Chapter 18: While the Cat’s Away…
A Ranma ½ story
by D.B. Sommer
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video.
All comments and criticisms appreciated. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
What’s gone on before (or what you really need to know to enjoy this fic). In the beginning the Saotomes traveled to Jusenkyou to spar, neither of them realizing that Shampoo and Mousse had already begun a duel there. One mid-air collision and bath in Spring of Young Drowned Man later, there is 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 briefly ended up engaged to Kasumi. After that was cleared up Ranma became engaged to Akane. Last chapter things heated up between Shampoo, Akane, and Ranma as Ranma unwittingly accepted a date with Shampoo and ended up going out with Akane instead. Shampoo, feeling betrayed, left the dojo for a brief time. While she was gone Mousse mistakenly believed he had found a cure for the curses and informed Ranma and Ryouga of it. What he did not know was that a more powerful and dangerous version of Herb was also seeking the magic kettle, Kiifuiton, and was prepared to keep it by any means. The trio of men were defeated by the members of the Musk Dynasty and taken to China for Herb to avenge himself of the wrongs he felt were done to him. Shampoo followed hot on the trail. No one else has any idea of what exactly has happened to the boys and Shampoo, and are trying to get on with their lives while they wait…
Side note: An explanation of Crepe Suzette and the Iron Chef is at the end of the chapter.
“Ranma Saotome,” Godai-Sensei called out. It was a pointless gesture. It was obvious the boy wasn’t in his seat, but there was a procedure to go through.
“Ryouga Hibiki.” The cheerleader, Kyoko, had come in earlier looking for him, but his seat was empty as well. Godai saw Ukyou flinch at the name as he called it out. He had already asked her where Ryouga was. She had given some explanation about how he had some business to take care of and might not be back for a while. Even Godai could see she was horribly depressed over the matter. He silently wondered if his Kyoko ever worried about him, in the early days, the way Kuonji worried about her “tenant.”
“Shampoo,” Absent as well. All three of them, and Akane had given an ambiguous explanation about the two people who lived at her house, also. Too many people had disappeared, and they had left those that cared behind.
Akane looked at the empty seats again. There were plenty of empty seats in the room today. Just like yesterday. And the day before that, and the day before that, and seemingly too many days to keep track of.
Where the hell was Ranma?
That was the question that plagued her these days. He had gone off with the Mousse and Ryouga to seek out Kiifuiton and solve their curses. From what Kasumi said, Shampoo had gone off after them when she discovered what had happened.
It had been five days ago (an eternity to Akane’s perception) since Ranma left with the others. When he hadn’t come back after a couple of days, she dropped by Ukyou’s to see if she’d heard anything. Ukyou had not been very responsive.
Ryouga had not come back.
By the third day, she went by Kunou Manor and was granted an audience with Kodachi. The Black Rose was unusually restrained when talking with Akane. No remarks about her being a commoner, or that “awful” Ranma’s friend, Kodachi was very civilized and simply wanted to know if Akane had seen Mousse. She informed the youngest Tendo that Cologne, the only one who might have known where the boys were, had disappeared after getting her hands on the artifacts she received for the map.
Mousse had not come back.
Akane was concerned about Kasumi. Shampoo’s absence was affecting her more than anyone else in the house, Akane could tell. She caught her older sister looking forlornly at the door to Shampoo’s makeshift bedroom more than once.
Shampoo had not come back.
None of them came back.
There was no word from any of them. No letters of challenge. No ransoms asked. No one bragging about defeating the ‘great and powerful Ranma Saotome’. Nothing.
All of Ranma’s opponents knew he was not there.
Akane managed to convince Nabiki to have her “eyes and ears” network look for any information about Ranma or the others. Her sister had given in too easily, though. Akane suspected it was because she was already trying to find out information on her most useful tool for moneymaking schemes. Who would have thought someone like Nabiki would actually miss Shampoo? It didn’t matter, though.
They turned up nothing.
Nerima was quiet. Quiet even by pre-Ranma standards. She’d heard more than a handful of people comment on how peaceful it had suddenly become, taking solace in the peace and calm.
Even people that never met Ranma felt his absence.
The climate had turned pleasant. The forecasters managed to get the weather correct five days in a row.
Even Mother Nature acknowledged Ranma’s absence.
It was like they dropped off the face of the earth.
And Akane didn’t know how to find them. She cursed Ranma for doing this to her. Why couldn’t he contact her, and put her mind at ease? Why did he have to be so insensitive? Why couldn’t he think about her for a change?
Why did he make her care?
Lunch was eaten alone. Sayuri and the others were avoiding her, not that Akane was good company at the moment. Her temper was getting shorter by the day, and everyone knew it.
Damn Ranma! It was all his fault!
Kunou came along to brighten her day. He asked where his “Chinese Dream” was yet again when he attempted to fight Akane in the morning, and now he was even more sedate. Perhaps he missed Shampoo-kun.
“Akane Tendo!” Kunou suddenly announced with vigor. “The accursed Saotome is no longer here. It is time for our datERMGHPH!”
Akane clamped her hand down on Kunou’s obnoxious mouth. No one would think twice about it, if for no other reason than it enabled them to avoid hearing him give one of his speeches.
“Kunou, Ranma’s just missing. He’ll be back, so no one can know about,” Oh, how she hated saying the next part, “our date.”
He removed her hand from his mouth. “Very well, but I wish to go out tonight. Without my Chinese Love Goddess, my heart can only turn to you for affection.”
Akane held her forehead as the headache came. She had given her word, and, aside from the way the evening ended, the tickets had been a godsend. She let Kunou know that, as long as kept his mouth shut, she would go out with him that night. It appeared there was one good thing about Ranma’s absence. She was not going to have to explain to him why she had gone out with Kunou.
Akane dressed for her date at the appointed time. There was none of the nervous energy she felt when she prepared for her dates with Ranma. It felt more like she was going to the gallows. The whole house had that air about it. Akane sighed to herself. Who would have thought an unwanted fiancé and a Chinese Amazon would have so much impact on her family’s life?
Akane left the house quietly and met Kunou on neutral ground. Her father would have gone demon-form in point-five seconds if Kunou came to the door, announcing he was there for a date with her. Not that it would not take care of the date problem; but Akane didn’t feel like dealing with her father’s tearful aftermath while trying to explain why she wasn’t betraying Ranma. It just wasn’t worth the hassle. So she agreed to meet him near the restaurant. To his credit he was already waiting there, dressed in a perfect suit, with a beautiful bouquet of red roses in hand.
“Akane Tendo! You’ve come to me at last!” He rushed forward and tried to glomp onto her, only to meet a fist.
“I only agreed to go on a date with you. I didn’t say anything about letting you touch me!”
“Akane Tendo, you need not hide your heart from me. I know you did agree to this date because you wish to be with me. There is no shame in admitting your ACK!” Kunou’s second attempted glomp ended like the first.
“Knock it off, Kunou!” Akane was getting more than a little irate. Was she going to have to fend him off every three seconds?
“But, my sweet, I wish to share my passion with you. Why don’t we…” Kunou’s third attempt was repulsed by a punch that caught him in the stomach. The attacker was not Akane, however.
“The lady said she wants to be left alone. Now go away, or I’ll make you disappear. And I warn you, I’m not a magician.” Tarou smirked.
Kunou recovered nicely, then drew a bokken from out of nowhere as he went into his “Blue Thunder” pose. “You sir, have no business here, and you have dared sully my person. I shall teach you some manners as I smite thee!”
Tarou drove a knee into Kunou’s stomach, and then gave him a kick that sent him far away.
“Oh well. I guess it’s his own fault for cutting the date short because of a fight. My promise has been taken care of.” Akane looked at Tarou. “Thanks. He was getting on my nerves. How,” she stopped abruptly as she remembered what her feelings for Tarou currently were. She turned around and crossed her arms.
“What?” Tarou asked. “What is it?”
“You’re a little late for our meeting. Say about a month.”
Tarou was afraid of this. It was pure coincidence that he saw Akane while on one of his “Happosai runs.” (The little pervert had pulled a disappearing act again.) He figured by saving her from the jerk, he could get back on her good side. It appeared he would have to add something to make his way back on even ground.
“It wasn’t my fault. I got jumped by some old foes of mine. There were,” he paused for a moment, “five of them. I managed to kick their asses, of course, but by the time it was over they’d ruined my suit and I missed our get together.” He tried giving one of those puppy dog eyes routines he saw girls do when they wanted to get sympathy.
Akane’s features softened. “You should have let me know. Were you all right?”
Tarou snorted derisively. “Of course. It just took a while to take care of them. Forgive me?”
Akane smiled. “Well, sure. It’s not like it was your fault, anyway.” As she finished a giggle burst from her lips.
“What’s so funny?” Tarou got the distinct impressions she was laughing at him. He tried to suppress the rage that was building inside of him. No one made fun of him, not because of his name or any other reason.
