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Sweat glistened off of Shampoo’s body as she continued working through the kata. It had happened. She felt it this time and there could be no doubt about it. This was one of those rare occasions when she had moved to perfection. No one, not Ranma, not even her grandmother, could have executed the pattern any more flawlessly. This was the pinnacle of the art, and should have been a moment to rejoice. Perfection was something that was lacking throughout life, yet this was one of those moments when nothing could be done to improve what she had just accomplished.

Rather than bask in the personal victory, she continued onward, flowing yet into another pattern, running through it at twice the speed of the first one. Flawlessness was not what she was trying to achieve this time. Speed was the goal. Blinding speed that involved a complex series of foot and hand movements that blurred with near Amaguriken-like speed. In a flash that was switched to a series of leaps and body movements that lashed out at some imagined foe. There were precious few that could withstand the series of attacks that Shampoo employed, had they been against a real opponent.

At last she came to a halt on front of the floor to ceiling mirror that decorated the entire circular room. Her chest heaved with the deep breaths she inhaled to regain her energy and compose herself. Placing her hands on her hips she admired the imposing figure that was reflected in the mirror before her. The image was somewhat disheveled, but normal in every other way. This is what she was, one of the best. The reflection in the mirror could attest to that.

Which is why it was such a surprise when the image’s eyes took on an almost wild gleam as it gave an even wider smile at Shampoo. Shock laced through her since her real body had not moved one centimeter. Her own eyes widened as her image placed its hands on the sides of its own face and dug its nails in. Flesh came away all too easily as the visage was shredded, almost as though it had been nothing more than a horrible mask that the doppelganger in the mirror possessed. Even as the pieces of errant skin fell from its hands Shampoo could clearly see the face that lay beneath the one removed.

It was Shampoo-kun.

Shampoo could do nothing other than stand in shock as the male image impossibly stepped out of the mirror, changing to a male body as it crossed the border between reality and the looking glass. Shampoo’s surprise was so great that she had managed to back no more than a couple of inches before the male figure clutched her, pinning her arms to her sides. It maintained its grasp as it roughly cast both of them to the ground. The near mirror image then straddled her chest, resistance being futile as Shampoo felt the strength mysteriously leave her limbs as she lay there, helpless.

Her stunned mind managed to put together a string of words. “<Who are you?>”

The double looked down pitifully at her. “<I’m you. The real you.>”

Shampoo shook her head in disbelief. The creature had to mean something else. “<What do you mean?>”

“<Just what I said,>” the double explained. “<This is what you really are, when you peel away all the useless illusions that warm water provides. This is what you want to be, deep inside you heart.>”

“<LIAR!!!>” Shampoo shouted. “<I’m a girl! I am not male! I’m not!>”

“<What about that little hot spring adventure with Kasumi then?>” the double mocked.

Shampoo suddenly quieted down. “<I… I only did that because Kasumi wanted me to be a man. I just wanted to make her happy. She’s done so much for me, and I wanted to do something for her. She deserves to be happy.>”

Shampoo-kun raised his head up and gave a deep hysterical laugh. “<Lying to yourself? Oh please! You enjoyed it every bit as much as she did. No. Don’t waste your time trying to convince yourself otherwise.>” His voice lowered to an almost baritone level. “<Let me show you the truth.>”

The double’s hands shot out and grasped the sides of Shampoo’s face. Even if she had not lacked the strength there was no way she could have prevented the man’s actions. With a quick pull he ripped away Shampoo’s face in an identical motion to what he had done to himself moments before. Even as the flesh gave way Shampoo could feel herself undergoing the all too familiar transformation, mass being lost and gained in various places from around her body. In less than a second Shampoo had been forced to change to her cursed form without the benefit of cold water.

“<Now you see what I mean. I told you that’s what was really underneath.>” The doppelganger grinned at the boy pinned beneath him, as he ran a hand along the prone Amazon’s chest.

