So, I guess it's been 5 years now since I started writing Millennial Panic. Over the course of that five years, I've gone through just as many job changes, depression, recovered from depression, gone through depression again, spent some months unemployed, got depressed over that...
Ok, you get the idea. Lots of jobs, and lots of depression and stuff. So Millennial Panic, while I set out with the best of intentions, never did receive the attention it deserved from me.
I'm going to see if I can fix that now. I've recently re-read through my work, and my latest unpublished chapter. And came to the conclusion that there are a lot of problems with the story, and I can't fix it with simple edits. Some ideas I had at the time obviously crashed into each other and left a big mess... and me from 5 years ago left that mess for me now to clean up. Thanks, me.
So, Millennial Panic is undergoing a full rewrite. I'm taking the overall story from Millennial Panic, and mixing it with some ideas me and one of my beta readers had a while ago. We wrote a chapter of a story called "Pool of Serenity", which featured a quite different way of blending Ranma and Serenity together. Looking back, I'm not entirely happy with the way I worked it in Millennial Panic. There are also some things I just threw in there intending to flesh out later, and never readdressed (WTF were you trying to do, Luna? You were just making things worse... for both of us!), and then there's the Lethal Weapon detectives running around doing... basically nothing...
The method of blending Ranma and Serenity in this new story allows for some additional comedy as well... which does seem to work to offset the overall somewhat dark story of Millennial Panic. Also, I don't think Setsuna had it hard enough in Millennial Panic. She's got an entirely new set of headaches coming to her.
So, without further ado, and for your reading and criticizing pleasure, I present the first chapter of the rewrite of the story, retitled "Millennium of Serenity".
‘The moon is eerily silent.’
The thought popped into Queen Serenity’s mind, and she almost had to laugh at the absurdity of it. But laughing would have cost her energy she didn’t have to spare, and she was trying to hold herself together for just a little while longer.
Just a scant few hours ago, the moon had been full of life. The crumbling ruins around her had been beautiful castle walls, filled with smiling faces. She’d known each of her subjects that lived there, and loved them all. But now they were all dead. Beryl’s attack had decimated her castle and killed everyone before Queen Serenity herself could muster the power to seal Beryl away. Everyone, that is, except herself and her daughter, remaining in the dead silence of the now-barren moon.
Now, the two last survivors of the Moon Queendom lay on what used to be the floor of the Moon Palace throne room, breathing their last breaths. Her daughter had taken a mortal wound before the fighting ended, and sealing away Beryl and her forces had taken most of her life force to accomplish. But she still had one last spell to cast, one last thing to do before she passed from this life… and to accomplish it, she must outlive her daughter.
She could still hear her daughter’s ragged sobs, as Princess Serenity huddled over her Earthling lover. She had chosen to spend her last moments mourning over the Earthling Prince that had captured her heart. Queen Serenity would not begrudge her this moment. She already felt like a terrible mother for wishing her daughter would hurry up and die. But it was necessary for the spell she was about to cast, that she had been in the process of casting before she realized that her daughter yet lived.
Now she was holding on to the spell with all of the last of her strength to keep it from activating before her daughter's soul could be added to the eight souls already caught in it. Once activated the spell would hold the nine souls suspended in time, to be reincarnated when the seal on Beryl was weak enough to break.
She could hear Princess Serenity’s sobs fading, but her own life force was fading in equal measure. Would she be able to hold out long enough to...
There! She felt it. Serenity’s soul had released from her body and was being drawn into the spell. She felt it latch onto her daughter’s starseed, and start drawing in the rest of her spirit. It just needed a few more moments…
A few more moments to… wait… where was the soul? What happened to the spell? Why couldn’t she feel the spell she was holding onto anymore? Why couldn’t she see?
...Oh. So that’s it then. So this is what it feels like to die…
She had done all she could. Beryl was sealed, and she had ensured that there would be defenders there to face Beryl when the seal inevitably breaks. She just hoped that the princess, her friends, and her lover will be happy in the future.
‘It's kind of amazing how many thoughts can race through your mind in a couple of seconds when you're panicked’, thought Ranma Saotome as he fell inexorably towards the glassily calm surface of the small spring. From the corner of his eye, he could see the man in the brown military uniform looking on in concern, and the panda on the pole with its somewhat dopey, confused look.
Since the panda had attacked and he'd finally figured out the guide's warnings, Ranma had been trying to find a way out of taking a dip in one of the springs. He doubted his martial arts career would be going much farther if he did it as a panda or, worse yet, since it was probable that each spring turned you into something else... one of those furry hell beasts.
