It was a typical day for Akane as she followed Ranma to school. A typical day that, as usual, included attacks by Kunou, Mousse, and Ryouga. Curiously, the opponents lined up for Ranma, who took but one punch at each in order to defeat them. Upon arrival at the school grounds, a horde of women stormed up to the duo. That was unusual; Shampoo-kun was not with them so the girls should have had no reason to attack today. As the group rushed forward they collectively glomped onto Ranma. The boy made no motion to resist the girls, allowing them to run their hands up and down his form.
“RANMA! What do you think you are doing?”
Ranma shrugged. “Enjoying myself?”
Shampoo mysteriously appeared, wrapped in a gossamer-like fabric that flowed around her form in ever-shifting white waves. As she seemed to glide by, she grasped Ranma’s hand, pulling the boy away from the horde of women. The group offered no resistance despite the fact the object of their desire was being whisked away.
Shampoo stopped, released Ranma’s hand, and stood with her back towards him. She looked over her shoulder and gave a seductive glance towards Ranma.
“Ranma wash Shampoo? Yes?”
The boy’s expression showed what the answer would be. He moved forward as Shampoo’s garment gently flowed off her body, allowing Ranma access to her skin.
Akane stomped forward. “Damn it, Ranma! You are my fiancé!”
“So what?” he answered nonchalantly.
“So what? I’ll show you so what!” She moved forward and embraced Ranma, spun him off his feet, then bent over and kissed him. She could feel Ranma return the kiss as the two remained liplocked for some time. Eventually, Akane broke off the osculation and looked down at the form she was still embracing.
“Not too bad,” Ranma-chan grinned back at her.
Akane sat bolt upright from her bed, heart racing.
“What was that all about?”
Chapter 12: Tarou, Tarou, Tarou
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
What’s gone on before (or what you really need to know to enjoy this fic) In the beginning, the Saotomes traveled to Jusenkyou to spar, not realizing Shampoo and Mousse had already began a duel there. One mid-air collision and bath in Spring of Young Drowned Man later, we have a male Shampoo as well as a female Ranma (So Ranma-chan= female Ranma. Shampoo-kun= male Shampoo.) Shampoo elected to travel to Japan with Ranma and ended up briefly engaged to Kasumi. After that was cleared up, Ranma got engaged to Akane. On the first day of school water and confusion mixed, leaving everyone to believe that Ranma-chan was Shampoo and Shampoo-kun was Ranma. Eventually Cologne learned what happened to Shampoo and wants to take her back to China to cure her, or failing that, make her stand trial for becoming a man. Ryouga had fallen into the Spring of Drowned Bat, and left Nerima in indecision when Ukyou gave an ultimatum concerning her relationship between him and Ranma. Last chapter Perfume, a mysterious figure from Shampoo’s past appeared seeking revenge for some wrong done to her by Shampoo. Shampoo lost the fight and was about to be killed when Perfume discovered the curse and mysteriously ran away. After being hospitalized, Shampoo related what happened in the past with Perfume, leaving out some bits of information. Cologne discovered Tarou and decided the boy has the potential to help her in obtaining Shampoo…
<> Denotes Chinese
Part 1: A Load of Bull
Akane stared at her clock, gazing at the darkness the LCD was showing. Her first impulse was to pick it up and shake the timepiece, which she acted on. Nothing happened so she resorted to finding her watch and discovering the time. She realized with great reluctance it was still early, but once awake she wasn’t going to be able to go back to sleep. Akane finished dressing and walked slowly down the stairs, lost in thought.
“What was that dream about?” She didn’t want to be engaged to Ranma, so why was she dreaming of kissing him. And why as a girl? That caused a shiver to run down her spine. Was she becoming some kind of pervert? Maybe she was spending too much time around her fiancé, and his traits were rubbing off on her. She remembered being disgusted that she kissed Ranma as a girl, so perhaps she wasn’t becoming a pervert. And she did remember enjoying the kiss at first when it was with Ranma, when he was a boy, and that was normal. Or was it? She’d never kissed Ranma, nor had any desire to, so why the dream?
Could her subconscious be trying to tell her something? She told herself it was just a dream, so there was no reason to get worked up over it. The whole situation was so confusing. Even assuming she was to someday become interested in Ranma, which she was certain she was not at present (well… almost certain), they still couldn’t marry while he was cursed. That was out of the question. Or was it? Now that she stopped to think about it, she was living with him, and as uncomfortable as the curse had made her at first, there was no longer any actual revulsion now. Somehow, it had become acceptable that he changed sexes whenever water went flying. Should that have scared her, accepting something that bizarre as commonplace? Maybe seeing Ranma would clear things up in her mind. She entered the kitchen where Kasumi was setting out breakfast. Akane noted there were only cold products out and not the hot meal her sister usually prepared.
“What’s going on?” Akane inquired.
“The power went out. I was just going to wake you in a little while.”
Kasumi smiled. “He went downstairs to the basement to fix the fuses or something.”
That was a shock. “We have a basement?”
“You know,” Kasumi said. “Nabiki and father said the same thing when I told them. I thought everyone knew it was there. I’ve been using it to store some odds and ends I’ve picked up over the years.”
Akane went to the living room and saw a trapdoor in the floor wide open. Sticking her head down she could smell the mustiness that emanated from the cellar. She carefully walked downstairs, minding the fact that what little light was in the basement was from the open trapdoor. As her eyes became used to the gloom, she could see Ranma with his back to her, holding a penlight in his mouth as he fussed over a fuse box with some wires showing. Shampoo-kun was close by, using a flashlight as he looked through things on some shelves.
A loud zap came from Ranma’s direction. “Romeo, Romeo. Wherefore art thou Romeo?” He mumbled through the penlight in his mouth.
Shampoo-kun located an odd book on one of the shelves. He opened it, browsing through some of the pages. “Ranma. You ever read ‘Necronomicon?’”
Ranma took the penlight out of his mouth. “No. Can’t say I have.” He continued to concentrate on the wiring.
“Oh.” Shampoo-kun placed the book back in its place, then pulled a long black sword off of a shelf. He blew the dust off of the weapon, uncovering some runes engraved on the blade itself. Translating it revealed the word “Stormbringer.” Shrugging, he placed it back on the shelf it had been on.
Akane moved down the stairs. Ranma was still working intently on the wiring and was oblivious to the newcomer’s presence. However her arrival did catch the attention of Shampoo-kun.
“Akane. No touch Ranma.” The Crimson Gem of Cyttorack caught Shampoo-kun’s eye and he went over to examine it.
Akane was furious. “Who does she think she is, telling me what to do with Ranma?” she thought to herself. “I’ll show her.”
Akane quietly walked up to Ranma’s form and went to tap him on the shoulder. Just as she was about to make contact she was tackled by Shampoo-kun. Even as the blow hit, reflexes took over. Akane twisted around, causing Shampoo-kun to take the brunt of the fall as she landed on him. A cry of agony emanated from the fallen Amazon as he landed on his injured side.
Ranma spun in surprise, the sight of Akane sitting on a writhing Shampoo-kun filling his vision.
He rushed over and shoved Akane roughly off the boy’s back, then started fawning over the fallen Amazon, who was trying to wave Ranma off.
“Hey! What do you think you’re doing?!” Akane was less than pleased with having been ordered, tackled, then shoved to the floor in less than thirty seconds. Surprisingly, Ranma turned angrily on her, shoving his finger in her face.
“You jerk! Why’d you hit Shampoo?” Akane was taken aback. He really appeared angry, and, if she didn’t know him better, she would have sworn he was going to hit her. For the briefest of moments she considered backing down, then remembered what had happened.
“I didn’t hit her. She tackled me! And get that finger out of my face!” She was the wronged party here, not him.
Shampoo-kun slowly got to his feet, pain still etched on his face. “She try to touch you, Ranma. I tell her not to.”
Ranma scowled at Akane. “You baka! Did you try to touch me after Shampoo specifically told you not to?”
“Yes. So? You got a disease or something?” Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Or is it you just want Shampoo to touch you?”
“She was trying to save you!”
“What are you talking about?!” Akane’s temper was approaching the breaking point.
Ranma’s anger seemed to increase in direct proportion to Akane’s. “I was working with live wires and had current shooting through me. If you came into contact with me you probably would have been electrocuted. I asked Shampoo to keep a lookout so no one would try to touch me while I was working.”
That caused Akane to pause. “What do you mean? Why weren’t you being electrocuted?”