“It’s that look you’re trying to give. Please stop with the eyes!”
Tarou relaxed and gave a chuckle out loud. He supposed he did look silly that way. In any case, it was nice to hear Akane laugh. “Why don’t we try eating now? Make up for that time I got hassled?”
“Sure. It’ll be more fun than what I had planned tonight.”
“What were you doing with that jerk anyway? He’s not your boyfriend, is he?” Tarou was a little anxious about the answer. If that were her boyfriend, getting him out of the picture would be easy. Real easy.
Akane made a noise of disgust. “No way! I only went out with him because I owed him a favor. We were going to eat here.” Akane indicated the restaurant that stood before them.
“Well, no sense in letting a perfectly fine evening like this go by.” Tarou led the way into the restaurant. Making up with a girl was easy. All you had to do was lie and they would be eating out of the palm of your hand. He was learning the proper procedures for dating rather quickly.
The inside of the restaurant was of a very elegant design. Once inside the duo approached the maitre’d. “Can I help you, sir?”
Tarou didn’t like the way he said that. It sounded like he thought Tarou was nothing more than an “unkempt youth” as the man would probably put it. “We have reservations. They are under the name of…” He turned to Akane.
She picked up on the hint immediately. “Kunou.” She wasn’t going to feel bad about misleading the man. It was Kunou’s own fault he couldn’t make it, and he would have wanted Akane to have a good time.
The maitre’d looked Tarou over. “You don’t appear to be the Mr. Kunou I know.”
Tarou saw this was going to take a little explaining. “Akane, why don’t you freshen up while I clear up the matter with the gentleman?”
Akane saw the pleading look in Tarou’s eyes. Besides, she did want to freshen up anyway. She gave Tarou a smile and left. He would take care of the problem.
Tarou grinned back at her as she departed. Akane had smiled at him, triggering that same feeling he had the first time she smiled at him. No way he was going to let this night get ruined. He turned to the maitre’d. “Nice tie,” he said as he adjusted it slightly.
Katsuhido was in one of the bathroom stalls “taking care of business,” when he heard the doors to the restroom opened violently. He listened to an animated conversation begin.
“What is the meaning of this?!” the first speaker uttered in a shocked tone of voice.
The second man spoke up. “You saw that lady out there? Well, she and I are on a date and we need a reservation here. If you don’t get us a seat by the time she comes out of the restroom, I will be very angry and you will be very disappointed. Would you like to know why you are going to be disappointed?”
“Y…yes, I would, sir.” The first speaker said.
“Because you will be out of a job when I tear up this joint. And when I say tear up, I mean tear up. You see, I won’t do it as you see me now, you’ll see me do it as this.”
Katsuhido heard the sound of water running and some other odd sound. Almost like a bull grunting.
“What are you?” The first speaker gasped.
Katsuhido heard the water run again before the second man answered. “I’m hungry and pissed. Now, I believe you want me full and happy, don’t you?”
“I’d like to, but you really need a suit and tie, sir.” Katsuhido listened intently to the response.
“What size do you wear?” The second speaker asked.
Akane came out of the restroom to see Tarou now dressed in a nice suit. It was noticeably tight in his chest, but aside from that, it looked great. And familiar.
“Where did you get the suit?” She asked
“The maitre’d was kind enough to loan me an extra one he had. I thanked him profusely for it. Shall we go?” He led Akane to an empty table. They both missed the man come out of the restroom, complaining about how the restaurant should keep half-naked weirdo men out of the toilets.
Tarou had thought the dinner went exceptionally well. The money he used from the maitre’d’s wallet proved very useful. The only problem was that Akane quieted after the first ten minutes or so they were together. As they walked out into the night air, Tarou mentioned it.
“I’m sorry. It’s just that my fiancé has gone missing, and I’m a little worried about him. The jerk!” She answered.
Tarou was in shock. She had a fiancé? “You never mentioned a fiancé.”
“Well, it’s not like I chose him. It was something our fathers set up.”
That was a relief. He didn’t think that sort of thing was done anymore. If the guy left her, then that made it pretty obvious the fiancé did not want anything to with it, though why someone would abandon someone as appealing as Akane was beyond him. Still, it sounded like she was concerned about him. Time to learn more about the guy. “What’s his name?” A name was a good way to start. He had to know whom he was going to intimidate out of the picture if the guy showed up again.
“Ranma Saotome,” she sighed.
Tarou nearly fell over from the second shock. Saotome? Saotome? Akane was engaged to SAOTOME?! It took him almost a full minute to recover from that little fact. After the knowledge settled in, Tarou began to reconsider his initial reaction. This would not complicate matters. Quite to the contrary, it was icing on the cake. He would beat the shit out of Ranma and steal his girl as well. Oh, it was just too good.
Of course there was the odd fact that Akane did not seem to mind Tarou trying to beat up her fiancé. He had to think about that one for a while. Maybe he never told her? Now that he thought about it, Ranma didn’t know Tarou’s name, and he had never changed in front of Akane. And, better yet, she may not even care the two had fought.
Tarou was trying to decide what to do next, when the couple was assaulted by a number of punks in animal masks.
“Hand over all your precious metals and you won’t get hurt,” the Fox said.
Tarou chuckled and was about to wipe the street up with them when Akane jumped to the forefront.
“I’ll take care of these guys.” She gave the gang members a menacing glare.
Tarou took a step back and bowed. “They’re all yours.”
“Aren’t you going to try to stop me?” Akane was shocked. Ranma would have tried to protect her and tell her to keep out of the way. Almost everyone she knew would have done that with her.
Tarou moved forward. “If you’re asking for help, I can…”
“No!” Akane cut him off. “I can handle it.” She was actually happy to see him step back once again. He was showing faith in her martial arts ability. No one ever did that. Everyone treated her like a joke, just like when Ranma and the others went to get the magic kettle and left her behind.
The fight didn’t last long. Street punks were no match for someone trained in Anything Goes Martial Arts. The mask gang was left in crumpled piles of battered flesh by Akane’s handiwork.
Tarou clapped in appreciation. “Pretty good.” He could have done it quicker, but Akane had a certain brutal style.
She beamed at the praise. “Thanks. Most people don’t take my martial arts seriously.”
That got Tarou’s attention. So she liked martial arts, and wanted people to respect her. He might have just found a way to get closer to her. “I’m a pretty good martial artist myself. I could give you a few pointers.”
“I don’t think I need a few pointers,” Akane said.
Tarou dropped into a defensive stance. “Then hit me.”
“I don’t want to.” Akane liked Tarou. Swinging at him was the last thing she wanted to do.
“We’ll make it a contest. If you win, I’ll treat you to dinner again. If I win, I’ll teach you my style of martial arts. Unless you think you can’t win…” He let the implication trail off.
Akane went into anger mode. So now he accused her of being a pushover? Well, it looked like he was going to be treating her again. She dropped into a stance and threw a punch. Much to her surprise it was one that he easily blocked, and then he followed up by throwing her in a pile of garbage.
Akane examined her dress. It was ruined. She rose to her feet and threw another wild swing. This time Tarou caught the fist and twisted her arm behind her back and wrapped his other one around her neck, gaining a position of total control. She tried to resist but the boy applied a little pressure to get her to stop.
“OW! That hurts!” Akane said through gritted teeth. Ranma didn’t do things like that when they sparred.
Tarou stopped applying pressure, but kept the arm pinned behind her. “For someone that doesn’t need a few pointers, I sure took you out easy.” He felt her start to resist again. “Now, now. I didn’t mean that as an insult. I just wanted to point out to you that you could use a little improvement.”
Akane could not help noticing his breath in her ear as he spoke. He was leaning in very close, his body pressing against her back. Much to her surprise she discovered she was not that angry with him. He had just humbled her, and she hated it when people pushed her around. She couldn’t help but feel there was something underlying everything he was doing to her. She just couldn’t quite place what it was.
He reluctantly released her from the hold and took a step back, just in case she lashed out once more. She looked at him with intensity, but not anger.
“Tell you what,” he began. “We’ll begin your training tomorrow night. Meet me here at eight o’ clock. I’m going to take you someplace special to train.”
Akane nodded and turned to go. “Should I bring a gi?”
Tarou smiled. “No. Where we’re going you won’t need a gi. Wear regular clothes you won’t mind working out in.” He turned to go as well, but one errant thought occurred to him. “By the way, I promise to replace that dress. Once I’m done training you.”
Akane watched him go. She was not angry with him at all. On the contrary, she appreciated the attention. It took her a while, but she thought she figured out what it was that was underlying what he was doing. He was dealing with her from a position of respect. That was why he let her take on the gang all by herself. He treated her as an equal, not as an inferior, even though he was better at martial arts. Well, she wasn’t going to let him down. She would be able to deal with whatever he threw at her, and then she could show him and everyone else what she was capable of. She found herself looking forward to the lesson. It just might help her in the way she needed with her training. If she had been better, Ranma and the others would have taken her along. Then maybe everything would be all right, instead of the way they were now.
