Sasuga wa Onii-sama

Title: Sasuga wa Onii-sama
Plot, or Lack Thereof: The powers that be decides that Ryoga needs a real little sister.
Reason for Banishment: Weak characterization, borderline self-insertion.  Awaiting rewrite.


Ryoga wanted to let go of Akane and go on with his life.  But he couldn’t.  Nerima, a place that was once only filled with painful memories, was now a place he looked forward to passing through.  To see her smile was the highlight of his miserable existence─well, that, and beating the crap out of Ranma.  But he knew that he would never be able to have Akane.  From the moment that Ryoga met Akane, he knew that he had already lost to his bitter rival.  Still, he dared to hope, but that just led into his digging himself into a hole of deception and shame from which he could never extract himself.  And he could never seem to find Akari’s farm.

“DAMN YOU, RANMA! THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT!” He screamed, the valley around him echoing his cry.  Tears streamed down his face as he collapsed to his knees, his burden of loneliness too great even for him to bear.

***

Somewhere within the vast, complex computer known as Yggsadril, the self-running program known as the Ultimate Force discovered an incongruity in the World Computer’s code.  It wasn’t a very big one, and only affected one individual in a direct manner and a mere handful of others in a less direct manner.  Not a problem that would jeopardize the existence of the universe, but a problem nonetheless.  Following the dictates of its programming, the Ultimate Force began looking for ways to correct this problem.

It soon found one.

***

Deep down, Falora was, as Belldandy always said, “a very nice girl”.  She just had a tendency to rush into things and involve herself too far in matters that were none of her business.

This wouldn’t be too much of a problem, except Falora was a fledgling Goddess.

Which means that, if she tried hard enough, she could alter the very fabric of reality.

On this day, Falora was heading back home from a tiring training session when she heard Ryoga feeling sorry for himself for the umpteenth time.  If it had been anyone else, Falora would have just passed by without a second thought, but Ryoga always weighed on her heart.  After all, it was sort of her fault that he had gotten tangled up in the whole Nerima mess.

I should have known better than to suggest him to Urd as a way to put Ranma and Akane together. Falora sighed.  The poor guy.  If he keeps this up he’ll be the most miserable man on earth. She sighed again.  If only there was something I could do for him.

Falora eyes lit up as a memory came into her head.  “Of course!” she exclaimed, clapping her hands together in delight.  She giggled as the whole plan tumbled forth and assembled itself.  “It would be perfect!” With some concentration, Falora changed a very small bit of data concerning Ryoga.

Is he ever in for a surprise! Falora giggled again before starting off again for Asgard.

***

The incongruity corrected, the Ulitmate Force saved a log file of the fix and continued running its constant diagnostic of the World Computer.

***

Kasumi hummed a little tune to herself as she cleaned around the house.  Now that Ranma and Akane were getting along, the eldest Tendo daughter had fewer broken furniture, bits of plaster, or splinters to worry about.  Kasumi never did find out where Akane kept getting those mallets from, but she didn’t mind.  It was so sweet watching Ranma and Akane being nice to one another for a change.

Ranma stuck out his tongue, his expression playful.  “Uncute tomboy.”

Akane did as well.  “Pervert.”

All right, so they still hadn’t gotten past the ‘insult each other and initiate a tongue war’ part.  But at least they have admitted their feelings for one another, if not with words, then in the way they stare at each other and blush when they think that no one else is looking.  Now, if she could convince Daddy and Uncle Saotome not to rush them into marriage again, then they’ll progress along just fine.

A loud knock sounded at the door.  Akane and Ranma exchanged worried glanced, and touched hands for a few moments to lend each other support.

“I’ll get it,” Kasumi announced, heading towards the door, wondering who could it be.  Kodachi, Shampoo and Ryoga  never bothered to use the door, Ukyou seldom left her store, and Happosai still hadn’t decended from his last launch into Lower Earth Orbit via Akane’s impressive punt.

The door opened to reveal a small girl whose dark brown hair was tied in twin ponytails, her enormous dwarfing her tiny frame.

“Excuse me,” the girl smiled, revealing pointy fangs that resembled those of a certain Lost Boy.  “But do you know where the Hibiki residence is?”

