Chapter 1 – Maestoso
“Can’t we stay and help out Sailor V?”
The former prince of the Musk felt his teeth grinding together as he suppressed the urge to do grievous bodily harm to his two companions. “No.”
The two Musk warriors both sighed and adopted ‘kicked puppy’ expressions. “Yes, Herb.”
“It’s still kind of odd not hearing them call you ‘Lord Herb’,” Ranma commented from where he was preparing the gate spell.
Herb scowled as he directed a glare at the martial artist/mage. “That title was stripped from me by my defeat.”
“Hey, no need to get touchy. I was just saying how it sounded funny.”
“As does calling you Kino, Saotome.”
As Ukyou stepped in to head off the approaching contest of wills, Makoto and Siofra were saying goodbye to their friends.
“Are you sure you have to go?” Usagi asked softly.
“They’re my family and I’m not risking losing them again.”
Siofra nodded in agreement. “Besides, since Metallia was destroyed by the Mage Council, there’s no great danger looming over our heads. It should be peaceful as far as the Senshi go.”
“I suppose… Maybe we should come and help.”
“And how would you explain that to your parents?” Makoto stepped in and hugged the blonde girl. “It’ll be all right. We’ll be back, I promise.”
Usagi couldn’t stop some tears from falling as she hugged Makoto back tightly. “J-just don’t take eight years, okay?”
“I won’t.” The brunette finally stepped away. She turned to the other three girls. “And you take care of her and yourselves, all right?”
The three nodded and promised that they would. Siofra gave Ami a warm hug and then the two sisters moved to stand next to their parents. By that time, Ranma had gone back to concentrating on the gate.
“All right, we’re almost done. I’m going to be aiming for a bit to the east of the Musk fortress. That should give us enough distance to avoid detection, especially since we’re going in at dusk. According to your information, Herb, that’ll put us just outside where we’re going to contact your rebel faction.”
“They are not rebels,” Herb growled. “They are the ones who remained loyal to me even after I was stripped of my title.”
“Whatever.” A glowing portal formed in front of Ranma. “Okay, the gate’s ready.”
Turning his back towards Ranma, Herb stormed through the gate, followed by Mint and Lime, who took one last, longing look at their idol, Minako, before stepping through the portal. Ukyou was next, followed by Makoto and Siofra. Finally, Ranma entered the gate.
And promptly landed face-first on the ground in a cloud of dirt. Wiping the dust from his eyes, Ranma glanced up and noticed that the portal was kinked at a seventy-five degree angle. “Great.”
“And what’s more, we are not anywhere near my people.”
again. So where are we?”
That one word made each of the Kinos freeze. Slowly Ranma turned to look at Herb. “Jusenkyou. *$&%#!!”
Ranma looked around. “It’s not flooded any more, at least. Is it still… Jusenkyou?”
With a nod, Herb explained, “After the flooding caused by your battle with Saffron, all of the springs combined into one horrid mess. A few unfortunate souls fell in before the guide asked the Amazons to set up a perimeter around the pool to keep anyone else from suffering. The few who made it through were killed before they could cause too much damage.”
“Killed?!” Makoto blurted out. “Why?!”
Herb scowled as he turned towards her. “The impact of suffering a cursed form that not only changes the body but the mind as well was too much for them. It was a kindness to put them out of their misery. Imagine being turned into something that was part girl, demon, octopus, priest, pig, cat, man, boy, yeti, bull, crane, eel, virtuous man, panda, twins, boy, duck, and so many others?”
Makoto shuddered at that thought, but still found the thought of killing someone just for accidentally falling into a pool to be atrocious. As she thought on that, she happened to glance over at Siofra and saw an odd look on her sister’s face.
As Makoto considered the meaning behind that, Herb continued. “A few months ago, the lake drained away and the guide, as well as the Amazons and the Musk, began testing the waters. Apparently, the pools have been ‘cleansed’. All of the old curses have been wiped out and new ones are taking their place. So far we have identified over two-dozen new pools, mostly animals. We have not found a new male or female pool yet.”
Ranma’s scowl deepened for a moment as he gazed down into the valley that held the springs in question. “Well, we’re far enough away so we should be safe for the night.”
Herb nodded in agreement. “I will send Mint and Lime ahead to let the others know I have returned.” With a wave of his hand, he sent the two warriors off. “Tomorrow, I will lead you to our camp.”
