Kasumi settled into the bed and leaned against her husband. Shikarou shuddered and pushed her away gently. “Your hair is wet,” he complained. She snickered and pulled it out of the way before trying again. A contented sigh escaped her as his arm slipped around her and pulled her close.
The attempt at jumping back in time had overshot by three weeks. It was decided that waiting anywhere around the dojo might put Happosai on his guard and, after Kasumi had verified that her family had never been to the mountain, they’d set up camp in a tiny valley somewhere on Kitadake.
“I hope you aren’t going to be upset with me, but I’ll want to stay for a while and watch over my family after we are done here.”
Shikarou nodded. “Considering what happened after we left, I suspected you’d feel that way.”
Kasumi gave him an uncertain look. “I was concerned that you might be upset. It pleases me that you’re not.”
“I was planning on us staying for anywhere up to six months to let you spend some time with them. Besides, I’ve got some things I want to take care of myself and this has provided an unexpected opportunity to do so.”
Kasumi gave him a curious look. “Does this have to do with what Branwyn has not been talking about?”
He nodded. “It does.”
She traced a finger up his thigh. “Could you tell me, your loyal wife?” Kasumi frowned slightly when she realized he was thinking it over. “You’d best not deliberate too long,” she warned in a tart voice.
Shikarou snorted. “I think it should be safe here but I don’t want this discussed outside the tent. I want to go to Great Britain and contact the Sidhe there. That is presuming that I can find some. They may have information on how Germanicus and Eoghan became undead and the best way to destroy them.”
“If I can’t find any of the fey, I’ll have to raid any libraries that might have the information I need. Faelan’s looking into it from his side, but this is a wonderful opportunity to reference texts that were lost during the fall.”
“Why do you care that we do not discuss this outside of the tent? There’s no one around.”
“I don’t know if Germanicus and Eoghan are alive here. A suitably powerful mage can establish safeguards that will tell them if someone is speaking their name. If they exist, then they know that everyone thinks they’re dead. If we suddenly start talking about them, they are likely to come see what’s going on.”
“Oh. I didn’t know that, but your explanation makes a lot of sense. I won’t discuss it outside your room, much less the tent.”
“Won’t Dorothea have problems with stealing the books?”
“I won’t have to steal anything. I have a spell that will duplicate any nonmagical text I want. I may have to do some breaking and entering; but that’s all, and Dorothea shouldn’t have too much of a moral issue with that.”
She blinked. “Really? Then perhaps we need to put a library in your tent and another in our home that you’re going to build me.”
“I was already planning on the one in our home. We will have children someday and I won’t raise any barbarians.”
Kasumi chuckled. “That’s going to be impossible to prevent. After all, we won’t be raising them as Japanese.”
“I think your bias is showing.”
“What do you think?”
“I’m not Japanese and I don’t think they are the summit of humanity. Besides, our children will be kami.”
Her arms went around him. “You and they will outlive me. Will you miss me when I’m gone?”
“Not when you talk about making my kids human.”
She laughed quietly. “I suppose that raising them as little gods is almost as good as having them be proper Japanese.”
“Ok, I will miss you.”
Shikarou sat stolidly on the boulder, watching the view from the cliff. Branwyn sat next to him, his braid in her lap. Kasumi and Giselle were settled nearby, talking quietly. The tableau had persisted since they’d packed up the camp right after breakfast.
Kasumi looked over at Shikarou. “What are we going to do if he doesn’t do anything today?”
“Today, Akane will be poisoned, unless our presence has changed something. No one saw me place the sensor and it hasn’t been discovered, so that shouldn’t affect anything. However, if he doesn’t act today, we’ll wait until he does. In any case, it shouldn’t be too much longer.” He glanced over at her, noting her anxious face. “I don’t think we’ll have to wait. Today is a good day for him to act since Akane is preparing a misoshiru with fish and seaweed.”
Akane has left the kitchen to deal with a problem between her father and Ranma. Happosai is now entering the kitchen.
Shikarou closed his eyes and accessed the feed Aggie was offering him. Images were injected into his optic nerves and thence to his visual cortex, letting him see through the probe as if it were his own eyes.
Happosai crept silently into the kitchen and hovered over the simmering pot of soup. He looked around furtively and quickly slipped his hand into his gi. Removing a small package of parchment, he opened it and carefully shook it out into the roiling liquid.
In the background Akane’s voice could be heard, berating her fiancé. Happosai grinned and slipped out of the kitchen as her voice became louder. A moment later, she could be seen standing outside the kitchen, still arguing with Ranma.
Shikarou opened his eyes as a hungry grin spread across his face. “Well now, time to go.”
Akane grumbled to herself as she pulled the soup from the stove. It was hard to believe that her father expected her to marry such a buffoon. Granted, Ranma had his moments, but they were almost universally bad.
She gave the soup one more stir and lifted the spoon for a final taste. She’d die before she’d embarrass herself with substandard food again.
She jumped when a hand grabbed her wrist. A familiar voice said quietly, “I need your help, Akane.”
Akane looked into black eyes. Her eyes flicked up to look at his ears. They widened. “Shikarou?”
“Quietly,” he almost whispered. “Will you help me?” He twisted the spoon out of her hand so that it dropped loudly onto the floor. “It’s important.”
Her mouth twisted in a conspiratorial smile. “Of course. What do I need to do?” she asked excitedly.
“Stagger backwards and fall down. What I want is for you to be noisy. I’ll also need you to pretend you’re unconscious and dying until I tell you its ok, no matter what happens.” He peered intently into her eyes and she shivered. “Will you do this for me, Kasumi and the rest of your family?”
A determined look appeared in her eyes and she nodded. “Just watch me.” Shikarou released her and she stood for a second before falling backwards. On the way down, she slammed into the table and knocked some dishes flying before collapsing limply to the floor where she lay unmoving.
“What was that noise?” It was Happosai’s voice. “I think it came from the kitchen.”
Shikarou muttered a quick spell and faded from sight as he moved to stand next to the door, drawing his sword from its scabbard.
There was a pounding of feet and Soun rushed into the room. “AKANE!” He rushed forward to scoop up his daughter and began sobbing. “AKANE! SPEAK TO ME!”
