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An Aah! Megami-sama / Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon / Ranma ½ crossover story
by Jeffrey Vasquez

Disclaimer: "Ah! Megami-sama" (or "Oh My Goddess!") was created by Fujishima Kosuke, and is licensed to Kodansha and AnimEigo. "Ranma ½" was created by Takahashi Rumiko, and is licensed to Shogakukan Inc., Kitty, Fuji TV, and Viz Communications Inc. "Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon" (or "Sailor Moon") was created by Takeuchi Naoko, and is licensed to Koudansha, TV Asahi, Toei Douga, and DIC Entertainment, L.P. "Forgotten Realms" was created by TSR. Inc. and is owned by Wizards of the Coast. All characters and settings are used here without permission. All original characters belong to me. Please drop me a line if you want to use them. (jvasquez17@austin.rr.com)

Foreword: I can honestly say that I've done more research for this story than all my stories combined! There is so much source material for the Forgotten Realms! Ugh, I think my eyes are bleeding. Special thanks go out to Hitoshi Doi (http://anime.jyu.fi/~doi/smoon/) and Ken Arromde (http://www.sailormoon.org/faq/) for their Sailor Moon FAQs. The work that they put into their sites is nothing short of staggering!

For those that missed earlier references, here are some definitions about races:

Genasi — Half-breed with one parent being humanoid (Elf, Human, Dwarf, Gnome, Halfling), and the other being an elemental creature (Djinn, Marid, Dao, Efreet, etcetera).

Aasimar — Half-breed with one parent being humanoid and one parent being a celestial creature (i.e. angel, demi-god, god, etcetera).

Next chapter I'll give everyone a short list of the other source material that I'm drawing from. Peace!

C&C appreciated.


Chapter Four

The Ivy Mansion,

Usagi was dressed and waiting in the reading room with two minutes to spare. It was a record, she supposed. She had never been more than thirty-five seconds early to anything outside of a date or a shopping spree in her life. The small victory, if that was what it could be called, did little to brighten her mood, though.

She had every right to stay in her room if she wanted. Ulin had no right to barge in and ruin her morning even more. Hadn't she been through enough already? Far from home, with no Mamo-chan, no Rei, or Ami, or Makoto, or Minako. No Luna, or Shinji, or Mom and Dad… and no way to get back to them. She had heard the odds stacked against her. She might be naive, but she wasn't stupid. It would have been easier for her to bring the Earth to her!

She didn't want to cry again. It didn't solve anything. She could hear Rei now, calling her a crybaby. Why did this have to happen? What would everyone be thinking? Would they think that she had run out on them? Would they think she was dead? Would Mamo-chan find someone new? Regardless of how hard she fought them, the tears came anyway. She started to move to a large chair near the fireplace, intent on collapsing.

"Good. You made it."

Usagi's head shot up and pinned Ulin with a cold glare through her tears. The jade-skinned woman made no notice of the look, or the cold anger that backed it. Instead, she busied herself with setting down two very large leather bags and a rather large backpack.

"I'm not talking to you," Usagi said petulantly.

"That is perfectly fine. It will give you more energy to focus on the tasks at hand," Ulin said with a small grin. She grabbed Usagi's arm, causing the other girl to yelp in distress. The Genasi did not slow to allow her charge time to catch up, she instead half-dragged, half-carried Usagi back into her room.

"Hey! Let go!" Usagi whined. "That hurts!"

"You're not talking to me, remember?" Ulin pulled up short in front of Doila's mirrors, and positioned Usagi with great care between the two. Usagi shrugged out of Ulin's grasp and stuck her tongue out at the woman. When she noted where she was, the blonde haired girl looked over her shoulder disgustedly at the Genasi.

"I'm already dressed." Usagi motioned to her slim yet comfortable yellow silk dress for emphasis.

"A nice choice, too…" Ulin said with a grin. "…were we staying in the Ivy Mansion." Usagi blinked and then opened her mouth to question the other woman, but Ulin overrode her. "Riding boots. Black, thigh-high, low-heeled. Held, not worn." The reflection complied. "Very good."

"What are you talking about? Where are we going?"

Ulin ignored the question, in favor of lifting Usagi's arms in time to receive the proffered footwear — and just as quickly she took them from the girl. The displaced Moon Princess could do little more than blink as Ulin repositioned her before the mirror and began barking out more commands to the mirrors. At each order, the mirror began dressing Usagi's reflection.

"Single braid, centered down the back. Black leather riding dress — tooled with roses along the hem. We will also need a pair of thick stockings for the boots, please." Usagi nodded at that and smiled. "White cotton blouse, embroidered with…" Ulin paused for a moment as if thinking.

"More roses!" Usagi crowed.

Ulin smiled as Usagi's anger was momentarily forgotten, and quickly finished her business with the mirrors. "That will do for this outfit, thank you."

Usagi squawked as her dress disappeared and was replaced by the sturdier traveling clothes. "What's going on?!"

Ulin ignored her and lifted the girl's arms again to receive the next batch of clothing. "Riding clothes to match. Six changes, please, two of which must be lined for winter travel, plus the equivalent small clothes, shifts, socks and stockings. Held, not worn, if you please." Again the reflection complied. "Very good. Thank you."

Usagi staggered under the carefully folded burden.

"Uliiiin!" Usagi whined. "What is going on?" The jade-skinned woman turned and smiled at the laundry-laden girl.

"Where do you escape the humdrum doldrums?" Ulin winked at Usagi and stabbed a finger skyward. "On a trip, of course!"

As if to emphasize the woman's point, Usagi took a shaky, blind step forward and stumbled over her new boots. The tower of clothes went flying and both women tumbled to the floor. Usagi lifted a long gray sock from her face and narrowed her eyes dangerously.

"Trust me." Ulin grinned impishly. "You'll love it!"

"Nine companies!"

Zuieez V'Heron settled his equipment one more time at his waist, trying to ignore the ranting of his superior. Sardizzt Ord'Hul was something of a miracle of chance for drow society. He was, for lack of a better term, an idiot. He was a dangerous idiot, to be certain, but having served under his incompetence for two long years, Zuieez had learned early on the secret of his success — his field commanders.

Sardizzt had a way with the nobility and merchants' guilds of Ched Nasad, Menzoberranzan, Baereghel, and the newly founded Debarn Rez. This reason, and this reason alone, kept him alive and at the head of this campaigning venture. The true leadership of the Rathal lay amongst the four field commanders, and they didn't like failure any more than Sardizzt.

"Nine companies, lost!" Sardizzt growled and drove a dagger through the eye of a goblin porter passing him. The small beast squealed and toppled to the ground clutching his ruined eye long enough to realize that he was dead. The fine, crystal goblets that he had been carrying shattered on the hard stone floor of the war room.

"Yes, fool! Nine!" Juil Gonmpf growled. It was bad enough that they had lost so many of their warriors to this endeavor, but to lose two of the field commanders was crippling. The whole situation stank to the Nine Hells. "Nine companies… and one porter!" The field commander of the third column threw his goblet at Sardizzt, pegging him neatly on the back of the head. Sardizzt crumpled into a neat pile at Zuieez' feet. The drow smiled and ran his hand through his white hair before turning to face Zuieez.

