Tajamata Nital looked down the mountain to the valley below. The fog was doing a fair job of obscuring his view, but through holes in the white mist he could just make out poles that stood high above what appeared to be pools of water. It was difficult to be certain, as the mists continued to flow with the air, changing what was visible from one moment to the next. There was nothing more to be done upon the path he currently trod. He had seen enough to know what he sought was below him, and he did not need a map to find it.
The mists parted, as Taj was able to fully make out the valley and all its majestic glory upon arrival at the base. So far to travel on foot, to this land far north of his home, but he had to know the answer to the mystery. This place called to him during his meditations at home in India, and he had journeyed to unlock the enigma. What sort of place, what sort of being, had drawn him here? Hopefully all the solutions would be revealed in short order. From where he stood, Taj could make out a young girl and an odd looking gentleman in the garb of a Chinese official of some kind talking to one another. It was time to seek answers.
The Jusenkyou Guide watched sadly as the Japanese girl departed. Why someone as pretty as her would want to change themselves into something like that was beyond his understanding. Why anyone would want to visit the springs at all was beyond him as well. The whole area was dangerous, yet so many visited the springs anyway. And no one ever listened to him. At least this girl knew what she was getting into, having sought out a specific pool and voluntarily immersing herself into it. Hers was now a tragic story, unrelated to the springs, which he could use to warn others about. As the guide sadly shook his head he noticed a man coming towards him. A traveler of some sort, judging by his raiment and the long staff he used to help him along his way.
“<Greetings, honored sir. Welcome to the magical training grounds of Jusenkyou.>” The Guide greeted, his cheery exterior contradicting the sadness he felt within.
The man brought out a book from one of his pouches and began speaking in broken tones of Chinese. “<I come here, seek for have—>”
“[Do you speak Hindi?]” The Guide asked.
“[Why, yes. I do.]”
The Guide gave the newcomer his widest smile. “[Excellent! My Hindi is pretty good. Allow me to explain to you what Jusenkyou is and why you should avoid it.]”
Taj listened intently to the Guide’s instructions, absorbing everything he could. As the Guide finished, Taj made certain he understood the information. “[This place is very dangerous. Thank you for warning me of its dangers. Unfortunately, I must stay here until I resolve the mystery of what drew me here, even if it means risking exposure to the waters. You have gone above and beyond your duty in so carefully warning me of this place.]”
The Guide shook Taj’s hand and walked back to his hut. At least this traveler had listened to the warning and appreciated the Guide. So few visitors did either one.
Taj threaded a careful path through the cursed springs. It was a roundabout trail he took, but his body came no closer than five feet to any of the pools. Once he found what he believed was the center of Jusenkyou he stopped and crossed his legs. Nightfall was about to descend and he was in just the right frame of mind to leave his body and allow his astral body to start its fantastic voyage.
Taj crossed his legs and initiated his breathing exercises. The old master had taught him everything, allowing Taj to absorb as much as he could. Everything began with breathing. If one never forgot that basic fundamental principle, then one could go on to attain Nirvana. Perhaps. Taj was nowhere near that level of attainment, but he was satisfied with the progress he had made in the last ten years. One day he would reach the plateau, but until that time he could engage in other, more mundane things, like learning what the unusual thing within the land here was.
Five years ago Taj had stumbled on the ability to travel outside the body. Others called it astral travel, which was as good a name as any. At first he thought himself unworthy of the gift. None of his teachers ever spoke of such abilities, but he was reassured that he would never have been granted the capability of such a thing if he were not deserving. It was a gift that he should use to explore the world, and in so doing, discover what purpose he was given for the application of the power. How he loved to travel along the astral plane. It was like flying in one’s body while still being able to see the outside world. He could not affect the physical world while trekking in such a manner, but he could see it. And his senses broadened tremendously when in that state. He wandered near and far, searching for that one thing that might explain why he had received the gift.
It was during one of the travels that he sensed it, an unusual source of something. Nothing clearer than that could be gained without being physically closer to the source. He could not be certain what it was, other than an anomaly that had caught his attention. It was so small as to be hidden from all but the most intense scrutiny, and in truth he had stumbled on it as well. But whatever it was, it had no similarity to anything he had experienced before. It begged to be investigated.
So he set off, walking as quickly as he could with all the money he could scrounge up and borrow from others. It was a difficult task, since so many made pilgrimages to far-off lands, and this one was of a personal nature as well. Still, he had just enough money to support himself in simple means as he walked the hundreds of miles to his destination. Every night he meditated and tried to understand what it was he had discovered, but it remained beyond his abilities to decipher. It was almost as though something was trying to hide it from the world.
Now at last he was at the source, and it didn’t matter how much the thing was disguised, Taj would pierce the illusion. It took almost two full hours for him to attain the level of relaxation to release his astral form from his body. Just another indicator of how anxious he was. Peace came in time, and with it the release from his physical body. Taj paused a moment to gaze down at his physical form. It would be safe until the return of the spirit. The springs would provide a natural form of protection for him.
He allowed his heightened senses to reach out and explore the world around him. Even though he was on top of the source, it was still unbelievably difficult to find. There must have been some kind of natural barrier blocking the source in order to be right next to it and still remain unknown. Taj stretched out again and found what he was looking for, the faintest of trails that led underground. The springs must have had something to do with it. Perhaps they behaved like some kind of natural masking device. At any rate he went below the ground. There it was more difficult to sense things, but he could still feel it. Closer and closer he drew, until he felt the source and all its glory. He had at last found the origin of his enigma. There was a reservoir of some kind beneath Jusenkyou. It was not the source of the cursed springs; that was elsewhere. No, this was something that connected to all the pools in a different way. The connection was not physical; it dealt on an altogether different level of existence. Some metaphysical one.
It took a moment to realize what the reservoir was. He had seen a display of it once when a martial artist had visited the temple and displayed his powers. It was chi energy. But what was the storage container of energy doing in the middle of Jusenkyou? Was it a natural by-product of the springs, or something else entirely? More investigation had to be done. He followed several of the connections back to their respective pools. All of them went one way, from the pool to the reservoir, never the reverse. Taj was about to assume it was some kind of natural runoff when he felt it. It was ever so faint that he was almost certain he was merely feeling some kind of illusion. But he traveled closer and fully sensed it. A weak link located at the bottom of that massive amount of chi. One small tendril that led away from the source instead of to it.
Taj did what came naturally and followed the faint tendril downward even further, so very far beneath the earth. The closer he got to the end of the tendril the more he suspected it was being masked. No easy task that was, to hide something even at that close range. It must have been something important to mask it even on the astral plane. Further and further he journeyed until he located it, the thing the tendril was connected to. It wasn’t like the chi pool, it was a physical thing connected in a metaphysical way. It was huge. It was vast. It was unlike anything Taj had ever sensed.
It sensed Taj as well. And in that moment, when he touched the thing and it touched him, Taj was given the briefest glimpse of what it truly was.
And he ran, in an astral sense of the word.
As quickly as he could, he journeyed back to his body. He had to get away. Get away from the monstrous thing that was located far beneath the springs.
The EVIL thing that was there.
He could feel a black stain on his soul from that brief moment of contact, but whatever consequences that would bring were secondary to fleeing from the thing here. It didn’t matter if he never attained Nirvana now. His life’s dream no longer meant a damn thing to him. Flight was all that mattered. No longer was eternal peace a goal, just an avoidance of eternal damnation. For as he let his astral form hurry back to its body, he discovered something worse than touching the thing that was there.
It was chasing him.
It felt like an eternity for that astral body of his to return to the physical body. If he didn’t reach the body before the thing did, then his soul would wander eternally without a form. He would be consigned to existence without a body, and he would still be vulnerable to the hellish thing.
He felt his body before him. It remained where it was, unaffected. He could escape after all. The astral form of Tajamata Nital reentered the physical world and its original body. His spirit gave a sigh of relief as his eyes focused back on the real world. Then he knew fear again.
There was a seeming black cloud before him, almost smoke-like, save for the burning red ovals in the middle of the formless fog. Taj knew what they were in an instant. The Eyes of Death.
It said one word before it acted.
The Jusenkyou Guide sat up from his cot. For a moment he could have sworn he heard someone shout something. He followed his first instinct and checked on his daughter, Plum. One glance told him she was still fast asleep. No chance it was her. Perhaps it was the nice gentlemen who had gone out in the springs. It probably wouldn’t be wise for the Guide to go out there in the dark, but he had to take the chance. He had learned to navigate Jusenkyou blindfolded, which was a test all guides had to go through, but despite that, there was always some offhand chance that an accident might happen. Cautiously he threw on a coat over his pajamas and grabbed a lantern.
He walked unerringly where he had seen Taj sit down and begin his meditation so many hours ago. As he held the lantern high to check on the visitor, the Guide was treated to an astonishing sight. There was no longer a man sitting in the middle of Jusenkyou. Nothing but a steaming pile of bleached white bones with a skull sitting on top was all that remained. The worst thing about it was not that the man was evidently dead, and somehow the guide knew this was no prank, it was that horrible skull. He had seen skulls before; all of them looked the same, just white pieces of bone that sat there like some decoration for Halloween. All but this one. This one was different. This one was unique. This one was an abomination that should not exist. Somehow, the bone itself was remade into a terrifying image of tortuous anguish, which should not have been able to be attained by anything man could do. A skull that bore a chalk white expression of pain every bit as evident as if it were flesh.
The Guide ran as fast as his legs could carry him back to his house, the cursed pools be damned. There were things more terrifying than being turned into a mongoose, and the Guide had just laid eyes upon one of them.
Be Dea walked outside into the night air of Joketsuzoku. Something had awakened her, but she was uncertain what it was. All she knew was that it came from the north, and the nearest thing there was Jusenkyou. It was a surprise that her grandson, Fleece, was present already.
“<What brings you out here at this time of night, oh Degenerate One?>” He asked.
Be Dea answered by smashing him into the wall of the hut with her walking stick.
“<I meant to say ‘venerable’, not ‘degenerate’. Sorry about that.>” Fleece managed to croak as he pried himself out of the wall.
“<The same thing that brings you out, no doubt.>”
The tone of voice Be Dea employed was the signal for Fleece to take things seriously. They both knew Fleece was a horrible warrior, but a magnificent sensitive. Well, sensitive to everything but his wife’s needs, which was why he was staying at his grandmother’s hut.
“<Then you felt it too.>” Fleece was making a statement, not asking a question. He watched his grandmother gaze to the north. To Fleece there was just barely a faint blue haze above Jusenkyou, too faint for anyone other than himself to sense. The effect was unlike anything he had ever seen, and somehow it was terrifying. Words came unbidden to his lips.
“<What was that you said?>” Be Dea just caught something her grandson had mumbled under his breath.
“<It was a phrase I read in one of the books those British Tourists left here. I said ‘By the pricking of my thumb, something wicked this way comes’.>”
Be Dea rubbed her chin in thought. “<Yes. That feels…right.>”
Chapter 21: Blind Love, Black Poison
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 Saotome’s traveled to Jusenkyou to train. The started to spar, not realizing that 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. Shampoo-kun= male Enjoy). Shampoo elected to travel to Japan with the Saotomes and briefly ended up engaged to Kasumi. Once that was cleared up, Ranma became engaged to Akane. In the early days many things happened in the lives of everyone. Many battles fought and many friends made.(You’re going to want to read the early chapters to fully understand what’s going on by now.) Last chapter, Ranma and Shampoo came to something of an understanding in their relationship, and Shampoo has decided to pursue Ranma once again. However, she is not the only one after a heart as Mousse has decided to try to take Shampoo in a marriage duel once again…
<> Indicates Chinese
I’ll be using the ‘Chinese’ version of names for characters referred to using Chinese. Ex. Mousse is now Mu-Tze. Shampoo is Shan-Pu, etcetera.
Kensuki was in an unpleasant mood. The boy had given him the slip once again. The third time in as many days. If he didn’t know better, he would have sworn the target had eyes in the back of his head. But if Kensuki knew nothing else in the world, skulking was still his specialty.
The boss was going to be pissed as hell. She could be such a pain to those that didn’t live up to her expectations. True, Nabiki still had that information she was blackmailing him with, but he sometimes wondered if it was really worth it. One day the boss was going to end up involved in something over her head, and then she would see whom her real friends were. Kensuki would have been willing to bet not too many would show up. It would serve her right, the manipulative bitch.
His reverie was broken when he felt himself lifted into the air by the back of the collar. He managed to swivel his neck around to see who the person was. Bad news. The predator had just become the prey.
“I thought I saw someone following me.” The smile Tarou gave did nothing to ease Kensuki’s spirits. “And people say I’m paranoid.”
The would-be spy tried to head off what he knew was coming. “I’ll tell you everythin—“ He was cut off by Tarou.
