Halftime

By Aaron Ziegler
spanner@visi.com

Chapter 11: Time Zones

"So, anything eventful happen while we were gone?" Lucca asked Marle as she climbed into the waiting time machine.

"Nope," Marle answered. She seemed almost disappointed.

Lucca laughed. "Let's go get Crono!"

Marle brightened notably, and she nodded. The Epoch flew out of the garage and soared into the sky. A flash of light later, the familiar formlessness of the End of Time surrounded them. Wasting no time, Marle popped the cockpit and jumped out.

It took only a moment to locate Crono. He looked horrible. Physically, he was fine, but the look on his face was not one that Marle would ever care to see again. His face was drawn and pale, and he had a hopeless, haunted look in his eyes. When he spied Marle, his face twitched, and twisted into a look of desperate hope.

"Crono?" asked Marle, feeling a surge of pity for the creature before her.

Without a word, Crono reached out, and touched Marle, as if to verify that she was really there. Convinced of her reality he clutched her and began to sob with relief. Marle held him in return, and tried to reassure him as best she could. After a while, she led Crono back to the Epoch, where he settled gratefully into his seat.

Lucca turned around and grinned at him. "Glad to have you back! Didja miss us?"

Crono stared at her in disbelief for asking such a stupid question. Miss them? Of course he missed them! He thought they were dead! Then he realized that Lucca was just teasing. He explained to her, very carefully, that yes, he had missed them.

Then Lucca became more serious. "Oh, Crono! I'm so sorry that we put you through this! We have so much to tell you!"

Crono relaxed and listened as Marle and Lucca described their adventures in post-holocaust Nerima, their meeting with Magus, and their discovery of Lavos on this world. Crono suddenly looked very tired. He suggested that they go back to the Tendo's and rest before taking on another Lavos. The two girls agreed, and the three of them were soon bound for 1995..

* * * * * *

Back at the Tendo residence, Ukyou approached the front door. She could hear a commotion coming from the dojo. Evidently Robo was involved in another training session with Ranma, Ryoga, and Frog. 'No doubt Ranma and Ryoga are spending at least as much energy fighting each other as they are training Robo,' she thought with a smile. She decided to wait for them inside.

Ukyou knocked on the door. After a moment, it was answered by Kasumi. "Hello, Ukyou. Ranma's in the dojo with Robo, Ryoga, and Frog right now."

Ukyou nodded. "I know. Mind if I wait in here?"

"You're always welcome here." Then as an afterthought, "Don't sit on the couch."

"Er, okay," answered Ukyou, confused. As Kasumi returned to her kitchen, Ukyou approached the living room wondering why the couch would be off limits. The answer presented itself in the form of an unconscious man.

'So who's this?' Ukyou wondered, gazing at Magus's still form. The man looked more than a little foreboding, even unconscious. His medieval clothing and pale skin made him look distinctly Gothic, like some kind of vampire. He was certainly not a familiar face.

As Ukyou stood looking down at the man, his eyes twitched, and opened, causing Ukyou to step back in alarm. The eyes focused on her, and Ukyou saw the man inhale sharply. "Schala!" he rasped in a harsh whisper.

"Huh?" asked Ukyou, confused.

The man sat up and looked at Ukyou imploringly. "Schala! Don't you recognize me? It's me, Janus!"

"I have no idea what you're talking about!" answered Ukyou, more than a little unnerved by this man's (Janus's?) proposed familiarity with her.

Neither of the two seemed to notice Nabiki crouched silently by the staircase. She nodded mentally as she realized why Magus's pictures of Schala looked so familiar. She continued to observe the pair, interested by this exchange.

"You haven't changed, Schala," said Janus, apparently lost in some sort of hazy delusion. "Your voice, your face, just as I remember..." He stood up, and took a step toward Ukyou.

Ukyou had had enough. She assumed a defensive fighting stance and took her large spatula into hand. "Look, I'm not Schala, and I don't know you. Don't come any closer!"

Janus froze. Apparently, whatever dream state he had been in vanished. "Not Schala..." he repeated. "You're right. You're not Schala." The man began to babble, "The hair's all wrong, it's black and too short, and your aura's wrong, and you don't know who I am."

Janus almost seemed to crumple. He sat down on the couch and began to sob. Whatever formidability the man had possessed disappeared like a puff of smoke. Ukyou suddenly felt very foolish wielding her spatula against this dismal, broken man. She quickly returned the oversized cooking implement to its resting place on her back.

Tentatively, Ukyou asked, "Are you all right?"

Janus ceased his convulsive sobbing for a moment and raised a tear-stained face to gaze at Ukyou. "Fate has played a horrible joke on me today. Am I truly so evil, that I deserve a torment such as this?" He hesitantly reached out a hand, and this time Ukyou didn't flinch. He gently traced Ukyou's face. "You are so like her," he said wistfully. Tears again welled up in his eyes.