“<It’s not true,>” Shampoo-kun sobbed. “<I am a girl.>”

The double’s smile switched to a look of pity. “<Why are you being so stubborn? It doesn’t make any difference to you what sex you are.>”

“<W… what are you talking about?>” Shampoo-kun asked fearfully.

The double’s voice shifted to a higher one Shampoo-kun recognized all too well. “<Let me show you.>” And with that he once again pulled away his face, though this time it was neither Shampoo’s male nor female features that stared back at her.

Ranma-chan stared down at her form, smiling exactly like a cat with cornered prey.

“<You find me attractive,>” the redhead began, speaking in the same tone Ranma-chan always did. She leaned forward until Shampoo-kun could feel her breath against his face. “<You like Kasumi, but you burn for me. Male or female doesn’t mean anything to you. You’ll take me any way you can.>”

“<No. I…>” He licked his lips, trying to bring moisture back to them. “<I want you to want me as a girl. It’s important to me. I need you to want me as a woman.>”

“<Don’t be picky,>” Ranma-chan scolded. “<It’s a perfect match. Boy and girl or girl and boy. All it takes is some warm water, or cold depending on what you’re in the mood for. All you need to do is say it. Tell me you want me like I am now. Say it to my face.>”

Something deep and primal within Shampoo-kun wanted to say it, but he couldn’t find the voice for the feelings. It shouldn’t have to be like this. Ranma should desire her for what she was: a girl.

Ranma-chan looked on, scorn evident in her features. “<Coward,>” she said as she rose to her feet. “<You’re so afraid I’ll reject you, it’s disgusting.>”

That shocked the Amazon out of his reverie. “<I don’t want to lose you!>”

“<You don’t have me. And since you don’t want me, I guess I’ll just have to go to Akane. She’ll love me as a man or a woman. What I am isn’t important to her and you know it, coward.>” Ranma-chan gave one last contemptuous sneer and turned to walk away.

Strength at last returned to Shampoo-kun allowing him to shoot to his feet. Ranma-chan hadn’t taken more than three steps when the Amazon grabbed her by the shoulder and spun her around. He barely took notice of the smile the shorter girl had before bending down and bringing his lips to hers, fiercely kissing her for all he was worth. Time lost meaning in the embrace as Shampoo-kun remained virtually motionless for what seemed like an eternity. Eventually even he had to break off the kiss.

Ranma-chan looked at him with a smile on her lips, giving a sound of satisfaction as she gazed coyly at the boy. “<See, you do like it when you’re a guy. Now don’t you feel better?>”

A feral snarl was the response Shampoo-kun gave as he ripped open the girl’s top and buried his head between her breasts. From his position Shampoo-kun could hear Ranma-chan moaning. “<I guess you do. That’s better. Much better. Just let go and give in to the feeling. Show me what you’re really made of.>” Anything else was lost as Shampoo-kun continued to do just as Ranma-chan suggested, giving way to his ‘feelings’ in every way he could.

It was much later when Shampoo awakened from the dream.

It was still the very early morning when she awakened, staring at the ceiling while sighing. She had had plenty of dreams about Ranma. In fact, that was what she had dreamed about the most, outside of nightmares about the curse, and those had dwindled to almost nothing. In most of the dreams Ranma was a boy, but every now and then Ranma would be in his cursed form with Shampoo; a surprise at first that actually became enjoyable as time went on. But tonight had been the first time that she ever had that sort of a dream while being male herself. Just one more piece of her femininity being chipped away. And the worst thing was, she didn’t have enough emotions to feel saddened about it. It almost seemed natural, as though that was the way things should be.