"Are you ready?" His voice was overly calm, making Zuieez wonder about his sanity.

"Yes." Juil nodded and swept up his dented goblet.

"Good. We will withdraw for a time." Zuieez nodded and watched his commander refill the damaged cup from a pilfered elven carafe that Juil had acquired amongst the spoils of Myth Drannor. "While we are rebuilding our forces, you will be the hand of our vengeance. Do not fail us!"

Zuieez smiled eagerly. Both drow knew that once word spread of their company's weakness, their rivals would fall upon them in droves. The outcome of even one such confrontation was intimately understood, but left unspoken.

"Return with the witch's head, Field Captain V'Heron, or do not return at all." Juil smiled coldly. "Success will be met with reward; failure will have your entrails strung before the gates of Debarn Rez. Am I clear?"

Zuieez nodded and turned away. Three steps took him out of the small chamber and into a tunnel that lead out the heart of the company's hold. In no time at all, Zuieez was out of the hold and deep in the former glory of Myth Drannor. When he was certain that he was out of earshot of the perimeter guards, he began to laugh.

Loud. Long. And free. Free at last!

Free to seek out his red-haired goddess!


"Faith is no illusion!"

"Then what do you call blindly bowing and scraping to some piece of lifeless rock?"

The young gnomish noble's face was smug, as if he had already won the battle of wills. Sister Maerdith, on the other hand, had a look that reminded Keiichi of Skuld when faced with a challenge from Urd. She wasn't going to back down, even if it killed her.

Keiichi tried to find a place to hide.

It wasn't that he was embarrassed for Sister Maerdith; not really. He actually admired the fact that she could stand up to such criticism so boldly. This whole confrontation made him uncomfortable, though. It was too close to the conversation Keiichi had had with Ty Binder. He couldn't follow everything that they were saying, but what he could understand was fuel for his own questions.

"I do not bow and scrape to unconscious stone, Lord Ferin," Sister Maerdith protested coolly. "I worship a higher power through my belief."

The young Lord Ferin grinned smugly and raised his eyebrow at her. He made no point to hide his disbelief, nor the impressive attempt to look down his nose at Sister Maerdith and Keiichi. There was a good amount of chuckling coming from Ferin's groupies as well. The group itself looked tough, in spite of only coming up to his chest, and there was little doubt that if it came down to a fight, Keiichi was going to be pulped. The situation was terribly uncomfortable and potentially volatile. One of Ferin's men kept fingering his dagger in a way that screamed danger to Keiichi.

They had come looking for a scrap, and from the way that Sister Maerdith was gripping her basket, Keiichi was certain that she was more than willing to give them one. He had to find a way to diffuse the situation without Sister Maerdith losing face. After a second of hunting his eyes fell on something remarkably familiar. Ferin was about to make another snide remark, when Keiichi placed himself directly in front of the pompous man and pointed into a shop.

"Sister Maerdith! What this is?" He knew that he had bungled the grammar horridly just from the way that Maerdith ground her teeth. It was worth it though, for every eye in the group turned and looked. Outside a smithy, a brawny little man with a bushy mustache was dragging… something… out of the wide doorway of the forge, into the corral. It was large, almost as tall as Keiichi, and had three wheels — one large and two small. The larger was positioned in the fore, and the smaller ones were joined to a large frame by a support bar that ran between them. The most appealing thing that Keiichi could see was a rather bulky, smelly, not to mention noisy, engine mounted in the center of the frame.

Gears began tumbling in his head as he grabbed Sister Maerdith's hand and drug her away from Ferin and his flunkies. She protested loudly and was banging Keiichi on the back of his head with a small book emblazoned with the symbol of Ohgma on the cover. Keiichi neither heard nor felt her objections. He didn't hear Ferin's laughter either. Not many could with the groaning and sputtering of the engine coming from the blacksmith's shop.

A small crowd was already beginning to assemble in front of the paddock, making it difficult for Keiichi to make his way to the front of the throng. He almost lost Sister Maerdith twice along the way, but eventually both made it to the fence rail in time to see another small man, dressed in polished brown leather, step from the shop. He wore a ridiculous leather hat with an enormous pair of goggles strapped to his head. The cap could not contain the springy red curls of the man's hair, nor could the goggles distract one's gaze from settling on the bright red beard and curled mustache that framed the man's face. A long white linen scarf was wrapped around his neck, making the man look almost like an aviator from the twenties.

Keiichi grinned back at Sister Maerdith who, in the interest of knowledge, had whipped out a notebook and began sketching. He could barely contain his excitement.

"Ladies and Gentlemen!" The man waved his arms wide and motioned for the crowd to be silent. Keiichi was surprised to note that most complied readily. However, Ferin's voice rose when everyone else fell silent.

"Third time's the charm, eh, Bertrold?" There was raucous laughter from the crowd as the red-headed little man scowled at Ferin. It was obvious to Keiichi that this was a common occurrence between Bertrold and Ferin.

"Duncan Steelwater of Gond has once again surpassed my expectations with this new and wondrous creation!" It was hard to hear him above the chug and whistle of the tricycle's engine. Someone behind Keiichi yelled something unintelligible that was equally lost to Bertrold.

"Look upon this tri-wheeled marvel and know that soon we will all travel the length and breadth of this fair isle in half the time it would take by horse!" Someone openly laughed and boo'ed the little man, but he paid them no heed. This too was obviously very familiar to the man.

"It is my intention to show you the way of the future!" The small man pointed skyward just in time to have the engine backfire on him, leaving his face black with soot. The entire crowd roared their laughter, drowning out the noise of the engine. Keiichi's heart went out to the man. It made him wonder if Gottlieb Daimler had ever faced such dissention and public criticism when testing his "boneshakers".

Ignoring the jibes of the crowd and the pestering of the other bearded man, Bertrold hoisted himself up onto the seat of the madly vibrating tricycle and tossed his white scarf over his shoulder. Keiichi could immediately tell that the engine was improperly balanced and knew the inevitable outcome. He made no move to stop the intrepid little man, though. If anyone knew the value of first-hand experience, it was Keiichi.

Bertrold pulled a small brass horn from a satchel attached to the handlebars of the bike and puffed up his cheeks. He blew it loudly and the crowd shifted nervously, like a school of frightened fish. Duncan opened a valve on the engine and the engine expelled an immense amount of odd-smelling yellow steam. The little man fumbled to put the horn back into the leather bag and ended up dropping it completely as the tricycle began pulling out of the paddock bumpily.

From what he could see, Keiichi noted that the dirt throughout the corral had been firmly packed in order to allow for a smoother ride. Sadly, Bertrold had little if any control over the direction his vehicle was taking. The mob, realizing this fact inherently chose to act on this knowledge and escape the inevitable carnage that was about to unfold. Some walked, others jogged, and the vastly more intelligent of the lot ran.

