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A Ranma ½ story
by D.B. Sommer

Disclaimer: Ranma ½ and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video.

All comments and criticisms appreciated. You can contact me at sommer@3rdm.net

I traveled to those foreign lands seeking one thing, and one thing only: vengeance.

I ended up getting far more than I bargained for.

I guess the best place to start would be right at the end of the journey. An irony, that, but then life is full of irony. There were important events that led to the beginning of the journey, of course, but here is where, for all intents and purposes, it ended.

The trails leading to the remote mountain village were actually quite well worn. Between that and the directions we had been given in Kwanglung, it made finding our way easy. It would have been simpler still if Mr. Saotome had remembered the way, but he had left in a hurry the last time he was there, so I suppose he could be forgiven.

The mountain air was crisp, and noticeably cleaner than what was back home. The temperature dipped several degrees as the three of us made our way up the mountain; dark clouds had gathered overhead and blocked out the sun, which helped lower it all the quicker. We paused only long enough to relieve ourselves and eat some of the rice and dried trail mix Father had packed for us. I had very little, forcing myself to eat despite having no appetite. It was a condition I had been suffering from for some months. Mr. Saotome ate the most, but it was just a shadow of the amount of food he usually consumed. It wasn’t surprising. We were quickly approaching the moment that would lead to the culmination of months of preparation and training. There were more important things on our minds than eating.

We were no more than a couple of miles from the village when the first notes of a melody drifted towards us from somewhere up ahead. The tune was bright and cheerful, reminding me of simpler times when I was a small child, nothing more than an uncomplicated creature full of an innocence I’d never feel again. That realization made me feel bitter. The melody that had probably been composed to bring joy to people’s lives served only to darken my spirit. It weighed me down, and I needed no such distractions from my goal.

As we drew closer to the origin of the music, my depression grew until I felt as though I would fall to my knees and cry, had I not lost that ability so long ago on that night of pain. I picked up my pace, hoping to get to the musician and silence the song before it messed up my concentration badly.

Father and Mr. Saotome kept pace, and within minutes we saw the musician. She sat back in the high, wide branches of a tree, playing a long silver flute from which the bright melody came. She wore a cheogsam, mostly red with a green border that fell across her frame somewhat loosely. From where I was below, I judged her to be pretty, oddly enough reminding me of my mother in some strange way. I think it was because the stranger’s hairstyle was so similar to hers.

As we came within several paces of the tree, she stopped playing. She looked the three of us over, examining us closely, and then shifted her body so that she fell from the tree. For a moment I thought she had fallen, until I saw her tense up and her body shift in mid-air. I relaxed as she landed nimbly, her knees bending only slightly as though she had made a jump of only three feet instead of thirty. Of course she would know martial arts. Didn’t everyone from around here know them?

The woman gave a soft, guarded smile toward our little party. She came within four or five long paces before saying in Chinese, “Greetings, travelers. Where do you hail from?”

“Japan,” I answered before either Father or Mr. Saotome could. It was for the best; my Chinese was far better than either of theirs. I had spent more hours than I cared to count learning it so that I would not sound foolish or inferior, like that bitch did. I might not have been fluent, but I could both speak and understand it well enough for what I needed to do.

“You have traveled far,” the woman said, giving us a look that showed neither suspicion nor hostility. That irritated me slightly. I had hoped she would have been antagonistic and unfriendly. I wanted to think of her and her kind as things. Adversaries. Enemies. Not as people, like my friends or me. The latter would only serve to distract me from my goals.

“We have come here seeking the village of Joketsuzoku,” I said.

That aroused a slight curiosity in the woman; it was written all over her face. “Might I be so bold as to ask why?”

“I seek to challenge one of the villagers,” I answered

“Who?” She asked.

“Shan Pu.” I made certain to pronounce her name correctly. It wouldn’t do to think I was being insulting; too much was at stake for me to ruin it all by making a stupid mistake like that.

The woman considered my words. After several moments of silence, she said, “Joketsuzoku is my home. I would be happy to guide you there. Please, follow me.”

I looked to my father and Mr. Saotome. I could see the concern in their eyes. It was possible this was some sort of trap, but I doubted it. There were a dozen more efficient ways to have set one up and the manner of the woman, while eliciting trust, could have been far friendlier if she wanted to lure us into a false sense of security. Most likely she was nothing more than a guard ordered to watch for travelers and head them directly towards the village. It would be easier than having them randomly stumble about and accidentally causing who knew what sort of havoc.

Like eating first prize in a tournament.

That thought gelled my own. If it was a trap, then it would be sprung and then whoever made it would end up sorry. I’d make them sorry.

We agreed and she began leading us up the path we had already been taking, the one that we had been told led to the village. That further reinforced the idea that this was nothing more than a standard procedure for her, but still I kept up my guard.

We walked in silence, at least at first. The strange woman maintained her pleasant demeanor and eventually said, “My name is Jade. Might I ask your names?”

Dad spoke up at this point. In heavily-accented Chinese, he said, “This one is Soun Tendou.” He pointed to himself, uncertain if his meaning was clear. He then turned to me and Mr. Saotome. “This one is mine daughter, Akane Tendou. And this one is Genma Saotome.”