“Now, now. That’s no fair. I don’t want you to tell me just yet. I want to get the information by beating the living shit out of you.” Tarou gave his trademark little snicker as he drew back his fist. Beating information out of people was more reliable than just letting them spill their guts. Less likely to lie that way. And it was fun too.
The handsome young man and beautiful young woman stood in the middle of the park, admiring the children playing with one another. The girl gazed forlornly at the youths as they screamed and shouted amongst one another, producing the tangled mix of fun and confusion only children can obtain.
“Husband, how long do you think it will be before we will have some children of our own?”
The youth gave his wife a sad look. “I must discover the secret techniques of the other half of my school and restore my dojo. Only then will I know peace and be able to settle down and have children.” He had given her that answer a hundred times, yet he remained patient. He loved her, and would withstand the question a thousand times if need be until he could give her the answer she sought.
She breathed a little sigh. She too, had already known the answer to the question, but it was a hope against hope that he would have a different response this time. She realized her husband was driven, but she truly had wished her presence would fill the void his lack of knowledge had given him. Her gaze was about to return to the children when she suddenly discovered herself lifted up by a handsome youth on a pair of roller skates.
Mikado gave the young lady a smile that shone with a light of its own. “Pardon me, but your lips appeared lonely to me. Perhaps you would like to have mine accompany them?”
She could have escaped Mikado’s grasp using her own abilities, but her husband was present and he should do those things required of spouses, like saving their loved ones. “Ranma! Save me!”
Mikado literally stopped on a dime. “Ranma? Where? Where?” He didn’t envy the chance to run into the man who had helped give the Golden Pair their one and only defeat. It was a surprise when he saw someone that looked nothing like Ranma charge at him.
“You aren’t Ran—“ was all he managed to get out before the boy connected with several strikes from his fingers, dropping Mikado like a rock while the skater released his hold on the girl.
‘Ranma’ managed to catch his wife in mid-air before she could hit the ground. “Why didn’t you escape on your own?” The tone in his voice was that of concern, as though he believed there might be something wrong with his wife.
“Because I wanted you to save me. Now accept your reward.” And with that Kaori Daikokuji Saotome kissed the lips of her husband.
It was time to make her move. Shampoo listened intently for Ranma from outside the hall. He had begun to draw the water not more than three minutes ago, and left it running while he took care of some other matter. Now Shampoo had her chance. She slipped inside the room and removed her robe, tossing it to the side of the bath where it joined some other towels on the floor. Steam was quickly filling the room, making visibility hard. All the easier to spring the ambush on her prey. Once she slipped inside the tub and hid almost entirely underwater, Ranma would never know she was there, at least until it was too late to do anything about it. The thought of having Ranma alone in the confines of the bath was just too alluring to give up. The only thing Shampoo feared at that point was that the two of them would make too much noise once things got started.
Shampoo hid under the water when she heard the door open. The steam in the room would make it difficult to spot her until Ranma was right on top of her, and then, of course, it would be too late. After several moments, she saw his form come into her line of sight through the water and place one foot into the tub. Then she made her move.
Kasumi smiled as she thought of how gracious Ranma was. He didn’t have to let her use the bath first, but he was being generous and insisted she could have the water that was already there since she had planned to go shopping for groceries in a little while. She slid open the door and closed it behind her. It was going to be great to just relax in the warm water. She already had a feel for it, as heated as the room was. There was a great deal of steam from the running water already, making it practically like a sauna. Perhaps she could go to a hot spring resort sometime. She had been to one before and enjoyed it immensely. It wouldn’t do to go alone; perhaps Shampoo and the others would want to go along. Sort of a small vacation.
Her thoughts were interrupted as she placed one foot in the bath.
“Aiyah!” Shampoo cried out as she jumped out of the water and tackled the figure in an inescapable glomp, burying her head between Ranma’s breasts and rubbing her head up and…
Ranma’s breasts? After he had stepped into the warm water? That wasn’t right. Shampoo detached herself to look into the eyes of one very surprised Kasumi.
Kasumi’s surprise lasted only a moment as she realized it was only Shampoo that had attached herself to her chest. “Ummm, Shampoo. Is this some unusual Chinese custom for greeting people in baths?”
Shampoo quickly darted away to the far end of the tub in embarrassment. “I just happy to see you,” she said as she quickly recovered, wondering what had gone wrong and how she had missed Ranma.
Rather than stay and continue to feel embarrassed around Kasumi, Shampoo started to leave. It was a surprise when she felt Kasumi’s hand upon her shoulder. “You don’t have to go. I don’t mind sharing the bath.”
Shampoo couldn’t come up with anything that sounded remotely like a plausible excuse for leaving. Besides, she wasn’t awkward with sharing a bath with a woman. She agreed to stay as each girl moved to opposite sides of the tub, enjoying the luxurious soak.
“Did you know Dr. Tofu is finally dating?” Kasumi asked.
“No.” Kasumi was keeping tabs on the good doctor? That brought forth an unusual feeling in Shampoo.
“His mother set it up,” Kasumi informed her. “She’s the winner of the All-Japan Pelvic Contest. And she’s coming out with a music record soon.”
“Are you sorry you and he aren’t…” Shampoo trailed off.
“Oh, no!” Kasumi shook her head vigorously. “I’m just glad for him. He’s really a nice man, and I think he’s pretty happy now.”
“Oh,” Shampoo sounded satisfied with the answer, and then changed the subject. “What you thinking about serving tonight?”
“I hadn’t decided yet,” Kasumi shrugged. “Did you want to make something special?”
“I was thinking of a special seasoned Peking-style duck for dinner.” A smile formed as she recalled the last time she had it, when she still lived in the village It had been far too long since she last ate it. “There a secret family recipe in making it. I show you how to use it.”
“You don’t have to do that,” Kasumi said as she shook her head. “It wouldn’t be a family secret if you told me.”
“You’re closer to me than any of my real family ever was.”
Kasumi blushed at the compliment. No one had ever told her anything like that before. “Thank you.”
“You is welcome.” Shampoo’s face scrunched up a bit. “Have you gotten any CD’s for that player that Extor—“ she stopped as she corrected ‘extortionist girl’ to, “—Nabiki got for you?” It had been a surprise when Shampoo heard that Nabiki had spontaneously purchased a gift for another human being and had no ulterior motive. Still, if there was anyone that you couldn’t have an ulterior motive with, it was Kasumi.
“No. I really don’t have the time to listen to such things.”
That was as close to a lie as Shampoo had ever heard from the eldest Tendo. Kasumi had no doubt told that to herself to convince her that she didn’t want to get it. It was a portable player that she could listen to while she did things around the house. That was one of the reasons Nabiki had gotten in the first place, so she could use it while she did housework. If there was any one flaw with Kasumi, it was that she was selfless to a fault. “What sort of music you like?”
It wasn’t a surprise when Kasumi ran off a list of easy listening tunes. It would have been difficult to believe acid rock was Kasumi’s style, but one never knew. Shampoo made a mental note of some of the titles her friend ran off. There was some money the Amazon had squirreled away for emergency use, and even though it wasn’t an emergency, it would be money well spent. She could pick up a few of them when they went shopping later on.
“Thanks again for ‘Birdy’. He’s wonderful.” Kasumi really did love her pet pterodactyl, even if Nabiki didn’t care for the name, or the animal. Kasumi hadn’t had a pet since she was a little girl, and she had to get rid of it when it turned out Nabiki had an allergy to hamsters. Fortunately she hadn’t developed an allergy to Birdy.
“I thought you would like him.”
The two relaxed a while longer until the water started to lose its heat. With mutual reluctant sighs they exited the tub, and went to don their robes when Kasumi spotted the head of the sprayer sitting on the floor. “I’ll get it.”
Shampoo spotted it as well. “No need. I closer.” Shampoo went to put it back on its holder.
Kasumi rushed forward to get it rather than letting Shampoo hassle herself with placing it back. She managed to place her hand on the sprayer right before the Amazon did. However, in her rush, she accidentally squeezed the handle on it, causing water to spray on both of them. The water was turned to cold.
Kasumi turned to apologize for accidentally getting Shampoo wet when she realized something else had happened. The Amazon was staring at her. A very male, somewhat annoyed, and totally naked Shampoo-kun. Kasumi quickly blushed at the situation, then inadvertently turned her gaze downward and noticed something else about him.
“Oh, my! That is rather large, isn’t it?”
“Kasumi!” Shampoo-kun blushed rather furiously himself. “You should no look at me that way.”
Before the two of them could take any further action they heard someone speak outside the door and begin to enter. “Hey, Kasumi!” Nabiki opened the door and took two steps into the bathroom. “Ranma wants to know when you’re going to be…“ Her voice trailed off as she fully took in the scene, eyes widening as she saw one very naked sister next to one very naked Shampoo-kun. “…done. Ah… I’ll tell him you’re going to need another twenty minutes. I assume you two will be finished by then.” And with that she turned, exited the bath, and then closed the door behind her, taking enough time to place a nearby ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on it.
The couple that remained in the bath stared at where Nabiki had stood a moment ago, then looked to one another.
Kasumi spoke first. “I wonder why she was behaving so oddly.”
Shampoo-kun shook his head. “I explain what really going on later.”
Shampoo-kun made his way back to the still warm waters of the bath. Kasumi looked at the ground as long as she could, then darted a glance at his form a moment before he changed back. She burned the image of his perfect body into her mind with no small degree of guilt. He was just so damn handsome that she couldn’t help it. If Shampoo-kun caught her staring, she hoped the Amazon would understand.
If Shampoo noticed, she said nothing. All she did was give a sheepish grin as the two of the cleaned up their mess and headed to their rooms to change.
Ranma wasn’t concerned with grabbing a bath any more. He had something else on his mind. Some information had just come his way that Akane had neglected to inform him of upon his return. That omission made him somewhat… upset. With a sure step he went to confront Akane in her room.
Akane heard the knock and told Ranma to enter. All it took was one look at Ranma’s face to know there was a problem. She allowed him to save her the trouble of interrogating him by permitting him to speak first.
“Pop and Mr. Tendo told me something very interesting. Want to know what it is?”
Akane rolled her eyes. The two fathers never failed to screw everything up. “I can’t wait to hear it myself.”
“You were dating someone while I was kidnapped.” He waited to see what response she would give. His belief was it would be outright denial instead of evasiveness. He got the first.
“I don’t believe those two!” she said through gritted teeth. “I was not dating him. We were only training together.”
“That’s what I thought. Who would wanna date you anyway?”
Akane probably would have let that pass if he hadn’t smirked in addition to the insult. But he just had to press his luck. “For your information—“
He cut her off as the other thing she had said caught his ear. “What do you mean by training with him?”
Akane shrugged nonchalantly. “Martial arts training, of course.”
“You mean you have a new trainer?” Ranma appeared totally shocked. “What’s wrong with me?”
Akane wasn’t sure if she should be insulted by his behavior or not. He wasn’t really angry at her for training, just at the idea he had been dumped. “In case you didn’t notice, you weren’t here.”
“You could have waited!” His tone became even more indignant.
“For what? Hell to freeze over?” She was becoming irate with him now. He had been on his best behavior since his return, and Akane appreciated it, but now he was reverting to his old self. “I had no idea when you were coming back. I couldn’t let my training slide just because you took a vacation.”
Ranma was beginning to regret not informing her of exactly what Herb had done. She was taking the whole incident as some sort of holiday away from home when nothing could be further from the truth. Still, she shouldn’t have taken instruction from someone else. “ There isn’t anyone around here that’s as good as me. Now I gotta start retraining you so you don’t get sloppy using the stuff he ‘taught’ you.”
Akane was beginning to regret not informing him of her pit-fighting experience. He was treating her like a novice that didn’t know any better. She had become a very improved martial artist that could be taken seriously now, as Ranma would find out the next time they sparred. “I don’t need retraining, and I’ll show you. After I go for my next session.”
“You’re still going to meet this guy?” He looked at her in surprise. “But I’m back now.”
“Why should I stop just because you’re back?” She couldn’t wait to hear the response.
“Because I’m going to start training you again. You don’t need someone else to do it. He’ll just teach you a bunch of junk you ain’t never gonna use anyway.” Ranma thought for a moment then continued. “Why don’t I go along to meet this ‘trainer’…”
It took a great deal of self control for her not to tell him that she learned as much about martial arts in the few weeks she had with Tarou as she had with Ranma since he first came to Nerima. And that she now had more practical knowledge of fighting than anything Ranma had done with her.
It took Akane a moment to realize it wasn’t going to be possible to train with Tarou and Ranma at the same time. Ranma wouldn’t stand for it and Tarou would most likely be no better. The few times she tried talking about Ranma with him, he would just sneer in open contempt, one of the few things she really disliked about him. So she avoided mentioning Ranma’s name around him altogether. Once Ranma laid eyes upon Tarou the two would fight, and that really was the last thing she wanted to happen. One of them could end up hurt, and given the size of their respective egos, that was probably a foregone conclusion. Some excuse had to be thought of in a hurry. “You can’t go!”