Keiichi and Sister Maerdith simply stood their ground and watched in deep fascination as the tricycle lumbered their way. Maerdith was scribbling furiously in her notebook, while Keiichi was analyzing the way the engine danced in its housing. Already he could see three issues that needed to be corrected… no, make that four. He was working through the fifth when it became readily apparent that the contraption had no brakes. Keiichi yelled and yanked on Sister Maerdith, abruptly pulling off balance and out of danger.

Physics being what it was, neither the bike nor Sister Maerdith could stop their motion. The one continued its merry way down the bumpy cobblestone road amidst the curses and outcries from poor Bertrold. The other squawked and fell bodily atop Keiichi, upending her inkpot over the poor young man's head.

Duncan Steelwater, priest of Gond the Wondermaker, sighed and started towards the barn. Like every other attempt that they made, he had made certain to hitch up Oolah and Mel before even opening the workshop's doors. His ever-present frown deepened for a moment before turning up in a small smile. At least the damned thing hadn't exploded this time.

He had all but had the team and wagon free from the barn when a great explosion was heard just outside of town. His small smile returned to a frown at the sight of the yellow mushroom cloud to the east.

"Damn fool gnome. Can't drive worth beans," he growled as he passed the two humans. He idly noted that the woman was laid out in the man's lap scribbling in a book, every once in a while dipping her quill in his inky black hair or scraping what she needed from the small black rivers on his face. The man in question was a slip of a thing, almost as short as Duncan, but the bright grin on his face was big. Almost as big as the sun.

"You need help?" Duncan arched an eyebrow at the halting lilt to the young man's words, but found himself nodding as he climbed onto the wagon. The last time he had to retrieve the Bertrold Machine, that blasted gnome had just stood around whining and moaning about money. At least this way, he'd have someone else to lift and push — not that the young man looked all that strong. Something was better than nothing, though.

The young man was quick to shuffle the still scribbling woman up onto buckbench and scramble into the bed of the wagon. Then they were off to collect the Mighty Bertrold Machine, amidst the jeers and laughter of the crowd.

The darkness was complete. Even for Shar, there was blindness in this dark abyss; and for the first time in eons, the Lady of Loss knew terror. She had felt fear during the Time of Troubles — any simpleton would have in the face of losing all that she had lost, knowing that any of her many enemies could easily fall upon her and assume her power and station. But this… this was different. This was an unnamed horror deliciously lingering in the shadows, waiting to strike. She knew the tactic well enough to know that the three of them were being stalked at this very moment.

This was where the demons lived.

He could feel them lingering just out of his reach. Their pitiful, starved souls skirted the edge of his awareness, waiting to strike. The smell of fish sausage was heavy in the air, making him want to gag. He had been to this place a number of times, but never consciously… never awake.

He trembled as something brushed against his leg.

They would come soon. They would wait until they were certain that he was panicked enough. It was his greatest moment of weakness, and he always fell prey to it — no matter how hard he tried to overcome it. His heart pounded in his chest and his breathing quickened. Any moment now… any moment and they would descend on him.

Damn it! He wasn't going to fall to them this time! He wasn't six years old anymore! He had skills now! He would fight back! He wasn't going to succumb to them!

He wasn't!

He wasn….

Mystra felt his welling terror and knew her own fear as well. Trapped as they were, where they were, she had no idea how this encounter would play itself out. There were so many variables, each worse than the last. The goddess of magic had seen so many memories as she had chased Ranma across the landscape of his mind. She had seen the high points and the low. She had seen his intimate desires and knew of his most painful regrets. The more that she saw, the harder it was getting to release her hold on him. Or was it the other way around? Mystra doubted that the boy even knew what was happening. The goddess of Magic simply hoped that she survived this incredibly odd conflict intact. Given the pattern of Ranma's life, one thing was perfectly clear — no matter how this ended, there was little doubt that it would end in the most chaotic way possible.

The boy was still indirectly drawing on the Weave, filtering it through his spirit in a minute trickle. So long as it was contained to such a small amount, the Lady of Mysteries doubted that there would be any problems. But after seeing the majority of Ranma's life played out before her, she knew that trouble followed the boy like a dog in heat. She needed to resolve this issue as quickly as possible, before something cataclysmic happened to the Weave.

Mystra could feel her Chosen nearby, but had no way to contact them should things go awry. Toss Shar into the mix and you had a real kettle of fish to fry.

And now, here she was facing Ranma's greatest fears.

"Ao's blood," she whispered to the darkness, "Let me make it through this intact." Mystra couldn't remember the last time that she, as the goddess of magic, had offered a prayer. It was a bad sign.

The darkness seemed to close in, pressing down on her with a definite weight. She could feel the horror beginning to build around her and knew that it wouldn't be long before Ranma's fears attacked. To her surprise a small, bedraggled cat meandered out of the blackness to stand before her. Another soon joined it, followed by another and another. Hundreds of thousands of the little creatures soon surrounded Mystra. She looked down at her body and saw the links of sausages and noted the stink of fish oil coating her small body. She heard someone whimper, never realizing that it had been her voice crying out.

The first kitten looked up into Mystra's eyes with remorse, tempered by an insane amount of hunger. Had she known better, the cat might have been apologizing for whatever it intended to do.


The Goddess of Magic screamed as the horde of cats fell upon her.

Elminster's home,

"Gods above. What have I brought into this home?"

Storm knew Spellfire when she saw it. She was intimately aware of the rare and special gift that Mystra graced her favored with. The black lightning, though… that was something new. She stared hard at the boy and was taken aback by the look of extreme terror that settled over his face.

As if in concert with his horror, the opposing energies began to coalesce around his hands — the Spellfire in his left and the black lightning in his right. The young warrior roared in denial, a sound that seemed to shake the foundations of the world, spun away presenting his back to her. He threw his hands protectively over his head, warding off some phantom blow that caused him to wince visibly. To her astonishment, Storm watched invisible claws tear lacerations in his skin and clothes. She immediately cast a spell that would reveal these unseen assailants but to her astonishment the room remained empty, save for her and the boy. The brutal sight held her spellbound for an unknown amount of time. The poor boy ducked and winced, never finding release from his tormentors.

And all the while, the eldritch energies continued to build.

The Bard of Shadowdale watched transfixed as the magics mixed and an awesome power flared — then the world was suddenly awash in a field of gray and silence. The world was drained of color and sound. Light and darkness seemed to… trade places. Had it not been for Elminster's timely arrival, and his even more timely castings, Storm would have joined the rest of the north wing of Elminster's humble home.

Storm blinked, trying desperately to free her vision of the spots. She immediately looked to a very haggard Elminster. His skin was ashen and a large amount of his wonderfully white beard was singed and smoking. He looked completely drained, as if he hadn't slept in days. And for the very first time in her memory, saw true fear etched on the man's face. She followed his gaze back to the boy. There was little that she could say to describe the image of destruction before her.

Everything from about three feet out and in a roughly crescent shape had simply ceased to exist. The north wall and the rest of the east wing, the stables, an incredible swath of Storm's favorite hill, and a good portion of Old Skull itself was… just gone. And it continued on for as far as the eye could see. Had Storm been standing directly in the boy's line of fire… if he hadn't turned away, there was little doubt that she would not have survived, even with El's mightiest magics in play.