If the woman recognized our names, she gave no indication of it. “It is an honor to meet people from such far-off lands.” She turned her attention from my dad to me. “There is something you should know. Challenging a member of my people is no simple thing. Certain forms must be maintained, or there will be undesirable results from your challenge.”

“I know all about them. I know what challenge I wish to make,” I said acidly, my tone clear, even in Chinese; I could tell from the way the woman’s demeanor changed. After some searching, I had managed to buy a book of Amazon laws in Japan. A recent print that cost me a small fortune, and was worth every yen. I had what I needed to know memorized, permanently etched into my mind. If Jade asked me any questions about Joketsuzoku challenges, I could answer them without hesitation.

I was disappointed as Jade merely nodded her head solemnly. There was still no anger in her (at least none that I could sense) in my declaring that I would challenge a member of her people, knowing the consequences of such an action. Again, I found myself hoping for hostility, but again I was denied.

As we continued onward, the faint smell of woodsmoke became noticeable. We were drawing close. I could feel it, and my heart began racing faster. Soon, we crested the top of a small hill, and I set my eyes upon Joketsuzoku for the first time.

I didn’t know what to expect. Perhaps there would be a high wall surrounding the place, making it seem like a giant fortress. A host of armed Amazons walking around with weapons drawn, waiting to impale anyone daring to draw too close. Something, anything to make it appear violent and dark. But there was no wall. All the village contained were simple one-story houses, none of them particular dark nor bright. There weren’t any sentries posted. The people didn’t walk about with weapons drawn. All I could see was them working at various, and disgustingly mundane, tasks, or walking from one place to another, talking in pairs or in small groups, or just standing alone. It looked just like every other village we had seen in this area, identical save that there were more women about than men.

But appearances didn’t matter. I knew what they were really like. I would be on guard, watching everything and everyone. According to the book, if I made my challenge openly I should go unmolested, but who knew how close they really stuck to their laws? Perhaps they would just attack me outright and the three of us would fall then and there. A pessimistic view, perhaps, but over the last few months I could see things in no other light.

As we approached the edge of the village, I saw everyone looking in our direction, more in expectation than surprise. I wondered how that could be, then it occurred to me that Jade had taken her time leading us here, and she had not seemed overly surprised to see the three of us on the path. Perhaps there had been another guard who spotted us before, alerted Jade, then went on ahead to warn of our impending arrival. I became much more on guard, realizing there were things going on that I did not know about. Things were not what they seemed, and that suspicion helped fuel the anger within me. I refocused myself on what I had to do. Soon, I would issue the challenge. I didn’t know what would follow, but that wasn’t important. Achieving vengeance was the only thing that mattered.

We approached a small woman, gnarled as a dried-up monkey and about as tall, wearing a plain green robe. She had short gray hair, but there was an aura about her that implied she had power that I could never match. The way she held herself reminded me of one used to wielding influence over others, like some of my more strict teachers back home. I knew that she was the one that would judge if I had any right to issue a challenge. In theory, there should have been no problem, but the book on laws had been vague when it came to the authority of the village elders.

Jade led us directly towards the elder, most of the people of the village beginning to draw closer in curiosity. There was no surprise in the small woman’s eyes; clearly she had been expecting us. All three of us bowed at the same time Jade did. The old woman nodded her head only slightly in return.

Jade began to speak, “Elder Be Dea. This outsider girl wishes to issue a challenge to one of our villagers. Shan Pu.” That caused a low rumble from the ever-growing crowd around us.

For the first time, the old woman’s face betrayed an emotion: mild surprise. “Does she understand what challenging Shan Pu would mean?”

Jade looked at me, gave a sad look, and then turned back towards Be Dea. “Yes, she does understand and is still determined to do so.” I was surprised Jade took me at my word about understanding the laws. Apparently, she was affording me a great deal of respect, more than I might have received at home had I, a mere girl, been in a similar situation. I found myself respecting her back.

The elder moved closer, looking me over until she was no more than two feet in front of me, forcing me to crane my neck down to look at her. Her little oval face looked squarely up into mine. “Go home, Japanese girl. You are no match for one of our champions.”

Anger filled me, roaring through my ears and drowning out everything else. How dare the little hag tell me I was inferior! It was the same damn attitude Shan Pu had shown towards me, the same way everyone back home had treated me, and I despised the little creature all the more for it. She was underestimating me, and all because I wasn’t one of her precious little Amazons. But I was better now. I’d show her. I’d show them all.

Out loud, I said, “Even if what you say is the truth, it does not matter. I wish to issue a challenge to her.”

Much to my surprise, Be Dea just shrugged, obviously giving up. I had expected her to protest again or hit me for rejecting her advice. After all, I was nothing more than an outsider. Perhaps she thought it wouldn’t be worth the effort and Shan Pu would resolve the matter anyway.

“It’s your funeral,” she said without the slightest hint of doubt in her voice.

Her attempt at intimidation, or her blindness in pride, failed. I would issue the challenge anyway, and I would win, the consequences of my actions be damned. Even if I knew the entire village would fall upon me after I won and ripped me to shreds, I’d still do it. It would be worth it. My need was that great.

