time.”
                “According to Circe, your father is somewhere over there. He’s pissed off about something.” Shikarou flashed a smile. “Did you bring a collar for him?”
                Ranma started laughing. “Can you imagine his response if I did that. I’d get him a nice pink one with a big bow.”
                “Just remind him of what the other Genma told me once. Martial artists can turn any adversity into training. He was trying to steal money from me at the time and I caught him.” He chuckled suddenly. “Oh, get a sack. A nice heavy sack with a tight weave would be perfect. And get Usagi’s bucket and fill it from Rain.”
                Ranma grinned. “I will, just as soon as he starts complaining.” He squared his shoulders. “Let’s get this over with.” He headed off.
                Shikarou dropped his voice. “Branwyn, take Circe and find us a place several kilometers away to make camp.” He nodded towards Ranma’s harem. “Once you find one, move that catastrophe waiting to happen. It’s likely to take some time to explain to Genma what’s going on and it’s not safe anywhere around the training ground.”
                She nodded. “We’ll take care of it.”
                They approached the house and Shikarou paused long enough to cast his illusion spells before knocking. “We close, go away.” Shikarou frowned and knocked again, harder. “I say we close.” There was a yowl from inside.
                Ranma drew back his fist but stopped when Shikarou held up a hand. “We want the cat. I’ll pay you for it.”
                There was the sound of locks turning and the door was jerked open. The Jusenkyo guide had scratches on his face and a thick bandage on his right hand. Lying on the table behind him was a sack with the mouth tied shut. “Cat not for sale. Stupid cat bite me. I sell to Amazon village, woman claim for husband. He get punish for rest of life.”
                Ranma burst out laughing and Shikarou fought a smile. “Hold out your hand.” With a wary look, he did so and Shikarou dropped a gold coin into it. “For the cat.” Another coin. “For the food the bald guy ate.” Two more coins. “For the food the boy ate and all of their gear.” He leaned forward and looked into the guide’s eyes. “And if you refuse the money, I will drop you into one of the springs.”
                The guide paled and looked at the coins. He bit one and nodded. “Take stuff and go.”
                Ranma grabbed the bag. It jerked and yowled again. He grinned. “Pops, I’m going to rescue you.” There was a questioning mwerl. “Yup, it’s me.”
                Shikarou gathered up the packs. He hefted them. “Ranma, does this look like everything?”
                “It’s been over a year, I really don’t remember.” He slung the bag over his shoulder. “Come on, pop.”            
                Once they got outside, Ranma froze. “Our pokegirls are gone.”
                Shikarou pointed up. “There’s Yushiko and I also see Kasumi.” He waved and the Griffon banked and dove.
                She landed easily. “Branwyn told us to move the fire to the new camp. I’m supposed to show you where it is.”
                Shikarou had already seen the flash of white wings off to the left and had recognized Lorelei’s flight movements. Kasumi pointed in that direction. “It’s over there about a kilometer.”
                Ranma nodded. “Lead the way.” The Griffon happily led them to the new camp, where a nice fire was going and a teapot was starting to steam.
                Yushiko remained overhead, moving with them until they were almost there before landing next to her Tamer. “Did everything go well?” she asked quietly.
                He shrugged. “So far. Tell Branwyn to set up a standard perimeter. I’m not worried about pokegirls, but there are Amazons nearby and I think they might be just as bad.”
                “Yes, lord.” Yushiko hurried ahead, her wings shimmering out of existence as she ran. She spoke to Branwyn, who immediately started giving orders to Helen and Elizabeth. Both pokegirls quickly headed off into the woods as Pythia moved to hover over the edge of the camp.
                Ranma untied that bag and pulled out a gray and white cat. “Hey, pop, you have hair again.” The cat snarled and swiped at him. “Don’t worry; I know how to get you back.” He reached for the teapot and poured boiling water over the cat, which screeched and ran, changing back into Genma as he tried to scramble up a tree.
