A Ranma ½ fanfic
Disclaimer: the Ranmaverse characters owned by Rumiko Takahashi, and all that obligatory stuff. This story based on the anime, not the manga. Also, there’s an extremely condensed version of The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle (which is an excellent story, even if it doesn’t have a traditional happy ending). Lyrics from the poem ‘Invictus’ also used without permission.
Words in [brackets] indicate spoken English.
Chapter 4: Death of a Dream
The crash of thunder resounded, drawing Kodachi’s attention away from the chessboard to the window. She shivered a little. Her reaction distracted Ranma from plotting his next move. "Dachi? What’s wrong?"
The White Rose gave a semi-embarrassed smile. "Nothing, really. It’s just easy to imagine that demons are prowling abroad on a night like this. And being out here in the midst of a forest, it’s a lot easier to credit such things than it would be back in the city, surrounded by civilization."
"Ah, don’t let your imagination run away with you. Pop and me spent more time camping out in the middle of nowhere than we did in cities. And so far, all the crazy stuff has happened in Nerima." Ranma considered that, then amended, "Well, all the Japanese crazy stuff, anyway."
"Besides, most self-respecting creatures of the shadow prefer a calm, foggy night in the dark of the moon to do their prowling, not a storm like this," Godai reassured his daughter.
"Still, I hope this bad weather doesn’t linger too long," Hitome said. "It would be a shame if our vacation were ruined."
The Kunos and Ranma had just begun a week-long trip to a secluded cabin the family maintained in the mountains near Nerima. This would cause the children to miss some classes, but they were all doing well enough (even Ranma, since Kodachi had motivated him to try his hardest) that Godai and Hitome didn’t think it would hurt. Tatewaki had invited Nabiki, but she had been unable to come.
Another, even louder crash of thunder shook the cabin (well, to the Kunos it was a cabin. To most people, it would have been considered a dream home). Kodachi deliberately began to look more nervous than she felt. Maybe Ranma would offer to comfort her…
"Hey, Dachi, come on. If you let yourself get distracted like this it ain’t even gonna be any fun to beat you. It’s already too late for it to be a challenge."
This remark washed her pose away like a wave on a sand drawing. "In your dreams, Ranma-kun."
Forty-five grueling minutes later, Kodachi announced, "Checkmate."
Ranma scowled at the board. Oh, well, you win some, you lose some. Then he grinned up at the White Rose. "You don’t look like you’re too worried about the storm anymore, Dachi."
Kodachi resisted the urge to tell him that THAT wasn’t how she’d wanted him to take her mind off things.
Less than a mile away, a charred boulder rested at the base of a cliff. A cave, uncovered for the first time in a decade, stared out from the face of the rock like the eye socket of a skull.
Inside, Happosai shook off the trance state that had allowed him to survive ten years without food, water, fresh air, or women’s undergarments. He smiled. After that little nap he’d taken, there would be a whole generation of pretty ladies who’d never had the pleasure of meeting him. And he couldn’t wait to see what great advances had been made in the field of lingerie. Yes, it was good to be alive.
And by now, Ranma must have grown into a young man. Happosai sighed wistfully. He remembered the sheer potential he’d sensed in Genma’s young son. That was why he’d told Genma he’d take over the boy’s training himself once the lad was old enough. The ancient master snorted. That fat fool had probably filled the boy’s head full of nonsense. Happosai would just have to correct whatever failings his father had passed on to Ranma. After all, the Anything Goes school he’d founded had a certain image to live up to…
There could be no doubt about it. Genma was being punished for some transgression committed in a previous life.
The elder Saotome was certain this was the case. He couldn’t think of anything he’d done in this existence to warrant such suffering, after all.
The week since Happosai’s return to the Tendo Dojo had been the longest of Genma’s life. Fortunately for himself and Soun, their groveling skills had returned almost immediately. This had deflected much of the Master’s ire when he learned that Genma had let the heir to the Anything Goes school slip away, but Happosai was still not a happy camper. He’d gone to the Kuno mansion to find Ranma, only to learn that the inhabitants were vacationing in the forest. Since Happosai had no intention of leaving the city, or more accurately the supply of lovely young ladies, he contented himself with forcing Genma and Soun to come along on his panty raids while Ranma wasn’t available.
Genma groaned in spirit. He knew from first-hand experience how unwise it was to resist the Master. How could Ranma ever turn out to be a man among men once that old lecher got his claws into his son? The desire to keep Happosai away from their children had been the only thing that had given Soun and Genma the courage to dare to try to get him out of the picture.
"Genma! You worthless excuse for a disciple! Go and buy me some tobacco. And don’t be all day about it… girls’ gym class starts in forty-five minutes at Furinkan!" Happosai glowered at his student, but inwardly he felt much more like smiling. This certainly beat resting in suspended animation in some dark hole in a mountain. And in just three more days, when his unsuspecting new pupil arrived back in town, things were only going to get better.
Ranma focused about one-tenth of his attention on his teacher’s lecture. The rest of his mind was busy designing a new kata. This trick of Kuno’s had helped him immeasurably in his schoolwork- now that he wasn’t so mind-numbingly bored in class all the time, he was able to stay awake and learn.
Of course, it was always harder to get back into the daily grind of school on a Monday, and even worse after a week of freedom. He hadn’t realized just how much he’d missed being out in a natural setting until he spent that week with the Kunos at their cabin. He’d even slept out under the stars most nights, grateful that the first evening’s thunderstorm had been the only occurrence of bad weather.
Nobody had been ready for the vacation to be over (except Tatewaki, as he was getting anxious to spend time with Nabiki again), but all good things must come to an end. They’d gotten back quite late the previous night. As a result, everyone had overslept. Ranma had made it to school on time, but he’d had to run at top speed the whole way. He suspected Kuno was probably stuck doing bucket duty.
Ranma’s thoughts were interrupted by a swishing sound. He glanced down to see a piece of paper folded into the shape of a shuriken embed itself in his desktop. He removed it, unfolded it, and read, "Nabiki needs to see you. -Minami". He looked over at the author of the note, who sat clear on the opposite side of the classroom from him, and wondered just who had come up with Martial Arts Note-Passing anyway.
It had been more than a little surprising to find that this new classroom was just as full of weirdoes as his first one had been. There was Taruka, presumably the only 125-pound sumo wrestler in the world. There were three girls named Sakura, who were completely identical as far as anyone else could tell, yet supposedly unrelated to one another. And Ranma had heard that at the beginning of the school year, there had been a boy who claimed that someone had reset the world, whatever that was supposed to mean.
When he’d returned to Furinkan after the infamous Rhythmic Gymnastics match, Ranma hadn’t been looking forward to having class with Akane again. It had come as a pleasant surprise, therefore, to find that in his absence Nabiki had pulled some strings and gotten him transferred into another class. Of course, she’d done it more for her sister’s sake than his own, but he was grateful all the same. Although some of his new teachers were even more boring than the old ones.
And his current sensei seemed to be trying to set a world’s record for dullness. By now Ranma had given up on the lecture. He’d heard enough to realize that this was material that the textbook covered, so he’d just make sure to read it later. Instead, he amused himself by trying to figure out why Nabiki wanted to see him. Probably wanted him to set up another match with Tatewaki, Ranma decided. The students never did get tired of watching two world-class martial artists in their sparring contests. Ranma usually won, but there was the occasional draw, and it was never an easy battle. Even with the prices Nabiki charged for tickets, nobody ever complained about not getting their money’s worth.
A commotion in the hallway interrupted the teacher’s lecture. Shouts of "What a haul, what a haul!" and "Give us back our swimsuits!" could clearly be heard over the thundering sound of running feet. For no apparent reason, Ranma felt a chill run down his spine.
The bell rang, and almost immediately the halls were filled with hordes of students, pushing and shoving, fighting to get to the lunch lady before all the good stuff was gone. Ranma shook his head, grateful that the Kuno servants provided him with a box lunch. He usually ate alone, since the St Hebereke lunch break was at a different time from Furinkan’s, and the way the other students stared and drooled whenever they saw him chow down on cold lobster or French cuisine tended to put him off his appetite a little.
Today, though, he’d join Nabiki and Tatewaki. Ranma walked through the halls, which were considerably less crowded now. Sakura, Sakura, and Sakura were walking ahead in front of him, their conversation clearly audible.
"I can’t believe the nerve of that old guy!"
"How can anyone be so perverted?!"
"I’ve had to buy more lingerie this week than all last year!"
"It’s ridiculous that nobody’s doing anything about it."
"I heard Akane Tendo tried… she rounded up a big posse of girls to get rid of him, but he just gave them the slip after taking hers."
"That geezer is something else. How does he move so fast, anyway?"
"Maybe now that Ranma and Tatewaki are back, they can protect us."
"*Sigh* I sure wish that hunk Ranma didn’t already have a girlfriend."
"I know. Did I ever tell you about the dream I had about him?"
Ranma gulped, and tuned out the rest of the conversation. Sometimes it didn’t pay to walk so quietly nobody knew you were behind them. He wondered what they’d meant about some perverted old guy.
The hissed whisper came from a storage closet. The door was open just enough for Ranma to see Nabiki and Tatewaki inside. Nabiki was frantically gesturing for him to join them. He did so, and she shut the door so fast that there was a momentary smell of singed wood.