Storm had faced death on a thousand battlefields and not faltered once. But in light of what she had just witnessed, she fainted dead away. And justly so.

Elminster felt as much as heard the scream. Tied as he was to magic, he doubted that anyone with a talent for the Art hadn't felt that in some way or another. Being at ground zero had given him quite the headache and had all but drained him of his magic. He just wished that he could join Storm in her slumber, but someone had to deal with the fallout.

El quickly glanced around the room and his eyes immediately settled on a rather… unsettling sight. The boy was crouched on all fours and staring at the Archmage in very much the same way that Mr. Whiskers, Valor's cat, would have. Sprawled in a tangle of limbs before the boy were two very beautiful and very naked women — one of whom Elminster knew intimately.

The wizard blinked in silent astonishment at the pair and then turned his attention back to the boy. Every move reminded El of a cat — from the way the boy sat, to the way that he was cleaning his face with his "paws". It was probably the most unnerving sight that he had ever seen in his long life, and that was saying something.

Unsure of what to do, the Archmage simply sat and watched the figure before him nuzzle the two women in turn. The boy sneezed once and licked his hand to clean his face. El watched with a deep sense of fear and fascination as the boy started purring while keeping an eye on everything in the room. El knew enough about animal behavior not to make any sudden moves, especially when the boy "stretched" his back.

There was no open sign of incantation or visible construct, but Elminster still watched with open amazement as the boy proceeded to "sharpen" his claws on the wood of the floor. Four deep gouges from each hand made parallel lines where the boy had drug his hands across the floorboards. Seemingly satisfied, the boy turned to Elminster and "meowed" languidly.

The master mage blinked and then blinked again; shrugging he "meowed" back. The boy glanced at all three of the women in the room before launching himself out of the hole that he had made. One mighty leap took him across the wheat field. The second took him to what was left of Old Skull. The third pushed him beyond Elminster's field of vision, out into the wide world beyond. The old wizard snorted and knuckled his mustaches while looking down at the women before him.

"'Sorry about this' indeed!" With a snap of his fingers, he produced three blankets and a small glass of something that smelled suspiciously of paint thinner. He downed the contents of the small glass in one shivering gulp, before leaving the room to get Brailen and Valor. He could carry Mystra from the room, but there was no way he was going to touch the other woman. If she was who he thought she was… Well, Elminster had enough problems in his life without adding her into the mix.

The Ivy Mansion,

"I hate it."

"We haven't even left yet," Ulin groused.

"I still hate it."

Usagi stood outside the main gate and watched yet another bird slam into the invisible shield. Under differing circumstances, she might have felt some sympathy for the poor creature. Sadly, she was grumpy. She was depressed. And even though she had some really cool new clothes to wear (she felt she was dressing up for a cosplay event), she was ready to chew nails. The hard kind, that you build stuff with.

The horse that Ulin had made her carry from the stables had been really cute. It was a pretty brown and white gelding (whatever that was) that had been the size of Luna… up until it passed through the main gate. Then it had gotten big.

Very big.

Very big and scary.

Did she mention that it was big? It also liked her hair. A lot. Probably reminded it of hay or something.

"Did you hear me?"

"No." Ulin's smile was pleasant, but oily. "Please tell me one more time." Usagi noted a hint of grinding teeth. That brought a smile to her lips. Maybe she could make Ulin miserable enough to change her mind.

"I really hate this."

"Do you plan on complaining the whole trip?" Ulin cinched the strap on one of the saddlebags rather aggressively.

"Depends. How long of a trip are we talking here?"

"…." Ulin paused and took a deep breath. She motioned smoothly with her right hand and there was a flare of orange light, accompanied by a large bang. The horses tossed their heads nervously, and it was all Usagi could do to keep hold of her reins. Ulin grinned nastily.

"As long as it takes." She would have added more, had a sudden terror not suddenly gripped her heart. It was a sense of incredible fear that caused her to glance wearily into the shadows of the trees around her. A thousand glowing eyes seemed to be watching her. She looked over at Usagi and noted how pale the young woman was. "Please tell me that you feel that."

Usagi didn't trust herself to speak, so she just nodded her head. Ulin swallowed heavily and glanced back up to the mansion proper. From the sudden screaming and evident signs of evacuation, someone had just pulled off something rather large.

"We should get moving."

"Isn't that, like, supposed to be a premonition or something?" Usagi countered hastily. She hated the fact that her voice sounded like Mickey Mouse.

"Don't believe in them." Ulin put her booted foot in the stirrup and hoisted herself into the saddle. "Too much guesswork involved. Besides, I get premonitions mixed up with cramps."

"Oh." Usagi nodded again — not understanding a word of what her self-styled big sister-wannabe had said. Under the jade-skinned woman's watchful eye, Usagi clambered up into her saddle and grimaced in discomfort. It was quite obvious that she had never ridden a horse in her life — something that she felt Ulin was secretly taking great joy in.

"But don't you think we should stay and help out?"

"The Harpells are big boys and girls, Usagi."

The woman had the audacity to grin at Usagi as she kicked her horse's flanks. The blonde-haired girl just knew that there was a double meaning there! The beast fairly jumped into a gallop and kicked up a cloud of dust. Usagi blinked and then grinned smugly. Well. If Ulin thought that she could boss Usagi around, then she had another think coming! Let her take her little road trip, because Usagi had decided to remain right here at the estate. She wasn't a kid anymore, and she was sure as heck not going to let anyone boss her around like one. The blonde haired girl chuckled as she tried to dismount the horse, only to find that her bottom was stuck to the saddle…

What the heck was going on here? Why couldn't she get off!? A sharp, shrill whistle caused her horse to whicker.

"Whoa there, Mister Horse." She gingerly patted the animal's neck in what she hoped was a soothing manner. She desperately wished that Ami or Minako were here to soothe her. A second whistle rolled through the air, causing Mister Horse to paw at the ground in a very disconcerting fashion. "Don't you be getting any ideas, Mister Horse. We're going to stay right here. I'm going back to my room and you can go back to that really nice stable with all your friends."

A third whistle cut the air like a knife, causing Mister Horse to imitate his cousin. One moment Usagi and her mount were at a standstill, and the next they were traveling at a speed that nearly threw her. Had it not been for that rather handy enchantment on the saddle, Usagi was certain that she would have seriously injured herself. Usagi bowed low against the horse's neck and clung to it as if her life depended on it. She hoped that this trip would end quickly, before she broke her neck.

In no time at all she felt her mount slow to a light trot. Usagi could hear Ulin's laughter growing nearer with every step. When she was finally eye to eye with the Genasi, Usagi literally growled at her companion.

"I hate you," she seethed. This seemed to add fuel to the fire, for Ulin's laughter grew louder still.

"You think you hate me now…?" She grinned irreverently. "Wait until we stop for the night!"