Ranma’s eyebrow shot up. “Why?”
“Because it’s the last session.” Cutting off the training was the only way to keep the two from meeting. Doing that would be painful though. Training with Tarou was a lot better than training with Ranma or his father. He pushed her to excel beyond what the Saotomes ever did. Nonetheless, she had to make a choice between the two, and it wasn’t like she could just give Ranma a cold shoulder in training her. He would never forgive her of that.
“So?” Ranma still didn’t get the message.
Akane sighed. “Since it’s the last one I want to enjoy it without distractions. Like you.”
“And since when did I become a distraction?”
“I know you, Ranma. You’ll pick a fight with him to find out who’s better, and my last session will be ruined. So I’m forbidding you from following me.”
The two argued for a half-hour until she finally got him to promise not to go, tail or follow her in any way shape or form. He could be as bad as Nabiki about getting around promises if he wanted to do something. So it was with a heavy foot that she went to her last training session with Tarou, while Ranma walked off to Ukyou’s.
Mousse had awakened in the earliest hours of the morning. It should have been a simple matter of getting up, to prepare for what he was going to have to do today, but he found himself reluctant to do anything other than stare at the ceiling and think about the future. Was what he was doing right? Perhaps not, but it was necessary. The voyage back from China proved that. Shampoo would never leave Ranma voluntarily. So it fell to Mousse to protect her from the dangers she placed herself in. The dangers of home. The dangers that plagued Ranma. And the most dangerous of all, Saotome himself.
At last he discovered the resolve to set off and face the world. He donned his robes and the wide array of weapons at his disposal. His eyes examined the room as he prepared to set forth. Soon he would be leaving Japan, and all this, behind him. Kodachi had offered him anything and everything he wanted, but there was little in the way of accommodations he desired. His family was never wealthy and his nature was such that he lacked the desire to live in luxury. He did want Shampoo to live that way though. She deserved it.
He would miss the greenhouse. There was a certain peacefulness in tending the oversized garden and all of its denizens. The Ranma Eating Plant was his favorite. Greenery with character, so to speak. It seemed to like him as well, though the thing was the finickiest eater he had ever encountered. It was a wonder it had survived in the wilds at all with the preferences it had.
Of all the things he would miss, he supposed the thing he would long for the most was Kodachi. Despite her faults, she could be a very nice person. She just had a unique perspective of the world, and she had always done right by him. If only it were an ideal world, and Kodachi and Shampoo would get along. Then he would be totally content. But that would never happen. Kodachi wanted Mousse and Mousse wanted Shampoo. No way around it, and there was no way he could have both, like he wanted. No. A choice had to be made, and Shampoo would always win that contest.
He exited his bedroom and promptly tripped over something in the doorway. Both he and it made an audible “wuffs” as each hit the floor. A quick adjustment of the glasses as he got to his feet revealed what it was. “Kodachi?”
Kodachi returned to her feet as well, then bowed before Mousse. “I am prepared, darling.”
Mousse could just make out she was wearing some kind of formal Kimono. “What’s the occasion?”
He had missed something. Kodachi was not enthusiastic about his preparation to challenge Shampoo, and had not taken the discovery well. Had he somehow driven her over the edge, or was she starting to take her own chemicals? “WE’RE not getting married. I”M getting married to Shampoo.”
“Don’t be absurd, darling.” Kodachi would have none of that. “She doesn’t want to marry you and I do. Even if you could beat her, Ranma would never allow you to challenge her. The two of them belong together and you belong with me. Everyone would be happy that way.”
Not everyone. Mousse began to shake in fury as he thought about Saotome and Shampoo together. If he had more time, Mousse would have made Ranma pay for his crimes. But that was not part of the plan. Revenge would just get in the way. Shampoo was all that mattered now.
“No. I’m sorry, Kodachi.” He crouched down and rested his hand on her shoulder. “You’re beautiful and intelligent and… have an unusual view of the world. You will make someone a wonderful wife someday. But not me. Now and forever, my heart belongs to Shampoo.”
As he went to leave, Kodachi sprang up and cut off his avenue of escape. “I hate to say it, but sometimes brother dear is right. You are blind. Allow me to tell you exactly what will happen. You will challenge that purple-haired harridan and lose, no matter the outcome of the fight. I might not be able to tolerate her presence, but I can tell you that she is a willful and stubborn peasant. As difficult as I find it to believe, she does not want you. And if you try to force yourself on her, no good will come of it, and you will both be miserable. Whereas I, on the other hand, love you, and you love me.”
“No,” Mousse shook his head. “I don’t. I do like you, but it’s not love.”
Kodachi grasped his hand in hers. “Yes. You do. I remember that night in Hawaii.”
“You drugged me,” he protested.
“Not like that,” she sadly shook her head. “I have told you what I gave you was a mild aphrodisiac. At the most it would have made you want to hold and kiss me. Not rip off my clothing and take me the way you did. The only reason you would have done that is if you wanted to.”
Mousse shook his head furiously. “N… no. No! It wasn’t like that.”
The Black Rose went from simply grasping his hand to sliding her body next to his. “You did not do something so simple as make love to me,” she whispered in his ear. “You ravaged me, body and soul. If I did not love you before that night, I certainly did after. You say you do not love me, yet you took me and made me yours. It was not Shampoo’s name you called out that night, but mine.
“You are no womanizer. Perhaps you are afraid of what future you might have with me, or perhaps you do not wish to let go of the past. That does not matter. You made me yours because you do desire me. Protest it all you want, but I will never believe it, and neither will you.”
He did believe it, but there wasn’t time to change her mind. “I’m sorry, Kodachi. I have to go.” It was surprisingly difficult, but he managed to ease her body away from him and turned to go. Once again she blocked his path.
“I cannot let you do this,” she said, using all the dignity one of her class could muster.
Mousse recognized the look in her eye. They had spent too much time together for him not to remember it. She was preparing to attack.
She raised a bouquet of trademark black roses from within the confines of her kimono and thrust them where Mousse had been a split second before. He came up with a sword from within his robes and sliced the drugged flowers in half. Rather than follow up, he backed off.
“You really do love me, don’t you Kodi-chan?”
The Black Rose could scarcely believe it; he had called her by that pet name she had tried to get him to use. “Yes.”
“I’m sorry for my ignorance. Let me embrace you.” He held his arms open for her to approach. It was with a sigh she fell into the embrace.
He allowed his left hand to stroke her face. “Forgive me.” And with that he brought out a black bouquet of his own from his sleeve and thrust some of her own knockout gas into her face.
The result was predictable as she passed out in his arms. Even Kodachi was not totally immune to the effects of the paralyzing agent. Gently he placed her in his bed and raised the covers around her. She looked so peaceful, lying there. Still, his course of action was clear. The drug would gain the time he needed to deliver his challenge before Kodachi attempted to interfere again.
Mousse took his time as he headed to the Tendo Dojo. He decided to think of the past. He still remembered the day Shampoo had become his purple-haired goddess. It was when they were six. The two had grown up next door to one another, each living at their parents’ houses. It was only natural that they spent time together as childhood playmates. There were many times one would go to the other’s house and ask the other one to come out and play.
On that important day, Mousse had gotten his hands on some candy from his mother. Both he and Shampoo had terrible sweet tooths. It was only a couple minutes later when he sneaked over to Shampoo’s house and knocked on her window. She quickly answered, saw what he had, and squealed in delight as the two headed out together.
They ran off to their special place in the middle of one of the heavily forested areas near the village. Others would come to the fallen tree next to the small pond, but not many. So the two of them identified it as ‘their’ place. They settled in, sitting down and stuffing their faces on the entire stash of candy. After they were finished Shampoo spoke up.
“<I love you, Mu-Tse.>”
And then leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. She told him goodbye and walked off, leaving him to touch the place where his lips had touched his face. That was a startling new development. He wasn’t even certain of how he felt about her. It took the better part of an hour before he reached his conclusion. He did love her. And so his goddess was born.
The next day, when he met Shampoo, he called out and professed his love for her. Unfortunately it was really a pig he had given his undying love to. Shampoo reacted by kicking him in the mud and shouting out, “<I hate you!>” then ran off. But he knew better. She meant the words she said the day before, not what she said that day.
So he ran into Shampoo the next day and professed his love once more, this time to a statue. She responded by saying, “<Stupid, blind Mu-Tse.>” and just ran off, abandoning him. He tried to tell her he loved her, but he kept doing it to the wrong things. Eventually he decided to skip a day of proclamations since he hadn’t had a chance to play with Shampoo since the day of her own confession, and he missed their fooling around.
He knocked on her window again and waited for her to answer it. She arrived and he asked if she wanted to play.
“<You aren’t going to tell me you love me?>” she asked.
“<Do you want me to?>” He practically jumped up and down in hope.
He shrugged; it could wait another day. So the two of them set off to have some fun. Professing his love to Shampoo went on the back burner for almost a week before he tried doing it again. She reacted by tossing him into a tree and running off. The process repeated itself for months. He would tell her he loved her about once a week and she would react negatively to it in some way.
Then things changed. Shampoo moved to the far side of the village to live with her great grandmother. She wasn’t so far away that he couldn’t visit her, but it wasn’t as easy as slipping away for a few minutes and walking next door to talk to her. He went from visiting her every day to only seeing her three or four times a week.
After that it got even worse. Cologne started training and teaching Shampoo, which took up the majority of her time. When he asked if he could train with her, she just laughed and said it was special Amazon training, and since he was a male he couldn’t learn it. To make matters worse, his own parents began to give him more chores to do, saying he was old enough to help. The times he could see his goddess became fewer and farther apart. He missed her so much he would always shout out he loved her whenever he met her. Each time the result was the same. “<I don’t like you!>” It got to a point where he began to give up hope.
Then his purple-haired goddess saved him. He hadn’t bothered to learn any martial arts like so many of his peers had. There didn’t seem to be much point with his vision as poor as it was. He would never be much good at it, or so he thought. With his sight as bad as it was many of the children picked on him for it. Then, when he was nine, three kids that were a little older started tormenting him on a regular basis. They made fun of his vision, not that it bothered him since most people had done it all his life. But there came a day they insulted Shampoo. They had gone too far. No one could insult Shampoo in his presence and get away with it.
He tried to fight them, force them to take back what they said. He would be the hero who would save Shampoo’s honor and drag those villains through the mud. It didn’t happen the way he dreamed, though. The trio was stronger, and each was far better than him. His glasses were knocked from his face early on and moments later they had him on the ground and started to beat on him. Hard. He probably would have sustained serious injuries if the trio hadn’t stopped. One moment they were kicking him around on the ground then they halted. Mousse couldn’t tell why they had, but the sounds of fighting continued even after the blows stopped raining on him. The sounds of fighting became cries of agony, then changed to the sounds of running feet.
Pain made it difficult for him to move, but he tried. He felt hands help turn him over so he could make out some purple before his face. The Goddess had rescued him. He reached out and felt what he thought were tears streaming down that face. “<Are you crying?>”
“<Don’t be stupid! It’s just sweat!>” Shampoo shot back, but he knew better. Her voice carried no anger, and caught when she had answered him. She did care for him. She still loved him.
She helped him to is feet and practically had to drag him as they made their way back to his home. “<How do you feel?>” she asked.
“<I feel wonderful. I always feel wonderful when you’re around.>”
Surprisingly, she didn’t reproach him for his words, just his actions. “<Stupid Mu-Tse! What were you doing fighting those guys? You know they’re all better than you.>
Mousse smiled once again. Every time she spoke it let him know she cared. “<They insulted you. I couldn’t let them besmirch you honor.>”
“<You’re as stupid as you are blind.>” She may have been chastising him, but her words carried none of the force that was usually in them. “<I can defend my own honor.>”
He didn’t want her to have to do that. He could do it. He wanted to be the one that could rescue her from danger just like she had to him. “<Don’t worry. I’m going to train hard and become so strong you’ll never have to protect me again.>”
“<Whatever, Mu-Tse,>” she answered in a tired voice.
“<I mean it! In fact, I’ll get so good I’ll protect you. You won’t ever have to worry about anyone endangering you again.>”
“<I don’t worry about it now,>” she scoffed.
Mousse didn’t want to leave it at that, he had to tell her. “<You’ll see. You’ll respect me. Then we can—>“
“<If all you’re going to do is talk, I’m going to leave you here!>”
Mousse judged Shampoo probably had had enough and let it drop. He only thanked her once more, and then allowed himself to be taken home. His parents determined there wasn’t anything wrong that a few days of bed rest wouldn’t fix. About two days later he overheard his parents talk about Shampoo getting into trouble for really beating up three kids. That brought a smile to his lips; she really did care despite her protests, just as he always knew.
