Akane was at it again. It wasn’t Ranma’s fault that she was too slow to get out of the way of the splashing water. If he’d known she was going to be there, he would’ve waited a moment before tossing his father in the pond. But no, as usual, she refused to listen to his explanation and tried to throw one of the large rocks in the pond at him. When that failed, she resorted to using an extra-dimensional hammer and chased him halfway across town. He probably would’ve eluded her if he hadn’t run into the alley full of cats. It was by accident that he ran over the pursuing Akane while fleeing in terror from the felines.
The cats threw him off so much that he only narrowly dodged Tsubasa, who happened to be disguised as a tree and running for his life. Unfortunately, Ranma was so out of position because of the evasion he got run over by Captain Ai, who was chasing Tsubasa and shouting how she was going to kill him for molesting “her” Ukyou. Naturally, Ukyou was pursuing Ai, shouting that she could defend her own honor and she was not Ai’s anything. The chef then ran over the fallen Ranma, pausing long enough to apologize for stepping on him before continuing her chase. Of course, Ryouga was following Ukyou, and stopped long enough to hit Ranma with a Shi Shi Houkoudan (Ranma was going to have to learn a counter to that soon) before continuing the chase. Kyoko stomped on the thoroughly pummeled Ranma while chasing her “Ryouga-kun.”
The parade wasn’t over yet, as Ranma was then stepped on by a nutcase with a bunch of white lilies, and carrying an unconscious Mousse. They were followed by Kodachi, who skipped across Ranma’s head while shouting at Asuka to give back “her” Mousse.
It got worse. Azusa roller-skated on by Ranma’s sprawled out form, and took ‘Alexander’ from him. Alexander was the dragon’s whisker that tied Ranma’s hair in a pigtail and prevented his hair from growing at a phenomenal rate. Without it, he would have to get a haircut and shave every twelve hours or so. He spent the rest of the day chasing after Azusa. No easy task, since she was far faster on skates than he could ever hope to be on foot. He eventually got her to slow down long enough that he made a deal with her. He would win her a dozen cute stuffed animals at one of the carnivals in town in return for Alexander. That meant he wasted away the early part of the evening winning “Claudette, Marie, Jean-Paul,” and a host of other cute friends for Azusa. On what he thought was a nice gesture she offered to give him a quick lift home, by carrying him while on her skates, since he had given her so many cute things. It turned out it was the wrong thing to do.
When they got to the dojo the door flew open, and a disheveled Akane stood before the duo. When her eyes set upon Ranma she started screaming and ranting about how when he hit her, she was stunned so much that some guy on horseback named Sentaro was able to kidnap her. Then she got caught up in some idiotic Martial Arts Tea Ceremony bit, not to mention fighting a monkey. After she got frustrated with being called an “uncoordinated, untalented, unfeminine, hopeless girl” by the Cologne-like troll that was Sentaro’s grandmother, Akane lost it and destroyed the house she was supposed to be imprisoned in. And she warned not to ask what happened to the monkey. To top things off, she was not home more than five minutes only to discover that her fiancée was too busy to rescue her, because he was on a date with a kleptomaniac skater.
The only thing that kept Ranma from being hammered into a pile of goo on the spot was that Azusa plucked ‘Felicia’ from out of Akane’s grasp, then skated off with her new friend, Akane’s hammer. Akane could not stand the thought of losing one of her “friends” and ran off after Azusa, leaving Ranma alone and angry. She had not even given him a chance to explain why it was not his fault. She always did that. He entered the house while coming up with a whole new set of unsavory names for his fiancée.
Shampoo looked nervously at Ranma as he stalked off to his room. She took a deep breath and stepped right in front of him, blocking his path.
“Ranma,” she began, “Shampoo have question for you.”
“What?!” he snapped.
The tone in his voice almost caused Shampoo to bolt, but she stood her ground. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. “You no like Akane, right?”
“You got that right!” he exclaimed. “I hate that uncute, flat chested…”
Shampoo cut off the tirade. “Then you go out with Shampoo, yes?”
“Yeah. We can go somewhere.”
“Then we meet in front of the pet store on Gamera Street at four o’clock tomorrow. Is all right?” Shampoo asked.
“Err… Yeah. I guess so,” Ranma muttered in reply.
Shampoo ran off leaving Ranma to scratch his head. Why did she want to meet him there? Whenever they went out somewhere, like to roller skate or eat out on the nights Akane tried to cook, they always left from the dojo. Maybe she had some errands to run. Now that he thought about it, the way she said “go out” seemed a little strange. Any further thoughts along that line were cut off by a bellow of rage from Akane. From the sounds of it she had not managed to get back Felicia and was blaming Ranma for that as well. He chose to retreat and allow Akane some time to cool off, like maybe two or three days.
Shampoo was so happy, she bounced through the house in glee. Ranma had accepted without a word of protest. It could only mean one thing. He wanted to go out with her the entire time. She should have asked sooner. Now there were too many things to do. Since she had been uncertain whether or not Ranma would have accepted, she had not thought beyond telling him where to meet to receive the thing he wanted so badly. She hoped it was not too close to the place, but it did not seem likely Ranma would think that far ahead. There were other things to consider as well, like what to wear. Most of her wardrobe consisted of clothing that was used to accommodate her curse. Which meant most of it was too loose for her taste. She wanted something to show off her attributes to impress Ranma. A new dress might be called for. There was also the task of finding a place to eat out afterwards, something with the right atmosphere, meaning a location that was painfully romantic. A place so romantic even Ranma would pick up on the ambiance.
Shampoo continued bouncing gleefully through the kitchen, catching Kasumi’s attention. The eldest Tendo looked up from the pot she was stirring and smiled at the Amazon. “What happened?”
Shampoo slowed down long enough to explain. “Ranma agree to go on a date with Shampoo.”
She bounded from the kitchen and off to her room. Kasumi watched her go then returned her attention to the soup. “That’s nice. Ranma and Shampoo are going on a date.” The ladle slipped from her fingers and into the kettle.
“Uh, oh! Maybe that isn’t so nice.”
Chapter 17: Pursuit and Capture
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 need to know to enjoy this fic). In the beginning, the Saotomes traveled to Jusenkyou and began to spar, not realizing Shampoo and Mousse had already begun 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. Enjoy). Shampoo elected to travel to Japan with Ranma and accidentally ended up engaged to Kasumi. After that was cleared up Ranma became engaged to Akane. On the first day of school, water and confusion mixed leaving everyone there believing Shampoo-kun is Ranma and Ranma-chan is Shampoo. Last chapter, after a brief battle with a Drog, Demon of Storms, and meeting Thor, and Sif, everyone decided to head for the beach for some time off. Unfortunately, a bracelet with pills that, when swallowed, make someone fall in love with the first person they see for a moment, day, or lifetime put in an appearance. Ghost Sweeper Minami swallowed the moment pill and kissed Gosunkugi, Kasumi swallowed the day pill and fell in love with Shampoo-kun, and Capt. Ai of the Furinkan Cheerleader Squad swallowed the lifetime pill and fell for Ukyou. With the Kasumi situation resolved Shampoo has decided to do something about her feelings for Ranma, while the Musk Dynasty has hit Japan on a trip to pick up several things, including a magic kettle…
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Part 1: Dates II
The dojo saw some activity almost around the clock. Ranma gained the courage to return very late in the evening (actually closer to early morning), well after even Akane had gone to sleep. As the early morning came about Shampoo headed out, skipping the morning practice sessions. When Ranma and Genma began their morning practice, it failed to last even a minute, as his father ended up beaten once again. Now all Ranma had to worry about was the how Akane would react this morning.
Akane woke up to the sounds of the morning massacre. A reflexive feeling of anger immediately filled her thoughts as she remembered Ranma had eluded his punishment from the night before. Everything that happened yesterday was his fault. He splashed water on her and had the nerve to accuse her of being slow for not getting out of the way. He made her chase him halfway across town, and then went so far as to hit her in the head with his knee for pursuing him. To make matters worse, she was so stunned that she got run over by a crazy boy on a horse. The last thing she remembered before losing consciousness was that he was ranting how he had at last found his bride.
She regained consciousness only to discover she was being held prisoner in Sentaro’s (the boy’s) house, and forced to try to learn Martial Arts Tea Ceremony fighting skills at the hands of his grandmother and pet monkey. During the entire time she expected Ranma to come and rescue her, but the jerk never showed. So it fell to her to engineer her own escape. Leaving took time and effort, but she managed to get out of the house, while ruining her clothes in the process. But the absolute worst was coming home in time to discover why Ranma had not come to her rescue. He was on a date with the Shiratori girl. If Azusa’s stealing Akane’s hammer to save Ranma was not proof of that, she did not know what would be. How unfortunate the skater had bought enough time for Ranma to flee. Today nothing would save him.
She had to come up with something that would really get to him. Something he would remember for a long time to come. That was when her eyes fell upon the tickets. That was the way to go about it. She would display the tickets, and then destroy them right before his eyes. That would show him. She went downstairs with the pieces of paper in hand. Ranma would no doubt be getting ready for breakfast. Well he was going to get something to chew on.
She reached the bottom of the stairs only to be confronted by Ranma, who looked just as surprised at her presence there as well. Even to Akane’s eyes he appeared tense, no doubt waiting for her to make the first move. She was not going to keep him waiting. She held out her hand with the tickets, making certain Ranma could read the writing on them. “You know what these are, Ranma?”
Ranma read the tickets and appeared in shock. How had Akane gotten tickets to the premiere of the Jackie Chan film he had wanted to see so badly? And why was she holding them right before his eyes? The situation did not make any sense. Why was she not angry with him, like she was yesterday? It took a moment, but the answer occurred to him. She was trying to apologize for her behavior. That could be the only explanation. Of course that explanation nearly caused him to pass out. The idea that Akane would not only apologize, but go out of her way to make him feel better, was a bit much to take. Still, if she was willing to make the first peace gesture than he was going to accept it.
Ranma darted his hands forward, embracing Akane’s hand with the tickets. “Akane. Thank you. This is one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me.”
Akane was caught off guard by Ranma’s gesture. He was actually holding her hand willingly and acting grateful for what might have been the first time since they had met. He was behaving in an almost normal manner. There was a great deal of difficulty in trying to hold onto her anger, as she felt it slipping away while he held her hand. Worse yet, he was now smiling at her, causing the hatred to disappear at an even faster rate. Damn him!
“I can’t imagine what you must have gone through to get them.” Ranma really had no idea where she could have gotten them at the last minute like this. Maybe she made a deal with Nabiki. “I really appreciate it.” He was going to the movie after all.
That did it. His open appreciation removed the final bits of anger she had been holding in. “You’re right. Getting them wasn’t easy.”
His face reflected the sympathy he felt. “When are the tickets for?”
“Today. They’re for the premiere.” Akane could not help smiling in return. Ranma’s happiness was infectious. She knew he was going to say something stupid and ruin the moment. He always did.
Surprisingly he did not. Rather he asked if he could hold onto the tickets for safekeeping until they could go the movie. Akane could do nothing but agree as the two separated, happier than they had been at the start of the morning.
Shampoo looked through the dresses again. She had the two favorites in her hands. None of the others came close to catching her interest the way these two had, but it was a difficult selection. Each dress had a mix of red and green she rather liked. One was an off-the-shoulder number, and the other was a high-necked, sleeveless gown. She absolutely loved the slit along the side that would serve to show off her leg. A difficult decision.
The salesman working the store noticed the indecision Shampoo displayed and decided to give his assistance. He properly introduced himself as Shinjiro and offered to help.
“Which one look prettier?” Shampoo asked as she held up the two dresses.
Shinjiro contemplated that. “They both look stunning. What’s the occasion?”
She still could not contain her excitement and began to jump around. “I go out on a date with Ranma.”
He smiled. “First date?” She nodded as he continued. “Are you trying to impress him, or blow him away?”
She considered that. “I want him to think I’m beautiful.”
“Honey,” he reassured her. “You could be dressed in a gunny sack and still look gorgeous.” That caused Shampoo to blush as the man carefully evaluated her. “Your shoulders are magnificent, so you don’t have to worry about looking bad in the shoulderless one. It shows a good bit of cleavage as well, but that other one might be more elegant. I’ll tell you what, why don’t you try both of them on and I’ll give you my opinion?”
