Ghost Sweeper Minami Otaoru watched with loathing as the serpentine body circled itself around where she was standing, making certain not to come in contact with her. She hated dealing with the Nagas. They were always slimy, smelled terribly, and reminded her too much of her past. But it was that darkness which was needed when dealing with these creatures. That’s why she had donned the robes of a Dark Sorceress once again, so that they would recognize her as a kindred spirit, though she prayed to all the gods that wasn’t the case anymore.
“So, this is the much vaunted daughter of she who was known as Neria the Black, as well as the niece of the Blood Queen herself. We are in the presence of royalty, brothers.” The Naga before her directed its comments to the snakelike figures in the darkness of the stone labyrinth. The damned creatures always seemed to prefer dank, damp, black holes in the earth. Worse, the place stank of foul magic. How much it reminded her of growing up with her mother. She hated the fact that they reminded her of that time. And that it still fit her like a glove.
Killing this kind of demonic scum was what she had been training the last six years of her life for, not bargaining with it. Still, she had a quest to do, and this was where it had to be done. At least, that was what Fistandantilus had said…
The magic convention had been great. She had never seen such a variety of wares and wizards. Everything was there. Everyone was there. Some of the greatest magic users in the multiverse had come to this particular gathering, making it so large that it had to be moved out of Bolivia and into a dimensional crossroads, where even more creatures of the ether had come. White Magic and Dark Magic held even sway at the gathering, forcing everyone to conclude that the turnout was big enough to gain the attention of Lord Chaos and Master Order themselves to enforce the peace. And it was peaceful. Not a single plane of existence had been destroyed.
That was not to say it was not without magical discussions, such as the fantastic mage war between Elminster and the newly reborn Fistandantilus. Everyone was surprised when the pair announced their discussion had ended in a stalemate, which amounted to a loss in all but Elminster’s eyes. And then there were those two mages, the short flat chested red-haired one, and her tall black-haired companion who wore a scanty dark leather outfit that served to attract attention to her huge chest. Of course, it wasn’t their physical features that made them stand out in the crowd. It was the black-haired woman’s laugh, which was easily as insane sounding as Kodachi’s, which drew attention as well as her shorter companion’s temper. The short one ended up frying someone for suggesting she would look good as a “Lina-chimera.”
There was a major disadvantage in the convention garnering such astronomical attention. All the really powerful mages wouldn’t pay attention to a neophyte like her, and all the ones of middling power were clustering around the powerful ones, seeking wisdom and knowledge. The people that she spoke to either didn’t know how to counteract the magic of the love pills, or charged too high a price. She liked Ukyou, but somehow, being impregnated with a demonic entity was going WAY too far to help a friend.
It was quite a surprise when she was walking along, downtrodden, and a voice piped up from behind her. She turned to discover she had attracted the attention of Fistandantilus himself, and she hadn’t even bothered to ask him for help.
“You have a rather unique aura,” he murmured. “A white soul that has an even amount of black stain. How very rare.”
“I’m a unique kind of gal.” Minami really wasn’t the least bit frightened. If he wanted to do something to her, all the power at her disposal wouldn’t amount to an annoyance for one as powerful as him.
“Not unique, just rare. Now, allow me to examine the bracelet.” He held out his hand expectantly.
She did as she was bid. What luck! There could be little doubt a mage of his ability could easily break the spell.
He handled but a moment before returning it to her. “The key to unlocking it lies with a Siren, for the pills are in fact pearls, and it is one of theirs that is the key to curing the magical affliction.”
“Where do I find a Siren?” Minami asked.
A smile appeared out of nowhere in Fistandantilus’s shoulder. A face faded into existence behind the smile, then a body behind the face. Minami recognized the creature as one of demonic legend, a Cheshire Hellcat. If that was Fistandantilus’s familiar, he was even more powerful than the rumors had implied.
“One lies with the Nagas. Through that portal over yonder.” It spoke to her and pointed at portal nearby.
Wonderful, she thought. The only way they would accept her company would be if she were to take on the appearance of a being of darkness. If they knew she was a ghost sweeper, the Nagas would either run, or try to kill her.
“There is a price for this information,” Fistandantilus mentioned.
As always. “What is it?”
“There will come a time of darkness soon, and I would have you still alive no matter the outcome. Therefore,” he waved his hand in before her face. “You will live. Even if others won’t.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked.
“All will become evident in time. Now take this. You will need it to deal with the Siren, if you desire her help,” he answered mysteriously, then turned and disappeared, leaving Minami holding a glass cube.
So she entered the portal and ended up conversing with the snake-like creatures with human heads.
“How do we know you are still one of the children of darkness?” It asked.
What a joke. Minami drew out her old sacrificial dagger and spun in a circle, slitting the throat of the invisible Naga that had been behind her, ready to strike her dead. She held the bloody weapon idly in her hand as she smiled at the Naga spokesman.
“Excellent. Come with me.” It slithered along the corridor and came upon a cell door. It silently spoke words of magic, causing the doors to open and reveal a chained, naked woman within, her beauty undiminished by the darkness of the cell. “See to it you only take knowledge from it, nothing else, lest you incur the full force of our wrath.”
“Agreed. I need privacy.” The Naga understood what she wanted and exited.
“I need your help,” Minami told the creature softly.
It looked at the disguised ghost sweeper with purple eyes that seemed to look clear through Minami. “Goodness in tune with the dark. What a rare talent. I will help you with what I can,” the woman told her.
Minami felt part of her heart go out to the creature of magic before her, but nothing could be done about its predicament, at least not in the near future. “I need a cure for one of these pills that came off this bracelet.” And with that she handed the object to the Siren.
The Siren examined it for close to five minutes before coming to its conclusions. “I can give you what you seek.” And with that she returned the bracelet to Minami. But this time it held a red gem in one of the holes. “What the bracelet represents is part of our old magic, reinforced with human magic. I cannot break the geas completely, but the gem can negate the effects of the pill so long as it is within three feet of the victim. Now, please go, before the Nagas return and sense what I have done.”
Minami bowed before the Siren. “I cannot rescue you. It is beyond my ability and my access to this world is limited. Perhaps someday I will possess the power to do so. But I can give you this.” And with that she handed the Siren the cube and left.
The Siren watched the door close behind the girl. She was her first non-Naga visitor in close to one hundred years, but the damnable creatures would never get the knowledge they sought from her. She looked into the cube, wondering what it was. She gazed into its features and understood what it held, as a smile creased her lips. It possessed the greatest gift she could have under these conditions.
It held Hope.
Shampoo ½ Chapter 24: Fight Without Mercy
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 email@example.com
What’s gone on before, (or what you really need to know to enjoy this fic.) In the beginning the Saotomes traveled to Jusenkyou to spar, not realizing Shampoo and Mousse had already begun a duel there. One mid-air collision later, there is a male Shampoo as well as a female Ranma. (So Ranma-chan= female Ranma, Shampoo-kun= male Shampoo. Enjoy.) Shampoo elected to travel to Japan and briefly ended up engaged to Kasumi. After that got cleared up Ranma became engaged to Akane. Many adventures occurred as many allies and enemies and were made. Recently, Ryu Kumon impersonated Ranma Saotome and married Kaori Daikokuji, then made a challenge to the real Ranma for the right to the name of Ranma Saotome. Akane challenged Kaori to a match, and Mousse challenged Shampoo to one last marriage duel. Pantyhose Tarou found out about the challenge and decided to help Ryu defeat Ranma and gave false information to Kaori so she’ll lose to Akane. Now, two weeks after the challenges were made the time for the fights has arrived…
<> Indicates Chinese
Ranma’s eyes opened to the sound of the alarm. No drowsy awakenings today. Not on this morning. He was up in a flash, and halfway to the closet before realizing his old man was still sleeping soundly, despite the noise. Typical.
He leafed through the closet and tried deciding what to wear, hands fingering over the shirt Shampoo had made for him. There had been no chance to wear it since she had presented it to him. Perhaps after the fight. Yes. That was it. He, Shampoo, and Akane could party. A three-way victory celebration… assuming they all won.
He selected a brown shirt with black pants for the match, as he considered the idea of a loss. That was no way to think. Together they were invincible. But they wouldn’t be fighting together. Each would be separate. Alone. What if one of them did lose? Ranma had been vanquished by Herb, and look what had happened then. The impostor might not try to abduct him, but to lose his name? What would he do then? Call himself Shampoo all the time? He’d never seriously considered the consequences of losing, and now was not the time to start. He would win his fight; he had to. HE was Ranma Saotome; from now until the day he died. The impostor didn’t stand a chance.
For all of his bravado, more doubts began to creep in. What if one of the others lost? Akane could stand to lose, not that he wanted her to, but there was nothing other than pride at stake in her match. For Shampoo, it was totally different. It was her whole future riding on the line. She should win. She had done everything she could to keep pace with Ranma as his abilities increased, and he was still only slightly better than her. He usually had only a slight problem taking care of Mousse anymore.
What if the blind one had some kind of angle, as Shampoo believed? What then? He couldn’t allow Mousse to marry her. The Amazon had told Ranma on more than one occasion just how much she loathed the idea of having a shared future with the blind one.
Then there were Ranma’s emotions to consider as well. It could be said that if there was one person that Ranma truly hated, Mousse was it (thought Tarou was a close second). Mousse had started out as little more than an annoyance, but that feeling had escalated in the ensuing months. He was willing to let the Ranma-Eating Plant incident pass by, but the Nyanniichuan episode had really pushed the envelope. And his actions at Pangea were the absolute limit. Ranma subconsciously fingered at the scars concealed beneath his shirt, a painful reminder of how far Mousse had been willing to go to remove Ranma from his path. Oh, yes. There was little doubt that he hated the blind oaf. No way was he going to leave Shampoo in his hands. If Mousse somehow managed to gain a victory, Ranma would have to come up with something to prevent the marriage.
It was all worry for nothing. Shampoo would win. So would Akane. And afterwards, when the trio was victorious, he would be the one paying for the celebration they would all enjoy.
Akane got up groggily from her bed. It had taken forever to go to sleep, and now she was working on only four hours of rest. Tension ran through every fiber of her body as she pulled the yellow sheets from her person. It shouldn’t be that way. She had been in fights before, and she was prepared for this one, so why should she be so nervous? Maybe it wasn’t herself she was nervous for. Maybe it was Ranma. No, that was absurd. She had watched him train all week learning the Umisenken, and it was Ranma, for crying out loud. He always won.
Except for that incident with Herb. And look what happened then.
