"The whole family's wacko..."
        -Mizuno Ami, concerning the Tsukinos.

&&&[Begin Chapter 2.]

        "...Usagi?" the black cat repeated, inching closer to the
blonde girl.

        Tsukino Usagi, a girl of fourteen, had but two days ago
been given a magical pendant/brooch-thing, with which she could
transform into the Pretty Sailor-Suited Warrior For Love and
Justice, Sailor Moon.

        She had already managed to repel one attack from the Dark
Kingdom, ruled by the evil Queen Beryl, who needs either energy
or some dohickey called the Ginzuishou to revive her Great Leader,
Queen Metallia.

        The girl with two very long blonde pigtails snored softly in
her seated position on her bed. She was fully dressed for school, but
had apparently slipped back into unconsciousness when she found out
that she had actually gotten up early for once.

        Luna stared momentarily, then groaned and leapt up on the
bed. "Usagi..."

        Usagi slumped backward onto the bed, her arms and hair splaying
haphazardly across it.

        Luna padded toward the girl's head, and placed her front paws
on Usagi's face. "USAGI!" she shouted, shaking the other individual
wildly.

        The girl stirred, then turned aside and continued to sleep.

        The cat sighed, and opened her mouth to speak-

        *WARK*WARK*WARK!* [NUCLEAR LAUNCH DETECTED!!!!!!!!!!!!]

        Usagi bolted upright. "Waaah!"

        Luna blinked. "What was..."

        *BLAAAAM!*BLAM* [Need something destroyed?! Yavolt!]

        Usagi narrowed her eyes. "Shingo!" she called. "Turn the sound
down on your game!"

        *PTOW-TOW-TOW!* "WHAT?" her younger brother called from another
room. "I CAN'T HEAR YOU!"

        [Need a light? ...Let's buuurn!] the game's sounds continued.
[Prepped and ready. Stat!]

        "I SAID..." Usagi began, but broke off when she saw the clock.
"AAAH! I'M GONNA BE LAAATE!!!"

        With that, she rushed out of the room and down the steps.

        [Upgrade complete!]

        "Usagi!" Luna called, following her. "This is very important!"
 

        In the kitchen, Tsukino Ikuko watched patiently as her daughter
snatched a piece of toast and stuffed it in her mouth.

        "Mph-rphhhe!" Usagi mumbled through her stuffed mouth as she
grabbed her lunchbag and ran out the door, waving goodbye.

        "Bye, dear. Have a nice day," Ikuko called, not turning her
attention away from whatever arcane project it was that she tinkered
with on the countertop, also ignoring the the talking cat...

        "Usagi, wait! Come back here!" Luna called, sprinting out the
open door.

        Tsukino Kenji, a black-haired man sitting at the table, and
appearing to be more or less on the younger side of middle age,
looked up from his newspaper. "Notice anything," he began, then
paused as he tried to find the right word, failing, he continued,
"strange about Usagi's new pet?"

        The dark-blue-haired woman sighed. "Well, it's not as bad as
the Bengal Tiger she brought home when she was four."

        "Right," Kenji nodded, "I've still got scars from that." He
reached up and massaged his shoulder, laughing as he said, "But she
was so cute, looking up with those big eyes and her arm around the
hulking thing's neck... 'Daddy, look what followed me home. Can I
keep it?'" He shook his head in amused remembrance.

        [Ghost reportin'... You got it.]

        Ikuko looked toward the stairs. "Shiiingooo! You really should
be going now!"

        [Nuclear Missile ready.] *WARK*WARK*WARK*

        "Just let me finish this scenario, Mom!" Shingo called down.

        "Save your game, honey. Remember what happened last time you
were late... That maniac truant officer-"

        *BLAM-blam* "Oh, come on. He wasn't that bad!"

        "He drove a police car through the front door to get at you.
You let that happen again, I'm taking it out of your allowance,"
Ikuko admonished sternly.

        "Oh, alright, I'm going, I'm going!" Shingo called, appearing
at the head of the steps, then muttered, "Spoilsport."

        "I heard that!" Ikuko snapped.

^_^

        "USAGI!" Luna called after the running girl.

        "Can't," Usagi replied between panting breaths, "talk now,
Luna!"

        The black cat growled, then reared back on her hind legs and
leapt at the back of Usagi's neck, claws extended.

        *WHAM!* The sudden impact threw off the girl's already tenuous
balance, sending her slamming facefirst into the sidewalk. She sat
up and started to cry. "Waaaaaah! Why did you have to do that,
Luuunaaa?"

        "That's because you weren't listening," Luna hissed.

        "Looks like _someone_ missed their catnip this morning," Usagi
sniffed. "Well, what is it?"

        "Do you remember your mission?"

        "Umm... Mission?"

        Luna made sure the pigtailed girl got a _very_ good, up-close
look at her claws. "Usagi!"

        "Oh! That mission! It was," Usagi fidgeted, "to fight for love
and justice against evil, just like Sailor V!"

        "And???" Luna pressed.

        "And," Usagi panicked as the claws drew closer, "What? That
was it, wasn't it?"

        The crescented cat cleared her throat. "You forgot about the
MOON PRINCESS!!!"

        Usagi frowned, then lit up in realization. "Oh! Her!" She
frowned once more. "What about her?"

        Luna sighed and looked at her. "I know where she is."

^_^

        Far away, in the Furinkan area of the Nerima section of that
same city, a dark-haired girl in a blue school uniform looked with
a raised eyebrow at her recently drenched companion.

        "Do you _always_ end up in that same dress?" Rei asked.

        Ranma tugged in obvious discomfort at her beautiful white gown.
"No," she muttered, "sometimes I end up in something _worse_, like
the sailor-suit when we were sparring." She looked up at the window
from which the water fell. "Couldn't you have LOOKED before dumping
all that stuff on me!?"

        *SPLASH!* Another bucket of water came cascading down on her.

        An elderly woman wearing a huge, jeweled turban poked her head
out the window and started shouting angry Arabic phrases at them,
shaking her fist.

        Rei sighed, shook her head, then took Ranma by the hand and
started to lead her off. "Come on, let's go. We don't want to be
late."

        The pigtailed blonde didn't take her gaze away from the old
woman. "What's she saying?"

        "Enough expletives to make a Russian sailor blush," Rei replied.
"It looks like Mika-san hasn't taken her pills today."

        Ranma blinked. "Sorry I asked."

        "She's a linguist: A very good one, but when she's in one of
those moods..."

        "I get the picture," the drenched Moon Princess said.

        "It's none of our business, though, really. We should be at
Furinkan High School by the time she starts throwing rubber
chickens."

        The blonde raised an eyebrow, stopping and gently pulling
out of Rei's grip. "Rubber chickens?!" she asked with a raised
eyebrow.

        Rei nodded gravely.

        Ranma sighed. "But," she began, fingering her wet, clinging
skirt.  I REALLY don't want to go to school like this."

        "Don't worry," the raven-haired girl said as she turned towards
her and examined her with a critical eye, "The material doesn't look
_that_ thick. Your dress will probably dry off enough before we-"

        Ranma scowled. "What I mean is, I don't want to go as a GIRL!"

        Rei folded her arms. "You didn't seem to mind coming to
my home, sparring with me, and almost getting engaged to me and
my sisters as a girl."

        The other girl narrowed her eyes. "Hey, I didn't want to
come. My pop, the _spore_, had to knock me out and drag me in,
if you didn't notice! And I didn't exactly have a whole lot of
chance to explain, either. And I said I didn't want to go along
with that whole engagement thing."

        Rei closed her eyes, sighed, and held up a hand. "I'm sorry.
You're right. I apologize." She looked away. "And besides," she
continued pensively, "Who knows how I might have acted in your
place."

        "So, can we go get some hot water somewhere?" Ranma asked.

        Rei nodded. "There's either," she paused as she thought,
"Doctor Mizuno's office or the Nerima Shrine. We don't have much
time, and the temple's closer, so let's go there."

        "Alright."

^_^

        The Nerima Shrine was a peaceful, humble setting, nestled
in the middle of a quiet little park.

        The chirping of birds was augmented by the trickling of water
from a natural spring in the center of the temple courtyard.

        The priest of the shrine smiled, carefully and cheerfully
sweeping the building's porch and walkways, pausing only to drop
a few acorns for the resident squirrels to feed on.

        The caretaker was a short man with a dark complexion. He was
mostly bald, with a few grey remnants of hair at the boundary of his
head. He had a short, catfish-like mustache. In his white and blue
robes, the priest's wrinkled facial features reflected a profound
inner peace...

        The old man blinked, looking at a passer-by: a rather beautiful
young redheaded woman. "Hey, baby," the priest greeted cheerfully,
"wanna come work at the..." He paused, thinking something over. "Oh,
forget it... SWEETO!!!!"

        He leapt forward, propelling himself toward the woman, his arms
wide and his hands forward, then stopped as a black-haired girl
stepped in his path.

        The woman shrugged, and moved on.

        *Thud!* The priest fell to the ground, his face red and
a hand behind his head. "Ah-heheheh... Hi, Rei!"

        Rei narrowed her eyes at him. "What did you think you were
doing!?"

        "Why," the man replied, smiling nervously, "practicing, of
course... So, what brings you here? Don't you have school this
morning?"

        "We just came by to get some hot water," a blonde girl said.
She had an 'odango' hairstyle and two pigtails which went down to
her ankles. She brushed back her bangs, revealing a crescent moon
marking on her forehead. Also, her long white gown was just a tad
wet, and clinging to-

        "Say," the priest began, glancing sideways at the girl, "who's
your new friend, Rei?" He grinned, a little too deeply. "She looks
really..." He paused and shook his head in a rapid motion, assuming
a pious expression. "She looks like a very charming young lady."

        The blonde's face fell into a pout.

        "...Right," Rei said. "This is Ranma. Could you please get
'her' some hot water?"

        The priest nodded. "Be back in two shakes of a squirrel's
tail!" He bolted off to the temple. Two seconds later, he sprang out,
holding a steaming kettle. "Good thing we had that _hot_ water line
put in. Never know when a guest might need some tea." He graciously
handed the kettle to Ranma.

        "Thanks," the blonde said. She held up the kettle in
preparation to pour the contents over her head, but was stopped by
Rei.