She managed to sneak into the house without anyone seeing her in the ruined dress. There would be too many questions to answer about that. The next night, she slipped out, saying she was going to a movie. Lying to her family wasn’t easy, but she would not want them to needlessly worry. And if she met some guy they didn’t know, worrying was exactly what they would do. Not to mention her father accusing her of turning her back on Ranma, and a whole slew of other things she did not have time to deal with.
She had dressed in some loose-fitting older clothes, like he asked. Once she arrived at their destination she saw he was already waiting for her. At least he was prompt. She noticed he was dressed in the gear she had first met him in. After exchanging greetings, he led her to the docks near Nerima.
“What are we doing here?” she asked. The docks were a bit dark and she always heard weird stories about the people that hung out there. Judging by the looks of some of the people she passed by, a lot of the stories were probably true.
“It’s your first lesson. One of your problems is you hold back when you fight,” He explained.
“I do not!” she protested.
“Yes, you do. You could have taken out that gang at least twenty percent faster if you hadn’t been holding back.”
“Well,” she said sheepishly. “I didn’t want to hurt them. It was pretty obvious they didn’t know what they were doing, fighting-wise.”
Tarou shook his head. “They attacked you. They deserve what’s coming to them when they do stuff like that. It’s called responsibility for your behavior. What if they had attacked someone who couldn’t defend themselves? Would they have shown the same restraint you did? No. There are some people in this world who don’t ‘play by the rules’, as the saying goes. If two people are evenly matched, and one fights by those so-called rules and the other one doesn’t, the one who doesn’t will always win. You have to choose if you want to be a winner or a loser.”
“It’s not as simple as that,” Akane tried to explain.
“Actually, it is as simple as that. Other people try to confuse the issue with things like honor and principle. Hey, those are ideal things, but this isn’t an ideal world we live in. People say you can’t kick a guy in the groin or thumb him in the eye in a fair fight. But unless both fighters are the same height and weight, the fight isn’t fair. No one ever says having a reach advantage is unfair. And if you have more strength to put behind your blows than the other guy, how is that fair? Fair fighting is a myth put forward by bigger, stronger guys that wanted an advantage. Can you honestly say you have never taken advantage of an opponents weakness?” Tarou asked.
Akane remembered her fight with the Dojo Destroyer. She had gone for the soft spot on his face to finish him off. It was his choice to fight with the injuries, but she had still taken advantage of it. “No. I can’t.”
Tarou smiled. “Right. It’s good to hear you admit that. Most people would try to deny it, but you don’t. So get those so-called rules out of your head. The name of your school is ‘Anything Goes Martial Arts’, correct?”
Akane nodded her head.
“Time to start living up to that title. Tonight.”
Akane noticed they were now in a poorly lit section of the docks. About a dozen rough-looking men, reeking of sake, were sitting around looking at the couple. One of the larger ones approached the couple.
“Well, well, well, what have we here?” the roughneck addressed his partners. “It looks like a pretty lady and her little friend. Nice pantyhose you got there, boy. You some kind of queer?”
The thug was too drunk to notice the dangerous gleam in Tarou’s eyes. “Why are you so interested? Cruising for a piece of ass?”
That got a lot of chuckles from the thug’s buddies, which served only to anger the man. He drew back his fist and began to shout. “Why you little…”
He never got a chance to finish as Tarou connected with a kick to the man’s face, sending him immediately into unconsciousness. That had the effect of angering all his friends, as they moved to defend their fallen comrade’s honor.
Akane moved to help Tarou when he pushed her away. “This is a training exercise. Stay back and watch how I fight. Don’t get involved!”
Akane was reluctant, but agreed. She saw several of the people pulled out weapons and tried to take out Tarou. It was a joke. He finished the whole lot of them in less than ten seconds without breaking a sweat.
He turned to Akane. “Did you see how I did that?”
Akane nodded. He used a lot more force than necessary to disable them, but they had attacked first, and they were using weapons. They couldn’t have known how overmatched they were. Maybe what he said made sense
“That’s how you fight. Now, I’m not saying cripple or kill a guy every time, but you got to be prepared to do it if you think it’s necessary. Otherwise you may be the one who ends up hurting.”
Akane sat there pensively. “I think I’d better call it a night.”
Tarou looked shocked. Had he gone too far? He was really only trying to help her. Did she think he was too vicious, or did not like his outlook in life? He had no idea what to say as she turned to go.
She had not taken more than a dozen steps when she looked over her shoulder. “Same time tomorrow night?”
Tarou grinned. He had her. “Yeah! That’d be just fine.”
Akane lay back in her bed and thought about what Tarou had said. He had given her a lot to think about, and she desperately needed to think about something else until Ranma returned.
Interlude: Six Devils
Along the coast of Japan:
The man in black admired his troops. The fifth devil was at his side, and only three remained. The fishing village had been abandoned years ago, but the remains of the buildings remained. This one was going to take a little more effort. His body had been blown into long-lost little pieces.
The man in black raised his hands and allowed the magic to flow through him once more. Dust began to coalesce before his feet. The dust began taking the form of a man. It took several minutes for the gray particles to cease forming, and then begin to harden. The gray of the dust took on a more flesh-colored tone as features began to form from the material. Eventually, a normal looking, if dead, young Japanese male lay before him.
“He’s not moving,” The man in stone spoke.
“Be at ease, just give it time.” The blind swordsman soothed.
A tremendous lightning bolt crashed from the skies and struck the body. It had the desired effect as the heart began to beat. Within moments of that, small blue streaks of electricity began to flow from his body.
“All he needed was a recharge.” The man in black smiled under his cowl. “Six. It’s almost over.”
The next three days involved training in Tarou’s style of fighting. Akane’s crosstraining in the normally eclectic styles that were Anything Goes and Amazon Wu Shu helped her adapt to Tarou’s in no time at all. The youth was a taskmaster, though. The training was far more intense than anything she had gone through with her father or Ranma. Tarou held nothing back, and she was grateful for it, no matter how much she ached after a session. He was treating her as a serious martial artist.
And it felt good.
Tarou knocked on the door of the Tendo Dojo. He wanted to surprise Akane and meet her father. After all, if he was going to be taking the place of Ranma, he had better get on the good side of her old man. The door was opened by a large individual with glasses.
“Hi, there! You must be Mr. Tendo. I’m the guy that’s training Akane.” Tarou began pumping Genma’s hand profusely.
Kasumi came up to the door behind Genma. “Oh, no. That’s Mr. Saotome. Father is inside. Follow me.” She turned to go.
The revelation made Tarou scowl at Genma. “Let go of my hand, fat ass!” He ripped his hand out of Genma’s and gave him a dirty look. Any jerk that could spawn Saotome should be beaten up for contaminating the gene pool.
Kasumi called for Akane while Tarou introduced himself and sat before Soun, silently praying the man did not ask Tarou his full name. He had to find Happosai and change it soon. It was a loose end that was going to get him into trouble.
Soun appeared less than enthusiastic to see Tarou. He exhaled a puff of smoke from his cigarette. “So you’re helping train my daughter. I was…unaware of that.”
Tarou gave an inward frown at that. He had hoped Akane had been open about their relationship. He wasn’t really surprised by it, though. It was one of the reasons he had dropped by. He’d tried to take her home more than once, but she had protested profusely, and the fact of the matter was, he really did not want to press the issue. Before Mr. Tendo could start grilling him about what he planned to do with his daughter, he decided to go on the attack.
“Where’s this Ranma I hear so much about?” Tarou then hit his head as though he said something stupid. “Oh, that’s right. He went missing. Don’t suppose you heard anything from him?”
The preemptive strike had moderate success. Pointing out a major flaw, like the girl’s fiancé having disappeared without a word to anyone, would put negative thoughts about Ranma in Soun’s mind. Hopefully Tarou would get one up on him by simply being here. Soun frowned at the thought of Ranma’s absence rather than frowning at Tarou.
Akane finally came downstairs and looked nervously at everyone. “Tarou, what a pleasant… surprise.”
That she confirmed she knew the boy settled things in Soun’s mind. He asked Akane to step outside with him, and began to speak with her.
Tarou was shocked to hear sudden wailing from outside. “HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO YOUR FIANCÉ? HE’S BARELY GONE A WEEK, AND YOU’RE ALREADY SEEING OTHER MEN!!!”
Tarou could just make out her insisting she was not seeing him, and they were only friends. Well, it was better than nothing. Akane eventually returned with a perturbed look on her face, some of it directed at Tarou. She grabbed the youth’s hand and told him to leave with her. He allowed himself to be dragged along. As distracted as he was, there was great relief that he was leaving the house. There had been a feeling of being watched while he was in there, and Tarou listened to his instincts. They had kept him alive in more than one occasion.
