a Ranma ½ fanfic
Disclaimer the first: please don’t sue me— all characters in this fanfic are the creation and intellectual property of Rumiko Takahashi, not my own. And if you didn’t already know that, none of this story is going to make any sense, so you might as well quit reading now. Go on, get out of here.
Disclaimer the second: this is supposed to take place after everything that happens in the anime. However, Ranma’s mother has no place in the story. Also, I have only seen the OVAs, the first two movies, and up to the end of season five. Therefore, there might be things in this story that contradict things which will happen later in the anime series. If so, I apologize.
Disclaimer the third: the time frame of the story assumes that Ranma and Genma arrived in Nerima a month or two after the beginning of Ranma’s and Akane’s freshman year, and that all events in the anime take place over the course of that school year, the following summer, and most of the next school year. This story picks up at the end of their sophomore year.
Disclaimer the fourth: I know for sure that some things in this story contradict the manga version. Oh well.
Disclaimer the fifth: the purpose of this story is to bring resolution to various characters in the Ranmaverse. To the best of my ability, each character involved (except maybe one) starts out as close to being in character as I could achieve, but many of them will be changed by events. You have been warned.
Disclaimer the sixth: … oh, wait, I’m out of disclaimers. On with the story!
Akane shivered as the icy wind swirled around her. She forced her way up the slope, through the thinning dead trees. A small part of her mind wondered why she was doing this, as the peak of the mountain must surely be even colder than this, but that voice was unable to compete with the need she felt to be there. Something drew her, and she followed.
At last she reached the top. There was no snow on the ground here— the wind had scoured the peak clean. Standing there, waiting for her arrival, was a figure wearing a simple white gi. He didn’t even seem to notice the cold, and indeed the wind which was blowing Akane's short hair into her eyes did not stir his. As she approached him, as the sensation in her hands and feet began to fade, the figure spoke…
She sat bolt upright in bed. Not again! She HATED this dream, and she had now had it four times in the past two weeks! She always woke up feeling like she'd taken a bath in glacial meltwater. ‘I’m gonna go nuts if this keeps happening,’ thought Akane. ‘Something must be causing this stupid dream, but what? And it had to happen tonight, when I really just wanted to get some decent sleep and forget about STUPID Ranma and his STUPID, STUPID insults! That JERK didn't even CARE how hard I tried making dinner, no, he wouldn't even give it a chance, just ran off to Ukyo’s as fast as his legs could take him. Well, FINE, who needs a pervert like him any—’
At this point something went *click* in Akane's mind. She remembered the previous times she had had this dream were also after days Ranma had been particularly aggravating, and she couldn't think of a day when he had really gotten on her nerves lately without her having the dream afterward. For Akane, that was all the proof she needed. She got out of bed, and walked to the kitchen…
Ranma was fast asleep as she entered his room, but that ended abruptly when Akane dumped a pailful of ice water on him. “AAAHHHH! That's c-c-cold!” Ranma-chan sat bolt upright, saw Akane with the empty pail, and realized what had happened wasn't just a bad dream. “Y-you j-j-jerk, what’d y-you d-d-do that f-f-for?!”
“Shut up, Ranma! Now you know what it feels like!!” snapped Akane, and withdrew.
“Oh man, I can already tell. It’s gonna be one of those days when nothing goes right,” said Ranma to himself as he raced toward the school. “Stupid Akane, wouldn’t wake me up in time, whose fault does she think it is I overslept anyway?”
Waking up at 3 am to an ice bath made for a hard time falling back asleep, especially since Ranma had wasted a good thirty minutes trying to decide what Akane meant by “Now you know what it feels like” before coming to the conclusion that he’d never figure her out. He knew he had no chance to make it to class on time, but the later he was the worse it would be. He saw the school up ahead— sure enough, the gates had already been closed. “Not a problem,” smirked Ranma to himself as he put on a little more speed and jumped to the top of the wall.
Ranma didn't know what was going on— just that it wasn’t good. His intended vault off the wall became a free-form tumble to the ground. “AH-HAH! Little keiki no like taser line Big Kahuna install on wall, yeah? Even bad little keiki like Ranma no move after jolt like that one!”
Ranma looked up into the face of the Headmaster from Hell (the Hawaiian level of Hell). He was wearing the same flowered shirt he always wore, and his tan seemed even darker that the previous day. His coconut-palm topknot danced in the breeze. “You be comin’ late to class, keiki, you be in violation of school rules. Big Kahuna no like that! Me think you need to learn some discipline, yeah?” That's when Ranma noticed the large, razor-sharp shears the maniac was carrying. “Big Kahuna think you look much better with buzz cut. What you say to that, keiki?”
Ranma watched helplessly as the shears got nearer. He noticed the gleam of sunlight off them was almost as bright as the gleam off the principal’s smile (it’s always the stupid details you notice at a time like this, one small corner of his mind noted). He tried to move, but that must have been some voltage— he could barely twitch. Ranma thought, ‘I can’t believe this! I’m gonna get my head shaved by this freak! I’m just gonna lie here and LOSE! I’m…
…going to watch Shampoo beat the stuffing out of this moron.’ It was one of the few times Ranma had been unreservedly glad to see the Amazon. The principal didn’t even see her coming before the shears were knocked out of his hand and he was swept into the air. Shampoo put on an impressive display, keeping him airborne for almost a minute by a continuous barrage of hits from her bonbori. She finished with a snap kick to his head, which had less effect than any previous attack, but did cause her to wince in pain— she hadn’t expected it to feel like kicking a concrete block. The principal landed on the ground, even less able to move than Ranma had been right after the taser encounter. Shampoo limped off and retrieved the shears.
“Ohhhh….. H-hey, little waihini, you no student here, no touch school property!” Oddly enough, this didn’t cause Shampoo to drop the shears and apologize. She walked back to the principal, idly opening and closing the clippers as she got closer.
“Shampoo not need for long. But you try cut off something important to Ranma, so Shampoo think she cut off something important to you.” Shampoo smiled, and moved the shears close— only inches away from their target.
“NO!!! Little waihini, you no do that to Big Kahuna! You good waihini, you no take everything away from Big Kahuna like that!”
“Gimme a break, it’s just a topknot,” muttered Ranma, who had finally regained some higher motor functions. “You’d actually look a lot less stupid without it!”
“You no understand! This special topknot, special Big Island Coconut Palm Bonsai Honor Topknot! Grow one take many years— to lose it is to lose all honor until it grow back! Little waihini, now you know, you no take from Big Kahuna, yeah?!”
Shampoo smiled, then tossed the clippers aside. “Shampoo know from start. Not really going to cut. Just want to see you sweat.”
The principal heaved a huge sigh of relief. “You good waihini. I wish all my students nice as you.”
At this the Amazon’s smile took on a certain devilish quality that Ranma had come to fear. He was glad it wasn't directed at him. “Shampoo think maybe you change mind soon.”
“W… what you mean, waihini?”
“Now Ranma know what you weak spot is— what you do anything to protect. Soon whole student body know. Shampoo think watch what happen next is more fun than cut hair own self. Students not take any more from you. Bye-bye!” The Amazon jumped over to Ranma, who had just managed to get to his feet, though he was still dizzy and weak as a kitten. She kissed him quickly, then dashed off laughing. ‘Good thing Akane’s in class and didn’t see that,’ thought Ranma as he staggered into the school building.
Inside Ranma’s classroom (where all the students had pressed up against the window to watch the proceedings), Ukyo was on a slow boil. “That miserable hussy! How dare she force herself on poor Ranma like that! If she hadn't come along, Ranma would have handled that moron just fine! I wish she'd clue in to things and go home— it's not like she's got any REAL kind of claim to Ranchan anyway, right Akane?” Ukyo glanced over at Akane, and three things became apparent. One, Akane's battle aura was so pronounced it was actually blistering the paint on the window seat. Two, she hadn't heard a word of Ukyo's speech. Three, Ukyo didn't really want to draw her attention right now. The students returned to their seats just before Ranma slunk in.
Shampoo walked to the park and sat down to think. ‘<I’m off to a good start, I hope.>’ She remembered the conversation she had had with Cologne several nights back, when she had heard her great-grandmother make an admission that shocked her to her core.
Shampoo was stirring the ramen noodles and waiting for just the right moment to add the next spice. This recipe called for nearly inhuman precision, but if prepared successfully it was an irresistible aphrodisiac. She’d already messed up once this evening by waiting two-tenths of a second too late to add the third secret herb, and was determined not to waste any more thyme. Unfortunately, just as the window of opportunity opened, so did the door. Cologne walked in, distracting Shampoo just long enough to render the second batch useless as well. “Aiyah, Shampoo wish you no come in just then, Great-Grandmother. You mess up timing.”
“Never mind that now, child. Sit down— we need to talk.” Shampoo noticed that her great-grandmother looked unusually solemn, and even sad. Now that she thought about it, she realized that Cologne had been pensive for the better part of a week. Shampoo felt a little thrill of dread, but suppressed it and sat down.
“What wrong, Great-Grandmother?”
“Shampoo… ” Cologne switched languages. “<I have failed you grievously.>”
Never had Shampoo expected to hear anything like this. Her great-grandmother fail? It hadn’t happened in the last two hundred years as far as anyone in the village knew. “<What do you mean?>”
“<Child… when Ranma defeated you as a girl, what did you feel at that time?>”
Shampoo thought back, wondering where this was going. “<At first, humiliation to be defeated so easily by an outsider. Then, when I gave the Kiss of Death and she ran, I was outraged. I could handle it if a worthy opponent beat me, but not to have been defeated by a coward.>”
“<You don't still consider Ranma a coward for running then, do you?>”
Her great-granddaughter looked surprised. “<Of course not! It's so hard to understand Ranma, or really any of the Japanese, but I did realize that Ranma will never, under any circumstances, hurt a girl or even fight her with his full strength. If he’d been given the Kiss of Death by a man, he would have just beaten the crud out of him.>” Shampoo snickered. “<He would do that without waiting to find out it was a ceremonial kiss, I bet. But because I was a woman, he felt the only thing he could do was run. Someday I'm going to tell him the truth about the Kiss.>”
“<I think that would be a good idea child, if you’re sure you can convince him not to tell anyone else. Which brings me back to my point. Your first emotion was outrage at losing… to an outsider.>” Cologne sighed. “<As an Amazon, you have been taught that the vast majority of outsiders are pitifully inferior to you and your sisters, and that it is your duty to bring the few exceptions into the tribe, to strengthen it.>”
“<And so far I have seen that to be true, Great-Grandmother.>”
“<Have you really, child? Or have you seen what you were told you would see?>”
Now Shampoo was truly confused. “<Great-Grandmother, you know the only reason I haven’t defeated Akane or Ukyo is because I think it would make Ranma angry. I haven’t seen anyone besides Ranma, except maybe Ryoga, that matches village standards for our age.>”
“<Shampoo… what are the Two Pillars of Excellence?>”
“<Fighting skill, which may be taught, and fighting spirit, which comes from within,>” replied Shampoo, wondering why Cologne would ask her about the first lesson taught to a young Amazon just beginning training.
“<And can you honestly say that Akane, or Ukyo, has less fighting spirit than you?>”
It was like hitting a brick wall. Shampoo had known for a long time that she could wipe the floor with Akane, and could take Ukyo if she was serious, but she had never thought any farther. She wanted to say yes, but could not lie to her great-grandmother. She sat quietly.
“<They have not had access to the training you take for granted. It is my judgment that Akane would never be able to reach your level of skill, but that does not make her less of a warrior— to fight with all her heart when she knows she cannot win is one mark of a true Amazon, is it not?>” Cologne sighed. “<The first lesson… you must have wondered why I brought it up. The fact is we have forgotten we ever learned it. As Amazons, we consider others less than ourselves. When one like Ranma shows up and proves that wrong, we get around it by saying he, or she, was meant to be an Amazon, and do our best to drag them into the tribe no matter what their wish is. And that is where I have failed you. By my guidance, you have approached Ranma as if his feelings are misguided— as if it is a matter of fate that he should be in the tribe, and thus any means you take to win his heart is acceptable.>”
“<The tribe has nothing to do with it,>” Shampoo said softly.
“<I know you love him with all your heart, and want only for him to return your sentiments, but the fact remains that you take liberties with him that you would never consider with a sister, even for her benefit.>” Cologne gestured toward the ramen noodles. “<Would you use a mind-altering concoction on Ling-Ling to rid her of her fear of spiders?>”
“<Of course not! If I did, it would be like saying I thought she couldn’t overcome her own trials, or make her own way in life…>” Shampoo’s voice trailed off as she considered the full implications of those words.
“<You begin to see. I am old, Shampoo, and it is hard for me to change. It has taken me a long time to see that our current strategy is most likely destined to fail. Even if you were to trap Ranma into marriage, it could be years or even a lifetime before he forgave you.>” Cologne hesitated, knowing what she said next would wound Shampoo even more, but knowing also it had to be said. “<Ranma is one who cannot accept being forced into something, and Akane is much the same. The only reason the two have not come to love each other with all their hearts is because their misguided parents push them together so often. Had Soun and Genma the wit to leave Ranma and Akane alone, they would already be engaged in truth.>”
“<Please do not say that, Great-Grandmother,>” Shampoo whispered, looking down.
“<To deny the situation is to lose any chance to change it,>” Cologne replied sadly. “<You must begin to present yourself in a different light for Ranma to choose you. In this you have an advantage— Soun and Genma will never stop pushing Akane and Ranma, who in turn will push back. Ukyo perhaps understands somewhat— at least I have not seen her try very hard to force the issue, which she could easily do by reminding Ranma that since his father took her dowry and disposed of it, hers is the only true claim according to Japanese customs. However, it is my belief that Ranma will always see Ukyo as an old friend, nothing more. Which brings us back to you. You must show another side of yourself to Ranma.>”
“<What do you mean?>” Shampoo was still fighting back tears, but she managed to focus on what Cologne was saying.