Throughout the world magic once again danced… oddly. Spells failed where they should have remained firm, miscast spells suddenly became something incredibly different than intended, and more than one spellcaster with a cat familiar screamed and ran in terror of the little demon. The poor cats, uncertain of their masters' and mistress' actions, did the only thing that they could — they chased after the gibbering fools to ensure that nothing untoward would happen.

For those that still remembered the Arrival and the Time of Troubles, all of these signs and portents sent a shiver of fear coursing down their spines. When the sun set and night still refused to fall, there was no doubt that something terrible had happened.

It took Keiichi and Duncan quite some time to maneuver the twisted and burnt remains of the Bertrold Machine into the wagon, but not half as long as it would have taken Duncan by himself. Bertrold had griped and complained about the whole incident, vowing for the third time in so many minutes that he would never again drive the infernal contraption. No one seemed to notice his tirade — or his whining, for that matter. Each was too busy with his or her duties to pay attention to the red-bearded gnome's complaints.

Bertrold, for his part, continued to sit and bemoan his broken state well after Sister Maerdith had healed his broken leg. He refused to aid the priestess of Ohgma in collecting the salvage of what was left of the engine, which made the trip take twice as long as it should have. Duncan was grateful though. Had it just been him, he was certain that Bertrold would have been laid out and taking a "nap" long since, courtesy of his fist — patron or not. Once the Machine's frame was carefully secured, both he and the young man began to comb what was left of the hillside for scrap alongside Sister Maerdith.

There was no small talk, just quiet focused work — something that Duncan appreciated. If he had to endure more than Bertrold for the duration of the four hours it had taken to collect the scrap… Well, somebody would have been taking a nap. As it was, the dwarf finally rapped his fist on the back of Bertrold's head just to quiet the gnome's ceaseless chatter. Soon after that, the young man and the Ohgmite bundled the poor rich fool into the front of the wagon, and then they left.

Sister Maerdith sat up front with Duncan and Bertrold, while the young man contented himself to sit near the engine. Duncan would look back every so often to see the boy's brow furrowed in thought. He never touched anything save the side of the wagon to steady himself when they hit a particularly deep rut in the road. By the time they had returned to the shop, the sun was already kissing the horizon. The light hadn't seemed to diminish any, but there was so much to be done that none of the group took note of the odd occurrence.

It took them some time to unload the wagon and put everything away, but by the time they were finished, the smell of fresh bread and spiced potatoes had already drifted into the shop and night had fallen completely. The young man hadn't paused in his work, nor had he complained in the least. His face was covered in soot streaks and grime, but there was a genuine smile hidden beneath the dirt and ash. It made Duncan feel at ease with the lad.

Sister Maerdith had already been sent into the house to help Samril with supper, so it was only a matter of gathering the lad and washing up. Duncan motioned to the young man to follow him out back to the horse trough.

"Wash up good, lad. Sam hates dirty fingernails." The boy nodded and stripped to the waist, all too eager to get the grime off of his skin. Duncan followed and the two shared a bar of soap at the trough. Another stretch of comfortable silence fell over the pair as the washed away the day's toils. When they had just about finished, Duncan turned to see Samril bringing towels out to them. The lovely young dwarf paused long enough before her husband to kiss his cheek in welcome before making her way back to the house.

"Yer a good lad," he said at last, causing the boy to pull his head out the towel. "You work hard and don't complain. A bit scrawny, but you got a strong heart." The lad seemed uncertain of what to say, so he just nodded his head in gratitude. Duncan put out his thick-fingered hand.

"Duncan Steelwater." The dwarf didn't crack a grin, but the warmth of his welcome was felt as the young man accepted his hand in friendship.

"Morisato Keiichi."

"Well, young Master Keiichi, dinner's getting cold." Duncan clapped the boy on the small of his bare back, causing him to groan a bit and smile before they both entered the house.

The smells of warm bread, spiced potatoes, and baked chicken assaulted Keiichi's nose immediately. He bent to remove his boots, but stopped when he saw Duncan enter the home with his still on. It felt odd not to remove his shoes, but he followed the dwarf's lead.

Duncan, after presenting himself to his wife for inspection, settled himself in a stout, well-built chair. Keiichi came forward and as was his custom, bowed deeply at the waist to the dwarven woman.

"Thank you for me dancing to house," he said solemnly. Sister Maerdith buried her face in her hands, muttering something about doubling his lessons. Bertrold, who was sitting across from Maerdith, snorted and bit his bottom lip, trying to hide his laughter. Keiichi knew that he had flubbed again, but plowed forward through his embarrassment.

"My name is Morisato Keiichi." He was rather pleased how clear that phrase had come out. It was one of the few that he could say near perfection. "So sorry no have gift for home."

Samril Steelwater was a young and beautiful dwarf, and not just according to dwarven standards. She had long, light gray-brown hair that reminded Keiichi immediately of Belldandy's, and a warm welcoming smile that set the young man at ease. Her blue eyes and sun-baked skin complimented each other well, giving her a bright countenance.

"Be welcomed in our home, Master Keiichi. I am Samril Steelwater, and it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance." She smiled, and then gently but firmly took his hands in her own and began searching for dirt. She twisted and turned his hands and arms authoritatively, then nodded and led him to a seat next to Sister Maerdith. Keiichi started to sit, but stopped himself as both Duncan and Bertrold stood from their seats, while Samril took her seat. Duncan helped push in her chair and then returned to his seat.

It was only after everyone had seated themselves that Keiichi finally relaxed himself into the low seat with a sigh. Duncan offered a brief prayer of thanks to Gond, and hastily added Ohgma's name for Sister Maerdith's sake, before Samril gathered up her husband's plate. It was a small act of gratitude that Keiichi had never once thought of doing at home. He had never heard Belldandy offer a prayer. Sure, she bowed her head in meditation for a few moments before every meal, but this was the first time that Keiichi had experienced the novelty of a prayer over food. He wasn't sure what to make of it.

Samril served everyone before she herself took a bite, reminding Keiichi even more of Belldandy. It was such a small thing — a tiny selfless act, but it carried so much weight. Keiichi waited patiently as Samril began piling food onto his plate, but he refrained from taking a bite until she had filled her own plate.

The dinner was odd, but delicious. The potatoes made Keiichi's eyes water and the chicken melted in his mouth. Samril was a wonderful cook, and Keiichi found himself passing his plates back and forth for more. The conversation was light as introductions were made, but soon the inevitable questions about Keiichi's homeland came under scrutiny. He nervously fidgeted, unsure of how to approach the subject in spite of all the practice he had gotten at the abbey.

"Master Keiichi is… displaced." Sister Maerdith smiled at Keiichi's discomfort. She took a sip from her mug and waited for Keiichi to take up the tale. He did so reluctantly, but found a sense of peace in the telling. There was open skepticism from Bertrold, but Samril and Duncan both seemed to accept the tale at face value. Keiichi decided it best to change the subject, but Bertrold beat him to it.

"Duncan, may we speak outside?" The dwarf looked at his gnomish patron and immediately knew what was about to occur.

"We've no secrets in this house, Bertrold. You know that." Duncan pushed his plate away from him and laced his fingers together. "Speak your mind."