If Ranma did happen to lose, what kind of effect would that have? There would be the loss of his family name, and that would mean no engagement. A long time ago, she would have been relieved at the idea, but now everything was different. She found herself panicking at the idea of the engagement being called off. On the other hand, she didn’t want to marry him, either. She was certain of that. Mostly. So what did it mean to want an engagement and not want to marry the guy either? More questions she did not have the answers to.
Akane slowly got dressed into her white gi. The fight wasn’t for several hours now, more than enough time to dwell about what might happen. Perhaps she could clear her thoughts by that time. She finished dressing and was going to leave the room when her eyes fell upon the bracer Tarou had given her. Ranma would probably get all moody if she wore it to the fight.
So what? It was her fight, and it was useful as a weapon. She couldn’t live her life by trying to decide what Ranma might think of her actions. He would just have to understand for a change.
Shampoo woke up instinctively before her alarm went off. Her body’s internal clock was working well this morning. It usually did if she had something important coming up. It was amazing what little tricks her great-grandmother had taught her that came in handy.
Her dreams had been worrisome. They had been of Mousse and all the times they had shared in the past. More good memories than bad, which was something of a surprise, since she hadn’t thought of him in that sort of way for quite some time. That was a cause for concern. She couldn’t risk holding back in the fight. Not for whatever fleeting joyous times they shared a million years ago. This was the present, and Mousse was trying to force himself on her once again. Losing to him was simply not an option.
The veil of drowsiness was cast off as she ran through the mental exercises she had prepared for this morning. If Ranma could look through her mind at that moment, there was little doubt he would have been chilled. She visualized hurting Mousse, breaking bones, brutalizing, possibly killing him. It had to be done. She had to be prepared for going all out against him. No holding back like she had in the past. This time it was all or nothing. And if she lost? Well, that wasn’t really an alternative. She no longer owed her opponent anything. Not one blasted thing.
She elected to wear the special outfit she had prepared just for the fight. As she went through the closet her eyes fell upon the pink and purple outfit she had worn during their last marriage duel. The one she had first suffered the change in. That helped focus her anger a great deal. Mousse was the one responsible for tearing her away from the village and forcing her to live in fear of everyone back at home. He was the one.
She moved quickly to the dining room and ran into Akane and Ranma at the same time. All three exchanged an unspoken greeting and sat down to eat breakfast. Kasumi was already present. She was the same permanent fixture at the table every morning, serving breakfast to the family. It was a light meal this time. No one had much of an appetite before the big fights.
All three of the fighters greeted Kasumi, and then began picking at their food. Still no words were exchanged between the three, each lost in their own thoughts. Even when the two fathers and Nabiki joined the four people seated, silence still reigned, though Genma did manage to steal all of the food off of Ranma’s plate without a word of protest.
The trio of fighters finally removed themselves from the table and separated, each lost in his or her own private thoughts for the upcoming war.
Ryu Kumon awoke from his morning slumber. Seeing it was still dark out, he gently removed his wife’s arm from over his chest and removed himself from their tent. He paused one last moment to gaze longingly upon his wife’s lovely features, before heading out to the darkness of the earlier morning. There were still a few things to get off his chest before making the last minute preparations for the upcoming fight.
Once out of earshot of the tent he fell to his knees and looked high into the starry night sky.
“Father. I only hope you can hear me, up in the heavens, and listen to what I have to say. I know I haven’t spoken to you very much. It still hurts me, even after all this time. I still remember everything. Hearing the sound of our dojo shattering and running to it, only to stare upon the ruins that were left will be forever burned in my mind. As I pried your body out of the wreckage and you told me what had happened. I recall crying like a little baby when I bore your broken form in my arms, praying you would be all right. But I knew better, and so did you. Before you died, I swore to you that I would discover the Umisenken and restore the dojo in your honor. I vowed never to let anything or anyone stand in the way of what had to be done to gain that art. And I kept my promise. I have done many terrible things to many people, both good and bad, in order to come this far. At last, I have finally discovered that which I so desperately sought. And now…
“…Now it means less than nothing to me.
“Forgive me father. Of all the things I believed I would come across in my search for the Umisenken, of all the trials and tribulations that I would suffer for discovering the answer I craved so desperately, I never counted on finding the one thing that makes all that I’ve done seem meaningless.
“I never counted on finding happiness.
“It’s true. I never realized until I fell in love with Kaori just how miserable I was. I was a wanderer with a purpose, but still ultimately adrift in the sea of life. What I have with her could never have been obtained with a mere art and restoring our dojo. No. It’s so much deeper than that. I only wish you could have taught me what it was like, but I have a feeling this isn’t the sort of thing that can be taught; only experienced. And now I have experienced it. I never want this feeling to end.
“I would like to think you want me to be happy. That that is what you wanted me to have in life. Which is why I’m talking to you now. I want to beg for your forgiveness in giving up on my quest. Even if I win today and learn the Umisenken, it doesn’t mean anything anymore. I would turn my back on it in an instant if I could. I want to tell you the truth, out loud, for both myself and you to hear. I need to say it. I want Kaori. That’s all. Please father, show me some sign so that I can fight with a clear heart and know that you would approve of what I have done. Tell me in some way that you release me from my vow and want me to fight for my wife and future. Show me, so that I might know victory in the greatest fight I have ever been in.”
The single bright light of a shooting star appeared directly overhead, lighting the night sky ever so briefly before fading away into the ether. That was all the confirmation Ryu Kumon needed. It was with a joyous heart that he returned to the tent so that he might hold his wife in his arms until the morning orb burned away the darkness and allowed the day to truly begin.
He would never suffer the bitter taste of defeat. Even the heavens were on his side.
Mousse got up with the morning sun and stared off to the west. Home lay over that horizon, though they would not see the light for some hours yet. How unfortunate he would probably never be able to return there, but that was the way life turned out sometimes. Soon he and Shampoo would be leaving Japan together. She would have the option of choosing their destination, just so long as it was far away from Japan and China. His command of English was fairly proficient. They could travel to the United States, perhaps California. San Francisco would be a good place to settle down. If what he had heard about the reputation of the area was true, they could effectively hide amongst the many unusual denizens of the city, never being discovered by the Amazons, or Saotome. But that was only one possibility. Anywhere with Shampoo would be heaven, no matter how hellish it was.
Surprisingly, he forced such thoughts from his mind. Not today. He couldn’t afford them. Today he would have to intentionally hurt Shampoo. All week he had mentally prepared himself for the upcoming conflict. There was no way around it. Shampoo wouldn’t back down, which meant he would have to disable her. Silently he prayed he could do it relatively painlessly. He had prepared a variety of nets, chains, cuffs, and ropes with which to incapacitate her. But she was so good. He would almost surely have to soften her up somehow. And that would mean a fight using every one of his abilities and weapons. The only alternative was to be beaten by her, which meant she would eventually be found by their tribe, and executed. And that was only if she didn’t get killed beforehand by one of Ranma’s many foes. The scum would no doubt use Shampoo as a shield to save himself if it became necessary, just like he had almost killed her with the Musk incident. Mousse allowed a thought of Shampoo lying in a pool of her own blood to fill his vision. She had to be saved at any cost. Her life was worth any price he could pay. All of this was for her own good, even if the prideful girl wouldn’t acknowledge it.
A thorough inventory of all of his items was done before he began his morning exercises. Today would be a day of tragedy as well as a day of dreams coming true. Such irony. If only there were some other way. But there wasn’t.
There never was.
Akane was busy stretching out in her room when she heard a tapping at her window. She looked out, expecting to spot Ranma and wonder why he hadn’t come to the door. The visitor was quite a surprise.
“Tarou! What are you doing here?” She quickly opened the window to allow the youth in, silently hoping he would keep quiet so Ranma wouldn’t hear him. She found herself a little excited that he had shown up. The last two weeks had been the longest time in over a month that she hadn’t seen him. For a while there she had been afraid that Ranma had somehow scared Tarou off, as difficult as that was to believe. It was a great relief to have him drop by at long last.
“Can’t a guy wish a lady a little luck?” He bowed, and then quickly added. “Not that you need it.”
“Thanks. It means a lot to hear you say that.” It was so kind of Tarou to go out of his way to do this for her. “I’m planning on using everything you taught me, and a few new things I’ve learned myself.”
“Got something even better for you,” he informed her. “I’ve been studying that Martial Arts Take-Out style. I can give you a few pointers before your match.”
For a moment Akane felt a twinge of guilt about accepting his information. She had told Ranma she wouldn’t be training with Tarou anymore. On the other hand, it wasn’t really training, and she had accepted some help from Ukyou, so why couldn’t she learn from Tarou as well? “Go ahead and tell me.”
“Well,” he began. “I happen to know she prefers to come in high for the early part of her fights. If you…”
Ranma heard the gentle tapping on the door. He broke off the light exercise he was going through and opened it enough for Shampoo to quietly slip inside.
She made certain to close the door quietly behind her. “I going to go now.”
“What?” Ranma became a little scared. Her match wasn’t supposed to be until twelve-thirty, a half-hour after his match. If he could finish off the impostor quickly, there would still be time to make it to Shampoo’s match, which was on the other side of the district. But now, if Mousse moved things up, there was no way he could.
Shampoo shook her head. “I need to get out of house and get ready. This waiting is too tense. It driving me crazy.”
He nodded in understanding. “I’m thinking of getting there early myself. Maybe I can get him to start the fight early. Then I can beat the crud out of him with plenty of time to see your match.”
Shampoo stared at him curiously for a few minutes, than gained a look in her eye, almost as though she quietly came to a decision. “No fight sloppy because you want to see me fight. You going to get into trouble if you fight different because you in a hurry. You could end up beat.”
“That won’t happen,” he scoffed. “I’ll kick his scrawny little butt.“
She grabbed his hand and spoke urgently. “Ranma. You promise me you not going to worry about me until after you fight.”
“I said don’t—“
This time she cut him off. “I will worry unless you promise. If you no promise, then it going to bother me and I may lose fight.”
There was little doubt by the urgent way she was staring at him that she meant it. “Okay,” he reluctantly relented. “I promise not to worry about you until after my fight, and I’ll be careful when I fight him and win. Now, don’t you think about anything other than Mousse. I know you can beat him, no sweat.”
“Thank you, Ranma,” she said softly. Her hand got no further than the door handle when she quickly turned around and kissed Ranma on the cheek. “Good luck,” she said as she smiled at him, and then quickly departed.