Be Dea turned to one of the younger girls in the crowd. “Go fetch Shan Pu.”

The girl turned to go, but then the crowd parted to allow someone to make her way towards our group. Evidently one of the villagers had already gone to inform Shan Pu of my presence the moment they learned I intended to challenge her.

Shan Pu approached us without saying a word. As she drew nearer, I realized that even as I looked upon her, it wasn’t really Shan Pu I was seeing.

It was a bonbori poised high in the night sky, hesitating for the briefest of moments as though it would be turned away…

…and then descending so quickly it was little more than a blur. It was the sound of bone breaking as solid metal, backed by stone-breaking force, met an arm raised blindly above a head to ward off a blow.

It was the mate of the first coming down just as hard on the arm, shattering it irreparably.

And then the first sphere, having gone back up as its partner descended, coming down a second time and meeting a skull.

Which was followed by the other bonbori coming down for a second time, on the same new target, as the first.

And then a third blow.

And then a fourth, a bonbori now decorated in a bright splattering of crimson.

And then a fifth, bathing itself in blood so as to match its mate.

And then a sixth, looking even more scarlet than before.

And then they stopped.

The bonboris and their wielder left by leaping over a wall, their task complete. I remember running over, then falling to my knees and cradling Ranma’s broken head in my arms. Everything after that was a blank until I woke up the next day in bed, and the horror of everything hit me all at once. I screamed, but I didn’t cry. I should have. Some part of me wanted to, but I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t cry that day, or the next, or the day after that, or the week after that, or the month after that. Even then, with my memories forcing me to relive the pain of that horrible night, I still had no tears to shed.

Oh, but I did have hate. That I had in abundance.

 “I, Akane Tendou, challenge you, Shan Pu of the Joketsuzoku, to a one-on-one combat. To the finish.” I kept my accusing finger leveled at her, using the proper form the book of Amazon laws talked about when issuing such serious challenges. There was no way it could be misinterpreted as anything else.

I heard the crowd gasp in astonishment, despite knowing what my intentions had been from the beginning. Perhaps they had thought an outsider such as myself wouldn’t go through with it.

Shan Pu just stiffened slightly, then nodded grimly. I found myself surprised by her reaction, or rather lack of it. I had expected her to boast or fume, giving me the same contemptuous stare she had always used when regarding me, even when we were under the roof of my own home. But it wasn’t there. Instead, there was something else in her eyes. Something I couldn’t identify. I was still trying to figure out what it was when she took a deep breath, and then indicated I should follow her.

The crowd parted wider, allowing both myself and my two companions to follow her. The elder traveled alongside us, looking impassive the entire time. I couldn’t say why that was, other than possibly she intended to keep us out of trouble, or maybe she wanted to listen in on our plans. If it were the latter, she would be disappointed. We had discussed the plan beforehand, and knew what we had to do. We had tried preparing for every eventuality, from Shan Pu’s outright refusal, to the Amazons somehow stacking the deck in their favor. But so far everything was running smoothly, and hopefully it would stay that way.

We made our way to the outskirts of the village to a wide-open area. The elder indicated we should stop there, while Shan Pu continued on until she stood directly across from me, about twenty meters away. The rest of the villagers began to form a makeshift circle around us. However, there were not enough to make it an unbreakable wall of flesh, even with new arrivals coming every minute; the circle was too large.

I looked to the elder. “This isn’t the challenge log.”

Again my display of Amazon knowledge failed to surprise her. “For combat such as this, between two such fighters, we would not risk the destruction of the log. You shall fight on the ground instead. Worry not; there are no tricks here. You will be allowed to have your challenge without interference, not that it would change the outcome.”

I turned to look at Shan Pu. Another elder, looking just as shriveled up as Be Dea, hopped over on the end of a staff to stand next to Shan Pu. The two of them spoke quietly to one another. I saw my opponent nod once, and then shake her head vigorously. Again she looked towards me, and again I was disappointed to see not hate, but some other undefinable emotion in her eyes. She refused to make this any easier on me by fueling my anger with some unjustifiable hostility of her own. Not that it would stop me or save her.

I noticed Be Dea scowling in Shan Pu’s direction, and then she returned her attention to me. “I have no love for outsiders, girl, nor do I hold any affection for Shan Pu either. There is no sense in you dying this day. Ask Shan Pu for a pardon for your challenge, and I’ll call this match off. It is within my rights.”

I just stared at her. She understood and backed away from me.

“You’re certain you’re ready for this?”

I looked towards my father, surprised that he would ask me such a thing. Preparing for this was all that we had done since that night. “Of course.”

“Are you certain you want to go through with this?”

That had come from Mr. Saotome. Now I was confused. After that night, he had retreated into himself, a mere shell of the man he had been before. Under the circumstances, I wouldn’t have blamed him from drinking himself into oblivion or leaving to wander the lands again, though this time alone. I think that was all he knew about life. But he did neither of those things. Instead, he had just seemed to sit around, sleep, and occasionally eat, but not so much that he did not lose weight. He was unwilling to play even a game of Shogi with my father. It wasn’t until I asked him to train me a week later, so that I might gain retribution, that he seemed to come alive.