Genma and Ranma rushed in, followed closely by Nabiki. Shikarou silently slipped past them and headed for the dining room as a babble of voices broke out behind him.
Happosai was seated in front of the television, sipping at his tea. He glanced towards the kitchen and grinned before composing his features and going back to his show.
There was an angry whisper. “You tried to kill my sister, you bastard.” The blood drained from Happosai’s face as Kasumi swung at him with a katana Shikarou didn’t know she had. He noticed she had good basic form, but she missed as the little pervert yelped and threw himself backwards away from the attack.
Shikarou faded into sight as he took Happosai’s head in midair. He gave his wife a wry look. “You do realize this is going to leave a much larger mess than if you’d stayed out of it like I asked you to.”
Kasumi’s eyes were glued on Happosai’s body as it hit the floor and slid, spraying blood in all directions. The head bounced off the wall and rolled towards her. Happosai’s mouth worked briefly and his eyes fluttered. Abruptly, she turned and vomited onto the TV. The television shorted out in a pyrotechnic display of sparks and smoke.
He sighed. “Branwyn, come get our wife and clean her up, please. I have to go rescue Akane from her father.”
The Unicorn appeared. “Where’d she get the sword?” She grabbed Kasumi by the arm and vanished again.
Shikarou wiped his katana and sheathed it as he headed back to the kitchen. Soun was cradling Akane and calling her name while Genma and Ranma were arguing over what to do. He spotted Nabiki dialing the phone and touched her arm. She jumped and whipped around to stare at him. The color drained from her face.
“Shikarou? Are you here for Akane?”
He took the phone from her and hung it up. “She’s going to be fine.” He blinked as Nabiki hugged him.
“Thank you. I couldn’t bear to lose her.” She suddenly pushed away and composed herself. Her tone became suddenly businesslike. “You don’t have to mention this to anyone.”
He grinned. “We’ll talk later about the price of my silence.”
She gave him an amused look. “It won’t be free?”
“Later.” He headed into the kitchen. “Soun.” Everyone ignored him. He tried again. “Soun!”
Nabiki touched his back. “You’ll have to yell to get their attention.”
“Fine.” Shikarou took a deep breath. “SOUN!” The bellow rattled the window in its casement and a glass on the counter shattered. “Oops.”
“I think that was overdoing it just a bit.” Nabiki pulled her hands away from her ears as everyone in the room froze. Akane peeked at him with one eye but didn’t move otherwise.
Shikarou smiled. “Thank you, Akane.”
Soun jumped as she sat up and grinned at the kami. “Did I do a good job?”
“Excellent. I couldn’t have asked for a better performance. I’m very sorry about the mess in the living room, but Happosai was trying to kill you and I couldn’t allow that.”
“HE WHAT?” Akane and Ranma yelled at the same time.
Shikarou raised his hands calmly. “It’s ok. He poisoned the soup, but as soon as the soup is disposed of and a little cleanup gets done in the living area, everything will be fine.” Genma flung away the spoon he’d been trying to scoop a bit of fish out of the soup with a look of absolute horror on his face.
“I’ll kill that little pervert!” A flush of anger suffused Akane’s features.
“Not if I get to him first!” Ranma glared at her. She returned it with interest.
Shikarou cleared his throat. “Actually, it’s been taken care of.” His ears flicked as they both turned to glare at him. “That’s why the living area will need to be cleaned. Blood, you know.”
“I’ll clean up the kitchen.” Shikarou turned away from the group of women that were nursing Soun back to awareness. Circe had already removed the corpse and any unconnected parts as Branwyn was using her wand to remove the gore.
Branwyn’s head came up. “Circe.”
Shikarou struggled for a heartbeat as he lifted gently off the ground before twisting around in midair to give the Alaka-Wham a mildly annoyed look. “Please put me down.”
Branwyn moved in front of him. “The kitchen is filled with enough poison to kill everyone in this neighborhood. We can’t afford to lose you.”
He rolled his eye towards the heavens. “I’ll be fine. The only way fugu can get into your system is if you ingest it or rub it on an open wound. I’m not planning on doing either.”
Circe gave an amused chuckle as she extended her antenna to their full length. “You never intend to get hurt, now do you? Yet it always seems to happen.”
“I’m immune to most toxins.”
The Alaka-Wham’s red skin gleamed as she gave him an annoyed look. “You’ve been keeping secrets again.”
“It’s never come up. My body metabolizes foreign substances too fast for most of them to affect me. It’s why non-magical wines can’t get me drunk. Alcohol is a poison, after all.”
Branwyn looked suddenly speculative. “I wonder how hyper-venom would affect you.”
“I don’t know and I’m not willing to experiment and find out. It seems like a rather hazardous experiment to undertake when it’s much easier just to stay far away from any Widows.”
The Unicorn shook her head slowly. “Let him down.” She flashed a grin. “Yes, to answer your question, you are the one who’s in charge. We just want to keep our investment safe.”
She grabbed a pokeball from his belt as his toes touched down and activated it, releasing Candace. “Candace, you’ve got Shikarou duty today. He’s going to be cleaning the kitchen of some poison; if it looks like he’s gotten into it, you’re to heal him and let me know immediately.” She gave her husband a suspicious look. “Right now, he’s claiming that he’s immune to the poison, but you know how he’s sometimes mistaken about such things.”
Candace nodded. “I’ll keep him safe.” Linking her arm through his, she gave him a big smile. “On our way to the kitchen, why don’t you tell me all about this poison?”
He sighed. “It’s the fugu that Happosai put in the soup.”
“Ah. What’s all the fuss about?” The NurseJoy
steered him into the kitchen. “Wait, let me guess. Branwyn is back to thinking you can’t walk and talk at the same time. That’s it, isn’t it?”
“That does appear to be the case.” He shrugged. “I’m the best choice to clean up in here since I don’t want anyone to get hurt. If you’re worried about it, then you can stay over by the door.”
Candace grabbed the chair and settled down in it. “I’m fine right here. In your frenzy of cleaning, try not to spatter the soup all the way over here. That’s what, almost two meters?”
Shikarou grinned. “That looks about right.” He peered into the pot of soup. “I can’t pour it out somewhere lest an animal or P-Chan eat it, if he makes a sudden appearance.”