Unsure what else to do, Ukyou sat down next to the strange, overwrought man, and put her arm around him in an attempt to console him. Janus leaned against her and cried softly for a while. Finally, the man calmed down. He disengaged himself from Ukyou's somewhat embarrassed grasp, and composed himself.

Janus turned a tender gaze on Ukyou and said, "Thank you. There is no way I can truly describe, or ever repay, the service you have done for me today. Please, what is your name?"

"Ukyou," Ukyou answered. "Ukyou Kounji."

"Ukyou," repeated Janus.

Cautiously, Ukyou asked, "If you don't mind my asking, who is Schala?"

"My sister," he answered. "It has been so long..." He gazed off into space for a few moments, and then continued. "She was taken from me when I was a mere boy. For years, I lived only to avenge myself on the foul creature who had taken her from me. But when I succeeded in my revenge, she was still gone." He glanced sharply at Ukyou. "Can you possibly understand? She was still gone! Without her, and without my revenge, my life was empty! Meaningless! My only hope was to search for her. When I opened my eyes, and saw you...for the briefest, sweetest of moments, I was whole again. Then, when I saw you were not whom I had thought..."

Ukyou looked at him with wide eyes. "I'm so sorry!" she said, becoming conscious of the emotional wringer she had put this man through.

"Please! Don't apologize!" Janus said vehemently. "I thought my world was crumbling around me again. But when you held me, I remembered how Schala had comforted me as a child. And for the first time in a long time, I felt hope. Hope!" Janus grabbed Ukyou's shoulders for emphasis. "You have no idea the value of hope, especially for one such as I!"

"Er, you're welcome," answered Ukyou, a little overwhelmed.

'So, Magus has a soft spot for Ukyou,' thought Nabiki. 'A secret well worth knowing.'

At that moment, Kasumi walked in. "Ah, Ukyou! I see you've met our guest."

To Ukyou, the change in Janus was astounding. His tenderness and feeling seemed to slip away, and he assumed a mantle of cold haughteur. He released Ukyou's shoulders and stood up, turning to gaze contemptuously at the elder Tendo sister. "Indeed," he said dryly, as if to scold Kasumi for stating the obvious.

If Kasumi could detect the implied contempt, she was unaffected by it. "I hope you're feeling better, Magus. The others are out in the dojo."

"Magus?" asked Ukyou, startled by the emotional shift.

Magus turned to look at her, and for a moment, the cold arrogance vanished once more. It was replaced by the tenderness Ukyou had witnessed earlier, perhaps now with an additional tinge of desperation. "Please," he said, "call me Janus."

"Janus," Ukyou nodded.

Schala and Ukyou, looking not totally unalike

At that moment, the front door opened, admitting Robo, Frog, Ranma, and Ryoga. All four looked exhausted, and, aside from Frog, sweaty. Nevertheless, Ryoga and Ranma were pointedly ignoring each other.

"Finished training for now?" Kasumi asked cheerfully. "I'll make some lemonade." She headed back to the kitchen.

Robo noticed Magus and smiled. "Hello, Magus!" she said. "Sleep well?" Magus ignored her. Then, Robo's eyes fell on Ukyou, and she froze. Robo looked at Ukyou, then at Magus, and then at Ukyou again.

"What is it?" asked Ukyou.

"Wait right there," said Robo, and ran off to the kitchen.

Ranma, Frog, Ryoga, and Ukyou threw each other confused looks, unsure what to make of Robo's odd behavior. Magus just looked bored, apparently unconcerned with Robo's aberrant behavior. Soon they heard sounds of water running, followed by heavy clunking. The clunking was revealed to be the heavy footsteps of Robo running out of the kitchen in robot form. He screeched to a halt and stared intently at Ukyou again. A beam of light slowly scanned Ukyou from head to toe, while mechanical sounds of buzzing and clicking emanated from Robo's body.

"What is it?!?" asked Ukyou, impatiently.

"Analysis complete," said Robo. "Just as I thought!"

"What dost thou mean?" asked Frog.

"Frog, look at Ukyou and imagine her with long blue hair instead of short black hair."

Frog studied Ukyou, who was beginning to understand what all this was about. Magus looked supremely disgusted. Frog's eyes widened. "'Tis Schala!" he exclaimed.

"'Tis not," said Magus pointedly.

"Of course," said Frog, irritated by Magus's lack of patience. "But she is the very image of thy sister. Dost that not incur some vestige of compassion in thy soul?"

"Of course not!" Magus lied. "What kind of sentimental fool do you take me for? Ukyou is nothing to me."

"I see," said Frog, thoughtfully. Oddly, Frog's anger seemed to be gone. In its place was a sort of slight amusement.

Ranma was less amused. "Hey, you can't talk about Ucchan that way!"

"Oh, can't I?" said Magus, lifting an eyebrow.

"Ranma-" began Ukyou.

Ranma wasn't listening. He advanced on Magus angrily, "Yeah!"