“The Director’s acting lessons, remember? Electricity doesn’t bother me anymore. That’s why I volunteered to work on the wiring.” A look of disgust crossed his face. “Ah, it ain’t worth explaining to a violent gorilla like you.” He turned to Shampoo-kun, his voice softening. “Let’s get you upstairs.”
“It not hurt so much if Akane not so heavy.” Shampoo-kun said as he headed up the stairs.
Akane remained in the basement, trying to figure out how things had gone so horribly wrong.
Mousse was having a pleasant dream. He was in a giant palace with Greek style architecture, everything made of marble. Fountains with the statues of nymphs bearing water jars created soothing sounds as he lay back on soft pillow, resting and admiring his companion, Shampoo. The Amazon sat next to him, scantily clad in a dress that showed off her stunning attributes in the most provocative manner possible. She gently fed him grapes, one by one, from a golden platter.
“<I’m sorry I treated you so poorly for all those years, my love. You were always the one for me. I realize that now. I love you more than the world itself. Ask me anything, anything you want. I shall do it for you.>” She gazed into his eyes with the loving expression he had desired for so many years.
Mousse chewed slowly on the grape, considering the statement and trying to come up with something appropriate. At last something came to mind.
“<Bring me Ranma Saotome. I want to see him on his knees.>”
A wicked smile formed on the purple haired Amazon’s lips. “<I anticipated your needs, my love. I will always do my best for you.>” She grabbed a chain and yanked on it. “<Here you are.>” The chain was connected to a collar strapped around a beaten Ranma’s neck. The pull caused him to come out from the stone pillar he had been hidden behind. The boy moved too slowly for Shampoo and was jerked off his feet by a second tug. He got on his hands and knees, a look of abject fear in his eyes.
“<I’m sorry. It was foolish of me to fight against you.>” Ranma prostrated himself before Mousse. “<I never should have tried to steal your Shampoo from you. You are the master. I am nothing compared to you.>” Mousse laughed as Shampoo gave the boy the same cold stare she had leveled at him for so many years. She even kicked Ranma a few times for good measure.
“<Shampoo, come here.>” His love responded by lying seductively next to him. Mousse slowly played his hands over her slender form. As he started allowing his hands to wander to some more delicate parts, he felt something hit him between the eyes. It happened again, then again. Finally, he opened his eyes back to the real world.
“<What’s going on?>” Without glasses he was totally blind. As he moved his hands around, he felt someone hand him the glasses. Once they were on, he focused his vision on who gave him the helping hand.
“<AHHHHHHH!!!>” A dried up troll was staring at him.
“<Knock it off, you idiot.>” Cologne swatted him between the eyes with her staff once again, causing Mousse to realize who it was that had destroyed his fantasy.
“<What are you doing here, you hag?! I was having a wonderful dream of Shampoo.>”
Cologne arched an eyebrow at that. “<You sleep with one woman, but have dreams of another? What an unfaithful bastard you are!>”
Mousse had no idea what she was talking about until his hand fell on the female form next to him. He looked down to see Kodachi snuggled up next to him, asleep. He gave an inward sigh. It was not the first time this had happened. At least she was clothed on this occasion.
He turned his attention back to Cologne. “<What do you want, you dried up piece of jerky?>” That got him thrown into a wall.
“<The younger generation. No respect for their elders.>” This comment was directed to the youth behind her. Tarou.
Tarou snorted. He couldn’t care less what anyone thought of the aged Amazon. He was here to listen to the deal Cologne was going to propose… at least, once she was done dealing with the fool. Tarou was forced to admit the Amazon was good. He recalled when he first came around, and discovered the hag…
Tarou rubbed his eyes as he woke up. The last thing he remembered was finally tracking down that demented little creature, Happosai. The youth tried every trick he could think of to defeat the master, but to no avail. In the end he was defeated and sent flying. Ringing still emanated from within his skull, no doubt from the beating he received from Happosai, as well as the landing he endured from the final blow. When he was at last able to focus his vision, it fell upon Cologne. He wasn’t all that repulsed by her; he had encountered Happosai, and despised that twisted little form more than anything else in the world.
“<Rest, young one. You suffered a terrible beating at the hands of a master.>” Cologne told him.
Tarou picked up on the inference immediately. She must have had an intimate knowledge of the martial arts to be able to tell a master martial artist had delivered the blows. The woman had him at a disadvantage, something he didn’t like.
“<What’s your name, and what do you want?>”
“<My name is Cologne, and I wish to strike a deal with you. What is your name?>”
She would ask that. “<You can call me Tarou. And why would I be interested in a deal with you?>”
She gave Tarou a stare, one that seemed to look into his soul. “<We can help each other out. You are a martial artist, a good one, I think, yet you met defeat at another’s hands. I can help you in that regard.>”
Well, an opportunity to two-on-one Happosai. That sounded good, but he needed to gauge her abilities. “<I sincerely doubt you can help me. Out of the way!>” He intentionally placed his hand on her shoulder, waiting to see what reaction he would get. He was prepared to remove the hand the instant she tried anything. The surprise of being whipped into the ground was total. It took him nearly ten seconds to recover from the blow.
“<You have my attention. I’m listening,>” he said as he got back up. This could be the edge he was looking for.
“<We should talk somewhere more comfortable,>” she said. Tarou at last fully took in the place he had recovered, an abandoned building of some kind. Cologne began talking again. “<There’s a nice spot where we can make ourselves right at home. Just follow me.>” And with that, Cologne hopped off, leaving Tarou to follow her. If she was as good as she appeared, he might at last have a chance of having Happosai change his name. If everything was on the up and up, he might even let what Cologne did to him slide.
His thoughts returned to the present, as the fool’s sleeping companion awakened. The girl wore a see-through negligee that showed off her lithe form. “<The fool’s done well for himself,>” Tarou silently thought.
Kodachi awakened at the sound of Mousse’s impact. She quickly spotted her love’s form embedded in the wall, then turned to her nearest opponent, Cologne.
“You will pay for what you have done, creature!” She whipped out a bouquet of her trick roses and thrust them at Cologne’s face. The Amazon simply hit them with her staff, knocking the flowers into Kodachi’s face instead. The paralyzing agent caused the girl to go limp and drop into the bed.
“<As though I didn’t smell that one coming a mile away.>” She shrugged and went to make herself comfortable in her new home, the Black Rose’s Floral Shoppe.
Akane lay back on her bed, thinking about the events of the morning. No matter how hard she tried, it wouldn’t work. There was only one person to blame. Her. It was true that Shampoo could have been more specific about why she shouldn’t touch Ranma, but that was no excuse. That decided, there was only one thing left to do. Apologize. Akane told herself she was better than Ranma, who would sooner rip out his tongue than let an apology cross his lips. Akane sighed. The first one to go to was Shampoo; not that apologizing to her was going to be easy. It seemed the Amazon had become irritable and bossier lately. That was particularly bothersome since she wasn’t anything other than a guest here. Make that a guest of a guest, and to Akane, that guest might have been wearing out her welcome.
With great reluctance, she stopped in front of Shampoo’s door and knocked. A voice responded from within.
“Who is it?”
“It’s me.” Akane responded.
“What you want?”
“I just want to apologize for this morning. Open the door.” She couldn’t hear any sounds of movement from within.
“Shampoo accept apology. Now go away.”
Akane’s face twitched. “The nerve of that… that bimbo! I try to apologize and she can’t even look me in the eye. She just dismisses me. To hell with her!” Akane thought, and then stomped off to find Ranma. He was going to accept her apology even if it killed him.
She found him practicing in the middle of the dojo floor, moving silently through his katas. Rather than interrupting him, she elected to sit down and watch, her anger drifting away. As she observed him flow through the katas, she recognized some that she had mastered, while others were completely new to her. That lack of knowledge served as a reminder of just how much Ranma knew and she didn’t. It was a frustrating reminder. The more she saw of Ranma the more she wanted to learn. If nothing else, there was one thing she could be grateful for in his arrival at the dojo. His presence, and Shampoo’s to a lesser degree, made her want to become better. She used to be one of the best, but watching them made her realize how far she still had to go in the art. Maybe if it was just Ranma, it wouldn’t have been so bad, but Shampoo’s presence made her realize how much better Akane could become. Since they first arrived she had been training hard. It was the common ground the three shared early on.
“Time to find out how much better I’ve become,” she thought. “Ranma.” Akane called out, interrupting the kata he was currently in. “Spar with me.”
He leveled his gaze at Akane, appearing slightly perturbed. “I ain’t got time for that.”
She couldn’t tell if he was still angry with her for this morning, or if he was just irritated at the suggestion. Maybe it was a bit of both. “You have plenty of time. Shampoo’s injured and won’t be able to spar with you like she usually does. We can both use the practice.” That should show him.