Ranma remained motionless for a few seconds, and then slowly raised his hand to where Shampoo had kissed him. It took another few moments before he shook his head, then returned to reflecting about his upcoming fight.
Shampoo felt as though her heart was going to leap out of her chest. She had done it. She had finally kissed Ranma, and he didn’t run away in fear or have some other horrible reaction. There was no way she would let Mousse win now. She bounced off, looking forward to removing the obstruction in her path of happiness. Now if only Ranma did the same to his own impediment.
Ukyou finished allowing the last customer out of the restaurant. There was going to be an early closing in anticipation for the day’s events. The loss of part of a day’s profits could easily be covered, thanks to her new source of revenue. She absolutely had to find a way to keep Shampoo on her staff. Maybe she could claim it was in Shampoo’s best interest and it would somehow keep her out of Nabiki’s mercenary hands.
Ukyou looked up to make sure Ryouga hadn’t wandered off again. He had returned two days ago, and fell back into the role of his old job. It was just as well. Ukyou had given Shampoo the last couple of days off in final preparation for her upcoming duel. Ryouga’s return had simply made that decision easier, and the situation worse.
Ryouga noticed Ukyou’s gaze in his direction. He tried giving her a smile, only to have her scowl and turn away. He turned his own head down and gazed at the table surface he was cleaning in an effort to hide his emotions. Already the surface was polished to a near mirror finish, yet he continued wiping at it, trying to figure out what was wrong.
He looked up to stare at Ukyou once more. “So. Today’s the big fight.” That was weak.
“Yep.” She didn’t bother to look up from her own cleaning.
“You think Ranma’s going to win?”
“Of course,” she answered, and then hid herself from sight behind the grill, cleaning some unseen piece of equipment.
“Yeah. Ranma’s… well, Ranma. He doesn’t ever lose.” The bastard. Ryouga silently added.
“Yep.” Was the only response, once again.
The situation was really starting to wear on his nerves. Ukyou was usually very talkative, especially around him, but now she was as silent as a tomb. He should know; he’d wandered into some on more than one occasion. “Why are you so quiet?”
“I have nothing to say.” To you, she silently added.
“Oh.” Ryouga began to feel the black well of depression rise up around him, and he had been fairly happy the last couple of weeks, too. Except for the time he and Kyoko had wandered into the North Pole and helped one of the polar station crews fight off some weird alien that could change its appearance to look like anyone else. Good thing it didn’t like the cold. Once Ryouga lured it onto an ice floe, he used a Bakusai Tenketsu to shatter the ice and send it to the bottom of the ocean. Afterwards, Kyoko risked life and limb to save him from floating off into the deep blue ocean himself.
But now his happiness evaporated. Ukyou was behaving strangely. Perhaps Ranma had done something to her again.
“When are we leaving for Ranma’s fight?” he asked
Ukyou’s head shot up from behind the grill in surprise. “I thought you’d be going with Little Miss,” she paused and switched what terminology she was going to employ, “Kyoko.”
“You don’t have to call her Miss,” Ryouga mentioned. “She isn’t really all that formal.”
“Whatever,” Ukyou growled. There were plenty of other titles that she had for the little tart.
“She has cheerleader practice today. She fell really far behind while we were lost.” Almost two weeks, in fact. It would have been longer if Ryouga had not broken down and revealed his problem. It was much to his surprise that Kyoko actually liked the curse, and thought he was cute as a bat. Of course, that seemed to reinforce the idea that she had really weird taste, which was becoming more and more evident with the passage of time.
Ukyou felt what little joy she had started to experience end up getting smashed. It wasn’t that Ryouga wanted to spend time with her; he just needed someone to take him to the fight. It figured. “I’m not going to watch Ranchan. I’m heading for Shampoo’s duel.”
“What?” Ryouga began scratching his head in bewilderment. “I thought you’d want to watch Ranma’s fight. You don’t even like Shampoo.”
“I helped Shampoo train for this fight, and I sort of want to make sure she wins. Besides,” she added. “She’s kind of growing on me.”
“I see.” Ryouga mumbled. He was pretty sure he knew what was really going on. Ranma no doubt had done something to hurt Ukyou, and she was covering it up by claiming friendship with Shampoo. He should have revealed his curse sooner. Since he wasn’t around, Ranma had thought he could have free reign toying with Ukyou’s emotions once more, and now she was paying for something Ranma had done to her. That had to be why she was so quiet. Oh, Ranma was going to pay once his fight with the impostor was finished, and he recovered from whatever beating he absorbed. Ryouga wouldn’t take an unfair advantage like that on him. However, once Ranma was feeling healthy there would be a Perfect Shi Shi Houkoudan waiting for him.
“I can drop you off for Ranchan’s fight,” Ukyou offered. “It starts a little before Shampoo’s.”
“Thank you, Uk-chan.” Ryouga gave her a serious look as he accepted the offer, though he missed the pained expression she wore when he called her by that name. His thoughts were on the topic of the vengeance he would wreck on his oldest foe. Silently, he hoped Ranma would win easily. That would make the beating he so richly deserved arrive all the sooner. He would suffer for causing Ukyou yet more grief.
Kodachi looked over her outfits, trying to decide which to wear. A decision she did not wish to make. Hiding in her bedroom was what she really desired, to conceal herself away from the world at large. However, she couldn’t do it. Staying inside was not an option. Mousse was going to need her.
She settled on a black dress that matched her mood on this day. Shampoo had asked her to be present for the match, as though the purple-haired Amazon somehow knew she would win. It was The Black Rose’s fondest wish that Mousse would lose his fight, but considering the way he had treated her the last time she had helped him, it would be a wonder if he would not try to attack as soon as she stepped into his line of sight. Perhaps she would wait until after the fight had begun to make an appearance.
Soun, Genma, Ranma, and Akane headed out to meet the opposition. Nabiki had already gone out to meet some people earlier in the day, and Kasumi had chosen to attend Shampoo’s challenge.
The pair of fathers were offering words of encouragement to their two children, each lauding about how wonderful it was that they were fighting for the sake of the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts and about how well they were working together. Neither Ranma nor Akane paid their words much heed. Each had his or her own mind working overtime.
Akane was silently thankful she had convinced Tarou to leave without letting anyone know he had been there. It wasn’t that Akane was embarrassed to have him around, but his presence would distract Ranma, and subsequently her, from what had to be done today. It said a lot about his character that he was willing to do what she suggested without the slightest hesitation. Ranma would never have done that.
Now wasn’t the time to ponder about her fiancé’s failings; there was too much at stake to allow distractions like that to interfere with what had to be done. She moved closer to Ranma, who had an unreadable look in his eye.
“I know you’ll win,” she whispered low enough so the fathers couldn’t hear. “I have faith in you.”
Ranma turned to her and smiled, giving her a warm feeling inside. “I know you’ll win, too. You’re really good now, and I’m proud of how far you’ve come,” he said.
She grinned back at him as they set out for the field. She was going to win. There was no way she could lose with the feeling she had in her heart now.
The quartet made their way to the open field, only to discover it was no longer exactly open. Hundreds of people, mostly Furinkan students, lined the area and waited in nervous anticipation for the upcoming events. Nabiki spotted the approaching foursome and waved merrily at them.
“We should have known,” Ranma muttered under his breath. How one person could be so focused on one thing was beyond him. Of course, he never made the parallel between her moneymaking schemes and his own obsession with martial arts.
“Your opponents are already here. And you two will be happy to know that you’re the favorites,” Nabiki informed the pair.
“Are we going to see one yen of the money you’re going to be making off of this?” Ranma asked dryly.
“Sure you will.”
“I am?” Even Ranma was almost speechless at the idea of Nabiki spreading the wealth.
“Haven’t you heard of trickle down economics?” She smiled, and then went back to accepting wagers.
Akane just shook her head as she watched Ranma scratch his skull, obviously trying to figure out just what trickle down economics were and how it was going to get him the money.
Ranma was about to ask Akane if she knew what Nabiki meant when he spotted an altogether too familiar face. “What are you doing here, old ghoul?”
Cologne gave one of her patented horrifying smiles. “I’m here to cheer you on. At least until Shampoo’s fight begins. It’s not often I get to see a male of your caliber fight.”
As much as Ranma wanted to allow his ego to swell, he managed to keep in check as he suspiciously glared at the old woman. “Somehow, I doubt that.”
Cologne shook her head sadly. “Fortunately, I don’t need your belief to keep me going. Remember what I told you about employing confidence.”
“Yeah, yeah. I remember,” he mumbled. The day before he had run the risk of experimenting with her suggestion. Employing confidence with the technique did allow him to feel a small focus of power that he might be able to use against the impostor. Maybe. Of course there was undoubtedly some kind of drawback or catch to using it. He just couldn’t believe that Cologne would teach him anything without strings attached.
Ryouga walked up to Ranma and began speaking. “Don’t get your head kicked in.”
“Thanks. With you backing me I’m going to win for sure.” Ranma began jumping up and down in mock glee. “Do you have any other words of incredible wisdom for this fight?”
“Nothing really comes to mind,” Ryouga answered seriously.
Akane spotted Tarou in the crowd, having beaten her to the field, and waved at the boy. He gave a wide smile in return and shouted out he knew she could do it. With the tips he had given her, she was certain she would.
Ranma and Akane immediately went to the middle of the field to face off against their opponents, who were already waiting in anticipation. The two matches were to go on simultaneously, separated by about two hundred feet. All of the contenders were accomplished enough to keep from letting one of the fights drift too close to the other. There were to be no assists from one battle to the other. Each one was an individual match that forbade outside interference of any kind. It didn’t matter to the four fighters. Each was certain they would win using only their own abilities.
Kaori remained where she was, dressed in her dark blue takeout combat uniform, and observed Akane stretch out briefly, and then prepare for the fight. Kaori had naturally brought along a takeout box loaded with weapons for the contest, but decided at the last moment to set it aside. It was not too far away to use, but if even one third of the information Tarou had given her was accurate, Akane Tendo was dead meat. The mistress of martial arts take-out desired to win this fight using some of the techniques her husband had introduced to her. He would be so proud if she managed to defeat Akane employing some of the art he had taught her.
Both combatants bowed before one another, and then stole a glance at the adjoining area where their men were preparing to fight. Seeing there was no other support they could give to the other two, they once more turned to one another and made ready to fight.
Tarou had emphasized that Akane had a weak defense early in a fight and had a tendency to leave herself open to high attacks early. Kaori came in high with her fist, which Akane promptly ducked. Tendo then came upwards with a solid punch to Kaori’s jaw. The take-out artist backed off, only to be met with a leap kick that connected with her gut. Tarou had claimed that Akane never left her feet for attacks that early in a match, and that she stayed mostly on the ground.