It seemed like a reasonable request, so she did as he recommended. She tried on both, ending up in the high collared one.
Shinjiro examined every inch of her both times, taking twice as long with the high collared one. “I was right. You look stunning in both, but there is something about the one you’re in now that calls out to me.”
Shampoo had been leaning towards the first one. “This one a little too,” she searched for the right word, “conservative.”
Shinjiro placed his hand to his chin in thought. “I can make alterations.”
Shampoo thought she knew what this was leading to, an increase in commission. “How much extra it cost?”
“For you, my dear, nothing. Call me a romantic, but I want you to look perfect for this date.” He looked her over carefully. “So you want to show more, eh?”
“Well, we’ll cut out a diamond at the top to show off some of what’s there.” He showed her where the diamond would be. It would leave an opening from the bottom of the collar to the inside top of her breasts.
“Can you cut out more?” Shampoo asked.
“You want to look exotic, not like a prostitute,” he warned. “You have to maintain some restraint while showing off. Go for a hint, rather than revealing everything. Men like a little mystery.” He continued showing her what alterations he would make as Shampoo began fidgeting with the slit along the leg. “What’s wrong?”
“Is it cut high enough?” she asked.
“If it were cut any higher it would be scandalous,” he assured her.
She considered that. “Raise it three inches.”
Shinjiro smiled. It would not be too much, so it should work. He finished making the marks for the alterations.
“How long this take?” It seemed to Shampoo that the man might be making too many alterations to fit in the time frame she had. She informed him it needed to be done by four.
“I’ll have it done by three. They don’t call me the ‘Sewing King’ for nothing,” he assured her. The two began to chat as he worked on some of the fittings. “Where are you two going?”
Shampoo smiled. “There a new Jackie Chan movie he wants to see very much. It big premiere tonight.”
“Oh, yes. So I’ve heard. Must have been hard to get tickets.”
Shampoo shrugged. “No. It easy.” Very easy, as she remembered it…
The people had been camped out in line for a whole day, save the small ninja in the front of the line who had been waiting there for two days. The doors opened and the first people were ushered in. Just as Sasuke pulled out his wallet, one of the far walls exploded. Shampoo walked out from the demolished wall and cheerfully waved to everyone.
“Nihao! Is this the place to get movie tickets?”
Everyone nodded mutely.
“Aiya! That great.” Shampoo moved to the booth and plopped down the money. “Two please.”
The ticket sellers gave her the tickets and watched her leave by demolishing yet another wall. The guy behind Sasuke tapped him on the shoulder.
“Why’d you let her cut in line, man?”
Sasuke appeared nervous. “Would you want to argue with someone that walks through walls?”
The man just looked sheepishly at Sasuke.
Shampoo came back to the present as Shinjiro began talking again. “This seems a bit extravagant for a movie. Anything else planned?”
Shampoo considered that. “I going to take him to nice place to eat, but I not know where.”
He smiled at that. “For young couples in love, there is only one place to go. The restaurant at the top of the Kanemoto Towers. That’s assuming he’s not afraid of heights.”
Shampoo smiled back. “Heights, no. Cats, yes.”
Shinjiro looked quizzically at her so she explained. He nodded in understanding. “I see. Well there are no felines there, I assure you. Now, usually you need reservations at least two weeks in advance, but I know a maitre’d there. I’ll call and tell him to expect a party of two under your name. It’s a bit pricey, but well worth it.”
Shampoo smiled at the man, but was a bit confused. She never knew anyone who went out of their way for a stranger such as herself. “Why you so nice to me?”
He gave her a winsome smile in return. “I remember what it’s like to be young and in love. There’s no feeling quite like it in the world. Treasure every moment the two of you have tonight. You only get to go out for the first time once.”
Shampoo was in front of the pet store right before four o’clock. Shinjiro was correct; the dress was beautiful. And judging by the number of admiring stares she received, as well as the guys that tried to pick her up, they must have agreed. The dress had used almost all of the funds she had gotten from the martial arts exhibition she had put on for the school. There would be enough left for the dinner that night, but not much more after that. She allowed her thoughts to drift back to where most of the money had gone. Ranma’s project was finally complete, and she would give it to him when their date was over. It was an unexpectedly important gift that’s timing was just perfect.
Their date. Even the words seemed to excite her. After so many things having gone wrong in her life the last few months, like the curse and being forced to leave both her home and people, she could now say she was truly happy. It was perfect. No more loneliness. She at long last had a true companion to share absolutely everything with. Now all she had to do was wait for him to show up. Hopefully Ranma would be early; she was anxious for things to get underway.
Maybe it was foolish of her to tell him to meet her here, but if they left together from the dojo, it might have attracted the wrong sort of element. Namely anyone but Kasumi. There would have been some sort of protest from Genma and Soun, since they wanted Ranma and Akane together. Never mind the fact that they did not love each other. Akane would get jealous, simply because she never wanted Ranma to have any fun. And Nabiki would find some way to make money out of the situation.
Four o’clock became four-oh-five, then four-ten. Ranma was late, and the line in front of the theater, which was down and across the street, was starting to get long. It probably was to be expected, but she had hoped the importance of the occasion would have forced him to be on time. Four-ten became four-fifteen, and then four-fifteen became four-twenty. Every moment was taking forever, and Shampoo was becoming panicked. What if something had happened to Ranma? What if he had been attacked by Mousse and Kodachi? What if they had gotten lucky and beaten him? What if her great-grandmother had come out of hiding and kidnapped him to use as leverage against her? What if Akane had found out about the date and hammered him into oblivion? What if he had mistakenly eaten some of the violent tomboy’s cooking?
Her mind raced with all the possibilities. Too many bad things could have happened. Shampoo could not even use a phone, because there were no public ones around. And if she went inside a store, Ranma might come, not see her, and walk off. He had to be all right.
Four-thirty rolled around, and she was about to try to place a phone call anyway, taking the chance of missing him, when she at last saw him come from around the corner at the other end of the street. She was about to run over and glomp onto him when she noticed he was not alone. Akane was smiling at him and walking alongside.
Shampoo was in shock. He had brought HER along on their date? What kind of an idiot was he? Did he not even realize it was supposed to be a date? She knew the boy was dense, but even he should have realized what she had meant when she asked him out. A cross expression rose on her face. Ranma was going to be given a piece of her mind when he made his way over to her. This was supposed to be a special evening with just the two of them. Now it was ruined. That was when Shampoo got her second surprise. Ranma did not come over to where she was. Instead, he walked directly over to the long line in front of the theater and waited there with Akane, not even glancing Shampoo’s way. The world came crashing down around her. It was so obvious what had happened.
Shampoo had been stood up for Akane.
Hiroshi walked the streets, alone. Daisuke had actually managed to get a date with Malia, which left Hiroshi alone. Life just was not fair. He had to find some girl to go out with. Any girl. That was when he saw a vision of heaven fill his sight. It took him a moment to recognize the purple haired girl in the ravishing dress before him. Shampoo Saotome, Ranma Saotome’s sister. He had seen her only a handful of times around town, and never with her brother. The girl was currently standing alone, which meant she was fair game. He made certain every hair was in place as he approached Shampoo. “Hi, there. I’m Hiroshi, one of Ranma’s friends. I was wondering, how would you like to go somewhere?”
Shampoo did not even move in response, but continued staring across the street. Hiroshi cleared his throat. “I know this is kind of sudden, but I thought you’d like some company.” She still did not respond, causing Hiroshi to scratch his head in confusion. Was she brushing him off? “I’m sorry. Did you want to be alone?”
She turned towards him then, and he knew the look of total desolation on her face was going to haunt him the rest of his life. She said only one statement in reply as the movie tickets fell from her hand and she walked off.
“I am alone.”
Ranma and Akane left the theater in high spirits. Ranma was much happier than Akane.
“Man, that was the best one yet!” Ranma was practically jumping up and down in joy.
Akane smiled back. She had to admit, it was pretty enjoyable, even if she was not a big action movie fan. Seeing Ranma practically bursting at the seams with happiness gave her an unexpectedly warm feeling inside. She turned to him. “So, I guess now that the movie’s over we should head back.”
Ranma demeanor changed as he stopped jumping around and looked at Akane. “Well, it’s still early, and it’s not like I have anything to do tonight.” His voice started to gain an anxious tone. “We don’t gotta’ go back right away. We could, y’know, do something else.”
Akane’s smile broadened. “I’d like that. We haven’t eaten yet, so I guess we could do that. Let me see if I have enough money.” She started to go through her purse when Ranma told her to stop. She scowled at him, fearing he changed his mind. “Why?”
“Well, since you got the tickets and everything, I think maybe I should, y’know,” he appeared hesitant to say something. “Pay for it.”
Akane shook her head. “It’s okay. I can pay. After all, I asked you out.” She panicked a bit when she realized what she said. “Not that it’s a date!”
Ranma appeared just as nervous. “Of course not! It’s no date. We’re just going out to a movie and dinner. We can do that and it’s not a date. It’s just a friendly, ummm, get-together.”
Akane nodded her head in agreement. “Right.”
“Now that that’s settled, I can pay for the dinner. I got enough money for that.” Ranma counted out what he had in his pockets. “Nothing too fancy, though.”
Akane assented and the two went to find a nice place they could afford. They had not gone far when Ranma stopped and sniffed the air. “You know something? All night I keep smelling this odd scent somewhere around me.”
Akane sniffed the air and realized what the scent was. Her mood began to darken. “You mean it stinks?”
Ranma shook his head. “No. It smells kind of nice.” He leaned closer to Akane. “I think it’s from you.”
“Oh! That.” She began to blush. “I, ah, spilled some perfume on me. I guess the scent didn’t come off.”
Ranma shrugged. “Well, it smells nice.”
He resumed his walk while Akane remained lost in thought. There was no reason for her to lie about the perfume. She had put it on at the last moment quite voluntarily. She silently decided she lied because Ranma was stupid, and would have thought that if she wore perfume he might think she might be thinking it was a date. It was not. There was not any reason in the world why a girl could not wear perfume whenever she wanted. That reasoning seemed to hold up to her as the two continued on their way.
The dinner had gone well, and neither had gotten into an argument all night. The couple had even taken a stroll through the park after dinner. The walk had not lasted long as there was nothing but couples making out that late in the evening, making the duo very uncomfortable. Their return trip to the dojo was uneventful.
“No Mousse tonight,” Akane mentioned.
“Yeah. I remember the last time we went out. Watch it, though. You may jinx us.” Ranma mockingly warned. The two started laughing as they stopped in front of the house. “It sure went a lot better than the last time, didn’t it?”
“Yes. It was really enjoyable. Thank you, Ranma.”
The smile Akane gave him caused Ranma to smile even wider. “You were the one that took me out. I should thank you.” He moved slightly closer to her.
Akane felt a pang of guilt that she had almost torn up the tickets. She would have missed a wonderful evening if she had, and the two of them probably still would not be talking to one another. This was so much better. Ranma had not even said anything insulting. He came close a couple times at the movie, but kept from inserting his foot at the last minute. She could not tell if it was intentional or not. Something was still missing though. She drew closer to Ranma.
“Well, we’re home.” If Ranma was implying they should go in, he made no effort to do so.
“Yes. We are.” Akane made no move to the house either, but moved closer to Ranma once more.
The two remained where they were, looking at one another awkwardly Neither chose to say anything else, but rather just continued to stare at one another. At an almost snail-like pace they drew slightly closer still. The two were no more than a foot apart when the sound of crunching interrupted their plodding action. The duo turned as one in the direction of the noise, each seeing their respective fathers and Nabiki watching the proceedings intently. Nabiki was the one who had made the sound by munching on a bag of chips.
“Are you two just going to stand there, or are you going to go through with it?” Nabiki asked through a full mouth, looking more than a little annoyed at how long things were taking.
“Yes, son. Cement the bonds between our two families,” Soun urged.
“That’s right, boy. Show us you’re a man. Kiss the girl,” Genma prodded. “Don’t mind us. Just carry on as you were.”
Ranma broke the silence first.