Kasumi smiled back.  “No, but Ranma does.” She turned around to ask Ranma to escort this nice young lady home, only to discover that he had fallen over in shock, the third and fourth fingers in his hands folded down.  “Oh, dear.  It looks like Ranma won’t be able to help you right now.” She faced the young lady again.  “Why don’t you come in and have some tea?”

“Really?” The girl’s face lit up.  “Thank you so much!” She bowed.  “I’m Hibiki Yoiko.  Pleased to meet you!”

“Tendou Kasumi,” Kasumi stated, bowing back.  “And this is my youngest sister Akane, and her fiancée Saotome Ranma.”

***

Skuld’s eyebrow twitched as a new nexus of improbability manifested itself in Nerima.

“Great,” Urd sighed.  “What did Falora do this time?”

***

In actuality, Ryoga was not as challenged in finding his way as everyone thought; he simply did not pay too much attention as to where he was going.  By the time he realized that he was lost, he panicked, with the result that he ended up even more lost.  When Ryoga needed to go somewhere, though, he almost always ended up in the general area of his destination within a few moments.

Currently, Ryoga was headed towards Nerima without knowing so.  Something in his subconscious mind told him that he should go there, and Ryoga was never one to argue with his gut feelings.  Before long, he was standing in front of the Tendou Dojo.

As he was contemplating whether or not to go in, the front door almost flew off its hinges, and he was bowled over by a brownish blur.

“Big brother!” A small girl’s voice cried with delight, hugging him close.

Ryoga began to get angry.  How dare Ranma try that stupid trick on him again? With a roar, he threw the girl off of him and dropped into a battle stance.

“You’d better have hit your head and forgotten who you are, Ranma,” Ryoga growled.  “Or I swear I’ll smear your body parts all over the yard.”

The girl blinked in confusion.  “What are you talking about, brother? I’m Yoiko, your little sister!”

“Very funny, Ranma.” Ryoga cracked his knuckles.  “Prepare to die!”

***

Akane was snapped out of her shock when she heard Ryoga’s battle yell.

Oh, no! she thought.  Ryoga must think that Ranma’s trying to trick him again. She jumped up and ran outside as fast as she could.

Ryoga was already attacking Yoiko when Akane reached the door.  Had Akane not been in such a hurry, she might have noticed how well Yoiko was dodging Ryoga’s infuriated punches and kicks.

“STOP!” Akane cried, causing both of them to freeze.

“Miss Akane!” Yoiko hid behind Akane.  “Big bro is being mean to me!”

“Akane-san!” Ryoga pointed to Yoiko.  “Please tell Ranma to stop fooling around!”

“I didn’t do nothin’ this time,” Ranma answered, walking out as well.

Ryoga stared between Ranma and Yoiko for several seconds before passing out.

***

Ryoga opened his eyes to find himself lying on the floor of the Tendo’s living room.

“Big bro!” Yoiko grabbed him in a almost too-tight hug.  “I was so worried.”

“C-can’t breathe!” Ryoga gasped.

“Ah! I’m sorry!” Yoiko let up on the pressure a bit, but kept her arms wrapped around his waist.  She looked up at him with glittering eyes.  “I’ve missed you so much, Big Bro!”

Ryoga opened his mouth and said the one thing he could under the circumstance he was in: “Since when did I have a little sister?”

***

Belldandy placed a hand on Falora’s shoulder.  “Falora, the next time that you come up with an idea, tell us first, please?”

“Oops,” Falora mumbled sheepishly, looking only at her toes.

“‘Oops’?” Skuld repeated incredulously, on the verge of exploding with anger.  “You’ve somehow managed to even change the source code of the entire Nerima area and all you can say is ‘oops’?”

“Now is not the time for anger, Skuld,” Belldandy chided gently.  She turned to her other sister.  “What does the Lord have to say about this?”

“He says that it’s up to us to make any decisions,” Urd replied.  She couldn’t believe how calmly He had taken everything; in fact, she was pretty sure that He was even amused at the entire situation.  “I say we just ‘erase’ this incident altogether.”

Belldandy shook her head.  “It’s not as simple as that, or the Lord would have made more direct orders.”

“So now what?” Skuld wondered.

“First, I think we’ll need to explain what happened to everyone involved.” Belldandy sighed again.  “Then, all of us will need to go see for ourselves exactly how much of the source code has been affected, and to what extent.”