Things were not turning out quite the way Kaori expected. She was supposed to be winning the fight easily. Instead, nothing was going right. A leg sweep knocked Kaori off her feet and she narrowly rolled out of the path of the follow-up ax kick. Kaori managed to leap to her feet and connected lightly with a reverse spin kick to Akane’s side. The offense was short lived as Akane came in high with a series of punches and chops. The blocks took their toll as Kaori absorbed the merciless punishment, Akane not letting up for even a second. Tendo managed to sneak in with an elbow to the head and another kick to the chest. She then switched tactics and came in with a volley of blows that left Kaori unbalanced enough that Akane could employ a powerful front kick which, despite being blocked, knocked her opponent to the ground. Instinctively the fallen girl reached back, only to have her hand fall upon her takeout box. Realizing that Akane was drawing her fist back in an effort to end the fight with one final blow, Kaori’s hand went inside the box and latched onto the one thing that might save her.
Akane unleashed the blow straight for Kaori’s face, only to find that her fist was stopped cold.
Everyone winced as flesh met metal.
The fist had connected solidly with a metal serving tray. Not an ordinary tray, which her fist would have gone clean through, but one made of a specially-treated titanium alloy. Akane made one other discovery as well.
Even as Akane spun around in pain, praying her hand had not been broken, Kaori rose to her feet and drew back the tray.
“Uh-oh,” Nabiki muttered.
Tarou shuddered as he saw Akane’s eyes cross from the blow to the head. The tide had turned. Worse, Kaori was drawing back to unleash another blow for Akane’s head.
“AKANE! REVERSE HIGH KICK!!!” Tarou shouted.
Akane instinctively reacted to the command and lashed out behind her. She caught the tray just as it was in front of Kaori’s face, driving the metal into flesh and stunning the girl. Both women backed off to collect their wits.
Ryu felt his heart race as Ranma took a position across from him. Now was the moment of truth. Two weeks of anticipation had at last come to a head. Now that the time had come, Ryu found himself feeling relieved. Now there was no more waiting in fear of something going wrong and his true identity being revealed. Today the name would belong to him, for real.
Both opponents afforded one glance to the fight that had started next to them, watching the girls begin their battle. They bowed before one another, and then attacked.
Ryu silently thanked the gods for Tarou. As slimy as the youth was, he had given him enough time to practice with some of the older techniques he had mastered before concentrating upon the Yamasenken, and shake off the rust of his employing them in combat. That, combined with the inside information Tarou had supplied, would make defeating Ranma simple.
Ranma was taken off guard by the techniques Ryu used in the outset. He had been under the impression that the impostor would utilize the Yamasenken, so Ranma had reckoned on using they Umisenken to counter and win. He held back from attacking, waiting for Ryu to use one of that style’s techniques, but it rapidly became apparent that he wasn’t going to use them, opting to go with other styles.
Ryu quickly became frustrated with his opponent. Ranma had not even bothered to attack yet, instead he seemed to be waiting for something, and dodged most of the blows and deflected the rest. Then he realized what it was. Ranma was prepared to counter the Yamasenken, and wasn’t ready for Ryu’s current style. Best to press such an advantage while he possessed it.
Ryu went for an all out attack which allowed him to connect with a blow to the back of Ranma’s leg and one to his head, neither of which was gained using any of the inside information Tarou had given him. He got those blows through the old-fashioned way. He broke through Ranma’s defense by earning it.
Ranma decided enough was enough after two of Ryu’s blows landed. He had obviously somehow learned that Ranma had been taught the Umisenken and that employing the Yamasenken against him wasn’t going to work. At last, Ranma went on the offensive, throwing punches and kicks at Ryu. He was mildly surprised to discover that his opponent was accomplished at other arts as well. Ranma only managed to connect once with a solid shot into the left side of Ryu’s chest.
Ryu weathered a barrage of strikes, mostly directed at his chest. Ranma was good. Very good. In fact, without having been trained to counter many of the boy’s attacks, Ryu probably would have been struck at least a half dozen times. As it was, he had a hard time avoiding getting pounded on by the strikes. He countered, going on the offensive once again. The two exchanged close to twenty or thirty attacks when Ryu went in too high with a kick. Ranma ducked under the blow and grabbed onto the extended leg and tossed his opponent to the ground. Ranma leaped into the air, intending to come down with his foot upon Ryu’s head. That was one of the attacks Ryu had a counter for. From a prone position Ryu used his great strength to springboard up, using one hand, and vaulted up in the air while lashing out with his own right foot. The ironic thing about it was, one of the specialties of Anything Goes Martial Arts was mid-air combat. Ryu was now using such a move to get in a blow on a mid-air attack. Ryu narrowly missed the kick leveled at him and struck Ranma’s head with his own blow. Ranma fell to the ground.
A second kick hit Ranma in the shoulder blades as he regained his footing. Not letting up for a second, Ryu had a third kick blocked, a punch dodged, then hit paydirt once again with a solid punch into Ranma’s midsection that knocked him to the ground once more. He leaned forward to hit Saotome’s prone form on the earth when his blow was stopped. Ranma managed to prevent the blow by raising his leg and catching the fist with the bottom of his foot. In the back of Ryu’s mind a mental note was made about what a marvel of foot and eye coordination it must have taken to halt the fist that way. The admiration was short lived as the other foot joined the first by nailing Ryu in the jaw. He backed off in a guard position as Ranma deftly leaped to his feet, appearing none the worse for wear. It looked like it was going to be a long day.
“Not bad,” Ranma finally spoke.
“You too,” Ryu agreed.
“You can take her, Akane!” Tarou shouted as she struck Kaori with the third in a series of blows leveled at her opponent.
“Kick Fem-Boy’s ass!” he shouted at Ryu.
Tarou continued watching the action from the sidelines as both fights went on. The crowds were cheering at the tops of their lungs about what a performance it was, though neither battle was going quite the way Tarou had expected. Especially Akane’s. She would have finished off Kaori easily by now, if she hadn’t gotten sloppy and tried to finish it with the fist strike. Though Tarou had to admit, if his opponent had been taken off guard that badly, he might have risked such a thing. As it stood, Akane had recovered from the worst of the blow to her head and was fighting more evenly with her opponent now. Kaori had obviously abandoned using what Tarou had taught her and was sticking with her take-out style, using a variety of food as a weapon.
Tarou switched his attention to Ranma’s fight. That fight was a lot more unpredictable since Ranma could adapt pretty quickly to almost any foe. But if Ryu stuck to what Tarou had taught him, he should win. A smile creased Tarou’s face as Ryu spun a kick around that hit solidly on Ranma’s shoulder. Just as he was about to cheer Ryu on once more he thought he noticed something about Ranma’s pattern of attacks. Then he saw it. Ranma had tricked Ryu into extending too far out on his attacks and was leaving himself off balance. It was subtle, and Ranma had taken his time in doing it. Very sneaky.
“WATCH OUT, IMPOSTOR!!!”
The warning was too late. Ryu suddenly found Ranma inside his guard and watched as Ranma caught an arm and nailed Ryu with the Amaguriken full in the stomach. Reflexively Ryu went for one of his Yamasenken attacks, the Dokuja Tanketsu Sho with fingers extended, and watched as Ranma went reeling from the blow. He shut out the pain from his chest as he went for a second strike for Ranma’s own chest, just like he had in their first brief skirmish. His hand thrust forward and met nothing but air. Ranma had dropped to this back and slid between Ryu’s legs, then unleashed several blows into his knees, considerably weakening his ability to stand. Ryu barely managed to roll backward before Ranma disabled the legs altogether, and stood up shakily before his opponent. He fell into a defensive posture until he could regain the full use of his legs, something Ranma was determined to prevent.
Cologne looked up at the sky. It was time. It truly was unfortunate she couldn’t stay and watch the rest of the fight. It was turning into quite a showdown, but she had to see how the much more important battle between Shampoo and Mousse would turn out. She hopped off on her staff to hurry to the battle across town.
She arrived to see a small gathering of people clustered for the battle. There was nowhere near the carnival atmosphere at this fight that was present at the other. Only a single vendor selling ice cream and a small girl with a croquet mallet on her back stuffing her face on the product was felt as a commercial presence.
Cologne recognized Ukyou and Kasumi standing off to one side of the crowd, remaining close to one another. She could overhear Ukyou reassuring Kasumi that Shampoo knew what she was doing and there was no need to be concerned. If only Cologne had felt that way.
The participants took to the bowl-shaped field at the same time. The shape of the field of combat would help keep people from possibly getting injured. There was little doubt Mousse would use a variety of ranged weapons, and one never knew if a few of them might go astray. In spite of that, everyone stood a good distance away from the fighters. No sense in taking unnecessary chances.
Mousse brought his arms together, concealing his hands within the folds of the sleeves. As hard as he tried to look at ease, he believed he was failing at it. The problem was Shampoo. She stood across from him, as he knew she would. He had envisioned the fight hourly in an effort to accept the fact he was going to have to go all out and hurt his beloved. But actually being there was so different from fantasizing about it. However, there was no doubt in his mind about what he must do. It had to be done.
He was, however, taken off guard by the Amazon’s appearance. She was wearing robes that were almost identical to his, save for the fact they were purple. He had no idea why she would possibly want to wear such a thing. She possessed no mastery of hidden weapon techniques, at least not to his knowledge. Perhaps it was all some tactic to take him off guard. If so, it wouldn’t work.
“Shampoo,” he said at the figure standing a good fifty feet in front of him, getting the direction right the first time. “I offer you one last chance to surrender and acknowledge me as your husband.” There was no possibility she would accept, but he had to make the offer. Had to make one last offer to give up, if for no other reason than to ease his conscience.
Shampoo gave a soft laugh at him. A laugh bereft of humor. “Do you no understand yet, Mousse? I sooner die than become you wife. And I sooner kill you than die. Now no more talk. Just fight.”
He nodded his head in acceptance, the signal to begin. Neither combatant moved.
Mousse was somewhat surprised. Shampoo was usually the aggressor in such matches. Especially since she had to close the distance between them. It was a curiosity as to why the Amazon elected to take a more passive role in this fight. Perhaps like the clothing, it was another trick to catch him sleeping. Well, he had a few tricks of his own. Hopefully he wouldn’t have to employ the more lethal ones.