“<What is your greatest regret, of the time spent here, other than anything related to Ranma?>”
‘<How much more pain is this discussion going to cause me?>’ Shampoo wondered. Aloud, she said quietly, “<I miss my sisters. Here I have no friends except Mousse, who won't just be my friend and stop trying for more!>”
“<You have put all your energies into chasing Ranma, and have spared nothing for anyone else. As a result, Ranma has seen all the affection you show him as a ploy. He needs to see that you can care for others before he truly understands the depth of what you feel for him. The course of action that I feel you must take, Shampoo, is to try and make some friends here. However, I don't suggest any of Ranma’s close acquaintances, as you probably don't have the slightest chance.>”
Cologne took a deep breath. “<Shampoo, this course of action is for your best, I believe, but you must embark on it in honesty. If you set out to win friends, then drop them if Ranma should start to pay attention to you, you will only confirm in his own mind that you are what he once called you: a stupid, selfish cat-girl.>”
This reminder destroyed the last shreds of Shampoo’s composure. She broke down, sobbing. Cologne held her until she quieted. “<I would have given much not to utter those words, Shampoo, but do you begin to see what Ranma has done to you? All of your life is caught up in him. You must look away, at least somewhat. No one person can ever fill your life completely.>” Cologne forced a smile. “<Even if he turns into a girl, it doesn’t mean he will understand you like one. You must find friends, Shampoo. Even if it doesn’t get you anywhere with Ranma, the loneliness will not tear you at night anymore. Isn’t that worth having?>”
“<I… I will try.>” Shampoo got up. “<I need time to think on this, Great-Grandmother.>”
Cologne watched Shampoo walk to her room. She was more skilled at hiding emotions than just about anyone (having had more time to practice), and did not show her true pain to her great-granddaughter. ‘<I hope this will salvage something from our time here. Shampoo will never be able to give Ranma what he truly wants… someone weak who needs his protection. Unless one or the both of them change greatly, they will not be able to come together. But at least Shampoo may learn the value of some things sooner than I did…>’
Shampoo sat on the bench, remembering. She had come rapidly to the conclusion that her great-grandmother was right, at least about it being time to try something different. This seemed like a better idea than any she could come up with. She had decided that a school would be the best place to start looking for friends— and of course, since Ranma would need to see her change for it to do any good, his school was the logical choice. She didn’t have any specific plans yet, and was really just looking at the place when Ranma had his close encounter with electricity. The opportunity seemed perfect— she could do something nice for Ranma and help the entire student body at the same time. They wouldn’t have any more trouble with that luaunatic anymore, she thought, remembering a word Ukyo had once used, and that should lay a lot of groundwork for her. Best of all, Ranma could see that she could be near him without trying to force herself on him— after all, she hadn’t even asked for a date after keeping him from having his head shaved, had she?
She had already forgotten the kiss.
‘Boy,’ thought Ranma glumly, ‘can I call ’em or can I call ’em?’
As he had expected, the day went from bad to worse. Ukyo cornered him at lunch and lectured him about how he shouldn’t leave Shampoo hanging like he did, and it would be better for her in the long run if he just went ahead and told her to get lost. ‘As if I ever encouraged her,’ thought Ranma, ignoring the nagging memories of fighting Ling-Ling and Lung-Lung after they took Shampoo down, or trying to win back her affections when she was under the curse of the reversal jewel, or… He shook his head. Ukyo was bad enough, but at least she seemed to give him some credit by recognizing that it was Shampoo doing the chasing and not him (fight down memories again). Akane, on the other hand…
“I suppose you enjoyed that, Ranma! It was pretty clear from the stunned look on your face and the way you staggered into the building that it sure meant something to you!!”
Akane had been silent all throughout the school day, which Ranma recognized clearly as the calm before the storm. It broke just after school, on their way home.
“Gimme a break, Akane, it's not like I—”
“Don’t START with me, Ranma, I'm not in the mood to hear some lame excuse!”
“Why bother saying that, you never listen anyway!”
“Maybe if you wouldn't lie to me all the time, I would!”
“Huh, who'd waste breath lyin’ to an uncute tomboy like you anyway!” Ranma knew full well what the result of this would be, and sure enough, a split second later he was flying through the air. And sure enough, he landed in a puddle. She got up, got her bearings, and started the walk to Dr Tofu’s. “Hope that let her let off enough steam. Man, that hurt!”
Unfortunately, Akane was just as mad as ever when he got back. However, she was giving him the silent treatment again, which was okay for now in Ranma’s book. Things stayed relatively calm until dinnertime.
“Akane, it seems to me that something is wrong. Would you like to talk about it?” asked Soun anxiously.
“I’m FINE, Dad, and no I wouldn’t.” Soun shot a glance at Ranma, which promised that the matter would be gone into later, but Nabiki had other ideas.
“Oh, it's really nothing much, Daddy. Just the whole school watched Shampoo take on Principal Kuno, keep him from cutting Ranma’s hair, and give Ranma a goodbye kiss before dashing off into the sunset. No biggie.”
A sick pit of dread opened in Ranma's stomach. He had known Nabiki would get him for refusing her scheme to throw a fight to Kuno and thus enable her to win the biggest bet in the history of Furinkan, but he had never expected she would go this far. He desperately attempted damage control.
”That's absolutely right!” The shock from this statement bought him enough time to get the rest out. “She had to fight for me, ’cause I had been zapped with some stupid electric trap the stupid principal set up. I could barely move by the time she… left. You guys must’ve seen how I staggered into the school!”
“Actually, I had quit watching by then,” said Nabiki. There was no way she was letting him get off that easily… but as it turned out, supporting him wouldn’t have meant anything.
“Yeah, I saw how stunned you were… after Shampoo kissed you! And don’t even try to blame the electricity, Ranma, we all know how fast you recover! As far as I’m concerned, you and Shampoo can do whatever you like together!” Akane got up. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got homework!”
Ranma tried one last time to get through to her. “Why do you always gotta be so stubborn?! My shoes got charred from that jolt! I was really out of it, Akane, I couldn’t’ve resisted even if I wanted—”
Ranma barely managed to clamp his mouth shut. Too late, and he knew it. Why’d he have to always say something other than what he meant?! “Uh… I didn't mean that the way it came out… ”
This time, Akane didn’t even look around. She just went up the stairs to her room.
The cold wind blew, and Akane pushed against it. She gained the summit, and found someone there already, seemingly unaffected by the elements. He spoke to her, a query:
“Do you desire my training?”
Somehow, Akane knew this was an important question, one that should be carefully considered. However, she sensed that in another few seconds, the opportunity would pass.
Things weren’t going well for Ranma, yet again. The entire Tendo clan was now angry with him (at least as far as it was possible for Kasumi to be angry). Akane hadn’t said a word to him this morning, and looked like keeping it up. For some reason, that worried Ranma— he'd never seen Akane like this. She seemed somehow… distant. Withdrawn. The few times he tried to engage her in conversation on the way to school, she simply ignored him. That wouldn’t be quite so bad, but at school she seemed to treat other people the same way… even her friends couldn't get much out of her. Guilt over that was what was really gnawing at Ranma now, on the way home from school (alone), and all in all it was just about the worst possible time for Shampoo to show up.
“Nihao, Ranma!” She jumped off her bike to land in front of him, rather than on him as she wanted, but Ranma didn't even notice the restraint. “You tell student of stupid principal weak spot yet? Shampoo bet he become nicest principal to student in Japan now!”
Shampoo’s constant cheerfulness usually kinda amused him, but really grated on Ranma today. “Yeah, you did me a real big favor yesterday,” he snapped in a tone that no language barrier would ever distort.
She hadn’t expected this. “Wh…what you talking, Ranma?”
“Kissing me in front of the whole school like that! I caught seven kinds of hell at home, and it ain’t even close to gettin’ better. If you really want to do me a favor, just stay AWAY for a while!”
“A-all right. Shampoo go now,” she said quietly, gathering up her bike and walking off.
‘Great, now I got her upset too. Maybe I should just go on a training journey for the next few years or something,’ Ranma thought as he walked on.
“Turn your thoughts and energies within. When you learn to do this to the utmost degree, then you will shape the world around you, rather than the world shaping you.”
This was training unlike any Akane had expected. She had returned in her dreams each night to this location, always for the same thing. She sat on the bare stone and meditated, while her teacher spoke of control and discipline. For Akane, these things had been something she imposed upon herself (sometimes), but her teacher spoke of them as becoming a part of who she was, as central as the breath in her lungs. She no longer felt the cold, but her teacher had explained to her that he was shielding her. As she meditated along the paths he set her, she would progress to the point where she could do the same, and then to the point where it would be natural.
Now Ranma was really starting to get worried. For the last two weeks he had been on his best behavior, but Akane hadn’t let up. In fact, she was cold to everyone now, as far as he could see, and of course everyone was blaming him. Also Shampoo hadn't been around since he told her to go, and that was beginning to worry him too. An idea occurred to him…
‘Hmm, maybe if I make Akane mad enough at me, she’ll drop this Ice Queen act and at least be herself with other people. Then, maybe her dad or Kasumi or somebody can get her to tell what I did now that was so much worse than any other time. And I know a good way to heat her up…’
As Mousse approached the Nekohanten after returning from a month-long training journey, he realized it was closed. “That's odd,” Mousse said to himself. “This is almost the busiest time of day for them. They've got to be losing money… oh no! What if they couldn’t make it without me?! I should never have left on that training journey! Shampoo! I'm coming!”
He dashed through the door, which was fortunately unlocked, and found Shampoo sitting at a table with Cologne. Neither of them seemed especially pleased to see him, which could not have been less apparent to Mousse. “Shampoo, I'm sorry. I won't leave again! Your restaurant means more to me than my skill! I—” He was cut off by the blow from Cologne’s staff. “Put your glasses on and quit talking to that flower arrangement, you fool!” Shampoo caught her great-grandmother’s eye, and a message passed between them. Cologne got up, knocked Mousse into the chair she had just vacated, and left the room.
With his glasses on, Mousse could actually make out Shampoo’s face. It was just as beautiful as he remembered, but there was a look of sadness as well. For a moment he was confused, then… “Oh, Shampoo, did you miss me that much? I'll never leave again, I swear it!” A tiny voice inside Mousse's head said that if that was the reason Shampoo had been sad, then she should look happier now that he was back. Mousse had a lot of experience ignoring that voice.
“Mousse… listen to Shampoo for once. Reason Shampoo sad have nothing to do with you. And nothing you do make better except one thing.”
“Anything! All I want is to make you happy.”
“Is this… you leave. Go back to China and not come for Shampoo no more. Ever.”
This couldn't be happening, he thought. ‘She must be trying to test me, or, or…’ He couldn't think of anything else. All he could say was, “Why?!”
“For fourteen year now you no listen when Shampoo say she no love you. Always you ask for more than Shampoo can give. We friends once, Mousse, why that never enough?” Shampoo's eyes teared up. “No want hurt you, but hold out false hope is hurt. And also keep you from own life. So. You say you do anything for Shampoo, Shampoo hold you to that. You go back to China without fight Ranma, and forget Shampoo.”
What Mousse would have said to this he never knew, as that was when Ranma opened the door and came in. He saw the flash of desperate hope in Shampoo's eyes, and reached an inescapable conclusion.
On Ranma’s way to the Nekohanten, he had run into Daisuke, a classmate of his, and learned that the restaurant had been closed for the last two weeks. This only added to his worry, of course, and he wondered if anyone would even be there. But the door was ajar, and so he stepped in. He saw Shampoo, and was stopped in his tracks to see her so obviously hurting. However, he didn’t have much time to react before Mousse made his presence known.
“You did this to her, didn’t you, you pervert! What have you done to Shampoo?!” Mousse didn't even wait for an answer but attacked with a chain sickle. Ranma dodged the strike easily enough, and Mousse readied another attack, but then…
“MOUSSE!” Shampoo shouted. “I know you not listen, or maybe you just not care what Shampoo say. No fight Ranma!”
“But, but Shampoo, he… he doesn't treat you like you deserve! He never does anything but hurt you! Why… are you asking me…” Mousse couldn't finish. Leave? Leave Shampoo? He tried to get his mind around the concept, but it wouldn't fit. “Why can't you give me a chance?”
“Shampoo no can give what no exist. Ask for moon or Mt. Fuji, Shampoo have just as much chance to give to you as make self love you. Mousse… please go.”
Mousse walked out, his spirit obviously crushed. Ranma, who had kept well out of the exchange, turned to Shampoo. “Shampoo, do you realize how much you just hurt him?” Then he mentally kicked himself. He was supposed to be here partly to make Shampoo feel better if she was still upset, which obviously was the case.
“Ranma, is more cruel let Mousse live in dream. He need make own life.” She took a deep breath. “What about Shampoo, Ranma, what you think? Is Shampoo just annoying person who no leave alone?”
At that point something became clear to Ranma. For some reason, what he'd last said to Shampoo had hit her harder than all his other attempts to get some distance between them put together. He thought carefully before responding.
“No, Shampoo, I can’t say that. But you do go way too far sometimes,” he said cautiously, trying to make his way through a conversation without saying the wrong thing for once. At least she smiled a little at the response.
“Shampoo understand about red thread of fate and stuff like that, but what last time to make you so mad?”
Ranma sighed. “It wasn’t what you did— it was what happened because of it. Like I said, somehow it set Akane off and she’s STILL mad, not just at me but everyone apparently. That means everyone at the dojo is ticked at me. I was real upset at the time and I took it out on you and… I’m…. sorry.”
“Why you here now?” She wanted so much to believe it was more than just a guilt trip.
Ranma knew better than to reveal his primary motive. “Well, you hadn’t been around anywhere for so long and I was kinda… worried.”
At this Shampoo felt she could risk a little more hope. “Really?” she asked.
“Yeah,” said Ranma, bracing himself for Shampoo to grab him as she normally did at the slightest encouragement. He nearly fell over when she just smiled at him again.
“Ranma, Shampoo finally understand something. Shampoo never win you heart all at once, like you win Shampoo’s. If Shampoo promise go slow, and no more tricks, you maybe give other chance?”
Ranma thought more quickly than he had in a long time. If Shampoo would take the pressure off, that would relieve a lot of his problems. Not to have to worry about love potions, or a repeat dose of the full-body cat tongue, or any other Amazon tricks would really make a nice change. And just being seen with her should still be enough to set Akane off, so that part of the plan wouldn't be hurt. Tentatively, he said, “It’s a deal,” and was rewarded by almost a full-strength smile (again, though, he had been expecting a hug).
“Thank you, Ranma,” she said, then decided to push her luck just a little. “I let you decide how you want apologize for hurting Shampoo.”
One part of Ranma’s mind said, ‘I thought I just did.’ Another responded, ‘I can’t believe she’s not at least asking for a date as payback.’ A compromise was achieved, and he said, “Since tomorrow’s Saturday, how about we meet in the park and do some training?”
“That sound good to me. Shampoo not train much these past two week.” Not at all, actually, but Shampoo's warrior pride didn’t like admitting that. “I see you tomorrow at nine, ok?”
“Uh, sure. Nine o’clock. That’s fine.”
Ranma walked out, more than a little confused. Had that really been Shampoo?
“You have learned well, Akane. There remains only one step to mastery, a step you will find easy.”
The wind blew, but did not stir Akane's hair or gi. The cold flowed through her without touching her. Her teacher was no longer shielding her— she had perfect control now, and she was ready to take whatever final step was required. She waited calmly for him to continue.
“To touch the world without being touched yourself is the ultimate strength, for only then are you truly beyond defeat. To do this requires an interface— an object which will be your focus. You will form this object out of the very energies of your own soul.”
Akane accepted the instruction and processed it, considering the implications that such a thing was even possible. After allowing her time to reach her conclusions, the master spoke. “Akane— what is my focus?”
Akane looked at him and called upon the lessons she had learned to detect the flow of lines of energy. "It is the ring that you do not wear upon the finger of your left hand.”