“All right. We’ll set up camp here then.”
It didn’t take long, since everyone but Makoto had experience in such matters, and soon Ukyou had a wonderful-smelling dinner cooking on the campfire. Herb wandered off towards a nearby lake to bathe, explaining that he wasn’t hungry and felt the need to get cleaned up. After dinner, Makoto also headed towards the lake, though she headed for a different part to make sure she didn’t actually bump into a naked Herb.
When she got there, Makoto looked around carefully to make sure that no one was in sight as she stripped down to her underwear. She didn't feel quite safe enough to take off everything, but she really felt the need to get clean. Slipping into the clear water of the lake, she barely suppressed a yelp as the cold liquid came into contact with her bare skin. With a supreme effort of will, she managed to submerge herself up to her neck and begin scrubbing quickly. It only took her a couple of minutes, thanks to the uncomfortable temperature of the water.
As she was starting to get out, however, she heard a strange sound. Her eyes darted towards the source, expecting to see a Peeping Tom or worse. What she saw instead was a rather exotic looking Chinese woman a fair distance away, huddled next to some rocks and obviously crying. Embarrassment warred with concern, but her kind-heartedness won out in short order. Grabbing her clothes, she quickly made her way towards the young woman, trying her best to avoid looking threatening. There was something familiar about her hair, though. As she got closer, she noticed that the girl was naked and quite well developed. A moment of panic seized her as she realized that the poor woman might have been raped, but that was quickly put aside when she could see no signs of violence on her. There was still a chance, but it seemed much less likely now.
Taking a deep breath, she quietly asked, "Are you okay?"
The woman's head snapped up and Makoto saw a look of panic and fear in her eyes for a moment, followed quickly by confusion, anger, and back to panic. "Wh-wh-what are you doing here?"
Makoto let out a little mental sigh of relief. 'She speaks Japanese. Good.' "I heard you crying. Is there anything I can do to help?"
"I WAS NOT CRYING!" The strange girl shouted.
Makoto blinked for a moment. "Yes, you were. And before you try and deny it, you might want to wipe your face." Reaching into the pocket of the pants she was carrying, the brunette took out a handkerchief and gave it to the woman. The stranger looked at it for a moment before wiping the tears from her eyes. "Now that we've established that you were crying, is there any way I can help?"
The girl looked absolutely miserable. "No."
Makoto lightly placed her hand on the girl's shoulder. The woman flinched some, but didn't actually pull away. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"Not really," the young lady responded as her gaze shifted to the ground.
"It might make you feel better."
The woman's gaze snapped upwards and she started to glare at Makoto, but when their eyes met, she lost her will to the caring concern she saw there. "I..."
Makoto shifted her arm to give the young woman a friendly hug. "It's okay. Just let it out."
"I... I'm a failure."
Makoto wasn't quite expecting that response. "What do you mean?"
"I let everyone down, everyone who relied on me. And what's worse, I let them down twice. And now I've had to go and beg for help. I am worthless."
"How does asking for help make you worthless?"
"It means I'm weak! Too weak to help myself, much less my people!"
"But you're not weak. You're strong!" The woman stared at Makoto incredulously as the brunette continued. "My parents told me a lot of stories about when they were younger. Whenever dad refused to ask for help, he usually ended up a lot worse than he did when he actually accepted help from other people. After all, what are friends for? They're there to help each other whenever they need it. And you were strong enough to put aside your pride and ask for help."
"But accepting help is a sign of weakness."
"Not accepting help when you need it is a sign of stupidity."
"But if I come to rely on that help, then what good am I?"
Makoto sighed softly. "Relying on the help *is* bad, but using it when you need it isn't. Do your best, try your hardest, and if it's not enough, get help. Once the problem's gone, you work harder, and become better. It's as easy as that."
The woman started to argue, but instead shut her mouth as a contemplative look crossed her face. After a minute she did speak. "I find it difficult to believe that it's quite that easy, however your argument does have merit. Thank you."
Makoto gave her another hug, which the girl started to return. She suddenly felt the woman seize up and pull away. "What's wrong?"
"Y-y-you're almost n-naked!"
"And you’re completely naked. Don't worry, it's just us girls."