        "A-HIM," Rei said, indicating the presence of the old man.
"You don't want everyone to know about _that_, do you?"

        Ranma frowned. "'Course not," she said.

        "What is it?" the priest asked.

        Rei looked at him. "Just... go inside and meditate in front
of the fire for a while, okay?"

        The man frowned momentarily, then smiled and shrugged. "Okay,
whatever you say, Rei." He walked back into the shrine and closed
the door behind him.

        *ROOARR* The skies seemed to darken as a massive power
struggle took place inside the temple...

        The effect subsided within a few moments.

        "I still don't understand how he gets past the wards all
the time," Rei muttered, then turned to Ranma. "You can change
back now."

        "Oh, right," Ranma said, then overturned the kettle above
her.

        *Splash*

^_^

        "Oh no," Luna whispered, "I've lost her!"

        "Does that mean I don't get to cut class looking for her?"
Usagi whined.

^_^

        A very young girl in an oversized white gi, with a pink,
'rabbit-ear' odango hairstyle sat in front of a chessboard, across
from a black-haired man with a mustache.

        "Your move," Soun said.

        "Okay," Genma whispered, staring intently at the game pieces.
Suddenly, she looked up, gasped, and pointed over Soun's shoulder.
"AAAH! WHAT'S THAT?!"

        "Where!?" the man shouted, turning around, coming face-to-
face with the most awful visage he'd ever laid eyes upon.
"GAAAA-AAAH!" He fell out of his chair, onto his face.

        Genma took the opportunity to rearrange the pieces on the
board into a more favorable setup for her.

        *POOF!* Soun looked up to see the horrific, green demon-head
vanish in a puff of white smoke, replaced by a purplish-black, cat-
faced balloon with an antenna, which floated back around to hover
just above and behind Genma's left shoulder.

        Genma chuckled slightly, which came out as a cute giggle.
"Oh, sorry, Tendo. Luna-P gets into these moods sometimes."

        Soun paused, then smiled, sitting back up. "Ah, of course.
Like Mika-san. Now, let's get back to our game." He looked at the
chessboard and frowned. "Hmm..."

        "My turn!" the pink-haired girl exclaimed, moving her queen
into a position that intersected her opponent's king with both of
her rooks, two pawns, and one bishop. "Checkmate!"

        Soun rubbed his mustache. "Wait, I distinctly remember that
you were in check, and-"

        *WHAM!* The Luna-P dove forward, hitting a glancing blow
to the man's head, before settling back down behind Genma.

        "You were saying?" the girl asked, narrowing her eyes slightly.

        Soun sat, dazed for a second, then shook his head to clear
it, and looked back at his friend. "Okay, you win."

        Genma closed her eyes and smiled. "Waiwai!" she squeaked,
overjoyed.

        The black-haired man momentarily raised an eyebrow, then
shrugged. "Shall we play again?"

        The little girl thought for a moment, frowned, then slumped
forward in disappointment over the game table. "Naaah... This is
boring."

        Soun pursed his lips. "Would you like some hot water to
change back?"

        Genma sat up, paused, then nodded. "Yeah, I'd like that."

        Soun nodded. "By the way, have you noticed anything," he
paused, searching for the right word, "different about the way you
act when you're... Well, when you're a little girl?"

        The little girl in question folded her arms, narrowed her
eyes at him, and pouted. "What's that supposta' mean?"

        Soun raised his hands defensively. "I was just saying that-"

        A green-haired woman carrying a bo-staff entered. Setsuna was
dressed in her normal business wear. "Weather forecasts strongly
suggest that there will be heavy precipitation today," she warned
in a carefully controlled tone.

        Genma looked up at her. "Uh, yeah, so?"

        Setsuna looked down at her with a disdainful expression,
as if berating the girl for her ignorance. "Ranma is out there."

        "And...?" Genma pressed.

        The green-haired woman turned away, then paused and gazed
back over her shoulder at the pink-haired girl. "I have said what
needs to be said."

        Soun watched as his daughter moved away in such a fashion
as to make one believe she vanished before his very eyes. He looked
at Genma. "She's right, you know."

        "About what?" the girl asked.

        "Well, if it rains before your son gets to school..."

        Genma gasped as the implications hit her. "Then Ranma'd
go to school as a _GIRL_. He'd disgrace the family name!"

        Soun nodded. "Oh, the sad day when your son goes to school
wearing a dress..."

        Genma narrowed her eyes and stood. "Not in this lifetime."
She looked at her friend. "Alright, boil some water. We can't
let that happen!"

^_^

        Rei glanced at her watch as they approached the gates to
Furinkan High. "Well, what do you know..." She showed the timepiece
to Ranma. "Four minutes to spare."

        "Oh, that's nice," Ranma replied, taking in the scene. He
frowned. "Did I get a schedule or anything?"

        Rei looked sideways at him. "You mean... Setsuna didn't give
it to you?"

        "Uh... no."

        The raven-haired girl sighed.

        "That gonna be a problem?"

        Rei nodded. "Yeah, it _would_ be," she said, "if it wasn't
_exactly_ the same as mine."

        Ranma blinked. "Huh?"

        "My sister showed me your schedule earlier this morning. It
looked just like the one I have."

        "That's scary..."

        "A little _too_ convenient, if you ask me... I think she's
planning something. Since last night, she's been even more distant
than usual."

        Ranma shrugged. "Eh, orobably nothing I need to worry about."
He grinned cockily. "I can handle anything."

        "Oh, really?" Rei asked, then pointed toward the horde
of young men ahead of them, waving pitchforks, voodoo dolls,
crucifixes, burning torches, and an assortment of other objects
that would have had a 1930s movie monster quaking in their boots.
"How about them?"

        "BURN THE WITCH!!!" the group called, their voices seething
with hatred, malice, and an underlying fear.

        "Them?" Ranma asked, raising an eyebrow at his companion.

        Rei nodded. "Umm-hmm. I'd consider it a _great_ personal
favor if you'd please go massacre the whole lot of 'em."

        "Uh... why?"

        "They want to burn me at the stake," Rei noted, then looked
down and frowned, showing obvious signs of fatigue. "After last
night, I _really_ don't want to deal with them today."

        "Why would they want to do burn you at the stake?!?!"

        "It's a long story, but... You remember my Ki attack?"

        "Yeah?"

        "It was bigger," Rei said, then sighed as the group of
zealots began their advance. "Let's just leave it at that, okay?"

        Ranma glanced between Rei and the mob, agape. "Isn't there
some kinda law against-" he began, but broke off when the swarm
was finally upon them.

        "BURN THE WITCH! DESTROY THEM ALL!"

        Ranma sidestepped a pitchfork-wielding High School student...
only to get singed by torch. He winced, then gritted his teeth and
glared at the collected group of individuals. "Awlright, you asked
for it!"

        *BAM*WHACK!*THWACK!*BAMBAMBAMBAMBAMBAMBAMBAMBAAAAAAAAAM!!!!*
A cloud of dust arose as Ranma proceeded to, shall we say, get
medieval on the scrawny hides of the attacking group. Much of the
action could not be seen, but the sounds of battle echoed across
the scholastic campus, confirming the fact that it was, by any
standards, one heck of a fight.

        Soon, the dust cloud died down, leaving Ranma standing,
red-faced, huffing and puffing over a mountain of defeated foes.

        Rei watched from a short distance away. "Wow," she said,
"you just beat my record by half a minute..."

        "Do... Do you do this _every_ morning?!" Ranma asked,
running a hand through his bangs.

        The raven-haired girl nodded. "Yeah, just about. A new
experience for you?"

        "Well... in the morning, yes. I thought this kind of stuff
only went on during _lunchtime_!"

        "You're thinking of Junior High. Lunch is actually pretty
calm around here."

        Ranma climbed off the human hill, making sure to step on
as many heads as he could.

        "Don't... Do not succumb to her wiles," one warned.

        "Redrum," another lost soul muttered.

        "Whatever," Ranma growled. "Get lost!"

        One by one, the battered and beaten male students crawled
out of the pile, stumbing away and groaning.

        A few staggered toward Rei. "Must... destroy," they chanted.

        Rei looked at them passively. "BOO!" she suddenly shouted.

        "AAAH!" the small approaching group screamed, scattering.
"She's a monster!!!"

        Another young man, which had watched the fight from the
sidelines, approached. He carried a long, slightly curved wooden
sword, and wore a white and blue cloth outfit that could be described
as resembling either a priest's outfit, or if you tilted your head
and squinted for a bit, something an ancient samurai might wear.

        "Hmm... Though this be madness, there is method to it," he
whispered, then continued in a loud oration, "Oh, Rei, fair and
beauteous sorceress, repent thy evil ways, so that I may date thee!"

        Rei looked at him and narrowed her eyes. "Maybe... some other
time, Tatewaki."

        Ranma glanced at the last attacker to depart, then looked
back at the other boy. "Who's _this_ guy, Rei?"

        The young man dressed as a samurai immediately whirled to
face Ranma. "Who am I? Who am _I_?"

        Ranma looked him in the eye. "Yeah. Who are you?"

        "Wait," the other boy began, appraising Ranma for a moment,
"who art _thou_?"

        The pigtailed youth folded his arms. "I asked you first."

        The other thought about this. "Quite correct... It _is_ proper
to introduce one's self..." He drew himself up to a straight posture.
"Come from honored family lines, trained in the finest swordsmanship,
Kendo, and experienced in the manner of the court, I am the Shooting
Star, the Raging Beetle, and the Rolling Stone..."

        The young man raised his wooden sword high above himself,
both hands grasping the bokken as clouds began to gather in the sky.
"FOR THE HONOR OF MY HOUSE, MY CLAN, MY FAMILY... I AM THE BLUE
THUNDER OF FURINKAN HIGH!!!"

        *BOOM!*CRASH!* Lightning flashed and thunder crashed about
him for several seconds, before the effects finally died down.

        He closed his eyes and held his weapon in front of him, then
lowered it, placing the tip in the ground. "I am Kuno Tatewaki,
age seventeen."

        "That was... pointless," Ranma said, then continued with a
thoughtful look, "Nice effect, though. You're going to have to
teach it to me sometime." He turned to the girl beside him. "C'mon,
Rei, let's go."

        Rei shrugged. "Might as well."