At first he was unenthusiastic, just going through the motions of training me without putting any of his heart into it. It was like being taught by a dead person. I think things would have remained that way until, in a fit of blind frustration, I called him a lousy teacher and it was no wonder that Ranma had died. I barely saw him move as he exploded, attacking and hurling me through one of the walls of the dojo where I landed in the yard beyond. I was an agony, physical pain that, while intense, fell well short of the emotional one I carried within. Father surely would have stopped Mr. Saotome had he been present, but he had gone out to help Kasumi purchase groceries. We were alone.

Mr. Saotome pulled my fallen body up by my hair, and probably would have hit me again had I not looked at him with the hunger that welled within me.

“Go ahead and hit me with everything you have if that’s the only way you’ll show me the real techniques of the Saotome School of Martial Arts!” I spat.

That seemed to snap him out of his rage. He looked at me, I mean really looked at me, and then set me down gently so that I was standing (shakily) once again. “Very well,” he said in that solemn tone he had always used with Ranma, even when he was giving weak or useless information to him. Although this time it was different. I could see resolve in his eyes as he truly looked at me for what I believed was the first time since he had arrived at the dojo.

From that moment on, our training took a serious, almost deadly, edge to it that had been lacking whenever I had trained with my father. I gave up everything else in my life. I dropped out of school. I ignored my friends completely, refusing to even return their calls. I never went anywhere unless it involved training. The only people I spent time with were Mr. Saotome and my family, and even then it was primarily only with my father. Every hour of every day was spent in training in martial arts, until my body failed and then I would switch to learning Chinese.

Mr. Saotome was an incredible trainer and put me through the same training he had with Ranma. As time passed, I began to see how Ranma had become a nearly invincible fighting machine. I tried to learn as best as I could, though I felt I was still failing no matter how hard I tried. After a month of intense training, Mr. Saotome gave his evaluation of me. I was slower than Ranma, not as powerful, not as durable, not as graceful, and it took a lot longer for me to learn techniques. But I could learn. And even if I couldn’t be what Ranma had been, I could be more than I currently was. Much more.

More than enough to kill an Amazon in the name of vengeance.

At the end of a training regimen of what I would have termed hell (had I not once cradled my fiancé’s broken form in hands and learned the true meaning of the word), Mr. Saotome judged that I had learned all that I could, or at least all that he could teach me in three months’ time. My need for justice, for closure, had become so great that it affected my ability to learn new moves. Mr. Saotome told me that I was now better than Shan Pu had been. Much better. Not enough that I should take her lightly, for that would be the quickest way to defeat, but enough that I should definitely achieve victory over her, in whatever form it should take.

And now Mr. Saotome was behaving as oddly as my father had been. “Of course I want to go through with it. It’s what you’ve trained me for. It’s why I’ve gone through all that I have and learned. It’s why we’re here.”

He nodded his head, though I couldn’t tell if it was in satisfaction or for some other reason. “You’ve learned all I can teach you, for now, Akane. Now it’s up to you.”

I understood what he meant: I was the only one that could truly avenge Ranma.

At least that’s what I thought he meant.

My father and Mr. Saotome backed away, and I turned to the inside of the combat circle and faced Shan Pu. The initial wave of hatred I had towards her tapered off, and went to just simmering beneath the surface. I needed to keep it there so I would have full control over myself in the fight. Too much hate would make me sloppy.

I cleared my mind as best as I could and truly evaluated the opponent I would be facing. Now that I looked at Shan Pu with a more detached eye, I realized something was off. She didn’t look as particularly evil or wicked as I remembered. There wasn’t even the look of unbridled energy that had been associated with her in the brief time she spent in my house. If anything, there seemed to be an overwhelming sadness about her.

But it couldn’t possibly compare to the one that I held within me. Even after I was through with her today, it would still fall short of the suffering that I had endured because of her. I’d show how I suffered by unleashing it upon her with everything I had.

I began moving in. Shan Pu did likewise, matching my pace and stride. We stopped no more than five feet apart from one another.

“<Akane should no be stupid and challenge Shampoo to match. Is no need. Akane no can win and Shampoo no want to hurt her.>” she said to me in Japanese.

“But I want to hurt you,” I said, refusing to switch back to Japanese. Since it was Amazon law that had begun this, it was only appropriate it end with Amazon law as well, and that meant speaking in the language that they used. “Where are your bonbori?” I wanted to have her use them against me just as she had with Ranma. I wanted her to be exactly like she was on that night, making the defeat perfect.

“Shan Pu no need them to deal with you.”

There was still no arrogance in her eyes. Rather, that sorrowful look that she had remained and ended up being directed towards me. That was all I could take. How dare she feel remorse for me when she showed none to Ranma! She was incapable of any feelings like that! She was evil. I knew it. It was all a trick she was using to try to lower my guard with sympathy.

I cursed her and immediately attacked. I could see the false remorse change to surprise at the speed of my attack; she had thought I was still the same, weak girl I had been before. She had thought beating me would be easy. That mistake would cost her everything.