"What’s up, Nabiki?" Ranma didn’t like the grim look on her face.
Nabiki sighed. "Ranma, did you ever wonder why your father and mine are such pathetic wimps, why between them they almost have the moral fiber of one goat? Why they can tell right from left but not right from wrong?"
"Uh, no." Some things were just a given. The sky is blue. Water is wet. Genma can’t be trusted farther than Kasumi could throw him. You never really stop to ask why.
"Well, as far as I can tell it’s because of this monster they trained under. He put them through all kinds of hell during their younger days. The freak’s been gone for ten years, but he’s back now. And he’s making life not worth living at the Dojo."
"Whaddaya mean, a monster? Is he some kind of Oni?"
"No, he’s human." Nabiki hesitated, then added, "Probably. Look, imagine a male version of Shampoo’s great-grandmother. He’s the same size, just as old and wrinkled, and about as powerful from what I can see. And he’s the biggest pervert in the history of the universe, at least according to Daddy."
Now the conversation he’d overheard a few minutes previously was starting to make sense. "Has he been causing trouble here at school?"
"Yes," said Tatewaki grimly. "He regularly steals the girl’s undergarments and makes their lives miserable. Any girl who tries to stop him gets leered at or groped. Any boy who tries gets flattened like a pancake." He’d heard all the sordid details from Nabiki already, during their morning classes together.
"And it gets worse, Ranma." Nabiki gave him a grim stare. "This pervert is the founder of the Anything Goes school. And he considers you his heir. He’s planning to start training you personally."
"Hah! The day Ranma Saotome takes some old freak like that for a sensei is the day I stop being a man!"
"Interesting choice of words, my boy." The words had an odd, echoing sound to them. This was explained as the pail Tatewaki was sitting on suddenly shot up into the air, leaving the kendoist embedded in the ceiling and revealing a little old man in a maroon outfit. The ancient one smiled and lowered the pipe he’d used to propel Kuno skyward. He calmly lit it and began to puff.
Ranma glared at him. "Who are you?"
The diminutive master blew a smoke ring. "The name’s Happosai. Like Nabiki said, I’m the founder of the Anything Goes school. Your new sensei. And let me tell you something, Ranma, I’m not about to let you turn into as big a disappointment as Genma has."
For a second, Ranma felt a little sympathy for the figure in front of him. With his father as a pupil, no wonder the geezer was disappointed. Then Happosai continued. "Genma learned the lessons about scamming for free food and the like, but that’s only the first few steps along the road to greatness. He and Soun both completely resisted my attempts to help them develop a healthy interest in women’s underwear. I’m not about to let their sorry example spoil you, my boy. Consider this the beginning of your training regimen." His free hand whipped a water pistol from inside his clothing and squirted Ranma in the face.
As Ranma-chan sputtered inarticulate curses, Happosai’s eyes bulged to twice their normal dimensions. "Hotcha Mama! I knew you had a Nyaniichuan curse, boy, but nobody told me you had a body like that!" The pipe disappeared as if by magic, and Happosai launched himself in a purplish blur at Ranma-chan’s chest.
‘If I never have another day like this again, it’ll be too soon.’
That was the only extraneous thought Ranma allowed himself as he concentrated with all his might on sneaking away undetected after school. Since St Hebereke’s classes ended thirty minutes after Furinkan’s did, Ranma always met Kodachi at her school. The last thing he wanted to do was lead the old freak back to her.
Kodachi looked around as she exited the building. Ranma appeared to be late. Perhaps he was serving detention for being tardy to class that morning. Oh well, she’d just have to go to Furinkan and look for him…
"Pssst! Dachi!" The whisper from the bushes startled her. She looked closely, and could just make out her boyfriend’s form, shrouded in the shrubbery. The White Rose walked over to him.
"What is it, Ranma? Is something wrong?" Once she could see him clearly, she became a little worried. Ranma’s hair was disheveled, his clothes were wrinkled (and seemed to bear the evidence of numerous recent encounters with cold and hot water), and there was a wild gleam in his eyes.
Ranma laughed bitterly. "You could say that. Once again, one of Pop’s mistakes is coming back to haunt me." He went on to tell her the horror story that had been his day at school. The fights with Happosai. The multiple transformations. The indignity of fleeing while Happosai was busy with another posse of girls led by Akane. The youngest Tendo had hoped the old pervert was worn down enough that she could finish him off, though it hadn’t looked that way to Ranma as he’d made his exit. It went against his grain to run from a fight, but he’d worried that if he didn’t meet Kodachi at St Hebereke she’d probably come to Furinkan looking for him. The thought of Happosai targeting her was enough to bury his reluctance to beat a strategic retreat. Akane would just have to take her chances.
As Ranma finished his tale, Kodachi laid a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Don’t worry, Ranma-kun. If need be, you and I and Shampoo or my brother can gang up on him and teach him a lesson he won’t forget." Too bad it would have to be Tatewaki OR Shampoo, rather than both, but her brother was adamant about not giving the Amazon anything that could remotely be construed as encouragement. The White Rose consoled herself with the thought that surely three of them would be enough.
"I dunno, Dachi. I don’t want you to have to even meet this guy. He’s a real nightmare."
"Oh, come, Ranma. Surely he’s not THAT bad."
"Of course not. I’m just a sweet little old man. My ungrateful pupil is misrepresenting me, that’s all." Happosai faded into view on a tree branch behind Ranma, who whirled at the unexpected voice.
"STAY AWAY FROM HER!" the pig-tailed martial artist snarled, crackling with more battle aura than he had yet shown that day.
"I don’t think so!" Happosai sing-songed as he launched himself at Kodachi. He had to give the boy credit- Ranma’s lunging punch almost connected, but Happy flipped over it with a judicious twist of his pipe, and landed on a stunned Kodachi’s chest.
For a split second the ancient lecher’s face twisted in agony… then he fell unconscious to the ground.
Ranma and Kodachi looked at the diminutive figure sprawled on the dirt. After a minute of silence, in which Happosai didn’t even twitch, Ranma picked up the longest, sturdiest stick he could find. He used this to poke Happosai a few times.
"Ranma!" Kodachi protested. Her boyfriend got a defensive look on his face.
"Hey, when we fought today I got in one good shot that shoulda taken him out, and he just shrugged it off. I’m just checking to make sure he ain’t faking." Ranma allowed a note of awe to creep into his voice. "What exactly did you do to him?"
Kodachi looked worried. "Nothing. I was too surprised to react. I have no idea what happened to him, Ranma-kun." She chewed her lower lip apprehensively. "I think we should take him to a doctor." Pervert or no pervert, she didn’t want to be responsible for hurting him.
"Come on, Dachi, Nabiki told me this guy survived ten years in a cave without food or water. I say we make tracks while we still can." Ranma looked at the pleading expression in her eyes, and relented. "All right," he sighed, sliding the stick under Happosai’s top and hoisting the little lecher into the air. "Let’s take him to Dr Tofu."
Dr Tofu looked up from his examination. "His vital signs are weak but stable. As for any more detail… I’m sorry, but I’ve never seen anything like his condition. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go call someone who might be able to tell us something more." He left the room.
Kodachi looked at Happosai’s still-unconscious form, and sighed forlornly. Ranma regarded her closely. She looked like she was really feeling guilty. "Come on, Kodachi. Why are you beating yourself up like this?"
"Look at him, Ranma. It’s like he’s in a coma! I don’t want to be responsible for hurting someone that much!"
"I don’t see how you could be. You said yourself you didn’t do nothin’. He just passed out. And you didn’t see how he was running around at Furinkan today and fighting me. Probably just ran out of energy. Remember, this guy is OLD. I bet it ain’t even anything to do with you."
Kodachi shook her head. "I wish that were true, but you didn’t see his face. He… he was clearly in pain from touching me." She looked down as she said that last part.
By now Ranma had realized that she was taking this harder than seemed reasonable, even given her tender nature. "Dachi, there’s something you aren’t telling me."
After a long moment of silence, she responded. "Remember what I told you about my early years, Ranma-kun? How every little cut was a serious threat? I was so scared of hurting myself during those times. Once I finally was cured, though, everything changed. I couldn’t care less about injury to myself any longer. The knowledge that I’ll heal so quickly makes it seem meaningless.
"But the thought of really hurting someone else is something I can’t bear. It’s like the focus of my fear switched from myself to everyone else when I was healed. I suppose it was diluted by virtue of that, or I wouldn’t be able to participate in martial arts. Even so, I prefer to win matches by forcing my opponent to concede, or by forcing them out of the ring when that’s an option.
"And knowing that I may now be responsible for someone getting seriously hurt… even someone like him…" Kodachi’s voice trailed off as tears welled up in her eyes. Ranma put his arms around her and gave a reassuring hug. He didn’t know what to say, but she didn’t really need words from him just then anyway.
After a few minutes, Dr Tofu coughed apologetically. Ranma and Kodachi jumped a little, and ended the embrace. "Sorry about that, but I thought I should warn you that you might want to slip out now. Since Happosai is a guest of the Tendos, I called the dojo and told them about his collapse. Soun and your father will be here shortly, Ranma."
"Thank you, Dr Tofu, but I need to find out what has happened to the old man." Besides, it would be a cold day in one of the Burning Hells before Kodachi would allow Genma or Soun to intimidate her. "What specialist did you contact?"