        *WHOOSH!* Within a flash, Kuno had placed the bokken at
Ranma's neck, his expression suddenly turning to that of great
anger. "But today, you will _die_, foul demon."

        Ranma blinked, looking down the wooden blade aimed at him.
"Where'd _that_ come from?" He ducked a swipe.

        *Riiiing!* The first bell rang, issuing a five-minute
warning: Get to class... or you _will_ regret it.

        Rei sighed, shaking her head. "We don't have time for
this, you two!" she yelled at them.

        "I am willing to risk _anything_ to free thee from the
malevolent powers of this unholy demon, fair Rei!" Kuno proclaimed,
diving in for another strike. "It is _he_ who hast enslaved thee
to thy will, forcing-OOMPH!"

        Ranma withdrew his fist from the Kendoist's face.

        Kuno Tatewaki slumped to the ground, dazed.

        "Okay, that'll work," Rei said, then indicated the school.
"We've only got four minutes. Come on!"

        "What's the big deal about being late?" Ranma wondered aloud.
"I mean, what're they gonna do? Make us hold buckets outside class?"

        Rei grabbed the boy by the arm and pulled him along as she
rushed toward the school doors. "If only we should be so lucky..."

        *Rumble* Thunder roared briefly. Ranma glanced up to see
black rainclouds gathering.

        *WHAM!* The young man slammed directly into the wall by the
school doors in Rei's hurry to get inside.

        "You can stop delaying _any_ time now, odango-atama," Rei
said, pulling him through the open door.

        "Hey, don't call me that!" Ranma blurted out, then paused
to watch the rain begin to fall. "But yeah, let's go..."

        The large metal doors automatically closed behind them.
 

        Within a few seconds, it finally began to rain, the sounds
of the droplets hitting the ground echoing throughout the nearly
empty schoolground.

        Kuno Tatewaki groaned, pushing himself off the ground.
"Alas," he whispered, "the demon is too strong to face directly."
He gritted his teeth and stood. "Nevertheless, I must redouble
my efforts, for he has threatened to..." He paused, holding the
deep bruise on his face. "He... has control over my fair Rei...
and must be destroyed."

        The young man trudged a few steps in the rain, walking to
the wall, and leaned on it. "The cur will feel the righteous
wrath of..." He sighed. "But I know nothing of him, and he has
defeated me with impunity. This may be a battle even the Blue
Thunder cannot win alone..."

        Kuno closed his eyes, knelt down in the grass, and held
his bokken in front of him. "I pray to the gods and my ancestors...
There is one who threatens the will and chastity of a young maiden.
There is none left to oppose this foul demon but I. My circumstances
are indeed dire, for he has far more power than I, and I fear that
I may not be able to defeat him. I pray to you, those that will
hear me, to send me aid... I ask that... you send me someone to
help and guide me through this... I wish-"

        *Whump!* Suddenly, a little, pink-haired girl carrying a
kettle jumped over the wall, landing on Kuno's head.

        "Alright," the girl muttered, looking around, "Soun-kun said
he'd be here. So where is he?!"

        "Ah!" Kuno exclaimed, standing. "My great ancestor, Kuno
Sounkun, sends to me a sprite, to assist me in my quest against
the foul spawn of the netherworld!"

        The cute little girl looked down at him. "Hey! You seen
Ranma?"

        Kuno put away his bokken, then took the child off his head
and held her before him. "Ranma, you say, young sprite? Who, or
what, I pray you, is that?"

        The girl didn't so much as bat an eyelash. "Ranma! Saotome
Ranma. He's this boy, a little shorter than you, black hair in
a pigtail, red and black Chinese outfit, or if not him, this
blonde girl in a white dress with two pigtails that go down to
her ankles-"

        Kuno's expression focused. "Saotome is his name, then,
young sprite?"

        The girl nodded. "Yeah. He came to school? Seen 'em?"

        The black-haired teenager nodded in response. "I have."
He gritted his teeth. "He was with my fair Rei when-"

        "He's with Rei?" The girl smiled. "Good, there's hope for
it to go through after all..."

        "Hope, you say?" Kuno asked. "Of what?"

        "They're-"

        "Oh, yes, how could I have missed it... Hope of freeing
Rei from his clutches, so that we may be bound together forever
in the holy bonds of our eternal love!"

        The 'rabbit-eared' girl blinked. "Ummm... Kinda." She
held up the kettle. "So, since you know where Ranma is, could
you give this to 'em?"

        "Ah... An artifact to bring about the destruction of that
_accursed_ Saotome... I will be honored to deliver it!" He
placed the girl on the ground and took the kettle. "I thank
you for your assistance, young sprite! May we meet again!"

        With that, Kuno marched with determination toward the
school, entering the titanic edifice, his purpose clear in his
mind.
 

        "Well, that guy was a wacko," Genma muttered. "And where
do people get around calling me stuff like that!? It's either
'spore,' or 'sprite,' or..." She paused, brushing some of the
rainwater out of her hair. "And wouldn't you know it? I forgot
to bring..."

        *Poof!* Luna-P hovered in close, turning into pink, frilled
umbrella, which the girl caught and opened above her head.

        Genma looked up at the sturdy parasol. "Ah, Luna-P! You're the
only one that understands me." She thought about that for a moment.
"Well, 'cept Soun-kun, but..."

        *Riiiing!* The school bell rang, signaling the beginning
of class for some, and a horrible, screaming doom for everyone
else.

        "I should probably get back," the little girl said, then
hunched over and leapt back over the school wall, and without
missing a beat, started walking back to the Tendo home, her
umbrella held firmly above her.

        *Vroom-vroom!* There was a brief revving of an engine
behind her.

        Genma slowly turned around and saw something that made her
gasp.

        Sitting upon a Harley-Davidson motorcycle was a tall, muscular
man dressed in black leather. His hair was dark brown and his eyes
were covered by a pair of black sunglasses. His square-jawed
expression remained motionless on his clean-shaven face. Faint red
dots hued the centers of his eyes through the dark shades.

        "Hello, little girl," the man said in a firm Austrian accent.
He held out a hand. "Come with me if you want to live."

        "Umm..." Genma started... and took off running in the other
direction as fast as her legs would carry her... which was actually
pretty fast.

        *Vroom-roooom!* The man revved his motorcycle, kicking it
into gear.

        And the chase was on!

^_^

        A man in a white labcoat stood, laughing maniacally above his
lab equipment.

        The room's lighting was arranged such that everything from
just below his shoulders up to the top of his head could not be
seen, except for his eyes, which burned a bright blue color.

        Just to his side stood a woman in a somewhat smaller labcoat.
Her long hair was a very deep shade of red, as were her lips. She
smiled as she observed the work being done.

        The man in the pocketed white labcoat tuned his laughter down
to a slight chuckle as he looked to the large beaker in front of him.

        The beaker contained a reddish fluid, and what appeared to
be a very large organic cell. The cell pulsated slightly.

        The man took a test tube containing another reddish liquid,
and slowly poured it into the beaker.

        The cell began throbbing wildly, drawing in small pieces
of material surrounding it. Suddenly, it gave off a bright flash.

        *Crash!* All at once, the beaker shattered, leaving the
fluid to pour out onto the floor.

        Only a small, white, ribbed ovoid structure remained, hovering
a few inches above the table where the beaker had been.

        The man cupped his hands around the ovoid, examined it, then
lifted his head, and let out a new peel of wide-mouthed, roaring
laughter.

        The red-haired woman looked on in fascination.

        A student's hand shot up. "Excuse me, Tomoe-sensei. Is
this going to be on the final?"

        Tomoe-sensei turned toward the rest of the class, cleared
his throat, and looked to his assistant. "Kaolinite..."

        The woman looked at the student. "Otaku-san, I'm surprised
you would ask such a question. This _is_ a vital step in fully
understanding the course."

        Atsukamashii Otaku, who considered himself the most perfect,
pure-hearted, and all-knowing member of class, nodded. "Okay." He
began to take notes in elegantly-drawn characters, manipulating
his pencil in ways that he was sure would make most deities jealous.

        Kaolinite looked at him, smiled, and winked at Tomoe-sensei,
who smiled very broadly in return, raising his hands in front of
him and erupted into another fit of maniacal laughter.

        The ovoid levitating above its broken beaker tilted in
Otaku-san's direction... and floated toward his pencil.

        Atsukamashii was too absorbed in his task to notice the
sequence wherein the white object rotated into place, and latched
onto his writing implement in a smattering of clear reddish goo.
Finally, the egg absorbed into the wood and graphite structure.

        A dark flash struck the room as Otaku-san's pencil tore itself
from his grasp, quickly warping into a humanoid shape. Within seconds,
the pencil had changed into a voluptuous woman with a black, pointy
pageboy haircut, wearing a tight grey business suit and carrying a
brown briefcase in her left hand. She wore a pair of round eyeglasses
on her face.

        She was also about eight inches tall.

        Atsukamashii blinked, looking at her. "Hey... that's cute!"

        "REPORTINATOR!" the tiny woman shouted, then wasted no more
time and leapt into the air, keeping Otaku-san in her sight. She
flung open her briefcase, sending hundreds of pencils at him,
knocking him out of his seat and pinning him to the wall.

        "Whoa!" Otaku-san shouted in surprise, attempting, but failing
to pull out of his restraints.

        The transformed pencil landed on an empty desk, lined up with
her target, and placed her hands on the lapels of her suit-jacket.

        *Daa-da-da-da-daaa!* Somewhere, the London Symphony Orchestra
played the first few notes of the Superman movie theme as the
"Reportinator" pulled her jacket fully open, revealing an orange,
red, and silver leotard with a large black star covering the chest.

        A flickering black beam shot out from the star, and hit
directly on Otaku's chest, creating a dark energy bubble where it
impacted.

        Within moments, an ornate, yet jagged glowing red crystal
withdrew from where the beam hit, and levitated toward the woman,
who closed her jacket, and then to Kaolinite, who examined it.

        "Is it...?" Tomoe-sense asked.

        The redhead frowned, looked at him, and shook her head.

        "A waste of resources, then," the teacher muttered, and
looked toward the motionless boy attached to the wall. "We
wouldn't want to lose this source of income, so you may as well
return it, Kaolinite..."