Chapter 26: Girl Problems

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 sommer@3rdm.net

What’s gone on before (or what you need to know to enjoy this fic.) In the beginning, the Saotome’s traveled to Jusenkyou and began sparring, not realizing Shampoo and Mousse had already begun a duel there. One mid-air collision and swim in Spring of Young Drowned Man later, there is a male Shampoo as well as a female Ranma. (So Ranma-chan= female Ranma. Shampoo-kun= make Shampoo. Enjoy.) Shampoo elected to travel to Japan with Ranma and was accidentally married to Kasumi. After that was cleared up Ranma became engaged to Akane. Over the ensuing months many friend and enemies were made. Most recently it was revealed that Shampoo killed Katsunishiki, Akari Unryuu’s pet pig. This caused the pig farmer to seek revenge by immersing herself in the Spring of Drowned Sumo Razorback and try to trample Shampoo. Kunou got his hands on a book of advanced Jurai sword techniques Tarou threatened Nabiki. Mousse recovered from his beating in a major battle with Shampoo. Ryouga and Ranma got in a fight over Ukyou, and Kasumi and Shampoo spent some quality time on a little vacation the two of the took at a hot spring. Now things are about to pick up again…

<> Indicates Chinese

Shige scowled at the rest of his fellow kendoists as they sat in their proper lines, waiting for their captain to say something. Why Kunou had summoned them all on a Saturday was beyond his ability to fathom.

Shige examined their leader once more. He would have liked to have said there was something different about their captain today. A slightly different tilt to the chin, or perhaps some glint of mischievousness in the eyes. Something that would make him appear different. But the fact of the matter was Kunou looked as haughty and arrogant as ever. How annoying.

If Kunou had not been head and tail better than everyone else there was no way he’d have been accepted as their leader. Regardless of what everyone outside of the club thought, they were not composed of little else than Kunou clones that worshipped the ground he walked on (save perhaps for Masahiro, who was more than a little bizarre by anyone’s standards). On the contrary, most members went through varying degrees of annoyance to outright hatred of their leader. But there was one thing all the members did acknowledge, one feeling they all shared. They wanted to be better kendoists and Kunou was the quickest way to become that. Above all other things, save for his obsession with Akane and Shampoo, he was a swordsman first and foremost, and the Furinkan Club was openly acknowledged as the best there was by everyone. Kunou was directly responsible for that.

Kunou decided he had allowed his subordinates to simmer long enough.  It was time to find out if all of his training was for naught, or if he had at long last achieved the next step on his way to becoming a living legend in the art.  He allowed the lesser men to bask in his image one last moment before giving his instructions. “I want all of you to attack me.”

The kendoists responded with a surprising enthusiasm, lining up in a single file. Kunou shook his head at the display before him. “No, simpletons! I wish you to attack me all at once.”

Everyone was surprised at that declaration. Kunou was good, but the most he had been able to defeat at the same time was six, and he had suffered several severe blows in the process. The men milled about in confusion, trying to figure out what was really going on. 

Even Kunou realized something else was going to be required to focus his men’s attention on the matter on hand. “Whoever manages to best me shall be the leader of the club and I will openly acknowledge him as the next ‘Blue Thunder’.”

Kunou never realized just how fast his fellow club members were as they had him in a ‘circle of death’ within the blink of an eye. Slowly he brought his bokken before him, preparing one of the techniques he had practiced so very often in the last few weeks. He slowly spun around in a circle, gauging the determination in each of his opponents’ eyes. Each one of them displayed the barely restrained desire of a shark smelling blood in the water. That was just as it should be. Only the hungry could achieve greatness.

Shige was the first one to attack.

It was a testament to the abilities of the club that they managed to last almost a full minute before the final youth hit the wooden floor of the gym, unconscious. Kunou, looked over the scene of carnage, then saluted his fallen teammates before holding his bokken high overhead in victory. If only there were someone other than the gods watching down upon him as he basked in his victory. But at least there would be more than enough adulation directed towards him on the next morn, when the ‘new and improved’ Blue Thunder would unveil himself before the student body and the world at large.

Ranma-chan was not having a good day as she wandered aimlessly around downtown Nerima. The little old lady had somehow managed to nail her again, and the redhead had been certain she was not even walking on the street that the old bag lived on. If only she wasn’t so old Ranma-chan would do something to convince her that throwing water blindly out into the streets was not the thing to do.