In a flash, Magus swept back his cape, and whirled an long, slender object forward. Ranma stopped dead in his tracks, as he realized that Magus was now holding the edge of a long scythe against his throat. "Eventually, we all face the reaper," Magus intoned. "Are you truly so eager to take your turn?"

"Janus-" started Ukyou. Frog glanced sharply at Ukyou upon hearing her address Magus by his true name.

Magus wasn't listening. "I warned you, boy. I am no one to trifle with."

Ranma leapt backwards, out of scythe-range. He landed and tensed himself, evidently preparing an attack. "I tire of this," said Magus in a bored tone. "Dark Bomb," he chanted, making a few quick passes in the air at Ranma.

Suddenly, Ranma felt extremely ill. He was at the center of what seemed to be an explosion of darkness, a blackness so intense that it hurt his eyes. He could almost feel the life energy being drained from his body. He fell to his knees, and then to the floor. Then, the blackness cleared, leaving him alive, but weakened.

"No!" said Ukyou, who rushed out to the pale, crumpled form of Ranma. "Don't hurt him!" she yelled at Magus.

Magus seemed startled. "You wish me to spare him?"

"Yes! He's my fiancee."

Magus nearly dropped his scythe. His arrogance vanished in a flash, and he said, "I-I'm sorry."

Robo's metal mouth dropped open, and Frog began to grin. Then Frog jabbed the shocked robot and said, "Methinks Ranma couldst use thy Cure Beam, friend Robo."

As soon as soon as Ranma was back on his feet, Kasumi entered the room with a batch of fresh lemonade. "I'm so glad you're all getting along!" she smiled. Several jaws dropped, and eyes rolled, but Magus was too distraught to respond to Kasumi's blatant inaccuracy. Still, no one bothered to correct her.

Kasumi began pouring and distributing lemonade. This prompted Robo to head back to the kitchen to change form in time to get his share. As she served the tired group, Kasumi conversationally said, "You know, with the girls and Crono coming back, we're just running out of room here. I'm not sure we can fit Magus anywhere."

"That's all right," said Ranma, throwing Magus a dirty look. "I wouldn't want him here anyway."

"Now Ranma, he's our guest," scolded Kasumi.

"He can stay with me," said Ukyou.

"WHAT?" said Ranma.

"I don't think he'll try to hurt me," smiled Ukyou. Magus for his part, looked momentarily horrified at the thought of hurting Ukyou.

"Oh, good," said Kasumi. "At least he'll have someplace to stay."

Magus regained his composure, and his haughteur, "Hmph. I hope we don't intend to stay long. By the chronometer on the Epoch, this is the year 1995 A.D., correct? Then this planet has five years to live."

Everyone froze. "Oh my," said Kasumi.

Frog spoke, "What art thou saying?"

"Just after the western New Year, to be exact," said Magus adjusting his gloves. "In the year 2000 A.D., Lavos puts an end to the hopes and dreams of countless millions of people. Those are the lucky ones."

"Lucky ones?" gulped Ryoga.

Magus nodded. "When Lavos rose, he rose right underneath the springs of Jusenkyo. The magic waters of Jusenkyo, amplified, mingled, and warped by the power of Lavos, evaporated into the air. Only a few days later, at points across the globe, the Jusenkyo Rains began, and didn't stop for months. Anyone rained on turned into a twisted, horrible monster. Where there were one or more personality-changing springs involved, the victim tended to lose their sanity as well as their humanity. Many lost their sanity anyway, upon seeing what they had become. A few learned the secret of the Jusenkyo curse, but with nearly every water and power plant inoperable, hot water became hard to come by. In most places, surviving mutants banded together and formed cults. These cults tried to rationalize their new conditions by thinking of themselves as blessed." Magus snorted. "Any fortunate enough to have been sheltered from the Jusenkyo Rains were quickly hunted down, killed, and usually eaten by the cults."

"Eaten?" questioned Ukyou.

"Lavos all but wiped the planet clean of plant life, and the animals were as altered as the people were. Herbivores, changed or not, quickly died off. And a planet populated by nothing but carnivores is a planet destined for lifelessness. Cannibalism became the norm, as the altered humans proved themselves the only creatures capable of sustaining themselves for any length of time."

Nabiki felt ill. She thought back to her intended "fact-finding" expedition with the Epoch. She had been all set to head for 2000 A.D. It was frightening to think that she might have ended up in the middle of Lavos's attack, or even worse, in the middle of a Jusenkyo rainstorm. Maybe being stabbed to death wasn't so bad after all. She fingered the spearhead in her pocket thoughtfully. She had cleaned the spearhead and kept it, without quite knowing why. Now, she had an idea.

"So how do you know all this?" asked Ranma with a tinge of skepticism.