“Me too?” Falora asked.

Urd crossed her arms.  “Especially you.”

***

Ranma tensed and dropped into a defensive stance in front of Akane when the goldfish pond, and then the TV in the living room, followed by the mirror next to the door, and the shadow cast by the tree in the yard began to glow.  He was sure he felt his jaw dislocate when a young lady appeared from each one of them.

“Fear not,” one of them, who had an air of gentleness about her much like Kasumi’s, said.  “We mean no harm.”

“Who are you?” Ranma demanded.  Please, don’t let this be another fiancée thing that Pop set up, he prayed to whomever that might have been listening.  I’m getting enough grief from Akane as it is.

The same woman bowed, letting her light brown hair fall forward.  “Belldandy, Goddess First Class, Unlimited.”

The woman standing next to her─a much more curvaceous woman with long silver hair, wearing a revealing outfit that showed quite a bit of cleavage─bowed as well, causing Ryoga to spout a fountain of blood from his nose and almost pass out.  “Urd, Goddess Second Class, Unlimited.”

The third woman─a short young lady with mauve-colored hair─curtsied.  “Skuld, Goddess Second Class, Limited.”

The last─a girl with cheek-length blonde hair─lowered her head and blushed.  “Falora, Goddess Trainee Class.”

“Welcome to our home!” Kasumi greeted without skipping a beat, holding up a tray of tea.  “Would you like some tea?”

“No, thank you,” Belldandy declined.

This isn’t much weirder than the stuff that normally happens around here, Ranma thought.  Aloud, he asked: “So what brings four Goddesses to Nerima?”

Skuld coughed.  “Well, Falora here─” she glared at the guilty Goddess, “─messed with the Yggdrasil’s source code, and Yoiko was the result.”

Yoiko had a look of sheer terror on her face.  “What do you mean?” she asked.

Belldandy smiled and placed a comforting hand on Yoiko’s shoulder.  “Don’t worry, we’re not here to take you away.” She turned to Ranma, Akane, Kasumi, and Ryoga.  “We’re here to ask you to take good care of Yoiko.”

Ranma just stared.  “Huh?”

“Due to Falora’s oversight, Yoiko has no background or memory save that of what pertains to Ryoga,” Belldandy explained.  “Yoiko will need your help to integrate her into this world.”

“Can’t you guys do it?” Ranma asked.  “I mean, you are Goddesses and all.”

“Very busy Goddesses,” corrected Urd.  “Especially now, after this delightful little mess, we’ll have our hands full for a while.”

Kasumi nodded.  “In that case, we’ll be glad to take care of Yoiko.”

Belldandy bowed again.  “Thank you so very much.  We’ll be going now.”

Everyone─except Belldandy and Kasumi, of course─jumped when a lightning bolt struck the ground outside and carved some letters into the ground.

Urd walked over to the words and read them aloud.  “Falora is to stay on Earth until the matter has been investigated.  Bell will accompany her.  Thus it is writ.” To herself, she muttered: “Well, the Lord has always been the type to make impressive announcements.”

“So mote it be,” Bellandy said, completing the ritual.  She clapped her hands together.  “Holy Bell, come forth.”

One of the charms around Belldandy’s neck glowed, and a winged figure materialized from it.

“The Lord has mandated that Falora remain here, and that you are to protect her.”

The figure nodded, and clasped its hands before its chest.  The glowing faded, revealing a woman who looked about twenty, with bright eyes and lucious golden hair that tumbled down her small frame.

“Be good now, Falora,” Belldandy reminded Falora before taking the other Goddess’ hands and stepping into the pond again.

The Tendou dojo enjoyed a rare moment of silence.

“Um.  Well.” Falora smiled.  “So, Ryoga, looks like we’ll be staying at your place for a while.”

“Let’s go home!” Yoiko suggested, hugging Ryoga close again.

“S-sure,” Ryoga, still a bit woozy from his recent blood loss, agreed.

Falora, Bell, Ryoga, and Yoiko walked out the door, saying their goodbyes to Ranma and the Tendous.

A few moments later, they returned.

“Eh,” Falora grinned.  “Could anybody guide us to the Hibiki residence?”

Ranma and Akane fell over.

***

The next day
Falora found a large rock and collapsed against it.