The gnome began to stroke his red beard uncomfortably, while his eyes were fixed on some point in the ceiling above Keiichi's head. He finally sighed, and said, "I cannot continue to fund this project any longer."

Samril's eyes slowly moved to her husband, as did the other guests. Duncan steepled his hands before his mouth and his eyebrows furrowed a bit. "There a reason you're backing out?"

"The machine is too dangerous," Bertrold said defensively.

"So's an axe, and a hammer, and a garden hoe," Duncan said evenly. "The tool's not dangerous, Bertrold. It's the way that the tool is used."

"That's not what I mean, Duncan, and you know it." Bertrold said evenly. "Four broken bones and three near-death experiences are not what I would consider a safe tool. The blasted contraption is too unstable to use in practical application."

Duncan said nothing. He simply nodded and waited for Bertrold to finish. Keiichi felt the overwhelming urge to speak up in defense of Duncan, but held himself in reserve, waiting.

"Even your fellow priests think that this invention is a fool's quest. The vehicle can barely run on a flat surface without bending the wheel rims; how can we expect it to cross multiple types of terrain?" By the way that Duncan sighed, Keiichi could tell that they had had these discussions before. The desire to speak continued to build in him, but out of a truly Japanese sense of propriety, he tried to ignore the conversation completely.

"There are just too many problems to make this creation a feasibly profitable endeavor. Why, the engine alone would certainly kill someone outright!"

Duncan looked at his patron and sighed. The despair in the dwarf's eyes began tying Keiichi's stomach in knots. The words were there, and he really wanted to speak them. To tell Duncan that he was on the right track. He watched Samril place a comforting hand over her husband's hand. Keiichi couldn't sit by and watch as another man's dreams were shot down! The dam holding Keiichi's words back broke.

"Problems are easy to fix!" He jumped as all eyes turned to regard him and blushed. Bertrold raised an eyebrow at Keiichi's outburst.

"How can you be so certain, lad?" Duncan asked, his eyes narrowing skeptically. Keiichi thought for a moment, hoping that he could get the words out correctly.

"Um… you make… uh, springs for… um, front and back forks." He made a compressing motion with his hands to demonstrate his point. Duncan's eyebrow raised thoughtfully, while Bertrold glared at Keiichi.

"And the wheels?" The gnome asked smugly. Keiichi tapped his finger against his lips searching for the right word.

"…gomu… gomu… uh, is like… how you say?" He looked at Sister Maerdith hopefully as she watched the spectacle unfold. "Stuff that stretch and bounce?" The priestess thoughtfully tapped her ink-stained finger against thoughtfully as she tried to make sense of Keiichi's broken thoughts, but finally shrugged not understanding. The young man sighed and ran his hands through his short hair.

"Is like… sap… from tree. When cooked it stretch and bounce. Fill stuff with air and have nice soft ride." Keiichi cursed his limited grasp of the language. Their skeptical looks were enough to make him plow forward though. "No need though, can use wood as extra support."

"Like a wagon wheel!" Samril said excitedly. Keiichi nodded and moved on.

"Engine is not so easy, but not hopeless."

"How so, lad?" Duncan at this point had leaned forward and was completely focused on Keiichi.

The displaced gearhead sighed and wondered how he was going to explain a combustion engine to these people with his limited vocabulary. "You have paper and pencil?"

Samril jumped from her seat and ran to her husband's workshop without a thought. Bertrold sighed and let his chin slump into his palm. Sister Maerdith simply grinned and began jotting down notes about this mysterious substance that could "stretch and bounce". By the time Samril had returned Keiichi and Duncan had cleared the table.

Bertrold and the womenfolk retired sometime later, but Keiichi and Duncan were still deep in discussion when the sun had finally broken the horizon. No one commented on the fact that night had never truly fallen.

Waterdeep Road,
Somewhere halfway between Longsaddle and Triboar

"You want me to what?" Usagi looked down upon the small spade at her feet in the dirt with uncontested disgust and tried not to think of how much her butt hurt. Whoever created horseback riding should have been shot. No. Better yet, condemned to be super-glued naked to their invention!

"Just pick up the damn shovel and go dig the latrine!" Ulin's temper was frayed to the breaking point and beyond. Even Usagi could tell that. It gave the girl a sense of great pride that she could still make someone's life a real pain when they had earned it. She would have to thank Rei for all that wonderful practice once she got back.

It wasn't something that she really enjoyed doing… Well, maybe a little — she was an older sister after all — however, it was the fastest way she could think of to get back to Longsaddle. She would apologize to Ulin… eventually.

Usagi watched the other woman as she grumbled and went about clearing the immediate area of rocks and sticks. A fire pit had already been made by previous travelers, and they had even been kind enough to stack some dried wood beneath the rocky overhang that acted as a windbreak.

As nice of a place it was, Usagi couldn't help but scowl. She kicked the shovel for good measure before plopping down on a large stone to watch Ulin work. There was no way in heck that she was going to dig anyone's potty! All she wanted was to go home and since that wasn't an option… Well, Longsaddle would have to do. She was tired of being bullied. She was tired of being bossed around, and she was certainly tired of cranky, jade-skinned women who thought themselves superior to her in every way. She was the Moon Princess, dang it! She deserved a little more respect, and by golly, she was going to get it! Even if it meant that she had to be bratty to do it!

The Genasi growled, and after about ten minutes of stomping around the clearing kicking rocks and breaking twigs, Ulin had finally had enough. She rounded on Usagi and threw her newest bundle of sticks near the firepit.

"Get off your lazy arse and do something!"

Usagi wasn't sure, but the ground seemed to tremble slightly at Ulin's words.

"MAKE ME!" Tremble or not, the groundshaking wasn't enough to deter Usagi's anger.

Ulin grinned in the same way that Rei used to when Usagi challenged her. It wasn't a nice grin, either. A small, jagged spark jumped from Ulin's fingertips and zapped Usagi's nose.

"OW! That hurt, you ugly old hag!" More bolts of miniature lightning connected to other, rather sensitive parts of Usagi's anatomy, making her dance and squirm. "Hey! PERVERT! Booger-skinned witch!"

"Sticks and stone, child. Sticks and stones." Ulin's laughter was insufferable, but her lightning was worse!

"I am not a child!" Usagi screamed as she dodged a third volley of miniature lightning.

"Prove it," Ulin said smugly. Usagi growled and glared at her tormentor. In a swift movement she grabbed her broach and started to transform, only to have Ulin zap her hand, forcing her to drop the artifact. For the first time in her life, Usagi used those dirty words that she heard Makoto and Minako using from time to time. A whole string of them flowed freely from her mouth, cursing Ulin and questioning her ancestral heritage.

"Might doesn't make right, little girl." Ulin bent down and snatched up the seemingly innocent piece of jewelry, holding it just out of Usagi's reach. "All the power in the world won't earn you my respect, or anyone else with a thimble full of morals, either. You want me to treat you like a woman? Then grow up."

"I am a woman!" Usagi emphasized her point by stomping her foot and crossing her arms beneath her breasts. Ulin rolled her eyes and simply kicked the shovel towards Usagi.