While he was resting, he discussed training with his parents. Due to his vision problem, they elected to allow him to train with an eccentric martial artist named Master Hace, whose odd fighting style might overcome Mousse’s deficiency. Hace was a Japanese male that lived in a nearby village. Mousse was more than a little afraid, as much for the fact it would mean he’s be away from Shampoo for even longer periods of time as well as having never done anything like train before in his life. However, he remembered the vow he made to Shampoo and steeled himself for what awaited him.
Master Hace had been informed of the arrangement and said he wanted to meet Mousse for himself. Upon arriving he looked Mousse over for about a minute and nodded his head. He told Mousse’s parents the boy was on probation and that he would need Mousse exclusively at his home. He would allow Mousse to return to the village when he was ready to let him go. The parents agreed (a little too readily for Mousse’s taste) and allowed Mousse to live with his new master. Master Hace told him the training would be unusual and not to ask any questions. He then promptly told Mousse to get a bucket and bring water from a well.
That was the beginning of the odd regimen that followed. Master Hace didn’t teach Mousse any martial arts. He simply made him do chores. For three weeks he lived life as a servant, waiting hand and foot for Master Lee until he could take it no more.
“When are you going to teach me some martial arts?!” He used the Japanese Master Hace had forced him to learn. Mousse had gotten pretty good at it since his mentor would not answer him unless he asked properly.
Master Hace gave him a broad grin and announced the true training could now begin now that he’d asked the question. That really angered Mousse, and he demanded just what Master Hace meant by that. The old man explained that it was to test the desire of a pupil by forcing him to do manual labor until his patience wore off and he asked the question that he was not supposed to ask. The longer the pupil would wait, the more desire he had. The minimum waiting period was one week. Mousse had surpassed that and shown the master just how much resolve he possessed.
The next two weeks were spent informing Mousse how to use the secrets of the hidden weapon. It was complex variety of techniques that enabled one to contain more mass than was supposed to be possible in a given amount of space, the equivalent of using a one-gallon container to hold two gallons of water. Getting around the physical laws of the universe was no easy task, and Mousse didn’t so much understand what he was doing as opposed to following the techniques he was taught. Master Hace told him not to try to understand it. With understanding came a loss of the ability to use the technique. So Mousse remained ignorant while learning the style of martial arts.
Mousse was eager to learn everything he could, and went home only about twice a week. Every time he went home he would be certain to visit Shampoo and let her know he still loved her, for which she would call him stupid, blind, or just ignore him in general. It really did break his heart to know she was so angry with him being absent for so long, but it was the only way he could learn. If Shampoo had been around he would never have been able to concentrate and learn how to master the hidden weapon. There was one almost bright moment. When he first showed off his new techniques to Shampoo, she sounded impressed. Unfortunately, he was so excited by her reaction that when he threw another set of his chains one went wild and accidentally severed a tree branch, which fell on Shampoo’s head and stunned her. As she recovered she looked at him in surprise, then hate, cursing him for trying to beat her and marry her, never mind the fact she was too young and he hadn’t challenged her. She reasserted her superiority by bashing him in the head and saying she never wanted to see him again.
Common sense overrode instinct as he elected to avoid her for close to a month after the incident, hoping she would have cooled off. It worked reasonably well, she tolerated his presence without much complaint and they got along fairly well. After a little over a year of training with Master Hace, Mousse started to get an understanding for chi attacks. His mentor had tried to teach him it for over a month. On more than one occasion Mousse almost gave up ever learning the Soaring Eagle Strike, but Master Hace would encourage him, constantly praising him that he was the best student he ever had. Mousse was confident he had almost mastered the technique when his mentor died. His heart broke when that happened. The man had been like a second father.
Mousse moved back to the village a new man. The next time he was picked on, he defended himself with ease. Soon everyone knew of his newly gained abilities in full. His relationship with Shampoo remained the same for some time after that, though she did go out of her way to be nice to him when she saw how depressed he was over Master Hace’s death.
It was about a year later when he started hearing things. Troublesome things. Some of the youths in the village started commenting on Shampoo, talking about how cute she was and how they wouldn’t mind dating her. Mousse would have none of that. It only took a few weeks for him to convince almost all of the would-be suitors they’d be better off pursuing other girls. Occasionally some would try to be sneaky and see her behind his back, but he would always smell them out and use a little more persuasion to get them to see the error of their ways. Sure, some of them claimed they just wanted to talk to her, but he knew what they really meant, and he would have none of that. It was his and Shampoo’s fate to be together. He just had to wait a few more years until she was old enough and came to realize that.
It was peculiar, she didn’t seem to see things the way he did. After a while he became certain he knew what part of the problem was, Cologne. The old bag never liked him and was no doubt poisoning Shampoo’s mind against him. Another obstacle to overcome, but he would never lose hope. He would hear those words pass from her lips once again.
“<I love you.>”
It would just take time. When she turned fifteen, the age when females were considered ‘eligible’ for marriage, he offered his first formal challenge to her, which she accepted. He really did want to try hard, but somehow he just couldn’t bring himself to go all out. He lost to her fairly easily. In truth, he really wanted her to say she loved him and forgo the fight altogether, it would look bad for her to marry without him defeating her at least once to prove his merit, but it would be worth it since they would have each other. Any time he attempted to talk her into possibly throwing a fight she would strike him rather hard and call him stupid, using more ice in her tone then usual. He didn’t know what to do. Then an idea came to him.
Shampoo was at least as skilled as him in hand-to-hand, maybe even better, but his speed and agility were greater than hers. He had to try to best her on a ground where his greater dexterity would come into play. Jusenkyou. The problem with getting her to fight there was that Cologne would figure out what he was doing and try to get Shampoo to choose a different battleground. So Mousse waited until the old ghoul left for several days, and then sent a challenge letter to Shampoo. That turned out to be a mistake as well.
But now things were different. He had to save Shampoo. Her life was in mortal danger, thanks to Ranma twisting her around his finger. Her badly kept secret was going to be discovered by an Amazon eventually. Cologne and Perfume both knew where she was and it was only a matter of time before she would be captured and put to death. Shampoo had to leave, and if she wouldn’t do it voluntarily, Mousse would make her do it. And if he made her his wife in the process, it was all the better.
Sayuri and Malia continued staring at the handsome man that had caught their eye. It wasn’t too difficult since he was a handsome fellow that would attract every woman’s eye. A fact they had noticed as more than one woman paused to stare at him. What he was doing in the department store was a mystery since he didn’t seem to be shopping.
“He’s dreamy,” Sayuri sighed. “I’d love to get to know him better.”
“He’s got to be a better man than that twit, Daisuke,” Malia agreed. “He’s no Ranma, though. All men suffer compared to that handsome piece of work.”
“Actually,” A voice piped up behind them. “He is a Ranma. Though I do find the idea that there’s someone that puts my husband’s looks to shame interesting.”
The girl turned around, flush with embarrassment. They saw the speaker was a beautiful girl no older than the two of them. At least the girl didn’t seem angry at the duo’s commentary.
“Sorry,” Sayuri said while bowing, then noticed her partner just smiling sheepishly. Sayuri grabbed her by the back of the head and forced Malia to bow as well. “We’re both sorry for saying such things about your husband.”
Kaori gave a dismissive gesture and smiled warmly. “If I had a ten yen piece for every time someone said that about him, my family fortune would be double what it is today. In other words, you have nothing to apologize about. Good day.” And with that she left the duo and walked over to her husband, Ranma.
As the schoolgirls turned to leave they heard one of the salespeople shout out to “Mrs. Saotome.” The name sparked the girls’ curiosity and they turned to see who the lady was. It was a shock to see the salesperson hand a receipt to the girl they had just spoken to, the girl who said that Ranma was her husband. The pair looked at one another, then turned to leave. Akane just had to hear that little tidbit of information.
Nabiki now understood why her father always seemed to smoke a cigarette when he became concerned about family matters, those that didn’t involve crying anyway. She really had the urge to light one up and puff away, assuming she smoked, which she didn’t. Not much point in paying for lung cancer, as she saw it.
Nabiki paused to look over at the pterodactyl in its cage.
“What kind of a name is ‘Birdy’ anyway? ‘Ugly’s’ more like it.”
Judging by the glare she received, Nabiki wondered once again if the creature understood her. That was absurd, of course. Birdy had a brain the size of a peanut.
At least Kasumi had fed her new “pet” before she left. There were very few things that could unnerve the middle Tendo, but that vicious little predator was one of them. When Kasumi first received it from Shampoo she had taken an instant liking to the creature, going on about how cute it was, as though anything with that kind of ugly mug could be considered pretty. Kasumi immediately fed it strips of raw meat, the little creature snapping them down like there was no tomorrow, much to her sister’s delight. From that moment on, the little bugger bonded to its new owner. Nabiki had briefly mentioned they could probably sell the little thing for a ton of money, but the horrified reaction Kasumi gave made it fairly certain her older sister would sooner sell HER for money than the new pet. The creature absolutely adored Kasumi, and seemed to behave itself around everyone but Nabiki. She even tried feeding it once, but the little dinosaur just stared at her with those almost intelligent eyes. If she didn’t know any better, she would have sworn it resented her for trying to sell it. Ranma had made some crack about how it sensed she was a fellow predator and probably resented her close proximity.
Nabiki closed her eyes and listened to the telltale footsteps of someone approaching. Opening her eyes revealed Shampoo just entering the room, alone as Nabiki had asked. Nabiki had flagged her down and asked to speak with her, woman to woman, before she went shopping with Kasumi. The request was simple, except for the fact she wanted the discussion in private, meaning she should let Kasumi go on ahead and catch up to her later.
Shampoo sat across from Nabiki with an expectant expression. It was a relief from the usual glare Nabiki received from the Amazon, not that it was unjustified. Nabiki would be the first to admit she used Shampoo, but the Amazon had to earn her keep some way. Some cash was made off Ranma, but Genma was nothing more than a money pit. Oh, but Shampoo was the real moneymaker here. Nabiki’s net worth had gone up ten times with the arrival of the Amazon. The calendar escapade was the best scheme yet. She had sold almost two copies to every student at Furinkan, and once word got around a lot of students from other schools joined in the sales. Making out like a bandit always gave Nabiki a smile on her face.
The matter at hand was something else altogether. This was family, which meant money took a backseat to it until some more information was obtained, and Shampoo was just the one to supply it to her. Not only that, but Nabiki was the only one that could realistically deal with the matter. Her father would probably go into crying mode and Akane would go ballistic. No, Nabiki was the only one that could be relied upon to deal with what had to be discussed.
“Shampoo,” Nabiki began. “I need to know something, and I want nothing but the truth.”
Nabiki was relieved to note Shampoo had a serious expression on her face. Good. It wouldn’t do to have a cavalier attitude about what she was going to ask. “Shampoo. What exactly are your intentions with my sister?”
Shampoo gave a soft exhale of breath before explaining. “We is not having an affair. We is just good friends.”
Nabiki examined her face closely. Shampoo was better at hiding things than the middle Tendo would have guessed. She could be engaged in such an action now. It was time to switch tactics slightly. “Look, I try to keep an open mind, and regardless of what you might think of me, I am concerned about my sister’s welfare. If the two of you are doing something, or do something in the future, I personally don’t have a problem with it.”
Shampoo looked more than a little startled at that particular revelation. “You don’t?!”
“Nope,” Nabiki said. “Kasumi’s been a lot happier than I’ve seen her in a long time, and you have a lot to do with it. She used to be a lot more…” she paused for a moment, searching for the right word. “…out there, but she’s a lot more aware now. There are still moments, like that incredibly stupid name for her new pet, but overall she’s a lot better. And it all started when she got that temporary engagement to you.”
“We didn’t do anything when we was engaged,” Shampoo tried to explain, but Nabiki staved her off by holding up a hand.
“I know. That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m trying to tell you is that you’ve been good for her, and I noticed you care for her as well.” Nabiki watched with an amused grin as Shampoo turned a bit red. “I know you wouldn’t do anything to hurt her. Not intentionally, anyway. That’s not what I’m worried about. It’s how everyone else would react if you two decided to become… closer.”
The way Nabiki said that word left no doubt to what she meant. “We is not that close.”
“Not yet,” Nabiki supplied. “But you have gotten a lot closer since you first arrived, and let’s face facts. If anyone other than me caught that little scene in the bathroom, you’d be either dead or married.” Actually, Ranma may have kept his mouth shut, but anyone else would have gone through the roof.
“I not that type of girl,” Shampoo realized there wasn’t the kind of force behind the statement that would have been there a couple months ago.
“Which is why you were standing at attention?”