“P-Chan? Is that an animal, vegetable or mineral?”
“P-Chan is a small black pig who happens to be Akane’s pet.”
“Then that would be bad. How are you going to dispose of it?”
He frowned for a moment. “I’m thinking.” Suddenly he smiled. “I know.” Without warning he stuck his finger into the hot soup.
Candace jumped up and rushed over. She looked down into the pot to watch as the soup began to freeze around his finger. The ice began to slowly spread. “Let a girl know what you’re going to do next time, ok?” Suddenly she grinned. “I have a question for you.” The ice spread faster and frost began to rime the outside of the pot.
“What?” Shikarou’s voice was strained as he concentrated.
“Have you thought about how you’re going to get your finger out of the ice or are we just going to lop it off?”
His mouth dropped open for a heartbeat. “Um, that’s a good question.”
She sighed. “I hope you are aware that answers like that is the reason Branwyn assigns you keepers in the first place.”
“Sorry?” He lifted his hand, pulling the pot from the stove with it. He grimaced. “Do we really need to tell her about this?”
“And miss the chance to share this story about you? Not a chance.” She shook her head. “This is going to be one of those ‘now children, remember to be smarter than your father’ kinds of stories.”
“Great. Thanks a lot.” He shook his hand and there was an audible pop from his finger. “Ow.”
Candace smothered a laugh. “You really are hopeless sometimes.”
“It’s a new power. I’m still learning what I can and can’t do with it. Apparently, this is a ‘can’t do’.”
Candace sighed and started rummaging for something to work with. “Sit down and put your pot on the table.” She snickered and was rewarded with a glare. “Is there anything else you want to do?”
“Like what?” His voice was flat with annoyance.
“Oh, I don’t know. Back in Wick, I treated a couple of Tamers who had their pokegirls put things inside their rectums that later proved difficult to remove.”
“Why would they do that?”
“I don’t really know but, as I understand it, it involves some kind of sexual gratification. I remember one Tamer who had his Rosebreasts practice erotic asphyxiation on him. While they were at the pokegirl center, she throttled him into unconsciousness and came to me for help.” She made a happy sound and returned to the table with an ice pick. “I had to caution him and her both that if she accidentally killed him, she’d be put down.”
“Did they stop?”
“They left the next day, so I don’t know. I doubt it though. Let’s see what we can do about you and your potsicle.” She promptly stabbed him in the finger with the pick. “Sorry about that.”
“Do you want to get stabbed again?” She hefted the pick suggestively and smiled when he shook his head frantically. “Good choice.”
Two more stabbings later, his finger was free. “Wash your hands,” he ordered Candace. “Then it’ll be my turn.”
She dropped the pick into the bowl and headed for the sink. “How hard is this stuff to clean up?”
“I’m not sure and I’m not taking any chances. I’ll have Circe dump the pot, the ice pick and a handful of other things out in the same way she took Happosai. A handful of people are accidentally poisoned each year with fugu and I’m not going to let anyone here become a statistic.”
“What about the soup?”
“Ha. Ha. It goes with the pot.”
She snickered. “All done.” She leaned against the wall so she could watch him wash. “Now, I can tell Branwyn that I saw you clean up.” The NurseJoy
hurried out of the kitchen.
Shikarou carefully made his way over to the chair and settled into it. Candace had driven ice into his finger when she stabbed him and he was going to sit here for a minute or two until the poison made its way out of his system. He’d known it couldn’t kill him, but nobody had bothered to ask if it wouldn’t make him feel like shit.
Helen stuck her head into the dining room and looked around. “Dinner is on its way,” she announced before vanishing back into the kitchen.
“It’s about time,” Genma grumbled.
Shikarou’s ears went back for a second as he gave the elder Saotome an annoyed look. “Perhaps you’d have rather had the soup.”
Ranma laughed as Genma’s eyes went wide and he began to sputter. “You can’t threaten me; I’m a member of the family.”
Kasumi was carrying a tray in from the kitchen. She and Helen had moved into the kitchen with Akane to put a quick dinner together. Akane was willing to accept the help but wouldn’t stand aside for them, which was something that appeared to please her oldest sister a great deal. “Actually, Mr. Saotome, you are not a member of the family until Ranma marries Akane.”
Genma sputtered and then smacked his son on the back. “Boy, you’d better get a move on and marry that girl.”
Now it was Ranma’s turn to cough, as he sucked the tea he’d been drinking down his windpipe.
Kasumi put the tray down in front of Soun, as was proper. “It was decided that due to the circumstances, we would forego the soup portion of dinner.”
Soun nodded absently. “Shikarou, my family owes you a great debt of thanks. I’ve decided on a reward for saving Akane’s life and I want you to have Nabiki to be your wife.”
There was a sudden silence. Nabiki was staring at her father with a look of shock. Shikarou glanced over at the door to see Kasumi wiping a furious look from her face. “Ah, Soun, I am already married to your eldest daughter, Kasumi.”
“Oh, that’s right.” Soun waved a hand dismissively. “I’ll find something else then.”
“Father, did you perhaps hope that my husband would forget that he was married to me long enough to agree to your offer?” Her voice sounded unconcerned, but Shikarou could hear that same undertone that she’d had when she’d been trying to kill Happosai. He made a mental note to listen for it in the future.
“Of course not, Kasumi. I made a mistake, that’s all. It’s been a very stressful day and I’m not completely myself.”
There was a flicker of disbelief until Kasumi realized Shikarou was watching her. She quickly smoothed her face. “I’m glad to hear that, father.”
Shikarou flicked his ears. You have to hand it to him, when he’s an ass, he does a bang up job of it. Kasumi, I have no regrets about marrying you.
Kasumi blinked and suddenly her eyes glittered with suppressed laughter as she disappeared down the hall. When Junko told me about the Soun Tendo that lives in Indigo, I was shocked and thought that he was nothing like my father. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so certain of that.
When they were working on desert, Akane gave Shikarou a questioning smile. “Why did Happosai want to kill me?”
“You cut off all his access to the money and he thought some of it was his by right of being your father’s sensei.”
A satisfied smile spread across the young woman’s face. “So he was that angry about it? I’m glad you got rid of him. He’s been a bigger pain than Ranma.”
