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Chapter 17: The Old Ones

Once Ranma had been healed, he was brought to the sitting room where most of his conversations with Anhur had taken place. Across from him sat the two deities he had spoken with earlier, wearing merely human proportions. Ranma was ravenous and was consuming large quantities of the inexhaustible supply of food and treats laid out on the table.

"I have spoken with Ammit. He seems pleased with your performance. He is also under the impression that Abdul-Ra sent you directly to me. I chose not to enlighten him," Anhur stated.

"I don't know how I ended up by that river," Ranma mumbled through a mouthful of food. "Even if Abdul-Ra thought I wanted to go to Ammit's home. And what were those crocodile things? They really took me by surprise. Not that I couldn't handle then or nothin," Ranma ended somewhat defensively.

"You actually were in the area that Ammit calls his home. If you had truly been one of his minions you could have easily found your way to Ammit's lair. It was probably just as well that he didn't send you directly there. There seems to be some hostility between the two of you. If he had thought you were beyond either my, or Thoth's protection, he might have taken steps to eliminate what he thought as an irritant."

"I would have found out relatively quickly, but I may have been too late." Thoth clarified, "Gods have ways of permanently losing things or entities. I may not have been able to recover you."

"The crocodile creatures are a race named Tautons. They are general minions used by the pantheon of Set. I have my own adherents that I use, but the Tautons have their place. As for Ammit, I understand you had some difficulty dealing with Ammit when he was summoned. On his own plane, he is significantly more powerful. It would have been a short conflict," Anhur warned. Ranma responded with sullen silence.

"Anyway, you have completed your errand for Ammit. It is time to send you home so you may begin your preparations for my task. My mission is not as clear-cut as Ammit's was and will likely require some degree of scouting and exploration before we even have enough information to be proactive," Thoth added cheerfully.

"Um, I'll need that circle information for Cologne. What if she tries to get out of our deal? She's kind of tricky. I mean I think she has some sort of honor, but with those Amazon laws of hers, there's no way of really telling how she'll react," Ranma said with a belated sense of caution.

"Don't worry," Thoth stated as he handed Ranma a small booklet. The cover seemed to be made of some sort of silvery metal with a strange, almost hypnotic design on the cover. The pages inside the book were penned in precise strokes, the writing surface having a smooth silky texture that tingled when touched. "These are the directions I have written for the circle. Before you give Cologne the book, describe to her the terms of the agreement. When she accepts the books, the magic I imbued into this will enforce the contract."

"What if she grabs the book before we finish talking?"

"That would be unfortunate. For her. The enchantment will force anyone who uses this book, or willingly has this book used for them to come under the contract."

"Then why do I need her agreement?"

"The enchantment is powerful. It would be unfair to inflict these conditions on someone unwillingly. However, if she attempts to steal the book the consequences will be on her head. The contract is simple, whoever accepts this book or magic must teach you, to the best of their ability, any martial arts skills they know. It's quite an overwhelming compulsion. I even consulted with the Greek pantheon, as they are known in your dimension, to be sure it could effectively bind the Amazons," Thoth explained, nodding in satisfaction.

"Greek Pantheon?" Ranma asked, confused by the apparent change of subject.

"Well, the Amazons have their origins in ancient Greece. Although they have migrated over the millennia to China and the Gods that they acknowledge have slowly changed, I was still able to get a reasonable idea of their nature by asking Athena. While I was there I also spoke with Hecate, she is quite a pleasure to converse with. I might have spoken regarding our problems with Hecate but she seems... a bit focused on other things," Thoth stated distractedly, obviously about to go off on a tangent.

"She's a power-obsessed power-mad psycho. I suggest you leave her out of our discussions." Anhur interrupted, aware of the pending signs of Thoth's distraction. "Suffice to say the willing acceptance or use of the book will have the desired results,"

"There's nothing wrong with the pursuit of knowledge," the God of Knowledge stated defensively. "Though I admit she does tend to pay more attention to things that give her power..." Thoth trailed off, realizing that Anhur probably had a point. "She's still a fascinating conversationalist."