After a few more moments of remaining motionless, Mousse decided to take action first. He released a volley of standard chain-weapons, which Shampoo deftly avoided by leaping to the side, yet remained the same distance away. That confused him even more. Why wasn’t she trying to move in closer? His arsenal of weaponry would outlast her ability to dodge them and exhaust her. A secret hope welled within him as he considered that she might be subconsciously throwing the fight. The thought didn’t last long as it was quickly disposed of. There was no time for such unrealistic fantasies. He had to fight.
A second volley met with the same fate. Then a third. Finally as he released his fourth set she dashed forward. He gave a soft growl as he finally figured out her strategy. She was trying to relax him slightly by making the same senseless maneuver over and over so he would automatically react as though it were a predictable move. And it worked. She closed almost half the distance before he reacted to the change of tactics and countered with a fifth set from one of his sleeves. This one was used much closer, giving her less time to react. Despite the close proximity, she managed to leap up in the air and perform a roll, much like he would have done to avoid the attack.
He unleashed yet a sixth volley, only to watch the robe somehow fall off in the middle of her aerial move. One of the chains continued on and punched through the garment, releasing a huge cloud of flour, which obscured his vision. He barely moved out of the way in time to see Shampoo charging forth from the cloud, right on top of him.
He braced for a strike from the girl, already moving back to roll with the blow and to gain some distance from her at the same time. It was a surprise to see her draw back her arms and then come across in a raking motion. As they swung forward he felt part of his robes snag on her hands and come away with a loud tear. She moved out of his immediate striking range and he saw her remove the material from her hands. Now that he had a moment, he noticed that she had two leather straps wrapped around her hands with tiny spikes protruding from the palms, as well as two bandoleers of mini-spatulas strapped across her chest, in addition to her standard sword and bonbori.
He examined himself and saw the huge chunk of clothing missing from the front of his robes, nearly thirty percent of the total volume. A magnificent tactic. Shampoo knew that if he lacked somewhere to hide his weapons, he wouldn’t be able to use them. And the less clothing he had, the less number of items he would be able to use.
She came in once more, arms raised to rake across his clothing once again. Quickly he pulled a wooden shield from his robe, barely getting it in front of him in time to prevent the attack. Both sets of claws embedded themselves in the soft wood. Deep in the wood. Mousse quickly threw the shield away with a great deal of force, snapping the leather straps off of Shampoo’s hands and tossing the claws away with the shield.
Shampoo didn’t hesitate in her next action as she raised her fist and struck Mousse in the stomach. She heard him “wuff” as the breath was knocked out if him for a moment. Then he did the unexpected. He spun around and caught her in the stomach with a spin kick of his own. A hard kick. There was the slightest bit of surprise in Shampoo, as she understood the fact that that was the first time he struck out at her without holding anything back. Even preparing herself all week, it was still quite a shock to actually have it happen.
Mousse slipped a hand inside his sleeve and pulled it out just as quickly, drawing back with his fist. Shampoo caught the glint of something on his hand.
“No. It can’t be. He wouldn’t use something like that!” she thought.
As great as her shock was at feeling that first kick of his, this was even greater. It was so tremendous that she hesitated for the briefest of seconds, just enough time for Mousse to lash out and connect with a blow right above her eye. The brass knuckles he wore on his hand added to the damage of the blow, stunning her.
Cologne watched in horror as Shampoo paused for a moment while stunned. Mousse had the advantage now, and if he followed up with one more devastating attack he would win. Both the match and a wife.
Rather than follow up, Mousse paused for the briefest of moments himself, sorrowful of his own actions. “Shampoo. Please forgive me.”
He drew back his fist once more to finish the fight, but his hesitation cost him. The opportunity he had for a quick victory passed as Shampoo reflexively reached up and grabbed Mousse by the ears and drew her head back. She brought his head downward as she rammed her own forward, directly into the blind one’s nose. Cartilage shattered as she broke the nose with her own forehead.
“All is forgiven,” she hissed as she released his skull and shook her own head, trying to clear it of the strike she had taken moments before.
The pain was blindingly intense as Mousse staggered away, blood running freely down the front of his white robes, which displayed the fluid so well. “You… you broke it.” he blubbered as he tenderly clutched at his face, trying to bring the pain under control.
“I break more than that before we through,” Shampoo answered quietly back.
The fight continued.
Akane caught Kaori in the side of the head with another kick. At last, the beating the take-out girl had suffered at the outset of the fight was beginning to take its toll. Kaori was unquestionably getting slower as the fight progressed.
“Get back!” Kaori raged as she lashed out with the noodles she was using as a makeshift cat o’ nine tails. The weapon had kept Akane at a distance early on, and even struck slightly several times with blows had not resulted in any real damage.
Akane leaped back to avoid the attack when her foot stumbled on something hidden in the taller grass, causing her to lose her footing. She glanced down from her prone position to see a part of a broken baseball bat. Her mind raced as she realized it would be a very useful weapon. Her hand fell upon the object as she remained prone and feigned helplessness. Smiling, Kaori drew back her noodles and brought them forward, only to have them wrap themselves firmly around the bat. Taken by surprise, it was simple for Akane to rip the weapon out of Kaori’s grasp and hurl the bat and noodles away.
“It’ll take more than that to stop me!” Kaori shouted. “FISH CAKE SURPRISE ATTACK!!!” and hurled several fish cakes to the ground in front of Akane.
Akane held her defensive stance for a few moments, then dropped out of it as the fish cakes did nothing. “What’s the surprise? That they sit there and go rotten?”
Then the fish cakes exploded.
Kaori observed the cloud of dust, making certain Akane didn’t come out of the cloud for a few moments, and then began to brush herself off. “That takes care of…” she trailed off as a black-sooted Akane emerged from the cloud.
“Around here, you become used to getting caught in explosions,” Akane explained as she moved to begin the fight once again.
“What does it take to stop you?!” Kaori yelled. This was the longest duel she had been in.
“More than you’ve got!”
Kaori smiled at that remark. “I doubt that very much.” And with that she pulled out a dozen chopsticks from within her blouse. In an instant they were propelled through the air and at Akane. She attempted to jump over the incoming projectiles and managed to avoid all but two of them. The pair of wooden implements dug themselves into her lower calf.
Her landing came with a loud, “AHH!” as she touched down with the chopsticks sticking out of her leg. A quick examination revealed they were not embedded in deeply. Kaori was going for the win, not the kill. More chopsticks were hurled in Akane’s direction as she rolled out of the way again, careful not to put too much pressure on the wounded leg.
Kaori switched tactics and came in close for hand to hand once again. Hoping to inflict even more damage on Akane’s leg. She managed to get one solid blow in, collapsing Akane to one knee. Just as Kaori brought her take-out box over for a blow, Akane darted under the lunge and grabbed her opponent's leg, knocking her to the ground. A second later a hard right landed on Kaori’s jaw, dazing her once again. The two began to grapple on the ground Akane, slowly starting to gain an advantage over her opponent.
“What count do you have now, Tendo?” Genma asked.
“Eighty-six for the impostor. Seventy-five blows for Ranma, not counting the Amaguriken.”
The battle between Ranma and Ryu raged on, neither one gaining a clear advantage. Each was beginning to feel tired from the number of attacks they had used against one another, as well as avoiding the attacks directed at them. At last Ryu connected once more with a palm strike to Ranma’s chest. No advantage was gained as Ranma retaliated with a three-hit combination of fist, elbow, then roundhouse kick to Ryu’s jaw. The flesh on the chin split open and blood poured from the open gash on the point of his jaw. Ryu felt the blood with one of his hands, and then flicked some at Ranma.
“That’s nothing,” Ryu spat. His first blow was a high punch, and then he followed it up with another Dokuja Tanketsu Sho, nailing Ranma right in the heart despite Saotome’s attempted block. There was no follow up as Ranma answered with a Haku Dato Shin Sho. The series of finger strikes impacted so hard that the force of the blows seemed to go clean through Ryu. Both youths reeled back in pain from the successful attacks.
“I won’t let you win!” Ryu said, chest heaving from his exertion.
“My name’s staying right where it is, pal!” Ranma shot back.
Both of them came in for punches once more, each striking solidly with the other. Ryu suffered yet another blow to the head in order to grab Ranma by the body and force his upper torso down. He then proceeded to use a move he had seen a Muy Thai boxer use, bringing his knee up a number of times rapidly into Ranma’s midsection.
Ranma caught the knee on the ninth blow and gained enough leverage to get Ryu off his back and throw him chest first into the ground, while still maintaining the hold on the knee. Ranma then bent it backwards, opposite the direction it was supposed to go. Only Ryu, managing to twist his free leg around and strike Ranma’s head, kept the knee from popping out of joint. Ryu regained his feet and gave Ranma a palm thrust to the head, opening a cut right below the hairline. Ranma caught the follow up elbow and leaped to his feet, nailing Ryu with a double kick in the chest.
Ranma lashed out with two jabs at Ryu’s head, which were blocked, then came at him with a kick. Ryu caught the appendage and leg-whipped Ranma to the ground. He had just enough time to level two vicious kicks into his opponent’s back before Ranma once again got to his feet and leaped into the air. Ryu made the mistake of following him up, only to get smashed back down into the ground.
Shampoo leaped backward as Mousse used the “blow of the swan fist” in an effort to bring his opponent low. She answered by grabbing her bonbori and shattering the duck potty seat he swung at her. It was Mousse’s turn to leap back as he threw out a wire cord in Shampoo’s direction while still going backward. The wire looped itself around the handle of one of her bonbori and cut right through it, allowing the hunk of metal to fall to the ground as Shampoo gaped in astonishment at the fate of one of her favorite weapons.
Mousse was quick to follow up this time as he pulled a bo staff from within the robes and attempted to strike Shampoo in the head. The Amazon easily caught the weapon with her free hand and shattered the pole-arm with her remaining weapon. Two swings with the bonbori were evaded by Mousse, who backed off and threw a variety of shuriken and throwing darts in Shampoo’s direction. Even as she tucked and rolled, dodged, and leapt out of the way of the projectiles she took note that he was aiming for her arms and legs. The blind one was being careful not to end up with a corpse for a wife, but he didn’t seem to mind marking her up a bit.
Shampoo retaliated by hurling a number of the mini-spatulas, knocking most of Mousse’s thrown weapons to the ground while forcing him to be mindful of her own attacks. The tactic worked long enough to catch him off guard and allow Shampoo to flip over his head, bringing a fist downward as she was upside down and poised directly above the blind one’s skull. As she landed behind him his foot lashed out again, this time in a reverse kick, catching her fully in the back. She rolled with the blow, but felt the impact continue to bother her.