"Don't be a fool. I was there of course," said Magus. "I arrived on this planet in the year 1998 A.D. It didn't take me long to establish myself as a...shall we say...shrewd businessman. Magus Industries quickly became a leader in the production and distribution of scientific equipment, particularly equipment used to detect seismic activity." Magus smirked. "Competition in the field tended not to stay competitive for long. Incidently, Nabiki," said Magus, raising his voice, but not bothering to turn, "Magus Industries is where you want to invest."

Nabiki frowned, as everyone turned to stare at her. How long had he known I was here? she wondered. Nothing to do about it now, but grab some lemonade and pretend I just showed up. "Hey guys!" she called cheerfully, walking forward. "Got any more lemonade, Kasumi?"

"Of course," Kasumi poured her a glass as Magus continued.

"Magus Industries, of course, was merely a cover. I had detected Lavos's presence nearly the moment I arrived. Its immanent arrival meant that it was gathering power, and that made it especially visible to the right eyes. But I needed to know how immanent, and especially, where Lavos would appear. About a year after I had arrived on this world, I found my answers at Jusenkyo. There, I discovered three things. First, Lavos would appear in about a year. Second, Lavos was somehow responsible for the magic pools. Third, something was amplifying Lavos's power. That last bothered me. It meant that someone on this world was helping Lavos to grow, and more importantly, that Lavos would be much too powerful to defeat." Frog and Robo looked very grim at this. "So I turned my efforts toward survival. I used the resources of my company to construct a bunker, and I collected a number of people whom I judged might survive the coming holocaust." Magus looked grim. "Without exception, they all perished. Only a few lasted more than a year, and even they eventually fell prey to the cults. The most resilient lasted until mid-August, 2003. When she failed to return from an expedition, I found myself alone. Alone I remained, until I detected Lucca and Marle. That was in 2005."

Ukyou looked sympathetic. Ranma looked angry. "That's it!" he said. "This Lavos has got to go."

"Haven't you been listening, boy?" snarled Magus. "There is nothing you, or I, or anyone can do. Lavos has become too powerful. The Lavos we faced on my world was nothing compared to this, and we barely stopped that one."

"Why not get rid of whatever's giving it all this extra power?" asked Nabiki.

"It's far too late for that now," answered Magus. "I tried. I found that Lavos had been receiving its extra power for many centuries. I had no way of pinpointing when it started. Even with the Epoch, we'd never be able to find its origin."

"Do you want us to just curl up and die?" Ryoga demanded.

Magus shrugged. "Do as you like, but fighting is irrelevant, and survival is impossible. I'd advise you to make the most of the life you have left."

As Magus uttered these gloomy words, the whine of the Epoch's engines filled the air. The time machine landed, and the group filed outside to meet them, rather heavy of heart.

The cockpit of the Epoch flipped open, and Lucca jumped down. Noting the glum looks on the faces of all around, she said, "Well gee, don't I feel welcome. What's wrong?" After Crono and Marle dropped to the ground, the three of them listened to Magus's tale of woe.

"And Magus believes that there's no point in trying to fight it," finished Nabiki.

Lucca looked skeptical. "Magus has a tendency for being pessimistic, and he misjudged the last Lavos we fought..."

Magus barked a short laugh and said, "If you recall, girl, I underestimated the last Lavos. If I'm underestimating this Lavos, then you'd be even more the fool for considering fighting it. This planet is doomed. We've little alternative but to escape for home before we join this world in death."

"Two problems with that, Magus," answered Lucca. "First off, we have no idea how to get home. After we picked up Crono, we took a test flight back to 1000 A.D., to see if we'd end up back at Truce. No go. We were still on this world, and the inhabitants of the village we found seemed rather surprised to see the Epoch floating over their heads."

"Secondly," continued Marle severely, "it just isn't our style to cut and run. This planet needs us. Right, Crono?" Crono nodded grimly. Marle continued, "This Lavos must have some kind of weakness, and we'll find it if we try."

"Fools!" Magus snarled. "I'll have no part of this pointless endeavor." He whirled, evidently intending to stalk off in disgust. Then he caught Ukyou staring at him with a look of anger and betrayal. He seemed to shrink slightly.

"Very well," he amended. "I will aid you if I can. But I can see nothing but death for us all if we persist in this hopeless cause." Ukyou beamed, and led Magus off to her domicile to help him settle in.

Crono, Marle, and Lucca looked at one another in confusion. "What was that all about?" asked Marle.

Ryoga grinned. "Tall, dark, and Gothic's got a thing for Ukyou," he said.

"'Tis likely due to the uncanny resemblance she doth bear to his sister," added Frog. The three of them reeled as they finally realized what had made Ukyou look so familiar. Frog nodded and said, "I, too, was surprised."

This, of course, prompted Ranma and Ryoga to ask about Schala. So, Team Crono related the story. Upon its completion, Kasumi, who was collecting empty lemonade glasses, remarked, "He has a sister? How nice!"

"Now, if Lavos is as bad as Magus says, we'd better start making plans-" began Lucca. She then caught Crono's haggard look, and continued, "-tomorrow. For now let's relax." Her bespectacled eyes gleamed. "And I know just who I'd like to relax with..." With that, she headed out the door.