“Exactly. The focus need not be physically evident to serve its purpose. Are you prepared to craft yours?” A rhetorical question, but form required it be asked.
“Reach into your soul, then. Find those qualities which make you weak, the qualities that your training has blocked. Draw them forth, then out of you, and fashion them into whatever object you feel is appropriate.”
With such meager instruction, Akane should not have been able to proceed, yet somehow it flowed naturally. A moment’s concentration, and a katana formed in the air in front of her. She took hold of its handle, and… awoke.
‘Now I am ready,’ she thought, examining the blade, then made it vanish. She returned to sleep.
Somehow, Ranma never did come up with a good idea for making sure Akane would see him with Shampoo in the park the next day. ‘Oh, well,’ he thought to himself, ‘if word doesn't get back to her this time I’ll just have to try again.’ It would not prove to be necessary.
He and Shampoo had just begun an aerial combat routine, where the loser was the first to touch down on the ground rather than on a tree, a lamppost, or the other’s head, when Akane arrived. Ranma saw her first, and the distraction was enough for Shampoo to knock him to the ground. “You lose, Ranma! You has to pay for lunch now…” Shampoo noticed Akane and her voice trailed off. She steeled herself to see how Ranma would react.
“H-hi, Akane. So… uh… what brings you here so early in the day?!” ‘Geez, I sound as nervous as Ryoga usually does,’ Ranma thought to himself.
Shampoo nearly fell out of the tree she was standing in. Ranma, caught doing something with her, by Akane no less, and not immediately claiming it wasn’t what it looked like? This was better than she had hoped! Then she took a good look at Akane’s face, and for some reason a chill went down her spine.
“I told you before, Ranma, what you do with Shampoo means nothing to me. My business here is with her.” Akane turned to Shampoo. “Every time we have faced each other, you have defeated me, and it’s common knowledge that you consider me a weakling. Very well, I challenge you.”
Shampoo looked at Akane, then at Ranma who was standing behind her and frantically shaking his head. “And what gives you the right to decide for her, Ranma?” inquired Akane without turning her head. “As an Amazon, for Shampoo to run away from a fight is to abandon all honor.”
“Maybe we fight, maybe not.” Shampoo answered slowly. “Shampoo talk with Ranma first.”
Akane allowed a large measure of disgust to show. “Do you even exist anymore, Shampoo? Or are you just an extension of Ranma?” This didn't seem to faze the Amazon, but Ranma felt something twist inside him. There was no time to examine it now, though. Shampoo jumped over to him and led him several paces away.
“What happen to her, Ranma? This not Akane Shampoo ever see before!” she whispered.
“I don't know— this is the most I’ve heard her say in the last two weeks! Shampoo, please, don’t let your pride force you into a fight. I— something’s definitely wrong with her.”
“Shampoo not hurt her, Ranma, but you think maybe beat her without hurting better than walk away? One touch on right pressure point do it, maybe shake her out of this.” Ranma considered this, but hadn’t come to any conclusions besides the fact that he had a really bad feeling about the whole situation, when Akane walked up.
“You know, Shampoo, you finally got through to Mousse. He’s still in the area, but he’s bought a one-way ticket back to China. However, if I tell him that this has been a test to see if he really loves you, I think he might change his mind…”
Shampoo froze, then her temper finally surfaced. “You no do that to Shampoo! Or to Mousse! You want fight, Shampoo give you fight! No worry, Ranma, I not hurt stupid weakling… much!”
Both girls got into fighting stances. ‘I gotta stop this!’ thought Ranma, and started to move between them… when suddenly his muscles wouldn’t obey him. He froze, unable to do anything except watch. Shampoo began a charging attack, and Akane stepped forward to meet her. Ranma found his eyes had a hard time following Akane… her form seemed to blur, and even though she was walking, she was closing the distance to Shampoo at least as fast as Shampoo was running at her. The Amazon didn’t seem to notice, but suddenly Akane was right in front of her. A spin of Akane’s right leg combined with a simultaneous punch with her left hand knocked her opponent’s bonbori into right and left field. Shampoo almost had time to blink before the real assault began. A rapid flurry of blows brought her to her knees, then a kick to her stomach put her flat on the ground, clutching her abdomen and barely able to breathe.
Akane looked down on her. “Pathetic. How many times did you call me a weakling, Shampoo? Well, from now on you’ll remember which of us is superior.” As Ranma watched, unbelieving, a katana materialized in her hand. She swung it once, twice, then walked away. Ranma felt the paralysis leave him as she passed from sight, but he still couldn’t move at first. Shampoo whimpered, raising a trembling hand to her face, where Akane had left a deep slash on each cheek.
Ranma sat at a table in the Nekohanten. Every so often he’d look up. Nope, he still hadn’t woken up yet, but he would soon, this had to be a dream… he could barely remember tearing off his shirt, telling Shampoo to hold it over her wounds to stop the bleeding, and carrying her to the restaurant as fast as he could. He wondered if he should have taken her to Dr Tofu, but that would have been at least twice as far from where they were, and anyway Shampoo had whispered, “Please take to Great-Grandmother” as he picked her up. He just wished the old ghoul would come out of the back room and tell him what had happened.
As if moving in response to Ranma’s wish, the door swung open, and Cologne hopped out, balanced as usual on her staff. She looked over to Ranma. “You are to be commended for bringing her here so quickly, boy. We’ve managed to avoid the worst.”
“H-how is she?” Ranma managed to get out.
“She was deep in shock. I gave her an herbal tea to help her recover. She’ll sleep for a while. Now, perhaps you would be good enough to tell me what happened?”
Slowly, as he was unable to fully come to terms with it yet, Ranma managed to relate a more or less coherent account of the morning. “To scar Shampoo like that… I’d never have thought Akane could do that, even as weird as she’s been these past few weeks… not to mention managing to beat her in the first place.” He looked up at Cologne. “Do you think it was something else takin’ over her body? Like that cursed doll?”
“I don't know, Ranma, but it’s a possibility.” Cologne paused. “As to the scarring, that is what I meant when I said you brought her here quickly enough. Long ago, the Amazons perfected a salve for wounds that causes them to heal without a scar if applied in time. Shampoo will not bear a mark from this attack. Had you never wondered why Amazons don’t seem to carry battle scars? After all, with all the training Shampoo has done, she must have been hurt in training accidents at least.”
It seemed an irrelevant question, but Ranma decided he didn’t mind a little distraction. “I never really noticed it, I guess. Heck, I don't have any scars from my training accidents. I used to, but they finally faded a while back and these days I don’t seem to pick up any new ones. If I’d thought anything, I guess I would have thought she was just good enough to avoid serious injury.”
Cologne stared long and hard at Ranma. That pretty much clinched it— the reason she couldn’t find her elixir of permanent regeneration was that Shampoo had secretly dosed Ranma with it. No wonder he always recovered so quickly! She wondered how much else her great-granddaughter had done for the boy that he didn’t know anything about, then let it go.
“Be that as it may, the reason so few Amazons bear training scars is this medicine. Now, to get back to the subject, it is clear that we must discover what has befallen Akane Tendo. You mentioned earlier that she had been acting strangely this past little while. Please be more specific.”
“She's just been… really distant and withdrawn. She’s hardly talked to anyone, even her family. Akane’s never been that cold…” Ranma stopped, as something seeped back into his memory. “That’s right, when I first picked Shampoo up to bring her here, she was actually ice-cold, even though it's late spring out there. Do you think it means anything?” he asked, noticing that Cologne's eyes had gone wide in shock.
“It could… but pray that it does not mean what I’m thinking.” The ancient Amazon seemed to be gathering her strength for an ordeal. “Ranma, I need to go to the dojo and speak with Akane. I do not believe that Shampoo will awaken before I return, but would you please remain here in case she does?”
Ranma looked down at Shampoo. Her face was heavily bandaged, and she was deathly pale. Ranma couldn’t even begin to understand how things had come to this. ‘Akane’s possessed. That’s gotta be it,’ he thought to himself, but somehow it seemed like the thought was less important than the girl lying unconscious before him. ‘Oh, Shampoo. The one time I try to do something nice for you and this is what happens.’ Shampoo’s figure seemed to blur, but this time it was nothing supernatural— not the beginning of a Jusenkyo change, not whatever unholy thing had controlled Akane that morning, but just the tears in his eyes.
As it turned out, Cologne did not need to return to the dojo in order to find Akane. She encountered her not far from the Nekohanten. Akane was on her way to the Kuno estate, to settle things with Tatewaki for once and for all, and it only took one look to confirm the ancient warrior’s fears. She proceeded on her way to the dojo.
Shampoo opened her eyes just as Cologne returned. She’d been awake for awhile without revealing it, as she was pretty sure this would cause Ranma to let go of her hand and she needed all the comfort she could get. Since he let go anyway on hearing the front door open, though, she figured she might as well ‘wake up’. Cologne came into the room, followed by Genma and most of the Tendo clan.
“Now, what’s this all about? You said you had something important to tell me about my little girl!” Soun was obviously not in the most stable of moods. “What has Ranma done this time?!”
“This has nothing to do with Ranma,” returned Cologne. Then she sighed. “Please, everyone sit down. This explanation will take some time.
“Akane… in a way, she is under a curse. A curse which negates all her compassion, empathy, pity… every soft emotion has been taken from her. That is why she has been distant to you all over these past few weeks, and how she was able to treat Shampoo as she did.”
“What did she do to Shampoo?” queried Genma.
“Where you think bandages come from?” Shampoo asked angrily. She looked down at her hands, clenched tightly in her lap. “She defeat Shampoo. Then cut each cheek, mark Shampoo as… loser.”
“My little girl would never do a thing like that!”
“Look, don't you remember that stupid cursed doll?! I sure do!” This was Ranma. “Akane wasn't responsible for it takin’ over her body and tryin’ to kill me, but it still happened. Same thing here, I bet.” Ranma turned to Cologne. “Right? It ain’t really Akane doing this, right?”
“Do you mean, is there an outside force influencing her? Then I’m sorry, but the answer is no. The strict truth is that part of Akane has been removed, and what remains places no value on mercy, or tolerance, or forgiveness, or generosity, or… well, you get the point. Effectively, her dark side has been released. I’m sure you all remember what it was like when that occurred with Ranma. Here and now much the same has happened to Akane.”
“Ok, whatever, so you just whip up some spirit wards, we use them to return Akane to normal, and that’s that, right?” Ranma asked, hoping it would be that easy.
“I’m sorry, boy, but it won’t be that easy.” Cologne sighed. “I spoke of what has happened to Akane as a curse, and indeed the Heart of Ice technique is a curse on the world, but she accepted this condition of her own free will."
“Come on, Akane may be reckless but she'd never agree to something like this!” Nabiki spoke up, seeing her father was too catatonic to contribute anything.
“I’m not saying she wasn’t deceived… she certainly was. The Heart of Ice is actually a fighting discipline— the strongest in the world, granting mystical abilities as well as physical skills. Its basis is the control of the self, leading to control of the world around oneself. One who has mastered the technique can walk through a wall of fire and not be singed… or watch a parent bleed to death and feel nothing. Do you understand what I’m saying? EVERYTHING that forms a possible vulnerability is removed from one who learns the Heart of Ice. It does indeed grant the power to defeat an opponent regardless of their skill, as none of their attacks can affect an Ice master, but I think you will agree that the price is too high.”
“So why Akane agree? What is deception you talk earlier?” Shampoo was surprised she had never heard of this matter before, but decided it must be one of the secrets only the elders knew. She could see why such a technique wouldn’t be allowed to become common knowledge.
“The Heart of Ice promises two basic things: skill and self-control. It is only offered to those who lack the second and are dissatisfied with their amount of the first. And when the offer is made, the price is never mentioned.” Cologne paused, then continued. “Deceived though she was, Akane chose this of her own free will… that makes it nearly impossible to remove the condition. She needs to reject it, and her ability to see it as something to reject has been removed along with her other ‘weaknesses’. She will not freely let go of the power she now holds to return to what she views as a flawed state.
“I said that all her vulnerabilities have been taken away. This was done by removing a piece of her soul and forming it into a material object— the katana she used on my great-granddaughter. This object is termed the ‘focus’, and is what allows an Ice master to touch the world without being touched by it. The focus serves as an interface… and as the only weak point. To free Akane, it must be broken. The trouble with that is the focus only exists in the material plane when Akane wishes it, and having it in the world doesn’t really serve any purpose. It makes no difference in Akane’s level of available power to have the focus present or absent. Therefore, opportunities to destroy it may be few and far between. And I’m afraid it would be no easy task even if she were to always leave it manifested.”
“Why is that?” asked Kasumi anxiously.
“Because physical force will not accomplish it. To break the focus, Akane must experience an extremely traumatic event while it is present. The one person who has been freed from the Heart of Ice, from whom we gained all we know of the ‘technique’,” (she spat the word), “was rescued when he witnessed the death of his brother. Only something like that has the power to break Akane’s control and return her heart to her.”
Nabiki narrowed her eyes. “That makes things difficult… do you think we should fake someone’s death? I could call in a few favors from the Furinkan Special Effects club.”
“I’m sure Ranma will volunteer, won’t you, boy,” stated his father.
“Unfortunately, that won’t work.” Cologne overrode Ranma’s reflex protest of “Why me?” and continued. “One of Akane’s new skills is to detect and manipulate the flow of natural energy, including life force. Faking a death would not deceive her no matter how skillfully done.” Cologne paused, then continued. “We should not make any desperate, half-planned attempts. Akane’s condition is stable— the breaking of the focus will not become more difficult as time passes, since the ability to change is considered unnecessary; after all, one who masters the Heart of Ice is now ‘perfect’. We should take the time to see the circumstances under which Akane manifests her focus. This will give us the knowledge we need to effectively plan.”
Everyone sat quietly for a while, trying to come to terms with what they had been told. Then Shampoo spoke up.
“Shampoo have idea that maybe take less time.”
“What’s that?” asked Nabiki skeptically.
“If Ranma begin to date other girl seriously, knowledge stay with Akane. Then, next time she call up focus, knowledge hit her then and maybe break focus even if no one else around to take opportunity.”
Soun and Genma traded glances. “Can’t say I’m surprised.” This was Genma.
“I’m surprised it took you this long to get to the point.” This was Soun.
Together: “THIS IS JUST ANOTHER AMAZON TRICK TO PULL RANMA AWAY FROM AKANE!”
Cologne stood stock-still, then a blazing fury began to swell within her. How dare these two fools cast such a slur on her honor! Before she could decide what degree of force to use in her response, Ranma broke the silence.
“Apologize to both of them right now, or I am never entering the dojo again.”
Perhaps nothing else could have diverted Cologne from her rage, but her surprise at this managed to do so. Ranma continued, slowly working his way up from controlled quietness to barely controlled fury. “You think this is all some trick? You think Shampoo somehow forced Akane to beat her up faster than I could beat Kuno? You think Shampoo WANTED Akane to slash her face?!” He was shouting now.