                Branwyn snickered. “I don’t think it needs to be quite that hot.”
                Usagi blinked. “Sorry.” Rei gave her a disgusted look.
                Genma stopped and stared at himself. “Thank you, boy!” Suddenly he was hugging his son, who squirmed to get away.
                “Get off me!”
                Genma released his son and looked around. “What is all this?”
                Ranma grinned. “I think we need to talk about what happened to you before we talk about what happened to me.”
                Genma looked suspiciously at him. “What do you know?” He blinked when a tray of food was suddenly in front of him.
                Rain grinned as she held it out to her Tamer’s father. “Here. You need something to eat.”
                Genma took one look at the Mareen and finished climbing the tree. “USE THE FINAL ATTACK, BOY! RUN!”
                Ranma groaned. “Somebody get him down.”
                Nabiki nodded. “We’re on it. Kasumi.”
                The Griffon grinned and walked over to the tree. Looking up, she called. “Come down right now.” Genma threw a branch at her. She frowned, changed to her battle form and pulled the tree out of the ground. Genma screeched and fell out of the tree as the Griffon shook it. Kasumi threw the tree to the side and grabbed him by the back of his gi before dragging him back to his son.
                Shikarou and Branwyn exchanged amused looks as Ranma sighed. “Thank you, Kasumi. Well, pop, if she wanted to hurt you, I think you’d be hurting right now.”
                “What the hell is going on here, boy?”
                “Shut up for a minute and I’ll explain.” He sat down next to his father and began talking.
                While he talked, Rei comforted the hurt Mareen and Branwyn went about setting up the rest of camp.
                Shikarou kept busy until the yelling started. “YOU WANT ME TO DO WHAT?”
                “It’s the only right thing to do, boy.”
                Branwyn snickered. “This could get interesting.”
                “I suppose that’s one word for it.” Shikarou shook his head. “I wonder if this is a good time to ask about the Tendos.” The Unicorn blinked and burst out laughing, which got the attention of the two Saotomes.
                Ranma glared. “What is so funny?”
                Branwyn took a deep breath and wiped tears from her eyes. “We were wondering if you wanted to get everything out of the way at once.”
                “What do you mean?”
                “Ask him about Soun.”
                Ranma’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “Yeah, pop; did you set me up to marry one of the Tendo girls?”
                Genma eyes went wide. “Well, ah, maybe?”
                “MAYBE?” Ranma turned scarlet and then took a deep breath as his color slowly returned to normal. “Explain.”
                “You don’t take that tone with me, boy.”
                “Oh, really? Kasumi.” The Griffon grinned and spread her claws.
                Genma blanched and held up his hands. “All right. My good friend Soun has no sons to carry on the Tendo school and you need a wife. It was only a natural development of our friendship.”
                Ranma looked up. “Shikarou, what would you do if your father did this to you?”
                He looked thoughtful. “I’d probably kill him and then carry out the obligation he laid on me.”
                “That sounds reasonable.” Ranma flexed his hands.
                “Boy! Don’t do anything hasty! Killing me won’t accomplish anything and I’ve still got so much to teach you.”
                The kami shrugged. “He might. In any case, it’s likely that Happosai will get loose here, too, and Genma is a good punching bag for him.”
                Genma turned chalk white. “Master! Where! HIDE ME!” He scurried behind his son. “YOU CAN TAKE HIM, BOY!”
                Branwyn was laughing so hard she had to sit down.
                Circe leaned against Shikarou’s back. “He’s pathetic.”
                “Yes, but he is Ranma’s father.”
                Nabiki appeared in front of them and Genma jumped. A week hadn’t been long enough for him to come to terms with the fact that these pokegirls belonged to his son.
                The rooms in the tent were soundproofed which meant that he still didn’t know about the taming.
                The Cheshire reached into her pockets and produced handfuls of money. “Ok, I don’t have enough to buy the tickets to Shimonseki yet, but give me a little time and I’ll take care of it.”