Abruptly, she bowed. “Thank you for saving my life, Shikarou-tono. I will be eternally in your debt.”
“Akane, I am married to your sister and so we are family. There’s no need for formality between us.” He smiled slowly. “As for being in my debt, rest assured that someday I shall come to collect.”
She returned the smile shyly. “I will be waiting.”
Ranma watched the exchange with growing unrest. Suddenly he burst out. “What do you mean by that?”
Akane rounded on him instantly. “Be quiet, Ranma! It’s none of your business!”
Shikarou sighed. “Akane, he’s actually posed a good question and I want to answer it. Ranma, when Akane dies, I’m going to call in that debt and make her the guardian spirit for her family.” He smiled slightly. “As far as I know, she’s going to live for another sixty or seventy years, so it’s not something any of you need to be concerned about right away.”
“Oh.” Akane looked pleased. “I would be honored.”
“Is that it? That’s ok then.” Ranma subsided as quickly as he’d exploded.
Kasumi looked innocent as she spoke. “It’s good to see that you’re coming to care so much for Akane’s welfare.”
Ranma turned bright red. “I didn’t say that! I don’t care what happens to her! I just wanted to see if I was going to have to marry her after all!”
“Don’t put yourself out on my account, Ranma!” Akane glared at her fiancé. “I’ll be perfectly fine without you!”
Branwyn was staring at Kasumi with an expression of utter shock. “Shikarou, if they’re going to argue perhaps we should go to the tent.”
He shrugged. “Sure.”
Once outside, Branwyn turned to Kasumi. “I can’t believe you just started a fight between them.”
“They’re both passionate people and, right now, they express that passion through fighting.” Kasumi looked smug. “I suppose you’re right in that I didn’t need to do that, it’s more of a habit than anything else. They are much fonder of each other than they let on and I do hope that one of these days their fight will turn into something more interesting.” Light pink suddenly suffused her features. “They are the heirs to the legacy of both the Tendo and Saotome families and as such they have a responsibility to have children.”
“What about you?”
“While I was trained in the Tendo School of martial arts, my training ended when mother died and I had to take over her duties. Father always favored Akane because of her determination and because he wanted a son. She’s the closest thing to one he has.” Her eyes shuttered briefly. “I wanted to continue training, but father said that it would take away from my real duties. I think I always made him uncomfortable by being feminine and still wanting to learn to defend myself.”
Shikarou frowned as a memory resurfaced. “Is that where you learned some kenjustu?”
Kasumi chuckled. “No one teaches kenjutsu anymore, Shikarou. Just kendo. Father taught me some basic moves. How was I?”
“I didn’t see any bad habits. Do you want to continue training?”
“I would. I know you use a sword, but I’ve never seen a technique like it before. Do you think I could learn it?”
“It’s my family’s style. It includes a wide variety of things, including weaponless combat. I don’t see why you couldn’t. It just takes determination and a willingness to practice.”
She cocked her head. “Here, we rate a martial art by how long it’s been practiced. How long has your family’s style been around?”
“It’s been around as long as the clan has. Our official records go back for over five thousand years, but father occasionally hints that he has some that are older.”
“Five thousand years? I guess I’d call that a successful style. Would you be willing to teach me?”
He grinned. “I’d love to.”
Branwyn put her hands on her hips. “Hey! The other wife would like to ask a question: What about me?”
“You’ve known for a while that I practice and you’ve never shown any interest in it. However, if you’ve decided you want to learn, then I’ll be glad to teach you.”
The Unicorn relaxed. “Good. Oh, we’ll need to get them a new television tomorrow.”
Shikarou nodded. “Yushiko and I’ll go shopping for one. Kasumi, where did you get that sword?”
“I told you; Junko took me home to meet her family. Yoshihara-sensei was kind enough to give me that wonderful sword when he found out who I am.” She gave him a serious look. “I would appreciate it if you would continue to train me until I am good enough to do honor to it, as it deserves.”
“Don’t worry, I will.”
“Good morning, Dorothea.”
“Good morning to thee, Branwyn.” The Seraph nodded politely without breaking her guard position outside the door to Shikarou’s office.
“Where is Shikarou and why aren’t you with him?” The Unicorn gave her a stern look.
“Our lord is in his office with a visitor. I thought that thou had been informed of his arrival. He has asked that he not be disturbed, so I am out here. I do have Aggie monitoring the situation and she has assured me that if she suspects any danger, she will inform me straightaway.”
“I see.” Branwyn didn’t sound happy. “I did know there was a visitor, but I didn’t know our Tamer would be breaking his own rules again.”
“Indeed, I am not pleased with this either. If thou could get my orders changed, I would be much happier. Can thou do this?”
“I’m about to find out,” she responded flatly. Shikarou, I want to see you as soon as possible and I mean now. It’s important.
Just a minute. A couple of minutes later, the door opened and he looked out. “Let me guess. Your problems with me will probably almost completely go away if I let you two into my office, right?”
“That’s an excellent guess and fairly accurate. You’re not supposed to be alone, especially not with strangers.”
He nodded. “It was necessary for the first part of our discussion. My visitor needed certain reassurances that I was legitimate and I had to provide them if we were to proceed. An armed guard would have been counterproductive.” He opened the door wide. “Come on in.”
Quickly, Dorothea moved back to her traditional place as his guard. Shikarou watched her with a slightly amused expression before turning back to the table.
“Branwyn, as you know, for the last month I’ve been shuttling back and forth between here and Great Britain, trying my best to find some Sidhe who’ll deign to speak to me.” The figure seated at the table stirred but remained silent. “I found several Sidhe courts but none willing to deal with an outlander from the east. Apparently, they’ve crossed paths with some kami or oni and the experience wasn’t pleasant.”
The figure turned, revealing a young man with heavily tattooed skin and dark brown hair pierced by brilliant green eyes that seemed to glow softly in the dim light. “Aye, experience of yer kind we have had in plenty. We defeated them soundly in the first battles, but they are canny warriors and mages. The next battles were much more even and we only narrowly won. Some of our people were taken during that fight and we never got them back.” His eyes narrowed. “It’s been a matter of blood and honor ever since. Yer husband is lucky that he wasn’t murdered on sight. There are some who are looking to do just that.”