He just rolled his eyes and waved her on. Fortunately she was already in her gi, having decided to get a little practice done after the apologies. Just as she was about to bow before her opponent, Ranma moved away.
“Almost forgot.” He smiled sheepishly, then grabbed a nearby bucket and dumped the contents over his head, changing him to Ranma-chan. She walked back over to Akane and bowed.
“Why did you change to a girl?” Maybe she wasn’t as comfortable watching the transformation as she thought.
“Because, dummy, I can’t fight you as a guy.” Ranma-chan looked at her as though it was the most obvious thing in the world.
Akane started to boil. “What do you mean you can’t fight me as a guy? You fight Shampoo all the time no matter what sex the two of you are.”
“I ain’t going over this again,” he sighed in exasperation. “If you want to spar with me, it’s when I’m a girl. Got it?”
Akane wanted to retaliate but held her tongue. The best way to get back at Ranma was to beat him. She dropped into a fighting stance after the two of them bowed before one another.
Her first four punches didn’t come close as Ranma-chan deftly avoided them. She tried kicks, elbows, uppercuts, and everything but wooden hammers as Ranma-chan simply avoided all the blows, hands behind her back. As the fight progressed, a sense of deja vu overcame Akane.
“Fight back!” She tried several more blows, none coming close. Frustration began to get the best of her as she stopped sparring and went all out to hit Ranma-chan, holding nothing back.
“Jeez, Akane. Calm down. We’re only practicing.” Ranma-chan stepped up the speed with which she was dodging, but still didn’t try to hit back, frustrating Akane further.
“Why won’t you fight?” This was humiliating. It was happening again. She had to get him to hit back. “You worthless perverted little girl!”
That set off Ranma-chan. “You asked for it.” She moved out of the way of Akane’s fist and kicked her legs out from under her, causing the girl to hit the floor. It took a moment for Ranma-chan to realize Akane wasn’t trying to get up; she just lay there, crying.
“Aw, jeez, Akane. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hit you so hard.” Now Ranma-chan felt terrible. She had done the one thing she never wanted to do, hit a girl. And worse, it was Akane.
Akane sniffled as she lay there. “It’s n… not that. You beat me j… just as easily as you d… did the first time we sparred. I’m not any better. N… not even after all that time.”
“So that’s what it is.” Ranma-chan thought with relief. “It’s her pride. Got more of it than I thought.” She tried to figure out what to say to ease her partner. “That ain’t true. You’re a lot better than you were when I first came here.”
“You’re just saying that. You beat me just like the first time.” She stared at Ranma-chan, trying to figure out what she was really up to.
“You baka.” Ranma-chan said softly, no anger in the voice at all. “I’ve gotten a lot better too. That’s why it’s still easy for me. Why, I bet you’re almost as good now as I was back then.”
That perked Akane up. “You think so?”
“Yep,” Ranma-chan answered, nodding her head. “I bet you’re almost as good as Pop now. And just look at the way you took out that Dojo Destroyer.”
“But he was already injured.” Akane protested.
“And you still took him out easy. You could’ve beaten him even if he was in top shape. So don’t go punishing yourself just ‘cause you aren’t as good as me.” Her smile grew wider. “No one is.”
Akane brightened a bit more. “His ego gets bigger every day.” she thought. Still, what Ranma-chan said made sense.
They continued to spar (Akane attacked, Ranma-chan dodged) for another twenty minutes until Akane decided to take a break. As Akane sat down, she noticed Ranma-chan remained standing.
Ranma-chan looked at her. “That’s enough for today.” She started to walk off.
Akane became worried. Was she leaving because Akane acted like a child? “Why don’t we train some more? I promise I won’t cry if I lose.”
Ranma-chan grimaced. “It ain’t that. It’s just I don’t feel comfortable fighting you. I still got a lot to learn, and I can’t take a whole lot of time to help train you any more.”
That stopped Akane. “But you said I was a lot better now.”
“What I meant to say is, you’re good, but I’m still lots better. Sparring with you is only going to hold me back. Pop’s about your speed. Have him train you from now on. Once you start beating him regularly, you come back to me.”
“But you spar with Shampoo.”
He thought about the answer for a moment. “We were almost at the same level of skill when we first met, and she’s been steadily improving with me.” He quickly added, “She still can’t beat me, though. And, well, she’s a lot better than you. She’s good enough that I have to try hard to beat her, and every time I do she gets better by making sure I don’t take her the same way next time. And that forces me to come up with something new.”
She continued, “I’ve been getting a little worried. Except for Mousse’s occasional attacks, I haven’t really been tested by anyone. And even he’s been quiet lately. Never thought I’d say this, but I miss Ryouga. Having him jump me all the time kept me on my toes, even if he was little more than a giant bludgeon. He sure could take punishment.” She sounded wistful, “And now with Shampoo injured, well, I feel like I’m just spinning my wheels. I want to fight someone who can take me to the limit. You’re good, but you aren’t around my level.”
Just as Ranma-chan turned to depart, Akane spoke up. “All right. Why don’t we do something else? How about we go for a walk?” She was a little surprised to discover that she didn’t want Ranma-chan to go.
Ranma-chan smiled. “Great idea. I’ve been feeling like I’ve been cooped up. I’ll ask Shampoo if she wants to come along.” She hurried out, causing Akane to simmer in anger again.
“It always comes back to Shampoo.” Akane had wanted to spend some time with Ranma. Alone. There were some things she needed to ask him. Instead he was going to drag Shampoo along, the jerk.
Ranma-chan ran upstairs to the bathroom, stripped and went to clean herself. She turned on the hot water and was greeted by cold. Even after several minutes the water still refused to become warm. Sticking her shorts back on, she draped a towel over her top, then exited and shouted downstairs.
“Hey Kasumi! There’s no hot water.”
“The hot water heater must be broken. I’ll call a repairman,” Kasumi called back.
“Heat up some water for me, willya?” Ranma-chan replied. She had no intention of remaining a girl for long and didn’t feel like making the trek to the public baths. Just as she was about to return to the bath, she remembered something.
“I forgot to ask Shampoo if she wants to come along.” She went downstairs to the converted bedroom Shampoo used and knocked on the door. Shampoo-kun opened it immediately. As soon as he saw the girl, a look of surprise crossed his face and he slammed the door.
That caused a frown. “What the heck was that about?” She knocked on the door again.
“Just a minute!”
Ranma-chan heard the sound of movement before the door opened again. Shampoo-kun opened the door far enough to slip out, and then shut it right behind him, obviously not wanting anyone to see what was inside.
Ranma-chan’s interest perked up. “So. You got a guy in there or something?” It was intended as a joke, but wasn’t received that way. She was surprised when the Amazon shook his fist.
“I not that kind of girl, Ranma! You do well remember that.” His voice softened. “Shampoo stay faithful no matter what.”
That confused her completely. “Ah, right. Anyway, I wanted to know if you wanted to go on a walk with me and Akane.”
Shampoo-kun stood there with a look of indecision. After a moment he responded. “No, thanks. I stay.” He looked curiously down at Ranma-chan’s form.
The stare didn’t go unnoticed. “What?” She examined her body, trying to see what Shampoo-kun found so fascinating.
His head jerked up at the question as he started to blush. “You should wear top when girl, Ranma.” He opened the door wide enough to slip back in, and then closed it.
Ranma-chan wore a puzzled expression. “What difference does it make to her if I got my top on or not?” Her thoughts turned to another question. “Wonder what she’s got hiding in there?” Maybe an investigation would be called for later. Ranma hated mysteries.
Shampoo-kun leaned against the door, exhaling slowly. Controlled breathing was a good way to calm down. He was uncertain what was going on within him. In all the times he had seen Ranma in his female body there had never been the sort of reaction like the one Shampoo-kun was feeling now.
“Maybe it because I boy type now,” he thought. It had been five straight days of being male, and it was beginning to wear very thin. Especially when going to the bathroom. The sooner his side healed and he could change back to his proper sex, the better.
As Shampoo-kun calmed down he returned to his materials. It had bothered him that he couldn’t go with Ranma and Akane, but Ranma’s gift needed to be finished. The process of creating it took much longer than expected. If it wasn’t for all the extra time he had from the injury the present might never have been completed, and it had to be perfect. There would be only one chance to get it right. He sat down and began to work once again.
Akane felt uneasy walking through the park with Ranma, despite the fact she was the one who wanted to take him out. There were some questions she needed to ask and it wouldn’t do to have anyone eavesdrop on a conversation. No one in the house passed up opportunities like that. Nabiki had the place wired and the two fathers frequently had their eyes next to keyholes and a glass to the door to hear what Ranma and Akane said to one another.