“Ranma… we only have their word for it that that even occurred.” This was Kasumi, and Ranma calmed down a little as he turned to her.
“No, you don’t. I saw the whole thing. Who do you think carried Shampoo back here to get stitched up?” He turned to his father. “I mean it. Apologize now.”
Soun and Genma looked at the resolve in Ranma’s eyes, then managed to deliver a satisfactory apology. It wasn’t really any harder for them than groveling for Happosai, and they had plenty of practice at that.
“Perhaps you two fools weren’t listening when I said that the event to break Akane’s focus MUST be traumatic. Personally, I don’t think Shampoo’s idea will succeed, but it can cause no harm. Do you agree?”
Genma and Soun traded nervous glances, then slowly nodded. “Very well, at least for a while. Ranma can… date Shampoo.”
Cologne sighed. “Not Shampoo. Ukyo.”
Everyone’s jaw dropped except Shampoo’s, who said quietly, “Shampoo need at least week to recover from injuries. Whole point is to try get Akane back to own self soon as possible. Spatu… Ukyo is only choice.” She closed her eyes, trying to keep the tears from beginning again. Cologne realized that her great-granddaughter was near the end of her endurance.
“I must now ask you to leave. Shampoo needs her rest.”
After everyone had gone, the Amazon elder turned to her great-granddaughter. “<I understood what you wanted me to suggest when you said Ranma should date ‘another girl’ rather than volunteering yourself, but I would like to hear your true reason.>”
“<The reason I gave everyone was real,>” answered Shampoo, “<just not the only one.>” She swallowed. “<You know I did a lot of thinking over the past two weeks— that I saw I needed to end things unequivocally for Mousse. One other thing I realized was that Ranma needs to see I can do the right thing even if it hurts. That’s my other reason for suggesting Ukyo, since it’s true I couldn’t help Ranma for a while.>”
Cologne’s eyes narrowed as she examined Shampoo closely. She considered leaving it at that, but decided against it. “<There’s something else.>” she stated flatly.
Shampoo hesitated, then slowly nodded. “<You said speed wasn’t really important, since Akane wouldn’t change over time. But what happens in a week or two, when she sees that the scars she meant to leave on me to prove my inferiority have been prevented? Next time she may just… kill me…>”
Cologne was silent outwardly, but her mind was racing. ‘<I know that will not be the case, but if I tell Shampoo that, she will want to know why. If I explain, and Ranma were to learn of it, the results would be disastrous… If I simply ask her to trust me, she probably will, but she needs to be able to come to terms with this fear on her own.>’ Aloud, she said, “<So you have surrendered yourself to fear?>”
At this, some of Shampoo’s old spirit resurfaced. “<An Amazon never surrenders!>”
“<A good answer, child. Now get some rest.>”
Everyone was quiet as they walked back to the dojo. They passed the street which led to Ucchan’s Okonomiyaki, but Ranma only glanced at it then continued with the main group. Genma looked at his son. “Aren’t you going to go talk to Ukyo?”
Ranma laughed bitterly. “Pop, I never thought I’d have a day in the rest of my life that was worse than when we went to Jusenkyo, but today’s got that one beat and it ain’t even noon yet. I’m not taking any chances on doing ANYTHING that might make more trouble. I’m going home and practicing until I’m tired enough to drop… that way I MIGHT be able to sleep tonight. Ucchan can wait a day.”
‘Good to see the boy isn’t too enthusiastic about dating someone other than Akane,’ thought Genma. ‘Maybe he’s finally starting to take responsibility for his actions. Once we rid Akane of this curse, it’s time the two of them went forward with the marriage.’
Cologne reached out with her ki-sense. Yes, Shampoo was deeply asleep and would not wake for some hours. It was time to take the necessary precaution.
The ancient Amazon sat in a room that had been cleared of all furniture, except for two smoking braziers. She tossed a pack of incense onto one, and dropped some aromatic wood shavings into the other. Reciting the words she had long ago committed to memory, Cologne made contact with Lin Xiu, the founder and prime guiding spirit of the Amazon tribe.
“<Greetings, daughter Cologne.>” The spirit seemed less than pleased to see her. “<What does one who questions my teachings wish from me this day?>”
Cologne’s blood ran cold. She knew that Lin Xiu did not tolerate much in the way of dissent, so she chose her words with care. “<Honored Leader, you have charged us with the eradication of the Heart of Ice technique. It has resurfaced today. I ask that you appoint a spirit warrior to watch over the one who has become ensnared. If she should attempt to strike down any innocents, I ask that she instead be struck down. And I ask also that she would be prevented from overhearing any discussion of attempts to break her focus.>”
“<It will be done.>”
Ranma had managed to get to sleep the previous night, but it had taken nine hours of intense training to bring him enough exhaustion to do so. And the dreams had still been there…
He’d seen Akane end Shampoo’s life rather than cutting her face. He’d seen her walk uncaring past the corpses of her family. He’d… He shook off the memories, and stepped through the door of Ukyo’s restaurant.
Ukyo looked up. “Can’t you read?! We’re CLOSED… Ranma! It’s you!”
‘Oh, crap,’ was Ranma’s first thought. Ukyo had obviously been crying. The place was… barren. Most of the usual okonomiyaki equipment was missing, probably in the large boxes stacked against the wall. He quickly realized that his theory that she had missed class on Friday due to a stomachache was wrong. “Ucchan? What’s going on?”
Ukyo got it out, after a couple of false starts. “Ranchan… my father’s… dead.”
She looked like she was about to begin crying again. “I got the word on Thursday night. That’s why you didn’t see me at school. It… it shouldn’t have happened like this. He was only in his forties…”
“I’m… I’m sorry,” Ranma managed to get out. “Are you leaving?”
“No choice. My dad was an important member of the Kuonji clan. His death means lots of changes will take place. And I, I have to be there, since I’m the last of my family.”
“How long will you be gone, Ucchan?”
She took a deep breath. “I’m leaving tomorrow, and there’s no way I could make it back before the very end of summer. I… won’t be coming back anyway.”
Ranma was stunned— he’d never expected that. Then she met his eyes again.
“Ranchan… please come with me.”
The only coherent thought Ranma could manage was , ‘Man, was I right not to come here yesterday.’ Ukyo continued, building up speed. “We don’t have to stay and take any more of the craziness around here. Shampoo’s always trying to trap you into loving her and Akane hits you at the drop of an okonomiyaki. And Kodachi’s worse than both of them put together! Please, Ranchan. Come with me. You don’t even have to tell anybody you’re my fiancé. I’ll wait until you’re ready. But I’ve got to get out of here and if you take a good look at things you should see you do too.”
Ranma sat for awhile. The harder he tried to find an approach that wouldn’t hurt her that he could take, the more he realized it wasn’t going to happen. Finally he just looked away and said, “I… can’t.”
There was a long moment of silence. Then Ukyo said, in a tired voice, “It’s Akane, isn’t it.”
“Yes… and no.” Ranma considered trying to explain what had happened, but realized it was pointless. “The real problem is I can’t run, Ucchan. If I run away from stuff I never have peace. Why d’you think I always fight so hard? It’s something I figured out a while back.” He swallowed, then continued. “You probably think I’m ditchin’ you for Akane. It’s not that at all. “
“Really,” said Ukyo. “Then did Shampoo finally get you with a love potion?”
“No! Look, Ucchan, you know how often things go crazy around here. Something bad has happened. There’s no point in telling you about it if you’re leaving tomorrow… but I can’t run away. Even if it ain’t my fault at all this time.”
“Ranma…” she took a deep breath. “Then… this is… goodbye.”
Dragging himself to school the next day was one of the harder things Ranma had done. The conversation with Ukyo hadn’t been much easier after that point. Losing her like this hurt worse than he was prepared for. He wondered if Shampoo had felt this bad when she cut Mousse loose— on the one hand, Mousse had been part of her life for longer than Ukyo had of his, but on the other, he was pretty sure he cared more for Ucchan than the Amazon did for Duck-boy. Maybe it balanced out, he decided.
As Ranma approached the schoolyard, he noticed a familiar figure waiting for him. Kuno! But he wasn’t dressed in his kendo outfit or carrying his bokken, which ruled out the possibility of a challenge. And as Ranma got close enough to make out the expression on the upperclassman’s face, he could see that yes, once again, something traumatic had been taking place. ‘What is it with this place anyway? Everything always piles up all at once!’ he thought disgustedly.
“Greetings, Saotome.” Kuno said quietly. “I would speak with you after school today. Please meet me afterwards, behind the gymnasium.”
“Is it important?” Ranma asked, although he was virtually certain it was.
Ranma made his mind up. He was in no mood for class, and anyway now he’d just spend the rest of the day worrying about what else would go wrong. Better to get it over with. “Then let’s talk now.”
They retreated to a field some distance from the school. Kuno took a deep breath.
“For my actions these past two years, I owe you a debt greater than I can ever hope to repay. This apology is all I can give you, though, as well as the assurance that you will suffer no more at the hands of the ‘great’ Tatewaki Kuno.” At the word ‘great’, Kuno grimaced as if he had swallowed poison.
“….” said Ranma intelligently. Kuno, apologizing?!
“Saotome… what is the pigtailed girl to you?”
Suddenly Ranma couldn’t think of a good reason to keep the secret anymore. Maybe he’d been under too much stress lately, but suddenly any slim chance of keeping Kuno away from his other side seemed worth taking. He had tried to tell the kendoist once before anyway, but the dolt had deliberately misunderstood. “She’s… me. I’m under a curse, Kuno. Whenever I get hit with cold water, I change into a girl. And hot water turns me back. But I’m the same person all the time, inside.”
“I… realized it must be something like that. And judging from your multitude of fiancées, and the fact that I have never seen the pigtailed girl return any man’s affection, I assume you are now in your true form?”
“You need not worry, even if it had been what I believed for so long— that she was her own person, but under your influence somehow— I should have left her alone. All the more so, now.”
“Kuno… what’s happened to you?” Whatever it was, it must have been big. No head blow had ever made Kuno change his personality this dramatically, and there had been too many of those to count.
“You are not the only one under a curse.”
“Yeah, so is Shampoo, and Pop, and Ryoga, and Mousse.” Then he mentally kicked himself, realizing he must really be out of it to throw the others’ secrets around like that.
“…and my sister, and my father.” Kuno sighed. “And, until two days ago, me.” The memory returned…
As Kuno approached the door of his training room, he felt a sudden chill run through his soul. He paused for a moment, but hesitation had never been a part of his character (neither had discretion, for that matter). He opened the door and entered.
A figure was waiting for him, something covered in shadows which shifted constantly, preventing Kuno from discerning whether man or woman, spirit or fleshly opponent stood before him. “Who dares challenge the Blue Thunder, the rising young star of kendo, the great Tatewaki Kuno?!”
“Your arrogance ends here.” Suddenly the figure was immediately in front of him. He tried to step backward, but a hand touched his chest… he was cold… so… cold…
All was blackness. Kuno floated in a void, with no sensation even of his own body. Then scenes began to appear. He saw his revered ancestor, Tomoneko Kuno, who had raised the family from nothing to the affluence and influence they had enjoyed for the last five centuries. But here Tatewaki saw the truth of how his ancestor had accomplished this… a pact with a dragon.
The details rasped past him like sandpaper against his soul. The line of Kuno was promised wealth and talent so long as the family should endure, but low-grade madness and delusions of grandeur would accompany this. To the dragon, it was an enormously amusing joke. To Tomoneko, it seemed a bargain worth making. To Tatewaki, it was the destruction of his very sense of self.
The scenes changed, then, showing the misadventures of Tomoneko’s descendants. Always they went through life believing themselves the beloveds of fate, to whom all good things must inevitably fall. Always those around them treated them with contempt, save for only a handful of individuals, but they never perceived it. The line was continued by mercenaries who married into the family only for the comfort provided by their wealth. Kuno tried to scream a denial, but he had no mouth. He tried to close his eyes, or turn his face away, but he possessed neither. He was merely an awareness, forced to watch a nightmare unfold.
And then the visions caught up to the present. For the first time, Tatewaki perceived himself through the eyes of those around him. He understood at last what his fellow students thought of him… what Akane Tendo thought of him. As for his other ‘love,’ he saw again the scenes when Ranma had seemed to have some influence over her, and had discouraged Kuno from his pursuit.
At last, it ended. Kuno opened his eyes. The unknown individual was still with him. “I have removed the curse from you, Tatewaki. You will live out your days with the full knowledge of your actions to this point.” And then he (she?) was gone…
Kuno finished relating the tale. Ranma was stunned. He understood now why the other’s eyes looked so haunted. “What’re you gonna do now?”
“I intend to make a farewell speech to the entire student body, in which I will apologize for my actions. It is far too late to make any real amends, but I hope this will give me some peace. I have already selected a different school in which to enroll, to hopefully make a new start.” Kuno looked away. “I have no right to ask favors of you, Saotome, but there is one boon I would beg. The one I have mistreated the most, even beyond you, is Akane Tendo. I find I cannot even face her to apologize. I have left a note for her in her locker; I would ask that you tell her for me that its message comes from my heart, and that my promise to leave her in peace will stand forever.” He began to walk away.
The kendoist stopped. “Yes?”
“… Good luck.”
‘<This is so boring,>’ thought Shampoo. ‘<I hate just lying around and recovering.>’ Especially since she didn’t have much else to do besides think, and her thoughts kept creeping back to the images of Ukyo and Ranma hitting the town at night, and reminiscing in class about it the next day, and…
“Shampoo, you have a visitor.” Her great-grandmother said from the doorway, then hopped aside to reveal Ranma.
“Nihao, Ran— ouch!” Shampoo made a mental note to avoid big smiles until the cuts in her cheeks had finished healing. Cologne returned to the kitchen.
“Uh, hi… how’s it going, Shampoo?”
“Very much boring, Ranma. Better now you is here.” She steeled herself. It had only been a few days, and was probably too soon to expect any results with Akane from Ranma dating Ukyo, but she had to ask. “Is Akane find out you date Spat— Ukyo yet?”
“Um… no. Seeing as how Ucchan’s… not around anymore.” He proceeded to relate what had occurred.
It was all Shampoo could do to hold in another big smile at the news that Ukyo had gone for good… until Ranma told her why her rival had left. “Shampoo sorry for her. Know what is like to lose parent.”
Ranma was finding it harder than he had expected to come up with a good way to bring up why he’d come (the reason besides seeing how she was feeling). “Since Ukyo’s not available, you wanna take her place and pretend to date me?” seemed to lack a certain something. He’d expected her to jump at the news that Ukyo wasn’t in the picture anymore and make the offer herself before he could even finish giving the information. Instead, she was just looking sad and lost in thought.
Shampoo of course realized that she had an opportunity here, but the memories Ranma had unwittingly triggered took a little while to run their course. Then she asked, “Since Ukyo not available, you want Shampoo to stand in after injuries heal?”
“Uh,… yeah.” said Ranma, surprised she had put it like that. “How long do you think you’ll be stuck in that bed, anyway?”