Ranma's attention had wandered away from the conversation and back to the food. He didn't know or care about some Greek girls named Diana or Athena, and Hecate just sounded like a sneeze. A prickle of remembrance motivated him to ask Anhur, "Hey, that Demon Book you gave me, how come it didn't list the Raksasha?"

"We know how nervous you get about felines, I didn't want to aggravate your condition," Anhur smoothly answered.

"Well... don't do again. If I'd known that I was going to meet a bunch of demon cats I would have been wearing that amulet you gave me," he still shivered at the memory of those hideous cats. At least Anhur's Ramman servant's didn't go out of their way to terrify him.

"So you're not going to tell me anything about what you want me to do?" Ranma inquired of Thoth.

"Not the details. There are still something I need to find out about before I decide where to send you to scout things out. I should know more specifics by the time you finish your training. I can give you a little background on who and what the Old Ones are, if you like."

"Will it take long?"

"I'll try not to take up to much of your time," Thoth returned with some irony before continuing. "In the beginning of the Multiverse eight Intelligences were formed from the very fabric of space and time. These were the Old Ones. They were the first, and greatest of the Intelligences. Because they are a fundamental part of the multiverse, they are very much indestructible."

After a moment of thought, he clarified, "Or rather, in order to destroy them you would run a large risk of taking what we know as reality with it. Unfortunately, these entities were not benevolent. Each one seemed to embody some negative aspect of the emotional spectrum. There was Xy, who was Power incarnate. He was the greatest among the Old Ones. Al-Vil, who embodied envy and jealousy. Erva represented darkness and death. Netosa, was eternal suffering, despair, and undeath. Tarm-kin-toe, who was synonymous with hatred treachery, vengeance and pain. Ya-ahk-met, whose dominions was the blind quest for power and light. Ya-blik, a connoisseur of pestilence, betrayal and pain." Unnoticed by Thoth, his voice turned bitter as he spoke of Ya-Blik, and Al-Vil. "The last one, Agu, was a bit of a deviant, for an Old One. He actually enjoyed the emotions of life, birth and rebirth. If he hadn't actively supported the others, there wouldn't have been any need for his defeat. These creatures created many lifeforms that we know of today."  After a moment of sad contemplation, perhaps remembrance, Thoth continued, "They also exterminated many whose memory has passed from us."

"As I said, they used the other, lesser races as their playthings. They fed off the negative emotions of those they tortured. Consuming the energies released by such activities, when nothing more could be extracted, they consumed the body and then the soul of their victims. The known dimensions were all under their dominion, and such universal hell was the lot of all the mortal, and many of the immortal races."

"These creatures were powerful but not omniscient, or omnipotent. They created many powerful servants, who are now known as the gods of today. There were also many Intelligences, lesser in power, but still not to be trifled with. These Intelligences were forced into service as well, reluctantly bowing to their distant, more powerful kin."

"What's the difference between Intelligences and god's?" Ranma asked, confused by the terms.

"Gods are entities of magic. As mortals are made up of atoms, gods are made up of the life energy, or the magic of the universe. Although many were created by the Old Ones, others were made by the lesser Intelligences, some even were called into existence by mortal races, around whose focused belief coalesced the manifestation of their faith. Gods are simple in theory to bring into existence, less so to control." Thoth chuckled darkly. "Few who have created Gods have long remained in control of them, whether the superstitious mortals, the lesser Intelligences… even the Old Ones. Intelligences are mostly weaker relations of the Old Ones. They share some benefits from being so closely intertwined with the fabric of reality. They are, for instance, very durable, although fortunately, only the Old Ones were nigh indestructible. They are not as strong as most gods are on their home plane, but an Intelligences power does not fluctuate depending on its location or number of worshippers, and on neutral ground an Intelligence's power will most likely be greater. Some, like the Splugorth, are a whole race of significant numbers, others are alone and unique. Most tend to be hostile to mortal life-forms and highly territorial. Deities do have the advantage of generally having a higher degree of magical skill, and although a last resort and costly, our Diefic powers can be terrible weapons. I think Ammit may have demonstrated this to you."

"..."