“Ranma. Do you ever think about the engagement?” An innocent enough question.
“Not if I can help it. Why?”
“Just wondering.” Akane folded her hands behind her back as she walked. “Are there any girls you like?” She silently wondered if the probe was soft enough.
“No. Not really.” He wondered what she was thinking, asking questions like that. “Why you asking? You interested in someone?” He found he was uneasy about how she would answer, which was silly. He couldn’t care less who she saw.
“No. Of course not.” Odd that he would ask that. They walked on in silence until Akane felt it appropriate to ask another question. “Ranma. Are you happy being a girl?”
“Of course not, stupid! I hate it!”
“Then why don’t you try to find a cure? In all the time I’ve known you, you’ve never tried to find a way to get rid of the curse.”
“It’s not that easy. It ain’t like there’s a pill to prevent changing sexes y’know,” Ranma growled. “And for your information, I asked Minami. She doesn’t know anything in particular that can prevent it. There were a lot of quack remedies, like ‘Instant Nanniichuan’ and waterproof soap, but no cures.” he paused. “Well, there was a couple things, but I can’t use them.”
Akane sounded hopeful. “What are they? Why can’t you use them?”
Ranma suddenly felt very depressed. He had gone over many mystical mail order catalogues with the Ghost Sweeper, none of them having anything he could use. When they started going over other tomes of magical objects they still couldn’t find anything that was accessible, or if it was available it still had some serious drawback.
“The first was called a ‘Dybblex Crystal.’ It could separate people into their anima and animus. The problem is it always drives at least one of the halves mad. Sometimes both. And even if it didn’t, I don’t think I want a female me walking around all the time. The other was called a ‘Soul Shatterer.’ Minami contacted a guy who had one. He said it was used on someone that had the same curse I have. It was supposed to destroy the affliction by slicing the soul in half. It worked, but the guy said what was left after the separation wasn’t the same as what was there before.” That one scared the hell out of Ranma. Curse or no curse, he was still the same person now he was before.
Akane didn’t want to give up. “How about going back to Jusenkyou?”
Ranma shook his head. “If I had money, I might try it, but I don’t. And I ain’t swimming over like I did last time!”
The two continued walking in silence, moods considerably darkened. Ranma eventually saw something that brightened his day.
“Hey! Ice Cream! Let’s get some.”
Akane started going for some money in her purse when Ranma stopped her. “It’s on me. I got some money Nabiki hasn’t managed to extort from me yet.” He proudly held out several bills to show her, and then paid for the ice cream. The duo sat on a park bench, watching the children play. Two particularly noisy ones were nearby, shooting each other with squirt guns.
Akane sat there thinking, mostly about her and Ranma. As exasperating as the boy could be, he did have his moments. And there was something appealing about his macho attitude when it was kept in check. A daydream began about what it would have been like if they hadn’t been forced together. How would he have treated her then? How would she have treated him? Would things have been any different? Or would she have dealt with him like she did almost every other man she had ever met? A hammer and a shout.
He was staring off across the lake, giving her a perfect view of his profile. Handsome features he bore. In truth, there was very little of his father in that face, for which Akane was grateful. She silently wondered if he looked like his mother, or if his appearance had no reflection in them at all. Without realizing it, she had drifted closer to him, her face practically next to his as her eyes studied his features. No facial hair whatsoever. A strong chin. There was a tiny scar towards the back of his jaw, only noticeable now that she was up close. His cheekbones were perfect, though, and he had unblemished skin. Hardly fair considering how much effort Akane had to put in keeping her own skin soft and smooth. Ranma didn’t seem the type to take care of himself that way. His lips were very nice as well. At close range it almost seemed he had a small pout, something she never noticed before. She drew closer still, eyes half lidded, lost in memory of the beginning of the dream. Would his lips feel the same in reality? She concentrated on that one feature of his.
She heard Ranma shout something about the children, and then turned his head. The dream reached out to Akane and she move forward as well. Electricity shot through her for a moment as their lips made contact. This was far better than the dream and she found herself wanting to continue until something Ranma had said moments before registered. It wasn’t what he said, but the way it had sounded. She concentrated on the Ranma’s appearance instead of the kiss and saw…
Ranma-chan looking back at her in wonder, unmoving. Akane drifted away from his, now her, lips and screamed.
Akane ran off as fast as she could.
Ranma-chan sat there motionless. Aside from when she looked down to see breasts on her body for the first time, no surprise had been greater. After a full minute, cognitive thoughts began to register.
“Jeez! I didn’t think I was that bad.”
Ranma made his way back to the house. A detour to the public baths had changed him back to a guy as he thought on the way back to the dojo. It was such a bizarre experience in the park. Why on earth did she kiss him? He allowed his fingers to brush across his own lips. He had been in too much shock to do anything but stare at her at the time. But all things considered, it wasn’t an unpleasant experience… Well, up until the point she ran off screaming. He was about to open the door when it came bursting outward on its own.
“RANMA!!! WHAT DID YOU DO TO MY DAUGHTER???” The demon form of Soun greeted warmly.
Ranma reflexively backed up towards the wall surrounding the grounds. “I didn’t do nothin’!”
“Now, now, Father. I’m sure it was all a misunderstanding.” That voice of Kasumi, who had followed behind Soun, had the desired effect of reverting her father back to normal.
“It had better be, boy.” Soun spared Ranma one evil glare, then stalked back inside.
Ranma turned to Kasumi. “Thanks. I owe you one.”
Kasumi just smiled pleasantly. “I don’t know what you mean. You might want to see Akane though. She seemed pretty upset.”
Ranma made his way inside towards Akane’s room. He paused at the door and tried listening for any noise from within, but there was only silence. He gently rapped on the door.
“Akane. You in there?” He tried to sound as nice as possible, even if he hadn’t done anything wrong.
“Go away! It was all a horrible mistake.” The voice sounded muffled, as though she were talking through something. Ranma left as he was asked, an involuntary feeling of guilt rose as he went back downstairs. It was all her fault. She was the one that had kissed him, so why should he feel guilty? He tried to rid himself of the feeling…
…And had a miserable night.
Tarou sat across the table and looked at Cologne. The woman had made them some exotic drink as they sat and discussed their deal.
“<Let me get this straight. You want me to grab some girl for you and subdue her. In return, you’ll help me nail Happosai.>” Tarou thought he understood correctly, but wanted to make sure he didn’t get a fast one pulled on him with ambiguous wording.
“<Yes, that’s correct.>”
“<Why do you want the girl?>”
“<That is none of your concern.>” Cologne responded. “<Why don’t you tell me why you want Happosai?>”
“<That’s none of your concern.>” The old woman was shrewd. That meant if she were smart, she’d know better than to try and stab him in the back.
“<So when do you set out?>”
“<Tomorrow. At school I think. My head’s still ringing from that lucky punch that little pervert hit me with.>” He paused and shook his head. “<You said her name was Shampoo, right?>”
Cologne nodded. “<She’s an accomplished martial artist, but wounded, so she shouldn’t be hard to handle. The dangerous one is Ranma. He’ll defend her at any cost.>”
Tarou chuckled evilly. “<No problem. No problem whatsoever.>”
At the Tendo Dojo the next morning, everyone got up for school. Ranma-chan met up with Nabiki and Shampoo-kun as the trio went to grab breakfast. All three froze when they saw who had already beaten them down there. The icy hand of fear gripped all three of them in its collective grasp.
“Hi, everyone! I decided I’ll be making lunches for everyone from now on.” Akane smiled at the trio.
Nabiki leaned over and whispered in Ranma-chan’s ear. “The thing that disgusts me almost as much as the cooking is that she smiles when she says it.” She turned to Akane. “Oh, Sis. You shouldn’t have. Really!”
“I so happy could scream. And scream, and scream…” That comment came from Shampoo-kun.
Ranma-chan went over, picked up one of the boxes, and shook it. “Hmmm? Sounds like pain, misery, and suffering.”
“Good call.” Nabiki applauded.
“You guys could at least try it before condemning it.” Akane frowned. She had vowed to be as pleasant as possible, in spite of the events of yesterday. She had scolded herself all night for allowing a dream to affect her like that. And to go so far as to kiss Ranma, the dream must have influenced her far more than she had thought. And she would NEVER have done it when he was a girl. So she was going to try hard to keep her temper in check. Of course, if she said something like that out loud, Ranma would take it as a sign the Apocalypse was upon them or something.