“Stitches come out tomorrow. Need one more day of bed rest after that, for ribs to finish mending.” Shampoo was just glad that Amazon medicinal techniques could speed healing in the bones as well as the flesh. “You want meet again in park on Sunday? Shampoo need do more training than ever after stuck in stupid bed for week.”
“Sure,” said Ranma. Maybe this would help them both get over the memories of the last time.
Or maybe not. Ranma looked on in helplessness as a nightmare feeling of déjà vu swept over him. Once again, he stood frozen, unable to move as Akane confronted Shampoo.
He’d acted on an impulse, creeping through the trees in the park, trying to sneak up on Shampoo without her detecting him (no easy feat). Just as he’d seen her, though, the same paralysis as before had frozen his muscles.
For her part, Shampoo had gotten to the rendezvous point thirty minutes early. It might be a woman’s prerogative to be late, but she didn’t feel like risking it. Of course, RANMA would never show up early, so then SHE had to wait. Her musings on how unfair love could be were cut off by someone clearing their throat behind her. She turned with a big smile— only Ranma could sneak up on her like that.
And then she realized that wasn’t true anymore.
“Well, you seem to have recovered nicely. An Amazon trick, I suppose.” Akane’s expression revealed no trace of emotion.
“Amazon medicine. What you want?!” growled Shampoo, steadfastly refusing to give ground beyond the initial reactive step back.
“You have a choice, Shampoo. You can tell me who you truly believe to be the better fighter of the two of us, or I can give you a repeat demonstration of my abilities.”
Shampoo wanted to scream that she was the better warrior by far, that whatever Akane had accepted to give her the edge she now had was a cheat. She opened her mouth, but the words just wouldn’t come. The Amazon remembered her great-grandmother’s description of the technique— Akane was not receiving any help from an outside source. All the mastery she now possessed came from within. Somehow it hurt worse than the sword cuts had.
“You is… you is better.” It was barely a whisper. Ranma couldn’t even hear it, but he managed to read her lips. Quite an accomplishment considering how low her head was hanging. Akane nodded, and walked away.
Ranma ran out of the trees to confront Akane, but she was nowhere to be seen. He turned as a primal scream of rage nearly split his eardrums.
Shampoo was glowing with the most intense battle aura he’d ever seen on her. She didn’t seem to be aware of his presence as she walked over to a large rock. Suddenly the battle aura just disappeared, or so Ranma thought at first. Then, with a shock, he realized it had all concentrated in one of her bonbori. She brought it down on the rock with a second cry of fury.
Releasing her rage didn’t really make Shampoo feel better— with the anger out of the way, there was nothing to distract her from the shame. She turned around, and saw Ranma.
This time Ranma’s expectations of Shampoo’s reaction were accurate. Up to a point at least. She threw herself into his arms, which didn’t surprise him, and began crying harder than he’d ever witnessed anyone do, which did. “Shampoo… it’s ok. She didn’t hurt you this time, “ he said, while gingerly patting her back.
It was a good thing for Ranma that the gesture and not the words was what the Amazon noticed. She was in no mood to be considered weak, even if in her own mind she’d just admitted to it. Eventually her sobs ran down. She still didn’t let go of him, though.
“Ranma… thank you for being here.”
“Shampoo…” he wasn’t sure how to continue, or even what he was trying to say. “That could have gone a lot worse. Thank goodness it didn’t.”
“Oh yeah, worse,” she said bitterly. “Shampoo could have said that and Akane still beat up. Then Shampoo have new cuts and broken bones to go with shame of being weakling.”
At this, for the first time in his life, Ranma managed to respond in the absolutely best possible way to a highly charged emotional statement from a member of the opposite sex. He’d done the reverse often enough that maybe he was due a break.
“A weakling?! YOU?!” he said incredulously, then laughed. “Yeah, right!”
She just looked at him at first, then managed to get out, “But Shampoo even admit to Akane she is weakling.”
“No, you didn’t. You said she was the better fighter. And I guess we know she can beat you in a fight the way she is now. But that ain’t the same as strength. If losing half your soul and all your heart is what it takes to be strong, then call me a weakling too.” Ranma paused, then said, “But you’d better smile when you say it.”
At this she did smile. “Thank you again.” Reluctantly, she let go of him.
Ranma wandered over to where the rock had once been. He idly picked up a stick and dropped it into the vertical shaft that was there now. It took several seconds before he heard it hit bottom. “Pretty impressive for someone who was calling herself a weakling. Guess actions speak louder than words, huh?”
“Is special Amazon technique. Good way to let out anger.”
“How’s it work?” She ought to have known that seeing a new technique would excite him.
“Concentrate all battle aura into weapon for one critical strike. Not good use in fight, though, except life or death.” Then she considered how often Ranma seemed to run into people out for his blood. “You want Shampoo teach it to you?”
“Yeah, that’d be great!” Ranma responded, glad that the touchy-feely part of the conversation was over. “I bet I’ll have it down in three days, tops!”
Same old Ranma. She smiled at his bravado. “Not this time. Amazons train with same weapons many years, make weapons like part of own body. Ranma first have to do that, before technique work. What weapon is you best at?”
Ranma considered. “The bo, I guess, but I really prefer unarmed.”
“That why you not have down in three days, tops,” she teased him. “Since Shampoo teach you, you help Shampoo build up speed and master Kachuu Tenshin Amaguriken?”
“Sure. By the way, what’s this new technique called?”
She told him.
After a few seconds, Ranma replied, “I have GOT to hear the story behind that.”
“Is not much to tell. Two thousand year ago live greatest Amazon warrior ever. She make up more than half of secret techniques, like Splitting Cat Hair and Fist of Ice Bear. This first one she make up— she only twelve at time.” Shampoo shrugged. “That mean she also twelve when she name technique. We keep name, but is only move where not shout out name of attack before using.”
Ranma started to smile. “Now that’s too bad.”
She was surprised. “Why that?”
He was positively grinning now. “Can you imagine Ryoga’s reaction if I shouted that in the middle of a fight with him?”
She tried, and began to smile herself, then to giggle. Soon they were both laughing as hard as she’d cried earlier.
Shampoo checked the time. It would still be fifteen minutes before school got out, and at least another twenty after that before she could expect Ranma to leave Nerima and get to the forest outskirts where they had trained during the last two days. ‘<I've really got to stop showing up early like this,>’ she thought to herself. Then, with a shock, she saw Ranma coming. She held her pocket watch up to her ear. Nope, it was still ticking. A glance at the angle of the sun confirmed it— he really had gotten there early to meet her.
‘Crud,’ thought Ranma upon seeing her smile and wave. The previous night, he'd had an idea about a new way to approach the technique he was trying to learn, and he'd wanted to try it out before she got there (so as not to look bad if it failed). What the heck was Shampoo doing here so early anyway?
Training out in the middle of nowhere had been a little inconvenient, but he supposed he could understand when she said she'd rather not meet in the park again, and that anyway when they were practicing secret Amazon techniques they shouldn't let anyone not connected to the tribe watch and maybe learn them too. It seemed to Ranma that there was a flaw in her logic somewhere, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it.
“Nihao, Ranma! You cut class to get here early?”
Ranma smiled, remembering why he'd been able to leave when he did. “Nope. You're gonna love this… today at noon the principal announced that this year, finals were off. That made today the last day of class and he let us out after the assembly anyway.” Ranma grinned broadly. “For some reason, he kept lookin’ straight at me with puppy-dog eyes and putting one hand on his topknot while he said it.”
Shampoo laughed merrily. “That give us more time to train. You is getting better with bo, Ranma, but you has long way to go before it part of you.”
“Don't remind me,” he groaned. Shampoo with her bonbori could beat him easily if he limited his attack and defense to bo routines— much more easily than he could beat her if both were unarmed. It was thinking about this annoying fact that had given him his inspiration last night. “Shampoo— you said that to focus all my battle aura into a weapon, it has to be like an extension of me. Well, has anyone ever tried just using their fist instead of a weapon?”
The Amazon blinked at that, then wondered. She couldn't remember hearing anything about that, and told him so.
“Well, I thought I might just try and modify the technique from a weapon strike to a punch.” Ranma seated himself near a large boulder and concentrated.
‘<I wonder if that will work,>’ thought Shampoo. ‘<If anyone can do it, it's Ranma.>’ Then she thought of something. No matter how hard she trained with her bonbori, no matter how much they came to be like a part of her, there was still a bit of a gap, and her great-grandmother had told her that would always be the case. She wondered— if Ranma did manage to use his fist to perform the technique, would there be any different result for him than if he'd managed to master it with the bo?
After clearing his mind, and telling himself he didn't care if it didn't work the first time, Ranma summoned as large a battle aura as he could without intense emotion to boost it. He imagined all the power flowing into his fist—
Shampoo's eyes widened as the battle aura seemed to disappear, and Ranma's fist began to radiate concentrated chi energy—
Ranma surged to his feet. “GOLDEN BIRD HOLY FLOWER DRAGON TOOTH GLORY PUNCH!” he yelled, and smashed his fist into the boulder.
The two just stood and stared in awe. Where once there had been an unremarkable stretch of woods, there was now a twisted melee of wreckage. Ranma had expected the boulder to take some serious damage, and it had. In fact, it had been transformed into shrapnel moving outward away from his fist at just under the speed of sound. This had shattered dozens of tree trunks near ground level— the trees had caused further damage as they fell. He surveyed the carnage, and couldn't think of anything to say.
His companion could, though. “Aiyah, Ranma. If Greenpeace find out, you in big trouble.”
The Amazon grinned at the still-stunned look on his face. “Many time someone try to learn one of secret techniques but attack is too strong for them. This first time student is too strong for technique.”
One week later…
Shampoo took a deep breath and regarded the fire before her. “KANSHU TENCHIN AMAGURIKEN!” Her hands flashed out, faster than a normal eye could follow. Finishing, she looked up at Ranma in triumph, then opened her unburned hands to reveal the chestnuts she’d plucked from the flames. “You speed training work great, Ranma.” This was an understatement. In less than a week, her quickness had increased by over seventy-five percent.
“It did, didn’t it. I guess the old man wasn’t just handin’ me a line all those years after all.” Ranma hadn’t really expected his first idea to work, but it had. For the last several days, both of them would skip breakfast and meet for training around lunchtime. The picnic lunch Shampoo would bring would be just enough to satisfy two normal people’s hunger, but if she wanted any of it she had to get it before Ranma ate it all. Faced with that kind of motivation, she quickly found reserves of speed she’d never tapped before. Their lunches became even more chaotic than breakfast at the Tendo’s had been.
“Shampoo was sure today would be day to master technique, Ranma, so I bring something to celebrate.” She walked over to her backpack and took out a brightly wrapped package. She handed it to Ranma, saying, “Shampoo bet you like.”
Tentatively, Ranma removed the wrapping paper and opened the box. Inside was… a scroll? It looked ancient, and in pretty good condition, although there were a few water spots on it that obscured some words. However, there was one problem. “Um, Shampoo, I can’t read Chinese.”
“Silly Ranma, Shampoo know that. Look under.”
He lifted the scroll carefully, and found a sheet of modern paper covered with Shampoo’s handwriting— the translation. Idly, he wondered how long it had taken her to translate since her Japanese still wasn’t great, then took a good look at what the scroll actually said. “Is this for real?!”
The scroll described a special attack technique. Two years ago, Ranma wouldn’t have believed it was possible, but after seeing some of the things Cologne and Happosai could do, he was prepared to accept that it might be. The description promised that whoever mastered it would be able to manipulate air currents to strike their foe from afar, or blow them off balance or even into the sky. “Where’d you get this?”
“Shampoo buy at yard sale last week. Take much time to translate. What you think of ‘Wind Strike’ for technique name, Ranma? No can read original name on scroll— too much damage.”
“That’s fine, I guess. So you gonna show me this new move?”
“I not know it yet. Maybe we learn together?”
“Sure.” Ranma grinned at her. “I’ll have it down in three days, tops.”
However, this once he was wrong. Without anyone to demonstrate the technique, and because they had to guess at a few words that were illegible, it was a full week before Ranma was able to use the Wind Strike. Shampoo managed it the day after he did, and the two of them began working from competence toward mastery.
The amount of time his son was spending with someone other than his rightful fiancée was really beginning to grate on Genma. One morning not long after Ranma had succeeded in using his newest technique, he decided to confront him.
“Boy, it’s time you stopped this charade of dating Shampoo. It’s obviously not going to shock Akane out of her condition. I have a better idea for something traumatic anyway.”
“Pop, don’t start. It ain’t like I’ve even actually been dating her. All we do is train.”
“Is that right. That must be why I’ve seen such a huge improvement in your skills lately.” Genma said sarcastically. “Listen, up, boy, I— OOOMPH!” The rest of his sentence was cut off as Ranma launched a medium-powered Wind Strike into his father’s ample stomach, then followed up with a gust that knocked him into the koi pond.
“Were you saying something, Pop? Speak up, I can’t hear you!” taunted Ranma. Then he thought of something and became a little more serious. “There was something I meant to tell you, though. All those years when you stole food off my plate unless I was fast enough to prevent it, and told me it was a training exercise to teach me speed, I thought it was a crock of bull. But I finally found out it was true- that same method built Shampoo’s speed to the point where she could do the Chestnut Fist. Anyway, thanks, Pop— you do have good ideas every now and then.” ‘Like once a decade,’ he finished in his mind.
Genma-panda was surprised. The excuse he’d given Ranma had turned out to be true? He supposed it was due to his own greatness at martial arts that he could train someone without even trying.
“Anyway,” his son continued, “we haven’t seen Akane with her focus out in the open yet, so it’s too soon to give up on the plan. And I don’t wanna hear any complaints about who I practice with from someone who accepted Happosai as their master.”
At last. Cologne looked down at the scroll she had requested be sent from Joketsuzoku. Her memory had been correct— it detailed the location of a nearby oracle, and gave instructions on how to activate it. The scroll warned that the oracle might not answer, but if it did its message was certain to be true. She could only hope that an answer on how to break Akane’s focus would be granted.
The month that had passed since Akane first attained Ice mastery had been hard on everyone. Shampoo was still brooding about her defeat and about the fact that Cologne had flatly refused her permission to challenge Akane with her new skills. The Tendo family was more strained than they had ever been before, but the worst of all was Ranma. Both Akane’s father and his own seemed to expect him to whip some miracle out of his back pocket and return the youngest Tendo to her old self. This stress, compounded by the strain of watching an Akane so different from the one he’d known for nearly two years, not to mention the loss of his oldest friend, was really only relieved for Ranma when he and Shampoo trained together. She’d kept her word (though he never knew how hard it was) and refrained from pushing him at all about engagements or the future.
Now that there was a good chance to change things, the ancient Amazon wasted no time in contacting the Tendos and arranging for a day trip to the cave. It turned out to be easy enough to prevent Akane from going— when her father told her it was a vacation, she had no interest in accompanying the family, choosing instead to remain at the dojo and practice a new kata.