“I’m Sidhe enough to be tolerated by most of the Sidhe. The rest I’ll deal with if it becomes a problem. Shikarou smiled. “This is my wife, Branwyn.”
The man looked her up and down frankly. “A comely wench.” His eyes widened at the sight of her horn. “She’s fey.”
“Not really, but kind of. She’s mortal, so she cannot be true fey.”
“Ah.” He nodded. “A mixed blood. If her mother is anything like she is, I can understand why one of us took a fancy to her.”
Branwyn blinked and smothered a snicker. “Oh, one of them most definitely did that.”
Shikarou shot her a warning look. “Branwyn, this is the Sidhe mage Eoghan. He’s from a court in Ireland and became curious when he heard his name being bandied about in close association with mine.”
Branwyn’s eyes widened. “Is this?” Suddenly she broke off.
Eoghan’s eyes glittered with amusement. “That’s what I’m here to determine, lass. The events in me own life seem to shadow those of your opponent up the point of me test. Of course, I am Sidhe and me powers manifested as they should have.” He smiled slightly. “I did have a half brother named Germanicus and it is true that I am verra well versed in necromancy.”
Branwyn nodded slowly. Shikarou smiled. “He wanted to ensure that I wasn’t an enemy of his that he’d lost track of. Sometimes that sort of thing can happen in a millennium of life, or so I’ve been told.”
“Aye, that it does, lad.” Eoghan smirked. “I’ve had foes that I thought long dust pop up from the past and hurt me and mine. I willna have that sort of thing happening if I can prevent it. Ye’d been peaceable enough when ye visited me court, so I thought to try a peaceful approach to ye.”
Branwyn glanced at Dorothea and rose. “I’m glad to meet you, but I suspect my presence here will only make things more difficult.”
“Aye, lass, it would, but yer a damn sight better to look at than he is.”
“But I’m quite happy with him.”
“Ah. Lass, ye do a man proud.” He watched the Unicorn leave the room before glancing back at Shikarou. “Yer name’s silly as hell, but ye have good taste in women.” Eyes flicked up to Dorothea. “What aboot that one?”
“She’s mine. Heart and soul. So is everyone else you’ll meet here.”
“Pity. A spot of diversion could be just what’s best for a man.”
“I can hire you a whore.”
“I thankee lad, but as far as those go, I can catch me own. Ye like em feisty and so do I.” He shook his head abruptly. “Now where were we?”
“What do you know about magic using undead?”
“I have to go out tonight and I’ll be taking minimal security.” Shikarou’s tone brooked no argument.
Of course, that meant that Branwyn wanted to argue with him. Her eyes flashed. “Define minimal.” The room stilled as the various members of the harem turned to listen. Everyone had been spending more time out of storage as the second month here wound down and even Giselle and Ayame were here, since Kasumi was out with her family at a movie.
His ears went flat for a heartbeat. “Helen and Bellona.”
If it was an attempt at compromise, it didn’t work. The Unicorn shook her head. “I want you to take someone with teleport.”
Helen tried to play peacemaker. “I’ve got a lot of stuff I need to work on, Nabiki’s got that celebration at the school and she’s got to bring food and there’s that stuff Akane promised to,” she broke off as Shikarou turned to look at her and raised an eyebrow. “I would of course be more than happy to drop all of that back on the people it belongs to and guard you.”
He smiled faintly. “Good.” He turned back to Branwyn. “I’ve told you who I want. Make it happen.”
“I still want you to take someone with teleport,” she snapped acidly. Giselle’s mouth made a moue in shock.
“I could just sneak out and go alone,” he replied calmly. “Or I could pokeball everyone here and go by myself. Of course, if I get into trouble at that point, you won’t be able to help until Kasumi lets you out.”
He smiled. “Ah, now you ask a question. First, they can do the job. Even though Helen’s never been in the guard rotation, I know she’s been training for it and Bellona is a consummate professional.”
“You said first. That means there is a second.”
“When armored up, Bellona could be confused with an oni, as could Helen. Bringing oni bodyguards to this meeting will impress the person I’m meeting.”
“Take Pythia, then.”
“Even though she’s changed, she still looks foxlike enough to be confused with a kitsune and those mischief makers won’t be welcomed tonight.”
“Who are you meeting?”
He frowned slightly. “I’m not completely sure, but he’s a powerful kami and I’m not in a position to make demands of him anymore than I already have.”
Branwyn sighed. “Why didn’t you tell me about this?”
“Why didn’t you tell me about talking to Cologne about what could be done to ease Shampoo out of Ranma’s life or the chat you had with Ukyo?” His ears flicked. “Or the plans you had for Kodachi Kuno before Dorothea warned me you were contemplating murdering her and I had to step in.”
She flushed slightly but didn’t back down. “I didn’t want to bother you with any of that until I knew if it would work. What about you?”
He nodded. “The truth is that I’m not sure anything good is going to come out of this meeting and it was at a very short notice.” He sighed and rubbed his eyes. “And I think I’m getting just a bit tired of living in the Tendo’s backyard where we can be disturbed whenever Ranma and Akane have a fight. Akane’s just about moved in here and I think it’s starting to make me cranky.”
Circe smirked. “Kasumi’s been giving her good advice and she likes being able to get away from them. This is good for both.”
“I know. However, I want this tent searched from top to bottom before we leave. She stays here. Everyone else does too.”
Branwyn patted his knee. “It’s been good for her. She’s getting more used to the idea of sex.”
“As long as it’s with Ranma.” Shikarou rose abruptly. “And start locking the door to the tent at night. Last night, I caught Genma rummaging through the kitchen for food.”
Helen’s head came up and her eyes narrowed. “I made a chocolate cake last night and this morning it was missing. I thought you had taken it for you and Nanu to eat, so I didn’t say anything about it. Do you think that,” she hesitated, and then her mouth firmed, “that … person … took my food, without so much as a bye your leave?”
“I never saw it. I’d have told you if I took it, and feeding Nanu a lot of sugar during sex is the last thing I’d want to do. She falls asleep soon afterward.” The Mini-Top glared at him as laughter sounded. He glanced around the room quickly. “Did anyone from here take it?”