 My punch connected with her stomach and drove her backward, though I was surprised to discover that she felt a lot more solid than I had thought she would. I landed effortlessly on my feet as her body fell to the ground. Relentless, I kicked her while she tried to regain her footing, catching her in the jaw. I saw some blood fly from her head as it snapped back, and I wondered if I had managed to strike a fatal blow early. Some part of me hoped not; I wanted her pain and suffering to last just as mine had. She had to suffer before she died.

I tried kicking her again, but she rolled out of the way and to her feet. I could see that her lip was split open, the source of that blood that had gone flying. I felt some measure of satisfaction at that. I had scored with first blood, a good omen.

Her eyes were slightly unfocused as she threw a punch at me, one so awkward that I could have blocked even before my months of training. With my new skills, I not only blocked it, but turned it into a body toss. Remarkably, Shan Pu bounced back to her feet from the blow. But it was with her back to me, so I got a clean shot into her kidneys, which drove her backwards again.

My training was making it easy. I would have challenged her sooner had I suspected I was this much better than her. As dazed as she obviously was, it was a testament to her skills that she blocked a fist to her chest, which had been nothing more than a feint as I drove my true attack, an open palm thrust to her face, that nearly broke her nose.

“Fight back!” I snarled. I was disturbed at myself. I was not feeling as appeased as I thought I would at seeing Shan Pu losing so badly. Beating her to death, just like she had Ranma, was supposed to make me feel better. She blocked the next series of punches aimed at her, so I went to the air and struck her with a leap kick that connected with the top of her head. She teetered backward and fell again.

I heard the villagers gasp and begin to give a variety of shouts of encouragement to Shan Pu. Apparently, seeing their champion being unexpectedly beaten so soundly shocked them, and they felt their support could somehow help her.

They were wrong.

It was as I planned my next attack that I heard an anguished cry of  “Shan Pu!,” far louder than the rest, reach my ears. I turned in the direction of the sound and saw a young man, about my age, dressed in white robes and wearing coke-bottle thick glasses leap over the crowd and into the circle. At last the Amazon treachery I had feared had made its presence known. I saw a set of chains suddenly shoot out from one of his voluminous sleeves towards me. I prepared to jump out of the way of the threat when a staff met the chains in mid-air, wrapping them up and preventing them from reaching me. That was followed by an orange sash that snaked out from the crowd and wrapped itself around the boy, pinning his arms to his side.

“What are you doing?!” he screamed at the elder that had hurled the staff, the one that had been talking to Shan Pu earlier.

“This is an honorable challenge match!” she snapped at him.

“Shan Pu’s dying!” he protested.

“That is her right.” I saw the old woman shake her head sadly, then nod towards the blonde girl that had the boy wrapped up in her sash. A quick tug on the flowing garment sent the boy flying back into the crowd. The old woman hurried back to the edge of the ring as well. It appeared my fears about interference were groundless. At least the other Amazons seemed to know something about honor.

The boy confused me though. I managed one good look in his eyes, and saw nothing but total devotion when he gazed at the girl lying on the ground. How could someone care so much for something as worthless as Shan Pu?

Shan Pu! I turned quickly to see her still lying on the ground. From the point when the boy had leapt in to the moment when I returned my attention to Shan Pu, the interference had taken less than five seconds. I still had the advantage. Thoughts of the boy’s misplaced caring flew from my mind, as I felt angrier than ever at almost losing the initiative. Shan Pu had managed to get to her knees when I leveled another kick into her stomach. She refused to fall over this time, so I aimed a punch to her jaw, which she blocked, then struck with a haymaker to her stomach again. It felt like punching a brick wall, but I was strong enough to shatter brick walls now.

I drew back my fist, intending to use enough force to break her hated face in half. I took an extra second to muster all of the strength I had, made a prayer to Ranma, wherever he was watching, and aimed right for the spot between Shan Pu’s eyes. I wanted to be looking into them when the light faded from them forever. I screamed and lashed out at last, my fist coming up to meet her face…

…and being stopped cold by Shan Pu’s open palm.

“<Shan Pu think that enough of that,>” she said as a small flow of blood continued to trickle from her lip. For the first time since I landed my first kick, cognizance had returned to my opponent.

I was stunned by the seeming ease with which she stopped my blow. The surprise was total, as my righteous vengeance was impossibly halted. For a second, I left my mid-section open, which was all Shan Pu needed to launch her own counter-attack. I saw her aim for my open spot, and tightened up my stomach muscles to accept the blow. The endurance training I had learned/suffered at the hands of Mr. Saotome would enable me to withstand a dozen such attacks from her and still be waiting for more. I was already planning my counter strike as I saw the fist about to hit me, and then for some inexplicable reason my vision blurred, or so it seemed since I was unable to make out her fist clearly. And then my guts exploded in pain.

All the air was driven out of me from the unexpected power behind the blow. How could she have hit me so hard? She wasn’t anywhere near that strong. We had all seen her fight before, and she had never displayed that kind of raw power. Yet it had happened, and I found myself gasping for air as I backed away and tried to think of a defense until I got my wind back.

It was Shan Pu’s turn to be relentless. She came at me with an incredibly fast uppercut that caught me in the jaw. Curiously, it didn’t hurt as much as the blow to my stomach; nowhere near as much, and my vision did not blur this time. I had no time to ponder that curiosity as she delivered a kick into my leg, nearly breaking it. Then a roundhouse kick caught me in the head.