It only took a few hours to get to the cave. Nabiki looked around nervously as they entered it. Although she would rather lose a bet than admit it, she was very afraid of bats. Fortunately for her, none showed up as the group proceeded down the tunnel and into a large, open space. What she saw there would have made her forget about rats with wings even if one had been clinging to her hair.
The walls of the cave were decorated with arcane symbols. Large statues stood in each corner. Nabiki’s mercenary instincts told her that yes, that was real, 24-karat gold, and yes, those were real gems. Diamonds and emeralds to be precise. She practically began to drool, and Cologne noticed this.
“Don’t even think about it, Nabiki Tendo. Despoiling this place would be the last mistake you ever made. The spirit that speaks through here is a jealous one— all this is here to appease it. Lay one finger on the finery and your soul will be devoured.” Cologne knew it wouldn’t actually go that far, but she figured it was better to have Nabiki overcautious than not quite cautious enough. The Tendos had enough trouble without their middle daughter getting an amnesia curse.
Cologne spoke to the group at large. “I will now begin the ritual to contact the oracular spirit. I require silence from all of you until I say otherwise.” She lit a nearby brazier, and put some incense on it. Once the smoke was curling up, she began to intone the words to make contact. The elder spoke in Mandarin, since the instructions she had received from home had only had that version of the incantation. It was a pity that this would cause her answer, if one even came, to be in Mandarin as well, but there was nothing to be done about it.
Suddenly everyone in the room felt the hairs on the backs of their necks stir. It was clear that they were being observed— Cologne had succeeded in gaining the notice of the spirit. The ancient one then asked her question: “<What is the most certain way to destroy Akane Tendo’s focus and free her from the Heart of Ice?>”
A whispering voice replied at length, then fell silent. The fire in the brazier went out, and the sensation of another presence faded. Out of the corner of his eye, Genma noted that Shampoo was standing as if turned to stone.
“Well?! What did it say?!!” Patience had never been Soun Tendo’s strongest trait.
Cologne looked at the rest of the group with an unreadable expression on her face. “I am sorry, but the oracle declined to answer our question. I warned you it might happen. Why it felt the need to say so at such length is beyond me.”
“But honored elder Cologne… that isn’t true at all!”
Cologne turned in shock and fixed her stare completely on the speaker… Kasumi.
The oldest Tendo daughter flushed a little as all eyes riveted on her. She continued apologetically, “I don’t speak Mandarin that well, but I understand it if it is spoken. The spirit did give a solution to Akane’s problem, and guaranteed that it would work if we used it.”
A grim smile flashed across Genma’s face. “I knew it. I knew my idea would work.” He turned to Soun. “What other reason would they have to conceal the oracle’s response like that? And did you see how Shampoo tensed up when it spoke?”
“You’re absolutely right, my friend. We’ll hold the ceremony as soon as we get back to the dojo. I shouldn’t have been such an old maid about it. It’s about time anyway.”
Something in the last few sentences made Ranma’s hair stand on end. “Just what are you guys talkin’ about, Pop? What idea?”
“Simple, boy, we need a traumatic event that isn’t faked. No one said it had to be a bad type of traumatic event. When we get home, you and Akane will be married.”
“M-m-m-married? To that monster?!” Ranma’s shock prevented him from thinking clearly about what the likely result of saying that would be, and sure enough, the cave was instantly filled with the demon-head of an angry Soun Tendo.
“MY LITTLE GIRL IS NOT A MONSTER! AND SHE’LL COME BACK TO NORMAL AS SOON AS SHE’S SHOCKED OUT OF HER CURRENT STATE! DON’T ARGUE WITH ME, SON, THIS IS THE WAY IT’S GOING TO BE!”
“Father… that’s not what the oracle said.”
“What?!” The confusion was enough to return Soun to normal. Ranma peeled himself off the wall he had been backed into.
Kasumi took a deep breath. She was beginning to regret saying anything, but after all, lying was Not Nice. “The oracle said, ‘Her fiancé’s lifeblood will break Akane free.’ It suggested that Ranma go to Akane and tell her that he could not live with the shame he had inflicted on her, and ask her to be his second as he commits seppuku. The oracle guaranteed that she would use her focus-katana to give the mercy stroke, and that once she did, it would shatter.”
Shampoo paused, and looked up at the night sky. She considered how tightly packed the stars were, and yet in a way each was alone. Her expression firmed. She’d not accept that fate for herself. The Amazon continued on her way to the dojo. As she neared it, a silhouette on the rooftop caught her eye. So Ranma wasn’t inside being given stupid advice by stupid people, she thought. ‘<He might want to be alone with his thoughts, but too bad.>’ Shampoo began to stealthily climb one of the trees adjacent to the dojo. She made it to the rooftop without Ranma noticing her. His gaze was intent on something in his hands.
“Airen.” He’d really been lost to the world— her voice caught him totally by surprise. He whirled to face her, and Shampoo’s heart skipped a beat. She only caught a glimpse of whatever he’d been studying so intently before he tucked it into his shirt, but it appeared to be long, and shiny… and sharp. She decided not to mention it for now.
“That’s the first time you’ve called me that in a long time, Shampoo.” His voice was a shadow of its usual self.
“Sorry. Forgot for moment about promise to not push you.” She took a deep breath. “Ranma… you listen to Shampoo, please?” He gestured for her to continue.
“You thinking honor mean you has to do it, right?” She waited.
A long pause, then a nod. Shampoo knew him too well.
“Now you listen, Ranma. Is maybe okay to die in battle. Sometime you has to risk everything to win prize. But not like this. Oracle not say there no other way. You do this, you is giving up. You will lose for first time. And this mean you never win again.” The tears nearly began to flow then, but she fought them off. This was too important— Ranma had to hear her and understand what she was saying. “You think die make everything all right? You think nothing too big to break Akane out of Heart of Ice? You is wrong, Ranma. You life not just belong to you. Everybody you know would be hurt if you gone. What right you have make them pay that price to bring Akane back?”
She paused, trying to judge if anything was getting through to him. He just looked at her expressionlessly. “Then you also has to think about Akane. If you break Heart of Ice, she get all feelings back. And first sight she see is you body, and first memory she have is she one responsible. What you think happen then?” she demanded of him.
A long pause. “Those are good arguments, Shampoo. Better than any I came up with, but they don’t change anything.” Ranma laughed bitterly. “The truth is I’d already realized I couldn’t do it. Not because of the things you said. They’re true and I’d like to say that’s why I decided what I did. But the truth is I’m afraid. Afraid to die. The great Ranma Saotome has finally found something he won’t let honor push him into. I may have risked my life for Akane before, but I can’t do this. There’s not enough left in my heart for her. And throwin’ away my honor like this is the worst pain I’ve ever felt.”
“Ranma, you say you agree with Shampoo. How you lose honor if doing what stupid oracle say not help Akane anyway? You really think she recover if she cause you death?”
“No, it’s not that. I said you were right. I also said I decided without thinkin’ it through as much as you did. In my mind, the choice was to help Akane or not. And I turned away.”
This made a little more sense. It also annoyed her— if she’d gotten here earlier, Ranma wouldn’t be obsessing about his honor. Then she began to worry. Was he really being serious with her, or was he just telling her what she wanted to hear? She decided to push a little.
“Then if you mind made up, you show Shampoo what you was looking at before.”
“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Shampoo allowed a large amount of steel to creep into her voice. “What you hide under shirt when Shampoo get here. I serious, Ranma.”
Slowly, Ranma nodded as if he realized what she thought. He removed from its concealment the one secret he’d kept from everyone, even Nabiki, and held it out to her.
‘<A piece of mirror?>’ The Amazon had been certain it was a dagger. She took it and looked at it. Not only was it not a tanto, it didn’t even have a point or cutting edge— someone had done an unskilled job of shaping plaster around the sides of the piece of glass. “What so special about this? Why you look so hard at it, Ranma?”
“You’ve seen that before, Shampoo. ’Course, it wasn’t broken then. That’s a piece of your great-grandmother’s time-travel mirror.” He’d found it outside the dojo two days after the mirror had been shattered. What happened when he picked it up was one of his more vivid memories. “The magic’s broken too, but sometimes that fragment will let me see the future— or what could be the future. It let me avoid one of Kodachi’s traps once. Trouble is, it almost never works.” And tonight had been no exception. The mirror had done nothing but reflect his face.
“Too bad it not work tonight. Then you see for own self that idea of dying for Akane not do anything for honor.” She handed the shard back to him. As his hand touched it, before hers could release it, the fragment began to glow.
‘Great timing,’ thought Ranma sarcastically. All sensation faded, and suddenly he realized why Kuno’s description of his experience had sounded familiar. It was much the same as how the mirror provided its insights. Ranma felt himself reduced to a bodiless awareness floating in a void, just like the three previous times the magic had worked.
Wait, something was different. Then he realized what it was. He wasn’t alone in the void— somehow he could sense another individual near him. ‘Must be Shampoo,’ he thought correctly. ‘Hope this doesn’t freak her out too bad.’ He tried to speak to her, but that’s hard to do without a mouth. The void trembled, then began to shift into a vision of what might be.
With a sick feeling of emptiness, Ranma looked down on the newly-visible scene. It was peaceful enough, but peace was the last thing he felt as he looked down on a recent grave… which the headstone indicated was his own. ‘NO!’ his soul screamed. ‘I WILL NOT DO THIS!’ Then something about the inscription on the stone caught his eye. Looking closer, he realized that there was no way that this was the grave of someone who had committed seppuku. The message on the stone didn’t really tell him what had happened, but it was clear enough on that point.
Further thoughts on the matter broke off as Ranma noticed someone approaching the grave. Shampoo! She was carrying a huge bouquet of white roses, although there was one red thorny one mixed in. Her long lavender hair was unbound, for the first time he had ever seen. There was a look of peace on her face, which hurt Ranma more than he would have thought possible. Didn’t she care that he was gone?
She knelt down at the grave and began speaking softly. “Sorry it take me so long, Airen. Great-grandmother hard to give slip to. But you not alone now.” The Amazon drew the single red flower out of the bouquet, laying the rest against the headstone. She produced a vial of some dark liquid from out of nowhere and poured its contents over the rose’s stem. Then, as what was happening finally dawned on Ranma, she clasped the stem tightly between both hands. Time seemed to slow down as a few drops of blood fell to the earth below. Almost immediately Shampoo’s breathing became labored. “I… come…” she whispered, then collapsed over his grave. As the vision faded, Ranma saw her exhale her final breath.
She had a body again. She was back on the rooftop. Her fingers were still touching the mirror fragment, as were Ranma’s. It hadn’t really happened. Shampoo took a deep breath, and met Ranma’s gaze. No question about it, he was the other she had sensed beside her, witnessing the vision. The pain in his eyes was too great for any other explanation.
“Ranma… where you go, Shampoo follow. I not leave you alone. I not let you leave me alone.” Promise or no promise, he was going to know how she felt.
“I won’t.” It was barely a whisper. “I won’t leave you alone, Shampoo.”
Ranma was surprised at how quickly the pain dulled after that. It helped that the thought of losing the heir to the Anything Goes School and ending the Saotome line forever shocked Genma and Soun into finally giving him some peace. Any expectations they still had for him, they kept to themselves.
The sight of Akane also didn’t hurt as much anymore. Ranma came to realize that he’d been slowly letting go of her as the memories of the girl he’d once known were overridden by the coldness of this new changeling. The night on the rooftop with Shampoo had finished the process much more quickly than was comfortable, but it was an ending and, as such, brought some relief.
Ranma and Shampoo continued to train together, but more and more often they did other things as well. He took her out for ice cream at the very shop she had crashed into so long ago, when she’d finally caught up with him in Japan. He didn’t realize it until the proprietor presented them the bill for their ice cream… and damages plus interest accumulated over a two-year period. Ranma was more than a little impressed when Shampoo didn’t flinch at the total— she just apologized, and sent the bill to the Nekohanten. They competed in a martial arts couples tournament, and won first prize. Sometimes they just talked, at first to help Shampoo polish her Japanese, then because they found common ground where neither had expected it. Ranma soon discovered that his crisis of honor had had an almost exact parallel in Shampoo’s life— when she admitted that Akane was the better fighter, she’d felt as if she had betrayed all her Amazon heritage just to save herself from a beating.
Shampoo came to understand Ranma’s feelings of lost honor a little better when he pointed out the connection to her. She had seen her admission of the truth as dishonorable; Ranma had seen his decision not to die in the same way. They’d both been wrong, though— to do the wrong thing for what you thought were the right reasons was idiocy. Each needed the other’s perspective, but they saw it at last.
The late summer sunlight beat down on Ryoga’s head. Silently he cursed the loss of his umbrella to the pack of javelinas the other day. He smiled grimly. He might be fated to turn into a pig, but that was one group of wild porkers that wouldn’t give him or anyone else any more grief. Too bad he couldn’t bring himself to eat pork— they would have provided enough food for a long time.
Thinking of this reminded him of how hungry he was. Ryoga decided to stop and forage for lunch. For the first time in a few hours, he took note of his surroundings. ‘Where’d all the trees and brush go?’ he thought blankly. Somehow the forest of the Yucatan (not that he’d known that was where he was) had been replaced by civilization. And what was even better, the couple passing him by on the street were speaking in Japanese!
“Oh, Akane! I’ve been traveling so long, with only the memory of your smile to sustain me! Now that I’ve made it back to Japan, I swear I’ll find you and tell you how I feel!”
“Well, hello Ryoga!”
The lost boy halted his soliloquy, turned, and looked in the direction the voice had come from. Yes, it was Kasumi, not five feet away, and yes, she was standing in the door of the one place Ryoga longed to call home— the Tendo Dojo.
“Is… is Akane in?” Ryoga inquired nervously once he’d finished the bowl of rice Kasumi had pressed on him.
“She’s in the dojo, practicing. I think it would be nice for her to see an old friend like you, Ryoga.” Kasumi gave her trademark sweet-but-not-quite-in-touch-with-reality smile.
“R-really?!” Ryoga got up and headed for the closet. “In that case, I’ll go say hello!”
With Kasumi’s help, he managed to find his way to the dojo without passing through Sri Lanka. Ryoga paused in the doorway, and admired the graceful figure Akane cut as she glided through a kata. He sighed longingly. She seemed even more beautiful than he remembered. As the kata ended, Ryoga nervously cleared his throat. “H- hi, Akane! Long time no see!”
Akane had been aware of his presence for the entire time, but had paid no special attention to him. Once she actually turned and looked at him, her ability to detect the flows of energy kicked in. Something was… not right with Ryoga’s aura. She looked more closely. A suspicion formed in her mind. Ignoring the lost boy’s nervous babble, she concentrated and began lowering the air temperature.
When Ryoga’s breath began to steam, he finally noticed something was wrong. But it was too late. The temperature change caused water vapor in the air to condense into a cold mist, and the secret he’d kept so long from the love of his life was a secret no longer.