It took Shampoo a moment to understand the insinuation. “That just a normal reflex when I a boy-type. I was not planning on doing anything with Kasumi.”
Nabiki watched her turn a brighter shade of red. “I’m sure it is, and I’m sure you weren’t. I’m not trying to cast judgment on you or tell you what you should do. All I’m saying is you have to be cautious in your relationship with her. If you aren’t careful, there may end up being a lot of hard feelings for all involved. And I don’t want to see anyone hurt.”
Shampoo let the statement settle in then nodded her head in understanding. “If our relationship changes, I’ll be careful.”
“Good. And if anything should happen, and I’m not implying anything should happen,” Nabiki quickly added, “you can come to me for help. Free of charge.”
That was as close as generosity came with Nabiki. In Shampoo’s eyes, the girl now stood a bit higher than she had.
Shampoo got up to leave when Nabiki caught her attention once more. “One other thing.”
“Yes?” Shampoo asked.
“Have you ever considered doing nudes? As a guy I mean. We can make a fortune and I’ll give you thirty percent.” Nabiki looked on in hope.
“No!” Shampoo shook her head. Some things never changed.
Ukyou continued cooking at her grill. Something was up with Ryouga. He had asked for the day off and was sitting nervously at one of the tables. Now that Ukyou thought about it, he had been acting strange since his return. After what he went through, that really wasn’t a surprise. When he had finished telling her everything that happened, he swore her to secrecy. Apparently Ranma and Shampoo had decided not to mention what had happened to the others for fear of worrying them. Ukyou was more than a little flattered that Ryouga did tell her the truth. On the other hand, Ryouga’s nervousness was starting to put Ukyou on edge. It was almost as though he was waiting for something, or someone.
It turned out to be someone as Kyoko burst through the entryway to Uk-Chan’s and jumped all over Ryouga. The chef had to suppress the urge to throw a dozen mini spatulas in the couple’s direction.
Ryouga pried off Kyoko and began to stutter nervously. “K… Kyoko, there’s something I want to ask you.”
“Yes,” she said as she looked at him expectantly.
“W… would you like to g… go out on a d… d… d…”
“Dental appointment?” she asked innocently.
“D… d… d…”
“Dumpster tipping spree?”
“D… d… d…”
“Danish fishing expedition?”
A head popped out from one of the tables. “DATE!!! DATE!!! DATE YOU AIRHEADED BIMBO! HOW THE HELL DID YOU COME UP WITH DANISH FISHING EXPEDITION?!!!”
“Tsubasa!” Ryouga growled menacingly as he cracked his knuckles. “How dare you impersonate one of Ukyou’s tables!” And with that he grabbed Tsubasa-table and punched him outside and far away.
“I’ll get you for that one Hibikiiii!” he shouted as he trailed off into the distance.
Kyoko took no notice of any of those unimportant events. Her ears were for one word only. “Date, Ryouga-kun? Were you trying to say date?”
Ryouga’s anger turned to bashfulness as he put his hand behind his head and laughed nervously. “Yes. I guess I was.”
“I accept!” She hurled herself at Ryouga, spun him around a few times, then grabbed his arm and dragged the embarrassed boy out into the street.
Ukyou just stared at the doorway. Ryouga had just asked Kyoko on an actual date. He had even almost gotten the words out on his own. All that was left in her mind was one burning question.
Time lost all meaning, which was why she was unaware of how long it was between Ryouga’s departure and Ranma’s arrival. The only reason she even realized he entered was that he had shouted out that there was a fire. Ukyou snapped out of her reverie to see the burning okonomiyaki on her grill. It was the first one she had burned in years, yet for some reason it just didn’t matter.
Ranma saw her lack of a reaction and acted by leaping over the grill and using the extinguisher behind it. Once the fire was out he turned to his friend. “What’s wrong? You could have burned up or something.”
She didn’t answer. Even Ranma took notice of her rapidly changing demeanor. She was getting worse by the minute. “Ucchan, tell me what’s wrong.”
“Oh, Ranma,” she sobbed out. “He’s left me.” With that she began crying on a bewildered Ranma’s shoulder, not stopping for some time.
Kyan “Bonecrusher” Hokuto knocked out his fifth sparring partner in as many rounds. They were all soft nowadays. None of them could withstand his raging fists. Soon, he would be ready to take on the name of the toughest fighter in the world. All would bow in awe of his incomprehensible power. He was the roughest, toughest, meanest man in the world. No one could stop him. No one.
“Everybody out!” Tarou shouted to all the occupants in the gym. Bonecrusher was the first one out the door. Some people, one just did not mess with.
Tarou arrived at the gym at his usual time and chased out all the other occupants like he always did. They always seemed to lose track of time. As he warmed up next to one of the mirrors, he checked himself out. He looked as irresistible as always in his standard outfit, minus one bracer. How Akane could resist his charms was beyond him. He could tell he was every girl’s dream and every man’s nightmare. Too intimidating for any man to face. Too classy and good looking for any gal to stay away from. Any gal, save the object of his affections. Maybe today he would break through that hard wall she erected around herself and be allowed inside.
She had been weakening. Of that he was certain. It was taking time, but the goal was worth it on two fronts. One was the obvious reward of Akane herself, and the other was humiliating the Fem-Boy. If only he could win Akane before the hermaphrodite’s return, then everything would be perfect.
Akane showed up on time, as usual. It only took a moment to notice there was something different about her. She was usually enthusiastic and happy about training with him, but today there was a different expression upon her face. It was the look of depression.
“What’s wrong?” This was cause for concern. His plans weren’t so perfect that they could take a major disruption.
“I have something to tell you.”
The tone in her voice made Tarou realize just how serious she was being. Something major was up. “What is it?”
She collected her nerves and spoke. “This is going to be our last session. I’m sorry.”
That was a total shock. He knew damn well he hadn’t done anything to get that sort of reaction from her. The only cause he could think of was if she had found out about his name and was humiliated by it. He gathered his own nerves and asked. “Why?”
“It’s kind of hard to explain.” She hoped he would drop the line of questions, but she knew better.
“Do it anyway.”
The attitude he had left no room to argue. So she elected to tell him the truth. “Ranma’s back. I’m going to train with him, and won’t have time to train with you.” The sudden glare Tarou had told Akane everything she needed to know.
“I’m better than Fem-Boy. We both know that. Why don’t I have a little match with him over who gets to train you?” He began to crack his knuckles. Beating Ranma within an inch of his life was just the way Tarou wanted to greet his rival for his return. It was certainly what Ranma deserved, as far as Tarou was concerned.
“Forget it!” Akane told him in a tone that was not going to accept any excuses. “I make my own decisions about who trains me. I will not be fought over like a piece of meat. Do you understand?”
He gave a reluctant nod. He knew enough about fights to realize he wasn’t going to win this test of wills and not lose the war. Besides, he could figure out something else concerning Ranma and Akane. There was an old saying among the Chinese. “The man with two broken arms and legs makes for a poor trainer.” Well, there wasn’t really a saying like that until he made it up just now, but it certainly was good advice that he would act upon.
Akane smiled at his surrender. Dealing with him was so much easier than dealing with Ranma. “We still have today. Why don’t we pull out all the stops?”
Tarou smiled back. Within certain limits, what Akane wanted, Akane got. And if she wanted a rough and tumble session, she was going to get it. He would show her just whom she should be training with. And doing everything else with as well.
Shampoo left the house in search of Kasumi. The eldest Tendo girl had told the purple-haired Amazon she would be at the market, waiting for her. Shampoo was in such a hurry she failed to notice the two red-rimmed eyes that tracked her progress as she ran through Nerima, waiting for the opportunity to strike. It didn’t have to wait long.
Just as Shampoo passed by one of the stone walls surrounding someone’s estate, it erupted in a storm of debris as the stone shattered from an impact. The body of the creature that destroyed the wall had driven through it with ease. Reflexes took over as Shampoo barely got out of the way of the huge animal that tried to run her over. She moved away from the wall to see the huge creature turn from its charge and come after Shampoo once more. Now that she had an opportunity she got a clear look at the creature she had some idea of what it was. It was a huge hog-like animal that looked like a really hairy and really big pig. The creature once again tried to run down Shampoo, but this time she was prepared as she nimbly dodged out of the way of the attack. Once again the huge boar-like creature turned and ran towards her. This time Shampoo went on the counter attack. As the big pig attempted another trample Shampoo moved to the side and lashed out with her foot. Hoping to trip the creature up. It didn’t work as the creature unexpectedly sidestepped the attack, and with an agility that had to be seen to be believed, turned around, and nailed Shampoo in the stomach.
The purple haired one flew backwards into the chain link fence that sealed off the small canal that ran through Nerima. She quickly jumped on top of the fence and tried to stay out of the creature’s reach to buy time to recover. Unfortunately the plan backfired as the creature rammed the fence with its body, the mass striking with enough force to cause the entire section, as well as Shampoo, to topple into the water. Despite being stunned, the newly transformed Shampoo-kun managed to stay above the surface of the water and float down the stream.
The pig-like creature watched Shampoo-kun’s form drift downstream. The flow of the current was too fast for it to catch up and it was afraid it might not be able to swim. It departed, fuming that it didn’t gain its revenge.
The little old lady splashed Ranma with some water. The redhead didn’t even take notice. Ranma-chan was more than a little depressed over the days' events. Poor Ukyou. Ranma-chan had no idea that she had it so bad for Ryouga. It took hours for her to relax Ukyou, and then make sure she wouldn’t cry anymore. True, she may not have approved of the match up, but if it made Ukyou happy, who was she to criticize? Now she was going to have to have a long talk with the lost one and get him to ask Ukyou out. Of course, knowing how dense Ryouga was, she was probably going to have to beat some sense into him. Kyoko seemed all right, but there was no way she could compare with the okonomiyaki chef. Ryouga could be made to see the light. One way or another.
Then there was also Akane to consider, her and that little ‘trainer’ she was working out with. It was beyond his understanding how she thought some mere black belt could compare to him. Ranma-chan was the best. She was the only one Akane should even want to train with, even if they weren’t engaged. And why was she so desperate to continue training with the mystery man? Could it be there was something else going on besides the training?
She disregarded that idea. There was no way anyone would want to date the uncute tomboy. And there was the fact she wouldn’t be able to hide something like that from her. Still, it would probably be a good idea to find out just who it was Akane was meeting and have a little discussion about the trainer’s future with Akane.
Ranma-chan just made her way up the path to the house when she saw Akane come up behind her. The redhead’s greeting was met by a simple hello as Akane looked to the ground. That was strange; Akane always looked people in the eye when she talked with them. Ranma-chan attempted to get closer when she noticed Akane moved her face away so she couldn’t see it.
“What’re you hiding?” Ranma-chan asked.
“Nothing!” She responded too quickly and turned away from Ranma-chan’s second attempt to get a good look at her face.
Her evasions were all for nothing. Ranma-chan was too quick and Akane turned right when she should have turned left. Her fiancé got a good look at her face.
“What the heck?” She saw the big black eye Akane was now sporting. “What happened?”
Akane knew this reaction was the one she was going to get. “It was an accident. I got hit while sparring.”
“I’ll kill that jerk!” Ranma-chan said through gritted teeth as she balled her fist up, envisioning what she was going to do when she got her hands on the trainer.
“Oh, stop acting like a big baby.” The offhand manner in which Akane said that caught Ranma-chan’s attention.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It’s a black eye. Big deal.” She waved dismissively at her fiancé. “I’ve had lots of worse stuff.”
Ranma-chan shook her head, both at what Akane was saying, and the way she was saying it. “You aren’t supposed to get hurt like that when you spar!”
“It happens all the time when you go full contact.”
Ranma-chan shook her head in disbelief this time. “Why are you going full contact in sparring sessions? You could end up getting hurt.”
“Like getting a black eye?” she said, pointing to her example. “Look, Ranma. It just so happens I prefer full contact training sessions. It really gives me a chance to use what I’ve learned, and makes sure I can use it correctly when it’s need it. That’s something you never did with me, I might add.”
“I don’t hit girls.” She crossed her arms to emphasize her point.
“And that’s one of the reasons I’m still way behind in my training. Now, I’ve caught up a lot in the last few weeks, but I need to keep training hard if I want to get better.” She wasn’t going to back off now. “So from now on we will have full contact in at least half of our practices.”
“Don’t tell me how I’m going to train you!” Ranma-chan was starting to become annoyed with her attitude, as though Akane knew what was best.
“Fine,” she said as she shrugged her shoulders. “I’ll just keep training with Tarou.”
“So Tarou’s his name, eh?”
Oops. She hadn’t meant to mention his name. Curiously, Ranma-chan didn’t react as angrily as Akane thought she would. Maybe she didn’t dislike Tarou that much. Then again, as she looked into the redhead’s face, Akane saw Ranma-chan wasn’t acting like she was terribly thrilled either.