Nabiki looked up from the video screen that fed from the spy camera outside the window. So, Akane was seeing the guy that attacked Ranma a few months ago. Tarou was his name, but everything else was an enigma. She was going to have to divert some of her people to following him. She had several reasons for doing so. First, it was so her sister would not be in any danger of being used by the guy. If he was trying to use her as a tool against Ranma, Nabiki would see to it Akane knew. The second was that she hated unknowns. And the third was that he just might prove useful to her. Hard to say which one was the most important; they were all good reasons.
“You should have let me know you were coming,” Akane told him reproachfully.
Tarou turned angrily to her, something she was not expecting. “All you have to do is say you’re ashamed to be around me, and I’ll leave. All you have to do is say it.”
“Look, if I was ashamed of you, I wouldn’t be training with you. It’s just that I knew that was how my father would react.”
Tarou put his hands on his hips in an almost effeminate gesture. “When were you planning on telling him about us?”
“Well,” Akane did not want to tell him she was planning to keep quiet about it as long as she could. “I was going to eventually.”
“Right.” He didn’t want to argue with her; though he was surprised he felt so strongly about her refusing to tell her father. If he weren’t so strong in personality, he would have sworn he was hurt by her refusal to tell her family.
Tarou led Akane to someplace other than they had been working out at of late, confusing her. “Where are we going?”
“You’re ready for your next level of training. We’re going someplace rough and tough.” He gave her a level look. “Are you ready, or are you scared?”
Akane frowned. “I’m ready for anything.” And with that, Tarou led her completely out of Nerima and into a part of Tokyo she had never seen. He told Akane of the vague rumors that were spoken of an underground fighting arena that existed somewhere in the city. The thing was almost a legend, due to the fact the law never seemed to be able to catch up to it. One night it would be there, the next it was not. Tonight was one of those nights it was present, and Tarou knew how to get there.
This section of town was surprisingly quiet. Now that she thought about it, she hadn’t seen a living soul for at least three blocks. Even at this time of night, there should have been something, but there was nothing, not even noise. It unnerved her to no end. There was something horribly unnatural about it.
“Don’t let it get to you,” Tarou said, almost as though he read her mind. “The first time I came here, the silence almost spooked me too. Almost. It has something to do with the way they can keep out of the cop’s hair. Now, here it is.” He pointed to a warehouse a little distance away. “Oh, by the way, it’s a little rough, so don’t be surprised by what goes on here.”
The duo was ushered into the structure by a large black man in an equally black duster. The inside was nothing like the outside. Loud music blared through overhead speakers amongst a crowd of various people. There were businessmen rubbing nose to nose with body-pierced gang members. Yakuza and gaijin gangsters walked and talked side by side. Every kind of seedy person Akane could think of, and many she could not. And there were fighters galore. Muscled men and women in all sorts of unusual garb. Akane could tell a little about them from the way they moved. Most of them knew what they were doing.
“Is it just me, or does this place seem bigger on the inside than it does on the outside?” Akane had to shout a little to be heard over the music.
“Probably. This place defies a lot of natural laws; sort of like Nerima, if you stop and think about it.” Tarou shrugged. “For instance, I’ve seen some rugged fights here, but none of them ever leave the arena floor.” Tarou indicated the open, circular pit that was at least two hundred feet long and one hundred feet wide. “Spectators don’t have to worry about being hurt.”
The PA system blared loudly to all in the place as a gentleman in a black suit and tie stood atop a podium in the arena. “Ladies and Gentlemen. LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLEEAGHR!!!”
The man was struck from behind by a leather-clad biker type with an empty whisky bottle in one hand, and a full rum bottle on the other. He used the empty one on the announcer, of course. As the guy fell to the floor, the new speaker took a swig of the full bottle, and then addressed the crowd. “I always hated that guy. Now, listen up. It’s open invitation night. Chancer will be lettin’ ya’ know the odds fer each fight as they come up.” he indicated an odd man in glasses seated in a special section that was cordoned off.
The new announcer spoke again. “The first fight tonight is a little one-on-one action. The first contender is a wrestler from the U.S. His name is JUSTIN CREDIBLE!!!”
Chants of “Justin Asshole” went up from the crowd as a young man came out from a door in the wall next to the pit. He wore cutoff jeans and no shirt as he proceeded to tell the crowd they were “number one” as he stuck his middle finger up at everyone.
“AND HIS OPPONENT,” The speaker paused and snickered. “IS CHASTITY!”
The crowd laughed at Justin, who just looked at the opposite door until a rather slender woman with her face pointed down to the ground entered the arena. Justin laughed at the woman.
“All right, lady. You want me to go easy on you, or rough?”
Chastity looked up at him at last, allowing him to see the green ionic energy that replaced her insides to emit from her eyes. “I like it rough.”
“THE WINNER OF THE MATCH IN FIVE SECONDS, DUE TO PAINFUL SUBMISSION, CHASTITY!!!”
The people that had bet on Justin lasting more than ten seconds tore up their tickets, complaining how they thought he could run faster than that.
Akane watched the fight with mixed feelings. “What are we doing here?”
“It’s time to see you use what you’ve learned. Tonight’s an open invitational. You’re scheduled to fight.” Tarou said. He watched her closely to get her reaction.
“You didn’t even ask me!”
He had hoped it for something a little less… enthusiastic than that. “Fighting in a dojo is one thing; fighting for real is something else altogether.”
“I know that,” Akane responded. “I’ve been in enough real fights to know that.”
“Not with what I’ve taught you, you haven’t. Here’s where you put your skills to the test.”
Akane scowled at that. She did it to cover up her nerves. Trying to use Tarou’s philosophy of what was basically ruthlessness did not go over as easily as she thought. Not that she wasn’t trying to be above using what she learned; it was just she was uncertain she was ready. Still, Tarou hadn’t led her astray so far, so maybe this was the next stage.
“All right. I’ll do it. Who do I fight?” Akane was not going to back down from the challenge.
“Let’s go see.” And Tarou led her to the match postings as the next fight was announced.
“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. PRESENTING THE NEXT CONTENDER. HE’S A MARTIAL ARTIST FROM THE FAMED CITY OF KUN’ LUN. HE IS DAVOS, THE STEEL SERPENT.”
A man, dressed in a skintight dark blue and green gi, stepped out from the left side of the arena. His suit had an opening down the middle if his outfit revealing a simple black tattoo of a snake on his chest. He also wore a green mask that hid the upper half of his face.
“AND HIS OPPONENT. COMING FROM THE STREETS OF LAS VEGAS. HE IS A BOXER WHOSE SKILLS ARE UNRIVALLED IN THE SPORT. PRESENTING BALROG.”
A huge black man wearing boxing gloves stepped onto the arena floor.
“THE WINNER OF THE MATCH IN TEN MINUTES AND FOURTEEN SECONDS. AS A RESULT OF KNOCKOUT. STEEL SERPENT!”
Steel Serpent’s fist continued to glow as he stood over the beaten man. “My power surpasses what it once was. Daniel Rand is a dead man!”
No one felt like being Daniel Rand tonight.
Natsumi looked around the arena. This was surely going to be a place where she and her sister could advance in their martial arts training. Then they could at long last find their father, confident they were worthy of inheriting the title of the dojo. She turned to ask her sister what she thought of the place.
“Kurumi?” She was nowhere to be seen.
“Oh, no! Not again!”
Kurumi couldn’t help herself. She was hungry and had to eat something, NOW! Fortunately, there was food aplenty at the tables. Of course there were people eating at them, but she figured they wouldn’t mind missing some of the food. She was nothing more than a blur as she seized side orders and sandwiches. Salads and main courses. Drinks and desserts. She had just grabbed a prime rib from a man who was dressed like a king from a deck of cards, and had her sights set on some lemon meringue pie at another table, when the other person seated next to the man held out her arm. Ordinarily, Kurumi would be able to dodge such a thing. She was the fastest person she knew. But not this time. The arm shot out even faster than she could move.
The blow caught her right in her mid-section. Despite what velocity she had built up, the woman who had shot out the arm did not even react to the impact. The arm remained motionless, even after it connected, leaving Kurumi draped over it as she tried to catch her wind. She still had enough wits about her to notice the woman, who seemed to have aces all over her outfit, didn’t appear pleased.
Natsumi looked desperately around for her sister. Knowing Kurumi, she had undoubtedly run to the dining area to fill that bottomless pit of a stomach she possessed. Too bad they lacked the money to pay for much of anything. If she got them thrown out of here, like she had so many other places…
She did not have to worry about it. Her sister was located at a table, gorging herself on every kind of food imaginable. Of the two others seated at it, the man that looked like he was from a card deck seemed to be pleased, watching Natsumi’s sister eat. The large woman, however, looked pissed. Natsumi approached the duo, fearing the worst.
“I’m sorry, sir,” she hoped the man was in charge. If it was the mean looking woman she did not like the possibilities that represented. “If my sister did something to offend you, I apologize. We are a little bit short of funds now and my sister is sort of…” She looked at the constantly growing stack of plates, “hungry.” That was something of an understatement.