"Give me that back." Usagi thrust out her hand, trying very hard to control her anger.

"Earn it back, little girl," the Genasi tossed over her shoulder as she settled onto a rock.

"Give it back, Ulin. I mean it."

"After you've dug the latrine, I'll consider it."

Usagi's anger was building. This woman had taken her from her refuge, forced her to endure the horrendous torture of riding the entire day, and now wanted her to do more while holding her property ransom! The air began to pick up into a slight breeze that did nothing but fan her growing ire.

"Return it to me, or so help me…!" Usagi could feel her throat catch and frustrated tears build. The air seemed to become thick, smelling of rain. Ulin looked up to the suddenly cloudy sky distractedly, as she chuckled.

"Or what? You'll cry?"

"GIVE IT BACK, DAMN IT!" A silvery light exploded from Usagi's body as a massive bolt of lightning shot from the black clouds above. A large shadowtop tree exploded into splinters nearby, and the volatile thunder that followed the blast knocked Ulin off her perch and set her ears to ringing.

Usagi remained untouched by the sound and the effects of the lightning. Tears rolled down her angry face, and the skies chose that moment to share her raw grief. Her eyes glowed with a silver luster that drove away the shadows. The light that limned her fair skin danced like flames, and adorning the center of her forehead was a vibrant, golden crescent.

Fear and wonder were evident on Ulin's face as she scrambled to her feet. Usagi's anger wilted at the woman's alarm, and her face softened. She extended her hand again and all her pain and loneliness broke free of her careful control and escaped to the surface.

"Please, Ulin," she begged. "Please give it back. It's all I have left." She swallowed the large lump of her pride in her throat and bit back her pain. "I'll do whatever you ask if you just give it back."

The jade-skinned woman took care as she approached Usagi and gently laid the artifact in the girl's palm. The glow snapped off immediately and the young woman fairly folded over the broach. She squatted close to the ground and wept. The raw anguish in she felt at being alone, so far away from home, was echoed by the winds rushing through the trees above her. A warm pair of arms encircled her, and long-fingered hands began rubbing her back. It took forever for Usagi to gain control over herself, and the warmth of Ulin's embrace had all but put her to sleep. As soon as her tears stopped, so too did the rain cease to fall.

"Forgive me, Usagi." Ulin's voice was laced with guilt. "I meant no true harm."

"Why? Why did you have to bring me out here?" She had to stifle a yawn.

"Because I couldn't stand by and watch you wither. This trip was supposed to be something to help get your mind off your troubles."

"What if I like my troubles? What if I want to wither?" Usagi asked crossly.

"I cannot be true to my friend and let her harm herself." There was true affection in Ulin's voice. Usagi pushed herself away and stared at the woman. Both of them were drenched to the skin.

"But you just met me!" she protested. Ulin raised an eyebrow and grinned.

"So? I'll have you know that I'm an excellent judge of character."

"But I've been so hateful to you!"

"I gave as good as I got, Usagi. Stop blaming yourself."

"But I almost blasted you!" Usagi's mind finally caught up with her earlier actions and her eyes bulged wide. "HOLY CRAP! I almost blasted you!" The blonde girl began bowing frantically to her companion, flinging water everywhere from her bangs. "Imsosorry!Imsosorry!Imsosorry!"

Ulin laughed gaily and engulfed Usagi in a hug. She pushed the girl out at arms length and smiled. "Apology accepted, Little Sister. But only if you will accept mine in turn."

Usagi could easily read the hope in the Genasi's eyes and couldn't help but smile and hug the woman. It was such a comforting feeling, that she didn't want to let go. She had felt so alone before, but now… now the loneliness didn't feel so overwhelming.

"Tomorrow we will return to Longsaddle." Ulin commented as she stroked Usagi's hair.

"Where were we going?" She couldn't help voicing her curiosity.

Ulin pushed her to arm's length and wiped her tears away. "To visit a very close friend in the city of Silverymoon."

"Silverymoon?" Usagi's sudden interest doubled.

"I thought that you might like it. However, since you seemed to like that stinky room better…." Usagi shoved her friend playfully, causing Ulin to topple into the mud with a squelch. Mud was soon being slung with abandon amidst giggles and peals of laughter.



He was finally free of the box, and he vowed as only a cat can that he would never be returning to that stuffy, cramped place.

He jumped and pounced and chased. The sun was bright on his fur as he launched himself upward towards a lazy hawk dangling on the wind. The poor bird nearly fell from the sky in fright as Ranma-neko returned to the earth, some five hundred feet below, in a controlled fall.

He landed nimbly on all fours and shot off again. This time back the way that he came, towards that old gray Tom's house. His jumps and leaps went largely unnoticed until he stopped to chase a dog who had been growling at a small calico tabby in front of a place that smelled wonderfully like fish.

If a cat could grin…

Ranma-neko bound into the shop, batted a juicy fish out to the poor frightened tabby, and then made off with a much larger meal for himself. The shopmaster screamed and yelled and swung his metal claws at Ranma-neko. But there was no catching the cat. He had his meal and now all he had to do was find a place to sun himself while he ate.

Three more mighty leaps took him up a long stretch of road past any number of suitable houses, but Ranma was particular. The place had to be just so, and he wasn't about to settle when he could already feel the perfect place. One more jump and he landed without so much as a noise at the base of a tree that gave just enough shade and allowed a perfect breeze to cool his fur while he ate.

He started to settle himself cozily in the sun when a bright orange and blue butterfly tickled his nose. He sneezed and batted playfully at the distraction for a time before finally settling himself down to enjoy his snack. He was half way through the small meal when something odd caught his attention.

A breeze wafted around him, carrying the cold scent of something… familiar; a warm lap, soft hands that always knew where to scratch, and food… delicious food. But there was also something else, buried in his memory… a kitten defending her home from the Firebringer.

She had been lost to the hungry fire. And yet here she was before him. Ranma-neko picked up his meal and moved over to where his kitten was seated watching him. He dropped the fish at her feet and leaped onto the table next to her and took stock.

She had grown some from his memories, but she definitely hadn't been eating enough. That, and she smelled funny. Ranma-neko sneezed violently. She still smelled of smoke even after all this time. It was definitely time to bathe. He began to purr as he pinned the wayward kitten beneath his paws and began grooming her.

Storm Silverhand's Farm,

It had been all of two days since Sylune last had a visitor to the farm. The ghost formerly known as the Witch of Shadowdale still entertained the elderly who had not forgotten her or were sorely in need of a kind ear. Storm had yet to return from her assault against the drow, but judging by the pillar of Spellfire that she had seen on the horizon there was little reason to worry.

The explosion of power and the horrid scream that had emanated from Elminster's Tower, however, merited more than a little concern. The fact that Old Skull had been… damaged, was also a note of worry for the spectral harpist. She had been on her way to see Elminster, but something had kept her at the farm. She could feel something important coming and knew that for the time being, she was better off staying close to home.