        Kaolinite smiled. "Now, why would-"

        Suddenly, the door was flung open as Kuno strode inside and
leveled his bokken at the teaching assistant. "Unhand that boy's
pure heart, foul creature!"

        Kaolinite was unable to keep herself from smirking. "Oh?"
She turned to the modified pencil. "Reportinator..."

        Reportinator nodded, and with an attack cry, leapt toward
Kuno, her briefcase ready for another strike.

        Kuno also dove forward, swinging his bokken at the creature.

        *THWACK!* The boy's blow struck long before the small woman
had a chance to fire off any pencils.

        Kuno swung around, then raised his wooden sword above him,
and slashed down at the Reportinator, a thick bolt of blue lightning
trailing his weapon.

        *SMASSSSZZZZZZZZT!* Kuno's strike connected straight-on.

        "LOVELY!!!" Reportinator shouted, before flickering and
vanishing, leaving behind a small orange pencil, which clattered
down onto Otaku-san's desk.

        The white, lined egg squeezed out of the pencil, fell onto
the desk, and broke in half.

        *SCREAAAAOWWW!!!* A black shadow clawed its way out of the
shattered ovid, screamed, and dissipated into the air.

        Atsukamashii's restraints vanished, leaving him to slump to
the floor.

        Kuno turned back toward Kaolinite. "Return that crystal to
its owner, demonspawn!"

        The red-haired woman smiled at the boy's brave stupidity at
destroying the weak creation. "Well... alright. Just this once."

        She tossed the heart crystal over to the prone Otaku-san,
where it slipped silently into him. In a moment, he sat up, looked
around, and stumbled over to his desk, groaning and muttering
something about "the third time this week."

        "Now, depart, foul witch!" Kuno spat.

        Kaolinite laughed, her long hair extending and wrapping around
him, picking him up and flinging him into a wall. "You're a cute
kid, you know that?" She laughed again, then shook her head and
disappeared, leaving her white labcoat to float to the ground.

        Slowly, Kuno pulled himself out of the wall. "Truly, her
spirit has fire within it," he whispered, somewhat dazed.

        Naturally, Tomoe-sensei laughed at this.

        Rei glanced to the other attentive students, then leaned over
to whisper to Ranma, "Did you get all that? They're going to test
us on it later."

        "ZZzzzzz," Ranma snored in return, his arms folded and his
eyes closed.

        "Ranma," the raven-haired girl whispered urgently, "this
_isn't_ a good time for that."

        At the mention of the name 'Ranma,' Kuno looked around
and spotted his nemesis. "SAOTOME!" he bellowed in anger.

        Ranma bolted upright. "Huh??? I was listening! Really!"

        "SAOTOME," Kuno repeated, "I WILL RID THIS WORLD OF YOUR
MALEVOLENT PRESENCE NOW AND FOREVER!!!"

        Ranma leapt out of his desk and landed in front of the
bokken-wielding boy in a ready combat stance. "Alright, so ya
still wanna fight, huh? No problem!"

        Rei stood, glaring at him. "Sit down, Ranma!"

        Kuno gripped his weapon in both hands and narrowed his
eyes. "Prepare yourself, demon!" He raised the bokken and dove
forward with a battle cry.

        *SLAP!* Ranma caught the bokken with two flattened palms
and with barely an afterthought, wrenched the wooden sword from
his opponent's grasp, tossing it aside, then followed up with a
kick to Kuno's chest, knocking him back against the wall. "Hah!
gotcha!"

        The young man dressed as a samurai slowly stood, a hand at
his chest as he tried to take back the wind that had been knocked
out of him. "Yes... Yes, Saotome, but victory will not be thine...
Not this day." He reached into the folds of his robe and prepared
to pull out his secret weapon.

        Tomoe-sensei merely watched in fascination, as did a majority
of the student body.

        "Stop it, you two!" Rei shouted. "Unless you want a squad
of stormtroopers breathing down our necks!"

        Ranma looked sideways at her. "Stormtroopers...?"

        "Big guys in white armor with guns? Yes, stormtroopers!!!"

        "Enough," Kuno spat, and pulled out a brass tea kettle that
gleamed in the flourescent lighting. "Your doom is at hand!"

        Ranma raised an eyebrow at him. "A kettle?"

        "Wrong," Kuno smiled, "it is an artifact given to me by an
angelic young sprite, sent from the famed Kuno Sounkun for thy
destruction, netherspawn!"

        The pigtailed martial artist blinked. "Oh..." He tilted
his head at Kuno. "Are you just crazy, or is that something you
have to practice?"

        "I know not what thou speakest of, Saotome," the kendoist
replied, and held the kettle forward like a talisman. "But now,
it is _I_ who have the advantage!" He began to advance.

        Tomoe-sensei laughed.

        Rei rolled her eyes, her shoulders slumping. "This is getting
ridiculous, you guys... Oh, forget it." She sat down.

        Ranma stayed tensed as Kuno approached, dodged as the
kettle was swung at him, then rebounded for a kick that knocked
the container away and sent the other fighter crashing out the
window.

        "Wait... What are you doing, odango-atama!?!!?" Rei yelled
as Ranma jumped out the window after Kuno.

        The students rushed to the window to watch the fight continue.
Since the rain had stopped, the view was clear.

^_^

        It wasn't until halfway down that Ranma remembered that the
classroom wasn't on the ground floor.

        There was no problem, though. He still had a fraction of a
second remaining to grab a conveniently-placed flagpole, and
swing himself to land comfortably on the ground just _beside_
the swimming pool that his opponent had just crashed into.

        Oh, sure, he _could_ have skipped the entire procedure and
used the water to break his fall, but for some unknown reason, he
simply had no desire to be a princess at the moment.

        Kuno Tatewaki poked his head out of the pool and coughed
the water out of his large, powerful lungs. "Curse you, Saotome!"

        Ranma folded his arms. "Yeah, whatever."

        The kendoist narrowed his eyes and slowly sank down into the
water.

        *WHOARSH!!!* All of the sudden, Kuno performed a powerful
leap, bringing with him massive amounts of the pool's contents
splashing out with him.

        "YAAAH!" Ranma shouted, wide-eyed, jumping upwards in attempts
to avoid the onrushing liquid.

        *Splash!* This time, though, he had reacted too slowly, and
was hit by the top edge of the mini-typhoon.

        Kuno rushed forward, then stopped as the blonde girl in the
white gown plopped directly into his arms. "What vision of loveliness
is this?!"

        *KERRUNCH!* Ranma smashed her dainty Moon Princess fist into
Kuno's bemused kendoist face.

        "Ah, but she commands great power," the young man breathed in
awe, then collapsed backward onto the ground.

^_^

        The students observing the battle watched it with no small
degree of shock.

        Finally, a male student by the name of Hiroshi spoke up.
"Hey, check it out! Ranma's a Metamorphic Jadacha Hermaphrodite!"

        His friend, Daisuke looked at him. "A what?!"

        "A cross-gender shapeshifter! With shapeshifting clothes, too!"

        Daisuke looked back to the girl below. "Oh. Cool, I guess..."

        Hiroshi grinned. "I dare you to ask 'em out!"

        "Whaaat?! No way!"

        "Hey, I don't know about you, but I think she's cute!"

        "She's a _guy_!"

        "Heh... Doesn't look like it from _this_ angle!"

        "Yeah, but-"

        "And how do you know she isn't really a she and she's just
disguised 'cause she's looking for her prince or something?"

        "Oooh, good point..."

        Similar discussion went on throughout the group.

        "Well, that's warped."

        "I think Futaba-kun's a cuter girl than Ranma."

        "Yes, but you don't get to see something like this that often."

        Tomoe-sensei had his attention directed elsewhere, and being
the giggling loon that he was, he continued to laugh.

        Rei gritted her teeth as she watched Ranma look around and
depart. "Hoo-boy... He's never going to hear the end of _this_."
She shook her head and started to walk away from the window. "I
_tried_ to warn him, but-"

        *Chink* Rei's shoe tapped against the kettle that Kuno had
dropped. "Hmm..." She picked it up and popped open the lid. "Just
hot water. No wacky surprises, and I'm not getting any wierd vibes
from it..." She nodded to herself. "He could probably use this."

^_^

        Luna's ears pricked up. "She's back! I can feel her again!"

        "Shhh!" Usagi hushed the cat. "Haruna-sensei's talking."

        The brownish-red-haired woman at the front of the class
turned to her. "What was that, Miss Tsukino?"

        "Er, nothing, Haruna-sensei!"

        "Oh," the woman said, turning back toward the chalkboard,
silently thanking her lucky stars that the school hadn't switched
to that annoying whiteboard-thing with the colored markers yet.
Suddenly, something struck her as very odd, and she turned back to
Usagi. "Tsukino-san, you are aware that there's a cat on your head,
aren't you?"

        The pigtailed blonde blinked. "Umm..."

^_^

        A young, pink-haired girl ran in sheer terror through the
streets, huffing and puffing as she tried to get away from whoever
it was that pursued her.

        Having eluded her pursuer for the moment, Genma leaned against
a tall wooden fence to catch her breath. It had stopped raining, so
the scenery wasn't all that ominous anymore, but still, that man had
looked _scary_ to her. But, why would-

        *Rrrrr* The roar of a nearby motorcycle jolted her back into
action. She quickly glanced around for a place to hide, then jumped
over the fence.

        Taking in her new surroundings, Genma found herself on the
outskirts of what looked like a construction site: A framework of
riveted metal girders supported a bare wooden structure, which had
apparently been put into place to help the workers walk around on
the six-level proto-building.

        Equipment lay scattered around the site, and there were no
other people present.

        A large, white sign leaned against an earth-mover read, "Coming
Soon: GENOM Enterprises, Inc." In much larger text below that, it
continued, "A subsidiary of Disney."

        A picture of Mickey Mouse dominated the entire left half of the
sign.

        Genma blinked. "So... Disney isn't just one company?"

        *Zrrrr!* Something made a whirring noise next to her.

        Genma gasped, then turned to see what it was. "Oh, Luna-P!"

        Luna-P tilted forward in a way to make it look like it was
nodding, then hovered off toward the incomplete building.

        *CRASH!* A large, black-gloved fist smashed into the thick,
teak wood fence, punching a hole through the 'Closed for
Refurbishing' sign and grabbing hold of the back of Genma's gi.