Mousse activated his elbow blades from his robes, only to have Shampoo destroy them just as Ranma had done during the Ranma-Eating Plant encounter. A quick two-kick combination met with Mousse’s head and chest, driving him backwards. Her hand darted out, tearing off another patch of robes from Mousse’s person.
A running chainsaw appeared in Mousse’s hands and he swung it in Shampoo’s direction, causing her to back off for momentarily until she drew her remaining bonbori once again and brought it down on the machine, smashing it into inoperable junk. There was no respite, as the blind one proceeded to throw a bag of powder at Shampoo’s face. She barely managed to close her eyes and hold her breath in time to prevent the powder from affecting her. Unfortunately it left her vulnerable to Mousse, who had donned a gas mask to prevent the sneezing powder from bothering him. A kick to the chest sent her flying out of the cloud, landing hard on her back.
A cattle prod sprung from out of the sleeve, and into Mousse’s hand as he thrust it at Shampoo’s prone form. From a seemingly impossible position, she rolled to her feet even as the prod dug into the earth where she had been but moments before. Ripping the cattle prod out of his hands she swung it in an arc, breaking it over his skull. A knee then found its way into his stomach, doubling him over. His foot lashed out, stomping on Shampoo’s foot in a very basic but effective attack, causing her to hop back on her good foot and try to regain the balance on both legs.
She barely evaded the battle-ax that next appeared in Mousse’s hands and was aimed at her mid-section. He must have been getting desperate. If she hadn’t moved in time the slash would have cut her in half. She grabbed onto his arm as he attempted to bring the weapon around again, and twisted. The pain caused him to drop the weapon, but allowed him to use enough force to get out of Shampoo’s grasp and back off.
A series of bolos were thrown out to try to incapacitate Shampoo. She narrowly avoided the attack and was forced away from Mousse once more, losing ground in the process. More knives and hand axes came flying at her, as she had to leap to keep from being sliced to ribbons.
Her sword was in her hand in a flash as she prepared to move to attack once more. However, Mousse was waiting for its appearance as he drew a powerful electro-magnet that ripped the sword out of her hand and attached itself to the device. Mousse tossed the mechanism away and brought out even more throwing blades, as Shampoo began dodging once again.
Cologne was watching the fight with a careful eye. Things were quickly escalating between the two, especially Mousse. It was painfully obvious he was beginning to get desperate, and was using more and more lethal tactics in his efforts to defeat Shampoo. Her concentration on the fight was so intense she did not even notice the newcomer move next to her until she spoke up.
“<Greetings, elder. It’s been a long time.>”
Cologne turned in wide-eyed surprise at the newcomer, Silk. “<I didn’t know you were in Japan!>”
Silk bent over and embraced her friend in greeting. “<I arrived here about two weeks ago. You’re a difficult woman to find.>”
“<I was busy doing things,>” she explained as she returned the embrace, then backed off. “<You were looking for me?>”
“<Yes.>” Silk nodded her head sagely. “<Your presence was ‘requested’ by the council. There are many things happening that need your supervision, or at least advice.>”
Cologne arched her eyebrow at that. With her absence, Be Dea was undoubtedly running things the way she wanted. ‘Requesting’ Cologne to return was the last thing that particular elder should have wanted. It could only mean something important must have been transpiring back home. Cologne was going to have to come up with some explanation for her extended absence. And the truth was certainly out of the question.
“<Your great-granddaughter fights well,>” Silk commented. “<It appears her longtime suitor is going all-out as well. I’m glad I didn’t miss this one.>”
Cologne simply nodded in agreement, her concentration divided on both the fight, and her reasons for coming to Japan.
“<I heard an interesting rumor back home,>” Silk mentioned as Kasumi spotted her and the two waved at one another.
Cologne looked at Silk, bewildered at the exchange she had with the eldest Tendo daughter. Things were occurring without her knowledge. “<What rumors?>”
“<Oh, silly ones. Like Shampoo fell into Nanniichuan and turns into a man.>”
Cologne managed to keep her face motionless. “<What ridiculous gossip.>”
“<Yes. Ridiculous gossip,>” Silk agreed. “<I stopped by Soun Tendo’s place this time.>”
“<Soun?>” Cologne asked. She had no idea why Silk spoke about him with such familiarity.
“<My lover from Japan. I thought I mentioned him to you.>”
“<I knew there was someone here that stole your heart, but you never mentioned his name.>” If she had, Cologne would have undoubtedly been able to use that information in some way.
Silk scowled. She had been sure she had mentioned his name somewhere before. It didn’t matter though. “<He has some interesting company. A little red-haired girl called Shampoo, and a rather handsome young man who seemed familiar. Why, if I didn’t know it was so preposterous, I would have mistaken him for Shampoo’s twin brother.>”
“<I see.>” Cologne maintained a neutral voice.
“<It’s probably a good thing no hot water was hurled around. If it had been Shampoo, and if there was a change before my eyes, I would have been honor bound to report it to the council. If such a preposterous story were true. It’s a good thing there was no hot water, wasn’t it?>”
“<Yes.>” Cologne nodded. “<A good thing.>” Cologne understood what Silk’s meaning was through those veiled words. “I won’t ask any questions, and I’ll shut my eyes to what’s going on, but I won’t directly lie for you.” That was more than the matriarch could have dared hope for.
“<Let’s continue watching the fight. It’s intensifying again,>” Silk said as she returned her attention to the fight.
Kodachi at last arrived at the duel and kept to the back of the crowd, out of sight of her beloved, lest her presence affect him. It was so painful to watch him suffer a savage beating at the hands of the Chinese witch. But if he lost, then he might be able to know happiness at some point in the future. Silently she prayed for him to be beaten with a minimum of force.
Tarou watched the ensuing fight with barely-restrained glee. Ryu and Ranma’s clothing was torn in a number of places, and both bled from minor wounds. Each fighter was sacrificing defense for offense, and it was rapidly beginning to wear the duo down. Oh, how he relished the pain Ranma must have felt as each blow landed. Tarou only wished it were him inflicting that kind of punishment. On the down side, neither fighter could keep up that level of ferocity for very long without absorbing too much damage and falling.
Tarou was wrong. Each fighter continued to deliver an incredible amount of blows, many of them landing fully on his opponent.
Ranma came in low with a tackle in attempt to flip his adversary over, only to have Ryu maintain balance and give a two fisted blow into Ranma’s back. Saotome was certain he felt one of the disks in his back slip from the force of the impact. At last, Ranma finally got enough leverage to hurl Ryu over his head and land on his back. Ryu regained his footing as quickly as it had been lost to him.
Ranma brought another kick into Ryu’s head and felt something in the face give. He paused a moment to catch his breath and let the pain register on his opponent.
“Give up… man! You can’t take… much more,” Ranma gasped out.
“This is… nothing.” Ryu’s labored breathing matched Ranma’s own. “I know girls that… hit harder than… you.”
“So do… I. In fact I’m… engaged to her.”
“Then… let me put you… out of your misery.” Ryu launched another kick at Ranma, which Saotome easily caught, just as Ryu planned. As Ranma held the leg Ryu spun around and lashed out with his free one, nailing Ranma in the head while the force of the blow made Ranma release the leg. Ryu’s next punch was blocked as Ranma connected with Ryu’s chest, breaking a rib. Even as bone broke, Ryu caught the arm and, through tear filled eyes, bought his own arm up from underneath it. Ranma cried out in pain as his shoulder popped out of its socket. Only a backfist from Ranma saved him from being defeated in the next second, the blow making the already broken cheekbone in Ryu’s face split into three pieces as he cried out in agony and backed off.
Even through the pain of his shoulder, Ranma knew what kind of damage he inflicted on his opponent. “Give… up. It’s my… name. I… ain’t letting… you have… it.”
“I’ll… never… give it… up. You… have to… kill me… first.”
Ranma gathered his strength as he spoke through clenched teeth. “I’m Ranma… Saotome… of the Any… thing…Goes School of… Martial Arts. It’s what… I… am. I don’t… give… up”
“Then… fall!” Ryu came at Ranma with a fist, only to have Ranma sidestep it and hit him in the midsection with a kick. Ryu’s hand hit Ranma’s separated shoulder, causing Saotome to shout out in agony and kick Ryu in the leg, temporarily paralyzing the nerves from the power of the blow, before staggering out of the way.
Ryu fought through the pain and rose to his feet. He was audibly sobbing as pain threatened to rob him of consciousness. “I’ll… never… give… her up!
I…” Chi energy built up in his hands.
“…LOVE…” It doubled, flaring up between his palms.
“…HER!!!” And with that he unleashed the Kijin Raishu Dan at Ranma. The chi bolts of energy hit Ranma with full force and sent him flying over thirty feet away, the last ten feet kicking up a good amount of earth that left a groove where Ranma traveled.
Everyone gasped at the move, save Kaori and Akane who were still rolling on the ground fighting, and wondered if Ranma had even survived the blow.
“I’d die for you,” Ryu whispered under his breath then sagged to his knees, feeling totally drained. It didn’t matter. The name was his now.
Ryu failed to notice the single hand raise itself towards the sky. Others noticed, as Ranma lowered the hand to the ground and heaved himself to his feet.
He was smiling.
“That… the… best you… got?” Ranma allowed a ball of chi energy build up in his only working arm.
“Well…” the chi doubled in size.
“…here’s…” it tripled.
“…MINE!!!” Ranma unleashed his first Mouko Takabisha directly at Ryu.
Ryu saw the build up of chi and decided there was no chance he would be able to dodge it. He began to brace for the impact when he saw the man out of the corner of his eye. It was a figure he knew all too well, and his presence was certainly a surprise. Kaori must have informed him of the challenge and quietly sent for him, not wishing her husband to worry about such a detail. But by far the worst part was whom he was speaking to. The man was standing next to Genma, talking to him. It was at that moment that Ryu noticed the man turned to look at him. The instant Ryu’s eyes met the older man’s he understood.
Mr. Daikokuji knew the truth.
It was all over.
All of that happened in a split second. There was only one thing left to do. Rather than brace for the incoming chi attack, Ryu through his arms wide open and accepted the full force of the Mouko Takabisha, silently praying it would kill him.
Not a sound was heard outside of the energy making contact with Ryu’s body. For a moment his body disappeared in the light of the attack, making all wonder for the briefest of seconds if the shot had disintegrated him altogether. As the light died down all could see Ryu’s form fly limply flew through the air, as though he was an angel with its wing severed, falling from the heavens.