“Don’t be stupid! There’s no way I’d kiss an uncute tomboy like that!”
Akane whirled on Ranma. “You make it sound like you have a choice! I wouldn’t let a pervert like you kiss me anyway!”
“Hey! You shouldn’t be so picky,” Ranma shot back. “It’s not like you got a lot of guys lining up to kiss you,”
“Oh, and you think kissing someone that turns into a girl is something I want to do?!” Akane fumed.
Ranma’s voice shot up some more. “It didn’t stop you before. In fact, it seems to me I was a girl when YOU kissed ME!”
Ranma was caught off guard by the slap that followed. He never even got a good look at Akane’s face as she stormed off into the house. The three observers watched the proceedings in shock.
“Do you mean to say Akane kissed you, boy?” Soun asked.
“Who would have thought you had it on you? Or that she had it in her?” Nabiki commented.
Genma walked over and slapped Ranma on the back. “That’s my boy. The ladies can’t resist him.”
Ranma batted his father’s hand away. “You just don’t get it, do ya’ Pop?”
Ranma walked into the house, more depressed than any time since Shampoo and he had made up. He had not made it more than five steps before Kasumi stopped him.
“Ranma, have you seen Shampoo at all?” she asked.
“No I haven’t,” he replied distantly. “And to tell you the truth, I really don’t care right now.”
Kasumi watched him leave. “But you were supposed to be with her tonight.”
Ranma headed to the roof and stared at the stars. Why did everyone have to stick their noses in his business? It just was not fair. Everything had been going fine until the fathers and Nabiki showed up. Who knew what might have happened? Now, instead of remembering the good time he had, Ranma felt nothing but depression.
Akane had run to her room and locked the door behind her, throwing herself on the bed and burying her head under the pillows. Why did Ranma have to screw up everything? Why couldn’t he have simply kept his mouth shut and let the evening end on a high note? Why did he have to call her uncute? Akane felt more depressed now than at anytime previously in the last year then she could remember. She realized it would not have hurt so much if they had had a lousy night out, but the fact that it had been wonderful before was why it made the end seem so bad. The perfectly rotten ending to a perfectly beautiful evening.
Ukyou made her way back from the meeting with the food shippers. She always felt a little awkward hanging around all the shippers and fellow shop owners. Everyone else was so much older than her, not that that fact kept a lot of them from hitting on her. She would not have had to worry about it if Ryouga had been there like last time, but he had “gone out” with Kyoko, like it was anything other than a date. The only thing that kept him from calling it that was that she was paying for it, the little tramp.
A shout caught Ukyou’s attention. From up the street a little ways she saw two people high tail it out of a bar that was located in of one of the buildings ahead. The two men looked scared. If it were a barroom fight that was starting up, Ukyou would join in. She needed to blow off some steam. As she walked into the bar she beheld one of the most unexpected sights she would have thought to have ever seen. The bar was in a state of ruin, empty of all but six people, two of them conscious. The first four were bouncers that had been bounced unconscious on the floor. The fifth was a bartender cowering behind the bar itself. The final occupant was seated at the bar.
Shampoo turned to give the newcomer an evil glare. If the person were stupid enough not to get the hint and leave, she would “educate” them. It was no small surprise when she saw the newcomer wore a familiar face.
“Ucchan! You come here,” Shampoo patted the seat at the empty bar next to her. “BARKEEP!” she shouted at the man cowering behind the bar. “You get extra drink for Ucchan and,” she took down the remainder of what was in her glass in one gulp, making her eyes tear. “You refill for me.” She slammed the glass on the bar.
“Dear god, she called me Ucchan!” Ukyou thought. She did not think it was possible that Shampoo could drink that much. She accepted the Amazon’s offer and sat down next to her. The bartender gave Ukyou a filled glass of some kind of liquor.
Shampoo raised her refilled glass. “Misery loves company,” she slurred.
Ukyou shook her head. “What are you doing here, sugar?”
Shampoo let her glass back down when she realized she was not going to get the cheers she wanted. “Shampoo is very depressed. So Shampoo drown sorrows. Is what you supposed to do, yes?”
“Actually, no,” Ukyou corrected. “Alcohol is a depressant. Drinking’s one of the last things you should do when you’re feeling down.”
Shampoo ignored the comment. “You know what Shampoo going to do? Shampoo going to get drunk, then give Ranma Kiss of Death.” She smiled evilly at that.
The death threat to Ranma grabbed Ukyou’s attention. “Why do you want to give Ranchan a Kiss of Death?”
A wild look entered Shampoo’s eyes. “He insult Shampoo. He mock Shampoo. He nothing but… but…” She switched from Japanese to Chinese. Ukyou was fairly certain from the tone of voice that more than a few choice expletives were being used. The tirade of Chinese broke off eventually as Shampoo took another drink.
“What do you do after you give him the Kiss of Death?” Ukyou asked.
The Amazon looked bewildered. “Shampoo kill, of course. Then Shampoo… then…” she trailed off, confused once more until she had a solution on what action should follow. “…then Shampoo marry Kasumi. She a nice girl that will no lie to Shampoo. Shampoo can trust her.”
So that was it. She felt Ranma had lied to her. Ukyou could certainly relate to that. The part about Kasumi was a surprise though. “Say, if you’re interested in women, I’ve got an attractive cheerleader I’d be willing to part with. I’d even throw in a free transvestite to boot.”
Shampoo made a face at that suggestion. “I no like Ai. She a mean, nasty girl.”
Ukyou began to think about how her life was turning out and decided to ignore her own advice from before. “I think I’ll have that drink, now.” She began to sip from her glass. It was not more than five minutes before Shampoo stood up and made an announcement.
“BARKEEP! Shampoo go to sleep now.” And with that she collapsed in a heap.
Ukyou finished her drink, picked the Amazon up, and threw the girl over her back. She turned to the bartender. “I’m sure she’ll pay for all the damages.”
The bartender crouched behind the bar, convinced Shampoo was going to come around again. “I don’t give a damn about the damages! Just get her out of here and never let her come back!” He watched the girls leave. “Damn! That crazed bitch sure reminded me of my ex-wife. Forgot how much I miss her.”
Ukyou agreed to the deal and headed out. Unless Shampoo knew some secret Chinese remedy for hangovers, she was going to have one horrible day when she woke up. Ukyou looked at the girl’s face. Shampoo looked miserable even in unconsciousness. For some odd reason, Ukyou felt a connection to the Amazon that night. It had been a long time she had really talked to anyone, and found herself spilling her soul out.
“Ryouga drives me nuts, too, but I have an idea of what my problem is. I don’t know how to relate to him as anything other than just one of the guys.” She looked at Shampoo’s sleeping form, which was still draped across her back. “I never asked a guy out, you know. How could I, when I was one of them? You’d think that would help me with them. Nah! Oh, sure, they said what they liked in women, but I’d turn around and they would be going out with the exact opposite. I don’t understand them, not even after all those years.”
She sighed. “So along comes Ryouga. Now, don’t get me wrong. He’s hardly perfect. He gets lost going to the bathroom. He’s still obsessed with Ranchan, even after all this time, and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve tried to break him of that. He gets depressed at the drop of a hat. And those are his good points.”
She felt like sighing once more. “Despite all that, I want to go out with him. I might even be in…” She trailed off, unsure if what her feelings were. “Oh! If only I could tell him what I feel. Better yet, I could have been engaged to Ryouga, then it wouldn’t matter how I act. He’d already be mine, and I wouldn’t have to worry about it. But now I’ve got to try to learn how to get him. I’m only ten years out of practice.”
Ukyou looked at the sleeping girl again. “And I can’t be like that ‘Little Miss Cheerleader Kyoko’. That’s not my style. I don’t want Ryouga to think that I’m one way, then reveal to him I’m another.”
She stopped and shouted upwards to the heavens. “I am Ukyou Kuonji! I will not change my life for any man! I did it once before, and look what it got me! Ryouga falls for me as is, or not at all!” She quieted down as she continued. “Unless, of course, he’s fallen for someone else already.”
Ukyou heard Shampoo begin to mumble “Ranma” under her breath. Even sleep granted the Amazon no reprise, the poor girl. “You know. You aren’t such a bimbo when your asleep, and I guess I needed to talk with someone. Of course I would never have said anything if you were awake.” Ukyou shifted her load. “You are going to owe me big time for hauling your butt like this. And I will kill you if something happens to my back.”
The late hour did not matter to Kasumi. Shampoo still had not returned, or contacted her in any way. It was late at night when she heard the rustling at the door. It could have been burglars, but Kasumi threw the door open into the night anyway. All that mattered was that her friend was all right.
Ukyou had walked up to the doorway, and was looking for a place to dump Shampoo when Kasumi opened the door. “I didn’t think anyone would be up.”
Kasumi saw the state Shampoo was in. “What happened?!”
Ukyou could tell the eldest Tendo was in a state of near panic. She made an effort to calm her down. “She’s okay. She just had too much to drink. Now, tomorrow morning you may want to keep sharp objects away from her, so she doesn’t try to end her suffering.”
Kasumi helped Ukyou bring the Amazon into the house and to Shampoo’s room. Once the Amazon was safely tucked in, Kasumi turned to Ukyou. “It’s late. You’re more than welcome to stay.”
Ukyou could understand why Shampoo felt Kasumi was trustworthy. The girl was easier on the nerves than a whole bottle of Prozac. “No. I have school tomorrow. If I don’t get to sleep now, I’ll never be able to wake up.” And if she did not go, Ryouga might resort to asking Kyoko to help him get to school so he did not end up in Madagascar.
Kasumi saw Ukyou to the door, and then got ready for bed herself. Things certainly had gotten bad around the dojo. She only hoped the situation would right itself. And poor Shampoo, Kasumi was going to have to be extra helpful to her. At least until the Amazon could decide on a course of action.
Interlude: Five Devils
The mountains of Japan:
The man in black stalked the ruins of the old temple. It took him a moment to find the right spot for the spell of summoning. The next one to bring back was much trickier than the others. He had spent so much of his life in shadow, and that was what was needed to bring him back to this side.
“When do we get to kill someone?” The man of stone asked
“Patience, my dear,” The lady of snakes reassured him. “All in due time.”
The man in black looked upon his four minions; soon to be five. They were proving themselves eager. That was good. The more eager, the better. There would plenty that they would be relied upon for. Too much for his tastes, but that was the way things worked out, sometimes.
He wasted no more time, and began the spell. “In shadows you lived. In shadows you died. In shadows you will be reborn!”
The man’s hand flared with magical energy as a form began to take substance from the shadow he gestured at. A bubbling could be heard from the shadow as a pale gray skinned man broke the surface of the darkness. A mechanical claw on the end of an arm began twitching with a life of its own.
“Five,” The man in black stated.
Part Two: Defeat
Ranma and Akane got up around the same time and headed for the breakfast table. The angry glares they started the morning with softened somewhat as time passed. Ranma was the first someone was missing.
“Where’s Shampoo?” Ranma asked. It was unlike the Amazon to be absent from breakfast. She had not been sick a day since he had met her. She may not have liked school but at least she was attentive.
“She’s sick. You’ll have to go to school without her.” Kasumi informed everyone.
Well, she was human after all. “Too bad. Tell her I hope she feels better.” Ranma changed to his girl form and left with the other two Tendos to school.
Shampoo got up a little after the others had left. There was the sound of something hammering from the inside of her head and there was an unmistakable urge to open her skull and rip out the offending object. Instead, she lay there and suffered for a little while before hauling herself to her feet and getting dressed. Her eyes fell upon the gift she had worked so painstakingly on for Ranma. A gift he was never going to receive now.
The clothing was fitted over a dressmaker’s dummy Shampoo had proportioned to Ranma’s exact size. No easy task getting those. A purple and gold Chinese style shirt, similar to the ones Ranma always wore, was adorned on it. It was no ordinary shirt, though. The material it was made out of was a rare kind of silk that was cultivated only in China. She had seen only two pieces of clothing made of the material in her entire life. Both felt so soft and unique that she had wished all her clothes were made of it. Legend said that the past emperors of China had kept the method it was harvested a secret, and that there were no more than a handful of people that knew how to raise the silk worms that wove the soft substance.