        "AAAAH!" the girl screamed as she was lifted into the air
by her pursuer, who shattered the rest of the fence section to
get at her.

        The tall, muscular man turned her around to look at her,
his expression showing the same unwavering focus as it did before.

        Genma flailed at him with a flurry of her strongest punches
and kicks to his chest, arms, and face...

        "Ow!" the rabbit-eared child said as her attacks took no
other effect than to make her hands and feet sting. The man was
like metal!

        "You," the man began in a deep, menacing tone, "are-"

        Genma turned her head toward the building. "LUNA-P!!!"

        The catlike ball in the distance turned toward her, then
nudged a precariously balanced metal girder off its resting
point, the rope it was attached to swinging it in an arc toward
the biker.

        *WHAM!* The steel plank just barely missed Genma, tearing
into the man's shoulder, knocking the girl out of his grasp in
the process.

        Genma landed safely in the soft dirt. She took a moment to
catch her breath, and looked back toward the man. "AAAAAAAH!" she
screamed as she saw him stand, yank the girder out of his shoulder
in a hand-over-hand motion, and turn back at her, his shaded eyes
glowing red.

        The man pulled his jacket tighter around the gaping, bloodless
wound and began his advance toward her.

        Genma began to turn and run, but stopped, narrowed her eyes,
gritted her teeth, and faced him. "Remember the Master's training,"
she whispered to herself, then paused and shuddered. "I can do it,
though, I can do it... But those _things_..."

        The pink-haired girl shook her head to help clear her doubt,
then raised her right hand into the air, beginning to glow with an
off-red aura. She spun around, bringing her hands back together.
"Momoiri," she began, forcing her hands forward, her aura
intensifying, "Satou... Iki Batsu!!!" Her Ki flowed to her palms,
glowing even brighter than before, and...

        Nothing. The aura faded before anything could happen.

        The man continued to walk ominously nearer to her.

        "Errrrr," Genma whispered uneasily, and brought her hands
back, and thrust them forward again. "Momoiri Satou Iki Batsu!"

        Again, nothing happened... until a second later when a stream
of small, light-red Ki spheres pulsed out from her hands at the man,
a few cute music-box notes playing in the background.

        *Boink-boink-boink-boink* The spheres bounced off of him
without effect, not even working to slow him down.

        Genma gasped, wide-eyed, and seeing that it did no good, she
shut off the attack.

        The biker stopped, then reached down to pick her up again.

        The little girl swung around, only to be caught by him by
the back of her gi, looking for all the world like a trapped,
frightened bunny as she was lifted up. "Luna-P!" she called in
desperation.

        *Wrrrr*WHAM!* The kitty balloon flew up and slammed into the
man, knocking him down and allowing Genma to get away.

        The leather-clad man stood, took one look at Luna-P, and
backhanded it away. He then turned to see his target running to
the metal structure and clambering up the supports to a more
concealed location.

        He pushed his sunglasses back into place, reached into his
jacket and drew out a shotgun that looked entirely too large to
have fit in there.

        *Chk-CHK!* The man cocked his weapon and began his slow walk
toward the structure.
 

        Once more, Genma found herself hiding and struggling to catch
her breath. She sat against a vertical metal and concrete pillar,
down on the wooden floor.

        The girl took a quick peek around the pillar and nearly froze.

        The man was still coming, and he had a gun now...

        A very big, long, and _shiny_ gun.

        Genma began to hyperventilate, her frightened thought processes
running wild.

        What was she going to do?!

        He wasn't HUMAN! He was going to kill her!

        Tears would have welled up in her eyes, but she was too scared
to even cry.

        Suddenly, it struck her:

        Not human.

        Not. Human.

        A long time ago, she had created a new, powerful style of
martial arts techniques. However, she had sworn to herself that those
moves, the Forbidden Techniques, would be sealed forever when she had
seen the unintended, and very unfortunate, results of its use by
another man.

        As the heavy footsteps of her enemy neared, she quickly decided
that it was time to reconsider her oath.

        If that thing wasn't human, well...

        She quickly shook her head. Who cared if he was human or not?!

        She wanted to LIVE!

        "Come out willingly, little girl, and I will make it painless,"
came the oddly accented voice of the man behind her.

        Genma turned, and seeing how close he was, she freaked. She
dashed away from the pillar and jumped on a nearby rope that was
hanging from a few rafters, intent on reaching higher ground.

        What she didn't count on was the man shooting the rope mere
milimeters above her hands.

        She crashed back down and blinked at the piece of rope in her
hands, then glanced behind her.

        The man continued his relentless walk towards her, ejecting
the spent round from his shotgun and loading it anew.  "It will all
be over soon," the man added in a dead voice.

        That was enough for Genma. Forget the oath!

        The girl took the piece of rope in her hands and ran towards
the man, hoping to get a few moves in before he had a chance to aim
the gun at her.

        "Kinshi Kinbakushou!" Genma shouted, quickly tying up the
black-clad biker with the rope, which was now glowed with a bright
aura.

        Next, she took a few steps back to check her handywork. The man
was now immobilized, having been tied rather like a sausage.

        "Ha! Gotcha!" Genma said in a defiant, and _very_ relieved
tone. "Whatcha gonna do now?  That gun won't help you now!"

        The biker flexed his arms, causing glowing rope to snap.

        Genma's defiance fled twice as quickly as it had come.
"LUNA-P!!! HELP MEEEE!!!"

        The cat-shaped ballon responded to her call, speeding at the
biker, turning into a thick, black cloth that wraped itself tightly
around the man's head.

        Genma quickly sprang into action. "Dokuja Tanketsu Shou!" she
shouted, thrusting out a palm towards and man's heart, and...

        *KERRRUNCH!*

        "OOOWWWIIIEE!!!" Genma cried in pain, holding her small fist
with her other hand. "What're you made out of?!?" she shouted at
him, in a daze from the pain. "Reinforced titanium?!"

        The man did not respond, and, apparently unhurt by Genma's
attack, ripped the cloth off of his face and looked at the girl with
his glowing red eyes. "It is over now, little girl," he said,
leveling his shotgun at her.

        Genma leat out a quick "EEEEP!!!" then took off running... but
didn't get very far.

        *CRACK!* The girl suddenly stumbled to the floor, unable to
keep moving.  For a split second, she considered the horrifying
possibility that the man had shot her in the legs...

        "That was a warning," intoned the biker.

        Genma looked at the smoking hole in the boards by her feet,
then back up at the man, and did the last thing she could.

        "KIJIN RAISHU DAN!!!" she called out in a banshee-like wail,
separating her hands as quickly as she could with her injury.

        The vacuum-blade created by the rapid movement exploded forth
and hit the biker dead-on, sending him flying off the building and
across the construction site. He hit a metal support girder dead-on,
bending it backwards, causing a precariously-balanced load of heavy
8x8x16 bricks to fall on top of him as well, obscuring him in a cloud
of dust.

        Genma sighed in relief, cradling her wounded hand.

        It was over.

        It was finally over.

        She had used the most powerful weapon in her arsenal... and it
was over.

        Just to make sure, though, she climbed off the incomplete
structure and made her approach the fallen brick stack.

        As the dust settled, she finally got a good look at her
attacker and gasped.

        Instead of being bisected by the vacuum blade, the man's skin
had been sheared off in a vertical line...

        And beneath the parted flesh was a silvery-gray metal.

        Genma whimpered as what she realized was a killer robot out
to get her stood back up, shook off the brick fragments, looked down
at its destroyed shotgun, then turned back to her, pulling out a much
smaller handgun and pointing it at her.

        *Chk-chk*PTTHT* A small, sharp, grey projectile shot out from
the gun and stuck in her shoulder.

        The pink-haired girl took a shocked breath and pulled out the
dart as quickly as she could, tossing it aside. She then turned and
ran back towards the building.

        The deadly machine did not waver it its determination to
pursue her.

        Genma rushed past the building, and momentarily glanced back
to see that the robot was standing just beside one of the edifice's
main supports...

        "KIJIN DAI RAN BUU!!!"

        The little girl spun around wildly, releasing Ki blades at
key points along the building's superstructure, utterly destroying
this side's ability to stay upright.

        In a scattering of falling metal girders, metal boards, and
concrete, the entire building collapsed sideways on Genma's pursuer,
the dust cloud from this obliteration flowing out through the
streets.

        Genma fell to her knees, exhausted from this effort. She
shielded her mouth and eyes as the choking dust passed her.

        After a moment's thought, she decided that she had experienced
more enough for the day. Killer robots were most definitely NOT her
cup of tea. Looking up to notice that Luna-P had rejoined her, she
started back to the Tendo Dojo, seeking to lose herself in a game of
shoji with Soun. Maybe it'd be more diverting than that chess game
was.

        And she _needed_ something to take her mind off all this...

        Her thoughts in this arena trailed off and her eyes widened
as she heard heavy footsteps behind her. She turned to see a pair
of glowing red eyes staring back at her from a half-metal face.

        The robot had been slightly damaged, but only in its organic
component. It wasn't even limping.

        Genma let out a quick, frightened squeak and continued her
sprint back to the Tendo household.

^_^

        Standing on a thick branch of a tall tree and clad only in
her white, princess-style shoes and surprisingly modest white slip,
Ranma tossed her pigtails back over her shoulders and started to
ring out her clothes.

        "Stupid curse, stupid hair, stupid DRESS!!!" she muttered to
herself, rolling up her gown and twisting it, trails of water
dripping down its ornate folds.

        Ranma took another quick look around to make sure nobody
could see her, then continued her task.

        "Well, odango, it certainly looks like you've made yourself
at home," a somewhat deep female voice came from next to her.

        "Huh?!" Ranma blurted out in surprise, then struggled to keep
her balance as she looked toward the speaker.

        Haruka grinned back at her, standing on another branch and
leaning against the tree. She looked at the surrounding landscape.
"There's a nice view up here, wouldn't you agree?"

        The pigtailed girl took a quick glance toward the ground.
"Uh, yeah, I guess. But I can't fight right now. I'm kinda...
in the middle of something."

        "So I see..."

        Ranma went back to drying off her dress, then paused and
turned to her. "You wouldn't by any chance happen to have any hot
water with you now, would you?"

