Halftime

By Aaron Ziegler
spanner@visi.com

Chapter 19: Back in Time

As it turned out, a nice, hot shower was all that it took to rid Robo of his obsessively homicidal behavior (not to mention his slick coating of pervert saliva). Once he was back in robot form, he seemed to have forgotten all about his hours of captivity, complaining only about a section of corrupt memory that seemed to have developed in his mental circuits. At Lucca's suggestion, he reformatted the bad sectors of his mind, and all was well again. Well, almost. His blunt metal fingers twitched involuntarily each time the Director was in his field of vision, almost as though they were grasping a neck and twisting. This, if nothing else, was enough to keep the Director from attempting any foolish escape attempts.

Every band member had been accounted for, including two that had tried to escape only to be cut down by Miss Hinako. All were now gathered in the Tendo living room under the disciplinarian's watchful eye and 5 yen piece. By virtue of Lucca's Gate key, Ayla's time Gate had been reopened, and Ayla had already returned to the past to inform her people of the new arrivals, and to deliver the undamaged and backup instruments owned by the Kielowitz International Martial Arts Marching Band. While she did so, Crono was briefing the defeated band on their punishment.

He described the war between the Joketsuzoku and the Jusenkyo thousands of years in the past (that shocked most of the band, especially the Director, who now realized how final their exile would be). Crono took care not to mention the fact that the Joketsuzoku were in dire straits; he didn't want their new conscripts to think of deserting to the Jusenkyo. He informed them that their instruments would be returned to them once they were through the Gate, and surrounded by thousands of capable amazon warriors. Crono also reminded them that no quarter would be asked or given. This was a real war, and the fighters fought to kill. This bothered none of the band members. They had been trained to kill, and had been fighting non-lethally merely because they had been ordered to take prisoners.

By the time Crono had finished his lengthy speech, Ayla had returned (Ayla was strong enough to carry all of the instruments in one trip). In groups of three, the Director's minions began their exodus into the past. Mere moments after the last had passed through, Cologne and Kasumi entered. (Not long after the battle had ended, Mousse had telephoned the Neko Hanten with the news of their victory, and Cologne had decided to accompany Kasumi back to the Tendo home.)

Noting the mostly empty living room, Cologne asked, "So where are our foes?"

"They're history," Ryoga grinned.

Cologne glanced at him with a raised eyebrow before studying the time Gate. "This, I presume, is the Gate Ayla described? And do you intend to follow her to the past to aid in her struggle?" After listening to the affirmative responses for a few moments, Cologne nodded. "I shall accompany you. I cannot deny that I am extremely interested in the origins of my people. You will also need all the help you can muster if you intend to face an evil as great as that represented by Lavos and the Sorcerer of Jusenkyo."

"And it would be unforgivable for me to allow my loves to face this evil unprotected!" boomed the bold voice of Tatewaki Kunou. The eloquent, if irritating, would-be samurai had just entered the room, followed by-

"Nabiki!" exclaimed Lucca. "Where have you been?"

Nabiki brusquely brushed Lucca's concern aside. "I'm coming, too."

"Huh?" asked Akane. "But why? You can't fight!"

"I have my reasons," Nabiki answered. Then she smiled slyly, "Besides, where would you prefer to have a suspected criminal like myself? Alone with the Epoch, or surrounded by thousands of Amazon warriors?"

"No!" wailed Soun. "I can't bear the thought of my poor Nabiki in the hands of those Jusenkyo savages!"

"Fear not, Mr. Tendo," Kunou vowed, brandishing his bokken, "Neither of your daughters shall come to harm so long as I live. So I swear!"

"Besides," interjected Marle, "she'll be perfectly safe, as long as she stays away from the fighting. Unless we lose, of course, in which case Lavos will destroy everything in five years anyway."

"Forward, then, to victory!" announced Kunou. He grabbed the arms of the two closest individuals, who happened to be Frog and Ryoga, and dragged the startled pair through the Gate with him.

Ayla snorted impatiently. "He big fool with big mouth."

"That's the truth," agreed Akane and Ranma together.

"Ayla go next. Crono, Marle, come with Ayla?" The two nodded, and followed. The next to disappear were Soun, Genma, and Magus.

"You want to go next, big sister?" asked Akane.

"Actually, I thought I'd go last, with Ukyou and Miss Hinako," Nabiki answered.

"Huh? Why?" asked Ukyou. Nabiki whispered something in her ear. Ukyou's eyes widened in surprise. "Yeah, that's a good reason, all right."

"What is?" asked Ranma.