It had taken Shampoo more than a week to track down a store that had it. The price was too great, so she got Nabiki to help her raise some money. She had bought all the material that was at the store, just enough to make the shirt for Ranma that was pictured in her mind. It was something like the one he had worn for the Golden Pair fight, but it was designed for everyday wear. Shampoo had taken weeks to sew it. There was not enough material for there to be any errors. Every seam had to be perfect for him. And they were, blast it! She took hours making certain not a stitch was out of place. Fighting was not the only thing she was good at.
The designs were even more difficult. A dragon of gold, more elaborate than the skating costume’s, dominated the shirt; but there were also some smaller designs woven in it, as well. A pair of bonbori that were sewn on the collar, as well as some butterflies that were here and there on it. Shampoo always loved butterflies. All of the figures had taken forever to get the exact detail she wanted, but as with the rest of the shirt, they were perfect as well. It had been her heart’s desire to see Ranma wear the attire. True, he probably would not appreciate it for what it was, and destroy the garment in the first ten minutes he had it on. But just so long as he wore it even for a moment, Shampoo could beam at him in pride. Now she had to suppress the urge to tear the shirt into tiny pieces. She had to leave immediately lest the temptation overcame her.
She managed to drag herself to the kitchen in an effort to grab something to eat. It was no surprise Kasumi was already there.
“HELLO. HOW ARE YOU FEELING?” Kasumi asked.
Shampoo held her head. “You no need to shout.”
“I’M NOT SHOUTING,” Kasumi responded.
Shampoo was far worse than she thought, and food did not sound like such a hot idea at the moment after all. She went back to her room to let the worst part of the hangover pass. As she walked past the Saotome’s empty bedroom she scowled at the door, as though it had said something unsavory about her.
“Boys that play with girls hearts go to very bad place, Ranma.” She stared even harder at the door. “Hope you go there soon!”
She lay down for another hour before attempting to get up again. The second occasion was much more successful, and she grabbed some plain toast to get something in her stomach. She stared out at the yard trying to decide on a course of action. One of Akane’s practice dummies was out in the yard, like a lone scarecrow, though the only thing it might ward off would be Ranma. Like all the others, it looked a lot like Ranma. Shampoo supposed it was one way to relieve stress. She got up and did a few warm-up exercises just to make sure working out was not a mistake. Once she decided her head and stomach could handle it, she began punching the dummy. It was only a matter of moments before she shattered the target. Surprisingly, the action had alleviated some of her stress, but there was something missing from the exercise. Realism. An idea came to Shampoo; there was one way to make them more realistic. She went inside the house to collect the rest of the dummies and get the necessary materials to add that touch of realism she wanted. Once she was done relieving her stress there were a few other gifts she could leave Ranma.
Mint looked at his liege again. Herb had been acting very oddly since coming to Japan, and now he was practically wriggling in anticipation of the next visit.
“Herb, why is it so important we visit this place?” he asked.
“It is very important to me personally. There is a matter which I wish to conclude here, and there is only one person that can help me,” Herb explained.
“What is it?”
“I cannot tell you, Mint,” Herb’s voice carried a slight tone of sadness. “I’m sorry.”
Mint looked crestfallen. “You’ve been keeping a lot of things from me and Lime lately.” Mint could not see anything but Herb’s eyes behind the cowl, but again they looked sad.
“My friend, trust me. Soon all will be revealed, but I assure you this has to be done before any of the other plans can be set into motion,” Herb explained once again.
“What plans?” Mint was becoming more agitated. “You are keeping secrets from us! You never used to do that. Why did we have to make all those other stops, if coming to this place was so important? What do we need Faerie’s blood for?”
Herb stopped walking and stared at Mint. “There are many things happening that you cannot understand. Were I to tell you of them, you might let your tongue slip and tell others. The plans are still in a vulnerable stage. Soon things will change, and we will once again be masters of our own destiny. Suffice it to say, you are better off not knowing what is going to happen. It would just confuse you. You do trust me, don’t you?”
Mint nodded his head.
“Good,” Herb said, “Now I have just one question for you. Where the hell is Lime?”
“I think he said something about trying to find a,” Mint’s voice dropped to a whisper. “Girl.”
A sweatdrop appeared behind Herb’s head. “I’m going to kill him.”
Ukyou was not a happy person, on two counts. One was the fact that Kyoko had decided to follow Ryouga home from school every day now, and the jackass did not even say a word of protest. The other reason was that Ai was following HER home now. The only thing even remotely tolerable about that, was she did not glomp onto Ukyou the way Tsubasa did. There were, however, the suggestions Ai whispered in her ear about all the things they could do about furthering their relationship. Some of them caused even Ukyou to blush. Spatulas could not be used that way, and even if they could, she would never want to cook with one that had been utilized in the manner Ai suggested.
Kyoko was continuing to say cute, cheery little things. She really reminded Ukyou of Azusa Shiratori the way she was so, for lack of a better term, cutesy.
“I’ve got an idea, Ryouga-kun,” Kyoko missed Ukyou cringe at that word. “Why don’t the four of us go out on a double date?”
Ryouga started to say he didn’t think it was such a good notion, when Ai interrupted by jumping up and giving a cheer. “That’s a great idea!” She got closer to Ukyou and began whispering so the others could not overhear. “There’s this little place I know in Roppongi that we can head to afterwards. They cater to gals like us. You should see some of the specialized equipment they have.”
“I AM NOT LIKE YOU!!!” Ukyou raged. Any further statements were cut off by a huge man in tiger skins that approached the group.
Lime looked at Ai and Kyoko, while practically drooling. “You two look like,” he paused. “Girls.”
“Hey! What about me?” Ukyou exclaimed. How could the oaf have missed her?
Lime stared at her. “You look like a boy.”
“My Ukyou is one hundred percent woman!” Ai cried out. “Let me show you.” Ai moved behind Ukyou and ripped her uniform top open, showing off the chest wrap to the world.
Ukyou pulled out of Ai’s grasp and covered up. “Why does everyone feel the need to show my chest off to the world?!”
“Because your breasts are so perfect, my love,” the cheerleader said innocently. Ukyou blushed at the compliment. Too bad it had come from Ai.
Lime stood there transfixed. “Were those…. were those breasts?”
In his eagerness to investigate he approached the group once again. Kyoko cowered behind Ryouga, while Ai moved protectively in front of Ukyou.
“Watch it, pal,” Ryouga warned.
“Keep away from my Ukyou,” Ai’s attitude mirrored Ryouga’s.
Lime’s hand shot forward and snared Ai. She began kicking and screaming in protest, trying to get out of his grasp. One of her blows connected right with the bridge of his nose. The pain caused him to give Ai a tight squeeze, the pressure proving too much as she went limp in his arms.
“AI!” All three of the remaining people shouted as one. Ukyou and Ryouga moved forward.
“I may not be able to stand Ai, but no one deserves to be manhandled like that,” Ukyou said.
“I’m with you,” Ryouga agreed.
The duo jumped forward to the attack, both connecting with Lime’s stomach. He released Ai and looked angrily at the duo.
“I felt that.”
The shock on the attackers’ faces was evident. No one, not even Chabane, had been able to take that kind of punishment without a bigger reaction than that. Lime moved in while the duo was in momentary shock. Before either could move he grabbed them by their heads and brought their skulls together with a loud thump, then released them. Ryouga was slightly groggy but Ukyou was knocked unconscious by the blow from Ryouga’s skull.
“UK-CHAN!!!” Ryouga screamed as he went down to one knee to examine Ukyou.
Lime was surprised to see Ryouga still awake. There were few that could withstand a blow like that. While the lost one was distracted, Lime drew back his fist and coldcocked him. Ryouga hit the ground, unconscious.
Kyoko finally went into motion as she jumped protectively in front of the prone Ryouga. “I won’t let you hurt him.”
“You’re pretty. Let’s go out on a date.” Lime reached out towards Kyoko. He was slightly surprised she did not even try to run away, allowing him to pick her up.
Kyoko had not protested because her plan was working. If she could distract the big man, he would not hurt Ryouga. Her beloved was all that mattered. Now she needed to come up with something to get him away from her true love. “Why don’t we go somewhere quiet?” Kyoko thought that was the sort of thing Ai would say.
Lime grunted in approval. He picked up Ai and walked off, leaving the other two figures sprawled out in the middle of the street. Kyoko blew a kiss towards Ryouga’s prone form as she was carried off. “Be safe, my heart.”
Cologne once again was forced to wonder if she was in the presence of pure genius. It was said Einstein, one of the greatest geniuses of the era, had trouble tying his shoelaces. All throughout history, the brilliant were often depicted as eccentric or a little mad. Perhaps that was the price of genius. The girl before her was certainly bizarre, if not outright delusional.
Kodachi was in a lab jacket studying the various reactions of the chemicals she was experimenting with. The girl’s demeanor was nothing like it usually was. Not a trace of humor was in her as she experimented with the new, rare herbs Cologne had shipped in from China. Watching the girl work her magic with the toxins was amazing. Kodachi still had to field-test the reactions, but she had said she was certain she already had synthesized a very effective poison with the new ingredients. It all happened in a matter of hours. Her intuitive grasp of the field was astounding. Now all that was left was the creation of the antidote. A toxin without an antidote was a good way to get killed if there was a lab accident.
Cologne’s attention was suddenly riveted to someone’s approach from nearby. Someone familiar. Someone that should not even be in Japan. “Kodachi, come with me. I want you to meet an extraordinarily dangerous man.”
Kodachi looked towards her chemist’s set. None of the experiments were at a critical juncture. She could spare some time to meet someone that Cologne considered “an extraordinarily dangerous man.” She followed the Amazon to the floral shop’s entrance and heard someone come in. Two figures entered the jungle and began to search. Their eyes settled on the approaching women.
“Cologne,” Herb stated. “So, my information was correct.”
“Prince Herb. It has been a long time,” Cologne replied, making sure to use his title. No sense in provoking a senseless argument. “Take off your cloak and make yourself at home.”
Herb held up a hand. “No, thanks. I do not intend to remain long.”
Mint moved towards Kodachi, gazing upon her in awe. “Are you a girl?” He moved his hand forward to touch her.
“I wouldn’t do that, if I were you,” the gymnast calmly stated.
Mint was confused. “Why not?”
The Ranma-Eating Plant sensed its mistress’s desire, and raised its head forward and over Kodachi’s shoulder. It opened its jaws wide to show off its jagged teeth and gave a low, menacing hiss. Mint came to the sudden conclusion that he was not that curious about women after all, and backed off.
“Do you believe I would allow a barbarian such as yourself to lay your hands upon me?” Kodachi said haughtily. “Only my darling Mousse has that privilege.”
Cologne and Herb moved back to discuss the matters at hand, now that the commotion was over.
“I require information from you,” Herb explained. “I need to know the location of Kiifuiton.”
Cologne shrugged her shoulders. “Why should I know where it is?”
Cologne could only sense Herb’s smile hidden beneath the shadows of the cloak. “Because you are a well-informed person. I will add that I am more than willing to pay for the knowledge.”
Cologne maintained a neutral attitude. “What could you possibly possess that I would be interested in?”
Herb silently pulled out an ornate box from within the cloak and opened it. Inside there were three items. A medallion with a griffon’s head on it, a crystal, and a single bracer.
“These are relics of the Amazons! I recognize them all!” Cologne said in shock as she moved to handle the items. “This is the medallion of Hu Chiang. This is a scrying crystal. And the last is the Bracer of Tangal.” Cologne silently berated herself for fawning over the objects. Any advantage she could have displayed over lack of interest in the items was lost. “How did you come to find them?”
“I have my resources. Now about that deal…” Herb trailed off.
Cologne could hardly refuse. Kiifuiton was only useful to those that possessed Chiisuiton, and she would have been damned if she was going to let Herb leave with the valuable artifacts. She pulled out a map and handed it to Herb. “Here is the general location of what you seek. That is the best I can do.”
Herb took the piece of parchment in trembling hands. “It will more than suffice. The artifacts are yours.” Herb paid no further attention to the matriarch as the prince committed to memory everything about the map.
Lime finally arrived with the two cheerleaders still draped over his shoulders. He quickly ran over to Herb. “Look what I found in the middle of the street.”