It was over.
Ryoga wandered the streets in a daze. His mind struggled to comprehend what had just happened. Akane had looked at him with no trace of kindness or sympathy for his curse. She had held a katana to his throat and said that if she ever saw him again, in either form, he would die.
It was over.
How could all his dreams have shattered so quickly? How could the sun even be shining at a time like this?
It was over.
How could Akane have changed so greatly?
He knew in his heart that the girl he remembered wouldn’t treat someone like this. Against that fact was the inescapable reality that she just had. Ryoga tried to make sense of it all, tried desperately to understand before the numbness could wear off and leave him incapable of even irrational thought. He came to the conclusion that something terrible must have happened to change her so greatly… and then, as a blazing fury began to mount in him, that Ranma must be the cause. And that was when he saw Ranma and Shampoo walking along ahead of him, hand in hand.
“BAKUSAI TENKETSU!” Ryoga’s tortured scream was the only warning they got as he dove between them and smashed his finger down into the pavement. The explosion flung Ranma and Shampoo in opposite directions. Ranma managed to roll with the blast and come up more or less unaffected. Shampoo, who wasn’t used to being attacked out of the blue, wasn’t so lucky. She slammed into the wall of a nearby building, momentarily causing her vision to double. Seeing two of Ranma wasn’t so bad, she thought dreamily.
“All right, you jerk! I have HAD it with you coming out of nowhere and attacking me!!” Ranma was especially irritated to see Ryoga today, since just that morning he had remarked to Shampoo how long it had been since the lost boy had put in an appearance.
“Shut up.” Ryoga said in an almost conversational tone- one completely at odds with the rage in his earlier battle cry. Little warning bells started to go off in Ranma’s head. His oldest rival continued, “I understand it all now. I understand what happened to Akane to change her like this. You’ve betrayed her for the last time, Ranma. Your evil ends here and now.”
Ryoga’s aura began to glow black. ‘He’s powering up for a Shi Shi Hokodan blast,’ thought Ranma. He prepared to dodge, noticing with some concern that Ryoga was building up more depression-fueled chi energy than ever before. He was grateful that his opponent was facing away from Shampoo.
The distinct, familiar sensation of Ryoga’s battle aura shocked the Amazon out of her daze. ‘<Not again… NOT AGAIN!>’ She realized that the blast had thrown her too far away to get to Ryoga before he launched his attack…
Ryoga let the power build even farther. He knew what would happen when he released it, but he didn’t care. Nothing mattered anymore except that Ranma pay. “KAMIKAZE-“
With desperate skill, Shampoo engaged the Wind Strike-
A pencil-thin bar of wind with the consistency of steel launched itself at Ryoga-
And struck him on the infamous Takahashi Instant Unconsciousness Back-of-the-Neck Pressure Point. He collapsed to the ground, unable to finish the attack.
‘Wow, that was impressive,’ thought Ranma. His mastery of the technique she’d used allowed him to sense wind currents. This made it obvious just what Shampoo had done. He was a little annoyed that she’d interfered, and especially that she’d attacked from behind like that, but after all, Ryoga didn’t deserve much better. Come to think of it, Ryoga had just attacked from behind and without warning. Ranma decided he wasn’t annoyed after all.
His thoughts were cut off by a tremendous blast of wind. The gale lifted Ryoga like a straw doll and flung him over to Shampoo, who was standing with a look of intense fury on her face. Before Ranma could recover enough to say anything, she whipped a green bottle labeled 110 from its hiding place in her hair, dumped the entire contents onto Ryoga’s head, and began frantically lathering. In less than two seconds, she finished, dumping a pail of water on his head (somehow without triggering his curse— Ranma eventually found out that she had enough control to rinse out the hair without getting the scalp wet). She looked down at Ryoga’s unconscious form, spat something in Chinese, then launched herself at Ranma. He barely had enough presence of mind to catch her as she began crying uncontrollably.
By now Ranma was truly confused. ‘Surely she didn’t think that jerk could beat me?’ he thought while gently stroking her hair to calm her down. Eventually her sobs quieted and she quit trembling.
“Shampoo… why’d you react like that?” He was worried about just what she’d done to Ryoga, but figured he’d ease into that question.
Her improved Japanese deserted her due to the stress of the recent events. “H-he about to kill Airen.” She noticed his expression of disbelief. “Shampoo serious. He use f-fi-final form of attack. Is call K-Kamikaze Shi Shi Hokodan. Use all life to make attack.”
“You mean Ryoga would have… died to get off one super shot?!” Ranma couldn’t believe it at first. Then he remembered what Ryoga had said about Akane changing and realized that if Pig-Boy didn’t get the whole story, but just encountered the new Akane, it would be completely in character for the lost one to blame his rival for the change.
“No. N-not shot. Kamikaze is explosion out all around— no way to dodge. You would have die, Ranma. Shampoo too.” Her expression firmed, and she grew calmer. “Never again, though. I take all his memory of technique. He never remember how to use attack again, and never relearn. Use whole bottle to make sure… not even 119 shampoo bring back from that.”
“Is that… all you erased?” Ranma asked tentatively. She responded with a nod. He hesitated, then said, “You’ve seen that version of the attack before, haven’t you.”
“Yes,” she whispered. “It take Sha— my father’s life.”
Ranma couldn’t even move as she related the tale. Her mother had been as beautiful as she was, the most precious flower in the Amazon village in her day. However, she was not a warrior— Shampoo got all her combat prowess from her father.
“He like you, Ranma, born with great gift for fighting. He also honorable, and kind, and brave, and caring. Lot like you. He not shoot off mouth all the time, though.”
In fact, her father was the strongest fighter of their generation in the village. Not even any of the female warriors could defeat him, which was almost unheard of given the Amazon tendency to breed strong women. He could have had any of them as brides, but he chose only the beautiful, gentle girl whose smile caught his heart.
“Many men would have like to have mother as wife, but they smart enough not to challenge father. Except one.”
There was one man who wouldn’t just give up without a fight. Even after the girl who would be Shampoo’s mother told him that she loved her other suitor, he still hoped to change her mind. He challenged the other to a duel.
“He have less chance against father than Kuno against you. Duel last less than minute. Father not go easy— he hope that rival learn he not have chance and give up. And it work… sort of.”
The defeated one said his goodbyes and left the village, seeking to increase his skill. He knew that he could never have the woman he loved, and the dream of eventually surpassing her chosen husband in skill brought some cold comfort. Besides, watching them together would be too painful.
“He not come back for long time. Nearly ten year. When he do, he not find good news waiting.”
Shampoo had been born only a year after the wedding. The birth had been a difficult one— her mother was not a strong woman, and she was a large child. Her mother recovered, but the next time she conceived, she carried twins. It would not go so well.
“He find out m-mother die in childbirth. He blame father and challenge to duel.”
Shampoo was eight years old at the time. She barely remembered her mother. But to her father, the pain of losing her and the twins had not faded. Being blamed for the death of his beloved wife evoked more fury in him than anyone had ever seen before… or would again. He accepted the challenge, and beat his opponent to within an inch of his life.
“Memory stay with Shampoo forever. He lie there, broken and beaten, and he smile up at father. And use Kamikaze Shi Shi Hokodan.”
Ranma looked down at the girl in his arms. “I’m so sorry,” he managed to get out.
“Now I understand what mirror show us, Ranma.” She was calmer now. Telling him all that had brought a comfort she hadn’t expected. “You promised not to kill self, and I believed you. But that is not only way to die. What if I not here today? Then that is future that would have take place.”
He usually tried to avoid thinking about that nightmare vision as much as possible, but he realized she was right. It made even more sense than she’d said— it was partly the vision itself that had pulled him closer to her and caused them to spend more time together, thus preventing it from coming true.
Closer to her… Ranma looked at Shampoo, and something finally became clear to him. “But you were here,” he said, choosing his words with care, “and… and I want you to be here for good.” He paused— he’d tried to say this once before, when she was under the curse of the reversal jewel and treating him coldly. The words hadn’t come then, when he’d just wanted her to be nice to him again, but now they seemed the most natural thing in the world to say.
“Wo ai ni.”
Several hours later…
Ranma paused at the door of the dojo. He glanced at Shampoo. “They ain’t gonna like this, you know. Pop and Mr. Tendo might get pretty offensive.”
She just grinned at him. “They could spit in my face and I not care. Heart is too full of joy, Ranma. I stay with you and we tell them together.”
Ranma smiled grimly. “They won’t go that far. One thing they’ve got plenty of is a sense of self-preservation.” He cracked his knuckles.
They’d decided to start by telling Genma and the Tendos of their decision. As Ranma put it, “I know the old gh— uh, I mean, your great-grandmother’s gonna be happy, so we might as well get the worst over with first.” When they got back to the Tendo household, Kasumi informed them that her father and his were watching Akane practice katas.
Taking a deep breath, Ranma and his fiancée entered the dojo.
Akane flashed through a new kata, one she had developed herself. It involved sword blows as well as kicks and punches. A blade that could disappear and reappear instantly was very helpful in executing the patterns. She noticed Ranma and Shampoo enter the dojo and beckon for her father and Mr. Saotome to follow them back outside. She continued the exercise, apparently oblivious, but increased the keenness of her hearing to the point where their conversation would be easily understood.
“What is it, boy?” growled Genma. He tried to put up a brave face, but contrary to all readers’ expectations, both he and Soun had seen this coming. They were tired of fighting a losing battle anyway, and were desperate not to drive off the one remaining heir to the Anything Goes School.
“Pop, I’ll make this short and sweet. When you engaged me to Ukyo, and took off with her dowry, you invalidated any previous engagements you’d made for me. She let me off the hook, but that don’t put things back the way they were.” Ranma was grateful to Shampoo for suggesting this line of attack. He continued, “So I don’t want to hear any more about honor demanding I marry a Tendo daughter. It ain’t gonna happen. Shampoo is the one for me.” He decided to wait and see what the response would be before saying anything else. To say the least, it wasn’t what he expected.
Genma heaved a long and bitter sigh. “We will accept this and give you our blessing… under one condition. Shampoo must take an oath that this is truly your decision, not the result of a love potion or trick, and that your children will be trained in the Anything Goes style as well as the Amazon.”
“Thank you,” Shampoo whispered. This was going so much better than she’d dared hope. “I glad to give that oath. Come to Nekohanten and we get Great-Grandmother witness— Amazon no can lie to Amazon elder.” The others knew this was true— Soun had had Nabiki research Amazon customs in the past to try and find a loophole to get rid of Shampoo. That had failed, but he knew from the research that she was telling the truth now.
As the four left, Akane’s kata came to its conclusion with a series of triple katana thrusts. It was invisible to her eyes, but had anyone else looked closely at her sword, they would have seen a deep crack where the blade met the hilt.
The next two weeks seemed to Ranma to fly by. More than once he woke up in a cold sweat, wondering why he’d agreed to holding the ceremony so soon. Then he would remember Shampoo’s face when he’d said yes, and would calm down. She’d finally be able to return to her village in triumph and see the sisters she missed so much. And the two of them would be able to go to Jusenkyo on their honeymoon and finally get rid of their curses. Ranma found it made him less nervous to concentrate on those reasons for having the wedding soon rather than his own sense of anticipation. He just wished the Saotome fear of commitment would back off. His father assured him that the wedding night would take care of that.
For Shampoo, of course, the two weeks seemed more like two years. They planned to hold a simple Amazon ceremony— the only attendants would be Ranma’s father and as many of the Tendos as chose to come. Thus there were no elaborate preparations to take up her time (other than borrowing some 110 shampoo from her great-grandmother and finally putting an end to the menace of Kodachi Kuno), but at least she got to be with Ranma without worrying that anyone was going to show up and take him away.
The day of the wedding dawned bright and fair. Genma and all four Tendos were on their way to the Nekohanten, where the ceremony would be held. No one quite had the courage to ask Akane why she had chosen to attend. In fact, they were reluctant to talk to her at all, but there was one matter that needed to be brought up. Kasumi and Nabiki tried to approach it subtly.
“Goodness, I feel so unladylike carrying this pair of nunchaku through the streets like this. It certainly is an odd custom, deliberately bringing weapons to a wedding just so we can leave them at the door,” Kasumi remarked, glancing at Akane.
“Don’t complain, Sis. At least you’re not lugging this gigantic battle-ax.” It was almost as big as Nabiki herself. “Yes, that definitely is a strange Amazon custom, deliberately bringing weapons to a wedding just so we can leave them at the door.” She glanced at Akane, who was the only one NOT carrying a weapon.
“You can stop the oh-so-subtle hints whenever you get tired of talking. I have every intention of following the custom. I simply see no reason to parade through the streets with my weapon.” This remark by the youngest Tendo effectively killed the conversation.
They made it to the Nekohanten without any more talking. Nabiki dropped the battle-ax with an audible sigh of relief, then winced at the sight of the gouge it left in the floor. She hoped she wouldn’t be asked to pay for that. The others followed suit, placing the nunchaku, a bo, and a flail in a pile around the axe. Last was Akane, who brought forth her katana and laid it on top of the other weapons.
The wedding invitation had given a description of what to expect. There was not much in the way of elaborate detail— this particular ceremony was for the joining of warriors. As such, both Ranma and Shampoo were garbed in fighting clothes, although they were of much higher quality than either would choose to wear to a fight. The two of them were the only ones allowed to carry weapons. Ranma had his bo at his side— he had continued that training with Shampoo and now could use it at least as well as Kuno had ever wielded a bokken. Shampoo, of course, had her bonbori.
Cologne began the ceremony by speaking at length in Mandarin, invoking the blessing of the spirits that watched over the Amazons and declaring that with this marriage, Shampoo’s honor was restored in full. Privately, the elder felt that was pointless, as Shampoo would have discarded every scrap of honor she possessed in a heartbeat if that had been what it took to be with Ranma. Still, there was a form that needed to be followed. Concluding that portion of the procedure, she switched to Japanese.
“As warriors who are joining your lives together, you must dedicate yourselves to strengthening and supporting one another. The enemies of one will be the enemies of both. From this moment forward, each of you will always have the other to guard her or his back. To do this requires trust in each other. If you trust your chosen with all your life, and with all your honor, signify this by exchanging your weapons.”
Ranma gave his bo to Shampoo. He was certain that the shaking of his hands must be noticeable from where the witnesses sat. She took it, and passed her bonbori to Ranma. He managed not to drop them as he sat them down at his side, where the bo had rested at first. ‘It ain’t fair— she should be at least a LITTLE nervous,’ he thought wryly. He sneaked a glance at her face. Nope, no trepidation to be seen. Nothing there but joy.
Cologne continued. “As maiden and man who are joining your lives together, what was once two shall now become one. Shampoo, if you are willing to end the old, the separation of your life apart, and begin the new, the oneness of your life shared, remove the ribbon from your hair.”
Shampoo reached up and removed the snow-white ribbon she had bound in her hair. Her hand did tremble a little now, as she held it out to Ranma.