                Circe glanced at Shikarou. I had been wondering why she had been spending so much time with Kebi while we were at Caomh Sith. Now I understand. She was learning to be a pickpocket.
                “She seems to be a natural.”
                Circe snorted at his quiet comment. “Ranma doesn’t have a problem with it.”
                He gave her an amused look. “I don’t have a problem with Kebi’s stealing, either.”
                She frowned thoughtfully. “I guess it’s different when it’s a member of our family.” He chuckled.
                Genma was watching with undisguised greed. “We feast on great food tonight, boy!” He completely missed the look Helen gave him that suggested she’d remember that statement.
                Shikarou sighed. “He can’t be that stupid, can he? Never mind, of course he can.”
                Circe disagreed. “No, he can’t. Someone that stupid doesn’t know which hole the dick goes in and he’s got a son.”
                “Accidents happen. Maybe Nodoka is smart enough for both of them.”
                Ranma pocketed the money. “Good job, Nabiki.” The Cheshire preened at the compliment.
                “Give it here, boy. I keep the money in this family.”
                “Nothing doing, pop. You’ll just blow it and we need this for the ferry.” He grinned. “We have to take it since you can’t swim to Japan as a cat.”
                Genma glared. “You better show me more respect than that. I am still your father, boy.”
                “It’s your fault we went to Jusenkyo and it’s your fault I have to marry one of the Tendo daughters.” Ranma’s voice began to rise. “It’s your fault I didn’t have a mother while growing up. You bastard, don’t you ever tell me to show you respect. You don’t deserve any!”
                Genma stared in shock. To be honest, so did Ranma’s harem.
                Usagi leaned over and whispered something to him. Ranma sighed. “Yes, but you are the only good thing that’s come out of his interference.” The Megami hugged him.
                He looked over at Shikarou. “Would you watch my father? I need some time alone with my harem.”
                Shikarou nodded. “I’ll keep an eye on him. You do what you have to.” He smiled slightly. “But if you don’t come back in two days, I’ll leave him here.”
                Ranma shook his head. “Don’t tempt me. Girls, come with me.” They headed directly away from Shanghai.
                Branwyn looked at Shikarou and cocked her head questioningly. When he nodded she turned to Helen. “Find us a secluded place to camp.” The Milktit nodded and disappeared into the trees.
                Genma stared at Shikarou. “What have you done to my son?”
                “I haven’t done anything to him. If you actually listened to him, then you know he spent about a year on his own. He made all of the decisions and he was the one in charge. In other words, Genma, he had to grow into a man.” Shikarou shook his head slowly. “He didn’t do too bad a job of it, either.”
                “One of the results of that is he is going to be much less pliable to your manipulation. You might get better results if you treat him as an equal.”
                “He is still my son!”
                “Yes, he is. But he’s no longer your boy and you might want to stop calling him that.” Shikarou gave him an amused glance. “Another thing you might want to rethink is the systematic abuse you’ve been trying to heap on him. Whether he is willing to take it or not, eventually you are going to anger his harem and Kasumi is quite capable of tearing you into tiny pieces if the situation demands it. She might not feel a whole lot of remorse over it, either.”
                He sighed. “The others are also capable of finishing you off and they have no loyalty to you. Pokegirls are conditioned to deal with threats to their Tamer and right now you are working hard to become such a threat. You really don’t want to do that.”
                “What can I do?”
                “You might want to start trying to make friends with Ranma. He’s changed in the last year and you don’t really know him that well anymore.”
                Genma looked away. “He is my son. He will do what I want.”
                “One of the things you have given him, Genma, is your stubbornness. You two are going to butt heads until he gets tired of it and then he just might leave you.”
                “I’m going to have to think about this.” He turned and started looking for a place to sit. “When do we eat?”