Ukyou looked nervous. "I can't say, Ranchan. Just trust me. We'll make sure Nabiki doesn't misbehave."

After much raising of eyebrows, Mousse, Lucca, and Cologne entered the Gate, followed by Robo, Ranma, and Akane. Ukyou whirled excitedly towards Nabiki. "So what's this about Shampoo? Do you remember that she's really a girl? What about Ranchan?"

"No, Shampoo is just a cat," Nabiki answered automatically. Miss Hinako echoed the response. Then Nabiki shook her head, as if trying to clear it. "But a very smart cat. I think we should bring her with us." Nabiki walked out the door, and returned with a cardboard box punctured with holes.

"That's Shampoo?" Ukyou asked. Nabiki nodded in response. Then, Ukyou remembered something Lucca had mentioned. "Wait, all four of us can't go at once. Do you mind waiting a moment, Miss Hinako?"

Though somewhat puzzled, Miss Hinako agreed. Nabiki, Ukyou, and Shampoo entered the swirling circle.

Traveling through time via a time gate was not nearly as comfortable as riding the Epoch. There was the sensation of falling, but skewed, as if one were falling sideways. The scenery was unremarkable, though rather bizarre--full of dark blues and wavy purple lines that seemed to stream past. After only a few moments, a dark circle appeared ahead of them, and they tumbled through to land inelegantly on a patch of bare ground. Around them stood the others, as well as the Kielowitz Marching Band, and no less than a thousand semi-primitive-looking warriors, nearly all women. After a moment, Miss Hinako joined them.

"That's everyone," noted Lucca. She pressed a button on her Gate key and the time Gate closed, returning to its spherical shape. "What's in the box, Beeky?"

"A surprise," answered Nabiki. She had no chance to say more, before Ayla spoke up.

"I tell Joketsuzoku that us not fight until tomorrow," Ayla explained. "Music-makers still tired, we still tired. Joketsuzoku will fight today. We go to village, make plans, and sleep." The suggestion was met with overwhelming approval.

* * * * * *

Each of the newcomers was assigned a sparsely furnished tent, each equipped with a coarse woolen mat for sleeping and a pit for building a small fire. Magus, upon entering his own tent, was quite unsurprised to find Nabiki waiting casually for him. Her aura had been clearly visible to him even before he entered. She was alone. He smirked coldly at her. "Somehow I suspected that those 'reasons' you mentioned would involve me. What business do you have with me?"

"You can undo whatever it is that you did to my mind," Nabiki frowned.

"My dear, I have no idea what you are talking about," Magus replied. He quickly scanned the area once again, confirming that no other auras were nearby. He could speak freely. "I am certain you must have realized by now that I have altered Ukyou and Ranko's minds. Why would you think that you have been affected? Have you been imagining that you are actually a man? Or a cat?" Magus chuckled.

Nabiki grinned back, but her smile never touched her eyes. "Actually, it's what I can't imagine that has been bothering me. I know that it is quite preposterous that Ranko could be a man named..." Nabiki glanced at the back of her hand, where she had written a name she wanted to remember, "named 'Ranma', or that Shampoo might actually be a Chinese Amazon. It's absolutely unthinkable. And that's what's bothering me." Nabiki glared at Magus. "I've never been so certain of anything in my life. I know from experience that just about anything is possible, yet I can't seem to even consider those two possibilities."

"Everyone's mind has a limit," suggested Magus condescendingly.

Nabiki ignored him and continued, "I had a little chat with Gosunguki, and he showed me the equipment you had used. Quite an elaborate setup, for a spell designed to affect only two people. Even Gos, pathetic as he is, seemed to think that you were working a spell designed to affect a lot of people. A whole lot of people. And, it seems, one of those people was me. Playing tricks on my mind was never part of the bargain. Undo whatever you did to me, and I'll let you get back to your devious little plot. No one has to know."

Magus began idly toying with his gloves. "A fascinating hypothesis, girl. But even if I had cast a spell like the one you describe, I'm afraid that it wouldn't be possible to free one person without freeing all."

"Then free everyone," snapped Nabiki. "You can find some other way to do whatever it is that you were going to do with Ranko and Ukyou."

"Why should I? My plans are proceeding quite well as they are. If you are so concerned about the ever dubious quality of your mind, rest assured that any spells I have cast will be revoked once those plans are complete."

"What plans?" demanded Nabiki.

"Why, for Ranma to decide to marry Ukyou, of course," Magus responded.

"There is no Ranma, only Ranko," Nabiki insisted. Then she frowned at herself, as though puzzled by something.