Ranma and Kodachi turned to find Shampoo in the doorway. "Shampoo? You’re the one Dr Tofu called to figure out what’s wrong with the old freak?" Ranma asked incredulously.
A blow to the top of his head was the answer. Cologne touched down in front of him. "That would be me, sonny boy. You need to learn to pay better attention to your surroundings."
Ranma sighed. "Don’t start with me, granny, I’ve had a hard day."
Cologne just snorted at this, and turned her attention to the patient. Her eyes widened in shock. "H… Happy?" she whispered, then turned to Ranma. "Is his name Happosai?"
Ranma indicated this was in fact the case, and was somewhat unnerved to see the grim smile which slowly spread across her features. Cologne turned back to the diminutive pervert, and there was silence for some fifteen minutes as she examined him closely. Just as Ranma was beginning to wonder where the heck his father and Mr Tendo were, she turned back to the group.
"It’s no wonder you didn’t know what happened to this pathetic excuse for a martial artist. It’s a chi disorder that a nice young man like you would never have encountered, Dr Tofu. You see, Happy’s lechery is actually his source of power. He has the ability to siphon off chi from the women he targets, or even from their stolen lingerie. This is what keeps him going at such a remarkable pace." All those years ago, when she had first encountered him, she hadn’t understood what path he was walking down. Only in later years, as she’d learned more and more about the manipulation of chi, had she come to understand his behavior then. That Happy had taken an easy but corrupting route to power, not caring about the misery he’d inflict on women over the centuries, still grated on Cologne. There were much better ways to attain chi-mastery.
Kodachi saw where this was going. "So when he tried to drain my chi… he overloaded. Am I correct?" she asked quietly.
"You are indeed." Cologne was impressed at how quickly her great-granddaughter’s best friend made the connection. Not for the first time, she considered what an excellent Amazon Kodachi would have made.
"I see. And will he… recover?" Kodachi braced herself.
Cologne smiled. "He’ll be fine. This is actually the best thing that could have happened- his upper maximum limit of chi control has been permanently lowered. Within a few weeks, he’ll be back on his feet. But he’ll never be the terror he must have been prior to this."
It was a good thing that Shampoo had moved out of the doorway quite some time back, because at this point Soun and Genma, who had been eavesdropping in the corridor outside, raced in and prostrated themselves at Kodachi’s feet. Had the purple-haired one been in their path, they would have flattened her without even noticing.
"You don’t know what a great service you’ve done to the world!"
"I would be proud to call you my daughter!"
"Please forgive two foolish old men for their mistakes!"
In stereo: "I promise we’ll never try to separate you and Ranma again!!"
Kodachi just looked down in shock at the two crying, quivering martial artists in front of her. After a few minutes, as Soun’s and Genma’s tears began to make an inconveniently large puddle on the floor, Dr Tofu shooed everyone out of the clinic (except Cologne, who is remarkably hard to shoo). Soun and Genma quickly made their way to their favorite bar in order to get down to some serious celebration.
"HIII-YAHH!" Releasing her emotions in a primal scream, Akane slammed her fist into the training dummy, smashing it to kindling. Usually it took a number of blows before they would be destroyed, but after the humiliation of the afternoon her anger was operating at just about maximum capacity. Consequently, she was running in one-shot-one-kill mode. Akane looked grimly at the pile of splinters and scraps of cloth, and fetched another dummy. She’d just finished setting it up when Nabiki’s sardonic voice reached her.
"You don’t need to bother with that anymore, Akane."
Akane glared at her sister. "Why not? Because I’m not good enough to be an heir to the Anything Goes school?" she asked bitterly.
"Huh?!" It wasn’t often that anyone saw Nabiki truly flabbergasted. Akane might have enjoyed the sight if she hadn’t been in such a lousy mood. "What are you talking about, Sis?"
"I’m talking about how nobody takes me seriously! All I’ve heard from that old pervert is how he can’t wait to start training Ranma as the heir to the Anything Goes school. Like I’m not even there! And I might as well not be, whenever I try to stop his perversion he just humiliates me and dances away!"
Nabiki stared at her sister for a long moment. "Ohhhhhkay. Then you’re saying you want to be trained by Happosai?"
"Of course not!" Akane growled. "But that’s not the point! He treats me like a joke. And… and Daddy didn’t even stick up for me at all. Oh, no, it was just ‘Master, Ranma will be everything you hoped for in an heir.’ That, that was what really hurt." By now she wasn’t shouting anymore. Her voice was just barely above a whisper as she continued, "My own father doesn’t even believe in me."
Nabiki suppressed a wish that Kasumi was present. Even if she had gotten better with this touchy-feely stuff, she knew it still wasn’t her forte. "Akane," she said slowly, "I’ve got news for you. You really need to grow up and stop taking everything as a personal insult to you. I can’t believe you didn’t realize why Daddy was pushing Ranma as the Anything Goes heir, but let me spell it out." She took a deep breath. "Are you listening?"
Akane nodded. Nabiki repeated the question, but in a lower tone of voice. Akane nodded again, her confusion beginning to be tinged with annoyance. Nabiki lowered her voice to a stage whisper and asked yet again. Akane frowned, nodded, and leaned forward.
"HE WANTED TO KEEP THE OLD FREAK AWAY FROM YOU!!" Nabiki shouted at the top of her lungs. Akane flinched and jumped back, landing in the koi pond.
Nabiki rolled her eyes and gave her little sister a hand. "Honestly, Akane, you should have been able to figure that one out for yourself. Why the heck do you think Daddy has actually been training you personally again?" She pinned her sister with a piercing stare. "He’s proud of you, Sis. He knows you want to get better, and he wants to help you. Just because things got crazy with that old freak Happosai around doesn’t change how he really feels."
Akane stared at her sister with more hope than she’d felt in a week. "Really?" she asked. Then she remembered something. "Then why did you say I didn’t need to practise anymore?"
"There you go again, taking something somebody says the wrong way." Nabiki bit back the impulse to ask why she hadn’t learned her lesson about that from Ranma. She gestured at the target Akane had set up. Like the others she’d demolished that evening, it was about a quarter of the size of a standard training dummy… and wore a maroon outfit… and had a lustful leer scrawled across its face. "What I MEANT was that the old pervert shouldn’t be giving us any more trouble. You don’t need to smash any more effigies of him."
"Huh?!" Akane looked closely at her sister. Not even Nabiki at her worst would joke about something like that, she decided. "You mean it?" Then her face clouded a little. "Wait. Let me guess. This was the first day Ranma was back in town. He beat Happosai, right?"
Nabiki hesitated, but she knew Akane was bound to find out sooner or later. "’Fraid not, Sis. It was Kodachi. She fried the old lech with a chi attack, or so I heard from Dr Tofu, and from now on he won’t be nearly so tough. Even Daddy should be able to handle him now."
"Kodachi. Just wonderful." Akane looked down and sighed morosely. "Why can’t SHE lose once in a while?"
Shampoo spent the rest of the day with Kodachi and Ranma, returning to the Nekohanten late that evening. She still wasn’t sure why her great-grandmother had been pleased enough at Happosai’s infirmity to close the restaurant early. One thing Shampoo had gotten used to, though, was that her great-grandmother seldom gave explanations unless she wanted you to know her reasons, in which case she’d tell you without being asked.
"Great-Grandmother, I home!" she announced. Cologne was at a nearby table, balanced on her staff.
"Ah, Shampoo. Please, sit down."
Suppressing a twinge of anxiety, the Amazon maiden did so. "What you want, Great-Grandmother?"
"I wished to ask you what progress you’ve made in the last few weeks toward winning your Airen’s heart."
Shampoo sighed, and sat quietly.
After a minute had passed, Cologne glared and repeated the request.
"Shampoo already answer when she say nothing. There nothing to say." A tear slipped down her cheek. "Shampoo only see Tatewaki few times in last few weeks. Each time he treat Shampoo same as always… just like Lin Rei do."
Cologne sighed. The Amazon matron in question had never forgiven Shampoo for defeating her daughter effortlessly time after time. Many of the older generation had similar feelings toward the girl who’d beaten all their offspring without once suffering a defeat, but Lin Rei was far and away the most bitter, and therefore treated Shampoo with the most coldness.
Before Cologne could say anything, Shampoo burst out. "<Why, Great-Grandmother? Why wouldn’t he give me a chance? I know I made a mistake when I used the Xi Fang Gao on Nabiki, but it’s not like I hurt her or anything. And I even decided I’d be willing to share him with her. But nothing I ever did made any difference.>" Tears welled up in her eyes. "<What’s wrong with me? Why does he treat me like a monster?>"
Cologne reached out and gently stroked her great-granddaughter’s hair. "<Nothing is wrong with you, Shampoo. And Tatewaki doesn’t hate you.>"
"<Yes, he does,>" Shampoo said hopelessly.
"<Child, I would wager this restaurant against it. It’s not your fault he was so firmly attached to the Tendo girl before you came onto the scene. This is why he feels he must discourage you by treating you coldly. Remember, you have taken much the same path with someone else. I had hoped you would be able to win enough of his love that he’d accept both yourself and Nabiki, but I am nearly certain now that he isn’t open to the possibility of multiple wives. You must have learned by now that the Japanese have strange notions of honor.>"
"<And so for his honor, I will lose all mine,>" her great-granddaughter whispered, her face downcast.