The woman 'eeped!' and all but vanished. Makoto glanced around, trying to find her and failing miserably. After a moment, however, she heard the sound of rustling from behind a boulder. Looking there she found the woman putting on clothes that looked a lot like Herb's. The woman stared at her in surprise and things slowly clicked into place. The hair, the jokes about being a princess, Jusenkyou… "Herb?" A small nod answered her. "I see." Makoto felt a full body blush coming on that was matched by Herb. Conflicting emotions ran through Makoto, confusing her. "I'm going back to camp." Without saying another word, she bolted.
Left behind, Herb just stared after her in confusion. The young girl had seemed arrogant and prideful the entire time they'd been around each other, but when she saw what looked like a woman in trouble, she was a completely different person. Someone that Herb almost... liked. And it didn't hurt that, after seeing her very nearly nude, it was obvious that she was quite... healthy. Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, Herb finished getting dressed, used her ki to heat some water, and changed back into a guy before following after the departed brunette.
Back at the camp, Makoto had quickly excused herself from her family and slipped into the tent she was going to share with Siofra. Inside, she collapsed onto her sleeping bag and stared at the roof of the tent. 'I didn't realize it was Herb!' She shuddered as she realized that she had been standing, kneeling, and even hugging a naked man while being nearly naked herself. Okay, so he wasn't a man at the time, but still! She knew her father was her father no matter which body he was in, so Herb was certainly the same way. She felt a bit of anger build up at the thought that he had been using his curse to trick her, but reason quickly stamped out that line of thought. The way she had pulled away when their situation had finally gotten through her shock made it pretty obvious that he had just been caught off guard.
Something else started to occur to her then, as well. Up until that moment, she had been convinced that Herb was nothing but a rude, arrogant prick with delusions of grandeur. Hearing his confession and seeing the pain he was obviously in tore that mental image apart and replaced it with something much more... likeable. She had a hard time believing that the big tough guy she’d picked a fight with yesterday was the same person as the woman she’d just comforted. Maybe he was like her dad, where being turned into a girl made him more emotional and vulnerable. She felt a strange sensation in her chest. Stopping to think about it for a moment, she realized that she had let a bit of her heart go out to the girl she had met, and the fact that she had turned out to be Herb hadn't changed that.
For a moment, she let her mind wander over possibilities. 'He's handsome, exotic, strong... he's a prince.' A giggle escaped her as she imagined Herb riding a horse and wearing shining armor as he swooped down to save her from some evil monster. She sighed as some of reality set back in. 'He's also part dragon, a bit rude, arrogant. He also probably has a whole harem of girls willing to do whatever he wants.' She giggled as she realized just how unlikely that was, due to his reaction to their earlier dress. She also couldn’t help but admit that if his male body were half as healthy as his female one, he would be quite the beefcake. She sighed again as she realized that even if he was interested in her, he had responsibilities in China and she had her princess in Japan. It just wouldn't work. She giggled one last time as she closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep. 'That's what dreams are for...'
Outside, Ranma and Ukyou gave the tent a strange look. Turning to his wife, the martial artist/mage commented, "I don't think I want to know what all that giggling and sighing is about."
Ukyou shook her head with a knowing smile. "It's a girl thing."
“Any idea why she came back in only her underwear?”
“See previous answer.”
"Ah. Even though I am one, sometimes, I'll never understand women."
"And that's the way it should be."
Dawn broke the next day and the party quickly and efficiently ate breakfast and broke camp. Ranma and Ukyou both noted that Herb and Makoto avoided looking or even standing anywhere near each other. Ukyou, however, was the only one to notice the subtle glances exchanged between them when they thought no one was looking. She was also the only one to detect the occasional subtle blush. Several conflicting emotions sprung up in her. She wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of her fifteen-year-old daughter being interested in a thirty-four-year-old man, or vice versa. However, she also noted that Herb did appear young, though not as young as Makoto. There was also the fact that with Herb’s curse, he might remind Makoto of her father, and if she remembered that one class in high school about psychology, girls are often looking for boyfriends that remind them of their fathers. After a little while of wrestling with her emotions, Ukyou finally decided to just let things happen as they did and to make sure to be there for Makoto either way.
After about five hours of walking they neared the rendezvous point. Ranma decided to finally break the monotony of the quiet trip by talking to Herb. “So, how many still follow you?”
“Twenty-four warriors, as well as a small number of farmers. There are also five women and sixteen of our magic-women.”