Shouts of concern became cheers of delight as Shan Pu began to press an advantage that shouldn’t have been possible. I was better than her, much better. Mr. Saotome, my father, and I had known it. She couldn’t possibly win. She couldn’t!

I lowered my shoulder and shouted, “You bitch!” as I charged her. She dropped to the ground and lashed out with her leg, kicking mine out from under me. But I managed to twist my body around just enough to land on her, our heads next to one another. For a moment, I lost control at being so close to the person I hated more than anything, more than everything, else in the world. All of my newly learned skills were forgotten as I did what came instinctively to me and bit down on the part of her head nearest to me: her ear.

I was rewarded by a scream of pain from her and felt the salty tang of blood pour over my lips. The delight at my opponent’s suffering was short-lived as my stomach exploded in agony once again. The pain from the blow caused my jaws to tighten as my head snapped back. I felt myself thrown off her and to the side. I quickly regained my feet only to feel something still in my teeth. I spat out the offending object: the top half of Shan Pu’s ear.

Blood poured from the wound and down my opponent’s neck as she screamed out in a mix of pain and rage and hit my face with her fist. I tried to block it, but it was too little, too late. The blow connected directly above my left eye, and I felt white shards of pain come not just from my face, but also from the orb itself. The view of the world from that eye went black forever as shards of bone were driven into my optic nerves, severing them.

The pain was far worse than anything I had ever felt before, but I would not give up. I went beyond the pain and lashed out with my elbow into Shan Pu’s chest. I was rewarded with what felt like something give in her ribs, and I heard her cry out in pain. My victory was short-lived as I fell victim to a combination of kicks and punches that I was too dazed to see as I was sent reeling backwards. As much as I wanted to deny it, what was happening became obvious.

I was losing.

NO! I refused to lose. I had trained for months, suffered through endless days and nights alone and in pain and wanting it to go away. Shan Pu was the only one who could make it go away with her death, with ending my need for revenge. She had to die by my hand, even as Ranma had died by hers. It was the only way I could ever know peace. I had trained until I was much better than her. She could not possibly equal my skills and me. Dying was not an option until she was dead too. I would not be denied that which I needed, that which I deserved.

Within me, something snapped. Power unlike anything I had ever felt before filled my form, giving me unbelievable strength. I knew what it was. Towards the end of my training, Mr. Saotome had tried to teach me some advanced techniques. But I failed to master them because I could not access the power that flowed within every living person, the power of my chi.

But somehow, my anger had released a floodgate, and it could not have come at a better time. I was dimly aware of a red glow surrounding me, chi emanating from the rage I felt, giving me the strength to finish the job I had started.

Shan Pu’s eyes widened in shock. Apparently she understood what I had tapped into as well. Much to my further anger, rather than backing away in fear, a calm seemed to settle over her and she fell into a defensive stance. If she had thought that would somehow blunt my anger, she was sadly mistaken. I gave a cry of rage and attacked with everything I had.

Shan Pu was put on the defensive almost instantly. She didn’t even try to attack as I threw punch after punch, which she managed to dodge or deflect. She yielded ground to me at a ridiculous rate, backing away, but not nearly fast enough to actually escape me.

My red haze of rage, as well as only having vision in one eye, had made me only dimly aware of the crowd backing away further, undoubtedly afraid of the power I was now displaying. They need not have worried; there was only one person that I was going to kill. It didn’t matter if it was their stupid laws that Shan Pu had been obeying; she was the one responsible for her actions, and she was the one that would pay.

I noticed that my attack was forcing Shan Pu into making a critical mistake; one that was going to cost her her life. She was retreating in a circle, matching the one we were in, but the circle was getting progressively smaller as I forced her continuously backwards. If she didn’t realize her mistake, the idiot was going to have to turn and run or stand and face me. Either way she would lose.

As we finally got to the center of her retreating spiral, I saw through the red haze that it was going to be the latter as Shan Pu stopped at last. I shouted out something incomprehensible and launched one more attack at her. Just as it was about to hit, she shouted out something about rising dragons. The cry made no sense to me, and it mattered little. Perhaps her mind had snapped once she realized she no longer had anywhere to run.

My fist was only a couple of inches away from her face when I suddenly found myself lifted off the ground by some unknown force. I was hurled up high and fast into the air, and was only dimly aware of a vortex of power that surrounded me, hammering me with its hot and cold winds, driving all the strength from my limbs.

And just as suddenly as it started, it stopped, and I was driven into the ground like a falling meteorite, impacting hard enough to shatter the ground beneath me and make a small impact crater.

I didn’t know how long I lay there, completely senseless. I don’t think it was for more than a few moments, because my senses returned as I saw Shan Pu approach me from several meters away. Blood continued streaming down the side of her neck, and one of her eyes had swollen shut from one of my earlier blows. From the look she gave me, I knew I would receive no mercy from her. The fight was about to end, and there was nothing I could do about it.