Helen rose up to watch the denials. “I’m going to set traps in the kitchen, I swear I will.”
Shikarou shrugged. “Just make sure they’re non-lethal. Oh and cold water would be counterproductive. While hard to believe, he eats even more as a panda. Giselle, please warn Kasumi that the kitchen may become a battlefield for a while at night.”
The Pegaslut smiled. “Yes, sir, I will. I think I’ll stockpile some food in our room, too.”
Shikarou took a deep breath before giving Branwyn a sideways glance. “Dorothea instead of Helen,” he said quietly.
His wife visibly relaxed. “Thank you.”
Bellona turned and climbed powerfully as she made her way back over where Shikarou waited patiently. The night sky was overcast and completely hid her form from view. She twitched her tail and changed direction a few degrees she passed overhead.
As she flew, she opened herself to the night. The wind swept through her, cleansing her, sweeping away all emotions until she felt no hope, no fear. Until nothing at all was left, but a willingness to fight. Her teeth bared in a silent snarl at any of her family’s foes.
The night was so dark that it even hid Dorothea’s white wings as she also circled nearby, on standby to attack an enemy or defend her Tamer. She had to force herself not to touch her weapons over and over to reassure herself of their readiness.
In her mind, she could feel his bond with her. He was like a rock, and she took comfort in his strength even as she feared for his wellbeing.
Shikarou stood in a relaxed posture, one he could keep for hours without the slightest motion. His breathing was deep and slow and his eyes constantly swept the area in front of him. His mind was open and he combined what he heard, smelled and saw into a gestalt that immediately alerted him when the smallest thing changed.
Because of this, he immediately came alert when the very rocks around him began to slowly breathe a heavy mist into the air. It swelled and quickly filled the entire area with a thick fog that clung to everything it touched. In less than a minute, Shikarou could feel water starting to bead on his skin.
The fog thinned in front of him to reveal a dim figure several yards away. “Have you brought what I asked for?” Its voice swirled around Shikarou with the vapor, caressing his skin with a greasy eagerness like some obscene lover.
Shikarou fought an urge to wipe his face. “I have. Do you have what I want?”
“Will you trade for it as we agreed?”
“That remains to be seen.” The figure moved slightly. “You are young and yet have an impressive amount of power. I would like a taste of your flesh.”
“That wasn’t part of the price.”
“I would make it worth your while.” The figure moved forward slowly. Its skin gleamed wetly in the mist and rhythmic contractions seemed to start at the head and crawl down its body and into the ground. There were no legs, instead it was solid from the hips to the rock it seemed to ooze over. “I have something that you want, although you know it not.”
Shikarou’s ears went flat for an instant. “I don’t know you have it or I don’t know I want it?”
“Both, I think.” Its forward movement ceased. “I have this.” An ornate silk ribbon fluttered into the air and hovered between them. “Crafted by and from the greatest oni mages, whoever wears this is undetectable by man or god.” It bubbled a wet laugh. “Once, I was counted amongst the kunitsukami and there was no greater spy anywhere. A millennia ago, I used this to walk unseen through the western demon courts while they planned their defenses against us.” Shikarou realized with a start that the oni was speaking about the skirmishes with the Sidhe.
“It is quite an item. Why offer it to me?”
“You are of us and yet not from us, so you will be able to command it. I cannot keep it and I cannot bear to destroy it. Yet, if it does not pass from me, when I come back into prominence with what you give me this night, the kunitsukami will remember that I have it and they will seek to take if from me. If they can prove I still have it, they will kill me to retrieve it. You will take it away with you and, therefore, it will not be used against me.”
Shikarou made no motion towards the ribbon. “What price?” His voice was blandly disinterested.
“One of your fingers would suffice nicely.” The pulsations started becoming more frequent. “I once was solid and your flesh will allow me to be so again.”
“I offer the little finger from my right hand, with only the life that it has within it. Nothing less and nothing more.”
The pulsations froze for an instant. “Done.”
“Let us complete our first trade.” Shikarou offered up a silk scroll. “Here is my part.”
The scroll lifted from his hands and drifted towards the figure, passing a second scroll which settled lightly into his grip. “Here is my part. This trade is complete.”
Shikarou opened the scroll and scanned it quickly. “I agree that this trade is complete.” He put the scroll inside his pack and pulled out two squares of silk. “Are you ready for the second trade?”
The air vibrated for an instant. “Oh, yes, I am,” the air whispered against his skin.
Shikarou pulled a tanto from inside his haori. Gritting his teeth, he severed the finger into one of the squares. The only noise was the sound of the knife scraping through the joint. Quickly, he wrapped his hand in the second square. He stepped back as he put the knife away. “Here is my part.”
The ribbon settled down in his hands as the silk wrapped around the finger and vanished. “Here is my part. I agree that this trade is complete.”
Shikarou nodded. “I agree that this trade is complete.”
Without another word, the figure faded back into the mist, which immediately began to clear. Dorothea came plunging through the thinning fog and feathered to a hover before dropping lightly to the ground in front of Shikarou as he put the ribbon into his pack.
She grabbed him. “Are thou all right, my lord? Thou disappeared from sight and I couldn’t locate thee for a teleport rescue.” Quickly she patted him down to see if anything was wrong. Her face went white when she grasped his hand and blood squished out of the improvised bandage. “My lord, what happened to thee?” Healing energy washed over his hand as she spoke.
“It’s ok. I’ve lost a finger, but I’ll be all right. Between you, me and Candace, I’m sure we can fix it.”
Dorothea gave him a slightly amused look as she relaxed a tiny bit. “I think that I should bring Candace to thee, for if I bring thou to her, thou will arrive disoriented from the barrage of healing spells that each member of thine harem will apply when they see us.”
Bellona flared into a landing nearby and rushed over as her wings faded out. “Are you ok? You disappeared.” She frowned. “You smell of blood. Where are you hurt?”
“See, my lord. She means well, as will they all.”
Shikarou chuckled and grasped Bellona’s hand with his uninjured one. “You’ve convinced me. Get Candace and, while you’re there, tell Branwyn what’s happened or she’s likely to follow you back.”
“Explain.” Bellona gave him a severe look as Dorothea vanished.
He shook his head slowly. “You know, sometimes I think I am entirely too easy on my harem.”