Ranma blinked in surprise at that, and the others started to actually listen in at the mention of mages. “You guys got magic users?”
“Yes, though only in the past few months. They were refugees from a slaughtered village. Their enemies hunted them down and destroyed their elders and would have killed every last one of them, but their leader managed to delay them long enough so that some could get away. We offered them sanctuary when a few first arrived, and they managed to contact the other survivors. In return for being welcomed, they have offered to use their unique magical powers whenever we need.”
“And they are all women?”
“And they weren’t bothered by the fact that most of you Musk kinda look like animals?”
A growl entered Herb’s voice. “No.”
Makoto’s opinion of Herb was quickly growing. Offering sanctuary and possibly invoking the wrath of whoever attacked their village reminded her of something Usagi might do, had she the chance. “Have their enemies ever shown up?”
“Not as yet. We do not know much about them, due to some kind of mind magic being used against the women. Their memories of what happened before the attack are vague at best. They can only remember the actual slaughter, where dozens of their sisters perished in mere seconds.”
Herb nodded his head slowly. “I fear that may be the reason so many of my people remained loyal to Fauntleroy when I left. The decision to accept the refugees, and thus anger an unknown and potentially deadly enemy, did not go over well.”
“Did all of these magic-women leave with you?”
“No. Sadly, some stayed behind with their husbands.”
“They’ve only been around for a few months, and already some have husbands? Kinda fast movers, don’t you think?”
“No. There are… reasons for the fact that all of the magic-women are married. But I can not explain them to outsiders, no matter how helpful they are.”
“All right, no problem.” Once again, silence fell over the group. After a while, an odd thought occurred to Makoto and she just couldn’t stop herself.
“Are we there yet?”
Ranma and Ukyou were torn halfway between annoyance and laughter. They settled for both. “That’s it, your first boyfriend is going to get the flaming head treatment AND the spatula!”
“Awww, Moooom! Daaaad!”
The Kinos broke out in laughter, though Herb was pretty much clueless as to what had just transpired. After a few minutes, he interrupted them. “We’re here.” He pointed to a small clearing a short distance away.
Mint and Lime were waiting as they approached, but the looks on their faces instantly put the Kinos on alert and made Herb curious. “What’s wrong?”
“Herb, we’re very confused.”
“What else is new,” was grumbled under the breath of more than one person. “About what?”
“Well…” Mint looked directly at Makoto. “Is Sailor V really Sailor Venus?”
Makoto blinked in surprise at the question. “Yeah.”
“And you’re Sailor Jupiter.”
Makoto nodded slowly. “We already went over this back in Japan.”
Mint and Lime started conferring with each other, which quickly pushed Herb’s patience to the breaking point. “What is this all ab-“ A sparkling beam of energy passed just over his shoulder and only barely missed taking off Makoto’s head.
Suddenly from the sky came a half-dozen youma. Several others emerged from the ground and trees, and all of them looked very pissed off and, oddly enough, very scared. What startled the Kinos more than their appearance was the fact that there were a number of Musk warriors with them.
“WHAT IS GOING ON?!” Herb bellowed.
The youma ignored his words as all of them directed their attentions to the Kinos. The airborne ones dove straight for Makoto while three of the ones on the ground went for Siofra. The remaining six split themselves between Ranma and Ukyou.
Makoto barely managed to dive away from the various attacks the youma sent after her. She reached into her pocket and pulled out her transformation pen, but she didn’t have time to actually change as the monsters began orchestrating their attacks to keep her off balance. After her fifth attempt to transform, she realized that these youma were far brighter than the ones they had faced before. Four of them were keeping up a constant rain of harassing fire that kept her from becoming Sailor Jupiter while the other two tried for more accurate direct attacks. It was becoming quickly apparent that she was going to have to forget about transforming.
Switching to Anything Goes, she tried closing with her opponents, but all of them kept well out of range. She had yet to learn any ki attacks and she hadn’t thought to actually carry her throwing spatulas on her. They were still in her backpack and not in easy reach, especially since she had dropped the pack at the start of the fight. The only thing that was left was her weather magic. The problem is, weather magic took a while to pull off and required quite a bit of concentration if there wasn’t a handy storm already brewing.