There was little point in crying over spilt milk (water). At least the weather was still very hot, drying out her soaking outfit quickly. Wearing wet clothing was never any fun, especially the reaction guys had as they stared at her chest, the bunch of perverts. Several experiences of a dozen or so guys hitting on her whenever that happened made avoiding wearing white shirts an easy choice. It wasn’t her fault she never wore a bra, and never would. She was a manly man and would never make that concession no matter how often she got splashed with water.

The slow anger that had been building up was quickly released. There was nothing to be gained in being mad at the injustices the world leveled at her. Life was like martial arts, when you got hit you rolled with the blow and got back on your feet, ready to take another punch. Too bad she seemed to get hit so often.

As Ranma-chan started to feel like her usual, confident self, she happened to glance upward at one of the partially constructed skyscrapers that was being built in the area. That was a familiar sight. Ranma-chan had spotted it some time ago and had enticed Shampoo to come out with her in the dead of night and use it to train. The structure was an ideal place to practice deceptively delicate balancing exercises that were done by playing games of tag amongst the girders. Gods but it was the most fun she had in ages. The duo would leap from girder to girder in an effort to either touch or avoid being touched by ‘it’. The first time they had gone up they had spent close to two hours frolicking like little children, sticking tongues out at one another as they switched between hunting or taunting one another in an effort to goad the other one to try all the harder to catch him or her.

Ranma-chan had considered taking Akane along that first night but hesitated. As good as Akane’s balance was, and Ranma-chan would admit it had improved a great deal, she still felt a little uneasy with the risk involved. All it would take was one misstep and if Ranma-chan wasn’t close enough to catch her everything would end in a splat. But for some odd reason those same reservations did not apply to Shampoo.

The redhead kicked a stone as she tried figuring out exactly why that was. Of course there were differences between the two girls, but he still felt the need to protect both of them, and yet Shampoo was different. Why? True, their ‘discussion’ on the ship, the TWPOS, had forced Ranma-chan to openly admit she would treat Shampoo as an equal, but that was said mostly just to placate the Amazon. Wasn’t it? She didn’t think that was a consideration when she had asked Shampoo to play on the half-completed steel structure. No, Ranma-chan had invited Shampoo because it was fun, and because he trusted the Amazon to take care of herself. Without the concern of Shampoo falling to her death Ranma-chan could have even more fun. Maybe the difference between the two was trust.

More thoughts along those lines were lost as the redhead noticed a crane shifting a group of I-beams suddenly give out a loud groan of strained metal. The cargo stopped in mid-motion as the crane huge arm began to sag down and out over the street. At first Ranma-chan was glad that she wasn’t anywhere near enough to have those beams fall and hit her, but a quick estimation of where they would land caused her heart to seize up in her chest. An older woman with a baby carriage was directly under where the beams would land. Worse, the woman seemed to be unaware of her predicament as she seemed to be calming the child, who appeared to be crying.

Ranma-chan was in motion in the blink of an eye. She shouted out to the woman even as she ran for all she was worth, hoping the lady would get out of the path of danger before Ranma-chan would get there. The woman heard the younger girl and did nothing more than stare confusedly at her. Full concentration fell upon the child and woman as Ranma-chan heard rather than saw the cable supporting the load of metal snap even as she reached the side of the duo. Literally moving as though all three of their lives depended on it, she told the woman to hold tightly onto the child as she grabbed the woman and tucked her under the arm and leaped out of the way.

Ranma-chan landed just as the series of I-beams hit the ground behind her. There was an involuntarily cringe at the loud roar of metal as it shattered concrete and sent pieces of the rock flying in all directions. She looked over her shoulder, leaving the woman and child under her arm as she stared at the pile of metal that had impacted and destroyed the sidewalk where all three had been just over a second ago. It had been that close. Ranma-chan doubted even the massive Lime could have survived the impact of that much metal from such a height. She noticed that a single girder remained standing straight up, almost as if the mass of metal were giving her the finger for preventing the woman and child from being smashed flat.