        "I'm afraid not."

        "What are you doing here, by the way?"

        "I just came to apologize for my outburst yesterday."

        "You're... not going to hold some endless lifelong grudge
against me?" Ranma asked, deeply surprised.

        "On the contrary," Haruka smiled, "I like you."

        The Moon Princess blinked. "Oh... Okay, so you're not mad
about that engagement deal?"

        The tall blonde shrugged slightly. "I could get used to it..."

        "That's _not_ what I meant!"

        Haruka stepped onto the same thick branch as Ranma. "It's what
_I_ meant, odango."

        Ranma's eyes widened as the taller girl came closer to her.
"Uhh... That's nice..."

        "I'm not kidding," Haruka whispered, still smiling, "I'm
attracted to you."

        "Umm... Maybe we can talk after school and when I've changed
back."

        There was a slight gleam to Haruka's eye. "You don't have to
worry about that. I'm happy _just_ the way you are," she breathed,
her face barely an inch away from Ranma's.

        The princess backed off, trembling slightly. "Err..."

        The masculinely dressed woman took one of Ranma's hands in
hers and looked directly into the girl's eyes. "Odango, you would
have to be the most-"

        "Haruka," another voice interrupted, this one undeniably
feminine, "I think you've teased Ranma quite enough for now."

        Haruka gave a soft chuckle and glanced through the concealing
leaves of the tree. "Why? Getting jealous?"

        "Mmm... Just a little."

        "Well then," Haruka said, turning back to the pigtailed girl,
"we'll have to meet again sometime."

        Ranma slowly nodded, hesitating as she stood in shock.

        In the next instant, the tall woman had passed through the
leaves and vanished from view.

        It took another moment for Ranma to recover.

        "Oh! Teasing! She was just teasing," the blonde girl finally
realized to herself with a sigh of relief.

        "Hey, _there_ you are, odango-atama!" an annoyed girl called
from below.

        Ranma shifted her drying dress around to hold it under her
arm, then looked down to see Rei. "Could you _please_ not call
me that?!"

        Rei glared up at her. "Oh, but it's the perfect name for
you! Think about it: You've got odangos on the outside of your
head, to go with the spaghetti _inside_!"

        "Well," Ranma shouted back, "that's a fine thank-you for the
guy who saved you from a rampaging bunch of paranoid Transylvanian
villagers this morning!!!"

        The raven-haired girl paused. "Do they serve spaghetti with
odangos? No, that's meatballs," she whispered to herself, then looked
back up at the blonde. "Okay, _thanks_ for taking them out! Now, can
you tell me why you felt the need to go do what you just did!?"

        "He was going to fight me anyway, Rei! What's your problem?!"

        "My _problem_ is that you haven't even made it past the first
day, and you're well on your way to making things even _more_
complicated around here than they already are!"

        "What do you mean?"

        "I mean: Whenever things start getting out of hand, the people
who run the schools do things to try and make sure they _don't_."

        "Uh... Like what?"

        "Well, you saw the big doors out front, right? Use your
imagination!" Rei called up to him, then muttered under her breath,
"You probably couldn't think of _half_ what they've already done."

        Ranma sighed. "So, going to do anything besides yell at me?"

        Rei nodded. "Yes, actually. I was wondering if you'd like
_this_." She held up the still-steaming tea kettle she had been
carrying.

        The pigtailed girl's eyes widened. "Yeah! Pass it up!"

        With a flick of her wrist, Rei tossed the kettle to Ranma,
who had absolutely no difficulties catching it. "If I understand
your curse right," the part-time priestess said, "you'd probably
want to get back into that dress before you change back."

        Ranma looked down at her, gown in one hand and kettle in the
other. "No I wouldn't. Then, I'd just have to deal with being all
wet again, and..." She paused. "Eh, whatever." She set about the
task of getting back into her ornate Moon Princess gown while
holding onto the hot water container.

        Rei looked away... and noticed the approach of one of the
most annoying people in her life. "Ranma, you might want to hurry
up with that."

        "Oh, tis a curious day," Kuno said as he approached, holding
his bokken with one hand and his face with the other. "It has seen
the revealing of not one, but two oddities... The one, the captor
of my fair Rei's soul, the other..." His posture straightened.
"She can be none other than-"

        "Ergh," Ranma grunted in an unconsciously refined tone as she
struggled on with her gown, "could you hold 'em off for me, Rei?"

        "Okay, no problem," Rei replied, then took a few steps toward
Kuno before looking back. "Oh, by the way, you're putting it on
backwards." With that, she walked up to kendoist.

        Ranma stared at how she had been slipping on the dress.
"Hey... how could I have missed that!?"

        Holding a red rose in one hand and his bokken in the other,
Kuno bowed before the raven-haired girl. "Ah, Rei, fair and-"

        "-Beauteous sorceress," Rei completed. "I've heard it."
Suddenly, she grinned. "You know, Tatewaki, for someone stuck in
a fantasy world, you're surprisingly unimaginative..."

        "I know not what thou meanest," Kuno replied, "for now, I
search for my Osage no Hime. She is undoubtedly in danger with
the _vile_ Saotome afoot."

        Rei folded her arms and raised an eyebrow. "Osage no Hime,
huh? Speak Japanese, Kuno. I can't understand you."

        Kuno blinked. "Surely Saotome hath bewitched thine ears!"

        Rei held one hand to her chin and the other on her hip,
looking at him quizzically. "There you go again... what _are_ you
saying?"

        Meanwhile, Ranma had just finished climbing back into her
outfit, grumbling all the while about how much she hated it.
"Finally," she whispered in triumph as she held up the still-hot
kettle... then paused. "Wait, there's no way it's _this_ easy..."
She experimentally tipped the kettle's contents on herself...

        *Splash!* The hot water poured over her, transforming him back
into his normal self.

        "Yes!" Ranma shouted, then flung the kettle away.

        "Tell me, Rei," Kuno continued, "hast thou seen the Pigtailed
Princess?"

        *WHAM!* The kettle nailed the kendoist directly in the skull,
knocking him down.

        "Yes," Rei answered, smiling at this, "she's over there, up
in the tree. Her name's Saotome Ranma, she's really a boy that's
been cursed to turn into her, and I've been distracting you to keep
you from finding him, because you're becoming so much of an annoyance
to both of us. There, how's that?"

        Kuno was too busy to do anything other than groan and hold his
heavily damaged head.

        Rei looked down at the kettle. "Hmm... That looks just like..."
She picked it up. "It _is_ ours. I wonder how it got here..." She
turned back to Ranma. "Okay, let's go. They might not miss us if we
get back in another couple of minutes."

        Ranma leapt out of the tree and landed by her. "Works for me."

        Together, they walked back to the school doors... only to come
face-to-face with a large group of students with questioning and
fascinated looks on their faces.

        "How'd you do that!?"

        "Do it again!"

        "Didja see how he took out Kuno? He's tougher than _Rei_!"

        "Wow! Ranma! I had no idea you were so cool!"

        "Are you really a girl, or are you one of those creepy ana-
mates things?"

        "Are you the one controlling Rei's every action?"

        "Yeah, are you really the transforming demon that's enslaved
her?"

        "Can you turn into anything else? I wanna see your Urd
impression!"

        "Quiet, Okatu-kun! I want to see her Belldandy one!"

        "No, you're both wrong, I think he should do Skuld!"

        A young woman in a business outfit, carrying a tape recorder,
walked up to a stunned Ranma. "I'm working for the Furinkan High
School Grand Inquisitor. Torturing minds want to know: What are
your measurements in both forms?"

        "Yeah! And how much can you bench press!?"

        "Do you sing any songs?"

        "Uhhhhh," Ranma began, but was unable to finish.

        "No comment," Rei said, pushing through the crowd, dragging
Ranma behind her.

^_^

        Tendo Soun sighed as he looked sadly at the shogi board that
lay on the floor by the table, unused for years.

        He had wanted to enjoy just one more game with his recently
returned friend, but for some unfathomable reason, Genma had
insisted on playing chess... There had simply been no reasoning
with her... HIM.

        Soun shook his head. He really wished Genma would get back
soon. While he knew that his friend could take care of himself,
having spent multiple years on the road, training his son... not
to mention having survived the Master...

        The dark-haired man shuddered, not wishing to go beyond that
word.

        In any case, though, Soun worried about his friend... The only
chance they had in getting the engagement to work out was for both
of them to work together!

        Soun laughed, shaking his head. He had almost thought that
he worried about Genma, like he were his own daughter. Truly, what
an odd thought!

        Though, with the curse, it actually made a bit of sense, but-

        *CRASH!* The door was knocked open as a 'rabbit-eared' girl
in a white gi rushed in, spotted him, and jumped at him, grabbing
onto his neck and looking desperately into his eyes. "Soun-kun!
Hide meeeee!"

        "There is no escape, little girl," an odd voice called from
outside.

        "Err... why? What did you do?" Soun asked, pulling Genma
off of him and holding onto her.

        Genma's breathing grew more rapid as the seconds wore on.
"Okay, fine, forget it!" she shouted in the man's face, and jumped
out of his grip. She snatched a cloth sheet that had been lying
beside Soun's chair and wrapped itself around her, trembling.

        Soun blinked. "That's not a very good hiding-"

        "Goshin Dai Ryu Sei Fu!"

        Genma vanished, the cloth dropping to the floor, just as
a humanoid figure in black leather, tattered flesh, and shining
metal strode in.

        "Where is she?" the man demanded of Soun.

        "Uhh," Soun began, his hands raised, "I don't know!"

        The robotic figure looked around, his eyes flashing red.
Finally, he looked back at Soun and said, "I'll be back."

        With that, the black-clad man walked out.

        Soun frowned, considering whether to burst into tears or
not. After a single neuron tilted the deadlock vote over to the
'no' side, he stood and decided that he should probably consult
with Setsuna over what to do about all this.

        "Is he gone?" Genma asked, climbing out from under the
table.

        Soun looked down at her. "I-"

        *VROOOM!*CRAAAAASH!!!!!* A black and white car drove
through the front of the house, breaking through the door and
only stopping mere inches away from a shocked Genma and Soun.

        The vehicle's right-side door was flung open and the
killer robot stepped out, snagging Genma by the front of her
gi.