                “What did you say to my father?” Ranma looked out the window as the train headed into a tunnel. Tokyo was still a ways away and Genma was sound asleep. Elizabeth kept a close eye on Shikarou and Rei performed a similar function for Ranma.
                “What do you mean? I’ve said a lot to him since we met.”
                Ranma gave him a slightly frustrated look. “Shanghai.”
                “I tried to explain to him that you became a man while you were gone. I also suggested that he start treating you like one or you might leave him.”
                Ranma colored slightly. “You said that? That’s quite a compliment coming from you.”
                Shikarou gave him a flat look. “If you set up a shrine to me, I don’t want to know about it.”
                Ranma grinned. “Yes, kami.” He sobered. “He’s been trying. Not very well, but then he’s a jerk. However, he has been trying to treat me better. He’s also staying far away from Kasumi. Do you know anything about that?”
                “I told him that Kasumi was capable of ripping him to shreds.”
                “She would never attack a human! She knows better than that.”
                Shikarou looked innocent. “I don’t think I got around to mentioning that particular fact.” He shrugged. “Besides, if you ordered her to, I don’t think she’d hesitate. After all, pokegirls obey.” He glanced at Elizabeth. “Usually.”
                She stuck out her tongue at him.
                Ranma shook his head. “You’ve come closer to achieving parity than anyone I can think of, including me.”
                “Bah. Parity is a pipe dream. Pokegirl genetics makes it an impossibility. I just let mine be themselves and appreciate them for that.”
                “Mine won’t do that.”
                Shikarou smiled slightly. “Most of yours come from the same place and have the same prejudices. Let’s face it, the Tendo ranch is not the most liberal place on the planet. The members of my harem come from all over the place, so they pretty much came contrary. Give yours some time. If you think about it, they’ve probably already come a long way towards individual growth.”
                “What do I do about the situation with the Tendos?”
                “You either get married or you don’t. However, if you are determined to follow through on the obligation your father laid on you, the only real choice for you is Akane.”
                “Why do you think that? The ones I’ve known were bitches.”
                Shikarou settled into the chair. “Let me give you the benefit of my vast years of chasing pussy. You already have a Kasumi and a Nabiki in your harem and choosing one of their analogs here would be an insult to not only the one in your harem, but quite likely the analog would see it as such.”
                “So that leaves Akane. Now, I talked with my wife Kasumi about the whole situation and it was set up from the beginning to screw that Ranma in every orifice he has.”
                Shikarou frowned. “First, I need to know if you intend to accede to your father’s wishes.”
                Ranma looked determined. “I have to.”
                “All right, here’s what I recommend. When we get there, you tell your father that you want the cute one.”
                “Akane isn’t cute.”
                “No, a bitch isn’t cute. By starting out with a compliment, you are keeping the bitch from appearing. She’ll automatically presume you mean Kasumi because she’s got a self esteem problem. Then you point to her.”
                “How will that make things different?”
                “The bitchy Akane was pretty much dumped on Ranma, who she initially thought was a girl. There were some other misunderstandings, but the fact remains she was the last choice and her sisters decided that Ranma got her. She never had a say in the matter or felt wanted.”
                “By making the choice yourself, and by picking her without hesitating, you’ll make her feel special. Girls eat that sort of thing up. Another thing, never, ever refer to her as a girl. Call her a lady or a woman. Girls love that, too.” Rei smiled and nodded.
                “What else?”
                “Start out humble. Yes, I know it will be difficult, but if you start out humble then later on it’s easier to correct any insults. And remember that she’s just as proud as you are.”
                “Practice apologies. You are going to need them and you are going to have to sound sincere. Having said that, don’t apologize if you aren’t at fault.” Shikarou grinned. “Having said that, think about how she might see a situation before you decide you are blameless.”
                “Tell her the truth about your harem and about taming from the beginning. Remember what I said about being humble? This is an excellent time to put that to work.”