Ranma-chan set the woman down in front of her and gave a quick visual examination. Thankfully, both the woman and child appeared unharmed, though shaken from the experience.

After a few moments the woman recovered enough to bow before Ranma-chan. “Thank you, young lady. If it wasn’t for you my son and I would have been—“ her voice caught as she visualized what had nearly happened.

Ranma-chan blushed at the compliment and looked down at the ground as she spoke. “It was nothing ma’am. I’d have…” her voice trailed off as she looked up to see the woman gaping at something behind the redhead. Ranma-chan had no chance to react before the single I-beam, which had been pointing upward, suddenly came crashing down and landed hard on her, striking the back of her head first before the weight pinned her to the ground.

Within moments several construction workers and bystanders helped lift the metal girder off of the pinned girl. It took several moments for Ranma-chan to return to her feet, obviously out of it as she staggered back and forth as though drunk.

“Are you all right?” the woman who Ranma-chan had rescued asked.

With a final shake of her head the young martial artist cleared it of her cobwebs and looked kindly at the woman. “Thank you for your concern. I feel fine. Really. It was nothing more than a slight blow.”

The woman thanked Ranma-chan once again before departing. It was rare that such a fine young woman would risk herself like that. And she had been so worried that the girl had been hurt when the girder fell on her. It was a relief that there was no injury, although there was some almost imperceptible quality about the short girl that seemed different, and it was after she had been struck. Still, it could simply have been the woman’s imagination. She had been through quite an ordeal after all.

Ranma-chan hummed through the streets as she considered what a nice day it was. If only the birds were out then she could really enjoy the weather. It was not long into her walk before she began idly fingering her shirt in a disdainful way. Things just seemed to come into focus as it occurred to her that it was the same drab red she wore almost every day. There just wasn’t anything she owned that seemed to be worth wearing anymore, save that delightful little shirt Shampoo had sewn for her. What was needed was new clothing, and lots of it. She hadn’t been shopping for herself in what seemed like an eternity and now was the perfect opportunity. Of course, there was one thing that was missing: a second opinion. As she was pondering how to solve that particular problem the answer appeared before her.

“Ranma!” Ryouga shouted as his aimless wandering brought him into Ranma-chan’s line of sight. “I still want revenge for what you did to Ukyou the other day! It was all your fault! Now prepare to dAGHK!!!” His battle cry was cut off as Ranma-chan giggled and snatched him by the arm, dragging the lost one behind her as she hurriedly ran off at top speed with him in tow.

“What are you doing, Ranma?!” Ryouga shouted as the redhead continued running with him in tow, as though there were no tomorrow.

“I just need your opinion on some new clothes I’m going to buy,” Ranma-chan exclaimed as she flew past several shops, never relinquishing her hold on Ryouga. After passing by several clothing stores she paused in front of what she considered the perfect one. “It’s pretty,” she cooed.

Ryouga finally got a chance to reorient himself enough to look at the store and gape in open disbelief at where the girl had chosen to stop. “That’s a women’s clothing store, Ranma.” And for some reason Ryouga could not fathom, Ranma-chan was making a big production out of the dress that was on display in the window.

“Of course it is, silly,” she giggled and grabbed him by the arm once more, dragging him into the store.

Once inside Ryouga finally managed to brace himself and snatched his arm out of Ranma-chan’s. “What game are you playing at? Why did you haul me in here? Is this some sort of plan to trick someone out of something you want by wearing a dress?”

“No,” Ranma-chan said. “It’s nothing like that. I just need some new clothes to wear. Everything I have is so dull. I need some vigor and life in my clothing.” She paused to examine Ryouga more closely. “Your wardrobe could use some work too. You could use something besides all those yellow and black numbers. And we should do something about those leg bindings you wear all the time.”

“What’s wrong with my clothing?” Ryouga fingered his shirt as Ranma-chan tsked before him. He thought it was perfectly fine. Owning nothing but the same style of shirt and pants made things easier. It saved on having to make the difficult decision of what to wear in the morning. Besides, he liked yellow and black.