"<No, that is not how this will end, Shampoo. I will not allow this outsider male to ruin your life.>" The ancient Amazon said this in a tone of rock-hard certainty, which caused Shampoo to look up, a question in her eyes.
Cologne smiled, and stretched out her arm… on which rested a golden bracelet with three luminescent pearls.
"Hey, Tachi, how do you feel about a trip to the beach?"
Kuno looked up from his reading to find Nabiki standing at his shoulder. This was surprising, to say the least, but surprises like that were more than welcome. "It sounds like a wonderful idea," he replied. "Last week wasn’t much of a vacation for me, since you weren’t able to come along."
Nabiki gave her best Cheshire-cat grin. "Glad to hear you say so. We’ll have to ditch our families as soon as we can."
"Eh, what?" How had other people suddenly become involved in their date?
Nabiki gestured to the window. Looking out, he realized he’d lost track of time. It was quite dark outside. "Tachi, it’s well past my curfew. Aren’t you in the least bit curious as to why I’m here, in the Kuno library with you, rather than at home?"
For a second Tatewaki looked puzzled, then the kendoist gulped loudly enough to be heard in the corridor outside. Nabiki thought back over her choice of words, blushed furiously, and quickly continued. "Daddy and Mr Saotome have already made a formal apology to your family, but they don’t think that’s enough to really show their gratitude for the way Kodachi took care of Happosai. So they came up with the idea of inviting your family on a trip to the beach this weekend. I came over to give you guys the news."
Tatewaki let out a breath he hadn’t even been aware he was holding. A mixture of relief and disappointment showed on his face. "I’ll be looking forward to it." Then a question he’d been meaning to ask her recurred to him. "Have they truly given up on their dream of wedding Ranma to a Tendo daughter? I’m certain he and Kodachi would like reassurance on that point before they commit to spending a day with your family."
"Let me put it to you this way. I had to argue long and hard before I convinced Mr Saotome that it wouldn’t be a good idea to try and arrange an engagement between Ranma and Kodachi. That panda just does not seem to grasp the concept of letting well enough alone. And Daddy was all for it too. He thinks that anyone who can defeat Happosai is a must-have addition to the Anything Goes school."
Tatewaki snorted. "Why am I not surprised. Oh well, at least they are acknowledging part of their debt to my sister."
"PART of their debt?" Nabiki asked curiously.
"The smaller part, at that," her boyfriend continued cryptically.
Nabiki glanced meaningfully at the clock. "Tachi, as much as I’d like to play twenty questions, Daddy is going to go nuts if I’m not back pretty soon. Could you just tell me straight out what you mean?"
"Well, ’Biki-chan, what do you think would have happened if they HAD succeeded in forcing Ranma and Akane to wed?"
Despite her need for speed, Nabiki let a minute slip by as she contemplated the possibility. "You know, I think I understand what you mean, Tachi," she said at last. "They were a pretty terrible matchup, weren’t they?"
"In my humble but accurate opinion, yes." He smiled, then said seriously, "Ranma has grown up without much comfort or tenderness. He needs someone like my sister, who will believe in him and support him. And Akane… at least for now, she is not going to be able to truly accept anyone who so far outstrips her in the area wherein she finds her self-worth."
"Martial arts," Nabiki said. "Ironic, isn’t it? Daddy and Mr Saotome picked Akane to be Ranma’s fiancée because they figured they’d have so much in common, what with their martial arts and all."
"I thought they picked Akane because… let’s see, how did Ranma describe it? Ah, yes… because you and Kasumi ‘bailed out faster than Genma from a diet’," her boyfriend commented dryly.
"Um, well, that too." Nabiki tried not to think about that too often these days. ‘I’d apologize to her, if mentioning Ranma wasn’t such a good way to get her in a bad mood.’ It was probably a good thing that Akane had already had plans for this weekend.
The late morning sunlight shimmered on the waves as they broke and curled on the beach. It bathed Kasumi in a gentle glow as she began setting up for lunch. It shone with extra strength on the panting panda on a nearby blanket. It danced around two girls, one with white hair, the other with red, as they made their way back from the volleyball area toward the main group of Tendos and Kunos.
Kodachi giggled. "I still say that was a dirty trick," Ranma-chan groused. "Puttin’ a chi charge into a volleyball so it explodes when your boyfriend tries to return it." The redhead still hadn’t noticed there was a scrap of the ball caught in her hair. Kodachi finally relented and plucked it out.
"Come, Ranma, you must let me have my minor victories. After all, your side did win rather handily."
"Well, yeah, that was pretty much a given. I mean, me and Tatewaki against you and Nabiki? We should’ve gotten Pop on our side and your mom on yours. That woulda made things a lot more even."
Kodachi pictured Genma-panda attempting to play volleyball, and broke out in peals of laughter. "I wish we had. I’d have sent that Blast Ball his way instead." She took a deep breath of the ocean air. Cursed form or no cursed form, Ranma-chan was quite conscious of the interesting things this did to her swimsuit. "It’s been too long since I’ve been to the seaside. Hard to credit though it is, Ranma-kun, I believe that your father and Mr Tendo actually had a good idea for once."
"Yeah, you’re right. Of course, the Tendos are the ones who REALLY needed the vacation. Think about what it musta been like for them, having to put up with the old freak for a solid week while we were in the mountains. It’ll be really good for them to have some time without any stress."
Kodachi and Ranma-chan turned in surprise to find Shampoo standing behind them, a ramen delivery box in hand. "Shampoo? Just how far out does your restaurant deliver anyway?" Ranma-chan asked incredulously.
Shampoo smiled at the redhead, although Kodachi noticed it seemed a little forced. "Silly Ranma, look over there." She pointed, and Ranma-chan and the White Rose saw that what had been a block of changing stalls when they’d first arrived at the beach had been retrofitted into a ramen take-out joint. Behind the counter, Cologne waved at the three. "Great-Grandmother thinking of opening franchise here at beach, so we come today, see how good business is."
"Quite a coincidence, that we should pick the same day for our vacation," Kodachi said dryly.
"Is good to see you. Is okay Shampoo join you for lunch?"
Kodachi hesitated, trying to think of the best way to respond. On the one hand, she wasn’t willing to disappoint her friend. On the other, she knew very well that Tatewaki wasn’t going to be happy if Shampoo joined their party. Over the past several days, her brother had had to work much harder than usual to avoid the Amazon, and the White Rose didn’t think Shampoo would enjoy the reception she would inevitably receive if she tried to horn in today on Tatewaki’s time with Nabiki. How to respond?
"Sure, if ya don’t mind waiting a while. Our family and the Tendos were gonna eat soon, but me and Dachi ain’t hungry yet. Why don’t you come by in an hour or so and the three of us can get some free ramen from your granny?" Ranma-chan tightened her stomach muscles to the consistency of steel as a growl threatened to escape and spoil the lie.
"Okay, that sound good. Shampoo see you at noon. Now must get back to delivery. Bye-bye!" Shampoo trotted off.
"Nice save, Ranma-kun," Kodachi said appreciatively.
The redhead sighed. "Back when she was chasin’ me across China, I never thought I’d ever feel so sorry for her," she said. "And I sure didn’t think she’d wind up as a friend. Someday I’d like to meet whoever came up with those stupid Amazon laws and give them a piece of my fist."
Upon finishing her latest delivery, Shampoo checked the time. Less than thirty minutes until she was to meet Ranma and Kodachi. She sat down behind a sand dune. Less than thirty minutes until her Airen would be hers.
Why didn’t she feel happy about that?
It was time to be honest with herself. Over the last few days, she’d told herself she was trying to catch Tatewaki in a situation that would give her a chance to use the pearls. And she’d tried… just hard enough to maintain the lie. He hadn’t had any real trouble avoiding her. And she hadn’t been bothered by that.
Shampoo looked down at the bracelet on her wrist. One pearl, the right pearl, and Tatewaki would never push her away again. He’d never choose Nabiki over her. He’d never look at her with anything other than devotion.
Why couldn’t she imagine it?
The Amazon tried to picture what her life would be like. What it would be like for Tatewaki to look at her like he looked at Nabiki. No, scratch that, after the pearl it would be like he’d previously looked at Nabiki, for her great-grandmother had told her that the magic of the pearls was absolute and exclusive. Anyone under their effects would love only the object of their magic-induced affections. After he swallowed the lifetime pearl, he’d never give a second thought to Nabiki.
She tried to see it, and failed. She just could not form a believable picture in her thoughts of a future together with Tatewaki. It had been too long and he’d been too consistently cold to her. Shampoo took a good look into her heart and realized there wasn’t even the slightest flicker of life in the ashes that had once been the fire of her love for her Airen.
But couldn’t she build something new, even if the old had gone? Tatewaki was still the same man she’d loved at first. He was still honorable, and handsome, and a warrior with the heart of a lion. He would still make a husband that would have every woman in the village even more jealous of her… Shampoo ground down on that image. This was NOT the time to think of anything that would distract her further.
What about Nabiki? Shampoo frowned. Why should she care? When had the sneaky girl ever given HER a chance? She’d been willing to share Tatewaki, but if Nabiki had even entertained the thought once, Shampoo would eat her bonbori.