The man just chuckled amusedly. “Sit down, dear girl. Make yourself comfortable.” Natsumi did as she was asked as the man continued. “Help yourself to whatever’s on the menu.”
Natsumi looked at him suspiciously. Few people were so generous to strangers, not that the man didn’t have the air of money around him. But it was her experience that those with money tended to keep it, unless they thought they could get more. And at an establishment such as this, that sort of attitude was on everyone’s faces.
“I thank you, sir, but you really don’t have to.”
The man pish-poshed at her. “Don’t worry about it. It’s not as though your sister hasn’t already eaten over half the food in the kitchens already.”
Kurumi grinned sheepishly at that. She had gotten them in trouble.
The Gambler King noticed the Natsumi's concern; a poker face she didn’t have. “Now, now. Don’t worry about it. I’m going to take care of the bill.”
Natsumi smiled warily. The man was leading up to something. “As I said, we have no money. There’s no way we can pay you.”
“Not in cash, perhaps, but there are other ways.”
Natsumi tried to casually allow her hand to drift to her rug-beater. If this guy even thought of using them in some dishonorable way, he had another think coming.
The woman seated at the table spoke up. “If you move that hand even another inch, I’ll break it off.” The woman made no move, but Natsumi got the impression she wouldn’t need the extra time to make good on the threat.
“Ace,” The Gambler King soothed. “They’re just children. You should be friendlier. She’s just concerned about her sister and herself. It’s a healthy attitude to have. We are strangers to them, and are behaving rather oddly. Allow me to introduce myself. I am the Gambler King. And this is my current,” he made some odd hand gestures as he attempted to describe the connection he had with the large woman. “Associate, Ace.”
Ace continued to scowl.
The Gambler King continued over the tension that was starting to build. “Well, then. You are probably wondering why I’m helping you out by covering the bill and paying for all the people whose dinners were disturbed. It just so happens that I am here to bet on the fights. So far, I have an impressive win percentage and I would like to keep that up. Your sister informs me the two of you are martial artists. She thinks, and I believe she is being modest when she says this, that the two of you are very good.”
Kurumi looked up from the meal and smiled towards the man. Natsumi winced as he smiled back. Her sister trusted people far too readily, and had gotten them involved in something that was probably over their heads.
“My sister overestimates us.” Natsumi tried to back out of the situation. No good would come of helping this guy out with whatever it was he wanted.
“For your sake, she better not have,” Ace warned. Natsumi was once again disturbed by the woman. She felt very dangerous. People that could project that feeling were rare, and this woman felt more dangerous than anyone Natsumi had ever met.
“I’m a bit more optimistic. At any rate, here is what I would like you to do to repay me for my generosity. I would like you to enter and win one of the fights.” The Gambler King explained. “I will bet heavily on you. That way I will make a lot of money, enough for what I’ve spent on covering your sister’s bill.”
“And if we refuse?” Natsumi had considered entering anyway, but she wanted to know what the stakes were.
“You can pay me,” he said. “But since you don’t have any money, I would have to let the two of you be thrown to the mercy of those individuals who feel wronged at your sisters hands.”
It was then that Natsumi noticed the icy glares directed at her sister. She must have grabbed food from a lot of the wrong people’s plates.
“But I’m certain you are honorable and wish to help me.” He gave a smile that caused immediate revulsion in Natsumi. She knew the man was slime, and that there was one important detail he left out.
“What happens of we lose?”
The King continued smiling. Natsumi had grown to loathe that smile in the few moments she met the man.
“Your sister has told me a great deal about you. It seems your father is a martial artist, and once you are good enough, he will allow you to carry on the title of your school of martial arts. Now I have little doubt that I would enjoy having the rights to that name and whatever,” he paused, “properties that might entail. That sort of thing.”
Natsumi could scarcely believe it. He was talking about her family name. He wanted to take something from them as soon as they received it. Her instincts cried out for her to refuse, but she had no bargaining posture. Damn it!
“Isn’t there something else you might want?”
The King shook his head. “No. That’s the deal. Take it or leave it.”
Kurumi had finally finished and looked at her sister meekly. Natsumi wanted to maintain her anger, but could not. Kurumi was all she had, and Natsumi was all she had. Natsumi realized she would have given in to help her sister anyway. They just could not afford to lose.
“I agree.” Natsumi felt like she had just sold her soul to the devil.
“Excellent. I’ll make the arrangements.” The Gambler King walked off. Natsumi did not feel like eating all of a sudden. The next match was announced.
“THE NEXT FIGHTER IS A YOUNG LION FROM THE HEART OF JAPAN. HE IS A STREET FIGHTER BY THE NAME OF RYU!!!”
The crowd cheered for the overwhelming hometown favorite. The white gi clad, red-headbanded Ryu looked them over and smiled, playing to the crowd. He had already seen the name of his opponent. It was some American supervillain named the Penguin. It was a bit of a mystery as to why the man was favored ten to one against him. Maybe it was a misprint.
“AND HIS OPPONENT. HAILING FROM ANTARCTICA. HIS FIGHTING STYLE IS UNKNOWN. PLEASE WELCOME A,” The man’s voice died down as he saw the opponent waddle in. “Penguin,” he quietly finished.
Ryu looked on in shock, as did most of the crowd. Before him stood a normal-sized penguin. Not a human dressed to look like a penguin. Not a mutated huge penguin. But an average looking, normal, Antarctic waterfowl.
Ryu turned towards the judges’ bench. “What is this? Some kind of stupid joke?”
A look of terror alighted on one of the judges as he shot up out of his chair. “FOR GOD’S SAKE, MAN! DON’T TURN YOUR BACK TO HIM!!!”
Too late, Ryu felt the penguin impact into his back. And then pain.
Akane covered her eyes in horror as the massacre began. Even Tarou flinched at the sight of what the penguin was doing to his opponent. It was just not natural.
“AND THE WINNER OF THE MATCH, IN ONE MINUTE, BY,” The speaker paused to control himself, Ryu was a real mess. “ TOTAL ANNIHILATION, A PENGUIN!!!”
The crowd was still in shock at the events. Akane uncovered her eyes to see the mess that awaited. “Do you think he’s alive?”
Tarou nodded, “Yes. But I don’t think he’ll ever be able to sit correctly again. Akane, remember how I said be totally ruthless?”
“Don’t be that ruthless,” Tarou warned.
The penguin waddled over to the announcer, who bent over and listened to what the waterfowl had to say. “The penguin wishes to know if anyone has seen a girl in a leotard riding a pet panda?”
Tarou remained silent. Even Kodachi and Mousse did not deserve that to happening to them.
With no responses, the penguin waddled out the arena and the building, letting everyone sigh in relief.
“Let’s go.” And Tarou led Akane to the changing rooms.
Akane got ready for her match. She hadn't been this nervous in a long time. Now here she was, fighting against someone she had never even met, for no other purpose than to beat her up. She had never done that before. Usually she beat up people for real reasons, like Ranma screwing up, or the boys at school trying to take her out on a date by beating her up. But this was different. She was looking for a fight and she was going to get it. It was more than a little scary. If only Ranma had been there to help…
As she made her way to the arena she thought about Tarou, who was trying to give emotional support to her beforehand. He kept reminding her to go all out in her fight, holding nothing back. “Use everything I taught you,” he said, but Akane still had reservations. In the past, Ranma was always there to watch her, but now she was on her own. Well, Tarou was there, but it was different. He was different. This place was different. It had the air of being dangerous. Violent. Dark. Brutal. Something totally unlike what she was used to.
“THE NEXT FIGHTER ALSO HAILS FROM JAPAN. SHE IS A PRACTITIONER OF THE ANYTHING GOES SCHOOL OF MARTIAL ARTS. AKANE TENDO!!!”
Natsumi stood bolt upright from the seat she had. It could not be. It just could not be.
As soon as Akane hit the floor, the crowd started to cheer. A rush of adrenaline hit her all at once. The crowd was excited at the thrill of seeing blood, and it showed. There was never anything to compare to this experience. She had never officially entered any tournaments, and the fights she had at school didn’t really count, but the feeling of being cheered on by so many people was a bit intoxicating.
Once, when Shampoo had first arrived in Japan, back when she and Akane still talked with one another, the Amazon had explained what it was like fighting in the tournaments back home. There was no mistaking the look in her eyes as she remembered the past. Akane told her she could not understand how one could get so excited for a fight. Shampoo said her Japanese was not good enough to explain what she felt. Akane now realized words would never be able to describe what she was feeling now. There was no way to verbally express the rush she felt.
Akane mentally prepared herself once again. She knew the name of her opponent. Someone named Sakura Shinobu.
Just as the announcer was about to call out the second fighter, a person from in back ran to the podium he was at. Words were quietly exchanged between the two, and the second man broke away. The announcer spoke up once again. “Ladies and Gentlemen! There has been an unexpected complication. Sakura Shinobu will not be able to participate in today’s competition. Instead, a new challenger will be picked from a random lot and new bets can be placed.”