"She just doesn't stop, does she?" Ryoga said in wonderment.

"Just like a certain pig I could mention," answered Ranma pointedly.

Ryoga's face contorted in anger, and he clenched his fists. "Hey, who're you calling a pig!"

"Please don't fight in the house," called Kasumi from the kitchen.

"Dojo?" hissed Ryoga.

"Right," Ranma answered.

The two headed outside, and Robo noted, "Well, they seem to have found a way to relax."

"Wouldst thou care to join me in a repast at th' Neko Hanten?" invited Frog. Crono gave him the sort of stare that one might expect from a person who hadn't eaten for a week and a half.

"Great idea," said Marle. "I haven't eaten anything but Dark Fruit since we left. Let's go!".

* * * * * *

Oddly, when the group of time travelers entered Neko Hanten, Lucca was not chasing Mousse. To all appearances, she had caught him.

"So, why'd this thing affect me, too?" asked Mousse. He and Lucca were sitting at a corner booth. Chains, electronic gadgets, blades, and weights were stacked on the table. Mousse was presently holding the black box he had referred to as a Hypno Wave while attacking Ranma.

Lucca giggled. "Silly! You need to adjust this dial first to adjust the width of the wave. Didn't you read the manual?"

"I tried," answered Mousse. He hefted a sheaf of paper thicker than a dictionary and dropped it on the table. The pile of weapons shuddered, and a mace, three throwing stars, and a wooden duck clattered to the floor. The words "Hypno Wave User's Manual" were printed boldly on the top sheet of the stack of paper. Lucca dragged the manual over to her side of the table, and flipped it open. Mousse circled the table and gazed intently over Lucca's shoulder as she searched.

"Ah, here we go," said Lucca. "Section one-hundred forty-two: Radius and Arc Selection, Modification, and Enhancement. Block sixty-four, paragraph seven: 'Should the user enter circumstances in which the user lacks the insulative shielding discussed in section fifty-six, or for other reasons wishes to limit the scope of the attack, the following steps must be taken..."

At their table, Frog and Robo watched in amusement as Lucca translated her unpalatable User's Manual for Mousse. Crono and Marle would, no doubt, have been equally amused, had they not been devoting every ounce of their being towards pushing the limits of human capacity for ramen. Each had a stack of four empty bowls in front of them and each was well into a fifth.

As they finished their fifth serving, Shampoo arrived with two more bowls. "You two eat like starving wolves," she remarked. The two glanced at her, and then returned to their frantic feasting.

Shampoo noticed Frog and Robo watching Mousse and Lucca. A quick glance revealed that business was slow (most of the customers had cleared out when Mousse began to unload his arsenal in the corner booth), so she decided to chat a bit.

"Shampoo is so happy that Mousse with Lucca now," she said.

"Oh?" responded Robo. "Has he finally accepted Lucca's romantic overtures?"

"Well, no," admitted Shampoo. "But Lucca keep him busy, so he not in Shampoo's hair."

"Thou must be quite relieved," prompted Frog.

"Of course!" Shampoo answered automatically. Then she frowned. "Except now Shampoo have so much work to do. Shampoo and great-grandmother agreed that Mousse should spend as much time with Lucca as possible, so he give up on Shampoo. So now Shampoo have to do Mousse's work as well as Shampoo's own! Shampoo doesn't even have time to visit Ranma. It was fine when Lucca was gone, because Mousse did half the work. But then he always pester me!" Shampoo looked miserable. "It not fair! Shampoo unhappy when Mousse here, and unhappy when Mousse gone!"

Robo looked sympathetic. "It does sound like a trying conundrum. But, from what I have heard, Ranma does not desire a romantic relationship with you. Would Mousse not be a reasonable alternative? He certainly seems attracted to you."

Shampoo's eyes flashed, and she glared angrily at Robo. "Don't dare suggest such thing! Mousse is weak, stupid fool!"

"A fool in love," murmured Frog.

Shampoo ignored him. "Besides, Ranma love Shampoo, too. He just too stubborn admit it." Then Shampoo looked smug. "Even if Shampoo and Ranma not in love, laws of Joketsuzoku demand we marry."

Suddenly, Shampoo, Frog, Robo, and the two eaters were overwhelmed by a sickening, dizzy feeling. Shampoo slumped to her knees. The few remaining diners aside from Crono's associates looked similarly affected, and a couple of them had collapsed face first into their noodles.

"No, not yet!" Lucca's voice called out weakly.

"Oops, sorry," answered Mousse, turning the Hypno Wave off. Of all those in the room, only he seemed unaffected.

"Stupid Mousse!" yelled Shampoo.

Mousse looked devastated. "Oh, my darling Shampoo! Are you harmed? Let me carry you to a doctor!" Mousse stood up, and began to walk toward the irate Chinese Amazon. Suddenly, he collapsed on his face, tripped up by a hammer nonchalantly extended by Lucca.