“I know that Ryoga has a tendancy to wander, but this is ridiculous,” she panted.  Earlier, Ryoga had left the house in an attempt to get to Furinkan High to avenge some real or imagined wrong on Ranma’s part.  Of course, Yoiko had followed, as well as Falora, but the siblings had proved to be much too difficult for the young Goddess to track.

Bell appeared over Falora, smiling.

“Sure, rub it in, don’t you?” Falora mumbled.

Bell dropped two large cloth bags into Falora’s lap and pointed in the direction of Furinkan.

Falora looked at the bags.  “What for?”

Bell’s eyes twinkled.

***

“RANMA! PREPARE TO DIE!” Ryoga yelled from outside the cafeteria.

Ranma stood and slammed his chopsticks down.  “Man! Can’t even get a decent lunch around here.” He made a face at Ryoga and jumped up to a nearby window.  “Come and get me, P-chan!” With that, he leapt at Ryoga and used the Lost Boy’s head as a springboard, landing outside.  Ryoga let out a roar of rage and charged towards Ranma.  The twowould have had quite a battle had Yoiko not barreled through one of the walls at the edge of the school.

“There goes the school budget.” Nabiki remarked, observing the large hole that Yoiko made.

“Big Bro!” The girl squealed, flinging her arms wide.  “THERE YOU ARE!”

GLOMP

“Y-yoiko,” Ryoga gasped, “not so tight.”

The shadow cast by one of the trees glowed, and Falora stepped out of it, bearing two large cloth bags.  “Thanks a bunch, Bell,” she whispered to the sky before turning her attention to the siblings.  “Hey, guys! Bell made these for you two.”

She didn’t need to say anything more.  Ryoga and Yoiko dug into their respective lunches, eating away until the food was gone.  By then, Ryoga’s anger was satiated by the food, and he left with Yoiko.  In the general direction of Kyushu.

***

“What a mess,” Skuld sighed, sorting through the huge reams of paper that comprised the Yggdrasil’s diagnostics.

Urd shook her head.  “This is nothing.  You should have seen what happened when we first tested the preliminary systems.” She set down the stack that she had been reading.  “We must have murdered several planets’ worth of forests during that.” She turned to Belldandy.  “Hey, sis, could you pass over the next set?” No reply.  “Sis?”

Belldandy blinked and gave a little start.  “Hm? Oh, sorry, of course.”

“Thinking about that Keiichi guy again?” Urd teased, taking the pile of papers from Belldandy.

Belldandy blushed.  “I can’t help it.  He’s such a sweet fellow.”

“I don’t get what you see in that guy,” Skuld muttered.  She hid the list of qualified candidates for a wish under a big pile of printouts.  Maybe she could get it lost in the shuffle and her sister wouldn’t find out who was soon to make a call to the Goddess Helper Office.

***

The pouring rain, combined with the cold weather, cast that Sunday in a dreary gray.  Akane, bundled up in a sweater, nursed a mug of hot cocoa in her hands to keep warm.  Through the walls, she could hear Ranma and Uncle Genma going at each other in the dojo.  Kasumi was in the kitchen─cooking, as usual─and Nabiki was upstairs in her room, either studying or reading her manga.  And Falora and Yoiko were currently manifesting out of the shadow created by the lamp overhead shining onto the coffee table in the living room.

Wait a minute.  Falora and Yoiko coming out of a shadow?

Akane blinked.

“Sorry to startle you,” Falora apologized.  “But Yoiko and I haven’t seen Ryoga for the last few days and were wondering if you have.”

Akane shook her head.

A small sneeze was heard from a corner of the room, and all heads turned towards it.

“P-chan!” Akane exclaimed with delight, recognizing the tiny, black pig.  She ran over to pick it up.  “Oh, you’re soaking wet!”

“Hey, that looks like Big Bro’s bandanna!” Yoiko noticed.

“Of course, because─” Falora broke out hiccuping.

Bell walked into the room carrying a towel that Akane recognized as the one she always hung in the bathroom.  The angel frowned and shook a finger at Falora.

“I know,” Falora replied after Bell was finished ‘lecturing’ her.  Bell then handed the towel to Akane, who began drying P-chan.

“Can I see him?” Yoiko aske.

“Sure, just be careful.”