“Condemning it is exactly what should be done.” Ranma-chan was unhappy. This had to be some revenge plot of Akane’s for what happened yesterday. And she had gone and felt guilty about what occurred, too.
Kasumi played peacemaker once again and managed to get everyone out the door. The four students made their way to school when they ran into Ukyou.
“Hey Ucchan! How’s it goin’?” Ranma-chan had heard about Ukyou saving Shampoo-kun from Ai the other day, and had started calling her Ucchan again for the first time since the Breaking Point fight. The now five students wandered off to school. Just as they turned the corner, the little old lady with the water bucket managed to nail Ranma-chan and Shampoo-kun.
“How many times that make this month?” Ranma-chan asked Shampoo-kun as they continued walking.
“Twenty-five,” he answered while wringing some of the water out of his hair. “It good thing we go to school as girl-type and boy-type.”
“LOOK OUT!!! CAT DEMON!!!” a voice suddenly shouted.
Ranma-chan did what came naturally. She crouched behind Akane in fear.
“Where?! Where’s the cat?!”
“Meow!” A large cat face appeared out of nowhere next to Ranma-chan, causing her to panic once again and hide behind Ukyou.
Minami dropped the rest of her invisibility, removed the cat mask, and meowed towards Ranma-chan again. “HA! HA! I’ll never get tired of that one. The big bad martial artist is afraid of puddy tats.”
Akane came to Ranma-chan’s defense. “If you got thrown into a pit of hungry cats when you were four, you’d be terrified of them, too.”
“And if Ranma turn into cat, you going to have bad day, Minami.” The Ghost Sweeper was one of the few people Shampoo didn’t give a nickname to. Probably a good idea, given the Ghost Sweeper’s hair trigger temper.
“Your Japanese has improved a lot, Shampoo.” Minami commented.
Shampoo scowled, “Teachers make me stop talking in…” she paused, searching for the right words. “Third person. They say it not right way to speak. Shampoo hate learning foreign languages. Hate it when Great Grandmother make me learn. Hate it when teachers do it, too.”
“Hey. Learnin’ proper grammar ain’t the sorta thing you can take for granted.” Ranma-chan said.
“Like you’d know proper grammar if it came up and bit you in the ass,” Minami growled. She was about to add something else when she sensed something. “I smell evil.” She darted all around, but discovered nothing.
The group arrived at school without further incident. As they entered the school grounds the action picked up once again as a horde of girls chased a bundle full of underwear attached to Happosai’s back.
“What is that?” Minami asked disgustedly as she pointed at the master.
“That’s our resident pervert. Haven’t you seen him yet?” Ukyou was surprised. She thought every girl had been molested by the old master.
“It’s evil. I’m going to banish it.” Minami’s finger glowed blue as she formed a mystical symbol in the air directly in front of Happosai. Once complete, the symbol sent a burst of mystical energy at the pervert, losing him in the glow.
“Did you get him?” Ranma-chan sounded hopeful.
Minami gave her V for victory sign. “No problem. There’s nothing that can stop me.”
A figure jumped through the light and landed between Minami’s breasts.
“Ohhhh! She’s soft and magical. Ranma, this girl is almost as good as you.” Happosai informed her.
“You have no idea how depressed that makes me feel.” Ranma-chan replied sarcastically. “I should have known. He’s evil, just not supernaturally so.”
Minami lost it at that point, and began running around, screaming in circles trying to pry the pervert off.
“Let’s go.” Ranma-chan turned to leave.
“What about Minami?” Akane inquired.
“After what she pulled this morning, she deserves a little Happi-ness in her life.” Ranma-chan entered the school followed by the others.
By the time Minami arrived, class was about to begin. Her appearance was frazzled as she thumped down in her seat.
“I will kill that creature if it’s the last thing I ever do!”
“Hey. I’ll help you.” Ranma-chan added.
Godai-sensei stood in front of the classroom. “We have a new student today, class.” Godai looked hesitantly at the new, bizarre individual. “Introduce yourself.”
The boy looked at the rest of the class. “I’m Hikaru Gosunkugi.”
Minami stood up on her desk and pointed dramatically, just as her Ghost Sweeper instructor taught her. “A zombie! That must be what I felt this morning.” She pulled out a ward and leaped forward, sticking it between his eyes. Rather than being banished, Gosunkugi removed it and studied it intently.
“Another powerful demon. I’ll just have to do this the old-fashioned way.” She pulled out her sword hilt and activated the ebony beam of energy. She drew the blade back, preparing to chop Gosunkugi in half. Fortunately, she was tackled before the blade could descend by Ranma-chan Akane, Ukyou and Shampoo-kun.
“Wait! It may be a real student.” Ranma-chan examined Gosunkugi more closely. “As difficult as that is to believe.”
Gosunkugi stepped forward and looked at the Ghost Sweeper. “You know magic.” He then got down on his knees. “Oh, please! Take me on as your apprentice!”
Minami looked disgustedly at him. “I’d rather go out on a date with Ranma.”
That got Ranma-chan riled up. “You make it sound like that’s a bad thing!”
She stared flatly at her. “It is. I hate macho jerks.”
“Oh, please! I beg of you. All of my spells fail, no matter how hard I try.” Gosunkugi continued.
Minami examined him more closely. “That would be because you are a moron.”
Godai-sensei cleared his throat. “Now that we have determined that our new student is not a member of the undead…” He examined Gosunkugi more closely, “…probably… We will now get ready for class.”
Everyone returned to their seats. As the minutes ticked by Minami became more and more agitated, finally breaking.
“It’s here. I can feel the evil. It’s right…” she spun in a circle with her finger extended, “…there!” She stopped, her finger pointing at the lunch sitting on Ranma-chan’s desk. With a quick series of movements she created her symbol of banishment and triggered it. As the light disappeared, the lunch was no longer there.
Minami blew on her finger like it was a gun. “No problemo.”
Ranma-chan was equally grateful. “Thanks, Minami. I owe you one.” She felt like jumping for joy. No food poisoning today.
Shampoo-kun jumped forward. “Kill mine too.”
Minami stared at it. “Sorry. It’s not evil like the other one.”
The conversation was broken off by a “RANMA NO BAKA!!!”, as Akane buried Ranma-chan under a desk. Akane ran out of the room, fleeing fast enough so that no one noticed her eyes start to water.
Akane ran out of the room full speed, not bothering to look where she was going. She nearly collided with a figure in the hall. So depressed was she that she never bothered to look up.
Tarou stared at the girl’s departing form. “Hope that wasn’t her. Only one way to find out.” He entered the classroom.
Ranma-chan had recovered enough to follow Akane when she saw Tarou enter the room. He did a quick examination of the population and spoke. “Where’s Shampoo?”
Everyone in the room pointed to Ranma-chan.
Tarou smiled. This was going to be easy. He chuckled evilly and pointed a single finger at Ranma-chan. “You’re coming with me.”
He moved forward to take her. Even as Ranma-chan and Shampoo-kun began to rise, Ukyou got there first.
“She isn’t going anywhere with you.” Ukyou made a motion with her hand to prevent Tarou from advancing.
Tarou mistook her for a boy. “Must be Ranma.” He simply looked annoyed and backhanded Ukyou into a desk.
“UCCHAN!!!” Ranma-chan launched herself at Tarou, much to the boy’s surprise. She tackled him under the ribcage and forced both their forms out one of the windows. Tarou managed to twist in mid-air and push Ranma-chan off. Tarou landed first, followed by Ranma-chan. The two opponents faced off against one another.
“I thought she was supposed to be injured,” he thought. Looking at the girl in the fighting stance, he would have to say either she was good at hiding injuries or recovered quickly. “I suppose you aren’t going to come quietly, are you?” Tarou asked.
“You hurt my friend, jerk! You just entered a whole world of hurt.”
Shampoo-kun sprang out the window and landed beside Ranma-chan. He was about to stand next to Ranma-chan when she motioned him back with her hand.
“Don’t be stupid. You gotta let your side heal. Besides, this jerk’s all mine.”
Shampoo-kun reluctantly gave ground while the two opponents squared off. Each took but a moment to size the other one up, then attacked. Both fighters started off with a flurry of punches and blocks, neither landing a solid blow. The two backed off and evaluated the fight.
“Not too bad. Looks like the old mummy taught her well.” Tarou thought.
“He’s better than I thought. I should be a little more cautious with this one.” Ranma-chan thought.
“You’re pretty good, for a girl.” Tarou sneered.
Ranma-chan flinched a little at that one. “Flattery from a guy who wears pantyhose around his waist? No thanks.” Tarou’s turn to flinch.