He tried to redirect himself in the air, but his flight path was already too unstable. He tried grabbing onto the bamboo pole in the center of the pool, but couldn't quite reach it. He mentally went through twelve different schools with moves that might be applicable in this situation, and was relatively sure none of them were going to help. It was almost like the old bastard had deliberately aimed him so that there was no recovery.
'Please, whoever's up there, don't let it be spring of drowned cat...' He thought, right before the tip of his pigtail broke the surface of the water, and time seemed to accelerate again. The shock of the cold water hitting his face startled him out of his thoughts, and he barely had the presence of mind to look at his hands as he sank toward the bottom of the spring. 'Well, I've still got hands,' he thought with a small bit of relief. 'How long does it take for this curse thing to kick in?' He'd felt a slight tingling upon entering the water, and his body felt a little strange, off-balance, but the most noticeable sensation was a sharp pain on his forehead.
Reorienting himself so that he could surface, he noted that his hand was illuminated by a soft white light as he passed it in front of his face. That was quickly driven out of his mind, however, by a growing need for oxygen. He surfaced quickly, sucking in air and thankful that he seemed to have somehow escaped a curse.
"Oh sir, you fall in spring of drowned girl, it very tragic story of girl who fall in spring many thousand years ago!" The guide called from the shoreline near the edge of his spring.
A cold lump formed in Ranma’s stomach to go with the steadily increasing pain in his head. He slowly looked down at the front of his fighting gi, to see that two rather large protrusions were pushing it out from an otherwise somewhat baggy state. After reluctantly pulling it open, he was about to scream at the sight of a pair of rather large, firm, female breasts she found beneath, when the world exploded in a barrage of sounds, images and concepts.
She remembered growing up as a girl, a princess in a magical king...dom? No! He was a guy! He'd grown up travelling from place to place, learning and honing his Art! He was the best... prettiest princess in the entire Moon Queendom, and she was destined to marry the prince of Earth...? EW! He'd never be with another guy, that was... so romantic...
'The spring!' he thought, and desperately swam for the edge. The memories had to be coming from the spring. She floundered as she remembered she didn't know how to swim... No! He knew how to swim just fine! He had to fight both the water and himself for the eternity it seemed to take to reach the edge of the pool, but finally drew herself out of the pool and flopped down on the grass. Water was for drinking or bathing, not for... whatever she was doing. How had she gotten in there again? Oh, right, she was a guy. He fell in there during training... Wait, she was a guy? Yes, he was a guy, dammit!
He struggled to his knees and held his head as the beginnings of a splitting headache formed. Images and memories continued to assault him as the golden crescent moon symbol that had appeared on his forehead when the memories started trickling in started glowing, becoming brighter and brighter until, with a bright flash, it shattered.
Ranma screamed as his mind was overloaded with memories of a second lifetime: growing up, making friends with other princesses, etiquette classes, flower arranging, magical theory, and more. The memories flashed through his head, faster and faster, while he tried to hold on to his sense of self. Desperately drawing on mental exercises the old man had insisted he learn from some old monks, he tried to create walls around his mind to hold out the intruding memories. The rudimentary barrier seemed to hold, and the pain in his head seemed to lessen. He drew a relieved breath. The worst seemed to be over.
The walls he'd built up around his mind suddenly broke all at once, and he blacked out under the renewed rush of memories.
“That not happen before,” The Jusenkyo guide exclaimed, blinking his eyes clear of the flash of light. When he could see again nothing seemed to have changed, aside from the fact that the customer no longer had that strange symbol on her forehead, and was looking around in a state of confusion.
“Where am I? What happened?” She asked, moving to a standing position and looking around the cursed valley as though she’d never seen it before.
“You in accursed springs of Jusenkyo, Mr. Customer. You remember, yes?” The brown clad man asked, uncertainly. The Panda, who was standing next to him, held up a sign that said something about foolish children on it, though he couldn’t read Japanese quite well enough to make out the whole message.
“Well why would I be in a cursed valley?” the girl asked. As she scanned the area, a breeze blew into her open top. She squeaked, pulling it closed. “And what am I wearing?!”
The guide scratched the top of his head, and answered while reaching into his pocket for the old map of the springs. “You father bring you here, right Mr. Customer? This one think you wear training clothes, yes?” Opening up the map, he studied it, cross-referencing several landmarks. To tell the truth, he didn’t really bother remembering many of the specific springs anymore, just pulling out the right sign once he saw someone exit, through the map did confirm that he was standing in front of the spring of the drowned girl.
“My father…” The girl said, and then glared. “My father passed on fourteen years ago!”
The panda-cursed man growled, waving a sign around.
The girl blinked, tilting her head and squinting at the sign. “What does that animal’s sign say?”
“You not read?” The guide asked, but shrugged at the girl’s irritated glare and squinted at it himself. After staring at it for a while, he thought he had pieced together the gist of the message, though most of the message still escaped him. “It say you stop being foolish boy, he your father.”