But she did care, at least a little, the Amazon admitted glumly. Not about Nabiki per se, but about the idea of hurting someone else so much to get something for herself. Too much exposure to Kodachi, Shampoo decided. Her best friend’s compassion and belief in fair play had rubbed off on her more than she’d realized. She knew Kodachi would consider it dishonorable to use magic to take a man away from someone else, even if Shampoo’s Amazon heritage said otherwise.
Honor. What WAS the path of honor, anyway? And did she have the courage to take it, even if it went against everything she wanted?
At that thought, Shampoo blinked. Where had that come from? Her heart couldn’t be that set against this path. It wasn’t as if she hated Tatewaki, or was disgusted by the idea of spending her life with him. It was just that until now he’d been so cold to her. Once that changed, everything would be all right. Nabiki might be sad, but she’d get over it. Shampoo’s honor would be maintained. Everything would be fine. She’d love Tatewaki again once he was kind to her.
In a moment of clarity, the Amazon realized that she was trying to convince herself of something she didn’t believe. "<What’s wrong with me?>" Shampoo whispered. "<Why am I so confused?>"
It should have been an easy decision. It should have been no decision at all! Her honor as an Amazon was at stake here. Tatewaki was her Airen, she’d been given a choice and she’d made it, even if there really had been no choice at all, and that was that. But she wanted…
‘<What do I want?!>’ Shampoo thought desperately. It felt like there was something important just out of reach, some iceberg of revelation floating just beneath the surface of her consciousness. She reached out to it, trying to understand what was keeping her from the path she should take.
In her mind, a lock broke, and a door cracked open just a little, barely enough for her to see what had been slumbering on the other side. The door began to swing wider.
Shampoo began to tremble in horror… then threw everything she could into shutting it again. Amazon will collided with Amazon desire.
Eventually the former won, but Shampoo was left with the terrible knowledge that the door wasn’t locked anymore. And what was on the other side was now wide awake.
The irony of the situation forced a bitter laugh from Shampoo. Well, she now had ALL the motivation she needed to use the pearls on her Airen. Nabiki would just have to get over her loss.
And she’d just have to pray a devoted Tatewaki would be enough to put those other feelings back to sleep.
Kodachi looked up as a tell-tale flash of lavender drew her attention. "Shampoo’s early," she commented to Ranma.
"I knew Tatewaki was pushin’ his luck. He and Nabiki shoulda taken off five minutes ago."
A few blankets over, Tatewaki groaned as he realized the same thing. What good was it for Ranma to warn him if he didn’t act on the warning? But it had been too great a temptation to rest for just a few minutes more as he gave Kasumi’s wonderful food time to digest. Kuno hoped the Amazon wouldn’t try anything too embarrassing in front of this many people. Surely there were limits to even her brazen nature.
"Glad you came early, Shampoo, me and Dachi got hungry faster than we expected. Come on, let’s go get some grub from your granny." Ranma was a little disconcerted as the Amazon gave him a strange smile, then walked past him and Kodachi without saying anything.
For no apparent reason, Tatewaki felt a sudden thrill of fear run through him. He opened his mouth to ask Shampoo why she was looking at him like that…
Perfect. So quickly a normal person wouldn’t have even been able to see her fingers move, Shampoo plucked the pearls from the bracelet and tossed them at the target Kuno had been so gracious as to give her.
It was one of those moments that seem to want to hang frozen forever, when time appears to slow down to a crawl. To Shampoo, it was like the world was reduced to 1/10 its normal speed. The three pearls crawled toward her Airen’s open mouth.
Swish! Tatewaki’s bokken lashed out. It struck true, deflecting all three orbs from their course. It figured that he would be able to draw and strike with his weapon faster than he could close his mouth, Shampoo thought numbly.
Time was still running in its extreme slow-motion state as the Amazon almost disinterestedly watched the pearls scatter. What were the chances that any of them would land in anyone’s mouth?
Pretty good, apparently. The dark blue pearl shot to one side, sliding down Kasumi’s throat as she stared in awe at the speed with which Tatewaki had moved.
The white and light green pearls flew back over Shampoo’s shoulders, toward Ranma and Kodachi. And the Amazon knew, with the same sensation of unquestioning acceptance that one experiences in dreams, that they’d each swallowed one.
For just a moment longer, the odd sensation of dilated time (so common during a catastrophe) persisted for Shampoo. Then everything seemed to speed up.
And all hell broke loose.
"Shampoo…" Ranma’s voice trembled with the most tenderness she’d ever heard from him. "Don’t worry. I won’t ever let him hurt you again." He reached out, turned her to face him, and drew her into his embrace. "I was your Airen first, and I swear I ain’t letting anyone else take you away from me!"
"Ranma-sama… no…," Kodachi whispered, falling to her knees and beginning to cry.
Shampoo felt her heart twist through some extremely uncomfortable contortions. "Let go of Shampoo!" she snarled, slipping out of his arms, then grabbing him in an elbow lock and turning him to face Kodachi. The White Rose was sobbing now. Even though she would never be able to match Soun Tendo’s usual quantity, it was obvious her heart was breaking. "She one for you, stupid Ranma! Not Shampoo!"
Ranma blinked, and shook his head as if dizzy. Then his eyes focused on the sight in front of him and the memory of his last action slammed him with a vengeance. He fell to his knees so fast the sand beneath them was compressed to sandstone. "Dachi! Don’t cry! It… that wasn’t really me! I don’t know what happened, but it’s over now! You’re the one I want, not Shampoo!"
Kodachi’s desperate sobs stopped, but there were still tears flowing down her face. "R- really?" she whispered. Could he really have shaken off the effects of Shampoo’s failed gambit?
"Yes, really!" Ranma reached out and gave her a hug. As he felt the tension in her release, he sighed a deep breath of relief. "I don’t know what happened," he repeated. "Maybe it was a hallucination brought on by hunger?" A feeble joke, but he truly did not understand why he’d reacted like that. The memory of swallowing something had been overridden completely by the rush of intense desire and affection he’d felt immediately afterward. Guilt like he’d never experienced before stabbed him.
Unlike Ranma, Kodachi had been standing in a position that gave her an unobstructed view of Shampoo’s previous actions. It hadn’t been hard to draw the correct conclusion after she’d seen the pearls plucked, thrown, and deflected, and had witnessed quite clearly that Ranma swallowed the one that missed herself.
Equally clear to her, now, was the expression of guilt and confused shame that was spreading over his face like a dark cloud. "I feel quite certain it wasn’t your fault, Ranma-kun," Kodachi said. She glanced over her shoulder at Shampoo, who turned away in shame.
"Shampoo? What have you done now?!" Kuno’s growl jerked the Amazon’s attention back to the main group. Kasumi was sobbing quietly, for no apparent reason. Soun was bawling like a baby, for the very apparent reason that Kasumi was unhappy. Genma, still in panda form, was holding up a sign that said, ‘What’s going on?’. Nabiki was sitting well back from Kasumi, still in shock at the way the oldest Tendo daughter had jerked away from her when she’d tried to comfort her sister. Godai and Hitome were looking confused as well, but from the gazes they turned on the Amazon it appeared they were quickly shifting to follow the lead of their son.
When she didn’t respond, Kuno glared at her and snapped again, "What have you done?!"
As the full impact of what had just happened finally hit Shampoo, she backed up… first one step, then another… then she turned and ran as fast as she could.
Cologne gazed impassively at the group of angry people in front of her. "Shampoo is not feeling well right now," she said, fixing the group with her best stare of quiet menace. "I suggest you come back later."
Apparently the intimidation power of her best stare of quiet menace was being spread too thin. In any case, only Genma seemed ready to call it quits. In fairness to him, Cologne’s aura was reminding him too much of Happosai right then. Soun was affected similarly, and wavered for a moment, but then he remembered the look of hopelessness on Kasumi’s face.
"Do not pretend you don’t know what has transpired," Kuno said in a tone of ice. "If Shampoo does not wish to show her face, well and good. But we require answers!"
Kodachi gulped as she saw Cologne’s eyes narrow dangerously. Her brother hadn’t spent nearly as much time around the Matriarch as she had, and didn’t realize just how thin the ice he was tromping on really was. "Elder Cologne? Shampoo attempted to use a love charm of some sort on my brother. Is that not so?"
The tone of respect seemed to bank the fires of anger in the Matriarch. Suddenly she just looked old and tired. "Yes, that is correct. In what way did she fail?" That her great-granddaughter HAD failed had been painfully obvious, when Shampoo came running up in tears and locked herself in the kitchen. Cologne had been waiting for her to gain her composure before asking for details.
"She removed three pills from a bracelet and attempted to throw them into Tatewaki’s open mouth. He parried, and they were swallowed by others instead." Kodachi suspected part of their magic had been responsible for guiding them so surely to nearby targets.
So there went any chance of recovering the lifetime pearl. It would take much too long to wait for the bracelet to regenerate a new set. Cologne sighed. "Who were these unlucky ones?"
"Was Kodachi, Ranma, and too too nice girl Kasumi." Shampoo was standing in the kitchen doorway. Her expression showed she was desperately trying to maintain her composure.
"So there you are…" Kuno’s growl was cut off suddenly as the point of Cologne’s staff shot out and touched his throat just under his Adam’s Apple.
"Be SILENT!" she ordered. Tatewaki found himself with no other choice as the shiatsu technique left his vocal cords unresponsive. Cologne turned back to her great-granddaughter and spoke gently. "Who swallowed which pearl, child?"