Both opponents moved to attack again, softly probing at one another, each attack increased in intensity as they escalated their violence. Neither could land a solid blow.
“Enough of this cautious stuff,” Ranma-chan thought, “Let’s see how he deals with my speed.”
Ranma-chan attacked full force. Early on she connected several times. Once Tarou adjusted to the speed increase, he began to retaliate, connecting several times with his own blows.
Shampoo-kun followed the fight as it led outside the school grounds and into a nearby park. He identified Tarou’s style as a variation of Mien Ch’uan. The number of blows connecting were about two to one in Ranma-chan’s favor. However, Tarou was much stronger, and did about twice as much damage as Ranma-chan, making it an even fight.
Tarou backed off for a moment. “This girl’s real good. Only Happosai and me are better,” he thought.
“Looks like I got my wish about being taken to the limit. This guy may be the toughest opponent I’ve fought since Happosai.” Ranma-chan finally connected solidly when she leaped over a punch by Tarou and kicked him in the head with both feet.
Tarou reeled back from the blow, disoriented. “That shouldn’t have hurt that much. Must still be affected by that punch Happosai nailed me with.”
Ranma-chan tried to press the advantage. Blows connected with Tarou in the stomach, chest, then jaw, sending his form into a fountain.
“Take that, you worthless piece of garbage!” Ranma-chan watched the water waiting for Tarou to surface. Instead of the boy, a huge Minotaur with wings and an eel for a tail jumped out of the fountain. The creature’s sudden appearance shocked Ranma-chan motionless, allowing the creature to ram her with his head. The girl’s body flew into a tree, knocking her unconscious.
Tarou-bull roared in triumph to the skies. As he brought his head back down he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned just in time to get kicked in the eye by Shampoo-kun. Tarou-bull screeched in agony and clutched at the spot Shampoo-kun hit, flailing about wildly, smashing trees and the fountain. The Amazon wasted no time in picking up Ranma-chan’s unconscious form and running with it.
Shampoo-kun knew he stood no chance in one-on-one combat with the creature. Obviously the boy had fallen into one of the Jusenkyou pools, probably the Spring of Drowned Yeti Riding Bull While Carrying Crane and Eel, judging by what had popped out of the fountain. The best chance was to run for it and find a hiding place. The escape didn’t get very far when pain started shooting up Shampoo-kun’s side.
“Damn! The stitches,” he said through gritted teeth.
He covered much distance when he heard the sound of rushing wind at his back. The boy ducked just in time to avoid a swooping Tarou-bull.
“Wings not just for show. Great.” The only place he could see that would cut the air advantage Tarou-bull demonstrated was using the trees in the park. Shampoo-kun leaped up and started jumping from branch to branch. The feeling of something wet trickled down his side. Forcing out the pain, Shampoo-kun continued to leap from branch to branch.
“Not going to make it much farther.” The pain was already slowing Shampoo-kun down. He thanked the Kami Ranma was in female form. If Ranma had been a male Shampoo-kun would never have been able to leap high enough with that much weight. Just as he leaped for another branch the one he had just sprang from collapsed. Tarou-bull had crashed through the foliage from above and had nearly stomped Shampoo-kun into oblivion. Apparently Tarou-bull didn’t consider the trees the obstacle the Amazon thought they would.
“Have to find hot water.” Shampoo-kun thought, and then heard Ranma-chan stir.
“Put me down. I feel fine,” Ranma-chan said weakly.
“How many fingers I have up?” Shampoo-kun didn’t move his arms from Ranma-chan’s form.
“Thirty-eight,” she mumbled.
“Good. I put you down.” Shampoo-kun continued jumping for all he was worth, leaving Ranma-chan right where she was, as the noise of demolished trees grew closer. He knew where they had to go, if only he wasn’t disoriented and had enough time to get there before they ended up stomped into paste. The trees from the park finally ended, giving way to downtown Nerima. As they emerged from the forest they came upon the building he was searching for, the local bathhouse.
He managed one final leap towards the top of the building, intending to go through the skylight. Tarou-bull flew free of the trees as well and spotted Shampoo-kun’s descending form. The transformed youth wasn’t about to let his prey get away as he attempted a power dive, which Shampoo-kun narrowly avoided by making a mid-air change of direction. The maneuver caused a gasp in pain in the boy as he watched his opponent continue on the dive. Tarou-bull smashed through the skylight and crashed into an empty pool of hot water. Tarou wasn’t the only one who made a crash landing as the Amazon was also out of control from the redirection and splashed into the pool as well, losing his grip on Ranma-chan. Shampoo’s form broke the surface of the water, followed closely by Tarou, now back in human form.
Tarou looked around in confusion, still holding his eye. “Where the hell did they go? You!” he pointed to Shampoo, “Answer me! There was a tall dark haired guy and an annoying chick in red and blue, where’d they go?” Tarou felt a tap on his shoulder. He spun around quickly, only to be confronted by a black haired youth. “What do you want?”
Ranma smiled. “I just wanna let you know I still care.” He then unloaded the Chestnut Fist into Tarou’s face.
“Payback’s a bitch! Ain’t it?” Ranma said through gritted teeth as he belted Tarou through the skylight and very far away. Satisfied the boy wouldn’t be coming back in the near future, Ranma turned to Shampoo. “That takes care of…” he trailed off, seeing Shampoo clutch her side painfully, tiny splotches of red on her hand.
“Aw, man. That busted open your stitches.” Ranma said.
“Shampoo all right.” It was an unconvincing performance, as her face was grimaced with pain.
Ranma moved closer to her and turned his back, bending his knees a little. “Hop on,” he said.
“I not need…” her protest was cut off.
“Hop on or I’ll drag you.” His voice became softer. “You carried me long enough. Now let me help you.”
Shampoo relented and got on Ranma’s back, grasping him tightly around his chest.
“Ease up! Willya?”
“Sorry.” Shampoo relaxed her grip, allowing him to move her more comfortably. Once secure, he moved quickly to Dr. Tofu’s. During the trip, she simply laid her head gently on Ranma’s back, a far off look in her eyes, hoping the journey would take forever.
Tarou’s journey into infinity and beyond ended when he crashed head first into the ground. He managed to make his feet on the first attempt, and then fell back down as the world suddenly started spinning.
“Oh, great! Too many blows to the head lately. Now I can’t stand up.” That was when he heard the whistling. The momentary confusion passed as Tarou realized he landed dead center on some train tracks, with a large train bearing down on him. If he was transformed, he might survive the impact with only a few major injuries, but in human form he would be pulverized beyond recognition.
“I’m not dying this way.” Summoning all of his strength he tried once again to gain his feet. He made it halfway up when he saw the train almost on top of him. The world spun violently again as an impact lifted him off his feet and crashed him into the ground.
He lay there, looking up at the sky. “That didn’t hurt anywhere near as much as I thought. Maybe I’m tougher than I figured.” The merry-go-round the world had recently become finally stopped spinning, allowing him to gain his feet once again. The train was still going past at full speed, causing Tarou to wonder how he could have survived it when his eyes fell on girl gasping next to him. She was in a Furinkan school uniform and had a terrified look in her eyes.
“I…I didn’t think I was going to make it in time.” She remained laying there, gasping.
It took Tarou only a moment to piece together what had happened. The impact didn’t hurt him because it wasn’t from the train. The girl must have pushed him out of the way. Disappointment briefly passed through his mind as he realized he really wasn’t capable of withstanding a train impact after all. He returned his attention to the girl.
“I remember her. She nearly ran into me in the hall. Wonder what she’s going to ask for?” Nobody did something for nothing.
She finally caught her breath and stood up. Looking over Tarou, she asked him, “You all right?” He nodded. “Good. That was close.” The look of fear in her eyes finally subsided.
“I’ve got to get back to school. I ran pretty far off.” She smiled. “Maybe I’m starting to pick up some of Ryouga’s habits. Oh, well. Goodbye.” She turned to go.
“Wait a minute!” The girl turned at the sound of Tarou’s voice. “You don’t want anything?” The girl looked confused and shook her head.
“She saved my life and doesn’t want anything in return?” He thought to himself. He looked her over more closely. She had short black hair and looked a little tomboyish. Not in an unattractive way though. “Thanks. What’s your name?” Oops. Wrong question.
“Akane Tendo. What’s yours?”
He resisted the urge to flee. The girl had just risked her life to save him and his impulse was to run away in fear because of his name. “You can call me Tarou,” he said. His thoughts were, “Please don’t let her ask ‘Tarou what?’”
“Nice meeting you, Tarou. I have to get going.” She waved to him and departed. Akane was almost out of earshot when he remembered to do something.