Yoiko gingerly took the pig in her hands.  “Oh, he’s so cute!” She giggled, giving him a small peck on the snout.  The pig seemed to blush, and she giggled again.  “And shy, too!”

Kasumi walked in from the kitchen.  “Oh, hello! I didn’t hear you knock.”

“Well, we didn’t come in through the door,” Falora explained.

Kasumi nodded.  “I see.  Would you like to stay for dinner?”

“Could we?” Yoiko asked.  “Please?”

Falora shot a questioning look to Bell, who nodded.

“Yay!” Yoiko cheered.

***

Yoiko ate at a breakneck pace, sometimes crossing chopsticks with Ranma and Genma as they competed for food, while Falora ate in a more dainty manner, and Bell didn’t eat at all.

“Don’t worry, there’s plenty to go around,” Kasumi reassured them, bringing another dish to the table.  She offered a pair of chopsticks to Bell.  “Aren’t you hungry?”

“Bell doesn’t need to eat,” Falora explained for Bell.

Yoiko yelped and shrunk back when a loud crack of thunder sounded nearby.

“It’s just thunder, Yoiko-chan,” Kasumi told the frightened girl.  “It won’t hurt you.”

“But it sounds so scary!” Yoiko squeaked.  She whimpered as another deafening peal was heard.  “I wish Big Bro was here.”

Upon hearing this, P-chan squirmed out of Akane’s lap and made a beeline toward the kitchen.

“P-chan!” Akane exclaimed, and was about to chase after him when Kasumi stopped her.

“No leaving the table before you finish eating,” Kasumi reminded Akane.

Worry crossed Akane’s features.  “But!”

Bell pointed to the kitchen and made a seeking gesture.

“You would like to help me?” Akane guessed.  Bell nodded.  “Thank you very much!”

Bell only smiled, then rose into the air after P-chan.

***

Ryoga looked up at the kitchen counter and fought a growing wave of despair.  He had found his destination in moments, both due to his familiarity with the Tendou home and due to his determination to make Yoiko’s wish come true.  However, he forgot how much smaller he was in his cursed form, and even with his formidable jumping skills, he could not reach the kettle that Kasumi always kept on the range unless he wanted to risk burning himself.

A slender hand reached above Ryoga, took the kettle, and tested its temperature before pouring some of its contents on him.  In the blink of an eye, Ryoga regained his normal height.  He was about to cover himself when he realized that his clothes had also appeared on his body.

“What the─?” he turned to face his mysterious benefactor, and nearly jumped when he saw that it was Bell.  “Oh, it’s you.” he gestured toward his clothes.  “Did you just─?”

Bell nodded, then made the motion of a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

Ryoga blinked.  “I see.  Thanks.” he turned again to join the others.  Bell guided him toward the correct direction.

***

Ryoga braced himself for the inevitable tackle-hug as he re-entered the common room.

“Big Bro!”

WHAM

This time, since Ryoga was prepared, he didn’t get all the air knocked out of him, but he did almost get it squeezed out by Yoiko’s powerful arms.

“I’m so glad you’re here!” Yoiko cried, snuggling into Ryoga’s chest.  “I was so scared!”

“Why don’t you join us for dinner?” Akane invited.

At this, Ranma slapped his chopsticks onto the table.  “I’m done,” he announced, standing up.  “I’ll be in the dojo.”

Akane watched Ranma’s retreating back.  “Ranma!”

“Why don’t you go see what’s wrong?” Kasumi suggested.

Akane crossed her arms.  “Hmph! All that jerk would do is call me uncute and say he’s fine.”

“That’s─” Falora broke into hiccups again.

Bell sighed, summoned a glass of water, and handed it to Falora.

***

The rain had gone down to a light drizzle by the time Ryoga finished eating.

“Could we walk home, please?” Yoiko asked Falora.  “I hardly ever get to spend any time with Big Bro.”

“Well,” Falora began.  “We would have to walk even if we didn’t want to, since I forgot to keep a light on back at your house.”

“But I thought you travel through shadow, not light?” Akane asked.

“Yes,” Falora nodded, “but unless the shadow is cast by a good light source, I can’t pinpoint where we’re going.”

Yoiko stuffed her feet into her shoes, jumped up, and grabbed Ryoga by the elbow.  “Anyway, let’s go!”

“Wait a minute!” Ryoga protested.  “My umbrella is only big enough for two people, tops.”