She had been rewarded almost immediately by a powerful essence settling beneath Storm's favorite silverbark. What greeted Sylune when she rounded the house was anything but what she had expected. A very naked young man acting very much like a cat had not been on her list at all. She watched as the boy batted at a butterfly and noted with some concern that his humanity had all but fled him. Every motion seemed to reflect the exact nature of a feline that Sylune found herself wondering what manner of spell could rob a person of their senses so completely.

She sat on the warm stone bench near the birdbath and watched the boy eat for a time, pondering the problem. There were a number of spells that could imitate catlike behavior, but there were very few that could replace the mind of a man with that of a cat. Perhaps this was a polymorphed cat that had been given a human form? It was a stretch, but it was the best that she could come up with at the moment. She sighed and allowed her eyes to focus on the boy again. He was handsome and well muscled — a form that any woman with a liking for men could enjoy watching. The ghost let her mouth quirk into a small grin. She was starting to sound more and more like Storm every day.

This thought was still on her mind when the boy's eyes shot up and stared directly at her. She had not made herself visible in any manner and yet the boy was staring her dead in the eye. More to her surprise was the fact that he picked up his fish and promptly laid it at her feet.

Sylune was about to give her thanks to the catboy and offer him greeting, when he jumped onto the table and drew his face close to hers. Their noses were almost touching, when the boy sneezed and wrinkled his nose at her. The look that he leveled at her was filled with patient exasperation, as if she were some wayward kitten! In all her long years of living and half-living on the face of Faerun, she had never been in such an awkward and nerve-wracking situation. Embarrassment flooded her for no apparent reason, and she suddenly felt self-conscious… as if she were a young maiden all over again!

A deep, resonant purring began to rumble from deep in his chest, unsettling Sylune's ghost even further and throwing off her guard completely. The world spun wildly for her, and there was a sharp pain in her shoulder.

Sylune blinked.

She hadn't felt pain, true pain, in ages! A wet warmth spread across her face, sending chills down Sylune's spine as the boy's purring deepened even further. She closed her eyes and lost herself in the rhythm. It was a warm and comforting sound that made her tingle all over.

Spine? Tingle? By the Goddess! This couldn't be real! Sylune kept her eyes firmly shut and refused to open them for fear of breaking the dream. She could feel his weight bearing down on her chest and stomach, pressing her into the soft, prickly grass beneath her. She could smell the rich flavor of his sweat mixing with the sweetness of her sister's rose garden.

A warm breeze danced up her arms and kissed the wet skin of her face where the boy was seemingly bathing her. The careful measure of his breathing danced in concert with hers. She was feeling dizzy. Mystra's Flame! How long since she had felt such an odd and wonderful sensation?!

The boy moved to her neck, tickling a rather sensitive spot that caused her to squirm and giggle girlishly. She moaned longingly and struggled to shift her weight, but the boy refused to move from his perch. The smell of fish was thick on his breath, which killed her excitement rather quickly. A disappointment, really, as she had been really starting to enjoy his attentions.

Sylune's eyes flew open, and for the first time in over sixteen years she saw color! The sky was such a crisp spring blue, and the silverbark shimmered just so! Tears welled in Sylune's eyes and she sat up, spilling the boy into her lap. He started to squirm, but her arms gathered him into a bone-crushing embrace. She wept for the simple joy of weeping again, and laughed when the boy started to meow uncomfortably. She loosened her arms enough for him to leap to the table and begin cleaning himself.

She had no idea how or why this wondrous miracle had happened, but she had this young man to thank for it. He looked her in the eyes one more time, and something on his chest flared with a bright, silvery light. She squinted and took note of something that looked like Mystra's symbol, save for the eighth star. She reached her hand out tentatively and the boy arched his back to run along her fingertips. The sensual grace with which he moved caused her face to heat. When she didn't respond to his urgings, he bumped into her side, knocking her over again.

Sylune could only stare at the glowing symbol on his chest in awe and wonder. Had Mystra brought her back? Was this her doing, or had something new happened to the Goddess of Magic that Sylune was unaware of? She was so caught up in her thoughts that she almost missed the small, affectionate lick to her nose. She looked up at the boy's beautiful steel blue eyes and lost herself in their large, unassuming depths. He continued to purr as he made an impossible leap to the roof of the cottage behind her. She rolled onto her belly to track his movement and was further astonished as he leapt high into the air and used a cloud to launch him farther to the east.

Without further ado, Sylune, the former Ghost Witch of Shadowdale sprang to her feet. She hiked her skirts well over her knees, and ran as fast as she could to Elminster's Tower. If she was to find any answers at all, she was certain that they would be found there.

Elminster's Tower,

It was as close to midnight as you could get, and Elminster was still reeling from all that had happened earlier in the day. It was still light out, confirming Elminster's growing suspicions over the identities of the women that the boy had left behind.

Storm had woken, taken one look at the destruction around her, and stolen El's glass from his hand. He was well into his drink by that time, and hadn't minded a bit. Brailen and Valor had somehow managed to wrestle the tower's newest "guests" into their respective rooms without so much as a by-your-leave to Elminster. The Magister did request, in his most polite and dashing tone, that it might be in the best interests of everyone's health if the women in question were separated to the opposite ends of the tower from each other.

Whether the women understood his slurring speech or not, El didn't know. They seemed to at least move in opposite directions when they left the room, though, so that was something. When Sylune arrived, somewhat disheveled and no longer transparent, El raised his twenty-sixth glass of Turish Rum in toast to her. The smell of fish was heavy on her, which gave El a nasty bout of the munchies. This, of course, prompted the Peanut Quest, which had ended badly when Valor rapped him over the head with her wooden spoon and kicked him out of the kitchen.

He had thought that looking down her bodice was a clever notion! After all, that's where he would have hidden the peanuts….

Bereft of munchies and still too sober for his liking, Elminster wound his way into the sitting room hunting for crackers. They weren't quite as satisfying, but beggars couldn't be choosers. He ran afoul of an intense explosion of estrogen as Sylune, Storm, and Alrassa were crying over something that made absolutely no sense to the mage. He managed to solicit the Simbul for some company… or was it crackers? He couldn't remember. Her response to set his bottom on fire was not welcome at all! A simple "no" would have sufficed!

At a loss for munchies, and still way too clear-headed for the new guests occupying the rooms above him, Elminster trundled out into his garden and looked up at the twisted remains of Old Skull. Things would be stirring in their depths by tomorrow, if they hadn't started already, which meant that someone was going to have to deal with the fallout. This meant that he would be entertaining more guests come tomorrow, atop the mountain of concerns that already resided in his home.

He snapped his fingers and produced another bottle of rum, before sitting himself sloppily on a small pillow of air.

"'Sorry about this', he says!" Elminster snorted and took a drag straight from the bottle. "Better me than thee, eh, boy?" The mage chuckled at himself and looked out toward Cormanthor. Flashes of power could be felt cropping up now and again, and El knew that the boy was busy at work. He raised his bottle in salute and settled back to watch the stars dance in the night sky. The oddity that it wasn't dark hit him, causing him to giggle impishly. There would be hell to pay soon enough. For now, there was drinking to be done.

And that was exactly what Elminster did.


To be continued.

Chapter 5
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