To Lime, Herb’s red eyes seemed to bore a hole through him. The words his leader spoke had an even more sobering effect.
“There is no time for that! We leave now!” Herb turned and walked out the door. Lime and Mint looked at one another, shrugged, then followed. Lime made certain to leave the cheerleaders. No point in angering Herb further.
Mousse moved away from the shadows he had been skulking in. A good thing he had come in at the last minute, else he would have missed the statement by Herb about Kiifuiton. If he remembered correctly, it could cure Jusenkyou curses, though why Cologne had not thought to use it was beyond him. Still, there was now a chance that he could cure himself of the curse. It was foolish of him to believe Shampoo would ever agree to marry him while he was cursed. That was why she refused the cure and marrying him. It was not because she did not love him, how could she not? It was because he was less than a man. Of course, so was Saotome, which meant Ranma must have done something else to her as well to get her to fawn over him so. It enraged Mousse to think of his darling Shampoo being trapped under Ranma’s house. There was no telling what the lecherous scum had already done to her. Not that Mousse would care. He would love her no matter what.
Now that he thought about it, and he hated to admit it, he might need help. If the rumors about the Musk Dynasty were true, Mousse might have been able to take out any one of them, but there was no chance he could take all three alone. A plan started to form in his mind. A devious one, which might get him everything he needed: a cure, and some bonuses.
Ranma-chan and Akane returned home after school. The two of them were starting to talk to one another civilly for the first time since the events of the previous night. They greeted Kasumi and separated. Ranma changed sexes and went to change clothes while Akane went out back. The scene in the backyard shocked her.
“What happened?” It took her a moment to realize the backyard was filled with the broken remains of what were once her practice dummies. All of them. Nothing was left but small piles of splinters. Not even Akane could have destroyed them so thoroughly. There were also some odd pieces of cloth stuck amongst the remains.
Kasumi looked over the carnage and explained. “Shampoo felt better and decided to work out.”
Akane’s thoughts were interrupted by a shout from within the house.
“WHERE ARE ALL MY CLOTHES?!!!” Ranma roared.
“Shampoo dressed up the dummies with Ranma’s clothes,” Kasumi explained. “She thought they needed a touch of realism.”
Ranma came to the backyard in a shirt and shorts that had been saved only because they were still dirty and had been in the laundry. One look told him where his clothes were as well.
“What did you do that has gotten Shampoo so angry at you?” Akane asked.
“How should I know? I never did nothing to her,” Ranma could not remember the Amazon ever really being angry with him. Not like this. He walked back to his room, lost in thought. He went to lie down while trying to figure out what Shampoo could have possibly misinterpreted that got her so upset. Once he could remember what it was, he could explain it to her. Shampoo would listen to explanations, unlike a certain fiancée he could mention. As he went to lie down he noticed the blanket he normally used was in shreds.
“Hey Kasumi! What happened to my sheets?”
“Shampoo was kind enough to wash them,” Kasumi explained as she entered the room. “Although she said a neighbor’s dog got to yours while they were hung out to dry. They really ought to keep a tighter leash on their pets. What if it had attacked another person?”
Ranma had a feeling it was a wild Amazon, not a wild animal, that had attacked his sheets and ripped them to shreds. He went to lie down and try thinking again. His head made contact with the pillow he normally used and was rewarded with an incredibly loud thump as he hit.
Ranma grabbed the back of his head. “OW! What the hell…” He picked up the pillowcase and held it upside down. Several rocks, the ones that replaced the pillow inside the case, fell out. Ranma’s concern doubled. Shampoo was REALLY angry with him if she was doing stuff like this. Just as he was about to put his mind to really get to the bottom of things a bat flew into his room and landed. It began making urgent bat-like noises and gestures in his direction.
“I see. I see. I understand,” Ranma said as he thoughtfully put his hand to his chin. “Ryouga, do you realize what I understand?”
The bat shook its head.
“It’s that I can’t understand a word you’re saying, BECAUSE YOU’RE A BAT, YOU IDIOT! CHANGE INTO A GUY!!!” He picked up the bat and walked to the bath, ran some hot water, then left to retrieve some of the clothes the lost one left at the dojo when he needed to fly over. Ryouga dressed once Ranma returned. As both left the bathroom, Akane spotted them and joined up.
“What’s got you so riled up?” Ranma asked.
“Some big guy in tiger skins attacked me and Ukyou.”
Ranma’s demeanor became much more serious. “Is she all right?”
“She has a headache, but it isn’t bad. That doesn’t mean the big guy isn’t going to pay! Not by a long shot.” Ryouga clenched his fist for emphasis.
“You aren’t doing it alone.” Ranma put his hand on Ryouga’s shoulder.
“I didn’t come here for help, Ranma. I just want you to watch out for Ukyou while I take care of business.”
“She’s my friend, too. I’m going.” The look in his eyes left no room for argument.
“I’m glad to hear you say that, Saotome.”
Everyone turned to see the new voice. Kasumi stood next to Mousse, whom she had just let inside.
“You got some nerve coming here, after what you pulled!” Ranma ran over and grabbed Mousse by the collar. “Let me show you just how unwelcome you are.”
Mousse just smirked back in response. “We now have the same goal, Saotome. I found a cure for all of us.”
Ranma refused to release his grip. “I don’t know what kind of a sucker you take me for, but if you imagine I’m going to believe a word you’re saying, think again.”
Just as Ranma drew back to strike Mousse, Akane rested her hand on the fist. “Wait, Ranma! Let’s hear him out.” Ranma dropped the fist to his side but continued holding Mousse.
“Your fiancée has a lot more brains than you, Saotome,” Mousse said. “You two make a cute couple. You should marry her as soon as possible.”
“I ain’t got time for this. You’d better come up with something real interesting in about three seconds, or you’re going to have lot more things wrong with you besides your vision,” Ranma threatened.
Mousse chose not to waste any more time. “There’s a magic object that has just come to my attention. It has the capability to break the Jusenkyou curses.”
“And you’re just letting me and Ryouga in on it because you’re a nice guy. Is that it?” Ranma did not buy it for a second.
“No. If I could obtain it alone, I would, but we won’t be the only ones after it. You see, there are three other men after it.” Mousse allowed the words to sink in. “They are the Musk Dynasty. All three of them are accomplished fighters. You already met one of them, from the sound of it, Ryouga.”
That caught Ryouga’s attention. “You mean the guy with the tiger skins?”
Mousse at last batted Ranma’s hand from his collar. “His name is Lime. His forte is power. He might even be stronger than you.”
Ryouga nodded his head reluctantly. If the force behind the blow was any indication of the man’s strength, Lime was more powerful than him. If there were two others like him traveling all together, letting Ranma come along suddenly seemed like a good idea.
“What about the others?” Ranma asked.
“I can fill you in about them on the way. We have to leave now,” Mousse warned. “If they get their hands on Kiifuiton before we do, it might be impossible to take it from them.”
“Let’s go.” Akane said as she stood up. All three men looked at her.
“Umm, Akane. Where do you think you’re going?” Ranma asked.
“To help you.”
Ranma shook his head. “Maybe you weren’t paying attention. These guys are dangerous.”
“Hey! I’m a martial artist, too. I can take care of myself.” Akane felt her anger begin to rise.
Ryouga came to Ranma’s aid. “He’s right, Akane. The one I fought was real tough. I wouldn’t let Ukyou come even if she was feeling up to it.”
“Nor would I let Shampoo go with us,” Mousse agreed. “By the way, where is she?”
“She’s obviously not here if you’re still standing,” Ranma said dryly. “Now where do we go?”
Mousse suddenly looked embarrassed and gave a nervous chuckle. “I don’t know. I stopped following them when I came here to get you.”
“You mean to tell me, you don’t even know where the thing is?” Ranma spat out.
“Guys,” Ryouga tried to interrupt.
“It’s not like I had a choice. I couldn’t take them on alone, and I was fresh out of homing pigeons. Otherwise I would have sent you a note,” Mousse responded.
“Guys,” Ryouga tried again.
“Now we can’t get the cure! What was the point in coming here if you can’t find out where they went?!” Ranma and Mousse tensed up, ready to fight.
Ryouga had enough. He went to the bathroom, returned with a bucket of cold water, and splashed the two youths.
“Hey! Whad’ya do that for?!” Ranma-chan asked angrily.
*I want to know too!* Mousse-panda looked just as pleased.
“As I was trying to say, I can find them. My homing sense, remember?” Ryouga pointed to his head. “When I’m a bat, I can find anyone, anywhere. I even found Ranma from halfway across the world.”
Ranma-chan nodded her head. Ryouga’s sense was so good in bat form he managed to track Ranma down while she was a female, even if he had not realized the curse at the time. If Ryouga met Lime even once, he could track him down with ease.
“Well, that’s settled.” Ranma got some hot water for himself and Mousse while grabbing some cold for Ryouga.
“I’m going, too.” Akane tried to force her way into the group again.
Ranma tried a different approach. “Look, anything that involves curses is a bad thing for uncursed people to be around. I don’t want you turning into an otter or something.”
“It’s supposed to cure you. I want to go!” Akane remained adamant.
“Fine! We’ll take a vote. Who wants the uncute tomboy to stay here?” Two guys and one bat raised their hands and wing respectively.
“I abstain,” Kasumi said from the doorway.
“We have three for Akane to stay. One abstention. And only one vote left.” Ranma turned to Akane. “Make sure you don’t cook anything that can kill while we’re gone.”
“You rotten jerk! I don’t care what happens to you!” She was damned of she was going to accept that kind of treatment, and stomped out of the house.
“You should treat your fiancée better, Saotome,” Mousse said.
“I ain’t marring her, so don’t worry about it. Let’s get going, unless you like being a panda?” Ranma picked up Ryouga’s clothes as he and Mousse followed Ryouga’s flight path.
Shampoo had wandered around aimlessly all day. Most of her initial anger was gone, and she was beginning to think more rationally. Ranma had chosen Akane after all. That was still quiet a shock. She thought they hated one another. Who would have thought it? But why did Ranma have to be so cruel in turning her down? Why couldn't he have simply said no? Did he think she would hit him? She was not Akane. Shampoo would have understood. She was a proud Amazon warrior. She could take rejection with a smile on her lips. Actually, she admitted to herself, she would have most likely broken down in tears on the spot, but she would not have abused him the way Akane did. Never like that.
What was she doing in Japan anyway? Her great grandmother knew she was here. It was only a matter of time before she would resort to bringing in a huge number of Amazons that would defeat Shampoo by sheer numbers. The longer she remained, the greater the risk. She had to leave. There was a whole big world out there and there was sure to be a cure somewhere in it. She had to start looking for it to gain back her life. To go back home.
Shampoo was startled to realize that held little appeal for her. Why, she did not know. What had changed so that returning to her birthplace held little appeal for her? Perhaps it was simply that she had thought of it as dangerous for so long she was a little afraid of going back. That reasoning seemed sound, but something about it did not feel right.
There was nothing else to be gained in walking around in big circles. She had to go back home. No. She meant the dojo. When had she started to think of it as home? It did not really matter. She would sleep on her decision, but if she still felt the same way tomorrow, then it would be her final day there. It was not like she had a lot of things to pack up.
She returned home (she reminded herself she meant dojo), surprised to see only Kasumi present.
“Where is everyone?” Shampoo asked.
“Well, Akane left to get new materials to make some practice dummies,” Kasumi explained.
Shampoo smiled at that. It meant Ranma had done something to anger her. Again.
“And Ranma went with Ryouga and Mr. Mousse to fight someone named Musk. He seems to have a cure for the curses. I bet if they get it, you can cure yourself too. Won’t that be great?”
Shampoo did not hear the last part of the statement. Rather, she paled as she focused on the first part.
She grabbed Kasumi roughly by the shoulders. “What you mean? What you mean when you say they go fight someone named Musk?”
Kasumi found herself being shaken by a suddenly furious Amazon. “Shampoo. You’re hurting me.”
Shampoo calmed herself enough to stop shaking the eldest Tendo. “Kasumi,” she began slowly. “Tell me what you mean when you say they go to fight Musk.”