        "LUNA-MRPH!" Genma began, but was silenced when a gloved
hand came over her mouth.

        Now was when Soun decided to start crying.

        The robot took a quick glance at him, "Is this yours?" it
asked.

        The black-haired man sniffed. "That's my only-"

        The leather-clad individual turned back to its quarry, staring
at her with a focused, unemotional expression.

        "A girl your age should be in school," the single-minded
death-machine said simply.

        Genma blinked as she was placed on the floor, the robot
withdrawing a few steps as it took out a yellow notepad and a pen.

        "You are in violation of school attendance rules, charged
with multiple counts of attacking an officer, resisting capture,
guilty of destruction of private property, and of being out of
uniform during school hours," the robotic man continued in the same
threatening tone it had used before.

        "However," he added in a slightly lighter tone, "since this
is the first occurence, leniency is required."

        Soun's tears died down as he noticed the badge on the
machine's jacket. "You're... a truant officer?"

        The officer looked at him, his expression not changing. "I
am a tee eight hundred unit, model one-zero-two alpha. Records of
this incident have been relayed to relevant authorities. Further
infraction will not be tolerated."

        The T-800 looked back at Genma. "You have been registered
in fourth grade at the White Dove Academy. An IV tracer has been
implanted into your bloodstream. I will know whether or not you
have attended. You _will_ go to school." His eyes gleamed
meaningfully at her. "Or else."

        Soun and Genma looked at eachother, not quite knowing whether
to be relieved or scream in terror.

        Luna-P continued to hover by Genma's shoulder, making happy
whirring noises as it glanced between all present individuals.

^_^

        Somewhere, a certain Time Guardian was laughing her head off.

        "Oh my, this is better than Candid Camera," Sailor Pluto
commented, dabbing a tear from her eye.

^_^;;;

        Usagi groaned as she trudged home from school, carrying a
recently failed test in a lowered hand.

        "Usagi," the cat lying across her shoulder said, "we really
should have gone after the Moon Princess while I could still sense
her. Who knows what could happen if the Dark Kingdom finds her!"

        "Luna," the pigtailed blonde whined, "how can you talk about
the Moon Princess at a time like THIS?" She held the test up in
front of the black cat's face.

        "A fifty-one," Luna said. "You're improving, but you still
need to study."

        "I hate studying!" Usagi declared, then held her hands up to
her cheeks and sniffed, tears in her eyes. "And my mother's gonna
KILL me. I failed two tests in a row..."

        Luna glared at her. "Would you be quiet about your personal
problems for a moment?! We can worry about your study habits later.
For now, we have to be ready for our Princess to appear again."

        "What then?"

        "We find her."

        "And," Usagi fidgeted, "then do what?"

        Luna blinked, as if not having seriously considered that.
"Well, er..." Luna trailed off, then straightened, clearing her
throat. "I will need to speak with her. And you will need to protect
her if the Dark Kingdom attacks."

        "But what if they send a whole bunch of evil monsters and
not just one like last time?"

^_^

        The skittering of a small, rat-like creature was the only
sound to be heard in the cavernous Dark Kingdom room.

        A very tall, red-haired woman in a purple gown was seated
on a large, garish, skeletal throne as she waved her hands over
a staff topped with a crystal globe, which levitated inches above
the floor in front of her.

        "This troubles me," Queen Beryl said, looking up from the
globe toward the assembled throng of shadowed youma, "and yet,
it is a great opportunity."

        Murmurs concerning what troubled their queen spread across
the youma horde.

        "Enough," the redheaded woman said, her one word being more
than sufficient to quiet her subjects. "There is no mistaking this.
I have sensed the presence of the Moon Princess. If left alone,
she will undoubtedly become a nuisance to us, as I suspect this
Sailor Moon that Jadeite encountered will be."

        There was another quick discussion among the youma.

        "Therefore," Beryl continued, "I will need her to be taken
care of immediately."

        The room fell silent.

        A group of five scantily-dressed, butterfly-winged women
appeared in front of their queen. "We, the DD Girls, will-"

        Beryl narrowed her eyes. "No."

        The leader of the DD Girls frowned, opened her mouth to
say something, then quickly decided against it. She bowed her
head. "We understand, your majesty."

        The quintet vanished.

        "What I require for this," the purple-clad woman said, "is the
attention of one of my generals. The Princess is not to be
underestimated, as we once did her mother. Jadeite, your presence is
requested."

        In the next heartbeat, a blonde man wearing a purplish-grey
uniform flickered into view. He closed his eyes and bowed slightly,
before standing straight and looking back at Queen Beryl. "Your
majesty, I have been tracking the Moon Princess since her first
faint detection just over a month ago. She appears at regular
intervals, and does not travel far between the times when we can
locate her. A plan has already been set in motion to ensure her
apprehension."

        "I want her brought here as soon as possible," Beryl said.

        Jadeite gave a slight frown. "My youma, Lenta, will not be
ready to face someone of her capacity for several weeks."

        "Then deal with it personally, Jadeite."

        The general bowed once more. "As you command, my queen."

        Beryl glanced down at her globe for a moment, then turned
back to him. "And Jadeite?"

        The blonde man looked up at her. "Yes?"

        "If she resists... then bring back only her head."

        Jadeite returned a malevolent smile. "I understand."

        The man vanished into a dark portal.

^_^

        "Don't worry," Soun said as he attempted to comfort the small,
traumatized girl clinging to him. "I'm sure we can work this out...
maybe explain the curse to them..."

        Genma's eyes were still wide in shock from the realization of
what had happened... and what was going to happen. "Right... Yes,
we have to talk to them, tell them that I'm not really a little
girl. I'm Saotome Genma, father of Ranma, husband of Nodoka-"

        Setsuna looked up from her magazine, New Fashions for a New
Age. "And the third least convincing individual in this world," she
intoned. "Even with repeated demonstrations, you will never make it
past the bureaucracy inherent in this area's school council." She
tilted her head, a mysterious glimmer in her eyes. "Once you have
been placed into its system, there is no hope of escape."

        Genma's pink hair drooped slightly as she looked at the
green-haired woman. "No escape...?"

        "None," Setsuna replied, "unless you are very clever." A
hint of a smile came to her lips. "You are not clever."

        Soun sniffled. "She's right!" he cried.

        Genma's frown deepened. "So I'll really have to go to school?"

        The eldest Tendo daughter nodded. "Yes. Think of it, though,
as a new beginning. I am certain you remember the long, difficult
times you had through your first fleeting experience with your
small education. You now have an opportunity to correct that."

        Genma hopped out of Soun's grasp and walked toward her. "I
don't wanna... I don't need to go! I'm through with all that. I'm
married, I have a son, and I need all the time I have to get his
marriage to you worked out!"

        Setsuna actually looked somewhat amused. "Do you, now?"

        The dimunitive girl narrowed her eyes up at the woman and
began a retort, but broke off when Ranma and Rei walked in through
the large hole in the wall.

        Ranma glanced at the debris where a wall had once been. "What
happened?! Did you have a run-in with a wrecking-ball?!"

        "It seems," Setsuna replied, "that your father was caught
failing to attend his classes today."

        The pigtailed boy looked at her. "Pop? Why would _he_ have
to go to..."

        Rei, after examining the debris and turning to stare at Genma,
started laughing.

        "What's so funny?!" Genma demanded.

        "_You_," Rei chortled in disbelief, "got caught... playing
_hookie_?!" She tilted her head back and lifted her arms, a wide
smile on her face as she proclaimed, "Yes! There IS justice in this
world!"

        "You're more right than you think," came Haruka's voice as
she ducked through the hole in the wall, smirking. She walked over
to Ranma, holding out a scroll that had been sealed with a wax
imprint. "I've got a message for you, _Princess_," she said cooly
as she handed it to him.

        "Okay," Ranma said, frowning as he broke the wax and unfurled
the scroll, then read it aloud, "To the beauteous Pigtailed Princess,
who has graced my presence earlier this day..."

        "Oooh, sounds like Tatewaki's got a new crush," Rei grinned.

        "Wait, there's a lot more," Ranma said, and continued, "I
regret the shortness of our encounter, and request to continue the
arbitrament on the field outside the Furinkan High School building.
I will be waiting. Yours, Kuno Tatewaki." He put down the scroll.
"What's 'arbitrament' mean?"

        "In this context," Setsuna said, "it means the final decision
or deciding battle. However, he is using the term improperly. What
he is trying to say-"

        "Battle, eh?" the black-haired boy said, his expression
becoming very confident. "He wants to finish our fight!"

        "Maybe," Rei said, picking up the scroll, "but this is to
'the beauteous Pigtailed Princess.'" She paused. "Then again, there's
no telling _what_ he believes now, with all that happened at school
today."

        "Yeah... Right," Ranma said quietly.

        Haruka grinned. "You don't want to back down _now_, do you?"

        "No way!" the boy blurted out. "I'll fight 'em."

        "But it looks like he wants to see you in your _girl_ form,"
Rei added.

        "Hey, I could beat 'em blindfolded with my arms tied behind my
back! So I can take 'em down as a girl in a dress. Just watch me!"

        "That's the spirit!" Genma exclaimed. "ANYTHING for the Art!"

^_^

        The young man stood patiently in the schoolyard, his bokken
rested against his shoulder.

        "This will be a day long remembered," Kuno Tatewaki whispered
to himself as he watched the approach of the pigtailed blonde girl
in the flowing white gown. "It has seen the discovery of Rei's foul
master, and the appearance of the fair Princess. One wonders if the
young sprite will return as well..."

        The 'Princess' in question stopped a short distance away and
moved into a combat stance. "Alright," she said, "let's finish this!"

        "As you wish," Kuno said, and jumped high into the air,
lunging toward her.

        Ranma raised her arms to block the move... but it never came.
She looked down to see the boy kneeling before her, his face down and
his right hand holding up a red, long-stemmed rose.

        The pigtailed young woman raised an eyebrow. "What kind of
attack is that?!"

        "I come not to fight thee, my Pigtailed Princess."

        "Then why did you..." Ranma began, then trailed off, a sinking
feeling welling up in the pit of her stomach. "Oh no... You're not
gonna try to date me, are you?"