“Ranma, if you are willing to end the old, the separation of your life apart, and begin the new, the oneness of your life shared, take the ribbon from Shampoo and tie your wrists together.”
He took the ribbon, thankful that his hands were no longer shaking. Taking Shampoo’s right hand in his left, Ranma looped the cord into the ceremonial pattern with his free hand, binding their wrists and their lives together.
Cologne breathed a deep sigh of relief and happiness at finally seeing her great-granddaughter’s future shine so brightly. “You are now wife and husband. Ranma, you are now a full member of the Amazon tribe, and my son-in-law in truth.” She paused, then grinned. “What are you waiting for, sonny boy? Kiss her already!”
For a moment, all Ranma could do was look into his new bride’s eyes. He was sure he didn’t deserve for things to turn out so well. Sending up a silent prayer of thanks, he slowly leaned forward, and their lips met.
The snap and tinkle of breaking metal filled the air. Ranma didn’t really notice it, and Shampoo certainly didn’t, but everyone else turned and looked at the door… where there was one less weapon in the pile. And then a new sound drew even the newlywed couple’s attention.
Akane was weeping.
Ryoga stumbled. For a moment, he wondered whether it was even worth his while to get back up. These moments seemed to be increasing in frequency. Eventually, though, his pride as a martial artist forced him to get to his feet— there was no way Ryoga Hibiki was just going to lie down and die in the middle of the desert.
Wait a minute… if he was in a desert, why were the buzzards speaking in Japanese?
Once again, as soon as Ryoga actually stopped and looked at his surroundings, he found that he was nowhere near where he had been the last time he’d checked. This was a quiet street in a neighborhood that seemed vaguely familiar. Ryoga looked over his shoulder, and froze. To his left was the one place he’d sworn never to return to— the Tendo Dojo.
Ryoga didn’t fear for his life if he saw Akane again. That, he could lose to her and not really mind. But he knew that he could never bear to see her look on him so coldly again. There were worse things than death. He stood immobile, then one thought took up the entirety of his mind. He had to get AWAY!
Ryoga spun, and charged ahead blindly… right through the Tendo front door.
With a tremendous crash, Ryoga collided with Dr Tofu, who was just leaving. Since Kasumi had smiled at him, Dr Tofu was completely lost to the world. His glasses were fogged up. His head was in the clouds. Nothing short of an atom bomb dropped on him would have been able to get through to him at that point, and this was the reason that Ryoga, instead of running over the doctor without even noticing him, bounced off like a normal person would a brick wall.
Ryoga tried desperately to recover from the impact. There was a tremendous ringing in his ears, and everything was black. Then he realized why everything was black, and opened his eyes… just in time to see Akane come in to answer the phone.
A strange calmness flooded the lost boy. This would end it all. He was so tired of the pain, anyway… oh no, she was taking it even worse than last time. Akane was crying at the sight of him! She was on her knees! She was… begging his forgiveness?!
Ryoga felt more stunned now than he ever had before. Not even in the middle of a nightmare where Akane was married to Happosai had he been this out of balance. He could barely focus on what Akane was telling him as they sat in the living room, but all he really needed to hear was that she didn’t hate him anymore.
It took a few repetitions, but Akane finally got most of the story across to him. She explained in detail what the Heart of Ice had done to her. The only thing she left out was how she’d been set free, though she did mention it was Ranma’s doing.
“…So, can you ever forgive me for hurting you so badly, Ryoga?” she asked tearfully.
“ME forgive YOU?! Akane, there’s nothing to forgive! I’m the one who should be on my knees begging your forgiveness for how I deceived you!” Ryoga swallowed— something jagged seemed to be caught in his throat. “Please— don’t cry anymore. I can’t bear to see it.”
She smiled at him. A weak and trembling smile, but it was the first in a long time. “Just so you know I don’t hate you.” She looked down at her hands. “I don’t have any hate or anger left in me anyway. Life’s too short, and too precious. I just w-wish I’d… learned it sooner.” Thinking now about Ranma, and how she’d effectively gift-wrapped him and given him to Shampoo as a wedding present. “I could really use a friend right now, Ryoga… try not to get lost again too soon, okay?”
“I-I’ll try. Maybe you could get a collar for me with a homing device in it?” It was a weak joke, but she still smiled at it.
“Actually, I think you might look kinda silly in a collar in a little while. Please wait right here?”
Akane left, and shortly returned carrying a massive tub of hot water. Ryoga gaped, wondering how she could manage the load without straining, then remembered she’d said something about the Heart of Ice allowing her to condition her body in ways that lasted past the ending of the technique’s hold on her. She set it down and gestured for him to get in. Nervously, and wondering where this was going, Ryoga complied.
Akane gave him a sad smile. “Not everything about the Heart of Ice was terrible, Ryoga. I learned to see the mystic lines of energy that surround everything. That was how I realized you were cursed.” She picked up a glass of cold water. “And it was how I knew this would work.” She dumped the contents on his head.
Ryoga felt the familiar beginning of his curse change…
…but he was in hot water, which meant normal form…
…but he’d been hit with cold water, which meant cursed form…
…but he couldn’t change…
…but he had to…
…but… he… couldn’t……
…the stress built and built, then suddenly was gone…
Ryoga stood in the yard and poured cold water over himself for the next few hours, and not once in that time did his grin fade at the fact that HE DIDN’T CHANGE INTO A PIG.
“I’m glad I was able to help you like this, Ryoga.” Akane looked wistfully off into the distance. “Maybe everything turned out for the best. I just wish it didn’t have to hurt so much.” All in all, though, she knew she’d rather have the pain than the emptiness.
“I guess Ranma’s probably pretty happy to be cured of his curse, right?” Ryoga was wondering why his rival hadn’t shown up yet. He’d been here since morning, and it was nearly suppertime.
“Probably so.” Akane took a deep breath. It was so hard to let go. “I’m sure he and Sh-Shampoo made it to Jusenkyo a long time ago. On their h-honey… moon.”
Ryoga considered that sentence, then did the only thing he could do. He passed out.
Shampoo snuggled a little closer to Ranma. His hand began gently tracing up and down her back. It was about time for a break, she decided, but there was one law he just HAD to read first.
Not until Shampoo began teaching Ranma her language did she finally figure out why learning his had been so hard. She had never bothered to try to THINK in Japanese! Chinese was much more familiar, after all. After realizing this, she felt like a fool for not seeing it before. She figured it was because Ranma had always been too… distracting. She could be forgiven for not thinking clearly when he was around, the Amazon decided.
Talking together in Chinese was one good way for Ranma to practice, but at her great-grandmother’s suggestion, she was now relying more on helping him read the books of Amazon tribal law. This gave him experience in thinking in her language, and in six months he had definitely progressed beyond the level of expertise she’d had with Japanese after a similar time period. He would have been even farther along, but they never seemed able to read more than a few of the laws together before something more enjoyable would beckon.
Like now. It took all her willpower to tell him to hold off until he’d read the next law. Had it been ANY other law, Shampoo wouldn’t have even thought of doing so. But she’d been waiting for him to get to this one ever since they started the project.
Ranma heaved an exaggerated sigh of disappointment and settled for putting his arm around her. He decided to get through the next law as quickly as possible. Reading them had been an interesting experience… a lot of things that seemed absolutely nuts when he first heard about them from Shampoo actually made sense when he read about them. The books of the law that they were using were a special, extended version that never left the village. Not only were the laws explained in detail, but the reasons behind them and the historical events that led to their forming were also set down.
One thing that he had wondered about for a long time had been explained already— since the first encounter with Ling-Ling and Lung-Lung, he’d been aware that it was allowable for one man to have multiple Amazon brides, but each Amazon could only have one husband. Given the matriarchal nature of the tribe, this seemed to be a serious inconsistency, but the law explained that it was because it was important to know one’s bloodline. One woman with multiple husbands might have a hard time being sure just which was the father of which child. Ranma had asked his wife whether, if the technology to do parentage tests reached the village of the Joketsuzoku, that law would ever change. She told him that it probably would not— laws didn’t usually change very quickly unless there was a pressing need for it.
Ranma began reading the next law, wishing it were one of the shorter ones. About three-quarters of the way through the translation, the meaning of what he was reading actually got through to him. He stopped, and re-read carefully, making sure he’d gotten it right. Then, unable to believe his eyes, he read the whole thing again. He turned to Shampoo, his eyes as big as saucers.
She grinned impishly at him. “<Now you see why I wanted you to read one more law before we did something else, husband.>”
The gist of the law was as follows: “Outsiders may be included into the Amazon tribe only upon proving their worthiness for the honor. For a man to accomplish this, he must first defeat an Amazon in fair combat. When he does so, he becomes her husband-to-be, and the worth of his spirit becomes hers to determine. Should the Amazon decide he is unworthy, she must train until her skills improve to the point where she can defeat him in combat and free herself from her obligation. In this way the tribe is strengthened even without the addition of a new male.
“The inclusion of a woman is more complicated. She must also defeat an Amazon warrior in combat, and in so doing demonstrate that she possesses exceptional fighting skill. However, she must also demonstrate to her potential sisters that she has exceptional fighting spirit. To test this, the defeated Amazon must give the victorious outsider a kiss and explain that it represents a death threat.
“The response of the victor to this threat determines whether she will be included into the tribe. If she stands her ground and faces her opponent, she passes the test and is immediately welcomed as a new sister. However, should she flee, she proves that she is a coward, and the one who was defeated by her must reclaim the honor she lost upon losing to one unworthy. In that event, the defeated Amazon must chase her enemy to the ends of the earth, force her to admit to her cowardice, then defeat her in combat. The Amazon must then bind her enemy to her service for one year. At the end of that time, the coward’s transgression will be considered paid for, and she will be allowed to go in peace… after use of the Xi Fang Gao ensures she will never reveal the truth of the Kiss of Death.
“It is imperative that the true nature of the Kiss never be allowed to become common knowledge, for then the test would become no test at all. Therefore, the truth of this matter must not be spoken of outside the village, even among Amazon sisters.”
To say that Ranma was shocked at this would be putting it lightly. “WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME?!” he demanded, forgetting that he was only supposed to speak in Chinese during these sessions.
Shampoo just smiled at him— she knew he was more stunned than mad. “How many laws you expect me to break for you, Ranma? It says right there this is big secret. Beside, you should have figured out for yourself something was up that time I shot fifteen arrows into your backpack without hit you once.”
“Umm… it was a big backpack?” Ranma protested weakly.
“Then what about the time I gave Akane a Kiss of Death and only took her memory? And even saved her from fall once? Or what about when I gave the Kiss to own sisters? Or—”
Ranma knew this was an argument he wouldn’t win, so he settled for a draw by kissing her.
Sarissa looked around as her brother entered the room. She gave him a grimace that, in dim light and to an observer who’d left his glasses in his other suit, might have passed for a welcoming smile. Then she turned her attention back to the mirror in front of her.
Unlike his sister, Shakujo seemed to be deriving a bit of grim amusement from the images reflected there. “Not one of your better plans, sister.”
Sarissa whirled, rage twisting her features. “It SHOULD have worked!” she snarled. “If Saotome had only TOLD Kuonji what was wrong with the Tendo filth!”
“Yes, yes, if Ukyo knew of the Heart of Ice when she learned exactly how her father died she would have assumed it was the work of the world’s newest Ice master. She would have come ravening back to Nerima, seeking Akane’s blood. Not a chance in the world that she could defeat her, but you didn’t need that. You just needed a certain someone to believe that Akane was guilty of murder.” Shakujo shrugged. “I’m not saying it didn’t have a certain elegance to it, sister, but you should have seen for yourself how many things could go wrong with such an elaborate plan.”
“Rub it in, why don’t you?” she growled bitterly. “All I managed to do was write a happy ending for Ranma.” She gave a truly revolted grimace, peeling her lips back and exposing inch-long fangs. “The mortal I despise above all save Akane Tendo, and I manage to fix things so he finds true love with an AMAZON! I don’t dare try to punish him any further for his actions. Lin Xiu would burn me to ash in a heartbeat.”
“On the positive side, he and the Amazons are no longer active players in Nerima. That does give you a certain leeway that you didn’t have before.”
Sarissa sighed, and a little of the tension left her. “True enough,” she replied. She turned then and regarded the mirror again. It was showing a number of different scenes, none of which included her reflection. She focused her will, and one scene expanded to fill the glass.
The Oni stared with naked hatred at the image of Akane, leading Ryoga to school. “This isn’t over yet, Tendo,” she muttered grimly. “I’ll tear out your heart before I let you steal my birthright.”
Author’s notes: Undoubtedly, some of the people who read this are going to be upset with how I treated Akane, thinking that she would never do the things I listed. If that’s you, please reread the description of the Heart of Ice— it wasn’t Akane doing those things, just a piece of her. Probably a relatively small piece at that. We’ve all got darkness in us (hmmm… that makes me wonder- what would Kasumi under the Heart of Ice be like? Would it even be possible, or would it just be matter/antimatter- mutually exclusive? Anyone want to write that story?), and if all else were suppressed, the result wouldn’t be pretty. Just be glad that since Akane’s temper is also a weakness, it was one of the things removed.
I also expect that some will say I treated Shampoo WAY too sympathetically. Personally, I think that I did a good job of explaining the various contradictions about her, and the Amazons in general. Someone who’s been raised to believe herself superior to all outsiders can be excused for taking a while to realize it’s not true, especially given the Amazon emphasis on the way of the warrior in combination with the fact that Shampoo IS the best female fighter of her age in Nerima (as far as I can tell, at least).
An explanation for the Kiss of Death is needed, I think, whether you like Shampoo and the Amazons in general or not. The fact remains that Shampoo never did even hurt Ranma-chan while chasing her across China for the supposed purpose of ending her life. The fact also remains that Shampoo gave Akane a Kiss of Death and then, when she could have killed or crippled her, merely removed her memory of Ranma. Finally, and perhaps most tellingly, is the fact that Cologne witnessed Akane defeat Ling-Ling and Lung-Lung (in season 4 of the anime), and said nothing about them giving her a Kiss of Death, or about following through on the one they’d already given her. Of course, given my explanation, that would mean Akane is already an Amazon, since she received a Kiss of Death without running, and defeated not one but two Amazons in combat. I suppose Cologne just neglected to mention that to her.
I added the last section to resolve what was, to my mind, the weakest point in the story. Specifically, the amazing coincidental removal of Ukyo from Nerima at just the same time as Akane ceases to be a viable choice for Ranma. No coincidence at all as it turns out.
Anyway, I had fun writing this. I hope you had fun reading it. If you’d like to drop me some criticism (positive or negative), or beg for a sequel, you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Other stories are on the way— just don’t expect one where Akane gets Ranma. There’s enough of those out there already.
p.s. this probably should have gone in the disclaimer section, but the “Golden Bird Holy Flower Dragon Tooth Glory Punch” is from the PSX RPG Suikoden II.
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