Ranma-chan shook her head sadly. “You need something to show off that vibrancy and love of life that I know is locked within you. But that’s for later. Right now I have to pick out some clothes.”

A matronly salesperson made her way over to the couple. “Can I help you?” She directed her question to Ranma-chan while seeming to ignore Ryouga’s presence.

“Yes. I would like to see that dress in the window. And try on some other things as well,” Ranma-chan informed the woman.

She smiled at the anticipated sale. “Of course, dear. Let me get that for you and show you to the fitting rooms.”

It took but a moment for the woman to grab the dress and instruct Ranma-chan to follow her. The redhead started to accompany the saleswoman when she realized Ryouga was going from simply standing around in confusion to wandering off.

“Oh, no you don’t!” She snared Ryouga by the arm and led him next to the saleswoman. “My…” she paused, blushing with the next word. “…friend here has a bad tendency to wander off. Would you be kind enough to keep an eye on him to make sure he sticks around?”

The woman gave a knowing wink. “I understand. Men do have a tendency to drift away when we women are shopping for clothing.”

The two females exchanged knowing giggles, much to Ryouga’s worry. He noticed Ranma-chan grab something else off the rack before heading into the fitting room, leaving Ryouga with the saleswoman.

After a few moments the woman spoke up. “You two make a cute couple.”

That was the most disgusting thing he had ever heard. “We are not a couple!” Ryouga snapped. “We don’t even get along with one another.” Ranma was really going to pay for dragging him into this situation.

“Young couples always have problems,” the saleswoman reassured him. “But don’t worry about it. I saw the way she looked at you.”

That left Ryouga confused. “What way was that?”

“It was obvious. She’s in love with you.”

Ryouga facefaulted. Upon recovering he began shouting. “Don’t be absurd! There’s no way he’s in love with me! Ranma’s really a—“

The rest of his tirade was cut off as Ranma-chan poked her head out of the dressing room while leaving everything else covered with the curtain that separated the fitting room from the rest of the store. “Ryouga,” she chimed. “Would you come over here for a moment?”

Ryouga stomped on over, fed up with the misunderstanding and being in one of the last places in the world a guy like him should be. “What?!”

“I want your opinion on how I look in this.” And with that she opened the curtain and allowed Ryouga to fully take in her form.

She was dressed in a skimpy, lacy red bra with matching red panties, and nothing else. The clothing had the predictable effect of causing a nosebleed and making Ryouga’s hair stand straight up in the air. He barely managed to recover before passing out and turned, covering his eyes.

“RANMA!!!” he shouted. “You’re wearing women’s lingerie!”

“Of course,” Ranma-chan stated as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. “I can’t just run around without wearing a bra. People might think I’m a tramp or something.”

Ryouga’s mind rebelled at even trying to figure out what Ranma-chan was up to. He simply remained silent and preyed Ranma would stop playing games with him.

“How do I look?” Ranma-chan continued.

Ryouga gave up. The sooner Ranma-chan won whatever game it was, the sooner he could get out. “I guess you look fine. Can we go?”

Much to his horror he felt Ranma-chan grasp him from behind and press tightly into his back.

“Thankyouthankyouthankyou,” she blurted out, then released him. “Just wait there. I have one more thing I want to show you.”

Ryouga took a chance to look over his shoulder to see Ranma-chan had darted back inside the fitting room. Deciding it was his best chance to get away, he went to leave when the saleswoman blocked his path.

“Now do you understand?” she asked. “No woman that wasn’t in love would display herself like that.”

“Lady,” He said sadly. “You have no idea what Ranma’s like. He’s capable of anything.”

“You mean you don’t like her?”

Ryouga nodded his head.

“What are you, gay?” she asked.

“I AM NOT GAY!!!” Ryouga shouted. “And what kind of question is that anyway?”