Lucca feigned devastation. "Oh, my darling Mousse! Are you harmed? Let me carry you to a doctor!" Lucca stood up, dropped her hammer, and strategically tripped over it onto Mousse. "Oops," she said, as she draped herself over the fallen man.

Mousse appeared uncomfortable in such close proximity to the amorous inventor. "Er, I'm fine." He shrugged Lucca off of himself, and quickly stood.

Lucca stood as well, and walked steadily toward Mousse. "No, we'd better see a doctor. We may have suffered internal injuries..." She smiled at Mousse, and the light glinted off of her thick glasses. "Who knows, it could be serious. We might have to spend weeks in the hospital... Alone together..."

"Eep," eeped Mousse, backing slowly away from the approaching Lucca. His back touched a wall, and Lucca's grin widened. She lunged, and Mousse jumped to the side.

"Aaahhh!" he screamed, as he ran toward the door. Lucca stopped, and dug around in her satchel. Soon she produced one of her pistols. She took careful aim, and fired. A stream of undoubtedly cold water arced through the air. Mousse ducked in a panic, and the fluid pierced the air where he had been standing. "This is for your own good!" announced Lucca, hefting a huge butterfly net with her free hand and giving chase. As the two ran out of the restaurant and down the street, Mousse's cries, Lucca's pleas, and the occasional sound of squirting water faded away.

Shampoo laughed. "Situation became much more interesting when Lucca found out Mousse become duck in cold water."

"So I see," said Marle, still shaking off the residual effects of the Hypno Wave. She seemed to have lost her appetite, as had Crono.

"Shampoo!" Cologne called from the kitchen. "Return to your duties! You still must sweep the pantry, wipe the tables clean, and make six more deliveries." As an afterthought, "And you still have Mousse's work to do, as well."

Shampoo sighed forlornly, and said farewell to the visitors, who, in turn, got up to leave..

* * * * * *

At Ucchan's, Ukyou was relating the story of her engagement to Ranma. "...but Ranma's father didn't really want me to be Ranma's wife, so he asked Ranma which he liked better, okonomyaki or me. Ranma really had no idea what was happening, so he chose okonomyaki. So, Genma took Ranma and the okonomyaki stand, and left without me."

Magus was disgusted. "And you still wish to marry this fool?"

"Don't call Ranchan a fool," Ukyou said severely. "He may be pig-headed at times, but I love him. Besides, his father was the one who was really at fault, and I already beat the tar out of him."

Magus snorted noncommittally. Then, he stiffened, and his eyes narrowed. "What is it?" asked Ukyou.

Wordlessly Magus approached a potted plant. He swept back his cape and withdrew his sinister scythe. Before Ukyou could utter a protest, He swung the scythe, neatly chopping the plant off of its pot. The pot screamed, and a brown-haired head emerged with a frightened expression. The pot itself sprouted arms and legs, and quickly tried to scramble away from Magus and his weapon. Magus casually reached out and grabbed the fleeing figure by the hair and lifted it into the air. The remainder of the pot fell away, revealing the brown-haired head to possess a body clad in a cute pink dress.

"Tsubasa!" exclaimed Ukyou, her eyes narrowing.

"Help, Ukyou!" pleaded the dangling figure.

"Shall I dispose of him?" offered the dark sorcerer.

"No!" exclaimed Ukyou in horror.

"I knew you loved me!" beamed Tsubasa.

"Shut up, Tsubasa," Ukyou responded.

"And what is this little man to you?" asked Magus.

"He's an obsessive pest," Ukyou answered. "But I don't want you to kill him! No matter how obnoxious he is!"

Magus shrugged. "Very well." He carried Tsubasa to the door and threw him outside. Tsubasa evidently decided that today was, perhaps, not the best day to visit his dear Ukyou, and left in a hurry.

"Uncanny," remarked Magus, dusting off his hands. "Had I not felt his aura, I never would have detected him."

"Tsubasa's really good with disguises," granted Ukyou. "It makes him all the more annoying. I'm never able to keep him from sneaking in after me."

"Then why didn't you let me finish him?" asked Magus.

Ukyou looked stern. "Tsubasa may be a pest, but no one deserves to die."

Magus gazed at her quietly for a few seconds. "Like Schala, you possess a compassionate heart. I can hardly fault you for that. But, in the end, my sister's compassion caused me to lose her, when she refused to deny our mother." Magus looked away. "For my part, experience has taught me a somewhat harsher philosophy."

"Without compassion, the world can be a lonely place," said Ukyou pityingly.

"Yes," responded Magus, still turned away.

Then, Magus turned to her. "You said that you desired this Ranma. What keeps you from him?"

Ukyou was caught off guard. "Well, mainly the fact that he has so many other girls after him, and he refuses to settle on one. I think he just doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings." Then, after a moment's thought, "Or else he's afraid that the rest will try to kill him if he doesn't pick them."