’s lips curved in a gentle smile. “For what it’s worth, I agree with you. However, the pattern is already set, so explain.”
Shikarou rolled his eyes. “Remind me to start regular beatings in the harem.”
Bellona giggled and looked startled. “Only you could get me to make that disgusting noise.”
“What is so funny?”
“I was just thinking that if you are serious, I’ll be glad to help.” Her eyes suddenly narrowed. “Don’t change the subject.”
“Now you sound like Branwyn.”
She fought a smile. “Thanks, I think. Remember, someday I might want to be more like her, so sounding like her isn’t a bad start.” She blinked. “Damn, you did it again.”
Shikarou gave her an innocent look. “I was just asking some questions.”
“And carefully not answering mine,” she retorted.
“I’m missing the little finger on my right hand.” He shrugged. “The oni offered me a chance to purchase something that could be very interesting and the price was that finger.”
“It’ll grow back, right?” He hesitated and she saw it. “Right?”
Shikarou sighed. “I think it will.” He grimaced at her look. “I made an agreement with the oni to trade a finger for the item. It was a magical agreement between magical beings and if the magic interprets our agreement as being that the oni gets my finger absolutely, mine may not grow back.”
“I thought you were going to meet a kami?”
“So did I. It turns out that the oni used to be a kami at one time and I think it wants to be a kami once again. That’s why it wanted the finger. It’ll probably use it as a template to grow a new body.”
“Won’t it become a hybrid like you?” Bellona carefully unwrapped his injured hand and looked it over. She glanced up at him and started licking the wound clean.
“Probably, but since it doesn’t understand what I am, it won’t access those powers except by accident. Kami and oni vary so much from individual to individual that its differences will never be recognized.” He shook his head gently. “If you bothered to wear clothes, you’d have something you could wipe that with.”
“If I wore clothes, you wouldn’t let me do this.” She gave him a quick smile and went back to cleaning his hand. “I like the way you taste.”
“Darling, are you aware that’s very erotic?”
She gave him an innocent smile. “Really? Does that mean you want me to stop?” She waited a heartbeat. “I’ll take that as a no.” She went back to carefully cleaning the blood from his hand.
Dorothea appeared with Candace in her arms. A second later, Branwyn also appeared. She quickly released Yushiko and Lorelei, who darted into the air. “Pythia’s keeping the lid down at the Tendo residence,” she muttered to him. She gave Bellona a glare. “I see you’ve failed utterly as a bodyguard.”
Bellona straightened up and offered the hand to Candace as she looked at Branwyn. “He didn’t need me as a bodyguard and if you have a problem with it, take it up with him before you start anything with me.”
Branwyn glanced at his groin and shook her head. “That’s a waste of time. Well, Candace?”
was peering closely at his wound. “I’m using regen on it and I think it’s working, but I’m not sure.” She glanced up. “I know that’s a crappy answer, but I’ve never seen an injury respond like this. The bleeding should have stopped by now. I think it’s slowing, but it shouldn’t be flowing at all, considering what I’m doing to it.”
“Care to explain what this whole meeting was about?” Branwyn slipped her arm through his uninjured one.
“I’d like to wait for a bit and see how some tests come out first.”
“And if I insist?”
“I think I’ll still wait.”
She sighed. “Then I’ll wait too. Was it worth the price, even if your finger doesn’t grow back?”
“If it’s what I’m looking for, I’d give the whole arm for it, forever.”
She nodded. “I hope it’s worth it.”
“So do I, my love, so do I.”
Candace looked critically at the finger. “I’m still not sure what happened. You wouldn’t heal for almost two weeks. It wouldn’t even stop bleeding. Then, this morning, it’s fine and you have a whole finger instead of an oozing stump.” A suspicious look was shot in his direction. “Do you have any sort of idea what might have taken place?”
Shikarou shook his head. “Not a clue.” He sighed and pulled a scalpel out of the little medical kit his NurseJoy
carried everywhere. “Shall I do the honors?”
Candace gave him a disgusted look. “It just stopped bleeding and you want to open it up again. Give it here.” She made a careful slice in the pad of his finger, cutting just shallowly enough to draw blood. “Didn’t removing your finger hurt when you did it?”
“It did.” He watched the wound quickly shut. “Do you think we need to remove the finger and see if it’ll grow back again?”
“I think you need your head examined for the suggestion.” She rubbed her eyes. “Once we get back to the clinic, I’ll draw some blood and send it off to Poppet and the lab in Ireland for independent analysis.” She glanced at him. “Any idea when I’ll have the opportunity? We’ve been here almost three months.”
“Kasumi needed to make sure that Happosai wasn’t going to suddenly pop back into sight and start murdering her family again. I think she’s about ready to go.”
“Is that likely? Him coming back, I mean.” Candace sat up and placed a hand on his forehead. “Where did Circe take his body?”
“She stashed it until she could take me that night, and we dropped the body into a volcano. I watched him burn completely to ash. He won’t be back without reincarnation and that takes time.”
“Is that likely?”
“Not really. Japanese are almost all Zen Buddhists and, as a group, they don’t believe in reincarnation. Rebirth occurs during the physical life or not at all.”
“I thought Buddhists believe in reincarnation.”
He nodded. “Many do, but like Christianity, there are many different denominations of Buddhism. They all travel towards the same destination, but each walks an individual path.”
“Oh. That’s neat. Which denomination are you?”
Shikarou grimaced. “I’m not Buddhist. Even though the Japanese gods are, for the most part, Shinto in origin, that fact was a source of trouble during my time at court.”
“So he’s gone.”
“Yes. He’s dead and as buried as he’s going to get. I’ve managed to do the stuff I was hoping to while here, so now, as soon as Kasumi is satisfied that he’s not coming back, we’re going home.”
“Why are you up here?”
Shikarou looked over his shoulder at the cloaked figure. “Good evening, Kasumi. I’m on the roof because it’s raining.” The glow from the streetlights reflected in twisting lines from the water running down her cloak.
She settled down next to him and rested her body against his. “Oh, good, you’re warm.” Kasumi pulled the cowl of her hood forward slightly as the wind blew the rain in a different direction. “Your explanation doesn’t make sense.”