Akane got a bright red umbrella out of the closet next to the door.  “Here, you can borrow this.”

Ryoga felt himself grow hot.  “R-really?”

“Sure!” Akane replied, smiling.  “Just give it back to me tomorrow.”

“Or anytime this century,” Ranma muttered from behind her.

Akane must have jumped about three feet in the air.  “Don’t sneak up on me like that!” she shouted, although she didn’t sound as angry as she did relieved.  Ranma only stuck his tongue out at her.

Ryoga felt a lump rise in his throat.  Akane-san.

Yoiko began pulling on Ryoga.  “Come on, Big Bro!”

***

Yoiko latched onto Ryoga’s arm as they made their way home.

If only Akane would hold me like that. Ryoga thought.

“Big Bro?”

Ryoga shook himself out of his fantasy.  “Hm?”

“Why are you angry at Ranma all the time?” Without waiting for a response, Yoiko continued.  “Whenever you see him, you always fight! And you always yell─” at this Yoiko clenched her fist and imitated Ryoga, “DIE, RANMA!” she stopped and pulled Ryoga towards her.  “You don’t really mean that, do you?”

Ryoga was suddenly at a loss for words.  “I—”

“Hey, guys?” Falora pointed in the opposite direction that Yoiko and Ryoga were heading.  “Your house is that way.”

Ryoga and Yoiko both put an arm behind their heads and laughed.  “Oh, right.”

***

Mara hated paperwork.  Not only was it tedious, it was also boring, dull, and uninteresting, to boot.

“AUGH!” Mara screamed, throwing her pen to the desk.  “I can’t take it anymore! Forget this! I’m leaving!”

Reaching into her pocket for the “Hanson Brothers” CD that she always kept there in case of emergencies like this, Mara set it onto her desk and began pondering where she should go.

“I know!” she exclaimed, snapping her fingers.  Pressing her fingers onto the CD case, she concentrated and said to herself: “Take me where I can cause the maximum amount of chaos!”

Even though the room she appeared in had very little light, Mara recognized it as belonging to the Hibikis.  Their tendency to become  lost, combined with their genetic disposition towards suicidal depression, made them a frequent target for Demonic torment.  Mara had a special liking towards the one named Ryoga, because of the ease in arousing him to bouts of raging anger.

But this time, something was different.  Mara felt a slight tingling of the hairs on the back of her neck, something that felt like a Goddess’ “footprint”.  Mara followed the “trail” upstairs to one of the bedrooms that had never been occupied before, and was about to open the door, when something else caught her attention.

Coming out of the bathroom was a little girl that looked like Ranma when he had disguised himself as Ryoga’s younger sister.  Mara quickly recited a spell to make her unnoticeable, and the little girl passed by without incident.

Whew, that was a close one, Mara thought, wiping her forehead.  Then something else occurred to her.  Wait a minute, that can’t be right.  Unless Ranma suddenly got amnesia and thinks he’s really Ryoga’s little sister, there’s no way he’d be staying at the Hibiki’s dressed like that.

Reciting another spell, Mara “asked” the house about the girl.  Her lips curved upwards as the house “spoke” of the events that happened there.

“Ohoh, so the agents of Asgard have their hands full,” she murmured to herself, now smirking.  “It would be such a shame if I didn’t take advantage of their absence.”

***

“Yoiko’s missing!”

Ryoga’s agonized cry shocked Falora out of her half-asleep haze.  Bolting out of bed and into Yoiko’s room, Falora found Ryoga clutching the blankets.

“Yoiko’s missing,” Ryoga repeated, his voice fraught with confusion, panic, and worry.

“That’s not possible! I had Bell─” Falora let out a gasp as she realized that the angel in question was also nowhere to be found.  “Oh, no!”

“Yoiko’s missing,” Ryoga said a third time, in a daze, a greenish glow beginning to emanate from him.  “I couldn’t protect her.”

Falora’s Frying Pan of Heaven made a low, brassy *CLANG* sound against Ryoga’s head.

“Snap out of it,” Falora ordered Ryoga, her hands gripping the handle of the Frying Pan with shaking hands.  “We’ve got to find Yoiko before anything happens to her.”

“But how?” Ryoga wanted to know, rubbing the spot where Falora hit him.

Falora thought hard for a while.  “May I borrow your phone?”