Kasumi related everything she could remember about the conversation. She became very concerned when she saw how frightened Shampoo appeared. “What is it?” she asked.
“I have to go find them. They in great danger.” Shampoo headed to her room, and cursed herself. She had no way of knowing where they were.
And they had no idea of what they were getting into.
Shampoo knew. She had met the members of the Musk Dynasty once before. Her great grandmother had taken her on a diplomatic voyage to meet Prince Herb at his castle in the lands the Musk claimed as their own. Cologne had become concerned that relations between the Amazons and the Musk had recently deteriorated for no rational explanation. Her great grandmother decided it was time for Shampoo to learn the finer points of diplomacy at the age of fourteen. The journey would be a tremendous learning tool to that end.
It had proved to be a mistake.
Cologne had only taken four bodyguards, in addition to Shampoo. There had not been any real trouble with the Musk in over three hundred years. It appeared that they had finally laid the hard feelings of the past to rest, not that it had not been the Musk’s own fault for trying to raise a demonic evil to take over the world.
As they approached the fortress, Shampoo was in awe. The stone castle stood on the top of a mountain. Sheer rock dominated three sides of it, with only one long and winding road that led to the top. The perfect defensible position. In all their history, only Hu Chiang had ever managed to breach those walls. It was the principle reason the Musk had borne such a grudge against the Amazons for so long.
They were forced to wait several hours before being granted an audience. Shampoo used that time to quietly slip away from the others and go on an unguided tour of the fortress. She went through it high and low. The sentries were woefully inadequate in observation skills, and never detected her presence. The place was exceptionally vast, if a little dreary. The most memorable part of her search, though, was not the fortress itself, but rather the view. When she looked over the wall and down into forever, she fell in love with the mountain. She silently vowed she would climb those cliffs someday.
Her tour came to an end. Cologne discovered her absence and tracked her down. Shampoo was given the undignified method of travel by being dragged by her ear and scolded the entire way with Cologne asking her if she wanted to start an incident. Her great grandmother was such a spoilsport. They returned just in time to be ushered into the main throne room.
Upon entering it, Shampoo could feel the change in the air. It took her but a moment to pinpoint the source. It was the young man sitting upon the throne. Herb. He was a somewhat slender individual, with bluish-white hair and piercing red eyes. As the conversation between he and Cologne progressed, the manners he displayed to the matriarch left much to be desired. He treated her in a haughty, arrogant manner. Shampoo actually paid little attention to the conversation and kept far to the back of the party. It was stupid of her great-grandmother to drag her along; such things held little interest to her. She spent time looking at the guards and their armor design, trying to figure out which ones might be able to put up a fight and which ones were for show.
That was when the large youth dressed in tiger skins entered the room, bearing a massive stone bench that had to weigh at least a ton. He did it effortlessly with one hand. The bench fell to the floor with a loud crash as his eyes settled on Shampoo. Specifically, her chest. The stare made her a little self-conscious. She had hit puberty not all that long ago, and was starting to become aware of the stares she received from males. Not that she was ashamed of her body. Quiet to the contrary, she was happy she was filling out so nicely, but she was still not used to the attention. The youth in tiger skins was quickly joined by a young man in a wolf pelt. Shampoo never even saw the boy arrive. He was simply not there one moment, then present the next.
Shampoo began to worry. The duo’s stares seemed strange. If she did not know any better, she would have sworn they had never seen a girl before. They started to move forward when Herb noticed them.
“<Would you two quit fooling around, and get over here?!>” Herb’s voice carried a tone of annoyance. “<We are conducting important business!>”
The duo went over to Herb’s side, much to Shampoo’s relief, though they now stared at all the women in the room. She attempted to follow the conversation between her great grandmother and Herb, but she was not able to really comprehend what was going on. All she could tell was that tone had become even coarser between the two. She did not become concerned until she felt the bodyguards tense up. It was a subtle gesture, but Shampoo’s training made her more than aware of the change in their demeanor. She tensed up as well, expecting the worst.
It never came to pass, as the conversation abruptly ended. Cologne indicated the group should leave when Herb halted them.
“<Before you go,>” Herb said. “<Why don’t we have a little floor show for you? I understand you like a good fight. Mint! Lime!>”
The two moved forward, looking curiously at one another. Herb turned to the soldiers.
“<Men. Try to kill…>” Herb trailed off as he looked to the party of Amazons. A smile creased his face as he saw the warriors, including Shampoo, tense up once again. “<…Lime and Mint,>” he finished.
The men looked unsure at one another, then formed up and attacked. It was a futile gesture. Lime picked up the first attacker and threw him, like a bowling ball, into the group of soldiers. He took out half of them with that one blow. Mint did not idly stand by. He rushed forward and began taking out men with barehanded attacks. The remaining soldiers did not last ten seconds.
Shampoo knew enough to understand what they had just witnessed was a show of force, and an impressive one at that. Herb casually dismissed the Amazons with a wave of his hand.
Once out of sight and earshot Cologne gave her order. “<We leave here. Immediately!>”
One of the escorts, Sink, spoke up. “<The arrogance of that mere male! How dare he address you in such a manner! Why did you not put him in his place?>”
“<Be silent!>” Silk, one of the older members of the matriarch’s bodyguard and one of the best warriors in the village, spoke up. “<First, you never speak that way to any elder. I taught you better than that. Second, you do not make war on a battleground of the enemy’s choosing. Third, if any action is to be taken, one of your betters will decide.>”
Sink withered under Silk’s glare. Their discussion would continue at a later time. Silk turned to Cologne and spoke in a more proper tone. “<Has he gone mad? Why would he provoke us like that?>”
“<I do not believe it was madness. It felt more like confidence. Whether or not it is justified remains to be seen,>” Cologne answered, then turned to Shampoo. “<It was a mistake to bring you here, child. If I had known it would be this dangerous, I would have left you home.>”
“<I can handle myself!>” Shampoo huffed.
Cologne looked at her sadly. “<Do not allow pride to become arrogance. It will prove your undoing.>”
As the party made their way to the main courtyard they all felt a massive buildup of chi. All turned to see Herb unleash a tremendous chi blast high into the sky, striking a single bird. The blast disintegrated it totally. It was the moral equivalent if using a .357 Magnum to kill a fly.
Herb smiled at the group. “<I hate crows. They’re a bad omen. Have a safe journey.>” He gave the party a condescending smile. Cologne returned it with a seemingly sincere one and departed with the envoy.
As they headed down the mountain Silk and Cologne began talking with one another.
“<He has changed much since the last time we met him. He was always good with chi, but his abilities now…>” Silk trailed off, then continued. “<It’s not only that aura of power he has now.>”
“<Ah! So you noticed it too.>” Cologne said that as a statement, not a question.
“<Noticed what great-grandmother?>” Shampoo asked.
“<His eyes, child. They used to be blue.>”
After that incident, all contact with the Musk was cut off. Rumors circulated about their actions. None of the rumors were good. And now it was just over two years since she had seen the members of the Musk Dynasty. There could be little doubt that their abilities had grown since Shampoo had last seen them. Ranma and the others could have no idea of what they were getting into. Not even Mousse really knew. Cologne had been very specific that Shampoo kept what happened to herself, not that she ever told Mousse much of anything.
So now the problem was how to locate Ranma. She had no idea of where they went, and with the head start they had, she could not catch up to them without knowing where they were going. The only way she could think of following them was magic. She knew a spell that her great grandmother had taught her, but it was too time-consuming. Maybe Minami had an idea.
It took Shampoo too much time to find Minami’s house. Akane had visited her several occasions, but all the Amazon remembered was the street she said the ghost sweeper lived on. Shampoo came upon the house and saw Minami and a man, most likely her father, hurriedly rush to a waiting car.
“Minami, wait!” Shampoo cried out as she ran to the car.
Minami exited the vehicle. “What is it? Make it quick. I have a plane to Bolivia to catch.”
“I need to find Ranma,” she blurted out.
Minami smiled. “What? The guy run away? Good for him. Now maybe things will get normal around here.”
Shampoo shook her head. “No. He in great danger. He go to attack a very powerful man.”
Minami gave an exasperated sigh and got out of the car. “Hold on, Dad. This will only take a minute.” Minami turned back to Shampoo. “This is some of that martial arts crap, isn’t it?”
Shampoo nodded. “Sort of. Ranma thinks he trying to find a cure, and another man try to stop him. Herb is very powerful.”
“Fine.” Minami reached into a pocket and pulled out an object that looked like a compass. “This will help you find him. Whatever you do, don’t lose it. Now, do you have any of his personal items? A shirt? A lucky charm? A lock of hair?”
The Amazon looked sheepishly at Minami and pulled out a lock of hair.
Minami stared in disbelief. “You actually keep a lock of his hair? Boy, do you have it bad.”
Shampoo blushed. “That not why I have it.”
“Then why would you?” Minami asked. “The only other reason to have it would be for magic spells. Like this one, or a voodoo doll, or a love potion.”
Shampoo's blush became even redder. That was the reason she had originally taken it. There was a time when she seriously considered using such a potion, but the Perfume incident taught her she would not influence Ranma’s mind by using anything other than her own powers of persuasion. It was still a horribly tempting idea, though. The only reason she kept it with her any more was because it reminded her of Ranma. Now she was grateful she did.
Minami placed the lock of hair on the compass. “Now close your eyes and hold out your hand.” Shampoo did as she was instructed while Minami continued. “Now, picture Ranma in your mind”
Shampoo felt Minami hold her extended hand. “That’s it. Keep visualizing,” the ghost sweeper continued.
Suddenly, Shampoo felt a sharp cut across her palm. She reflexively pulled back her good hand to strike Minami.
“Whoa! Ease up there, ‘Poo!” Minami shouted with the bloody knife still in hand. “I need your blood to fuel the spell. Now hold out the cut hand.”
Shampoo was a bit put off. All Minami needed to do was say she needed blood and Shampoo would have given it. Nonetheless, she did as she was told. Minami allowed the blood to soak into the compass. Once she felt there was enough she released Shampoo’s hand and told her to clasp the compass in the good one. Each girl held onto the object with one hand.
“Picture Ranma in your mind again. Get the image burned in there real good,” Minami urged.
Shampoo obeyed. Picturing Ranma in her mind was easy. She had lots of practice.
“Got it?” Minami asked. Shampoo nodded. “Good,” Minami continued, then cast the spell.
Shampoo suddenly felt the compass pull in a direction. There was also something else. The compass felt wrong.
Minami smiled. “It seems to be working. Now let me warn you, you have to focus on Ranma whenever you hold it in your hand or it won’t work. If you picture the wrong person, or lose the trail somehow, you won’t be able to get it back.”
“It feels funny,” Shampoo commented.
Minami smiled. “That’s because you are basically a good person that’s been magically enchanted. You’re reacting negatively to the small part of demon trapped inside the compass.”
Shampoo was shocked. “I know a little about magic, Minami. Using blood magic with demons is dangerous. And only practitioners of black magic use it.”
“Don’t worry,” Minami’s voice sounded bitter. “I’ve had lots of practice using that kind of stuff. I learned from the one of the best damn Dark Sorceresses that ever was. My mother.”
Shampoo thought she saw tears form in Minami’s eyes as she turned to leave. Minami did not look back as she continued. “I’ve got to go. Ukyou will kill me if I miss the convention.”
Shampoo afforded Minami a short nod as she turned to go herself. Ranma was all that mattered now. She had to get to him before he ran into the Musk. She focused his image in her mind and felt the demonic locator pull in a direction.
Ranma and Mousse followed Ryouga-bat as fast as they could. They had not traveled more than four hours when Ryouga-bat paused, desiring hot water.
Ranma looked annoyed as the lost one underwent his transformation. “Why’d you stop?”
Ranma’s tone managed to irritate Ryouga. “One reason is that I wanted to tell you they seemed to have increased speed. I think it’s got to be either a car or train. The movement is pretty even. The other is that you guys are moving too slow. You’ve got to figure out a way of going faster.”
“Well excuse me, Bloodsucker. Some of us can’t fly,” Ranma said.