“Akane! Thanks!” She shouted out he was welcome and departed. Tarou couldn’t remember the last time he said thanks to anyone. Now alone, he had time to think about what happened. The boy in the bathhouse had the same shirt that the red head had and the purple haired girl had on a boy’s school outfit. No way it could be a coincidence; they had to have something to do with Jusenkyou. That little bit of important information had somehow been left out when Cologne told him what to expect. That meant it was time to go back and visit the old ghoul and get some answers out of her, and his methods were not going to be pleasant. Then he would see about revenge on the fem-boy and his masculine partner. Those two got put to the top of the “need to have their asses kicked” list.
Part 2: Decisions
Ryouga-bat needed hot water, fast. If only he hadn’t tripped in the puddle, he wouldn’t be in the predicament he was in. The night was thick, but his echolocation kept him from running into anything. That, combined with his unnatural direction sense, led him straight to the nearest source of hot water, someone’s cooking pot. The Lost One went through an open window, crashed into the water, and jumped out, naked. Needless to say the woman that was cooking was more than a little frightened. Screams of terror filled the house as she ran out the front door. Since he couldn’t ask anyone, Ryouga decided to liberate some clothes from a wardrobe and come back to return them later. Donning a white shirt and pair of pants he found in one of the closets that barely fit him, he emerged from the house onto a cobblestone road that lined the rustic village.
“I think I’m in Europe.” He had wandered there several times before and was familiar with the style of architecture. He hoped he was somewhere in Germany. They had some of the best food outside of Japan he had ever tasted. Now the only question was if he could speak the language. He looked around for someone to question when he saw people rushing towards one area of the town. Bright flames could be seen not too far off from where Ryouga stood.
He rushed over to see a conflagration at one of the taller buildings. People stood outside in nightclothes, looking on in horror at the fire. No firefighters had arrived yet and the building was becoming engulfed in flames as it went up. As Ryouga stared at the building he saw movement from one of the windows, near a bright plume of fire. Ryouga acted on instinct and rushed forward, running around the building until he got to an area that had little in the way of smoke and fire.
“BAKUSAI-TENKETSU!!!” He controlled the blast so only a small section of wall blew up. He ran into the smoke filled building, trying to find the figure he saw at one of the windows. It was going to be a case of chance, if it came to his direction sense, the person would be dead before he found the room. He ran through the building and flames until luck and the Gods found favor with him. He saw a little girl crying in one of the rooms. Picking her up, he ran for one of the windows when the girl began to struggle violently.
“Probably just afraid.” He held her struggling form tighter and leaped out of the window, just making it over a wall of flames. He started coughing violently as the he set the girl down. As soon as her feet touched the ground she ran for the building. Ryouga was so surprised he almost didn’t react in time to stop her. The girl began screaming in German.
[Let me go! My baby brother is still in there.]
Ryouga understood German, and looked back at the building. The inferno was twice as large as when he first arrived and flames were starting to come out of the window he had just leaped out of. Only a madman would risk going back in the building.
Ryouga jumped back in without hesitation.
The village’s single fire truck finally arrived at the scene and attempted to control the blaze. The firemen looked up and determined that by the time the equipment was ready the building would be razed. The decision was to allow the building to go and prevent the fire from spreading. Just as the building began to collapse one of the walls exploded and Ryouga ran out with a bundle wrapped in cloth. The singed boy handed the bundle to a fireman and collapsed in a coughing fit.
“I was barely burned. Why am I in such bad shape?” he thought through his coughing attack. His vision was beginning to go black as he continued to hack.
One of the firemen gave him an oxygen mask and began to help him, when a female bystander shouted out,
[Get away from him, Boris! It’s a vampire!]
Boris looked more closely at the boy. [Impossible. He just saved a child.]
[And how else do you expect one to feed? They can’t eat the dead, you know. It has to be the vampire that attacked last month!]
[Woman! If he were a vampire, he’d have fangs.] He pulled Ryouga’s lips back for everyone to observe. [See what I…] He trailed off as everyone spotted Ryouga’s long canines. Boris backed off.
[What should we do?]
[Get him while he’s weak, you oaf!] The horribly weakened Ryouga was no match for the dozen villagers that tackled him. Someone came forth with heavy chains and bound his feet and legs.
[I am ]*cough* [not a] *cough* [vampire.] He barely managed to choke out.
[I saw you change from a bat into a man!] The woman shouted.
[Curse.] was all Ryouga could choke out as he almost blacked out.
[Yes. The curse of the undead. Don’t worry. We’ll release you from the shackles of undeath.] This was spoken by another villager. [Get me a stake.]
An older man stepped forth and spoke in a commanding tone. [A stake isn’t good enough. Twenty years ago, I killed a vampire named Grimaldi Frost by driving a stake through his heart and burying him. Five years later, someone dug him up and removed the stake. He sought revenge and killed my wife of forty years.] He paused for a moment in grief. [The point is someone can remove a stake, and you’re back at square one.]
[How’d you get rid of him?] One of the villagers asked.
[I burned him, then spread his ashes far and wide. Haven’t seen him since. So that’s what we ought to do.]
A rousing cheer roared from the crowd and kindling was thrown in the center of the street. Ryouga tried to break free but lacked the strength to even pull away from the men. He was roughly hurled into the center of the pile of wood as villagers grabbed lighter fluid and kerosene and began pouring it in the center. Ryouga’s pleas fell on deaf ears.
“What a stupid way to die. Killed as a vampire in Transylvania.” He thought to himself. But maybe it was appropriate, dying unknown and unwanted in the middle of a far off land. No one would be there to mourn his passing. The smell of the fumes assailed his nostrils. He began to wonder if Ukyou was going to be able to run the restaurant without him. One of the villagers threw a match onto the wood.
A huge figure shrouded in a deep cloak with the hood drawn up witnessed the spectacle before him.
[They would be using fire.] He mumbled to himself. He hated fire more than anything else in the world. Well, anything other than himself, and sometimes he did hate the fire more than that. He paused, and then came to his decision.
Ryouga prayed for rain for the first time in his life. If only some would fall. Just enough to trigger the change. He promised himself he would keep the curse no matter what and never complain about it again. He had faced death on more than one occasion before, but this time there was no way out. If he was going to die it should be on his feet, fighting to the last breath. But he wasn’t able to breath. Wasn’t able to fight. He was going to die, not at the hands of some demon, or robot, or unstoppable martial artist., but burned alive by a bunch of scared villagers. One thought began to overshadow all the others.
“Why couldn’t I have made a choice between Ukyou and Ranma?”
He saw a tongue of flame reach out for him. The heat from it could be felt from the flame. Just as it was about to come he felt himself lifted up by a pair of powerful hands.
The villagers looked on in horror as a huge man shrouded in a cloak leaped into the center of the fire and grabbed Ryouga. He then picked up some of the flaming debris.
[You like playing with fire? This small pile is nothing. Here. Let me show you what a real fire is.] He threw the debris at a building, causing flames to catch. Picking up some more debris, he hurled it at a second building, starting a fire there as well. [Looks like you have you hands full. I’ll take care of this one.] And with that the huge man leaped away, leaving the villagers with their hands full trying to put out three fires simultaneously.
Ryouga felt himself carried a distance away as the huge man ran with him, Ryouga coughing all the way. The night air started to clear his lungs and the hacking became less vicious. Eventually they came to rest next to a cave. Ryouga was set gently down and felt the chains broken by the large man.
[Thank you very…] He was cut off as the man clutched his throat with a grip of iron.
[Don’t thank me yet. If you prove to be a vampire, I’ll make you wish you had burned!] The stranger released his grip, allowing the threat to sink in. [Tell me who you are.]
Ryouga clutched at his throat. The man’s grip may have been stronger than Ryouga’s. He cleared his throat and began speaking in a hoarse voice.
[My name is Ryouga Hibiki. I’m no vampire.]
[But you have fangs and change into a bat, Yes?]
Ryouga nodded. [I was born with the fangs. And the bat thing is a magic curse I picked up later in life. I turn into a bat when I’m doused with cold water. Warm water reverses the effect.] He stopped speaking, allowing his throat to relax.
[That’s either one of the worst stories I’ve ever heard, or you’re telling the truth. Never heard of a vampire suffering from smoke inhalation like you are, though.] The big man began rummaging through his pockets, bringing out a beautiful gold cross with rubies in it. He held it up before Ryouga’s eyes. [What do you think of this?]
Ryouga looked at it. [It’s beautiful. May I touch it?] He held out his hand.