"Getting back to the subject. The Old Ones had few allies, even their weaker cousins... especially their weaker cousins, loathed the submission and servitude forced upon them. When Xy, the greatest of them mysteriously disappeared, a movement coalesced. This movement was composed of most of the lesser Intelligences and gods, the ancient races such as the dragon, titan and elves. Even the infernal powers known today as demons and deevils joined in the rebellion. That was over a hundred thousand years ago," Thoth seemed lost in thought for a moment, while Anhur hands twitched as he relived ancient battles.

"When the struggle was over, many races had been wiped from the face of reality. The noble Titans were reduced to a fraction of their previous numbers, whole pantheons were destroyed. But we prevailed."

"You are too modest. You were pivotal in the struggle against the Old Ones," Anhur stated grimly.

"I may have designed the final enchantments, but it was Lictalin, Lokum, and Kym-nark-mar who completed the great spell.

"If destroying the Old Ones destroys the universe, how come we're still here," Ranma asked, struggling to stay focused. Only the epic struggle keeping his attention engaged.

"We didn't... couldn't... destroy them. We placed them in an enchanted slumber. The most powerful entities still in existence periodically check and maintain these bonds. It is usually merely to keep them from degenerating due to age, and the unconscious flexing of their captives. After all, who in their right minds would willingly free them?" Thoth shook his head in wonder. "Still, it appeared it has happened. I have found several of the enchantments weakened. I could easily strengthen them, but then whoever tampered with them in the first place would find another, perhaps more subtle means to sabotage the bindings. Ways I may not be able to neutralize as easily."

Ranma stared at the ibis-headed god, "So... how can I affect this. I know I'm good, but this seems a little... much."

"We need a mortal agent to go places we cannot go without causing our prey to detect us and go to ground. You are powerful for a mortal, but still a mortal. With certain training, you will be more powerful yet. You can also effectively hide your power level and aura."

"But the way of the quiet thief are sealed..." Ranma protested.

"That is the extreme effect of hiding your aura, but even without resorting to that, you can damp your aura to that of a normal human without crippling your power too much. I suggest you use the circle I gave you to 'convince' your father to unseal his techniques. You will need every advantage possible against our unknown opponent."

"So basically I'm a spy?" Ranma asked, not pleased at being reduced to such a dishonorable role, regardless of the necessity.

"Spy, catspaw, bait. You will play any role needed to prevent some idiot or maniac from reawakening the Old Ones," Thoth spoke severely, obviously irate at something. "The multiverse is not a paradise. There are some corners of reality that are true horrors to behold. Still, they are relatively small portions. When the Old Ones ruled, every dimension, every world suffered under their heel. What we have is not perfect but it is infinitely preferable."

Thoth stood, "If you have no further questions, I need to research our problem. When I find somewhere for you to begin our search I will come for you. You should have plenty of time to pursue your studies, the entities responsible seem adept at covering their trail." With a short nod, the Lord of Wisdom faded from view.

"Looks like you may have irritated him a bit. Don't worry about it. Remembering the time of the Old Ones tends to rile Thoth up a bit. He's too easy-going to remain that way long. We would have lost if it hadn't been for his spell," Anhur nodded contemplatively. "We were losing, slowly but surely. Then Thoth appeared, he didn't remember where he came from, but that's not unusual for gods. Most likely some library of researchers and scholars prayed him into existence. Whatever his origin he came into existence knowing more than anyone short of the Old Ones themselves. Thoth, together with Lictalin the elf, Lokum the angel, and Kym-nark-mar the Dragon designed and implemented the final enchantment. I'm not sure about the others, but Thoth was accepted by Osiris into our pantheon, and I believe Kym-nark-mar along with his fellow dragon's ascended into their present Dragon-God status."

"How is that different from a god?" Ranma asked.

"Ancient dragons often rival a god in sheer power. Imagine an ancient dragon who has shuffled off the dragon's semi-mortal coil and ascended to their equivalent of godhood."

"Powerful?"

"Yes. Very. However, I suppose the DragonWright pantheon earned its position. Most races of dragon are not social creatures, they work terribly together. Before Kym-nark-mar and his fellows wrestled control of our dragon allies, they were nothing more than loose cannons. Many dragons died merely by rushing in by themselves or simply ignoring orders. There was one particularly grisly instance where two males fell to fighting over territory and domination in the middle of heated combat. They died of course. Good riddance."