The point was rendered moot when an enormous ball of ki shot into the air and detonated. The shockwave knocked all of the airborne youma to the ground and blasted the other combatants onto their rears. Looking to the source of the attack, youma, Musk, and human alike all stared in shock at a very, VERY angry Herb. “CEASE THIS IMMEDIATELY!”
The youma instantly stopped their attacks and assumed submissive poses. The Kinos stopped fighting, but held their guard positions. Makoto could now see that her parents had been kept busy protecting Siofra. The Musk also remained on guard, but to Makoto’s surprise, their attention was directed towards her family and not the monsters.
Herb stormed up to one of the formerly flying youma. “What is the meaning of this, Pyrope?! These people are our allies!”
The youma in question, Pyrope, was a dark red, almost black-skinned woman with leathery wings. Her skin had an almost translucent appearance to it and her short hair was streaked with white. “She is one of the destroyers we told you of! She and the other Senshi are the ones who killed our leaders and so many of our sisters!”
Herb glanced back and forth between Makoto and Pyrope. Anger quickly gave way to confusion. “Those five girls are your great destroyers?” He shook his head to clear it. “We’ll discuss this later, but as it is right now, no one, and I mean NO ONE, is to start a fight until we get this figured out. Now, we have to get away from this place. I am certain that Fauntleroy will have noticed my attack earlier and will send scouts.”
No one argued and it was only a short time before the uneasy group reached a small encampment that rested under a cliff. Herb ordered the Musk and the youma, except for Pyrope, to return to their homes. Afterwards, he led the way to a large tent that was obviously his. Once Pyrope and the Kinos were inside, he began the interrogation.
“Pyrope, how can you say that Makoto is one of the destroyers?”
“She is the one called Jupiter. She admitted it herself. She killed over two dozen of our sisters, most of them in the final battle where our Queen Beryl was killed.”
Herb turned to look at Makoto. “Is this true?”
“Yes,” she hissed through clenched teeth. “But what she’s doing such a wonderful job of leaving out is the fact that her people had destroyed the Moon Kingdom a long time ago and were trying to do the same thing here on Earth!”
Herb started to ask Pyrope if that was true, but she beat him to it. “The Moon Kingdom deserved to fall! Your kind were living out your immortal lives, partying and playing while our people suffered!”
“It’s not like we had a choice on being long-lived! And you suffered?! The Earth was second only to the Moon when it came to how its people were doing! It wasn’t until Beryl got jealous and started her campaign to destroy the Moon that Earth started going into the crapper!”
Herb raised a hand and tried to interject, but Pyrope and Makoto had gotten into each other’s faces and were ignoring him. “Oh, isn’t it just wonderful how you rewrite history, Moon-$#@!? We all know it was Queen Serenity who turned those of us loyal to Beryl into the vampiric abominations we are now!”
“Bull$#!! That was Metallia!”
“Ha! That is so like your kind, blaming others for your own faults. Beryl told us the truth about your plans for taking over by having that slut princess seduce our Prince Endymion!”
No one was fast enough to stop the right cross that sent Pyrope crashing to the floor. “No one says that about the princess!” Before anyone could react, Makoto and Pyrope were in the mother of all catfights. It took the combined efforts of Herb, Lime, Ranma, and Ukyou to pull the two girls apart.
“ENOUGH!” Herb bellowed as he put Pyrope into a submission hold. “Enough. Calm down.” Pyrope slowly began to relax. After a few moments, Herb felt safe in letting her go. He helped her to her feet and placed both hands on her shoulders. “Now listen to me. I haven’t the slightest inkling what you two were talking about, but I know this. There’s no way in hell that Makoto and her friends could wipe out a few dozen of you. They’re way too uncoordinated.”
Makoto and Pyrope blinked at each other as they yelled in unison.
“Seriously, I could have beaten all six of them, especially that rose-throwing wimp. There is no way that they could have been any serious threat to your Queen.”
“I’ll have you know that we did too dust a whole bunch of those youma!”
Herb raised an eyebrow at Makoto. “I fail to see how that is possible. Your team is uncoordinated. The magic-women, youma as you call them, are far more effective in group tactics than you are.”
Ranma had to raise an eyebrow at that. “Actually, when we were fighting them before, it seemed like the more youma involved, the dummer they got.”
Pyrope seethed at that comment, but Herb waved her down. “Truly?”
“And what of the differing stories?”