The stranger quickly put it back in the pocket. [No! Sorry. It was a gift from one of the few friends I’ve ever had.] His eyes became distant. [She was a very… unique woman.] He returned to the present. [I’m still not totally convinced you aren’t a vampire, so we wait until the sun rises.] The stranger sat back and relaxed next to the entrance of the cave, allowing Ryouga no way to escape.
Ryouga tried looking the man over. He was close to eight feet tall and had to weigh over five hundred pounds, incredibly strong as well judging by the grip he had. But the garments he wore hid all his features. After several hours, the stranger spoke once again.
[Your appearance and accent marks you from a far off place. Where are you from?]
[Japan, originally. I don’t really remember exactly where, but it was near the ocean, I think.]
[Why are you here? Transylvania is a long way from home.]
[I tend to get lost, At least I used to. But now I’m wandering because…] he stopped. [You don’t want to hear my story.]
The stranger perked up. [We need something to pass the time. Tell me, please.] There was something within the boy the man found familiar. The look of desolate loneliness, perhaps.
Ryouga began his story, holding nothing back. After an hour he finished, […and Ukyou wants me to choose between her and beating up Ranma. And I don’t know which one to pick.]
The stranger had listened in detail. [What would make you truly happy?]
[I enjoy spending time with Ukyou. She’s the best friend I ever had, easily. She always treats me nice, helps me out, never makes fun of my curse and is just a great person to hang around. But then there’s Ranma. Beating him up is the one thing I’ve wanted to do my whole life. It’s been ruined because of him. If I could beat him, I could die happy. But that would mean no more Ukyou, and I don’t want that either. I don’t know what to do.] Ryouga dropped his head.
The man remained silent for some time, and then spoke up. [Let me tell you a story about revenge. When I was… born, my father hated me. He felt I was some kind of monster that should never have come about, never mind the fact he was my father. He rejected me from the first time I opened my eyes and stared into his face. That rejection hurt me to the core. In my… youth, circumstances made me believe the whole world was a harsh place, where you could only find pain and rejection. All I wanted was love and affection from the man who created me, but it was denied me. So when I learned who he was, I sought him out. I wanted him to help me… cure my loneliness.]
[At first he accepted, but then panicked, not believing what I told him. I felt betrayed once again and chose to try to force him to help me. I…] The man stopped as his voice caught. There was no mistaking the sound of sorrow in him when he was able to speak once again. [I hurt innocent people, for no other reason than he cared for them. I wanted to hurt him in the way he hurt me. I hated the fact he cared for others and not me. So I tried to make him understand my pain by returning to him what he gave me. I managed to force him to acquiesce to my demands, giving me what I wanted. But it was not to be, and my plan fell through. My father swore revenge against me, vowing to hunt me to the ends of the Earth to kill me. And he did. I took everything from him, he had nothing left to lose save his life, and that was only useful to him insofar that it was necessary for him to have it to kill me.]
[I ran and he followed, until I at last turned the tables on him. I became the hunter and he the hunted. Eventually, he fell sick and died. I came to him before his body grew cold. As I stared down at his body, I realized that I never wanted any of it to have happened. In the end, I still had nothing, and no chance at anything. All I did was spread the misery that I railed against. I wasted everything. Realizing that, I chose to kill myself. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered I cannot die like others.]
[For years I hated myself, eventually wandering throughout the lands, not so much unlike yourself. I watched and observed how everything in the world worked, and in time, my self-loathing grew less. Time may not heal all wounds, but it can scar them over so you don’t have to notice them. I eventually made acquaintances, even some friends. Few mind you, but friends nonetheless. I finally set out upon the course I should have so long ago. I could have had it all much sooner, but instead I wasted years trying to fill a pit that can never be filled. Revenge has a place in life, Ryouga, but it should never consume life.]
[Now I ask you a question, Ryouga. If you attain your revenge upon Ranma, what will you have left? Will it be what you want? Will you feel satisfied, or empty?] Ryouga began to respond when the man cut him off. [Do not answer an important question like this now. Think upon what was said. Let it sink in. Now that you understand the question Ukyou asked of you, you have the ability to answer it.]
The two sat in silence for several moments. Eventually, the stranger stood up. [It’s time for the sunrise. I have not seen it with anyone for quite some time. Would you join me?]
Ryouga agreed and the two went to the mouth of the cave, waiting for the sun to break over the horizon. As the crimson rays of dawn cut through the darkness, Ryouga realized for the first time how beautiful the sight really was.
Ryouga held out his hand to the man. [You said you don’t have many friends; well, neither do I. I would consider it an honor if I could call you one.]
The stranger seemed startled for a moment, then shook Ryouga’s extended palm. [As would I.]
Ryouga set off to find his equipment. Before he had gone too far he turned and spoke to the man. [If ever you’re in Nerima. Stop by Uk-chan’s and give me a call.] Ryouga turned once again and set off. Leaving the stranger standing there, alone, yet without the feeling of loneliness.
[Perhaps it is time for me to learn Japanese.] He thought as he turned once again to face the sunrise. Telling the story had brought pain, but also happiness for the first time. The man felt a tear fall down his face.
[Oh, Victor, my father. How I miss you so.]
Days later, an airliner landed in Nerima in the middle of the night. After the plane came to a rest, a bat dislodged itself from its concealed spot in the landing gear compartment. It flew unerringly to its destination.
Ukyou awakened to the sound of scraping at her window. She drew back the curtains and saw a bat scratching the window. She opened it without a word and went to Ryouga’s bedroom, allowing the bat to follow. She set out some clothes he had left behind and exited the room, returning moments later with a kettle of hot water. She set it down and exited the room once again, closing the door behind her. Ryouga-bat knocked the kettle onto himself and put on his clothes. Once finished dressing, he opened the door to see Ukyou in the hall. She appeared neither happy nor sad it seeing him, a look of neutrality on her face.
“You kept a kettle burning?” he asked.
“It seemed more appropriate than leaving a candle in the window.” Ukyou answered, maintaining her neutral expression.
Ryouga looked solemnly at Ukyou. “I’ve given it a lot of thought. I can’t make any guarantees, but I want to try to change, if you’ll let me.”
Ukyou finally broke her neutral expression with soft smile. “That’s all I can ever ask of you.” She paused, taking a deep breath. “It’s late, and you have to get up early to help me open. Good night.” She turned quickly, and entered her room, not wanting Ryouga to see the tears of joy running down her face.
Tarou picked himself up and took another swing at Cologne. She sidestepped him and tossed him into the third wall.
“<Look, Tarou, I apologize.>”
“<That’s not good enough!>” he said as he picked himself up and went for anther swing.
This time Cologne used her staff to vault over him, tapping a point on the back of his neck, causing him to freeze up in mid-motion. She sat upon his head and spoke.
“<See here. I’ve been going easy on you because you are right. I should have told you about the curses. I apologize. If you insist upon attacking me, I will deal with you in like fashion. My patience is at an end.>” She tapped a different point on his neck. “<Now, I am willing to let bygones be bygones. Neither of us needs another enemy. Agreed?>”
Tarou reluctantly nodded his head. He would wait for a better opportunity for vengeance. Besides, there was still Ranma and Shampoo to deal with. He smiled at the elderly Amazon and walked off.
Cologne watched the boy go. Naturally she had left out the Nanniichuan curse; the fewer that knew about it the better. Now he knew Shampoo’s secret, something Cologne had wanted to keep out of his hands. Given his Chinese origins, it was not at all unlikely that he might return to China and let slip some information about Shampoo and her curse. Not only that, she was going to have to sleep with one eye open from now on, given Tarou’s obvious displeasure with her. Cologne sighed in frustration. Nothing was working at all. It was time to change tactics. If only Shampoo wasn’t being so stubborn. There had to be some way of getting her to Jusenkyou…
Cologne’s thoughts trailed off. Of course! It was so apparent. Why hadn’t it occurred to her before? She hopped off to find Mousse.
“<Mousse! Where are you, you idiot?>” She spotted him pruning some strangler vines in the interior of the greenhouse.
“<What do you want, you dried up piece of jerky?>” That got him thrown into the vines, which of course began to strangle him.
“<You had best watch your tongue, boy! I need your help.>”
“<Not a chance!>” He pulled out some blades and did some additional pruning, freeing himself.
“<Oh, I think you’ll help me with this one.>” She told him the plan in detail.
Mousse could have kicked himself, it had been so obvious. “<Of course! I’ll leave immediately!>” He would be the key to Shampoo’s salvation. The solution to all her problems was practically in his hands and he would make certain his love knew it was he that saved her. Shampoo would have no choice but to accept him, which was the way it should always have been.
To be continued.
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