Ryouga balled up his fist and was going to return the insult when Mousse decided to play peacekeeper. “Look, you guys. If I can swallow my pride and work with Ranma then the two of you can work together.” Mousse saw his words had the desired effect. “I have a solution to the speed problem. I can run much faster in panda form. Of course, that means allowing Saotome to ride me,” he grumbled.
“Hey! It ain’t like I want to ride a flea bag like you,” Ranma retorted.
This time Ryouga got between them. “Cool it, you guys. It sounds like a good plan. We’ll use it.” Cold water was doused in Ryouga and Mousse as the trio set out again. Ranma could not quite put his finger on it, but something felt wrong.
Hours later, Shampoo felt the distance between her and her quarry increase. He was moving faster than her. She was going to have to run through the night if she hoped to catch up to Ranma. She began to pace herself better. At least he seemed to be heading north on a consistent basis.
Two days later:
Herb walked back and forth with Chiisuiton extended. Herb had been reassured that it would be tugged in a direction once it was near its mate, Kiifuiton. They had searched the mountain for a full day, and turned up nothing. On this second day, the prince was confident that it would be found. The members of the Musk Dynasty were running out of places to search. At last Herb was rewarded by a gentle pull on the ladle. Herb’s future was secured.
“Lime! Mint! It’s this way,” Herb noticed the duo looking up in the sky. “What is it?”
Mint pointed upward. “It’s a bat. You don’t see them during daylight too often.”
“DO YOU TWO HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT WE ARE DOING UP ON THIS MOUNTAIN?!!” Herb roared.
Lime scratched his head. “Not really. We’re just following you around. Don’t you know what we’re doing here?”
Mousse poured hot water on Ryouga and himself. All three pursuers looked down from their vantage point, as Herb led the two companions to a stream.
“All right. We finally caught up to them. I say we make a plan to confront them,” Ranma began.
“Mint’s the fast one, so I’ll take him. Ryouga, you’ll want to take care of Lime, I’m sure. Saotome, you take Herb. He’s supposed to be the most dangerous of the lot,” Mousse commanded.
“And exactly why do I have to take the most dangerous one?” he asked.
“As you remind us so often, you are the best martial artist there is. It only makes sense that you confront the best one. Unless you want to admit I’m better,” Mousse smiled at Ranma. He knew what the response would be.
“I’ll take him,” Ranma stated plainly. “Now how about a plan?”
“Let’s attack!” Ryouga growled.
“Good idea.” Mousse seconded, and without waiting for Ranma, the two rushed forward.
Ranma just held his head. What kind of plan was that? Those two were probably going to get him killed. Having nothing better to do, he leaped down to his opponent.
Mousse smiled to himself. Ranma had fallen for the trap. Ideally, Mousse hoped Herb would kill Ranma outright, and then he could be the hero and dispatch Herb in “revenge.” With Ryouga there as a witness, no one could call him a liar. Shampoo would probably thank him for avenging Saotome’s death. The briefest of fantasies passed through his mind as he saw himself consoling her in her grief. If Ranma won his fight, he would undoubtedly be softened up, so Mousse could then kill him with ease. Of course, the problem with that scenario was Ryouga. Mousse knew the human bat hated Ranma, but outright murder did not seem his style. And even if it was, Ryouga probably knew Ukyou would alienate him for allowing Ranma to die. That meant Mousse would have to kill him too. He bore the boy no personal grudge, and was reluctant to kill him. Maybe Lime would take care of the problem.
Ryouga got the drop on Lime and started assailing him with a variety of punches and kicks. The early advantage was lost as Lime quickly recovered and retaliated, trying to hit Ryouga again. This time Ryouga was prepared, and dodged many of the attacks with his somewhat superior speed.
Mousse threw a variety of knives at Mint, confident he could take him out early and watch the Ranma vs. Herb duel. The wolf-pelt covered boy easily dodged the original volley and landed a punch in Mousse’s midsection. The Amazon quickly recovered, realizing Mint’s speed was even greater than rumors made it sound. It appeared Mousse was in the fight of his life.
Ranma faced his opponent but did not attack. Herb did likewise, observing the newcomer and tried to take his measure.
“What are you doing here?” Herb inquired.
“We need that Kiifushtand, or whatever it’s called,” Ranma explained. “Just let us use it and we’ll be on our way.”
Herb scoffed at that. “How asinine! Do you honestly believe I would give in to the threats of a lowborn such as yourself? I am the next emperor of China!”
“Oh, great!” Ranma thought. “Delusions of grandeur even greater than Mousse’s delusions of adequacy.” He continued aloud. “We’ll give it back. Honest. But I really need it, and I won’t take no for an answer.” He cracked his knuckles for emphasis.
Ranma could have sworn he saw Herb’s red eyes flare. “Very well! So be it!” Herb dropped into a fighting stance. Ranma answered with one of his own. The two began their duel.
The fighting was only slightly restrained at first, with both combatants feeling each other out. The feeling out period quickly escalated into a full-out fight, both opponents giving everything they had. As the battle progressed Ranma quickly came to a conclusion; Herb was a skilled fighter, but Ranma was unquestionably better. It appeared Herb had been overrated.
Herb looked on with concern. The boy was proving himself a worthy adversary. Herb decided it was time to stop playing around, and go all-out.
Ranma threw a quick one-two combination with his fists. Herb blocked both attacks with the edge of his hands. As Ranma drew back he felt a burning sensation where he had made contact with Herb, almost as though someone had held a match for a few moments on those spots. Ranma attempted another fist strike to Herb’s chest. Herb grunted as the prince’s hand blocked Ranma’s punch by catching the fist in the palm. Ranma felt the burning sensation ride up his arm. That pain was overridden as Herb connected with a fist of his own to Ranma’s jaw. The burning sensation was repeated there as well. Ranma drew back and looked at Herb more closely. Now that he had a moment, he noticed Herb’s hands had a blue glow to them. He was using some kind of chi attack. That made him more dangerous than Ranma had originally anticipated.
Herb smiled underneath the cowl. “Do you feel a little hot, my friend?” Herb came at Ranma with a punch. Ranma countered by grabbing the elbow of the arm that came at him, preventing the blow from striking and containing the arm. Herb’s second attempt ended up likewise. With Herb’s arms trapped, Ranma unloaded a kick into Herb’s solar plexus. He released Herb’s arms and went for the knockout blow. The Amaguriken connected enough times that Ranma felt the armor Herb wore buckle, but the prince leaped back out of the attack’s range before more than a handful of blows landed on bare flesh.
Ranma observed the damage he had inflicted on Herb. That was when he caught sight of what was contained under the armor. “Emperor, my ass! You’re an empress!”
Herb-chan looked down to see the shattered center of her armor. Her breasts now clearly showing through the rent in her chestplate. “You fool! How dare you do that to me! You will pay for this travesty!” Herb-chan threw off her cloak and cowl to show of her true features. Long white-blue hair and pointed elf-like ears adorned the slender girl’s face. She literally growled as she revealed small, pointed fangs, similar to Ryouga’s.
Ranma waited to see Herb-chan tense up before the attempted attack. He was caught off guard, as the girl simply flew at blinding speed and connected with a kick to Ranma’s jaw that nearly took his head off. As Ranma regained his feet he felt something loose in his mouth and reached back into it, coming out with a tooth. He flicked it away while giving Herb-chan an evil glare.
Herb-chan floated in the air and smirked. “It gets worse.” She flew at Ranma once again. This time Ranma blocked the kick, but as the girl flew on by he was suddenly hit by twin bolts chi energy that trailed in Herb-chan’s wake. She landed upon the ground and laughed. “Not so tough now, eh?”
Ranma just stared and wiped the blood off his lip. If it was a fight Herb-chan wanted, it was a fight Herb-chan was going to get. “Empress,” he began. “This is just the beginning.”
Mousse was becoming frustrated at his inability to hit the fast-moving youth. At last, Mousse got a break. Mint jumped up and prepared to hit Mousse with a kick. The near blind warrior spread out a variety of caltrops where he had been a second ago as he got out of the area where Mint would be landing. Mint’s foot landed squarely on one of the caltrops. Just as he jumped up in pain and brought up his foot to pull out the implement, his other foot landed on second spike. While he was distracted, Mousse pulled out a long baseball bat and hit Mint with it. The blow sent the youth into a rock wall as he ended up on his back.
Mousse went in for the kill. He leaped up in the air and threw a volley of knives at Mint once more. Instead of dodging, as he did the other volleys, he snatched the knives out of mid-air and rolled out of the way. When Mousse landed Mint threw the knives, pinning Mousse to the rock wall by his robes. Mint had kept one knife back and held it menacingly before him.
“You hurt me. Now you’re going to be hurt.”
Mousse struggled as much as he could against his makeshift bonds, but he lacked the strength to pull loose. As Mint approached, Mousse did the only thing he could do. With a flick of his wrist he produced a tiny squirt gun, shifted his wrist slightly and squirted himself, triggering the transformation. With his superior strength, Mousse-panda tore free of the knives, placed some “cat’s claws” on his forearms, and charged at Mint. The fight was back on.
Ryouga was becoming exhausted. All of his power did not seem to be doing him any good. Lime was shrugging off his most powerful blows and coming back for more. The lost one was not used to being the weaker fighter in a duel, and it was frustrating him no end. There was one way around it. He allowed his frustration to become depression and felt his chi energy rising. He backed off from Lime and released the energy as the Shi Shi Houkoudan. The energy impacted Lime in the chest. The large warrior held his chest, and for a moment Ryouga thought he would fall over, but Lime held it together and went on the attack once again.
Lime’s fist shattered stone behind the rock wall Ryouga had been in front of moments before. Ryouga decided to switch tactics and employed a Tenketsu to the wall as well, causing Lime to be doused in the shrapnel of the blast. The damage proved too much as the entire wall, as well as the tons of rock it supported, collapsed upon the duo.
Ranma and Herb-chan took little note of the noise from behind them. Their fight was too intense for either competitor to do anything other than counter his opponent's attacks. Ranma tried keeping Herb-chan close, to avoid her long-range chi attacks, but that meant having to deal with the girl’s glowing hands, and Ranma was losing that fight as well. There were burn chi marks up and down his entire body, mostly around the hands though, as Herb-chan continuously blocked attacks. Ranma was at a loss of what to do. So wrapped up was he that he failed to hear some of the recently fallen rock move as Lime rose from under the tons of rubble.
Lime looked quickly around the shattered rock that lined the battleground he had so recently been fighting upon. He had been worried about winning the fight, and wasn’t looking forward to fighting Ryouga again. The lost one was nowhere to be seen; no doubt buried in a rocky grave. Lime swiveled around and saw Herb-chan still in combat with Ranma. He ran over to help.
Herb-chan smiled as she glanced over Ranma’s shoulder. With Lime’s assistance the fight would soon be over. Herb-chan paused in her attack and built up a ball of chi energy in her hands.
Ranma saw the energy build up and was going to run left when he sensed the attack behind him. Instincts took over as he jumped over the tremendous punch Lime was going to connect with. The move, however, left him fully open to the chi attack Herb-chan was going to employ.
Just as Herb-chan had planned. She gave a shout and released the attack. “BREATH OF THE DRAGON!!!”
As soon as Ranma was airborne he realized he had fallen for a trap. There was no way he could avoid the chi attack. In slow motion he saw the flames of blue chi energy fly towards him, and he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt this was it. There was no way he could stop that powerful an attack. However, as his mind seized up and a scream built up in his throat, it was not his life he saw flashing before his eyes. It was the ecstatic face of one purple haired Amazon.
He shut his eyes as the blast connected, feeling pain wash over him, but in that instant he knew what he had done to anger her, and the only thing that seemed to matter now was that he would never get to tell her.
Ranma landed in a heap by a pile of rubble, pain so intense he could hardly believe it ripped through him. As his vision began to dim he spoke out softly.
Herb-chan’s smile at Ranma’s unconscious form lasted only a moment as she and Lime turned to hear the sound of rocks being moved aside as Ryouga finally dug his way out of his rocky prison. It took only a moment to survey the damage before he fully took in what had happened.
“You two are finished!” Ryouga charged Herb-chan and Lime.
Herb-chan waved Lime off. “I’ll take care of this one. You help Mint.” Lime did as he was told, leaving the leader of the Musk one on one with Ryouga. She waited patiently the coming assault.