"Exactly," chuckled the dark sorcerer. "Now, run along, Nabiki Tendo. And enjoy your Dark Fruit," he finished with a sneer. With a bit of mock-courtesy, he held open a flap of the tent door for Nabiki to leave.

"Happo-50-Yen-Satsu!" Magus had absolutely no time to react before he was bathed in the greenish glow. As he collapsed to the tent floor, he watched with cynical interest as a furious Miss Hinako walked into the tent, followed by an even more furious Ranma. Obviously, the two of them had been just outside the tent the whole time, Ranma's aura masked by the teacher's impenetrable anti-aura. Devious indeed.

"I knew that you were a delinquent, but this is too much!" scowled Miss Hinako.

Magus ignored both of them for the moment, instead turning a cold gaze onto Nabiki. "Altering your mind may not have been part of the bargain," he growled, "but keeping silent was. You agreed not to tell anyone of our dealings, or my activities."

"And I followed that agreement to the letter. I never told them anything. Of course, if anyone should happen to overhear our discussions, well, that's not my concern."

"Now, about that spell," Ranma suggested coldly.

The sorcerer waved a hand dismissively. "Of course. There's hardly any point in keeping it now, is there? But I will demand one concession: I will release the spell, if what has been learned in this tent stays in this tent. I will not have Ukyou, or anyone else, know that I was responsible. I want your word on it."

"Sounds fair," answered Nabiki. "So long as you agree to clear my name regarding the Epoch. Framing me was also definitely not part of our bargain. I didn't sabotage it, but I imagine you probably did. Perhaps to keep everyone from flitting around in time while you finished your plans for Ukyou and...and..." Nabiki frowned for a moment. "While you finished your plans," she finished, somewhat disgruntled.

Magus frowned. "You are entirely too clever, girl. Very well, agreed."

Nabiki began ticking off items on her fingers, "Okay, so the bargain stands like this: Magus agrees to break the spells and clear my unfairly tarnished name-" Ranma snorted at this, "-and we agree to keep Magus's secrets and exact no further justice upon him. Sound fair, Ranko? Miss Hinako?"

"Well, I was kinda hoping for a little more justice," Ranma muttered petulantly, cracking her knuckles.

"Actually, I'd like to throw in one more term," said Miss Hinako, eyes narrowing slightly. "No vengeance on either side. I don't want Magus coming after any of us because we spoiled his plans."

"Good thinking. No vengeance, Magus," Nabiki added. Magus snorted derisively, but his eyes did narrow thoughtfully.

Each of the four gathered there swore to the terms given. Once they were through, Magus produced a small stick from one of his many pockets. It was about two inches in length, and was wrapped in some sort of red cord. Magus reached into his cape and withdrew his scythe, which glinted in the dim light. He flipped the stick into the air, and sliced it neatly in two with the keen blade of his chosen weapon. Each half flared blindingly bright for a moment, and then vanished.

Nabiki and Miss Hinako reeled for a moment as the mental barriers were removed from their minds. Each could remember all that they had happened in the previous days. Miss Hinako was the first to speak, "I'll have to apologize to Miss Kounji about Shampoo."

"So, I can change back, now?" Ranma asked eagerly.

In answer, Magus produced an empty flask from another pocket. "Fill this with water and splash yourself with it," Magus answered curtly. "It will remove the block I placed on your curse."

"Everyone is back to normal, now?" Nabiki asked.

Magus nodded. "Everyone back in your own time returned to normal once we traveled here, though the spell would have been reinstated had I returned with the spell intact. Now, if you would kindly leave my tent, I would like to recover my strength before fulfilling the rest of my bargain tomorrow."

Ranma and Miss Hinako left the tent. As Nabiki was leaving she turned to deliver a few final words, "Oh, and Magus? Don't feel too bad about your plan not working. It was doomed from the start."

Magus raised an eyebrow. "How so?"

"One teensy bit of information that I never bothered to tell you:" Nabiki lowered her voice and smiled, "Ranma and my sister are in love. Bye, now!" Nabiki exited the tent.

Magus scowled. Truly, that would have been information worth knowing. If there was one thing he had learned in his lifetime, it was that love could be a formidable obstacle, and a virtually limitless source of power. His own love for his sister had granted him the resilience and tenacity that had kept him alive to this day. Nabiki was right. His plan had been doomed from the start, as Akane's love would have shaken her free of the spell, eventually. There was, in fact, little he could do for Ukyou, now, save comfort her when Ranma made the choice he must eventually make. A pity.