Ranma shook his head. “That, I have no idea about… Mako-chan, wasn’t there something you said happened in that fight? Something about Beryl’s last words?”
Makoto’s forehead creased as she tried to remember. A lot had been going on and her memory was a bit fuzzy. “Uhm… something about how her jealousy destroyed her own kingdom twice?”
“You lie! It was the Moon’s fault!”
Makoto slapped her forehead. “That’s right!” Herb blinked in shock for a moment before realizing that Makoto hadn’t heard Pyrope. “We figured out that after she freed Metallia back in the Silver Millennium, her mind was being controlled. And Metallia might have also been controlling the minds of all of Beryl’s followers, which would explain why they got so dumb when they were in groups. Metallia had to concentrate on too many things at the same time to fight effectively, or at least that’s what Tark and Mesha told me about mind control spells. Which means that… we… were killing innocent people…” Horror slowly spread across Makoto’s face. Her skin flushed to white and cold sweat broke out over her whole body. “We… killed innocent…” With a wail like a banshee, she bolted from the tent.
“Mako-chan!” Ranma, Ukyou, and Siofra quickly followed after her.
Pyrope stood there in stunned amazement. “Wh-what just happened?”
Herb gently place a hand on her shoulder. “I think I understand. From what you told me and what I just heard, this Metallia was messing with your mind, as well as the others. That would explain the oddities in your memories. Your people were used to start a war. Makoto and the others didn’t realize what was happening, so they fought back. I think she just realized what we have known for a while now. Despite your need for a nearly constant supply of life energy, you are human. That would explain why she called you ‘youma’, ghosts from the past. They didn’t realize that you were still alive. And that they were killing people.”
“They didn’t… know? We were… being controlled?” Pyrope felt faint as her view of reality got massively skewed. She had been so sure it was all the Senshi’s fault. It made life so simple, hating them. Now she had just found out that almost everything she knew was wrong. The flames of hate that she had so long fanned in her heart sputtered and died. The cold emptiness that was left drained her of her ability to stand.
Herb knelt down next to her and helped her to her feet again. “If you’ll excuse me, I must make sure she is okay. I fear she is taking the news of her acts even worse than you are.” With a sweeping bow, he left Pyrope behind with her thoughts.
A fair distance away, Makoto sat huddled against a tree, retching. Tears fell in streams and her arms gripped her stomach as she tried to get herself back under control. She wasn’t sure how long she’d been sitting there, but it felt like an eternity. Suddenly there was a rustling noise behind her and she turned to see her mother standing there with a concerned look on her face.
“Mako-chan… please, let me-“
“I WANT TO BE ALONE!” She screamed.
Ukyou looked like she was going to argue, but then she stopped. “All right. But please, Mako-chan… I want to help.”
“Just go,” Makoto grumbled miserably. She didn’t look up, but she heard the leaves rustle as her mother moved away. She didn’t know how much time passed before she heard more rustling. “I said, ‘I want to be alone.’”
“We don’t always get what we want.”
At the sound of the male voice, Makoto wheeled around. Anger turned to surprise as she lost her balance. She was saved from falling into the messy puddle she had made by a heavily muscled arm. Looking up she found herself gazing into Herb’s strangely shaped eyes.
“Careful,” he commented as he helped her steady herself. “Here.”
Makoto glanced down at his outstretched hand and saw her handkerchief in it. It was the one that she had given him last night. Taking it slowly, she wiped off her face. “Th-thanks.”
“I always try to repay my debts.”
“You showed me concern when I had done nothing to earn it. And you didn’t tell anyone about the fact that I had been crying. For that, I felt I owed you.”
“Oh.” She paused for a minute. “I’d really like to be alone right now.”
Makoto’s voice was barely a whisper as she answered him. “Because I hate myself.”
“Because we killed innocent people!”
Herb nodded. “I think you now understand something that many of the people in this world don’t. When wars happen, innocents suffer no matter how righteous or careful you are.” He sighed softly. “Did you know that they weren’t just spirits?”
“No. Whenever one died, it always turned to dust. But…”
“But nothing.” Herb’s tone grew stern. “They were the enemy. They were invading. They had to be stopped.”
“But maybe we could have found some way of just capturing them, or releasing them or something.”
“Maybe and maybe not. Maybes are only good in the future. They have no place in the past. Too many people have wasted their lives on maybes of the past.”