“I’m going to have to meet this guy. We’ll have a little talk about proper training methods, and why he’s too clumsy to have ever tried to teach you anything.” Ranma-chan gave a smile, and not a warm, caring one either.
“I thought you already did.” Akane found it difficult to believe Ranma-chan forgot her encounter with a youth that could turn into a Yeti riding bull while carrying an eel and crane. One didn’t come across such people all that often.
That caused Ranma-chan to scratch her head. Someone named Tarou she ran in to. No. It didn’t ring any bells. She was still lost in thought when she heard a boy’s voice call out.
“Hey, Akane. I found your bracelet.”
Ranma looked up to see an altogether too-familiar face. The reaction was almost instantaneous. “Get back, Akane! He’s dangerous.”
“You are so right about that,” Tarou snickered. “But only to you. Not to her. Never to her.”
Ranma placed himself between Tarou and Akane. “Get into the house. If this guy gets his hand on some water, it’ll take me a while to beat him up.”
“If I get some water,” Tarou sneered back. “Hell will freeze over before you can take me. By the way, nice to see you’re in that girl form you seem to prefer. Where’s your boyfriend?”
Akane decided that was it. “Oh, enough of all this macho posturing.” She maneuvered in front of Ranma-chan and went to Tarou. “Tarou this is Ranma. Ranma, this is Tarou. Now get along!”
The evil glares they gave one another told the whole story. Akane gave up and took her bracelet from Tarou. Ranma-chan, on the other hand, finally pieced together two errant thoughts in her mind.
“This is the creep you’ve been training with?”
Indignity overrode shame. “Yes. It is.”
Ranma-chan looked on disbelief. “Are you crazy? He’s dangerous! He tried to kidnap Shampoo and ended up beating the hell out of me! Not that I didn’t beat him up worse.”
“He already told me,” Akane explained. “He was manipulated by Cologne. He swore he wasn’t going to do that again.”
Tarou nodded his head in agreement, if not sincerity.
“And what about the second time he tried to stomp me into paste?” Ranma-chan was getting more and more irritated at Akane’s defense. Tarou was totally in the wrong and Ranma-chan was looking like the bad guy.
“You nearly killed me, you idiot!” Tarou shouted. “I almost got run over by a train!”
“Too bad it wasn’t a little faster,” Ranma-chan responded drolly
Akane’s temper began to flare. “You could have killed him, Ranma. I nearly got run over getting him off the tracks.”
“You risked your life for this guy?” The whole conversation was getting worse and worse.
“I wasn’t going to let him die.” Akane tried harnessing her anger, like Tarou taught her. “All of this is one big misunderstanding that’s all in the past. Now why don’t you two get along?”
“NO!!!” rang out from both of them.
Akane was about to plead her case some more when a small, red gi clad figure attached itself to Ranma-chan’s breasts.
“SWEETO!!! I forgot how much I missed you Ranma.” Happosai effectively resisted the attempts to pry him off of his favorite pair of breasts. “Did you miss me?”
“Yeah! Like a bad case of pneumonia! Get off me, you disgusting creature!”
Unrealized by the others, Tarou began to shake. Happosai had reappeared for the first time in weeks, which would have been a good thing at any time other than now. If the old master spotted him and called out his name it was all over. Biting down his rage, Tarou turned to quietly leave.
Too late. Happosai spotted the familiar figure. “Pantyhose? Is that you?”
Pantyhose Tarou froze, it was all over now.
“It is you. How are you doing, my boy?” Happosai called from his position between Ranma-chan’s breasts.
“Pantyhose?” The redhead stopped trying to remove Happosai momentarily. “Why’d you call him that?”
“Because that’s his name. Gave it to him myself, when I baptized the little bugger.” Happosai paused in memory of one of his proudest moments.
Ranma-chan did what came naturally and started giggling. “Pantyhose? His name’s Pantyhose Tarou? HAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!”
Happosai stared indignantly at Ranma-chan. “Hey, now! Pantyhose is a good strong name, full of character. Besides, Lederhosen sounds too ethnic.”
Ranma-chan continued laughing pointing at Tarou and shouting out, “Pantyhose. Your name is Pantyhose! HAHAHA! And what’s your middle name? G-String?”
That brought out another burst of laughter from Ranma-chan as Happosai chided himself for not using that as Tarou’s middle name.
Tarou finally overcame the realization that his secret was out. Akane was going to mock him the rest of his life, and it was all Happosai’s fault. “DIE, YOU OLD FOSSIL!!!”
Happosai detached himself from Ranma-chan’s chest long enough to burn Tarou’s attempted punch with his pipe, then punched the youth far away. “You should learn to respect your elders, you little ingrate!” Happosai shouted at the rapidly dwindling form.
The kick Ranma-chan applied to the distracted Happosai sent him off in the opposite direction. “It was nice seeing you again, Master. Thanks for telling me Pantyhose’s name.” She shouted out to his far off form.
Ranma-chan turned around to see Akane staring daggers at him. “What?”
“How dare you mock my friend like that!” A blue aura started to glow around her.
“Oh, come off it,” the redhead said. “The guy’s a jerk and he has a stupid name. After all his Fem-Boy cracks he deserves that, at least.”
“You don’t hear me making fun of Shampoo’s name, do you?” Akane placed her hands on her hips. “I think her name’s stupid too.”
Now Ranma-chan started to get mad. “How dare you compare the two of them?! They aren’t anything alike. Besides, Shampoo said we’re mispronouncing her name. It’s actually Shan—“
Akane cut him off. “That’s not the point! You shouldn’t make fun of his name. It’s not his fault Happosai named him that. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.”
Ranma-chan’s temper began to flare in earnest as well. “Oh. So you got the hots for him, is that it? Looking forward to becoming Mrs. Panties or something?”
The duo turned upon hearing Kasumi clear her throat. “I don’t mean to interrupt your argument, but have either of you seen Shampoo? She was supposed to meet me at the market, but she never showed.”
Both told her no, and then were interrupted by a third visitor to approach the Tendo Dojo. Mousse.
“Here, Shampoo!” And with that he tossed a scroll at Ranma-chan. She snagged it out of mid-air and opened it.
“What does it say?” Akane asked.
Ranma-chan looked her in the eye. “How should I know? I can’t read Chinese any more than the old man can.”
Mousse at last realized the mistake. “Ranma! How dare you impersonate Shampoo!”
“I ain’t impersonating anyone,” she shouted back. “You’re just blind and stupid!”
“What you want, Mousse?” All eyes turned to the new speaker. Shampoo-kun had returned, looking for all the world like a drowned rat. His voice carried none of the pleasant tone it usually did as he scowled at his longtime companion.
“Give me that back!” Mousse ripped the scroll out of Ranma-chan’s hands. “This says everything. I challenge you to a marriage duel!” And with that he threw it to Kasumi.
Shampoo-kun was outraged. “You can no challenge her! She’s no Amazon. And even if she was, I would never let you get near her!” To emphasize the statement Shampoo-kun placed himself between Kasumi and Mousse. Kasumi gave a soft sigh, almost as though she was proud of Shampoo-kun’s display of chivalry.
“Actually, I meant for you to get that. Sorry.” Mousse’s embarrassed look passed as he focused on the goal once again. “Our last fight was interrupted. Now I wish to continue our marriage duel.”
“I won the fight. I punched you very far away. Therefore I win.” Shampoo-kun remained between Mousse and Kasumi.
“Ranma interfered,” Mousse corrected. “Therefore the match ended without a reasonable conclusion.”
“That’s something for the elders to decide. Not you.” Shampoo-kun smirked at his victory.
“I didn’t realize you were afraid of me, Shampoo.” Mousse returned Shampoo-kun’s smirk.
“I’m not afraid of you, you blind idiot.”
“Of course you are,” Mousse continued the verbal assault on her abilities. “Otherwise, why won’t you face me? It can only be because you think you’re going to lose.”
Shampoo-kun looked towards Ranma-chan. As if coming to some decision, Shampoo-kun smiled at her, then sneered at Mousse. “I accept your challenge.”
Mousse started to smile in joy when Shampoo-kun quickly added one other thing. “Only if you swear to me this will be the last time you ever challenge me for my hand in marriage.”
Mousse panicked a bit at that. “You can’t do that.”
“If you want me to answer your challenge without the council’s interpretation, then you have to accept that condition.” He was fairly certain Mousse would never agree.
“All right.” Mousse said calmly. “I accept.”
Shampoo-kun was a little shocked. Both by the fact that Mousse accepted and by how calm he was. Something wasn’t right. Did he have some master plan? Looking at him made Shampoo-kun realize that something was different about Mousse. He exuded a quiet confidence that was lacking in the blind one before. It made him seem dangerous, for lack of a better term.
“Where do you want to fight?” Mousse asked.
Shampoo-kun decided to go for everything. Mousse hadn’t been training with Ranma and couldn’t know exactly how much better Shampoo-kun had gotten. If defeating Mousse was easy before, it would be child’s play now. The blind one simply didn’t know what he was getting into. Ignorance was the reason behind his seeming assuredness. “We fight here. Now.”
Mousse folded his hands into the sleeves of his robes. “Sounds good to me.” He wanted to get it over with as fast as he could. He may not have been looking forward to it, but it had to be done.
Ranma-chan ran over to Shampoo-kun. She had realized things were rapidly spiraling out of control and someone had to slow Shampoo-kun down. There was some quiet confidence about Mousse that was very disturbing. It was almost as though he knew something the others didn’t. That wasn’t mentioning how angry Shampoo-kun appeared. His anger might throw him off and leave an opening for Mousse to get to.
Ranma-chan placed her hand on the Amazon’s shoulder in an effort to get him to relax. “You shouldn’t be rushing into this. Mousse is up to something. Calm down and take a step back.”
Shampoo-kun simply removed the redhead’s hand. “No worry about it, Ranma. I can take care of stupid Mousse in my sleep.”
“I don’t think that’s the right attitude to have.” She tried to steer the Amazon away from the fight again. “Just wait a couple of days and fight then. You can prepare yourself better.”
Shampoo-kun gave Ranma-chan an indignant look. “You no think I can take Mousse?”
“That’s not what I’m saying.”
“Then no worry about it,” Shampoo-kun sounded a little put off. “I need you support, Ranma. Not you doubts.”
The redhead was ready to give up. Shampoo-kun was going to fight no matter what she said. She turned to Akane to see if she could get some moral support, but the youngest Tendo seemed almost eager to watch the fight. An unusual reaction, or so Ranma-chan thought.
The longtime friends backed away from the others and stood about fifteen feet apart. Shampoo-kun appearing wary while Mousse simply looked peaceful, as though he had already won the fight. The effect was unnerving Shampoo-kun, and he cursed himself for it. Mentally he was losing the fight, and somewhere deep inside he realized Mousse didn’t need any advantages. Somehow he had already found one.
Everyone moved as far away from the action as they could, just in case Mousse became a little inaccurate with his weapons.
The two warriors continued staring at one another, neither making a move. Shampoo-kun decided to take the initiative, hoping to close the distance before Mousse began employing range weapons, something Shampoo-kun had no easy counter for. He tensed his legs and prepared to leap to Mousse. He examined the blind warrior with a close eye, preparing for his reaction to Shampoo-kun’s coming attack. So intent was the Amazon that he failed to hear the incoming projectile until it hit him in the back if the neck. His hand went to the sharp pain and pulled out a small blow dart. He turned his attention to the person who fired it. Kodachi Kunou. Shampoo-kun spun in anger towards Mousse, believing the blind one was responsible for the ambush, but the look of naked surprise on his face indicated he was just as shocked by the Black Rose’s entrance as she stood atop the roof of the dojo, looking down at the occupants below. She deftly vaulted down with the grace that was hers to command.
“It’s over,” Kodachi said quietly.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Mousse asked, horrified that he already knew the answer.
“The dart has a very new, and very toxic, poison on the needle.” Kodachi’s attitude had none of the manic glee she usually possessed. Instead, there was a sort of melancholy that surrounded her as she spoke in a matter if fact tone. “I created it myself using some rare Chinese herbs.”
She turned to the Amazon. “Shampoo, you will begin to feel cold in about a minute, as your body starts to feel the poison flow through it. Within three, you will be shivering uncontrollably and begin to lose feeling in your body as your nerves shut down. In about five minutes, your brain will seize up and unconsciousness will follow. No more than a minute after that, you will be dead.”
As the final words left Kodachi’s mouth Ranma-chan was there, faster than the eye could follow and with a snarl of rage on her lips. She grasped Kodachi by the throat and used that as leverage to rip Kodachi off her feet and hurl her viciously to the ground, laying her out prone. There was no restraint in the maneuver as the redhead positioned herself on the Black Rose’s chest while maintaining her stranglehold and increasing the pressure until everyone could hear a strangled gasp come from the pinned girl. Kodachi writhed vainly under Ranma-chan’s grasp. The Black Rose was too weak and Ranma-chan was too enraged to even acknowledge the gymnast’s struggles.