It was with an audible thud that his body landed not ten feet away from where Kaori and Akane continued their fight, Akane clearly with the advantage and on the verge of winning. Both girls looked up at the sound and saw Ryu’s limp form land next to them. Their reactions were very different as Akane released her hold and looked over to where Ranma was standing while Kaori ran over to the side of her beloved.
“RANMA! RANMA! SPEAK TO ME!!!” Kaori began shaking his limp form, too far in shock to consider what additional damage she might be doing to him.
“Let him go, Kaori.”
Akane turned to see an unfamiliar man with big ears that had made his way to Kaori’s side.
“He’s hurt, Daddy! I have to help him!” She held him more gently, but remained where she was.
“He’s not Ranma,” her father informed her.
Kaori continued sobbing. “I don’t care if he lost his name!”
“He didn’t lose his name, Kaori It was never Ranma to begin with. He lied to us,” Daikokuji’s voice remained neutral. “He lied to you.”
Kaori looked bewilderedly at her father. “What do you mean?”
“I talked with Genma over there.” He indicated in Saotome’s direction. “The boy that was fighting this impostor is the real Ranma Saotome. It’s the truth. This is all my fault. I took the impostor at face value. I was so happy that we found him I didn’t bother to check his history. I’m sorry.”
Kaori shook her head in disbelief. “No,” she whispered. “It’s not true.”
“It… is,” Ryu managed to gasp out. Tears of sorrow falling from his eyes as he remained motionless. After taking the blast full force from Ranma, Ryu had felt unconsciousness moving in. He wanted to give in to that inviting darkness, but then he heard Kaori’s cries. He couldn’t fade away until he knew what was going on. Until Kaori knew the truth. “Sorry,” he rasped, then yielded to the beckoning darkness as he drifted into unconsciousness.
Kaori stared at his form, stunned. Something snapped inside her mind as she grabbed his slack body and began shaking it. “It’s not true! Tell me it’s not true! You’re Ranma Saotome! Tell them! Tell everyone!”
Her father physically restrained her as paramedics were called to the scene, all the time Kaori kicking and screaming about how Ryu was lying and he really was Ranma Saotome. Akane had been so enraptured by the revelations that she had paid attention to nothing other than the discussion. Once the most exciting part was over she at last turned to ask Ranma what he thought of what had happened.
He was nowhere to be seen.
Ranma had remained where he was long enough to see Ryu wasn’t going to be getting up in the near future. After those few short seconds, he turned and headed off.
“Gotta’ help Shampoo,” he mumbled quietly, as he weakly staggered away towards the other fight.
Ukyou watched as Shampoo and Mousse leaped around, each trying to incapacitate the other. It had been nearly ten minutes since Shampoo had been able to get close enough to engage Mousse in physical combat. Ukyou was beginning to fear that even the Amazon’s tremendous endurance was going to run out before she could finish off Mousse.
Ukyou could see Shampoo’s eye had swollen shut from Mousse’s first punch. Whether it was exhaustion, or if Shampoo’s depth perception was affected because of the eye, the chef wouldn’t have been able to say. But as Shampoo used the last of her mini-spatulas to deflect another volley of Mousse’s shuriken, two of them missed. The two incoming projectiles headed onward to their destination: Shampoo’s head. Ukyou knew there wasn’t enough time to draw her own spatulas to deflect the course of the blades before it was too late.
It didn’t matter.
Shampoo held up her forearm and blocked the shuriken with her own flesh. Both projectiles bit in deeply, but the Amazon never flinched, not even after they struck. Gasps were made by the crowd as they observed the weapons protruding out of her arm. About the only one that didn’t gasp was Shampoo.
She gave a look of total disdain towards Mousse as she shut out the pain. “What this supposed to do? Irritate me?” And with that, she slowly withdrew both objects, eyes never leaving Mousse as she tossed them to the ground. She began slowly walking towards Mousse at a steady, even pace, anger now in her eye.
The shock of what she was doing was so great that Mousse remained motionless until she covered half the distance to him. Once he shook out of the shock, he gave a battlecry and threw everything he could at Shampoo. It wasn’t enough, as she managed to evade all of the objects and got within reach of him. Her punch connected with his broken nose, causing Mousse to cry out in agony and grab at it.
The opening was all Shampoo needed. She grabbed roughly onto his robes and with a mighty pull ripped the garment totally off of his person, leaving him in nothing but his blue pants and black slippers. She tossed the robe, and all the weapons within, away as Mousse made several leaps back until he was a good fifty feet away.
“Stupid Mousse! You can no do anything from back there. You have no more weapons. Now come to Shampoo.” She curled her finger and beckoned him to come back to her, her smile promising a great deal of pain.
“There’s one last trick up my sleeve.” And with that he raised his arms in the air and balanced himself on one leg as he allowed years of frustration to come to the fore once again. Shampoo’s eyes widened as she saw his form start to glow.
“The Soaring Eagle Strike,” Cologne mumbled. “But he’s using frustration instead of serenity. An impressive modification.”
Ranma finally managed to clear his head as rushed to the edge of the battlefield. He stopped next to Cologne to get a good view of the fight, arriving just in time to see the huge white chi bird form in front of Mousse. The bird launched itself towards the purple-haired Amazon with a scream of burning air. Ranma saw she had just enough time to raise her hands and see a brief flash of light before her form disappeared in the blinding light. As the bird struck her there was a tremendous explosion that engulfed the area, knocking everyone but those next to Cologne off their feet. The elderly Amazon managed to erect a chi shield just in time, as dust enshrouded the whole field.
“SHAMPOO!!!” Ranma screamed at the top of his lungs and rushed forward, only to be stopped by Cologne’s staff.
“What do you think you’re doing?” He snapped, drawing his good arm back to show he was ready to use force to get down there.
“You are too ready to give up on my great-granddaughter. Don’t underestimate her,” Cologne chided. “Didn’t you see that flash of light before the bird hit?”
“Good. Now see what happens.” Cologne said then turned back to the field of battle.
Mousse stood motionless, jaw dropped in amazement. The attack was too powerful. He hadn’t been able to get anywhere near that much force before. The increase of power almost certainly had to have something to do with the robes. Perhaps the hidden weapon technique had somehow interfered with the ability to summon his chi. And now, now he had killed Shampoo. There was no possible way she could have survived the detonation. Even Ranma couldn’t have, though it had almost seemed as though the explosion was too big, even for the amount of chi he had used.
“Shampoo. I’m sorry,” he started to sob.
The wind began to blow the dust away, allowing Mousse to see the destruction he had wrought. There was a crater about forty feet across and ten feet deep, showing the incredible amount of power that he had unleashed. Just as he began to pray to the gods that they should watch over Shampoo, he saw a figure standing in the quickly retreating dust.
“A demon?” he exclaimed. Come to take him to hell, perhaps. The cloud at last blew away from the figure, leaving Mousse staring at something far worse than any Angel of Vengeance he could have imagined.
Shampoo stood before him, half-naked and bearing a very evil gleam in her eye.
The explosion had blown off a good portion of her clothing, with just enough remaining to hide her somewhat modestly, but aside from that there was no outward sign of injury.
Shampoo pointed at him and laughed. “That was pathetic. Just what I expect from you!”
“NOOOOOO!!!” Mousse screamed at the top of his lungs and grabbed several fallen weapons, a couple of chains and a pair of bolos with a wire connecting the orbs. It wasn’t fair. He had given Shampoo his best attack and she stood there and LAUGHED at him. Just like she always did. He wanted to win. He needed to win. He needed to beat her just once. He needed to prove he could do it to everyone. He was not a joke. He was a martial artist, one of the best. He shouldn’t be mocked. He was a man. He deserved her love, not her ridicule. She shouldn’t be LAUGHING at him.
First he threw one chain, which she dodged, then a second, which she avoided much more slowly. He knew it! She was almost exhausted. She wasn’t an invincible juggernaut that could take anything. She had to be close to the end.
He threw the final weapon, the bolos. This time she failed to evade them as the wire came across her front and looped themselves around her torso, pinning her arms to her side. It was over. Mousse leaped into the air to unleash one final kick.
Shampoo raised her right leg, arms remaining pinned to her sides. She silently praised her great-grandmother for making her learn how to balance herself without the use of her arms. One never knew when an appendage might get incapacitated, the elder had said. So the Amazon was perfectly balanced for the ace in the hole that she was about to reveal. It had to work. She lacked the time and strength to snap the wire that bound her arms to her sides. It was now all or nothing.
Mousse lined himself up perfectly as he leapt in the air and prepared to finish her off. Shampoo drew her leg back, timing the move just right.
“KACHUU TENSHIN AMAGURIKEN REVISED! KICK OF DOOM!!!”
Mousse suddenly found himself on the receiving end of one hundred and thirty-four kicks that pounded over the entire length of his body, breaking five ribs in the process. Shampoo would have hit him with more if there had been any strength left. As it was, she slumped to the ground on her knees even as Mousse struck the ground, unconscious. It was finally over.
Mousse lost again.
For the last time.
Ranma watched Shampoo closely as she slowly undid the bolos wrapped around her and spotted him. She waved and began to make her way over when Ukyou and Kasumi rushed to congratulate her on the hard fought victory. Ranma was going to follow when Cologne motioned for him to remain where he was.
“I want to make sure she’s all right,” Ranma growled.
“Stay here for a moment,” Cologne requested.
“Forget it!” he growled back.
Cologne looked him over with a careful eye. “What’s wrong with your arm?”
“I got a separated shoulder,” he explained
“I might be able to help. May I?” Silk asked, then indicated Ranma should stand still. She placed her hand on the injury and closed her eyes. When she opened them she stared directly at Ranma. “You are correct. Now allow me to help you with an ancient Chinese method of fixing such things. I—“ she stopped abruptly as she pointed over Ranma’s other shoulder. “What’s that over there?!”
Ranma swiveled his head. “I don’t see anyth—“
Silk thrust the shoulder back where it belonged. She took careful note of the faintness that nearly toppled Ranma from the pain, and then placed a finger on a pressure point to take the edge off the pain. Almost immediately he began to relax.
“Why didn’t you hit that spot before?” he questioned accusingly.
“You weren’t in as much pain. Besides, you may have to do that yourself someday, and you should get used to the pain.”
“Relax, boy.” Cologne gave her toothy grin. “I’m sure you’ll want Shampoo all to yourself, so the two of you can compare notes. Let her finish with her friends before coming over to you. I have to leave in a few minutes, and you probably have some questions for me.”