"R- Ranma swallow one what last for moment, Great-Grandmother. And Kasumi swallow dark blue one. That all Shampoo know."
"What do you mean, for a moment?" Then Nabiki made the connection. Ranma had only acted out of character for about a minute. "Do the pills last for different times?"
"Yes," Cologne affirmed. "They cause intense love for the first person of the opposite sex you see after swallowing. One pearl’s effects last a moment, another’s endure for a day… and the third for a lifetime." Putting off the worst for a moment, she turned to Kodachi. "What happened in your case, child?"
Kodachi answered, "Well, I was looking at Ranma, because he… he was latched onto Shampoo like he would never let her go. But I… I… didn’tfeelanydifferentafterIswallowedthepill." She mumbled the last, blushing fiercely.
Ranma, who was just now getting over the shock of dread he’d felt on hearing Kodachi had also swallowed a pearl, heaved a huge sigh of relief. "Your chi defenses musta blocked the effect." He looked around in surprise. "Why’d everybody facefault?"
Cologne picked herself up, and considered giving him a swat on the head for general principle, but in the three hundred years of her existence she’d learned that cluelessness couldn’t be cured by hitting someone. Still, it was tempting to see if Ranma might be the exception to the rule… she realized she was stalling and spoke again. "Kasumi, dear? Who was the first man you saw after you swallowed?" she asked as gently as she could.
Kasumi continued to look down and answered quietly. "Tatewaki."
Thanking the Creator that it hadn’t been her father, the Matriarch continued. "Why are you so miserable, child? Is he objectionable to you?"
"I… I can’t t- take him away from Nabiki." Kasumi began to cry gently again. "I’d n- nev- never do that to her. And he, he loves her, anyway. N- not me."
Cologne sighed bitterly. "You may want to try and change that, Kasumi. I’m afraid you swallowed the lifetime pearl."
Grim silence was the general theme of the group as they left the beach and rode the train back to Nerima. This was broken only by Godai’s request that everyone come to the Kuno mansion, rather than the Tendo party returning to their home.
Once at the Kuno mansion, the group sat down in the largest living room. Godai slipped out, much to the surprise of the others, since they’d assumed he had something to say. After an uncomfortable five minutes, Hitome spoke up.
"Tatewaki, this must end."
Kuno nodded, looking frustrated.
His mother continued. "You have said she’s pursuing you because of the laws of her people. We must find some way to use those laws to end her pursuit. Simply discouraging her doesn’t seem to be enough."
Kuno nodded again.
"Well? Do you have any idea how to do this?"
Kuno sighed, got up, walked over to a writing desk, got out paper and a pen, and wrote a message. Everyone else looked at him in confusion until he pointed at his mouth, shook his head, then held up a second piece of paper showing an extremely unflattering caricature of Cologne. After seeing the others’ looks of dawning comprehension, he handed the note to his mother.
" ‘I don’t know many details about Amazon law. But I do remember that the Matriarch cancelled Ranma’s obligation to Shampoo. I intend to convince her to do the same for mine.’ " she read aloud.
"All this is fine, but what about your obligation to my little girl?!" This was Soun, as if it weren’t obvious. Tatewaki looked even more frustrated than before, and wrote two quick kanji on another note, which he handed to the Tendo patriarch.
" ‘Which one?’ "
As Soun was still trying to find a response to this, the door opened and Godai returned. Kodachi was surprised to see that he was carrying her old night-light.
Godai set the orb above the table in front of Kasumi. "Pray to the Kami this works," he said cryptically.
The globe, which normally glowed with a warm white light, began to pulse with different colors. It floated higher, until it was level with Kasumi’s face, and began to rotate. Slowly at first, then faster and faster it spun. A rainbow aura began to form around the oldest Tendo daughter, who was too enthralled even to utter an "Oh, my!" Then there was a bright flash of light…
As everyone’s vision cleared, they were struck by the radiant beam on Kasumi’s face. "Oh my. I’m cured!" She turned to Tatewaki. "I don’t feel any more magical love for you!"
Seldom have the occasions been, even down through the centuries, when the news that a woman as gentle and beautiful and kind as Kasumi does NOT love him have granted a man as much relief as this gave Tatewaki. He turned to his father, a question evident on his face.
"Father? Why did my old night-light break the enchantment on Kasumi?" Kodachi saved her brother the need to write another note.
"I never told you the story behind it, Dachi. It’s called the Orb of Amalthea." Her father’s eyes seemed to be focused somewhere far away. His voice took on a distant tone as well. "The legend has it that there was one unicorn, the last unicorn free in all the world. All the others had been captured and cast into the sea. Their beauty was contained there for the pleasure of an evil king, who had ordered it done. His servant that bound the unicorns somehow missed one, and eventually she went looking for her people. Along the way she met a fledgling wizard with no real control over his power, who turned her from unicorn to mortal woman.
"Eventually she fell in love with the son of the king who had imprisoned her people. Together they tried to free the unicorns, but the king’s servant, the Red Bull, saw through her disguise as a mortal. The wizard was forced to return Amalthea’s true nature to her. In the battle that followed, the Red Bull slew the prince she loved. After this, in her grief and rage she succeeded where all the other unicorns had failed, and overmastered the Red Bull. It was forced into the sea, and the unicorns were freed again to walk the hidden glens and shadowed forests of their world.
"Amalthea used her magic to restore her prince to life, but she could never again resume the veil of mortality. She had lost the future she had hoped to share with him, and this globe was formed from the tears she shed when she knew this at last." Godai wiped some tears from his own eyes. The story as told by Amalthea herself had made an impact on him that would last for his lifetime, he knew. "It is said that Amalthea’s anger at the plight of her people, held captive by a creature of darkest magic, shines in the globe. The legend says it has the power to break enchantments of enslavement. I could only hope that the love charm on miss Tendo would qualify."
The next day, Kodachi and Shampoo sat side by side on the roof of the Nekohanten, Kodachi having picked this habit up from Ranma. They remained that way for quite some time, without saying anything. Eventually Shampoo broke the silence. "Thank you for not hate Shampoo."
The White Rose gave her friend a sympathetic look. "Why did you think I would?"
"Because Shampoo almost take Ranma away from you. One chance in three, wrong pearl go to Ranma, he forget you and love Shampoo for rest of life." The Amazon met Kodachi’s gaze squarely. "No tell Shampoo you would no hate her then."
Kodachi hesitated, then said, "Shampoo, we managed to remove the love spell from Kasumi." Not really an answer.
Shampoo’s eyes widened. "How you do that?" After hearing the explanation, she laughed, a short, bitter sound without any real mirth. "So even if plan no fail, it no make difference." And no other plan that relied on magic could be counted on either.
Conversation flagged for several minutes after that. Eventually Kodachi spoke up again. "Shampoo, as your friend, I must tell you that Tatewaki is not going to abandon Nabiki for you. I’m sorry, but his feelings for her were too strong before you even arrived in Japan."
"Shampoo see that for own self long time ago, Kodachi. Shampoo willing to take Nabiki as co-wife to Airen. Is okay by Amazon law." The Amazon watched her friend’s expression closely as she said this, looking for any clue that Kodachi thought her brother might be willing to accept this.
After a long moment, Kodachi quietly said, "I don’t think even that’s an option, Shampoo. I don’t think it ever was." She paused, but when her friend said nothing to this, she continued. "It’s just… not how we do things in Japan. At least not anymore."
"Really? In Japan, no two women ever share same man?" Shampoo asked this in a sarcastic tone that indicated she knew very well what the answer was.
"Many men do take mistresses," Kodachi admitted. "When they aren’t satisfied with their wives. But my brother has too much honor to do something like that." Not to mention the fact that Tatewaki was anything but unhappy in his relationship with Nabiki. The White Rose had no wish to twist the knife in her friend’s gut by emphasizing this.
After another long pause, Shampoo asked her, "So mans of Japan think it no is honorable to have more than one wife? What you think? Is Amazon way wrong?"
"I don’t know," Kodachi responded. "Perhaps it depends on the situation. After all, in the past, nobles of Japan did take multiple wives. But times have changed here." She hesitated, then continued, "Shampoo, my brother intends to have your great-grandmother cancel the obligation you have to him, even as she did for your previous tie to Ranma."
"It no work like that," Shampoo said miserably. "Great-Grandmother is Matriarch, but not above law. Only reason she can do that for Ranma is because Shampoo have two men who should be Airen, and only can have one."
"Shampoo… why in the name of sanity do your people have such a moronic law?!" This outburst caught Kodachi by surprise as much as Shampoo. The White Rose realized this had been building for a while. "You have told me that among your people, women are honored just as much as men are, more so in many ways. Why do you have a law that sets them up to be victimized like this?!"
Shampoo seemed to be searching for the right words. "Is for make tribe stronger. Amazon what no can stand up for self no deserve to be Amazon anyway. Should be healer or artisan or something else. Same thing if no want strong fighter as husband, or if no willing to be under marriage law. To be Amazon is, is… job…" she grimaced, knowing that wasn’t the right word but unable to come up with ‘caste’, "with most honor, because is for defend whole tribe. Must be willing to do what it take to keep tribe strong."
"What will happen if… if you cannot comply with the law?" Kodachi was more than a little afraid to hear what the answer would be. It was a while in coming.