As I lay there and waited for the inevitable, it finally occurred to me what hole there had been in my brilliant plan to improve my martial arts so that I could defeat Shan Pu. It was simple, really, and given how often plans around my home seemed to work out, I shouldn’t have been surprised that it had happened this way.

After all, if I had the time to learn some new moves, what would have prevented Shan Pu from doing the same? And since she had been better than me before my training, well, it was no wonder I was the one laying on the ground and she was the one about to achieve victory. I wondered what it was that had driven her so that her skills had still ended up surpassing mine.

I wished I could cry then, but still the tears refused to come. It wasn’t fair. I was on the side of justice. I was in the right. I had to avenge Ranma’s death. I was the good guy. I should have won. I had even gone beyond my normal abilities and accessed power I had never been able to use before. And yet it hadn’t been enough. Shan Pu had learned more than me. She had beaten me completely and utterly. Ranma’s death would go unavenged, and his killer was going to get off free.

I tried to rise and failed. I couldn’t even get up. It was complete humiliation. Shan Pu took care of that problem by grabbing me by the back of my neck and holding me up so that my face was staring directly at hers. She drew her fist back, looking me straight in the eye as I had imagined I would do to her.

“<Why?>” she asked.

“Why what?” Even at the end, I would not give in to her and speak Japanese. I might have failed, but at least I would die with what pride I had left.

“<Why Akane come all the way here to avenge lying girl-type Ranma? Girl-type Ranma lie to Akane too. Trick her into becoming fiancée when Ranma really a girl, not boy.>”

It took me a moment to realize what she was saying. Even after all of that time, the idiot still hadn’t figured out that Ranma had lied to just her. A soft chuckle escaped my lips.

Shan Pu looked at me in confusion, the poor dear. She must have thought I was going insane. “<What so funny?>”

I laughed harder. The look of bewilderment made the pain of failure almost worthwhile. Well, not really, but it was the only measure of revenge I was going to get. “You, you idiot. Ranma wasn’t really a girl. He was a boy.”

“<No,>” Shan Pu said softly. “<Is not true. Ranma say she girl-type, not boy.>”

“Is true,” I mocked.

“<No!> she said more forcefully this time. “<Ranma girl. Ranma say so to Shampoo. You lie and try to trick Shampoo.>”

“No. The only one that tricked you was Ranma.” A trick that had cost him his life.

“<You lie!>” And much to my amazement, tears started to form in her eyes. That made no sense. Why was she crying? She had barely known Ranma. She couldn’t have loved him. She had killed him.

“You’ve heard of Jusenkyou,” I was speaking much more softly now, though I couldn’t say why. I was still so very angry. “It was hot water he poured on himself, not cold.”

“LIAR!” Shan Pu drew back her hand then, and though some strength had returned to me, there was nothing I could do to prevent the blow. I closed my eyes, waiting for the end to come.

I was thinking that Shan Pu was taking her time about dispatching me when I felt the hold on my neck released. I opened my eyes to see Shan Pu staggering back, as though she had fallen victim to one of my blows. She gave one last look, full of pain, towards me, and then screamed. At first it sounded like a ‘no’, then the denial became something more akin to a primal howl that managed to shake even me to the very core of my being. Afterwards, Mr. Saotome and Father said it was the exact same cry I had given when I’d held Ranma’s broken body in my arms. It took me a moment to understand what had happened: Shan Pu finally knew the truth as well.

Shan Pu continued backing away from me as she howled out in agony. She was about a half dozen meters away before the cry stopped, and she fell limply to her knees, as though she had been nothing more than a marionette whose strings had been cut.

I felt strength return to my limbs, enough to raise my damaged and aching body to its feet. I made my way towards her, hopping more than walking since I had broken my ankle in my fall from her attack. I stopped in front of her, waiting for some kind of response.

Shan Pu looked up at me, tears coursing down her face. I couldn’t believe anyone could cry that much. There was no mistaking the pleading look in her eyes, all but begging me to end her suffering for her. It would be easy. With her head tilted up, her throat was bared for me. All it would take was a quick strike to her windpipe and it would all be over. Vengeance would be delivered at last.

I brought my fist back until it was level with my head. I paused for a moment to take one last look at Shan Pu. The once proud and vibrant Amazon had been reduced to nothing more than a pitiful broken creature. Truly a worthless and pathetic sight.

Exactly like myself.

Do you think we weren’t the same? We were in all the ways that mattered. Following her laws had crippled Shan Pu. Taking the path of vengeance had crippled me. I had forsaken all of the important things that used to matter to me. My friends, my school, my entire life, all so that I could travel to a far off land and kill someone who had killed another close to her because of some moronic laws and a lie.

And I thank god to this day that I understood that before I unleashed my blow.

Instead of lashing out at her —as perhaps ‘justice’ demanded— I fell to my knees and embraced her. As she felt my arms envelope her, she began crying even harder, a mournful wailing that sounded as though it would never end. And as the full impact of what I had already done to myself, and what I had almost done, reached me, and as I understood the true depths of sorrow that my opponent felt, I at last felt something snap inside of me, something that had been buried deep within since that night a lifetime ago. It might not have ever returned had I completed the path of retribution I had taken.