A third man handed him a piece of paper. “THE NEXT CONTENDER IS FROM LOTS OF DIFFERENT PLACES. SHE ALSO PRACTICES ANYTHING GOES MARTIAL ARTS! HER NAME IS Kurumi TENDO! LOOKS LIKE THIS ONE IS GOING TO STAY IN THE FAMILY, FOLKS!!!”
Akane looked bewilderedly at the girl standing across the arena floor at her. She claimed to be a Tendo, and practice Anything Goes Martial Arts? She looked at the smaller girl more closely. Akane had never seen the girl before, she was certain.
Kurumi stared at the girl across the way from her. Akane Tendo? Anything Goes Martial Arts? She had to know.
“Is your father Soun Tendo?” Kurumi was afraid of the answer.
“Yes,” Akane answered. “Why do you ask?”
Tears formed in Kurumi’s eyes. “SISTER!” she cried out and ran towards Akane.
“HEY, WAIT!!!” The announcer shouted. “Oh, never mind. FIGHT!!!”
Tarou watched Akane closely. She had not made neither an offensive or defensive move. She was just standing there like a deer caught in headlights as her opponent ran right towards her. “AKANE! Snap out of it! She’s setting you up! It’s a trick!”
Akane had been in shock since the announcement. A sister that she knew nothing about? It just did not seem possible. Then she heard Tarou’s shout and her mind began processing the information. It was a trap. Of course! The girl was distracting her with some sort of nonsense to get her to drop her guard. Akane was shocked to discover that a part of her could almost admire the tactic. It nearly worked. She jumped back before the approaching girl. Kurumi was almost on top of her before Akane jumped out of the way. That was too close.
Kurumi couldn’t understand why her newfound sister leaped out of the way. They had just found one another; it should be a time of joy. “What’s wrong?” She asked Akane.
Akane kept up a guard as she answered the girl. “Nice try. I almost fell for it. Now fight!” She went in for an attack, but this time Kurumi got out of the way.
“It’s not a trick. I really am your sister. I have a picture and note from our father.”
She went into her gi to bring out the picture she had. Akane mistook it to mean she was drawing some sort of weapon and went in for an attack. Kurumi barely got her hand out in time and was put on the defensive immediately. Just as Akane was about to connect with a punch she felt, rather than saw, an attack come from the stands. She barely got out of the way of a blast of cold air that cut between her and her opponent. It did not take long to figure out whom the attack had come from. Natsumi jumped onto the arena floor and landed next to Kurumi.
Tarou saw the two-on-one develop, and leaped into the arena floor next to Akane. “I’m with you,” he told her.
Chancer stood up and announced the new odds. Even money between the impromptu doubles match. Family feuds were so good for wagering. No one would keep from placing a few extra bets.
Natsumi spoke up. “What she says is the truth, Akane Tendo. We are your sisters. I only wish we could have met under more pleasant circumstances. As it is,” Natsumi drew her rug-beater and pointed it at the newly formed team. “I’m afraid we find ourselves at odds with one another.”
Kurumi grabbed Natsumi's arm. “What are you talking about? She’s our sister.”
Natsumi sadly shook her head. “Remember our promise. We have to win, or else there’s no point in ever going back to father. Not if it means yielding what he would give to us.”
Kurumi nodded her head with reluctance. She understood.
Tarou just chuckled at the duo. “Come on. The ‘I’m family’ routine has been around forever. We aren’t going to hold back because of some stupid story the two of you made up.”
Akane agreed. The sisters were too old for her father to have sired them after her mother’s death, and the idea that he had cheated on her was angering Akane further. How low those two were!
“It’s the truth. We can prove it after the fight. But now we fight.” Natsumi unleashed a swirl of cold air at Tarou. Who leaped out of the way, but not before the attack clipped him in his calf, drawing blood. And his anger.
“Oh. You’re going to bleed for that one,” he threatened as the two properly squared off.
Kurumi was not happy about attacking her newfound sister, but Natsumi was correct, she had little choice. She undid her hair ribbon and twirled it at her ‘sibling’. Akane made the mistake of letting it strike her arm, where it coiled around the arm and hurled Akane away. The ribbon released itself as Akane got up, feeling the burn marks from where the ribbon made contact.
Akane went for a different tactic, and moved in for hand to hand, where her superior strength would come into play. Kurumi was forced to back off and use the hot chi ribbon attack once again, striking Akane in a number of spots, each leaving a large red welt where the ribbon struck.
Tarou was faring only lightly better. Natsumi was effectively staying as far away as she could while unleashing some of her cold wind attacks, occasionally nicking him here and there. Tarou silently promised he would make her eat that rug-beater of hers.
Natsumi came to an unpleasant conclusion. Separate, she and Kurumi were going to lose. The fact that her new sister was so good in the martial arts was an unpleasant surprise. But since she got to train with their father, it only made sense she was good. There was one, final attack she and Kurumi could use to eliminate their opponents.
Kurumi understood and leaped next to her sister. Akane and Tarou were close enough together the attack would catch both of them. And with that, they unleashed the simultaneous ribbon and wind shear attacks. The hot and cold chi from the Ryuu-karin-fun would finish off their opponents.
“Damn!” simultaneously broke out from Akane and Tarou as they saw the approaching attack. Having no time to do anything else, Tarou turned to Akane. “Brace for it!”
Akane only had a moment to realize he was not going to try to protect her like Ranma would, but let her stand on her own two feet. Mixed feelings went through her as she braced for the combination attack.
The duo went flying halfway across the arena floor, their bodies impacting hard into the sandy surface. Neither moved.
The announcer took a swig from his bottle as he watched for any movement. After a couple of moments, he came to a decision.
“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. THE WINNERS OF THE MATCH DUE TO K.O. ARE…”
Tarou and Akane slowly regained their feet. Each of them looked like they were flambéed, then flash frozen. They looked tired. They look beat.
And they looked REALLY pissed.
Both of them stared at the girls standing across from them, neither bothering to look at one other as they spoke.
“You okay?” Tarou asked.
“Yep,” Akane answered.
“Think that was their best shot?”
“Think they’re in trouble now?”
“Yep. I got an idea,” Akane said. “Give me one of your bracers.”
Tarou was a little surprised by the request. His dragonscale adornments were his pride and joy. It would be a matter of trust to give Akane even one of them. He did not really trust anyone.
He gave her the bracer and watched her place it on her arm. A smile rose to his face as he examined it. It fit well and actually looked good on her.
“Don’t worry about that attack,” Akane explained. “You just take out the one with the rug-beater.”
Tarou considered her actions. He despised it when people tried to give him orders, and he certainly never obeyed them. How had that man he met last month put it? He did not play well with others. A perfect description. But, surprisingly, he found himself doing as she asked. He did not even feel bad about it. Would wonders never cease?
Natsumi looked in surprise at the duo. They had just withstood her and Kurumi’s most powerful attack and were getting up for more. “Kurumi, use it again!”
Kurumi looked uncertain. “It didn’t work the first time.”
Natsumi shook her head. “It did hurt them. One more time will finish them off.” Natsumi concentrated on unleashing the attack as Akane and Tarou rushed forward.
Kurumi began twirling her ribbon in huge circles once more and sent the red fabric onward. Just as the rings started to surround Akane she stuck her arm with the bracer. It worked just as she thought it would. The circular pattern was broken as the ribbon looped around her forearm, while the heat generated by it was blocked by the bracer on her arm.
“Natsumi!” Kurumi cried out. The attack would not work if the pattern were broken.
Natsumi was one step ahead and was defending herself against the incoming Tarou.
Akane smiled at thwarting the attack. Her happiness was short lived as she discovered she forgot one very important detail about ribbons.
They have two ends.
Kurumi brought the other end of the ribbon forward and snared Akane’s neck, causing hot chi to ride down up it and into Akane. Tears started to form in Akane’s eyes as the pain caused her knees to buckle.
Kurumi felt a bit of regret at causing Akane so much pain, but the stakes were too high to hold back. She carefully increased the amount of hot chi along the ribbon and silently prayed Akane would pass out soon. The reaction that occurred was the opposite of what she had hoped for. Instead of collapsing, Akane charged forward through the pain, the look of anger in her eyes giving Kurumi pause. That was all she needed. Akane closed the distance and connected with a blow to Kurumi’s head. Kurumi loosened her grip on the ribbon, allowing Akane to unload the Amaguriken into the girl’s stomach. She finished off the smaller girl by simply picking her up and slamming her into the ground. Kurumi bounced once, and then ceased moving altogether, either from inertia or her own power.
Natsumi saw what had happened and cried out, turning to help her sister. Tarou was not one to pass up an advantage like that.
“You turn in a fight with me? That’s a mistake!” And with that he connected with a savage blow to the jaw. Natsumi fell to the ground and lay still, crumpled by the blow.