                “If you try to hide it, she will walk in on you at the worst possible time. It’s a universal constant, like gravity. Lie about another woman and sex and you will be found out. It might not happen every time, but it only takes one episode of her walking in on you with your dick in someone to turn your life into a living hell and telling her ‘I have to do it’ at that point is too little, too late.”
                Ranma looked thoughtful. “Can I compliment her?”
                Elizabeth nodded. “Yes. Do it frequently, especially if you think she deserves it or she looks like she’s done something special for you.” She frowned. “You look ok is not a compliment. Your hair is pretty or you have a pretty smile, those are compliments.”
                She frowned. “Something else I saw the other Ranma do that made Akane grind her teeth is jump right in.”
                “I don’t understand.”
                “We girls talked a lot, and Akane talked with us. Ranma tended to just butt into any situation. She couldn’t stand that, which goes back to her being proud. I think you should try asking or give a good reason.” She looked thoughtful for a moment. “What I would suggest is that you explain to her that since you are engaged, you should start trying to think of yourselves as a couple. That would mean that her fights are yours too. Be nice about it, but be determined.”
                Rei touched him on the shoulder. “Don’t be afraid to tell people that she’s your fiancée. She will like that.”
                “That’s a lot of stuff to remember.” Ranma slumped in his seat. “I’m doomed.”
                Rei took his arm. “You are a good Tamer. Treat her as well as you would one of us and you should be fine.” She smiled. “We will also be there to show her that you have a kind heart.” Ranma turned beet red and she giggled quietly.
                Shikarou stirred. “There’s one other thing about her pride. I know that you are a better martial artist than she is, but try not to rub it in. If you do things differently, show her. You two are expected to carry on the martial arts traditions of you families and in my opinion, the best way to do that is by blending the best of them both. If she’s like the other Akane, she’s strong but not especially fast.”
                Ranma nodded as his mind jumped ahead. “Then I can work with her on increasing her speed.”
                “That’s right. Be her friend. Later, you can worry about the rest.” Shikarou glanced up as the train began to slow. “Tokyo.” He turned to Ranma. “It’s showtime.”
                Ranma took a deep breath and grabbed Rei’s hand. “I’m ready.”
Name:                                                     Urufu, Shikarou
Age:                                                       250
Residence:                                             Caomh Sith, Blue Continent
Region:                                  Scotland
Status:                                                    Active
Rank:                                                      60
Security Clearance:                              Eta
                Tamer                                     Y
                Master Tamer                       Y
                Researcher                            N
                Watcher                 N
                Breeder                  Y
Active Harem
Species                  Name                                      Level
Alaka-Wham                         Circe                                       72
Unicorn                  Branwyn                                59
Milktit                                    Helen                                      58
DragonQueen                       Bellona                   53
Seraph                                    Dorothea                               50
Armsmistress                        Urufu Yushiko      50
Ria                                          Kebi                                        47
G-Spliced                               Pythia                                     47
Vampire                  Elizabeth                                46
Sphinx                                    Lorelei                                   45
Mini-Top                               Nanu                                      43
Blazicunt                                Marzia                                    40
Alpha                                     Branwyn
Beta                                        Bellona
Badges: Scotland: Stornoway, Rum Island, Glasgow
                                Ireland: Belfast
                                England: Plymouth,
                                Wales: Magicunt Village
Name:                                                     Saotome, Ranma
Age:                                                       17
Residence:                                             Unknown
Region:                                  Earth
Status:                                                    Active
Rank:                                                      NA
Security Clearance:                              Delta
                Tamer                                     Y
                Master Tamer                       Y
                Researcher                            N
                Watcher                 N
                Breeder                  Y
Active Harem
Species                  Name                                      Level
Griffon                                    Kasumi                   40
Herochan                               Shampoo                               37
Cheshire                                Nabiki                                     35
Angel                                     Rei                                          29
Megami                  Usagi                                      27
Mareen                  Rain                                        25
Alpha                                     Nabiki
Beta                                        Kasumi