“Ranma and Genma won’t come up here while it’s raining because they don’t want to transform. Akane won’t come up here because Ranma is not here, so she’s got no reason to. Nabiki is still waiting for me to demand some price for not telling the others that she’s got a soft spot for her family, so she doesn’t want to be alone with me.” He turned to look over the city. “And I can’t be alone in my tent.”
“Should I leave?”
“No. You’re fine.” He rolled his shoulders slowly. “Roisin is guarding me for the first time, so I’m not encouraged to leave the property and get away from her backup.”
“Does any of that explain why you’re not wearing rain gear?”
“The fact that I’m feeling contrary might.”
“That, it would.”
They were silent for several minutes before Kasumi spoke. “This has been my home for the vast majority of my life. I never really thought I’d leave it. Then I did, and not for very long; but when I return, not only has it changed but I have as well. I have a new home now and I want to return to it.”
“We can leave within the hour, if you’d like.”
She turned to face him. “How long have you been ready to go?”
“A while.” He glanced at her. “It’s only really become an issue since I realized your scent has changed.”
“Has it?” She smiled in the semi-dark. “I didn’t realize that. I wasn’t ready to say anything. I’m still not. How long have you known?”
“I noticed it two days ago.”
Kasumi nodded. “How do you feel about it?”
“Punching my father in the nose comes to mind. This is his fault.”
“I assure you, it is not,” she replied in a shocked voice.
He blinked and a low chuckle sounded from him. “Sorry. I didn’t mean it to sound that way. It’s because of the blessings he gave Poppet and me.”
Her face tilted slightly and she got a distant look as she accessed her twee. “Oh my. I see what you mean.” A sculpted eyebrow rose slightly. “Is that all you feel about this?”
He recognized that dangerous tone once again hidden in pleasant words and laughed quietly. “I’ve been thinking about it for two days and I’m pleased.” He glanced at her. “It will mean that your Taming journey will be over.”
“I was never on one,” she took his hand. “I’m going to study magic and help you found that school. I only wanted a couple of pokegirls to help protect me and Giselle. Will you stand in for the ones I don’t have?”
“I will have to deal with Eoghan and his lot. There’s no guarantee that will end well. After that,” he shrugged. “After that there’s nothing that I need to do that I can’t do on Caomh Sith instead of on the road.”
Her hand tightened. “I know who I think will win,” she said simply, “and since I’m Kasumi and I know things, don’t you dare prove me fallible.”
“Then I don’t have anything to worry about, now do I?”
She smiled and nodded. Then the smile faded away and was replaced by a frown. “How are the others going to take this?”
“Are you going to tell your father?”
Kasumi shook her head. “Not just yet. I’ll wait and let him know when we come back.”
“That’s good. I wouldn’t want him to have to take to his bed again.” Shikarou looked thoughtful. “I’ve been thinking about that as well, for the last two days. I think there will be some jealousy in the short term but that overall everyone in and out of the harem will be pleased.”
She relaxed. “I was concerned about trouble.”
“My harem is filled with some exceptional people. I suppose they might give other Tamers a rough time, but they are almost perfect for me.” He made an odd sound, sort of like boulders rubbing together. “I came to the pokegirl world laboring under a misconception that it was a different type of place entirely, so I could get away from my mother and her machinations.” The sound was repeated. Kasumi decided it was a sort of growl and an expression of amusement at the same time. “I was also running from my memories of Pallaius and I guess I was also trying to run from myself.” He blinked rainwater from his eyes. “I went there intending to die.”
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Instead, I found myself stuck with more personal responsibilities than I’ve ever had. I think I rose to the challenge admirably. I’ve built a home and maybe a place where pokegirls can be a little freer than they can be anywhere else. Of course, they also have more expected from them, so I guess that could be considered a wash.”
“You still need to build me, and the rest of your family, a true home. I think it’ll have to be a pretty large one, too, unless you’re planning on getting rid of some of your harem.”
“I’ll let them make the choice.”
She pursed her lips in amusement. “Then, my dear husband, we are going to have to build us a mansion.”
(07/04/99 0200 Caomh Sith, Blue Continent)
The spattering raindrops had become a deluge that drenched the landscape. Thunder rumbled distantly and lightning split the night as the portal opened. Shikarou stepped through with Nanu close behind.
“Fuck. I can’t bloody believe this!” The suddenly drenched Mini-Top made a rude gesture at the uncaring sky. She made the same gesture at her Tamer before turning and trudging back through the opening.
It had been a bright and sunny day at Jusenkyo.
Shikarou ignored the pouring rain as he looked around. The early morning sky swallowed up any available light. The normally bright twinkle of the porch lamps at the inn was just a tiny point of light in the storm, vanishing in each lightning flash and reappearing when the eyes adjusted back to the night.
Several minutes passed before cloaked and hooded figures emerged from the gate. One of them offered him a cloak, which prompted a grin. “Do you really think I can get any wetter if I don’t wear it?”
Branwyn gave him an exasperated look. “Suit yourself. Let’s go to the inn and dry off.” Without waiting for a response, she turned and headed off, following Nanu. The Mini-Top had turned and headed for the inn immediately, not even slowing down when she came through the gate.
Shikarou turned to Kasumi. “Well?” Behind her, Giselle eyed him warily. From her expression she’d decided that apparently he’d finally cracked completely.
His wife laughed and peeled off her cloak to twine her arm through his. “I am home.”
Name: Urufu, Shikarou
Residence: Caomh Sith, Blue Continent
Security Clearance: Eta
Master Tamer Y
Species Name Level
Alaka-Wham Circe 73
Unicorn Branwyn 66
Milktit Helen 62
G-Spliced Pythia 60
Armsmistress Urufu Yushiko 57
Seraph Dorothea 55
Vampire Elizabeth 53
Sphinx Lorelei 51
Mini-Top Nanu 50
Wet Elf Roisin 42
Badges: Scotland: Stornoway, Rum Island, Glasgow
Wales: Magicunt Village
Ruby League: Polass Gym
Name: Urufu, Kasumi
Residence: Caomh Sith, Blue Continent
Security Clearance: Eta
Master Tamer N
Species Name Level
Pegaslut Giselle 35
Drow Zee Ayame 28