        Kuno shook his head. "Alas, no... I am unworthy of such a
wondrous pleasure. I come, rather," he said, slipping the dethorned
rose into the shocked girl's hands and holding up his bokken in an
open-palmed gesture of offering, "to serve thee. From this moment
onward, I swear my unwavering devotion to thy protection and thy
will. As I have been shown great favor this day, so I show to thee
my willingness to obey. I await thy command, my princess. I will
serve thee in any way thou wishest."

        Ranma's jaw dropped. "Serve me?!" she whispered incredulously.
"One minute, he's trying to kill me, the next minute he's swearing
to _serve_ me!?" She grinned. "Uh... Yeah, Kuno. Why don't you-"

        "Heh heh heh," a malevolent laugh resounded throughout the
area. "There you are..."

        Kuno stood and Ranma looked up to see a short-haired blonde man
wearing what looked like a hyped-up boy's school uniform levitate to
a patch of ground near her. "Who are you?" the girl asked.

        "You don't remember remember me?" the man asked in an amused
tone. "Why, Princess Serenity, I'm crushed. Surely you remember the
first of Queen Beryl's generals, don't you?"

        "Uh... no?" Ranma replied.

        "Ah!" Kuno said in realization. "Then, my princess, thy name
is Serenity? Such a name... I will remember it for all eternity!"

        "Look, pal," the blonde princess called over to the general,
"I ain't no princess, and my name's not Serenity!"

        The man's expression took on a slight smile. "Shall I call you
Serena, then? You were always so picky about how we referred to you."

        "He speaks very impudently," Kuno commented, turning to Ranma.
"Shall I dispatch this fool for thee?"

        Ranma shrugged, her gaze not leaving the blonde man. "Sure,
knock yourself out."

        The kendoist let out a war cry and rushed at the newcomer...

        *WHAM!*Bam!* Before he could so much as land a blow, Kuno
was backhanded against a nearby tree. He slumped over, dazed.

        The man looked at Ranma. "Another one of your incompetent
guards... They didn't save you last time, and they won't save
you now!" A faint blue aura began building up around him.

        The blonde girl glanced at Kuno, then narrowed her eyes at
the general. "So you wanna fight, huh?" she asked, cracking her
knuckles and getting into an appropriate defensive posture.

        The blonde general smiled and raised a hand in front of
him. "I see you don't intend to go along peacefully..."

        *Whoosh*BLAAAM!* Ranma dove aside as a large blue strike
blasted out from the man's hand, tearing into the landscape
behind her.

        Immediately, the girl recovered by making a hand-stand
flip toward the general, leveling a fierce kick at his face.

        The man took one step to the side, causing her to miss
completely. "Fighting in your long gown," he commented, "not very
ladylike... but _very_ picturesque."

        "I ain't no lady!!!" Ranma shot back as she landed, rebounding
back at him for a series of fast punches.

        The general dodged each of the blows, before finally catching
one of the girl's fists. "Now, why would such a delicate daughter be
speaking so roughly, hmm?"

        "Grrr," Ranma growled, wrenching her hand out of her foe's
grip. She took a quick hop back, then crouched down and made a
flying leap over the man's head, landing behind him then jumping
back and diving at him with an intense kick.

        The grey-clad general held up his hand.

        *Bing!* "Whoa!" The pigtailed girl bounced off of a transparent
barrier between her and her target, falling to the ground.

        "Pathetic!"

        *Thwack!* The general kicked her aside.

        "AAAaaah," Ranma cried in pain, holding her injured ribs.

        The blonde man looked down at her in disgust, and began to
take a step towards her...

        "Stop right there!" an authoritative female voice called.

        The general turned to see a girl with exactly the same
hairstyle as the Princess, wearing a sailor fuku with a red bow and
an abbreviated blue skirt. She also wore a golden tiara and a pair
of red boots.

        "Agent of Love and Justice, the pretty soldier Sailor Moon!"
she announced with a few gestures and poses.

        "Is this girl for real?!" Ranma muttered.

        "Sailor Moon?" the general asked. "The same that destroyed
Morga?"

        "The one and only! Attacking the Moon Princess and her guard
is unforgivable!" Sailor Moon declared, then pointed at him. "In
the name of the Moon, I will punish you!"

        "And I am Jadeite, general of the Dark Kingdom. Delightful
to finally meet you, Miss Moon."

        While Jadeite was occupied with Sailor Moon, Ranma closed
in for another attack, but was sent back down by a precisely-placed,
magically-enhanced elbow-jab into her midsection.

        Sailor Moon decided not to waste any more time. She took
of her tiara and held it beside her, where it flared and became
a glowing disc. She drew it back, calling out, "Moon Tiara...
Action!"

        The sailor-suited girl flung the charged tiara at Jadeite,
who held up a hand.

        The tiara slowed down, losing its energy, then clattered
powerlessly to the ground.

        Sailor Moon gasped. "Nooo! It's supposed to work every
time!"

        Jadeite made an upward clawing gesture.

        Thick tree roots burst forth from the ground, entangling Sailor
Moon in their unyielding grasp.

        "WAAAAAH!" Sailor Moon cried in shock, unable to do anything
else.

        The Dark Kingdom general turned and picked up the injured
princess... by her neck.

        Ranma drew her legs back for another kick--one that was
sure to connect, when...

        *BZZZZZRT* "YAAAAAAAAH!"

        A wave of black sparks wracked the girl's body. Ranma went
limp.

        Jadeite turned toward Sailor Moon. "Now, Sailor Senshi,
watch your princess _die_." He looked back at Ranma and tightened
his grip.

        *BZZZZZROOORRRT-RRT-RTT-RTT* More dark energy coursed though
Ranma.

        "NOOOOO!" Sailor Moon shouted in horror as this happened.

        *WHROAR!* Then, out of nowhere, a huge, ringed orange ball of
energy rocketed toward Jadeite's back.

        *BLAAAAAAAAM-RRRRRK-KSSSSH!* The force of the blast knocked
Ranma from the general's grasp and threw her several meters away.

        "What the...!?!?!?" Jadeite was staggered for a moment as the
energy tore into him, cracking the ground beneath him. Wide-eyed, he
took a shocked breath, turning to see another ringed sphere, this one
blue, speed at him. "AAAAH!!!"

        The singed general held out his hands, creating a barrier in
front of him.

        *WHOOOSH*CRASH*ROAAAAAAAAAAAR!* The ball blasted through his
defenses and ripped through him, the damaging effects lasting for
several seconds.

        When this was over, Jadeite found himself on the ground,
writhing in complete and utter agony.

        His mouth wide in a shocked and surprised gasp, he looked up
to see two silhouettes standing back-to-back in front of the setting
sun.

        "Heralded by a loud explosion," one said, "I am here: Tendo
Haruka, acting, heh, violently."

        "I too am here," the other said, "Kuno Michiru. Acting rashly."

        "_Never_ attack her brother," the first added with a chuckle.

        Jadeite dragged himself to his feet, blinked at them, unable
to make out any features in this lighting.

        When they started their approach, he suddenly couldn't think of
any good reason to stick around.

        He flickered, vanishing and appearing several meters in the
air, where a black portal appeared. He went through it, and it was
gone.

        The aqua-haired young woman, Kuno Michiru, hurried over to her
brother.

        Haruka rushed to an unmoving Ranma, a genuine look of concern
on her face. "Ranma!" she shouted, kneeling down and checking for a
pulse. "Are you alright? Can you hear me?"

        The downed girl coughed, opening her eyes. "Just WHAT was
that attack," she demanded weakly, "and WHERE can I learn it!?"

        Haruka's eyes narrowed. "Can you walk?" she asked in a
monotone voice.

        "Yeah," Ranma replied, turning over and pushing herself up
until she was standing. She winced, holding her ribs. "But those
were _some_ kicks that guy had."

        Michiru had her unconscious younger brother over her shoulder.
"Tatewaki will be fine," she said, and looked to Ranma. "Did he say
who he was?"

        The pigtailed princess nodded. "Yeah. He said his name was
Jadeite."

        The aqua-haired young woman turned to Haruka, who shook
her head.

        "Doesn't ring a bell," the masculinely-dressed woman said.
"Probably not one of the Musk, though. Still, we should head back."

        Michiru nodded.

        Haruka snatched a surprised Ranma and threw her over her
shoulder. "Let's go."

        The two rushed off with their respective burdens.

        "Ummm," Sailor Moon called after them, still stuck in the
tree roots. "Can I please have some help over here?"

        Luna ran up to her, huffing and puffing. "Sailor Moon! There
you are! Did you find the Moon Princess?"

        "Yeah, but she was attacked and-"

        "Did the Dark Kingdom capture her!?"

        "No," the sailor-suited warrior said. "At first, it looked
bad..." Her eyes suddenly burst into heart-shapes. "But then,
two big blasts came in and toasted the guy, and a handsome man
and a beautiful woman came out and scared him off, carrying off
the Princess and her guard. Oooh, I wish I could be in a team
like that with Tuxedo Kamen!"

        "She's safe, though?"

        "Umm... I'd say so."

        "Can you be sure?"

        The pigtailed blonde nodded emphatically. "Oh yeah, she'll
be fine." She sighed. "Wow, that guy looked good!"

        Luna began to shake her head, then something occurred to her.
"But wait... how did you get here so fast?"

        "I took the bus."

        "...Oh."

        "Can you still feel the Princess?"

        The cat felt around mentally, then slumped sadly. "No.
She's gone."

        "Oh well. Better luck next time, huh?"

        "I suppose..."

        Sailor Moon smiled. "Anyway, can you help me out of these
roots, Luna?"

^_^

        The Queen of the Dark Kingdom was growing impatient. "Jadeite!"
she called. "Come immediately and report!"

        The short-haired blonde general appeared in his usual place
before her, then began to bow.

        *Thump* Jadeite collapsed into a kneeling position, his head
hanging down.

        Beryl sweatdropped. "Er... what happened to you?!"

        Jadeite looked at her, attempting to appear as uninjured as
possible. "There was," he coughed, "unexpectedly strong resistance.
A more powerful assault with," he winced, holding a swollen hand,
"additional planning will be required to ensure success."

        "Oh," Queen Beryl said with a frown. "Proceed, Jadeite." She
tilted her head at him and pursed her lips. "And for Metallia's sake,
put some ICE on that!"

&&&[End Chapter 2.]