“So I should just be happy that we killed so many people?”
Herb growled, “No. Killing is *never* a happy occasion. You should be happy that you survived. You didn’t know the truth. Even your enemies didn’t know the truth. Killing in a war is justified as long as you never come to like it. As long as it never becomes acceptable.”
Makoto fell silent for a while, and Herb let her think in peace. “But what do I do now?”
“What do you want to do?”
“Make it have never happened.”
“Sadly, reality has decided otherwise. Now, what do you want to do?”
“Apologize. Make it right somehow.”
Herb sighed and placed took her hand in his. “It can never be made right. You have to understand that.” Before Makoto could argue he continued. “But you can make peace. You’ve done much for that already.”
Makoto blinked in surprise and seemed to forget that he was holding her hand. “I have? How?”
“By showing your remorse in a way that could not be mistaken as anything else.”
Makoto couldn’t help but giggle a little. “You mean running away and throwing up all over the place?
A smile crossed Herb’s lips. “Precisely. Not very elegant or regal, but it does get the point across.”
giggled even more, her mood lightening up quite a bit. “I’ll have to remember
that. Do…” Makoto paused for a moment. Unconsciously she found herself leaning
against Herb as she looked away. “Can you help me?”
“With what?” Herb felt strangely lightheaded as one of his arms made its way around her shoulders.
“Making peace with them.”
“I’d be honored to. After all, they are my people now.”
Makoto looked up and found her face only inches away from Herb’s. It was then that she made the startling realization that he was the same height as her. She knew she had hit a growth spurt in the past few months, but she didn’t think it was that much. She also realized that he had some of the most beautiful eyes… Unconsciously she found herself closing the distance between her lips and his. Only a little more and…
Herb’s eyes suddenly flew wide open as he realized what was going on. Makoto, despite the moment of regret, couldn’t help but laughing at the ‘deer in the headlights’ look on his face.
“P-perhaps we should be heading back. If you are ready?”
Makoto nodded and smiled a little. “I am. Thank you.”
As Makoto and Herb made their way back to the camp, Ukyou joined them. The woman said nothing to indicate that she had listened in on their conversation, but there was a slight smile on her lips whenever she glanced at them. Herb missed it, but Makoto didn’t. None of them, however noticed a small form hiding in a bush nearby. After they were out of sight, the figure emerged from its hiding place to reveal a certain red furred wererat. Shifting back to her human form, Siofra grinned. “Mako-chan and Herb are definitely interested in each other, but he’s way too shy. I’ll have to do something about that.” She giggled softly to herself. “I never thought I’d get to play matchmaker for my big sister.”
Just as the trio got back, Ranma found them.
“Mako-chan! Are you all right?”
Makoto nodded and smiled a little. “Herb-chan helped me.”
Ranma’s eyebrow twitched massively as several veins started to stand out on his forehead. “Herb… chan?” Looking closer, Ranma could make out the subtle blushes that both were still showing. Suddenly Ranma’s head burst into a roaring flame. “WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING WITH MY DAUGHTER?!”
Herb was used to intimidation tactics. He had experienced magic before. But he had never been ‘under the gun’ of an angry father. The result? “It’s not what you’re thinking! We just… I… that is…”
Makoto saved him by smacking the back of her father’s skull. “Stop that!” The skull and flames vanished with a poof, leaving behind a stunned Ranma. “He was just being nice to me, that’s all.”
Ranma stared at her for a while before nodding. “All right. I believe you.” He pulled Makoto into a hug. When she couldn’t see his face he directed a glare at the former Musk prince. “I just want to make sure you’re safe, Mako-chan.”
“Thanks, dad.” She hugged him fondly for a minute before letting him go. “Herb, where’s Pyrope?”
“Mako-chan?” Ranma was surprised by the question.
“I have to make peace with them, dad. I need to apologize.”
The two parents nodded in understanding as Herb pointed out one of the tents. “She is in there, most likely. If you need any help…”
“I’ll call. Thanks.” She turned to her parents. “Wish me luck.” Taking a deep breath, she made her way to the tent.
Maestoso – Majestically, a direction to perform a passage or piece of music in a dignified manner.
Pyrope is the only garnet that is always a shade of red. Although less common than most other garnets, pyrope is a common gemstone.