***

Falora twirled the cord.  “Come on, come on.”

Finally, someone picked up.  “Hello, you have reached the desk of the Almighty.  Please state your message.”

“Hi, this is Falora.  Could you please put me through?”

“The Almighty’s a little busy right now.  Just tell me what you want and I’ll leave a note on His desk.”

“No, I need to talk to Him personally,” Falora insisted.  “This is an emergency.”

“Are you deaf? I said─” there was the sound of a hand covering the mouthpiece and muffled talking.  “Oh, wait, He’ll take your call.  Hold on.”

Falora bit her lip and drummed her fingers on the table as Mendelson’s “Halleluja Chorus” began to play.  Please, don’t let this be too late.

The music stopped.

“It is I.”

Falora unconsciously drew in a breath.  “My Lord, Yoiko’s disappeared, and I can’t seem to find Bell, either.”

“I will help Ryoga find Yoiko; as for Bell, she is needed elsewhere.”

“But─” Falora began, but the Almighty had already hung up.  She stared at the receiver.

That was when Ryoga’s eyes went blank.  “I know where Yoiko is,” he said slowly, his voice taking on an Almighty-esque tone.  He began heading down the stairs.  “Follow me.”

Falora gaped at Ryoga for a few seconds before hurrying after him.  “The Lord can be really weird sometimes,” she muttered to herself.

***

Yoiko was aware that something was wrong the minute she was out in the street, but she wasn’t sure what.  Now, as she entered an unfamiliar part of town, she knew this for sure and stopped.

“Big Bro,” she began.  “Where are we going? And why did you wake me up in the middle of the night to take me there?”

“Why, Yoiko-chan,” ‘Ryoga’ said, changing into something that, to Yoiko, screamed ‘Evil’ with a capital E, “don’t you trust me?”

Yoiko screeched at the top of her lungs and fled.

***

“Ryoga, wait!” Falora shouted between gasps.  “I can’t run that fast!”

“Yoiko’s in danger,” Ryoga replied, still moving at superhuman speeds.

“Please!” Falora begged.  Her lungs were already burning with each ragged breath hand her legs were starting to ache.

Ryoga slowed down just enough so that Falora got within reach, then grabbed her wrist and took off again.

***

Yoiko ran without looking at where she was headed, knocking over everything that got in her way.  Her eyes darted to and fro, hoping to find something─anything─that would give a clue as to where she was, but nothing looked familiar.  Worse yet, that Thing was still hot on her heels.

And It could fly.

“Come back, Yoiko-chan!” It cooed, clearing the obstacles that had slowed Yoiko down.  “I won’t hurt you—much.”

Yoiko threw a mailbox at the Thing, but It easily dodged.  It’s gonna get me! she thought, panicking even more.  Big Bro!

And then she saw the familiar yellow checkered bandanna.  “Big Bro!”

“YOIKO!”

***

As Ryoga and Yoiko met each other halfway and hugged, Falora summoned her Heavenly Frying Pan again and interposed herself between them and Mara.

“Stay back, Demoness!” Falora warned, her voice wavering slightly.  “These people are under my protection!”

Mara laughed.  “Ooh, I’m so scared.” A pitch-black shard of energy formed in her hand.  “Trainee.”

As Mara tossed the shard at Falora, the Goddess In Training had no other thought.

Protect Ryoga and Yoiko, no matter what it takes.

***

“Found it,” Belldandy said as she began typing in a rapid string of commands.  “The statistics for Ryoga’s file will come up in a second.”

“Figures it’d take so long to find a file on a Hibiki,” Urd muttered.

“Last modified date—woah!” Skuld snatched the paper from the printer and rushed back to her sisters.  “Hey, look at this!”

Urd looked.  “Yeah, so?”

“Ara!” Belldandy exclaimed.  “This date is at least thirteen years before Falora supposedly ‘created’ Yoiko!”

“This means—” Skuld’s eyes went wide.

Then Holy Bell rushed into the room, and Belldandy  stood up.

“Falora needs our help,” Belldandy finished, retrieving Holy Bell.  “And fast.”

***

Mara smirked as Falora strained to keep up the barrier that kept the Goddess from experience intense hurting.  “Having some trouble, Trainee?”

“I won’t let you hurt Ryoga,” Falora answered through clenched teeth.