She was correct “How did she survive that blast?” Ranma asked the diminutive Amazon.
“That flash of light you saw before the Soaring Eagle struck was the Dragon’s Scales defense.” She saw that had captured Ranma’s interest and continued. “It’s a defense that has a two-fold purpose. One is the rather obvious use, that of preventing chi attacks from striking the body, as you saw there. The other one is what the defense is primarily used for, that of multiple opponents. The scales guard the body in every way. There are no openings in the defense. Once someone attacks the user, the chi field explodes outward in an omnidirectional blast, incapacitating everyone but the person in the center of the field. If someone employs a chi attack against it, it uses both chi from the defense and redirects the chi used against it. That’s why the explosion was so big. It used both chi in an outward attack. Shampoo has somehow learned this technique on her own. Quite surprising actually.”
“It sounds pretty good,” Ranma commented.
Cologne lost some of her smile. “Actually, it’s not that good of a defense except under certain conditions. Releasing a chi blast in every direction is very draining. There are better defenses, and it’s not a selective attack. Anyone within range will be caught in the explosion, so you should never use it around allies, unless you don’t mind losing them.”
“What’s it used for then?”
That got him a light rap to his head via staff. “Didn’t you listen to what I said? It’s ideal against a group of attackers. Especially when you have one person stand in the middle of such a group then have another farther away unleash a chi attack into it, combining the chi. It can destroy dozens of opponents if used that way.”
“We’d better leave now,” Silk reminded Cologne, then proceeded to walk away. Cologne hopped quickly to catch up to her.
“Wait!” Ranma shouted. Both Amazons stopped to look back at Ranma. “Why’d you teach me that chi attack?”
Cologne gave another one of her toothy grins in response. “It’s called the Mouko Takabisha. And wouldn’t you like to know?” And with that as an explanation the two left.
Ranma’s eyes followed the duo as they walked off into the distance. Cologne was proving herself an enigma. Why was she trying to help him? If it weren’t for her informing him to use confidence with the technique, he would never have defeated the impostor. Nothing made sense any more.
“So why did you teach the boy such a powerful attack?” Silk asked as the duo continued on their way to the airport.
Cologne weighed the value of telling her companion. Silk had already gone out on a limb for her once, so trust was not really an issue. “I wanted to keep my options open, and I needed the boy to win his fight. If Shampoo had lost to Mousse, it would have fallen to Ranma to challenge and defeat the dolt. And if Ranma had lost to the impostor, he might not have been in any shape to fight.”
“That would have transferred the engagement from Mousse to Ranma,” Silk supplied.
“Yes. Well, I don’t believe my great granddaughter would mind that very much.” Cologne’s smile grew even wider. “And I don’t think I’d have a problem calling him my son-in-law. Even if he is more trouble than he’s worth.”
Ranma was still trying to understand what had happened when he was shaken out of his reverie by a hand that laid itself gently on his shoulder. He turned to see Shampoo smile at him. For all her effort it really was a horrible sight. She had a puffy lip and her left eye was swollen completely shut.
“You look just like I feel,” Ranma commented.
“Ranma look even worse than I feel,” Shampoo retorted back, the smile remaining on her face.
“Where’re Kasumi and Ucchan?” Ranma began looking around for the others.
“I send them home. I say not to worry, Ranma will help take me home. So they do as I ask.”
Ranma had a feeling there was more to it than that, but was most definitely not feeling up to interrogating her. Shampoo, on the other hand, was not so relaxed.
“Was that great-grandmother you were talking to?”
“Yeah,” Ranma said. “I can’t figure out what she’s up to, though.”
“Just be on guard. She very sneaky and smart. Smarter than both of us together.” Shampoo said soberly as she looked over Ranma more thoroughly. He appeared totally trashed. It was difficult to believe he was able to make his way to her fight with all the injuries he bore. The pain had to be tremendous. “Did you…” she found she had difficulty continuing.
“Did I what?”
“Is you name still Ranma? Did you win?” She finally managed to get out.
He gave her a big smile. “Of course. If you think I look bad, you should see what the other guy looks like. I hope he survived.” Ranma tried to shrug, then winced as pain shot down his formerly separated shoulder. Then pain relief from the pressure point was already a distant memory.
Shampoo saw that and lost her smile as she suddenly became very concerned. “You need to see Dr. Tofu.”
Surprisingly, he didn’t resist. Instead he looked at her in an equally concerned manner. “You need to go too. And no ‘is just small scratch’ stuff this time.”
Shampoo nodded in agreement. They both needed a check up, then rest. She felt like the next step she took might be her last. As exhausted as she was, she could probably sleep for a week and still feel tired.
The duo walked slowly off. Shampoo making the mistake of trying to loop her arm through Ranma’s, only to get a yelp of pain in response.
“Sorry,” she apologized.
Kodachi stood over her beloved’s unconscious form. There didn’t appear to be any life-threatening injuries, just a lot of minor ones. Nonetheless, she had already sent for help, and he would be treated with the greatest care that the Kunou fortune could buy. She would see to that.
It caused so much pain to see her beloved this way, but it had all been for the best. Now the only question that remained was what Mousse’s reaction would be. Would he reject her yet again, or would he at last have come to his senses and accept her for his own? Only time would tell, and she would wait at his side for the answer. Shampoo had been correct. Kodachi was the only one left that would help him. He was now effectively alone.
Exactly like Kodachi had been most of her life.
The eyes opened to light.
Ryu gazed at the unfamiliar ceiling above him. His senses felt… dull. As though something was interfering with them. It took a moment for him to readjust himself. What had happened? Then it all came back in the rushing flood of memory. His life was over, yet he wasn’t dead. Why were the fates so unkind?
“You have awakened. Good.”
Ryu recognized the voice for its sound, not its tone. Kaori never sounded cold. Not like the way she did now.
“You’re here,” he managed to croak out. He could tell from where he lay that her eyes were red rimmed, as though she had been crying. Oh, how that hurt him. That he had caused her pain. There was relief, despite the pain, however. There could only be one reason why she hadn’t abandoned him. She forgave him.
His hopeful look was returned with a cold stare. He was still like an open book to her. “Do not be happy! You have no right to feel any joy, Ra… whatever your name is!”
“Ryu,” he said painfully. “My real name is Ryu Kumon.”
“I don’t care what your name is now,” she said hollowly.
Ryu’s hopeful stare became one of confusion. What was she here for, then? “Why? Don’t you—?”
She cut him off. “NO! I do not forgive you. If—“ She found her voice catching. That wouldn’t do at all. “If you had told me at any other time, I—“ her voice caught again. “I would have forgiven you. Eventually. But you weren’t going to tell me. You were never going to let me find out the truth. You would have hidden it beneath further lies to keep your secret.”
“I didn’t mean to lie to you. It just happened,” he tried to explain. “And once I fell in love with you, I didn’t want you to find out. I was afraid you’d leave me.” His voice became more insistent. “I love you!”
The facade she had managed to hold since he awoke at last broke down. “Then I know I made the right choice.” Her eyes began to fill with tears.
“Thank Kami! I was afraid I lost you.”
“You don’t understand.” She gave a painful little laugh, confusing him further. “You have.”
For what might have been the first time in his life, Ryu Kumon began to openly beg. “But… but you said my name didn’t matter.”
“It doesn’t. Your lies do.” He just lay there, motionless until she continued, her voice carrying firm resolve. “If you loved me and could still perpetuate a lie like that, I want nothing to do with you.”
“I promise, it was the only one and I will never lie to you again.” Ryu’s desperation was clearly displayed for his spouse, believing this was the one critical moment when he might have a chance to keep from losing her. Her reaction was something he never expected.
She just looked at him pitifully and shook her head. “Our relationship was built on a lie. How could it possibly survive without them? No, Ra… Ryu. It’s over.”
She rose from her chair and straightened up the martial arts uniform she wore, working the creases out, busying herself. Ryu could do nothing, even if he wanted to. The drugs made him too weak to do anything more than stare at her.
Her voice grew cold again as she gave him a firm gaze. “You misrepresented yourself from the beginning. Our marriage is annulled. I was never your wife. We were never married.”
The words hurt more than all the combined blows Ranma had landed. A thousand emotions went through him all at once, yet no words came to him as she continued.
“You, who valued your name so much more than honesty to your spouse, are now nameless to me. You do not exist in my eyes. Never come near me, or dare to darken my shadow. I will not acknowledge your existence.” And with that condemnation she turned to leave the room. As she opened the door, she paused one moment to look back at the youth that still lay in his bed, speechless. One last thought occurred to her.
“The Chinese have a saying for occasions such as this.” Her voice dropped several decibels as she spoke.
There were no more words to be spoken. Nothing else needed to be said. Kaori Daikokuji closed the door, both on Ryu Kumon and a chapter of her life.
Shampoo and Ranma made their way to Tofu’s clinic. Neither was bouncing back from the massive injuries they had sustained. Small surprise, considering the extent of wounds. If the doctor recommended hospitalization for them, neither would refuse, for a change.
“At least we’re not leaving a trail of blood,” Ranma commented.
The duo were so fatigued that they failed to notice the figure waiting on a rooftop for them. The hooded cloak it wore prevented anyone from making out the form underneath. Silently it waited until the prey was directly underneath before making its move.
It leaped to the edge of the building and shouted down to its target below. “Shampoo!” It shouted out in a high-pitched voice. “Vengeance is mine!” and with that the figure grabbed the flask at its side and jumped off the roof.
“Great!” Ranma growled. “A nutcase that wants you for something. I don’t think I can catch her, though.”
In mid-air the figure poured the water over her head and immediately began to transform. Mass built up at a phenomenal rate as the girl became larger around and took on a circular shape. Tusks grew from her mouth as the now nearly half-ton creature bore directly for the two people beneath it.
“RUN!!!” Ranma grabbed the shocked Shampoo and barely got her out from underneath the huge creature. It hit a second after they got out of the way, splitting the street with a tremendous impact.
For the first time since pursuing Shampoo, she finally got a good, well-lit look at the creature that had been chasing her the last few weeks.
The razorback gave Shampoo a baleful glare. Aside from its incredible mass, there was one other distinguishing feature that marked it as being different from any other razorback on the face of the earth. It bore a long stripe of white and pink hair that ran from the top of its head down its back.
Both Shampoo and Ranma looked on in horror as recognition dawned on them.
To be continued.
Special Thanks to:
and H. Torrance Griffin for mentioning something a long time ago that gave me an idea for this chapter.
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