“Kodachi,” Ranma-chan said, using the same matter of fact tone on gymnast had used moments before, as she continued to grasp. “My hands are around your throat and I am choking you to death. You will begin to lose consciousness in about thirty seconds to a minute, as you run out of oxygen. Your vision will go red as you feel your body shut down, trying to recycle the air that’s trapped in your lungs and has no way of escaping. The oxygen in that air will be used up and you will pass out, never to wake up again as you suffer brain damage from oxygen deprivation in about four minutes. About one minute after that, you’ll be dead. Unless you give me the antidote to that poison… now.”
Akane could see that Ranma-chan was keeping the stranglehold on the gymnast’s neck, not letting up for an instant. From where she was she could just make out the Black Rose gurgle as her eyes roll back in her head. Akane had to act immediately.
She tackled Ranma-chan as hard as she could and knocked her off Kodachi’s chest, forcing the grip to be released. As the two got to their feet Akane put herself between the redhead and the fallen gymnast. “Are you crazy, Ranma?! You were going to kill her!”
Ranma-chan tensed up, as though ready to jump through Akane. “If she doesn’t cough up that antidote, I still am. Now get out of my way!”
“She can’t give you the antidote if she’s unconscious,” Akane said, panic starting to make itself known as she looked into eyes that contained nothing of the boy she had grown to know the last few months. All that was there was hate; nothing else remained. What was before her was a stranger that she had never seen before, and never wanted to see again.
“Then I’ll take it from her.” Ranma-chan moved forward, and Akane was uncertain if she was willing to stand in the way of the girl before her.
That decision was taken from her as Kodachi spoke up. “Is this what you seek, Ranma?” She choked out as she staggered forward and held a glass vial before her.
“YES!” As Ranma-chan moved forward to grab it Kodachi pulled another one out of her leotard.
“Or is it this?” She pulled a second vial. “Or this?” She pulled out a third, then a fourth. Each new container was kept between one of her fingers. “All but one are poison. And if you mistakenly give her one of the poisons, the antidote will no longer work. Only I know which is the real one. What do you do now?”
“I’ll…” Ranma-chan was at a loss, uncertain if beating up Kodachi would work in time. She looked over to where Kasumi was nearly fainting with worry. Shampoo-kun was starting to shiver.
“It’s beginning, Ranma.”
There was no mistaking the fear in Shampoo-kun’s eyes. Once again Ranma-chan was helpless as Shampoo-kun was suffering, closer to death than after that first fight with Perfume. There was no way to fight poison. Something had to be done. The mistakes of the past could not be allowed to repeat themselves. Helplessness was not an option.
There was no time for false pride. There was nothing she wouldn’t do to save Shampoo-kun’s life. Ranma-chan began openly pleading with Kodachi. “Please. I’ll do whatever you want. Just give her the antidote.”
At last Mousse snapped out of his disbelief. It had all seemed like it was some horrible nightmare that he believed he would wake up, but he hadn’t. It was real. And Kodachi was responsible.
He ran over to her and began screaming in her face. “GIVE HER THE ANTIDOTE, NOW!!!”
“Oh, Mousse,” Kodachi quietly moaned. “This is all for you.”
“What are you talking about?” He thought he knew the girl he had been living with the last few months, but he hadn’t. Not in the least.
“You don’t understand,” she said, as though reading his thoughts. “I am saving you from a life of misery. Even if you defeat her, neither of you will ever be happy. She will resent you every single moment of the day, and you do care for her. I know that and can accept it now. But she will never love you. Certainly not by force, and probably not by anything else. In the end, when you realize she will never love you, you will know nothing but misery and sorrow. I would save you from that by taking this decision from out of your hands.”
“I don’t want to be saved!” He desperately tried to get through to her, but it was to no avail.
“That’s why it falls to me,” she said sadly. “Even if you don’t love me, I still love you. And that’s why I could never allow you to do this. Far better you hate me and what I do today, than hating yourself for the ruin you would make of your life and hers.”
Mousse turned to see Shampoo-kun shivering uncontrollably. There was no time left, yet he had to come up with something in an instant. His mind raced until it settled upon one desperate idea. He walked over and picked up the dart that had fallen to the ground when Shampoo-kun had pulled it out then released it. He walked back to the gymnast.
Mousse held the object before Kodachi. “There’s still some poison on this dart.”
“And you mean to jab me with it?” She sounded genuinely depressed. “If you choose to kill me with my own needle, then I shall accept it.” She boldly thrust her jaw forward, ready to embrace her fate as befitting a woman of her station.
“Not you.” And with that he sank the dart all the way into his hand.
“NNNNOOOOO!!!” Kodachi cried out. “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!!!”
“I’m poisoned now,” he said calmly. “If you don’t give the antidote to Shampoo, I will die from the toxin as well. And I warn you; if you try to give her a poison, I’ll refuse any antidotes. Our lives are now tied together, as they always have been.”
“All right!” Kodachi cried out and thrust one of the vials forward. “Take it! Hurry!”
Mousse went over to Shampoo-kun and gave him the antidote. As he gulped it down Mousse watched the reaction. If it didn’t work, Mousse was dead too. Without Shampoo there was nothing anyway. Almost as soon as the precious liquid touched Shampoo-kun’s lips his chills disappeared, though he seemed to have a problem with moving his limbs. Satisfied it worked, Mousse then used it on himself. Feeling no ill side effects he stalked back over to Kodachi.
“Mousse, I—” She never got a chance to finish as the blind one backhanded her in the jaw. She immediately went down from the blow and looked at him through tear-filled eyes.
“Get out of my sight!” he spat out contemptuously. “I never want to see you again.”
Kodachi got up without a word and walked off, looking down at the ground as her shoulders slumped in defeat. No one present had any doubts she was truly beaten. That sort of broken will could not be faked. Though Ranma-chan had to be restrained by Akane to keep from following the Black Rose.
Shampoo-kun slowly began to stagger towards Mousse. Rather than cooing about saving Shampoo-kun, he maintained a serious demeanor.
“I’m sorry. I had no idea she would go this far. I thought the drug I gave her would have left her unconscious until—“
It was Mousse’s turn to not finish as Shampoo-kun summoned enough strength to strike the blind one in the mouth with his fist. Mousse collapsed in a heap as Shampoo-kun nearly followed him, having used up the majority of his remaining strength.
Mousse started feeling his jaw as he looked in shock at Shampoo-kun. “What the hell was that for? I just saved your life!”
Kasumi and Ranma-chan helped Shampoo-kun keep his vertical base. “You is the one responsible for nearly getting me killed.” The Amazon hissed.
“What do you mean?”
“That girl loves you, Mousse,” Shampoo-kun said. “For the first time in you life, you actually have someone who loves you. I know you, Mousse. If you no liked her, then you would no have been around her for so long. But you throw it all away for someone that not even like you anymore. You try to force yourself on me, not because of some promise I make. Not because you have to by law or something. You just chase me because you want to. You think I going to give in because you persistent? You think it because Ranma steal my heart? If it was as simple as that, why did I reject you all those years?”
“Because the old ghoul told you to hate me.” Mousse told himself that. It had to be the reason why. It had to be.
Shampoo-kun snorted derisively. “What make you think that? Is it because she thinks you a fool? She not always think that. Did you know she once try to encourage me to go out with you and give you a chance? When you first learned martial arts, she thought it showed much perseverance to become as good as you do, even though you have bad vision. She tell me that you would probably start to behave once you started going out with me, because you’d be happy. She think you was one of the best mens the village have to offer back then. But I tell her flat out, No! I say I not going out with you because I not interested in you like that. And the only way I go out with you is if you beat me. She saw I mean business and stopped trying to encourage me. Then you make it easy for her to think you a fool by doing all that you do. After a while great grandmother apologize. She tell me she proud of me resisting her, because you are an idiot.
“And you know what the saddest thing is? A long time ago we was friends, but you had to ruin it.” Shampoo-kun breathed in deeply.
“I was always there for you,” he protested. She was twisting the facts. He didn’t ruin anything.
“Yes. You were always there,” she said acidly. “Every time I turned around you were there, saying you love me and ignoring all those times I told you I not love you. You were always there, even if I needed to be alone and told you to your face I not want you around. You were always there, even when I not want your damn suffocating attention. You were like some extra limb I not want or need. You were always there, chasing everyone else away and telling me how you was the only one for me. And now you here again, when you is the last thing in the world I want to see.”
Words were now difficult for Mousse to voice. Shampoo-kun had never talked to him quite like this. “Why? I tried to help you.”
“Help me? How did you help me?! Did you think you help me when you drove everyone away from me.” Shampoo-kun stopped for a moment. “No. You weren’t the only one. I did it too, the way I acted sometimes. But you still made all the boys go away from me.”
“They wanted to take advantage of you. You didn’t hear them talk the way I did.” Mousse tried to defend his actions. They were justified. He knew they were.
“I’ll never know because you never let me find out. And you know I can take care of myself. That just an excuse because you were afraid I’d like someone else,” she spat out contemptuously. “If I not meet anyone, then you not have to worry about me falling in love with them. You is just a self-centered little boy who can no accept truth. So you try to make me yours by making sure there would be no one else. Well it not matter. I do not now, nor ever loved you!”
Mousse began to plead. “Everything I’ve done has always been for you!”
“No, Mousse,” Shampoo-kun sadly shook his head. “It’s always been for you. If it was for me, you would have listened to what I tell you for all these years and done what I ask. But you never did. You did what you want, like you always do.”
Shampoo-kun gathered his strength for one last action. “I not going to let this continue. Two weeks from now, we continue our duel. It all ends, one way or another.”
And with that said the last of his strength finally gave out. It was only the fact that Ranma-chan was watching him like a hawk that enabled her to catch the boy before he hit the ground. The two exchanged looks. Ranma-chan to make certain Shampoo-kun was okay, Shampoo-kun to assure Ranma-chan he was.
Ranma-chan turned to Mousse. “Leave! Now! Don’t ever come back here again, or I’ll make sure you won’t be in any condition to do anything other than bleed for that duel!”
For a change, Mousse chose not to retort, but rather quietly walked off.
Ranma-chan watched long enough to determine Mousse really did leave, and then returned his attention to Shampoo-kun. “You really are crazy, you know that?” Her voice carried no anger. Rather it was soft, despite the nature of the words.
“It has to end, Ranma.” The Amazon said weakly as Ranma-chan and Kasumi helped him into the house to lie down. “It can no continue like this. He’ll keep coming back over and over again, and I tired of wondering what he come up with next. He just been getting worse as time goes on. Bad enough he do what he do since China, now I afraid he might escalate and accidentally hurt someone who can’t defend themself.” As he finished the statement he looked directly at Kasumi, then turned back to Ranma-chan. “No. It has to end. And in two weeks, it will.”
Shampoo-kun lay back on a couch, allowing Kasumi and Ranma-chan to baby him. Even Akane looked on with unusual concern for Shampoo-kun. Nabiki came into the room and everyone started talking about the upcoming fight. It was obvious Shampoo-kun was going to be all right. His strength was returning by the moment.
Not more than twenty minutes later there were two new visitors to the Tendo household, Sayuri and Malia. As soon as they set eyes upon Shampoo-kun they rushed over to his resting form.
“Are you hurt?” Sayuri asked.
“Will you be all right?” Malia mirrored her friend’s concern.
“AHEM!” Kasumi cleared her throat and looked directly at the two girls, who were paying just a little too much attention to her ward. “Ranma is fine. I am taking perfectly good care of him. Please back off. He needs air.”
“That’s right,” Shampoo-kun agreed. “I not need you help. Thanks anyway.”
The duo took the rebuff and backed off, then remembered what they had been there for. Malia started talking. “We saw something interesting today.”
“What?” Akane asked.
“Someone’s going around calling himself Ranma Saotome. And he has a wife.” Sayuri answered.
Everyone else in the room looked at one another in wonder, and then returned their attention to the visitors and began a slew of questions. After a few moments of confusion, Ranma-chan shouted out at the top of her lungs and drove everyone into silence.
“Now tell me everything,” the redhead ordered the two girls.
Sayuri and Malia informed them of everything that had happened, giving physical descriptions of Mr. And Mrs. Saotome.
“How dare they go around impersonating m…” Ranma-chan recalled who his visitors were and corrected herself. “Ranma! This town ain’t big enough for two Ranma Saotomes!”
“Don’t you mean, big enough for three?” Nabiki corrected.
“Err… yeah,” Ranma-chan said sheepishly. “I’ll take care of the matter, since he’s still out of it.”