“Why not?” Mara wanted to know.  “What do you see in this boy that’s worth saving?”

“Big Bro is brave and kind!” Yoiko answered for Falora, her hands balled into fists.

Mara laughed.  “Oh, that’s a good one, kid! I don’t suppose you’ve seen him when he’s on his little vendetta against Ranma, have you?”

Yoiko deflated a bit.  “W-well, I─”

One edge of Mara’s lip curled upwards.  “And I don’t suppose you’ve ever tried pouring hot water on ‘P-chan’, have you?”

Yoiko looked confused.  “Hot water?”

“Spring of Drowned Baby Black Pig.  Very Tragic Story.” Mara recited, as if she had said this many times before.  “Cold water activates the curse, hot water changes him back.” Mara smirked again.  “And did I mention that ‘P-chan’ has been spending nights in Akane’s bed?”

“N-no way!” Yoiko stammered.  “Big Bro would never do such a thing!” she looked at Ryoga.  “Would you?”

Ryoga looked away.  “I—”

“I’d hate to burst your bubble, kid,” Mara continued gleefully, “but the wonderful human being that you think your big brother is doesn’t exist! You’ve been worshiping a figment of your imagination!”

Falora looked up, her eyes burning.  “You’re wrong.”

The barrier glowed and the dark shard Mara had created earlier shattered into pieces.

Mara gaped.  How is this possible? No Trainee is supposed to have access to this kind of power!

“You’re wrong,” Falora repeated.  “Yes, Ryoga may hold a ridiculously long grudge against Ranma, but he also helped protect Ranma when Ranma was weak and vulnerable.  Yes, Ryoga may not have told Akane about his curse yet, but he never once really used it to his advantage.” She stood tall and faced Mara, determination flashing in her eyes.  “Everyone has the capacity for good, including Ryoga, and I believe in him.”

And then the barrier fizzled and died.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” Mara said, wagging your finger.  “You just burnt out all of your power, and for what?”

Falora was shaking now, but she still didn’t back down.  “Leave us.  This is your last chance.”

Mara hmphed.  “You still have a lot to learn about your job, Trainee.”

Falora raised her hands in a furtive attempt to block as Mara formed another shard.

And then an all-too-familiar voice rang out.

“Divine Retribution!”

***

Falora’s fear turned into joy as she saw the three approaching Goddesses.  “Go get her!” she cheered.

Urd, Belldandy, and Skuld approached at top speed, each the very embodiment of Righteous Fury.

Mara dodged another bolt from Urd, but couldn’t avoid the bomb Skuld tossed her way, and promptly got a “DUMMY!” stamped on her face from the spell that followed.  When she saw the expression on Belldandy’s face, though, all of her anger was  replaced with a healthy sense of self-preservation.

“I’d love to play with you guys (yeah, right), but I gotta run! Bye!” With that, Mara made a very hasty retreat.

“Are you all right?” Belldandy asked, floating to the ground next to Falora.

“Yeah, I think so,” Falora answered, putting a hand behind her head.

“Good,” Belldandy smiled.  “Let’s take Ryoga-san and Yoiko-san back to their house, and then head home, okay?”

***

Epilogue
Falora touched the green triangular ring on her cheek again to make sure that she wasn’t dreaming, and her reflection mimicked her action.

“I passed,” she whispered to herself again.  She still hadn’t believed that the Almighty had judged her worthy of becoming a licensed Goddess, not after the disaster that she was responsible for.  When she asked the Almighty, though, all He said was something about the Ultimate Force that made absolutely no sense to her.  But what He said did.

“I trust you, Falora.  And I know that you would never intentionally do harm.”

I won’t let the Lord down, Falora promised herself.  I’ll make myself learn everything and become the best Goddess there is!

Looking in the mirror again, Falora took in a deep breath and bowed to her image.

“Falora, Goddess Second Class,” she greeted herself.  She giggled and let out a contented sigh.  “I’ve always wanted to say that.”

***

Ryoga and Yoiko looked out over the landscape that rolled and banked beneath their feet.

“Any idea where we are?” Ryoga asked.

Yoiko shook her head.  “Uh-uh.  We’re lost, aren’t we?”

“Very,” Ryoga agreed.

But somehow, that didn’t seem like such a bad thing anymore.

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