“My father is an animal?” The girl shook her head. “Is this your idea of a joke?”
The guide frowned. “Perhaps we go to my home I show you some things, yes?” He asked, hoping that the girl would agree. There was something wrong here, and it wasn’t Jusenkyo normal weirdness. He just hoped that perhaps getting the young customer some hot water might help solve it.
Setsuna was startled by her communicator going off while she was examining the timestream through the Gates of Time, and she dropped her staff. The images she had been watching in the Gates dissolved, and she sighed. Well, the lead she’d been following on trying to find the Princess seemed to be a bust anyway. This Usagi Tsukino girl, while she fit the physical profile of the Princess, didn’t seem to have inherited the Princess’s starseed or memories. She seemed to be a normal, active teenager, involved in sports and her local girl scout troop. Setsuna doubted that any recipient of Serenity’s soul would be quite as physically active.
Turning her attention away from the Gates, she summoned her communicator. Ah, Luna was trying to reach her. “This is Setsuna. What can I help you with, Luna?” she asked into it.
“It’s her! It’s her! She’s appeared somewhere! It worked just the way you told me it would! I can sense her, she’s here!” Luna’s excitement was almost infectious, even over the communicator, and Setsuna smiled in spite of herself.
“That’s great news,” Setsuna said. The Dark Kingdom had been growing more and more powerful, and the Purification magics wielded by the Moon royal family would be a game-changer in the battles against the youma. The Senshi had done the best they can, but even with the addition of the Outer Senshi, and herself participating actively in combat, it still felt like they were fighting a losing battle.
She was about to tell Luna to make contact with the Princess as soon as possible, when the time gates suddenly activated. The Door of Time was opening, and something was coming through them! Momentarily forgetting her conversation with Luna, she grabbed her staff and took up a defensive stance. She could not allow anyone or anything to tamper with time, whoever was coming through would have to be eliminated. She was prepared for anything, even an encounter with her future self. If she would, at some time in the future, lose her sanity enough to use the time gates to go back in time, then she owed it to herself to end her own future suffering.
The gates flashed, and the Door of Time started to close. She addressed the interloper. “Traveller, whoever you are, I am the Guardian of these Gates. Go back where you came from or… face…”
Her voice trailed off as she processed exactly what had come through the gates. There was a fox with green fur, wearing a copy of HER senshi uniform, comically oversized for the creature. It also had a replica of her time staff held in its jaws, complete with Garnet Orb at the end. The bizarreness of the sight made her completely forget what she was doing, and she just stared at the thing.
Before she could react, the fox took its time staff and quickly pushed it into a receptacle at the base of the time gates, where it was drawn in and absorbed. The gates lit up again, the fox jumped in, and the gates went dark and fell silent once more.
Setsuna’s staff fell from suddenly nerveless fingers, as she just stared at the gates in shock. That was a time loop! She just witnessed the end of the gates being used to create a time loop! And she did nothing to stop it! How could she let this happen? She was completely not prepared for that!
“Setsuna? Are you still there?” Luna’s voice over her communicator brought her back to the present, and she realized that Luna had still been talking to her this whole time. “What should I do? The princess is far away, and we can’t spare the manpower to have another senshi travel with me to find her.”
Setsuna worked her tongue around in her dry mouth, and tried to find her voice. “I’m going to have to call you back. Don’t do anything yet. We may have a new problem,” she said, and cut the communication.
That… creature had started a time loop. Or ended one, possibly. She could feel the strain on spacetime, through her attunement to the gates. Fortunately, the process used for the loop was one she at least knew about. All the information on the loop would now be archived in the gates for her to view. She had all the information she needed to stabilize the time loop if necessary, or prevent it if possible.
Ranma came back to himself to the sensation of hot water pouring over his head. “Hot!” he complained, before taking stock of his surroundings. He appeared to be in a small room of a wooden hut, and a short man in a military looking uniform was holding a teakettle over his head. How had he got here? The last thing he remembered was… The spring! He looked down at himself and felt his chest, and was relieved at finding the two foreign protuberances to be missing. “See, young customer?” The man said. “Hot water, you turn into guy. Cold water, girl. See, you really guy, yes?”
“Of course I’m a guy,” he said as he tried to shake the water out of his hair.
“I most certainly am not!” He said angrily a moment after that, but something was wrong. He’d spoken it, he’d felt his mouth moving and recognized his voice, but he hadn’t thought it. In fact, he didn’t want his hands to be doing what they were doing, feeling down his chest and stomach under his open gi top, and fumbling at the waistband of his pants. He made an effort of will to stop THAT in its tracks, and looked around to see his father looking at him, his expression caught halfway between irritation and worry, along with the confused Jusenkyo guide, both of whom were sitting across from him at a small table in a sparsely decorated wooden walled shack.