"Dragons sound really stupid," Ranma said with disgust.

"Not really. One-on-one they can be very wise. Get two or more males together longer than a few hours and you should be prepared to bury one of them. Females are more stable, but still don't work well together." Anhur's eyes glowed with pleasure. "But when led by Kym-nark-mar, never have I seen such an incredible army at work. Truly, it was one of the turning points in the war. We were losing quite badly until then. Afterward... well we were still losing, but it was an organized, slow retreat, rather than a rout." After a moment of silence, he continued, "But enough of that war, it was glorious, but it long over. With a bit of good fortune and planning we should never have to see an Old One awake."

"Can I go home now?" Ranma was tired of always being in a strange dimension.

"There is one last thing you need to do before you go. Do you still wish to accept the role of my champion?" a serious glint in his eye.

"Uh... sure?" Ranma said, somewhat lacking in his usual confidence.

"Then simply state that you accept my authority over your actions."

"Well, as long as you don't ask me to do anything dishonorable," Ranma qualified, oblivious to the now glowing deity.

"Stop questioning my honor! You dirt hugging mortal!" The war god shook as he tried to control his anger and not do something unwise like burn the silly nit to ash.

"Alright! Alright! You gods sure are touchy. Sheesh. Okay, I accept your authority," Ranma said attempting to placate the angry god.

"Fine. You are now my champion," Anhur growled through gritted teeth, finally successfully reigning in his temper.

"That's it? Shouldn't there be a light show or something?" Ranma asked somewhat disappointed.

"Yes. That's it. You now have a direct link to me. It's not as if you are gaining godly powers, after all, you're simply borrowing mine. To access them simply concentrate on me and ask what it is you wish. The same applies to the dimensional teleportation, except you simply picture the location you wish to go and state that by MY power you will go there. Unlike a direct request for my attention I probably won't notice your use of this ability so be wary..."

"By Anhur's power take me home!" Ranma interrupted, shouting excitedly. Then he promptly vanished. Leaving behind a very irritated war god.

Ranma looked around. Well, there were humans, although most of them seemed to be Caucasian. They weren't wearing any fancy alien garments, so it was probably the correct dimension. This was supported by the cars going by on the street. Of course, the cars were driving on the wrong side of the street. Turning to look behind him he observed a large expanse of water behind him. On an island off in the water, was a familiar blue-green statue of a woman holding a torch.

He was just opening his mouth to curse when he felt a heavy blow to the back of his head. Leaping away, he turned to face the direction of the blow.

An angry-looking Anhur stood in all his armored glory. "Are you an idiot, or merely an imbecile? I told you it would take a large amount of practice before you could properly travel. Do you really want to spend the next few months randomly hopping around the world until Thoth fetches you?"

"No," Ranma said is a subdued tone. "Er, how did you find me so quickly?"

Okay, he's an idiot, Anhur sighed to himself in exasperation. "Normally I wouldn't notice, but since you did use MY powers to teleport in front of me, it was a simple matter to find where MY power sent you."

"Oh, yeah. I guess that makes sense."

"I'm glad you find my logic acceptable. I will send you home now," and good riddance, "I suggest you study and memorize the book before you give it to Cologne. Even though Cologne will be compelled to teach you, it will increase your options should she attempt other strong-arm tactics."

"Isn't that kind of stuff hard to learn?"

"You don't have to be able to use it. Memorize it so you can give accurate directions to a qualified user of magic. Someday you may be able to use it yourself, but until you can, keep in mind the smallest error could kill you or transform you into something far worse than a girl."

Without further warning, Anhur opened a portal and pushed Ranma through. With any luck, Thoth's little mission would take a few decades. Ranma needed time to mature into an effective champion. If Anhur saw the infuriating martial artist, or for that matter any martial artist from Nerima, before then he refused to be held responsible for any acts of destruction that might ensue.

Sighing in relief, he was about to transport himself to his own domain when he heard a familiar voice behind him speaking ancient Egyptian.

"Excuse me. Could you tell me how to get to the Tendo Dojo?"

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