“AND THE WINNERS OF THE MATCH BY DOUBLE K.O. IN SEVEN MINUTES AND THIRTY THREE SECONDS. AKANE TENDO AND…” The announcer looked at Tarou.
“What’s your name?”
“Mind your own business!” Tarou waved his fist at the man.
“AND THE MAN WITH NO NAME!!!” the announcer finished.
Akane calmed down enough to notice the crowd cheering her for the exciting fight (At least the members that bet on her, which were most of the people.) Chants of “Tendo, Tendo, Tendo,” were shouted throughout the stands. Akane felt a rush from the adulation as she rubbed the burn spots on her throat. They were crying out her name. Not Ranma’s. Not Shampoo’s. Hers. She was the important one. She was being shown the respect she deserved for her abilities as a martial artist, by an arena full of strangers no less. She gave a broad smile and bowed before the crowd. She did not even notice Tarou standing off to one side, smiling at her reaction. Tonight worked out better than he hoped.
Tarou and Akane left the arena with a silence between them. Akane was the first one to break them.
“Did I pass my test?” As though she did not already know the answer.
“With flying colors.”
Akane took off the bracer. “Thanks for loaning that to me. It really saved the day.”
Tarou looked the item over and came to a decision. “You keep it. It looks good on you.”
“No way!” Akane shook her head to help emphasize her answer. “You told me they’re the only ones you have.”
“And I want you to have it. If I’m generous to offer something, you should be gracious enough to accept it.”
Akane’s resistance broke down. “Thanks.” She placed it back on her arm.
Tarou stopped rather suddenly, causing Akane to halt as well.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Did you have a good time tonight?”
Akane laughed at that. “You took me to some weird warehouse in the middle of nowhere so I could pit fight, and your asking me if I had a good time?”
Tarou was not sure what to make of the reaction. It sounded like an ideal date to him.
She answered the question for him. “Yes. I did. Figure that one out.” It did mystify Akane as to why she would have a good time. Maybe because it was so forbidden. Her father, Kasumi, even Ranma would have thrown a fit if they knew where she had been. It was such a roller coaster ride of excitement. Everyone cheering for her. Winning the fight. It was all such a rush. And she had Tarou to thank for it.
“Glad to hear it.” Tarou was all smiles now. “How about we end this evening just right?”
“What do you mean?” Akane could immediately tell something had changed in Tarou’s attitude.
“You know what I mean.” He put his arms around her and leaned forward to give a kiss. The forward motion was suddenly arrested painfully as Akane grabbed one of his hoop earrings and pulled back on it. His head followed the new direction as he released her.
“Just what do you think you’re doing?!” Akane was not pleased by Tarou’s sudden attitude change. He was acting like Kunou.
Tarou just stood there looking dumbfounded. “Kissing you, of course!”
Akane was dumbfounded. Tarou wanted to kiss HER? “What are you talking about? Why are you trying to…errr, you know?”
“Well, it’s what you’re supposed to do on a date.”
Akane was taken aback again. The night was proving itself just full of surprises. “You call taking someone pit fighting a date?” He was more unromantic than Ranma.
“I call going out and having a good time a date, And you said you had one.”
Akane had a little difficulty arguing with that one. “I already have a fiancé. I told you that. I’m sorry if I led you on or something, but we can’t date.”
Tarou looked a little angry now. “Oh, come on! You said you don’t even want to marry Ranma. And I met you going out the other night with some other guy.”
Akane was getting backed into a corner. “I only went out with Kunou because I owed him a favor. And as to the engagement,” she began becoming less confident now. “It’s a family thing. So I can’t exactly break it off.” Akane was more than a little irritated to hear Tarou scoff.
“Like anyone can make you do something you don’t want to do. Face facts, girl, the guy dumped you.”
“He did not! He’s just busy trying to find something,” She did not know where he was.
Tarou was becoming annoyed. She should be glad he was here to take her away from the hermaphrodite. “Yes, he did. Though why Fem-boy would run away from someone as beautiful as…”
“What?” Akane cut him off. “What did you call Ranma?”
“I called him Fem-boy.” While Tarou’s danger sense was not on par with Ranma’s, what was there went into overdrive.
“I never told you he was cursed.”
Uh, oh! He was in for it now. If she hadn’t gotten him so worked up, he would never have made such a glaring error. He tried to salvage an answer. “You told me. How else would I know?”
“I didn’t tell you,” Akane remained adamant. “I never tell anyone that doesn’t already know. Tell me the truth!”
“Well, maybe I ran into him, once. But not much happened.”
Akane wasn’t buying it. “I swear by the kami, I will walk away right now unless you tell me exactly what happened!”
What to tell her, what to tell? He sure couldn’t tell her the whole truth. Somehow, “I want to beat the shit out of your fiancé because I hate his guts” was not going to go over too well. But it had to be a believable lie. Possibly something that would gain him sympathy.
“I got tricked by a little old lady into doing it. You see, I have a terrible burden and I need help to overcome it. So I made a deal with her that we would help each other. Part of that deal was to grab an Amazon named Shampoo for her.”
He gauged Akane’s reaction. She was nodding in understanding, obviously listening with a sympathetic ear. His plan was working.
“Well, you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that the girl I was trying to grab was actually a guy. Then, while my guard was down, and I was trying to come up with an apology, the son of a bitch hit me and I landed on those train tracks. If it wasn’t for you I’d be dead.” A near death experience was the way to go. No one would fault him for nearly being killed.
Akane looked sympathetically at Tarou. “That’s Ranma all right. He never listens to explanations, and goes in hitting. I’m just glad I was there to save you. So it was all a misunderstanding?”
He hesitated to mention this, but Ranma might spill his guts about it if he showed up. “There was a second time we got into a fight, but it was related to the first so it doesn’t really count. And I don’t appreciate what he did to me, and he is your fiancé, so that’s two marks against him.”
Akane started to glare. “Why didn’t you say something when you found out he was my fiancé?”
“I didn’t believe you’d think too fondly of me for beating up your fiancé.”
“Well, I guess I understand.” Akane thought she did anyway.
“Everything’s over. I’m not going to help that little old hag anymore.” The truth was Cologne had called everything off about capturing Shampoo altogether, but Tarou was going to hold her to her word about helping him nail Happosai. And he was still going to beat up the purple haired Amazon when he got the chance.
Akane breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m glad you told me the truth. If you had lied to me I’d have been out of here.”
Surprisingly, Tarou felt a twinge of guilt from the statement. He quickly suppressed it, though.
“Why don’t I help you with your problem? After all, you’ve helped me so much, it’s the least I can do.” Akane was convinced she could solve whatever problems Tarou had. They worked well together.
Tarou nearly recoiled in horror. If she tried to help capture Happosai, his secret would be blown, and she would mock him the rest of his life. No way could he allow that to happen. “It’s something I must deal with myself. My, errr…time spent with the old hag taught me that.” The hurt expression she gave him did nothing to make him feel any better, but it was for the best. “Now about that kiss…”
“Tarou, stop it!” Akane backed off from him once again. “I told you I can’t do that.”
Now he had two ways to go with this. He could continue to come on strong, or he could back off and try charm. What mattered was how Akane would react. Trying to figure out how women’s minds work was awful frustrating.
“Very well. I’ll respect your wishes, for now.” Charm was the way to go. Charming and confident. “But I can see you are attracted to me.”
“I am not!” She was beginning to wonder if he was more arrogant than Ranma. Scratch that, he was; but for some reason it was not exactly as irritating as it could have been, like on Kunou or someone else.
“Then why are you blushing?”
Akane felt heat rise to her face. How could he tell she was blushing in the relative darkness of the docks? “I… I’m not.” Now why did she stutter, too?
The stutter was all it took to convince Tarou. The seeds had been planted. Now all he needed to do was wait for them to take root. And then he could plow the furrow. He gave a little chuckle to himself at that particular metaphor.
“Don’t worry. I won’t press you. You want to take it slow, that’s fine with me. You’ll see the truth soon enough.”
Akane shook her head. This was going too far, and he was really starting to irritate her. Now that she thought about it, there was one other thing she was curious about in Tarou. She was in luck as she noticed the puddle next to Tarou. Humming a little tune, she made her way over to the puddle, and then splashed it on him.
Tarou looked down at Akane, confused. He thought she was walking over because she changed her mind. Instead, she turned him into his cursed form.
“Whoa!” Akane gaped at the Minotaur-like creature before her. “You sure do look different.”
Tarou shrugged. It made sense that she would want to see him in his cursed form. Who knew, maybe she had a thing for bulls? At the very least he would certainly get her home on time. He picked up the surprised Akane and took off.
His passenger’s first moments of panic at suddenly finding herself suspended over Tokyo faded to a more relaxed state. Akane took pause to admire the night lights of Tokyo. It was a majestic sight to behold. As the brisk night air flowed through her locks, she told herself she was not interested in Tarou, but it was certainly nice of him to treat her to this view. She found herself involuntarily comparing him to Ranma. There were so many differences between the two, yet so many similarities as well. It was nice to have a good friend.