“What’s happening?” He asked, looking to the balding man for information.
“Maybe you could tell me, boy,” The old man grunted. “The spring was bad enough, but when you came out of it, you claimed that you were a girl and I wasn’t your father.”
“Wait…” Ranma gulped. “So the spring happened? I… really turned into a girl?” As he said this, he thought of the whole incident that he’d hoped was a nightmare, their entering the valley, fighting on the poles, kicking the old man off into a spring and then…. He shook his head. “But I’m a guy again now. How?”
The guide stepped forward, happy to be back on familiar ground. “Springs give curse,” he explained. “When splashed with cold water, you take cursed form. Girl for you. When splashed with hot water, you go back normal.”
“And you’re sure it can’t go in reverse?” He found himself asking without thinking once again.
“Yes, very sure. Heard of places, maybe legends, but Jusenkyo not hot springs,” the guide nodded. “Different with you, though. You act as girl, not supposed to happen.”
“That’s because I am a girl!” His voice didn’t seem so adamant as the last few strange things he’d said, but then continued on with more resolve. “I am Princess Serenity the Fourth of the Silver Moon Family!”
“Yeesh, a princess?” He shot back at whatever kept talking through him. “You tryin’ ta be as girly as humanly possible?”
“If the truth is girly, then yes,” Serenity snapped.
“The TRUTH is,” Ranma responded angrily, “That I’m Ranma Saotome of the Saotome school of martial arts, and a man among men!”
“Oh really?” Serenity retorted. Before Ranma could stop himself, he had reached for a small pitcher of water on the table and drenched himself with it. The tingling sensation and loss of several centimeters of height were almost expected, after the guide’s explanations, but that didn’t mean they weren’t disconcerting.
“A guy with a curse is still a guy,” Ranma insisted, a little startled by her new, higher pitched voice.
“Wait,” She… or Serenity? Said. “I turned back, you should be gone.”
“Me?” Ranma snorted, as the two older men watched her ‘conversation’ nervously. “I ain’t the one who thinks she’s a princess. How’d you get in my head anyways?”
“Your head?” Serenity asked, crossing her arms over her chest. “This is my head!” The girl twitched as the rather disconcerting sensation of slightly compressed breasts penetrated Ranma’s consciousness. “Get out!”
“I ain’t goin’ nowhere. You’re the one that’s gotta go.”
“Boy,” Genma demanded, standing and attempting to look imposing by tilting his head so that the window’s light reflected off of his glasses, “Stop this foolishness! Our cursing may have been traumatic, but we are martial artists, and we must accept that a martial artist’s life is fraught with peril! If you’re pretending to have gone mad in order to get out of your training, I’ll….” He raised up a trembling fist.
“Eep!” Serenity yelped, huddling up into herself.
Ranma irritably forced all of her muscles to untense. “Great ol’ man, I think you scared her. But ya see, Serenity? The old man knows who I am, and we’re still in china, not wherever silver moon princesses come from.” She paused for a moment, parsing the rest of her father’s statement. “And come ta think of it, it’s YOUR fault I’ve got this curse ‘n this stupid voice in my head!”
“Hey! I am not stupid!” Serenity interjected indignantly, but this did not stop Ranma from standing and cracking her knuckles threateningly.
“N… now boy, it was an honest misunderstanding…” Genma said, starting to back up.
The group was interrupted by the guide, who cleared his throat. “Mr. Customers, young customer’s curse reaction very strange, This one suggests we go ask Joketsuzoku tribe about it.”
“Jokit Sudoku?” Ranma asked, turning to look at the guide and not noticing her father’s sigh of relief and grateful look.
“Tribe who live near here,” The guide explained. “Know much of springs, more than I. Would know if anything like young customer’s curse happen before.”
“You think they’ll know a way to cure it?” Genma asked.
“Well, cure is simple,” The guide respond. “It just take time. Must wait for curse to settle, then return to spring of drowned man.”
“And… how long will that take?” Ranma asked, hearing the inevitable ‘but.’
“Usually year,” The guide explained. “But different for everyone. Legend of one girl, got curse of gnome. Girl spring still not work hundred year later. Think maybe she still around.”
“A year?!” Genma complained. “I’m not waiting a year!”
The guide shrugged. “That all I know, Amazons may know more.”
“Fine then,” Genma said, decisively. “Let’s go, boy!”
“Can I at least get some hot water first?” Ranma asked.
Genma didn’t turn as he headed out of the guide’s house. “No time! We have to get to that village!”
“Of course…” Ranma muttered.