"Then Shampoo lose everything. No can go home- shame of failure would be on whole family then. We lose place in leadership." Shampoo’s eyes blazed like fire as she turned to her friend. "Shampoo no do that to them. Family only ones in village what matter to Shampoo. And Shampoo lose them if no can follow law."
The White Rose could think of nothing to say.
Even as Shampoo and his sister were sitting on the rooftop looking eastward, Tatewaki approached the Nekohanten from the west. He took a deep breath, and called on all his courage, then stepped through the door.
Cologne looked up from the ramen she was preparing. "Well, well, son-in-law. Don’t you know it’s polite to knock before entering?"
"Before entering a restaurant?" he snapped.
"When the restaurant is not open for business, such as now, this remains my home, and your future wife’s." Cologne’s stare made Tatewaki feel as if he were carrying a mountain on his shoulders. He nearly broke eye contact, then reminded himself of how close the latest Amazon ploy had come to destroying Kasumi Tendo’s life.
"I will not marry Shampoo." This was said in as final a tone as he could manage. "I will never reject Nabiki for her."
Cologne’s eyes narrowed, giving her the expression of the cat who swallowed the canary. "And who said you would need to? Multiple women may share the same husband under Amazon law. This would allow you to fulfill ALL your commitments, sonny boy."
Kuno had been prepared for quite a different reaction. His mouth gaped open for a few seconds before he could respond. "What do you mean, ALL my commitments?"
Cologne sighed, and once again she looked old and weary. "I am referring to the unfortunate matter of Kasumi Tendo. Believe me when I say that I regret her involvement most bitterly." The Matriarch had met the eldest Tendo daughter in the marketplace once or twice, and had clearly seen what a sweet and innocent creature she was.
Sensing a weakness, Tatewaki struck. "That matter has already been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. I am here to see that nothing of the sort ever occurs again."
"Then you agree to marry my Shampoo and fulfill your obligation toward her?"
"I do NOT!" Kuno took a deep breath. ‘Mustn’t let her get to me,’ he thought. "I am here to ask that you do for me what you did for Ranma, and dissolve the alleged obligation."
Cologne was quiet for a moment, during which time she studied him intensely. Finally she answered, "Boy, I am the Matriarch, but that doesn’t give me unlimited power. If another warrior should challenge you for Shampoo’s hand, and defeat you, then she could choose him and end your obligation to her. But I or another Amazon elder must witness the fight, and if you throw it, it doesn’t count." In point of fact, it would effectively destroy Shampoo’s honor to be so thoroughly rejected.
"Is there no other way?" Kuno heard the desperation in his voice, but didn’t care that much just now. "How could such an asinine law have endured so long?"
Cologne suppressed a smile as an idea occurred to her. "So you don’t think much of Amazon law, do you, sonny boy?"
Tatewaki snorted. "I assume the question is rhetorical."
"Well, then, there is something you can do. It’s not an easy task, mind you, but it is possible for an outsider to prove himself above certain facets of Amazon law. Including the marriage statutes."
Fearing a trap in the making, the kendoist spoke with care. "And if I pass this… test… then you will no longer seek to marry me off to Shampoo?"
The Matriarch looked at him for a minute before speaking in a much more bitter tone of voice than was usual for her. "You have consistently hurt my great-granddaugher whenever she has tried to show her affections to you. You have spurned her as unworthy, when she is the best of her generation." Cologne glared at him, and despite himself Tatewaki flinched back. "One way or another, boy, this will end. You will accept my great-granddaughter, or she will be free to leave you with her honor intact."
"What must I do?"
Cologne smiled mirthlessly. "To show yourself as above Amazon law requires some exploit beyond what could be expected of even an exceptional person. I could set you a task such as bringing me the fang of a dragon, or to slay an enemy of the tribe, or search out one of the treasures of the Amazons that was lost in antiquity." There were still several unaccounted for, even after she’d recovered those Happosai had stolen. "But I think we’d do better to choose something that can be settled quickly, one way or another.
"Face me in combat, son-in-law. If you defeat me, you’ll have proven yourself worthy to be free from the bonds of our law. You will no longer be my great-granddaughter’s Airen, and indeed you need not fear any Amazon seeking to make you her husband.
"But if you lose… you are honor-bound to accept my great-granddaughter, forgive her for her mistakes, and embrace her as your wife in truth."
Kuno stood there, motionless, silent, for quite a while. Considering honor, and the different directions it could pull one. Weighing the likely destinations of different paths available to him. For a long moment he felt as if he were standing balanced on the razor’s edge of a swordblade, where the slightest wavering would send him toppling to one side or another, making his decision for him. Then he smiled, realizing just how appropriate the image truly was.
"’Biki-chan? Do you trust me?"
The tone of her boyfriend’s question caught Nabiki off guard. "Of course I do," she responded automatically. Then her eyes narrowed. "Why exactly do you ask?"
Kuno laughed nervously. "Well, our troubles with Shampoo will soon be over, but I had to agree to a larger gamble than I would have liked." He went on to recount his morning’s encounter with Cologne.
As he finished, he braced himself. Nabiki was obviously struggling to hold onto her composure, and equally obviously was losing. "Are… you… INSANE?!" she gritted through her teeth.
"You need not worry, ’Biki-chan, I-" she cut him off.
"Don’t WORRY?! Damn it, this is no time for macho posturing!" The tears in her eyes made her boyfriend feel lower than dirt, but before he could respond, she continued. "When was the last time you beat Ranma in a sparring match, Tachi?! And he admits himself the old bag of bones is better than he is! How the HELL do you think you’re going to win?!"
He sighed. "Come with me… and I’ll show you."
Nabiki’s eyes glittered, but she reigned in her emotions. "All right, Tachi, but this had better be good." The fire seemed to go out of her suddenly, and she said bitterly, "I don’t want to lose you… not to Shampoo. Not to anyone."
"Great-Grandmother? Is true Tatewaki can win free from law?"
Cologne gave her great-granddaughter an inscrutable gaze. "Are you asking me if I lied to your Airen?" she asked mildly.
Shampoo gulped loudly and switched to Mandarin. This was no time to be fumbling for words in a language she still wasn’t comfortable with. "<Of course not! But remember, I only heard about this from Kodachi, after she heard from him. He might have heard what he wanted to hear, not what you really told him.>"
The Matriarch was actually impressed. The distinction indicated Shampoo might finally be learning some measure of sublety. "A good answer, child. In point of fact, though, it IS true that a great deed of skill and strength can win immunity to the laws relating to treatment of outsiders. You haven’t heard about this point of law because it’s never actually been invoked.
"As to your question… can he win free of the law…" Cologne gave her great-granddaughter a grim smile. "Do you think he has any chance to defeat me?"
Shampoo shook her head. "So when he fight you?" she asked.
"Four days from today."
Ranma gazed at the sight in front of him with an odd feeling of déjà vu. "Brings back memories," he muttered. A long section of tree trunk hung suspended in the air. It was as close a match to the challenge log he remembered from his visit to Joketsuzoku as the Kuno servants could contrive.
"But surely they’ve lost most of their sting by now?" Kodachi asked.
Ranma considered, then shook his head. "It ain’t the kinda thing you forget that quick," he said. "I mean, the way Shampoo came stalking up, and gave me that kiss, then just stepped back with this awful look of menace on her face…"
"And then what happened?" Kodachi had never heard the story in this much detail.
"Then the guide we were with told me about the Kiss of Death, and we made tracks."
"Hmmm… interesting that she didn’t just try to finish you off while surrounded by allies." Kodachi still felt honor-bound not to tell Ranma the truth about the Kiss of Death, but nothing said she couldn’t give him little nudges in the hopes he might work things out for himself. After all, someday she’d like to visit Shampoo’s village, but that would be problematic if Ranma were still Amazon-shy.
"Eh, she probably had to do that because of the stupid law. I mean, it’s supposed to be a promise ‘to track your enemy to the ends of the earth’ if you need to. I’m just glad she eventually decided to break the law."
The White Rose grimaced. Apparently she’d need a stronger hint.
Tatewaki sat calmly off to one side, in a meditative pose. Nabiki, on the other hand, had worn a noticeable groove in the ground by pacing back and forth. "Five more minutes," she muttered, looking at her watch. "Five more minutes, and she’s late. We can say she threw the fight, and everything’s okay."
"Don’t count on it, miss Tendo."
Nabiki, along with Ranma, Kodachi, Godai, and Hitome, whirled and stared in shock. No one had seen her arrive, but Cologne was undeniably now present on one end of the challenge log, balanced atop her staff. Shampoo dropped from a wall, landing next to Kodachi and seating herself. "Nihao," she said quietly.
Kuno opened his eyes and calmly regarded his opponent. "Greetings," he said, springing to land on the opposite end of the log.
Cologne gestured toward their battlefield. "Quite a nice touch. It shows respect for your Amazon heritage… son-in-law."
Tatewaki’s calm was unruffled. "I propose simple terms of victory, elder. Combat to begin at my father’s signal, and to continue until one of us is forced or retreats from the log or is rendered unable to fight."
"Acceptable, with one proviso." Cologne stared into his eyes, not quite liking the confidence and sadness she saw there. "Should you use some hidden feature of the log itself to defeat me, it shall count as your loss rather than mine."