"I see," said Magus. "Who are these...other girls?"

"Well, Akane, Shampoo, and Kodachi are the main ones." Then, Ukyou became suspicious. "I don't want you to hurt anyone for my sake," she warned.

"Of course not," Magus said dismissively. Ukyou seemed satisfied with this. Suddenly, Magus's eyes widened. "Kodachi, did you say? Not...Kodachi Kunou?" Ukyou nodded.

Magus began to laugh. "Then this Ranma is the man who eventually led to her death!"

"WHAT?" shouted Ukyou, grabbing Magus by the shirt. "WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?"

Magus regained his composure. "My apologies, dear Ukyou. Allow me to explain. Do you recall the resilient survivor I mentioned? The one who survived at my side after the apocalypse longer than any of the others I had chosen?" Ukyou nodded. "That was Kodachi. When I discovered her, I saw that she burned with an obsession equal to my own. An obsession for a man she called Ranma. After Lavos rose, Kodachi was convinced that Ranma had somehow survived. She was determined to find him, no matter what he had become." He smiled wryly. "Kodachi's practice of spraying everyone and every animal she met with warm water made her few friends. Every day, she led an expedition to try to find other survivors--though, in actuality, her one concern was to find Ranma, whatever he had become. These expeditions were dangerous, but I encouraged them, as they served both to exterminate hostile elements around our base of operations, and also to test the mettle of the survivors I had chosen. Regrettably, each of the chosen was either picked off during the course of one expedition or another, became depressed and committed suicide, or went mad and ran off alone, never to be seen again. I had such high hopes for Kodachi." Magus shook his head sadly. "After everyone else had died, she still insisted on searching for Ranma, and I usually accompanied her. Eventually, we found him. What was left of him." Ukyou looked a bit horrified at this. "At least, Kodachi was convinced that it was him. I still don't know how she could tell. All that was left was a skeleton, and it looked like a woman's skeleton to me. But Kodachi was certain. She changed radically that day, and for the worse. Where she was usually vibrant and optimistic, she suddenly became listless and disinterested. She did nothing but mope around the compound. Eventually, I discovered that she had stopped eating. I tried to console her, but it was no use. One day, I found that she had left the compound. I never saw her again."

"How sad," Ukyou murmured. "I never suspected that Kodachi cared so much for Ranchan."

Magus continued. "After Kodachi was gone, I tried to convince myself that she had died because she was weak. But I couldn't shake the feeling that Kodachi's fate could be my own. If I was to one day find my sister dead, would I lose the desire to live, as Kodachi apparently had? Kodachi's death also signified another concern. It was the final and complete failure of my plan to try to preserve human life in the face of Lavos's destruction. I had little left to do but to wait, and hope for rescue. I was fortunate that rescue finally came."

Suddenly, Nabiki's unmistakable voice called out, "Hey, how 'bout some service here?"

"Could you see what she wants?" requested Ukyou. "I need to get the griddle warmed up."

"As you wish," Magus replied with a bow. He strode out of the kitchen and approached Nabiki's table. He smirked, as he noticed that Nabiki was wearing a spearhead on a silver chain. "Nice necklace," he remarked with a sneer.

"Oh, thank you ever so much," replied Nabiki wryly. "So, you've been reduced to waiting tables by your dear Ukyou, eh?"

"Just tell me what you want," he growled.

"Oh, it's not what I want," Nabiki smiled. "It's what you want. I couldn't help overhearing you talking to Ukyou in the kitchen. Whether she could tell or not, I'm willing to wager that you intend to try to hook Ranma for her."

"And if I am?" queried Magus, staring directly at her.

"I just thought that you might like the inside scoop on the opposition," she replied.

"And what do you want for this...information?" asked Magus, not fooled for a second.

"Just one tiny thing...a Dark Fruit plant, and the means to sustain it."

"Planning on staring a Dark Fruit fad?"

"Hey, there's gotta be a market for a fruit so nutritious that you can thrive on one a day." She rubbed her hands together thoughtfully. "And it won't hurt at all that I'd be the sole owner..."

"Very well," said Magus, reaching into a pocket. He withdrew a small, black bag, which he dropped into Nabiki's hand. "This bag contains a young Dark Fruit sapling. Don't open it!" he warned, as Nabiki began to take a peek. "The light in this room would kill it. All you need to have a thriving plant is pitch blackness and something for it to root in. That, and a daily watering should keep your plant alive."

"Will I need to learn that darkness spell you used at your bunker?" Nabiki asked.

Magus snorted with derision and said, "Don't be absurd. You have no affinity for shadow magic, even were I willing to teach you." No real point in telling her that she does have a strong aptitude for lightning magic, Magus thought wryly. The only one here who could teach her is Crono, and he couldn't teach a fish to swim. "Any sufficiently dark closet should do, as long as you don't open the door too frequently. Now, your part of the bargain?"