Herb-chan seemed to flow out of the way of Ryouga’s punch, bringing her knee up into his solar plexus. That doubled Ryouga over, and allowed the princess to bring the point of her elbow squarely into the back of his skull. He went down on all fours, stunned. She finished up by bringing the back of her heel precisely between Ryouga’s eyes. The orbs rolled into the back of his head as he fell unconscious to the ground. Herb-chan allowed her feet to go back to the same spot they had originally been She had finished him off in less than three seconds.
Mint was becoming frustrated. Mousse-panda was slower than him, but the bear’s durability was such that he was having a hard time doing any damage. That was when he spotted Lime rushing over to help. As Mousse-panda shot out some multiple chains from his sleeves Lime rushed over and grabbed onto them. His prodigious strength allowed him to pull Mousse-panda off the ground and to whip him around with ease, spinning him in a circle.
“Time to play crack the whip, Mint,” Lime said.
Mint understood and jumped up in the air as Lime released the cursed one in his direction. A kick connected fully with Mousse-panda’s jaw, knocking him out.
Herb-chan came over and congratulated them. “You two did a great…” she trailed off as the duo began poking and prodding her chest.
“Are these breasts?” Lime asked Mint.
Mint continued to fondle Herb-chan’s breasts. “They might be. Hey, Herb! Why do you have…”
The rest of the question was cut off as Herb-chan sent both of them into the ground. “Do not do that ever again! Morons!”
Herb-chan continued to survey the carnage, silently wondering who the youths were. Perhaps they were enemies of her benefactor, that wanted to stop his plans from coming to fruition, but the boy he fought seemed to want Kiifuiton.
That realigned Herb-chan’s thinking as she grabbed Chiisuiton once again and followed the pull to the source of the river. She instructed the recovered Lime to strike the spot where the kettle was supposed to be. Lime’s blow shattered the rock along the stream’s source, causing the water to start spraying the ground elsewhere. Herb-chan looked through the rubble and found the object she was seeking. Her hands fairly trembled as she finally had the cure to her malady. She quickly filled the kettle with water and urged chi energy, the same type she used to burn Ranma before, to flow into her hands .The water in the kettle quickly heated. Once she was convinced it was hot enough she poured the water over herself, triggering the transformation. Once again, Prince Herb of the Musk Dynasty stood before the world.
“You two can poke my chest all you want now, but I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed.” Herb turned to see the two of them ankle deep in the newly diverged direction the stream was starting to flow in as they leaned over Ranma. Curiosity got the better of Herb as he went over to see what their attention was riveted upon.
“Do you think those are breasts?” Mint was asking his partner.
Lime fondled Ranma-chan’s chest as well. “Could be.”
“I didn’t know they could come and go like that.” Mint started examining his own chest.
Herb moved his compatriots out of the way and looked down on Ranma-chan’s unconscious form. His shock lasted but a moment as his face began twitching.
“You… you dare mock me and my curse when you had the same one yourself?!” Herb began shouting at Ranma-chan’s unconscious form. “What arrogance! You will pay for this. ‘Empress’ indeed.” Herb grabbed the ladle, Chiisuiton, and poured some water on Ranma-chan, locking her in her girl form.
Shampoo felt the compass stop pulling her, as a hand suddenly clutched her heart. She had been visualizing Ranma the entire time, not allowing herself to be distracted. What could it mean that there was no more pull by the locator? Could Ranma be…? NO! She refused to think that. He had to be alive. If he were not, then his death would be her fault. She had felt Ranma was close by, somewhere to the north where there were some mountains before the pull had disappeared. She doubled her speed.
Herb smirked at his handiwork. All three would pay for nearly costing him his chance at regaining his manhood. He had Lime and Mint gather their opponents, dousing Ryouga with water to change him into a bat first. Once the other two were locked in their forms, Herb gave further instructions to his cohorts.
“Pick them up.”
Lime appeared confused. “We aren’t just going to leave them?”
Herb scoffed at that. “And have them seek us out? I think not. They are coming with us. We need to know why they were attacking us. And I have special plans for my opponent. Special plans, indeed.” Herb began to laugh long and hard as the other members of the Musk made off with the cursed trio.
Shampoo arrived at the mountain hours later and began asking around if anyone had seen Ranma, or if there had been any other odd occurrences. She hit pay dirt on the third try.
“I ain’t seen no one that sounded like that,” the man said. “But Ryo over there saw something peculiar.” He indicated a man sitting at the bar with two friends.
Shampoo walked over and asked what he had seen.
“Well. It was kind of funny. Me an’ the other guys,” He indicated his companions. “Heard a loud ruckus from up on the mountain. Now, rockslides are pretty common, but we wanted to check it out anyway. Well, down comes these three weird guys carrying a red-haired girl and an unconscious panda. Turns out she got mauled by the panda, and these guys were from the zoo and grabbed the animal. They said they were going to take her to the hospital.”
Shampoo began to shake. Ranma was still alive. If he was unconscious then he had not gone willingly, and if he was in the hands of the Musk it meant terrible danger. She asked the men how the girl looked. The men reassured her Ranma-chan did not look too bad. All of her limbs were still on her. “Did they say where they were going?” She had to find them.
One of the other men spoke up. “I heard the guy in the wolf pelt say something about the airport. Maybe they’re sending the panda back to China?”
Shampoo thanked the men and ran off. Herb would not bother taking Ranma to a hospital. It had to be a lie. If the Musk were going back to China and were taking Ranma along, and that seemed to be what they were doing, that meant they had something terrible in store. One of the rumors that came down from the lands of the Musk was that Herb had developed a taste for revenge against those that he felt wronged him, and Ranma had a bad tendency to irritate the hell out of all those around him.
Shampoo grabbed a cab and went to the nearest airport. If they were not there, then she would go to the next one. And if not there, then the next one. She would search until she found them, and she had to do it quickly. If the Musk made it back to China, where they had more resources, it would be almost impossible to stop them. Not that stopping them now was going to be easy. Shampoo was exhausted from traveling overland, trying to catch up to Ranma and the others. And then she would have to stop the Musk single-handed; there was no time to summon the others. But she had to try something; after all, it was all her fault Ranma was in this mess. If she had not been so caught up in self-pity, she would have been there and could have warned them about how dangerous the Musk really were. At the very least she could have gone along and helped. She could have kept Ranma from harm.
And there was something else. She had not really wanted Ranma harmed, but he had angered her so much that, for a brief while, she did wish something unpleasant would happen to him. Her own words came back to haunt her.
“Boys that play with girls hearts go to very bad place, Ranma. Hope you go there soon.”
Well, he was on his way to a very bad place. It appeared to Shampoo that she got her wish after all. She tried hard not to cry.
And failed miserably.
Shampoo arrived at the second nearest airport and began asking around if anyone had seen the members of the Musk or Ranma. After about a half hour she was rewarded by a ticket seller that remembered seeing a youth in a wolf pelt walking around and accosting women, until he was dragged off by a man with white hair. Shampoo found out there was a private charter heading to China, and went to the gate it was at.
She arrived at the part of the terminal she was directed to and asked one of the people there about the flight.
“I can show you. This way.” He directed Shampoo to follow him to one of the windows and pointed to a flight that was taking off. “Oops. Looks like they left on time. Well, that sure doesn’t happen often. Sorry.” The man turned and left.
Shampoo watched the plane take off into the distance.
She drove her fist through the large viewing window, shattering it. Blind panic flooded her thoughts. She had to get to China immediately. If the Musk made it to their fortress, there was no way Ranma and the others could be rescued. The fortress was impregnable. She had to get to them before they reached their lands. Shampoo headed for the nearest ticket counter to get the first available flight to China. Only one plane that was leaving within the hour had any seats available. Once Shampoo heard the name she knew why.
The Skywrap Airline was more commonly known as “Deathtrap Airways.” Their record number of crashes in one year rivaled all the other accidents the other airlines had in that same amount of time, combined. They were cleared of wrongdoing every time, but the general consensus was you were taking your life in your own hands if you traveled on them. As Shampoo boarded the plane, the pilot managed to poke himself in the eye when he saluted the passengers.
Ranma was not the only one that was probably doomed.
The flight started out uneventfully, with the flight making it to China without any problems. While they were still approaching Tokami, the problems started. The pilot came over the intercom of the plane and told them they had to make an emergency landing short of their destination.
Shampoo stormed the cockpit. “We have to go on! A person’s life is in danger!”
“Look, Miss,” the pilot said. “We are having a great deal of difficulty here. If we don’t make an emergency landing, we’re going to go down. Believe me, I’ve crashed enough times to know it’ll take you longer to get where you’re going if we wreck instead of making the landing.”
Shampoo knew the man was right, even if she did not want to admit it. “How long will repairs take?”
“The number two engine just fell off, sir,” the co-pilot informed everyone.
“They might take a little while.”
After they landed, Shampoo tried to find a connecting flight, but to no avail. The next one scheduled to leave was a full day away. Herb would have an impossible lead. She could never hope to overtake him. Now she had to decide her next course of action. Time was certainly of the essence. Herb could kill Ranma at any time, and Shampoo was certain that was what kidnapping Ranma would lead to. Nothing she had ever heard indicated Herb knew the first thing about mercy.
She could try to contact the others and have them fly here, but that would take time she did not have. Even if they somehow managed to breach walls that only the greatest of the Amazons was able to do, they would still have to defeat the Musk and their soldiers. She wasn’t even certain they could defeat Herb, Lime, and Mint in a straight up fight, let alone having a hundred soldiers crawling all over them.
How many people could she bring? Akane, Kodachi, and Ukyou might be able to hold their own against Herb and company. There was an outside chance the four of them could succeed where Ranma and the boys had failed, but it was a terrible risk. Genma and Soun? They might be able to take care of some ordinary guards, but against the Musk they would be useful only as cannon fodder. Their best days were behind them. Kunou was a buffoon that crumpled under one or two blows. Minami was in Bolivia. Happosai was still missing since his dismissal by Thor. She could not rely on help from the kidnapped victims. It was doubtful Herb would leave them in any shape to assist in an escape, if they were even alive by then. And Herb would have to be dealt with in some manner.
Shampoo pulled her hair in frustration. She would end up being in charge, which meant everything that happened would be her responsibility. She would have to guide an entire group of people in a land foreign to them to a lethal enemy, while hoping to maintain a low-enough profile that they could somehow sneak into an impregnable fortress with far superior forces that was controlled by a ruthless and powerful ruler, that even her great grandmother preferred to give a wide berth. And what if they failed? There would be nothing but corpses left. Herb would not casually disregard any rescue attempts. Even if they succeeded, she could not see everyone making it out alive. The odds were too great. How would Kasumi deal with the loss of a sister and her father?
Shampoo did not think she could do it, help lead people she knew to their deaths. If only there was some way to get into the fortress without anyone finding out. Her mind fled back to the tour she gave herself when she was there. She discovered no secret passages. The walls were impenetrable, weren’t they? Then it occurred to her. There was a way in. An incredibly dangerous and risky way in. It appeared her vow of climbing that mountain was about to become true.
When she had gazed down the mountainside she spotted an odd hole farther down the mountain, just a bit below what would have been the bottom of the fortress. She had not known what it was until an errant wind current blew her way. There was no doubting what the smell was. The hole was some sort of waste disposal system. It made sense since there was nowhere else to put the stuff. That would be the way into the fortress. Of course using it meant climbing several thousand feet of more or less sheer rock, but with Ranma’s life at stake there really was no choice. Not only that, she was the only one that could do it, and she could set out immediately. There was no time to contact the others even if she wanted to. Besides, one person moving in stealth might succeed where many moving openly would fail.
There was still the Musk to consider, but moving alone allowed her a certain leeway there too. Aside from Kodachi, Shampoo felt she was the only one willing to do what would probably have to be done to rescue the others. And if anything had happened to Ranma, well, the fortress might have been designed to keep people out, but it could be used to keep people in almost as easily.
If they did something to Ranma, the halls would run thick with the blood of the Musk Dynasty and all who stood with them.
No one would get out alive.
To be continued.
Author's notes: Really special thanks to Ryan Anderson for writing a particularly sticky part.
Also thanks to:
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