Magus struggled into an upright position. Most who had fallen prey to Miss Hinako's technique would have taken much longer to recover, but Magus was a quick healer, and could draw strength from the darkness around him. His mind returned to Nabiki. Truly, Magus had underestimated her. She was a survivor after all. Though she lacked the physical stamina of many, her deviously clever mind made up for her lack of raw power. Idly, Magus wondered if his ill-fated collection of survivors might have fared better, had Nabiki been among them. Such conjecture was, of course, futile. Still, Magus vowed never to underestimate the girl again.

* * * * * *

As she walked away from the tent, Ranma was deep in thought. Finally, she spoke, "I still don't understand one thing."

"And what's that, Ranma?" asked Nabiki curiously.

"Why'd he change Shampoo, too?"

Nabiki laughed. "That should be obvious, even to you!"

Ranma bristled. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Think, Ranma. What was Shampoo doing when she first came to town?"

Ranma thought for a moment. Then his eyes widened. "Oh, yeah. She was tryin' to kill my female self."

Nabiki nodded. "And, for a while, everyone forgot that you had a male form. Magus obviously didn't want Shampoo to kill you before Ukyou had had a chance to win your heart."

Ranma blushed for a moment. Then, reluctantly, she said, "Thanks, Nabiki, for helping me out. What do I owe you?"

Nabiki grinned. Ranma thought she knew Nabiki well, and perhaps she did. But not this time. "Consider it a gift. I've been feeling...generous lately." Nabiki absently fingered the spearhead she wore.

Ranma gawked at her with undisguised amazement.

Nabiki lifted an eyebrow. "I suppose if you insist on paying me, it would be most rude to refuse..." Ranma hastily shook her head. "I thought not. Besides, I didn't do it specifically for you. My own interests were at stake, too. I can't have strange sorcerers messing with my mind at will. Bad for business."

Ranma smiled, and sighed with relief. That, for better or for worse, sounded like the Nabiki she knew. Ranma had had more than enough of people around her not acting like themselves.

Afterword:

Hah! Nabiki Tendo can't lose! (Well, she did in 'Justice', but you have my Dark Id to thank for that.) Anyway, I hope that any critics of my earlier handling of Nabiki's character are, more or less, satisfied now. Long live the beautiful Goddess of Finances!

(I consider myself something of a Nabiki fan, whatever my Dark Id thinks of her.)

Chrono Trigger Tip #19:

Say, is there any way to actually WIN the farce of a trial that the Evil Chancellor puts Crono on in the beginning of the game?

In a way. Regardless of the outcome, Crono's gonna spend some time in jail, but it's up to your actions to determine whether it's because everyone thinks you tried to kidnap Princess Nadia, or merely for associating with her. Basically, you need to be able to meet every charge that the Chancellor brings against you regarding your quality of character. To test this quality, the Chancellor produces as evidence your behavior at the Millennial Fair towards the beginning of the game.

First off, when you first bump into Marle at the Millennial Fair, talk to her before going over to pick up her dropped pendant. If you grab the pendant first, the Chancellor will accuse you of wanting her for her wealth. Second, when Marle asks if she can come with you, refuse once. You don't want to seem too eager. While Marle is under your care, if you talk to Melchior the weapon salesman, he will ask you if you'd ask Marle to sell him her pendant. Refuse. This would be seen as another sure sign of greed. When you finally go to see Lucca's teleporter, Marle will want to stop and buy some candy. She'll be at it for quite a while. Be patient. Let her shop. If you drag her away too soon, this will be seen in a most negative light by the court. Finally, there are two things that you can do with or without Marle to achieve a better ruling in the court. Whatever you do, don't eat the man's lunch in front of the area where you can fight Gato, Lucca's battle droid. The man will hate you for it, and testify against you in court. The other thing is the cat. You may have noticed it where it sits near the man's lunch. If you talk to it, it will meow and begin to follow you. Walk to the east edge of the Millennial Fair (near to where the caveman dance is), making sure that the cat follows you all the way, and talk to the little girl there. She'll testify in your favor for returning her lost cat to her.

As I said, it doesn't matter whether you get the entire jury to side with you or not, you'll still go to jail. And, because he's such a bastard, the Chancellor will arrange an execution for you whether he's won it in court or not. So, basically, winning the trial has no bearing on the outcome of the game whatsoever. But the Mindlessly Obsessive will want Crono to have an untarnished criminal record anyway. (Unless, of course, you're Evil as well as Mindlessly Obsessive. In that case, simply do the opposite of everything I've suggested above, and the whole court will soon be demanding your jugular on a stick.)

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