I cried. Oh, how I cried. Three months of tears let loose in a torrent that matched Shan Pu’s sorrow. Drop for Drop. Soul to soul. What a sight the two of us must have made, not that either one of us cared. We just continued on and on, joining in our symmetry of pain.

I bet you’re thinking that I was foolish. That I should have killed Shan Pu anyway, since no matter how badly she felt about it, she had killed Ranma. Perhaps I was, but I’ve never been able to convince myself of that. Not for once second. There were many reasons not to do it. Shan Pu, damn her eyes, had killed based on a lie. Not out of enjoyment or some imagined wrong, but because the fool had thought it was what she was supposed to do. And Ranma, poor, sweet, dense, caring Ranma, had decided to take his life into his own hands that night. He would have accepted the consequences of his actions, no matter what the outcome would have been. He would never have insisted I kill anyone because of what he had done. Even in the short time I had been with him, I knew that wasn’t his way. And the most important reason of all, I didn’t kill her for me. I’m not a killer, not in my heart, and had I struck Shan Pu down in this way, I would never have been able to wash the blood from my hands. My life, as I had known it, would have ended forever. Killing her would have changed nothing. Ranma would still have been dead, and I still would have been just as miserable as before, and with another’s death on my hands as well. No, Shan Pu’s death would have served no useful purpose, not even to fulfill some vague sense of punishment.

Besides, if I had to live with what she had done, she should have to live with it too. And through our strange joining, having felt the depths of her sorrow even through my own… well, let’s just say I hope she lives a long, long life.

Now don’t get me wrong. To this day I still curse what happened that night. I curse the fools that came up with those ridiculous laws concerning marriage and death. I curse Shan Pu for following those stupid laws instead of her heart and darkening all of our lives. I curse Ranma for being a coward and lying to her about what he was instead of telling the truth and trying to deal with the situation. But most of all, I curse myself for just standing by and watching instead of putting an end to that ridiculous farce. We were all to blame in one form or another, to greater and lesser degrees, and that’s the truth, as much as I might wish it were otherwise. Now I have to live with that knowledge as well.

As we finally began to cry ourselves out, one of the elders, the one with the gnarled staff, declared the match over and that both of us had won. There were some cries of protests from the crowd, but those were quickly silenced by one look from the old woman. I managed to collect enough of myself to release Shan Pu, who did likewise to me, and got up (though I still continued crying). I went over to my father and Mr. Saotome, believing they would reject me in shame. I barely noticed the old woman go over to Shan Pu and offer her own shoulder for the younger girl to cry on. Part of me felt bitter about seeing someone so deserving of her pain get any measure of relief from it, but another part of me felt relieved as well. I don’t know whether I should have been ashamed of that compassion or not, but with what life has since taught me since that day, I’ve come to think that compassion is not something one should ever feel ashamed to have. Never.

I had thought that Father, or at least Mr. Saotome, would be ashamed of my actions, for turning away from vengeance, but instead both men smiled at me. Father said he was proud of me for my restraint, and Mr. Saotome said that Ranma would have approved because he would never have wanted another’s blood spilled in his name. Not like that. Never like that. Mr. Saotome also said that, if I was willing, he would continue teaching me the art, since, in light of my choice that day, I was now fully prepared to travel that path. I accepted, and haven’t regretted it to this day. I might not be as great as Ranma would have been, but I’m the best I can be, and I take pride in that.

With the matter of Ranma laid to rest (as laid to rest as it would be, for a part of him would always be with me), we returned to Japan and I began putting my life back in order. I hadn’t realized how much my friends and school meant to me until I returned to them. How could I have been so blind as to forget the important things in life? How could I have come so close to throwing them all away? It was a near thing, and I still give thanks each time I wake up in the morning that I avoided making a mistake that would have tainted my life forever.

I did put my life back together, and it was almost the same as before, though I had changed within a great deal. I was no longer a little girl, but a woman that was more mature then her years, thanks to the events in my life. I managed to regain my old friends and made new ones as well. I went on to graduate near the top of my class, and got accepted into a major university. I easily adapted to life there, going through good times and bad, through happiness and heartbreak, and doing the same even after graduation. In essence, I lived my life to the fullest, and that was the best thing I could have done to honor Ranma’s memory.

Sometimes I look to the west and wonder how Shan Pu’s doing. Part of me hopes she’s still as miserable as when I left her. I might have forgiven her for what she did, but to this day I still hate her all the same. She took Ranma from me. What I felt for him hadn’t been love, we didn’t know each other long enough for that, but it might very well have turned into it. I truly think it would have, but now I’ll never know. I hate her for denying both of us that opportunity as well.

That’s not to say I’m sorry for the path my life has taken, however. I don’t think either my husband or two children would be pleased about that. I love them to death and wouldn’t change a thing about any of them in the world. It’s not a perfect life, but no one’s is. Besides, a perfect life would be boring, and my husband and children make sure that every day is anything but boring. I’m proud of the woman, of the mother, I’ve become, and I think Ranma would be too.

And it all went back to that day in China, where I learned that sometimes the things we seek are not things we either truly want or need. And thanks to that, I’ve learned how to be happy once again. That is a lesson I will hold in my heart from now until the end of days.

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