Kasumi smiled as Akane and Tarou-bull dropped down in the backyard. “Welcome back Akane.” She turned to Akane’s guest. “Hello Mr. Yeti-Bull-Snake-Crane. Would you like some tea?”
Tarou-bull nodded his head as Akane explained about the curse to her sister. She returned to the backyard where she handed the tea to Tarou. He simply dumped it over his head, bade Akane farewell, and left the dojo.
Akane went to bed and had begun to feel relaxed when she remembered Ranma. She felt guilty about the good time she had when she had no idea where he was. Joy was replaced by concern as she looked out her window and gave a prayer for Ranma’s safe return.
Ukyou twirled the French pastry around as she watched Ai and Tsubasa, the latter dressed in normal girl’s clothes, sit at one of the tables and fix each other’s bruises and cuts. The two of them actually worked together to rescue her from Crepe Suzette and her mentor, the armored monstrosity called the Iron Chef. If it had not been for Ai and Tsubasa, she was not certain what would have happened. Poor Suzette, she seemed more misguided than evil, and she had turned on the Chef in the end. If only she had not been so irritated at Ukyou for revealing herself as a girl. Still, another female suitor was the last thing she needed. The pastry read “I shall have my revenge.” This was all she needed. A collection of foes as unwanted as Ranma’s.
She reevaluated what her feelings were about her two rescuers. If they were working together it would only mean trouble for her, and trouble was the last thing she needed. Part of her was concerned as well. Her feelings about Tsubasa were pretty much the same, but she was starting to dislike Ai less. Not that she was attracted to her, but if she did not hate her, then there was some small chance that something might happen at some point in the future. Not the sort of thing she wanted to think about. Further thoughts were interrupted by a large man that entered Uk-Chan’s.
Ukyou got up to confront the man. “We’re closed. You can come back tomo…” She drifted off as she recognized the man that had entered the restaurant.
The large man with long beard and graying hair looked fiercely at Ukyou. “How’s it going, honey?”
Ukyou leaped up and embraced her father. “Oh, it’s been so long. I’ve missed you. But what are you doing here?”
Her father returned the embrace. “You look great. I got your letter just last week and came immediately. Now, you mentioned you have a special friend you wanted me to meet. Where is he?”
Ai and Tsubasa got up from their table and approached the man suspiciously.
“Ukyou darling, who is this man?” Ai asked. Tsubasa looked on with concern as well.
Ukyou’s father began shaking his head. “I see. Ukyou, I realize that when I raised you all by myself you might grow up somewhat different from the other girls your age.”
“Daddy,” Ukyou began.
“Hear me out! After that terrible Saotome incident that I was responsible for, I vowed not to interfere in your upbringing anymore.”
“Dad,” Ukyou increased the tone in her warning.
“Let it be known that I, Tatsumi Kuonji, am a man of the times. I want you to know that no matter what lifestyle you choose, I will love you no matter what.”
“Dad! It’s not like…” This time Ukyou was cut off by Ai.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.” She grabbed Tatsumi’s hand and pumped it furiously. “I see where Ukyou gets her good looks.”
The big man surprised Ukyou by blushing. “Why thank you, Miss. What’s your name?”
Ai introduced herself. Tsubasa, not to be outdone, also gave his name.
Tatsumi turned to his daughter. “What an incredible young woman you’ve become! You have two beautiful, caring, young women in love with you. I’m envious! I never had the women chase after me like this.”
“Actually, I’m a man, sir,” Tsubasa explained.
Tatsumi considered this. “Ukyou. I try to keep an open mind, but I’m not sure I can approve of a relationship with a transvestite.”
Tsubasa gave a little chuckle. “I’m no transvestite, sir, just a cross-dresser.”
“Oh! Well, that’s different.” Tatsumi paused to consider that. “Maybe grandchildren are a possibility after all.”
Ukyou just watched in horror as her father asked about the duo’s relationship with Ukyou, what they were like, and small talk in general. Ukyou left the building without anyone noticing her absence. The situation was going from bad to worse. She looked to the stars. Ryouga might be looking at them even now.
“Wherever you are, Ryouga, be careful.”
The two gymnasts looked on at Kodachi in dismay. Their captain was obviously not up to her normal everyday standards, and had not been for some time.
“Hey, Haruka!” The first girl asked her partner. “What is it about the captain that seems out of place to you?”
Haruka thought about it. “Well, she treats us a lot nicer, hasn’t ambushed anyone, and generally goes around depressed. What seems out of place to you?”
The first girl looked on with sadness. “She hasn’t given that insane laugh of hers in a week. For the first time in my life, I’m hoping to hear it at least once. It just seems too disturbing for her not to be laughing.”
Haruka could do nothing but agree. A silent Black Rose was just too bizarre to take.
Two days after Ranma’s abduction
Leung listened to the rain hammer the sides of his general store with a fury he had not seen in years. There would be no business tonight. Even indecent folk would not be out on a night like this. Every time he tried talking about it with his son, the twenty-year-old Sheng would make certain he was not paying attention to his father. Leung cursed the arrogance of youth today. In his day he would have had his ears boxed for carrying around that kind of attitude.
“<Only the Devil himself would be out on a night like this,>” Leung muttered under his breath.
The door burst open as a figure huddled under a thick cloak rushed inside.
“<That was quick,>” Sheng told his father.
Leung watched as the figure removed his hood. No devil was he. It was a young looking man, no more than sixteen and with a long black ponytail, who examined the two men in the store.
“<I am informed you have a wide variety of equipment at this store. I require a number of things from you this night. I need climbing gear, a large sack, a good knife, a glass vial….”
The list went on a little while longer. Leung smiled to himself as the young man went on and on. If he was out on a night like this he must be desperate indeed. A one hundred percent markup on everything might be called for. After all, his was the only store that could provide the boy with what he needed. He listened as the youth finished up his list.
“<There is one thing you should know,>” the youth warned. “<I do not have the money with me right now. I can pay you back at a later time.>”
Leung and Sheng looked at one another. A crackpot.
Leung scowled at the youth. “<No money. No equipment.>”
“<It is very important to me that I get this equipment,>” the youth warned. “<I will pay you five times the amount owed you later. I give you my word.>”
Sheng picked up on his father’s demeanor. Leung hated it when people tried to bully him or tell him his business, or when they tried to get him to stop drinking when he was on a roll.
“<Let me put it to you this way,>” the youth said in a quiet, even tone. “<If you give me the equipment, I won’t hurt you.>”
Leung had enough. No one bullied him in his own place of business. This would not be the first time he had to deal with a troublemaker. The boy was going to end up very hurt for getting Leung’s hopes up like that.
“<Sheng!>” Leung noticed his son had already gone for the sword near one of the counters. Sheng was the strongest boy of the town at six foot and three hundred pounds of solid muscle. How unfortunate he did little other than bully others around. At least he was good at it.
“<You’re dead, you little punk!>” This was what Sheng lived for. He loved to feel his power over others. And power he had. There was not anyone in the small town that did not fear him, and that was what it was all about. The violence itself was not what he liked, though he would use it without hesitation. It was the fear others demonstrated that excited him. There was no feeling like it in the world, when he saw them quake in terror. He always wanted to watch the eyes. The body moved in certain ways when one was afraid, but the eyes were the mirrors to the soul, and that was what he wanted to see. Which was why he was so angry when he saw nothing even resembling fear in the youth’s eyes. The only thing that was there was contempt. THAT was intolerable. Sheng would teach him fear. He brought his sword up and was going to bring it down on the youth. He wouldn’t kill him. There would be only a moment’s fear that way. He would wound him, then he would fear Sheng for a lifetime.
The youth casually grabbed Sheng’s arm as the blow came down to strike the wet stranger. The boy twisted the appendage, snapping the ulna and the radius in one smooth motion. Sheng did not have time to scream as his face was forced into a wall. Both face and wall ended up broken.
“<SON!!!>” Leung grabbed a nearby sickle and rushed over to kill the stranger. He never got to do more than draw his arm back, as the youth lashed out with his foot, shattering Leung’s jaw. Leung would go on to look at the bright side of the injury. His jaw would not heal well enough to eat solid foods for two months, meaning he would get a chance to lose that fifteen pounds he always wanted to.
Shampoo-kun drew back Leung’s head and stared him in the eye. “<Be thankful I am in a merciful mood tonight!>” he hissed. “<Anyone that tries to keep me from Ranma is an obstacle. Obstacles are meant for removal!>”
Shampoo-kun allowed the man’s head to drop back on the floor. He had many things to grab that night, and miles to go before he slept. There was one detour he had to make before heading for the fortress of the Musk. It would take him dangerously close to his one time home, but he needed the ace in the hole. There was no risk too great for Ranma’s safety.
To be continued.
Side note: The story of Crepe Suzette and the Iron Chef will be told much later in an OAV. It would just clutter the story at this point.
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