"First, you'd better tell Ukyou that I'd like a small okonomiyaki with sauce, or she's likely to get suspicious."

Magus nodded, and delivered the order to Ukyou. He returned a second later with the food. Nabiki took a bite, and began. "One of your adversaries, Kodachi, you don't really need to worry about."

"Oh?" asked Magus, skeptically. He had expected her to be the most formidable obstacle to his plans. At best, he had hoped that her obsession hadn't developed to its full potential.

Nabiki nodded, and continued, "She's been hospitalized for days now. Apparently, she's suffering from acute indigestion or something like that. No one's sure how it happened. If you hurry, Ranma and Ukyou could be a happy couple before she recovers."

"Go on," urged Magus, irritably.

"Shampoo is another problem. She's a Chinese Amazon, who is determined to marry Ranma, because he defeated her in a fight."

"Joketsuzoku?" asked Magus. Nabiki nodded. "I am familiar with their laws. She is a strong fighter?"

"Yes. But her great-grandmother is much stronger, and she's as determined as Shampoo to see Shampoo and Ranma marry."

Magus nodded, grimly. "Who else should I know about?"

"Just Akane, my sister. She and Ranma are fiancees, but she claims to hate him. Still, she gets really jealous whenever Ranma's with any of the other girls."

"I see. I doubt she'll be much of a problem then. Even if she does want Ranma, she'll probably deny it up to the point where Ranma finally chooses Ukyou. By then, it will be too late."

"You are truly a cold-hearted man," Nabiki noted, half-admiringly.

"Thank you," he replied with a mock bow. "Now if you'll pardon me, I have plans to make." With that, Magus stood and walked back to the kitchen.

As Nabiki cheerfully walked out the door with her new possession, Magus grinned and thought, I suppose that I really should have told her that Dark Fruit plants are sterile, but I suppose she'll find that out soon enough.

"I'll be leaving, for a while," Magus told Ukyou, as he entered the kitchen. "I shall return." Ukyou nodded acknowledgment, and returned to her cooking.

So much to do, so little time, thought Magus. Where to begin...

Afterword:

Sharp-eyed Chrono Trigger and Ranma 1/2 enthusiasts might notice a subtle bit of creative license in this chapter. Namely, Schala doesn't look a thing like Ukyou. So, why'd I do it? Well, when I first wrote this chapter, the only picture of Schala that I had was the tiny 5/4 inch pixilated character on the television screen while playing the game. At that point, it was perfectly reasonable to assume that if Ukyou were reduced to a 5/4 inch pixilated character, dressed in a diaphanous blue gown, and had her hair dyed blue, she might look exactly like Schala.

Later on, Nintendo finally produced a Chrono Trigger strategy guide, and in this strategy guide is a beautiful picture of Schala drawn by Akira Toriyama (perhaps better known for creating the popular Dragonball and Dragonball Z manga and anime, he designed all of the Chrono Trigger characters--in fact, the Imp, one of the wimpiest and most common enemies in the game, is almost a carbon copy of Emperor Pilaf from Dragonball). This picture, which is much more detailed than the 5/4 inch pixilated version, is quite clearly not very similar to Ukyou. In fact, none of Rumiko Takahashi's characters look much like any of Toriyama's. So, my last refuge is the technical possibility that, if Rumiko Takahashi were to draw Schala, or Akira Toriyama were to draw Ukyou, the characters just might look similar. Maybe. Just try not to think too hard about it.

Another thing you might wonder about is, if Dark Fruit is sterile, how did Magus and his merry crew survive beyond the first generation of plants? Are Dark Fruit plants immortal?

Hardly. Still I can't be caught here. Magus probably just clones his plants, and obtains more that way. He's got enough high-tech junk in that bunker of his to do the trick.

Chrono Trigger Tip #11:

You know, Lucca's mom always seems so sullen. She just sits in her chair, and never does anything. What's wrong with her?

Lara's legs were crushed in an accident with one of her husband's experimental inventions when she was trying to clean it. It happened when Lucca was a child, and all she could do was sit and watch her mother get pulled into the machine.

That's terrible! Is there anything I can do to help her?

As a matter of fact, yes. After you recover Robo, once he's helped Fiona restore her forest, Lucca will have a chance to go back in time a few years and stop the tragedy. The instructions on how to save Lara are written on a pad of paper in the kitchen when Lucca travels to the past. Basically, you need to go to the left side of the machine that Lara is being slowly dragged into, and, when it asks you to enter the password, press L, A, R, and then A on the control pad. The machine will stop, and Lucca's mother will be saved. Isn't that sweet?

You can win the game without trying this, or without succeeding, but it is nice to see Lara eager to dance at the Millennial Fair. If you try, whether you succeed or not, Robo will present Lucca with a gift: the Green Dream, created from the sap from one of the trees in Fiona's forest. A character holding the Green Dream will automatically be revived if they are killed in battle, but only once per battle. It's like Life3, for those familiar with the spells of Final Fantasy 3.

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