"Agreed." Tatewaki bowed, then turned to Nabiki. "’Biki-chan, if you would?" He held out his hand. Nabiki walked over to a cabinet, removed its contents, walked back, and handed her boyfriend his weapon.
There was a sudden hush of stillness as Shampoo and Cologne realized that the blade Tatewaki was planning to use was definitely NOT made of wood. He unsheathed it, revealing a Western style broadsword.
Cologne considered that for a second, wondering why he would use the unfamiliar weapon, before concluding that he was attempting to win a psychological edge through the use of live steel. She admired the effort, but it was misplaced. He was about two hundred eighty-five years too late to succeed with a tactic like that. The Matriarch did wonder a little at the choice of a broadsword over a katana.
Tatewaki executed a salute to the Matriarch with the sword. Then he turned and faced Shampoo. The Amazon maiden met his gaze expressionlessly, not even seeming to notice the regret and pain in his eyes. Kuno gave a slight bow to her, then turned back to face his opponent.
All traces of sadness were gone now, replaced only by a steely determination to see this through to the end. Raising the sword to a ready position, he spoke, "[I am the monarch of my fate, I am the captain of my soul!]"
In an instant, the blade became a blaze of light. A milder corona surrounded Kuno. "Begin!" shouted Godai.
An enchanted sword! Cologne spared only the tiniest fraction of her concentration for cursing this twist of fate. Time to toss the dice. The elder dropped from sight as she raced forward at full speed, hoping to win before her foe could bring the magic of the blade to bear. She fed as much chi into her staff as she could, praying it would be enough to prevent the wood from being destroyed.
Tatewaki couldn’t even see his opponent, just a sort of greenish blur. But he didn’t have to. Each strike by the staff was parried by the sword, which was quite clearly wielding HIM rather than the other way around. The furious exchange lasted several minutes.
Shampoo had seemed almost listless before the beginning of the fight. In fact, Kodachi had been rather worried about her friend. Such behavior was most out of character for the Amazon she knew. But after Tatewaki invoked the sword’s power, she had become much more animated. After watching her great-grandmother going all out, yet failing to break through her Airen’s guard, she turned to Kodachi with a fair amount of desperation on her face.
"What happening, Kodachi? Where he get sword like that?"
"It is a relic my father picked up in his travels," the White Rose answered. "It is named Invictus, and its use renders one invincible in battle." Although its magic could only be accessed on days when a new moon rode in the sky, which rendered the blade somewhat less than generally useful.
"Why he not already win, then?" Shampoo’s mind was still struggling with the concept that her great-grandmother might actually lose.
"The sword don’t make him win automatically, it just protects him from losin’." This was Ranma. "It’s an unbeatable defense."
Back on the challenge log, Cologne cursed as she began to feel the effects of moving at top speed for this long. Her gamble had apparently failed- whatever enchantment was on the sword was too strong for her best efforts to overwhelm, and her chi reserves were being depleted dangerously quickly. It was time to try a less direct approach.
The elder changed the angle of her latest attack at the last minute, touching the point of her staff to the challenge log even as she sprang backward. In a cloud of splinters, Tatewaki’s end of the log exploded… but instead of falling, he hung there in space as the corona around him sent out streamers of energy. The splinters and chunks of wood smoothly joined back together and the log was whole under his feet again. Cologne gaped, dropping her guard entirely.
In an instant, Tatewaki sprang forward and went on the offensive. His sword lashed out… and Cologne smiled grimly. She swayed gently to one side, noting that he’d only tried to hit her with the flat of the blade, and struck like a snake with her staff. She’d hoped that the sword only enhanced his defense, and by tricking him into offense, he’d leave himself open. And so it had proven to be. Her staff struck true in a blow that should have sent him sailing from the log.
Except that the haze of energy surrounding her foe absorbed the force of the strike as if she’d thrown a marshmallow at him instead. Several other attacks faired no better, as the Matriarch continued to dodge her opponent’s attacks. Cologne mentally snarled another curse, and took something of a risk. She lashed out in a blow that was backed by all the strength and skill and chi she could muster. It would have shattered Tatewaki like a porcelain doll if he’d had no magical protection, and she hoped it would reduce whatever force was protecting him.
But there was no effect. The glow surrounding him didn’t diminish even slightly. Tatewaki smiled, and stepped back from her. "Do you yield?" he asked.
Cologne glared at him, then dropped her eyes in a gesture of submission. "Wo de airen… wo ai ni," she said resignedly.
The blood rushed from Tatewaki’s face, leaving it whiter than his sister’s. His sword slumped, and the aura around him disappeared… and Cologne struck. Summoning all the chi she could spare, she formed it into one massive blast projectile that lanced out at her great-granddaughter’s stubborn fool of a husband-to-be.
This tactic, her final gamble, fared no better than the previous ones. The resumption of hostilities triggered the re-emergence of the sword’s magic. The chi blast was reflected straight back at the Matriarch. As the chi had originated from her, she weathered the force much better than anyone else could have, even managing to directly absorb most of it back into her reserves. But she was still rendered groggy and disoriented by this, which gave Tatewaki, who had somewhat belatedly remembered that winning this fight placed him outside of marriage laws for ALL Amazons, the opportunity he needed to spring forward and nudge her off the log.
After that, there hadn’t been much to say. The Matriarch acknowledged the end of Tatewaki’s status as Shampoo’s Airen, and the two Amazons returned to the Nekohanten. Shampoo in particular felt more numbness than anything else. This cold detachment was lessened only a little by the sympathy she’d felt from both Kodachi and Ranma. She was grateful for their cares, although she had been just as glad they didn’t try to speak to her at the moment.
Back at the restaurant, Cologne wore an enigmatic expression as she examined her staff. It had served her well for almost two hundred years. The repeated flows of chi which she had channeled through it with such frequency had kept the wood in near-perfect condition. But now, in a single afternoon, it had taken more damage than all throughout those last two centuries. The staff was marred with knicks and scratches. Still, there were no deep cracks. It remained a perfectly serviceable weapon to the casual glance.
And a more detailed examination would show something much more startling. The flow of chi within her staff had resonated with the magic of the Kuno boy’s sword, and as a result, a faint, nearly undetectable ghost of the enchantment had been duplicated into her weapon. It would grow slowly over time, she sensed, and though it might be decades, eventually the tribe would have a new treasure.
The Matriarch looked up from her staff to her great-granddaughter. Shampoo was quietly cleaning up the restaurant, focusing on the task at hand rather than the recent past or the uncertain future. Cologne considered the changes that had taken place and were still progressing in her youngest descendent.
"Shampoo." Her great-granddaughter looked up from wiping a table. "<Forgive me for failing you.>"
Shampoo bowed her head for a moment. "<You did not fail me, Great-Grandmother,>" she said. "<Even if you had won, he would never have loved me. I do not wish to be trapped in such a pairing.>"
"<I do not believe that to be true, child, but it doesn’t matter now.>" Cologne examined her great-granddaughter closely. "<There is nothing to keep us here any longer, Shampoo. Do you wish to return home?>"
"<Are you giving me the choice?>" Shampoo asked.
"<Yes,>" the elder replied, neglecting to mention that she would be severely disappointed if Shampoo made the wrong decision.
Shampoo looked down at the table as if it were an oracle that would give her the answers she needed. However, the patterns of water from her washrag proved less than enlightening, and her contemplation quickly shifted inward.
Here she had friends her own age. At home she had Mousse, who was there every time she turned around, except of course when he was off intimidating the other boys from her village from approaching her. Here there were people who admired her rather than resenting her. At home every Amazon was jealous of her, and her position was too high to allow her to spend much time with the other, lesser castes.
It all came down to one thing, really. She’d been lonely for so long before coming to Japan. And there was no reason to think things would have changed if she returned home. Far better to remain here.
Even if she would have to be strong, to keep a certain door closed tight.
Shampoo looked her great-grandmother squarely in the eye, and deliberately spoke in Japanese. "Shampoo rather stay here."
Cologne inclined her head in a gesture of respect, gladdened to see her young relative wasn’t retreating to the easy, familiar path. "Glad I am to hear it."
To be continued.
Author’s notes: I claim no real familiarity with Japanese culture. In fact, pretty much everything I know comes from watching Ranma ½ and reading fanfics. So any mistakes in my account of Kodachi’s explanation to Shampoo of the matter of mistresses shouldn’t be taken too seriously. After all, Ranma’s Japan is certainly no mirror image of the "real" Home Islands.
And I plead similar ignorance in my use of -kun and -sama. I’m doing my best to use them more or less as I’ve seen them used, but there’s a good chance I’m missing lots of nuances. So let me just state here how they should be taken when used by Kodachi toward Ranma: both are expressions of affection, with –sama representing a much stronger level of devotion than -kun (and therefore used whenever she can’t be bothered too much to hide how she really feels).
If defeating the Matriarch is enough to free Tatewaki from his status as Shampoo’s Airen, why then, in the original series, did Ranma not receive the same concession when he (or rather, she) used the Cat-Fist to defeat Cologne? Simple- to qualify for an exemption from the law, one must pass a challenge specifically given for this purpose by the current Matriarch or council of elders. No surprise Cologne hasn’t mentioned this option to Ranma in the original series, is it? Next time: It wouldn’t be Ranma ½ if Akane Tendo weren’t kidnapped at least once.
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