“I’m going with you.” For a change, Ranma-chan didn’t argue with Akane’s suggestion.
“That’s the spirit!” Genma suddenly popped up from nowhere.
“Fiancées should work together,” Soun joined Genma in encouraging the children.
Ranma-chan and Akane looked at each other and rolled their eyes, electing not to argue with them this time. They were joined by the fathers, who also wanted to meet the new Ranma, and set out immediately to find the “Saotomes.”
Malia and Sayuri were about to give their good-byes when they spotted Birdy.
“He’s so cute!” Malia said as she did her best impression of Azusa Shiratori. Sayuri seconded the comment as Nabiki shook her head in disgust.
“How can you possibly think something that revolting is ‘cute’?”
This time Nabiki saw the animal look at her with what was unquestionably malice. That suited her just fine. She didn’t like him either.
“Nabiki, please don’t insult my new pet.” Kasumi turned her attention to the visitors, who were now seen in a much more pleasant light. “I’ll let him out and fly around a bit. Maybe we’ll even get to see him catch some mice. It’s so cute, the way he snatches them of the ground and tears off their…”
Nabiki listened to Kasumi’s speech trail off as the girl released her pet and went outside. The middle Tendo realized she was alone with the still exhausted Shampoo-kun.
“Want some rest?” she asked.
“Please. But first, could you get me a book on pigs?” Shampoo-kun had some time to kill and wanted some idea of what had attacked him earlier in the day.
“Sure,” Nabiki sighed and left the room to get the book. She had better things to do than baby-sit some Amazon. She’d leave him alone once she got the book.
Kaori was beginning to get worried about her husband. He had been behaving as though he was depressed, which was the exact opposite from what she had expected. They now had information concerning the other half of his school. Apparently the style of martial arts he was looking for had a school located somewhere in Nerima. It was only a matter of time before they found it. But as they seemed to draw closer to the place her husband was growing more and more afraid. Almost as though he was having second thoughts.
“Husband, what’s wrong?”
‘Ranma’ cursed himself. She learned how to read him like a book in the short time they knew each other and had been married. “I think these people might be dangerous. It would be best if I discover the location of the school on my own.” He hoped she would listen to him, for a change.
“We are man and wife. You knew from the beginning that I would brave dangers at your side, for better and for worse. We go on together. Two parts of one whole.”
‘Ranma’ sighed to himself. Part of him was proud that the woman he fell in love with was so eager to face any danger with him, but the odds were too great. The pattern of lies he had woven around the two of them would be destroyed if others spoke the wrong words. He was trying desperately to figure out how to get Kaori to return to their hotel room when he spotted two girls and two older men approaching them. His warrior’s eye knew from their gait where they were heading, and why. The goal was him, and from the look on their faces, it was not going to be a pleasant meeting.
He noted the dark-haired girl speak harshly to her red-haired partner, then take charge and indicated to the men stay back. From where he was he noticed the men eagerly agreeing and remaining behind. The girls walked up to him and Kaori.
“Excuse me,” the dark-haired one said. “You look familiar. I was wondering. What’s your name?”
He realized she knew; yet he had no choice but to answer. “Ranma Saotome.”
The effect on the redhead was instantaneous. “Real interesting name, pal. Y’see. That happens to be my name.”
That was a shock to ‘Ranma.’ He had thought other Ranma was a boy.
Ranma-chan continued. “Somehow, I doubt it’s a coincidence that your name is Ranma Saotome too, and you just happened to be in Nerima. I’d have to say you’re an impostor.”
“Impossible!” Kaori cried out. “He is Ranma Saotome. I have proof. My father engaged me to a BOY named Ranma Saotome. Not a girl.”
“Did he do if for food, by chance?” Ranma-chan asked suspiciously as she turned around to watch her father’s reaction.
“Why, yes,” Kaori answered hesitantly. “For a fish and some rice.”
“POP!!!” Ranma-chan shouted out as she stared daggers at her father.
“It’s not as simple as that!” Genma blubbered. “Besides, he threw in two pickles as well.”
“You are so dead when this is all over, old man.” Ranma-chan threatened.
Kaori was taken aback. “How could you know about the deal?”
“I was there,” he proudly stated. “I’m Genma Saotome.”
“Then this is your son?” She pointed to the other ‘Ranma.’
“No! This is!” And with that he grabbed a kettle, seemingly from nowhere, and poured it on Ranma-chan, triggering the transformation.
Kaori stood there in shock for a moment, processing all that happened. For the briefest of moments she believed Genma’s words, then rejected them. “Impossible! My father would never engage me to a freak like that!”
Akane took exception to the statement. “He is not a freak, and he is not engaged to you, bimbo! He is my fiancé!”
Ranma was taken aback by the forcefulness of the proclamation. Akane sounded almost proud of their engagement.
Kaori’s pride was now damaged. “I am the sole inheritor of the Daikokuji family fortune and am fully capable of running the entire business of twenty five take-out stores, as well as being one of the best masters of Martial Arts Takeout. I am anything but a bimbo.” Twin looks of anger were exchanged between the girls.
‘Ranma’ finally decided to take charge of the situation. He spoke directly to Ranma. “Are you by chance a member of the Anything Goes School of Martial arts?”
He was rewarded by a confused look from Ranma. “Yeah. So what?”
‘Ranma’ dropped into a fighting stance. “Then show me the Umisenken!”
“What are you talking about? I don’t know any Umisenken.”
Genma heard the statement and began muttering under his breath. “Uh oh! This could be trouble.”
“You liar! I need the Umisenken to complete my martial arts training.” He dropped into a fighting stance. “If you won’t show me it then I’ll force it out of you!”
Ranma answered the combat stance with one of his own. “Now we’re talking.”
The two leaped at one another and began to brawl. ‘Ranma’ saw an opening and went for an early finisher. “DOKUJA TANKETSU SHO!!!” and hit Ranma with a palm thrust the real Saotome only partially avoided. The blow left him stunned and reeling.
“Time to finish this before it blows up in my face.” ‘Ranma’ silently thought. He was about to use a pattern of kicks to knockout his opponent when he received a kick to his midsection by Akane. The unexpected attack caught him off guard as he received two quick strikes to his chest, and then almost didn’t react in time to the kick aimed at his groin, barely managing to block it by bringing his legs together.
That left him off balance, just as Akane had planned. She easily elbowed him in the face and knocked him off his feet. Just as she was going to go for another series of attacks, Kaori took action. She launched herself in the air with a leap kick and smashed Akane twice in the head before landing. The kicks knocked Akane off her feet fell, stunned but not unconscious. Just as Kaori prepared another assault she was picked up from behind by the real Ranma and tossed over twenty feet away. The maneuver obviously used to back her up as opposed to inflicting harm.
All four fighters regained their feet and were prepared to start again when Genma yelled. “STOP!!!” The quartet turned in his direction.
“You’re all martial artists, not common street fighters. There are formal ways to go about this.”
“He’s right,” the other ‘Ranma’ said. “I challenge you to the name of Ranma Saotome and to the Umisenken. If I win you stop calling yourself Ranma Saotome and teach me that style. If you win I’ll…” he paused, then continued. “…give up the name of Ranma Saotome and the Yamasenken.”
“Deal!” Ranma shouted. “Name the time and place.”
“Two weeks from today, in one of the open fields near Furinkan School.”
“Wait a minute!” Kaori pointed to Akane, “I want a piece of the girl who assaulted my husband.”
“You’re on!” Akane wanted a rematch just as badly. “We’ll fight at the same time as the guys.”
All four looked warily at one another, making certain of no betrayal. The second ‘Ranma’ and Kaori left the field of battle.
“That’s the spirit, Akane!” Soun began to bawl. “You defend the honor of your fiancé.”
“I’m doing this for me, Dad. Not him.”
“It’s still good to see you come to the aid of Ranma, my dear,” Genma beamed proudly.
“I didn’t need her help. I was just setting him up.” Ranma said, the indignity of someone suggesting he required help rubbed him wrong.
“Yeah! From your back, right!” Akane said.
Ranma just stared at her. He really did have an assault planned. He’d have to explain it to her when they got back. At the moment there was something else on his mind.
“Pop!” he grabbed Genma by the collar. “You’d better start talking real fast about why you sold me, and who that guy was. I have a feeling you’re involved up to your neck in this situation.”
“N… now my boy. If you let me explain, you’ll understand.”
Genma explained, and was promptly pulverized by Ranma for the nature of the explanation. As he was leaving his father’s crumpled form and the field of battle behind, one thought occurred to him.
“Damn! The day he chose to fight me is the same day as Shampoo’s duel.” He was going to have to figure out a way to be at two places at once.
‘Ranma’ walked away from the field of battle with his wife. Things had happened quickly, but he hadn’t blown his cover, yet.
Kaori immediately picked up on her husband’s concern. “Don’t worry, my love. We’ll defeat them.”
The boy took her hand. If only he had gone about things in a different way from the beginning. Now he had to win the fight. The Umisenken was now secondary to his primary goal: keeping his name. He had only been calling himself Ranma Saotome in order to get the information on the man who had taught ‘Ranma’s’ real father the Yamasenken. Genma Saotome was the one doing the teaching, and ‘Ranma’s’ father had used the half of the technique he had been taught. The result of which was the destruction of the family dojo and the death of his father. Now only the Umisenken could restore the dojo, in name if not in actuality.
During his travels he came across Kaori Daikokuji, who had been searching for the real Ranma Saotome in order to marry him. He had allowed the engagement in the hopes the real Ranma would come forth and claim his fiancée. How was he to know he would fall in love with the girl and maintain the charade, going so far as to marry her under the false name? How would she react to the knowledge that she had not married Ranma Saotome, but, in fact, married a stranger named Ryu Kumon?
Silk stepped off the tarmac of the airport and strolled into the terminal. Her nostrils flared as she took a deep breath of the air. The atmosphere of Japan was just as smelly as she remembered it, but she missed it all the same. Too many years had passed since she had last set foot in the land of the rising sun. It would be entertaining to see how much the land she had frequented for close to five years of her youth had changed. Her thoughts went back to the citizenry of Japan as well. She found them a bit high and mighty, but that sort of attitude was held by many of the Amazons as well. It made them underestimate her in any case. It was almost certainly still a land rife with opportunities that someone like her could take full advantage of.
It was good to be back. She would eventually have to seek out Cologne, but there was enough time for some extracurricular activities. She would have to look up her old lover from so many years ago. In all of her forty-five years of life, no had touched her heart in quite the way he had. Enough time had passed since his marriage that his wife should not feel threatened by an old flame. Not too much anyway. And it was certainly beneath Silk to try anything with a married man, especially one she cared so much about. At the very least he would certainly be in for quite a surprise when she arrived.
Silk switched to a more conventional style of clothing for Japan, a simple gray sweatshirt and blue jeans. She rather enjoyed Japanese clothing styles, and there had been no occasions where she could have worn such things without attracting undue attention, and she hated attracting attention. She had been sedentary for far too long in China, and began to fall into a rut, doing the same thing over and over again. Variation was what was needed, and now she had it in coming to Japan. Seeking out Cologne was a godsend.
It was a simple matter to find the right street once again. Silk took note of the old lady that was throwing water out in the middle of the street for no apparent reason. Now that she thought about it, that same old woman was doing the exact same thing seventeen years ago, when Silk first came to Nerima. And she hadn’t changed a bit in that time. Very bizarre.
Silk passed by another familiar house. She recalled that one belonged to that nice old lady that had informed her of what had happened with her old love and his family when Silk first visited the area over seventeen years ago. The lady was a pleasant sort of person, the kind you met only once in a while, yet wished everyone was like.
She remembered the conversation of so many years ago very well. The lady was a gabby sort that informed Silk about her former lover’s family. What his wife was like. How well they got along with neighbors and family. The fact his wife was pregnant. A very well informed lady. Once Silk thought about it, the timing was all wrong for her to visit. A woman in her eighth month of pregnancy has no desire to see her husband’s old flames suddenly show up. Friction was sure to follow. So Silk decided against the visit and journeyed elsewhere throughout Japan, giving Nerima a wide berth.
Now it was many years later, and circumstances had changed. It would be wonderful to see him again. Assuming he still lived at that dojo. His wife would just have to understand, this time around.
Silk noticed the sign next to the dojo, saying it taught “Anything Goes Martial Arts.” That was all the confirmation she needed. Silk walked up to the door and knocked. It was only a moment before it was answered by a beautiful young lady, no more than twenty, by Silk’s estimation.
Silk gave a formal bow and soft smile. “Greetings. Is there a Soun Tendo present? I’m an old friend of his.” The reaction she received to the question was somewhat unexpected. Silk watched the girl’s eyes widen and take a step back as she suddenly looked very frightened.
Kasumi Tendo said one word before passing out.
To be continued.
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