“Relax,” the woman tried soothing Ryouga’s temper. “I have nothing against homosexuals. It’s just that she’s very beautiful, seems to be very caring, and happens to be in love with you. I just jumped to the wrong conclusion. Sorry.” she bowed deeply in apology.

“Believe me. Ranma does not love me.” Any further explanations were interrupted by Ranma-chan once again making her presence known by calling out to Ryouga. He turned to see the redhead in the dress that had been in the store window. It was a white frilly thing that showed a good amount of cleavage. Cleavage she thrust in the direction of Ryouga’s face.

“How do I look now?” she asked as she jiggled in his direction.

Ryouga shook his head and turned away once again. “What are you doing in that?!” He was about to continue when he heard a sniffle. Silently he told himself it just could not be what it sounded like. Daring to turn around he saw that it really was Ranma-chan who was producing the sniffling. Even worse, it appeared she was about to cry.

“Y… you mean you don’t like it?” She was barely able to contain her tears.

If there was one thing in common that Ryouga and Ranma shared, besides being good martial artists, it was that neither could stand to see a woman cry. In that respect Ryouga might even have been worse than Ranma. And seeing the redhead before him, Ranma or not, he began to feel like dirt.

The saleswoman elbowed him in the ribs. “Say something to make her feel better,” she whispered in his ear.

“R… Ranma,” He at last got out. “You look nice.”

The reaction was almost instantaneous. Ranma-chan’s tears dried up and she gained a huge smile on her face. “You mean that?”

“Yes. I do,” Ryouga replied. “Can we go now?”

“Yes!” Ranma-chan jumped up and down in joy. “Just let me pay for these things and we can leave.”

Ranma-chan did as she promised and the duo left the store together. They hadn’t made it more than halfway down the block when Ranma-chan attached herself to Ryouga’s arm.

“What are you doing?” Ryouga asked in shock. Whatever the joke was it had gone too far.

“Ryouga. I was just wondering. Do you think Ukyou and Kyoko appreciate you?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” He silently wondered if this was some convoluted plan to ruin his life again. It had to be. It was the only thing that made sense.

“What I’m trying to say is, I don’t think they treat you the way you deserve,” she explained, then started running a finger playfully along his chest. “I think I could do a much better job, if you let me.”

She gave him a seductive wink as she finished the proposition, which was more than enough to terrify Ryouga like nothing ever had before. He used all his muscle to break free of Ranma-chan’s grasp and ran off horrified. He silently considered that if all of that had been some plan of Ranma-chan’s to scare the hell out of him and make him run away, it had worked to perfection. Ranma-chan was going to be allowed to live until she started acting like normal. No matter how long it took.

Ranma-chan returned to the Tendo household more than a little disheartened. Ryouga was so confusing some times that it was really frustrating. It was like the lost one didn’t really know what he wanted. Or if he did he would invariably take a course of action that was least likely to give it to him. Maybe he was just bad news and should be avoided.

Upon entering Ranma-chan went upstairs to change back into normal housewear. The dress was just so nice that it had to be saved for a special occasion, not for everyday wear. As she returned to the main part of the house she saw Akane had returned from visiting Malia, who was in the hospital recovering from an appendectomy.

“Hello, Akane,” Ranma-chan greeted as pleasantly as she could. “Would you like to go out on the back porch and enjoy some watermelon with me?”

Akane was more than a little surprised at the gesture. Ranma-chan was usually never that polite or kind, save on the rarest of occasions. Still, it was hardly an offer she could refuse. And on the offhand chance Ranma-chan was just softening her up before dropping some kind of bombshell, the redhead would find out how much Akane disliked being led on.

Ranma-chan was indeed being extra polite as she insisted that Akane sit out back first while she grabbed all the food. Ranma-chan returned within moments, smiling the entire way.

“Thanks for sitting out back with me. I don’t want to enjoy this day alone.” Ranma-chan said as she bit down into a piece of the watermelon. Akane took notice that the shorter girl was taking the time to savor the bite as opposed to wolfing it down like she usually did.

Her notice went from casual interest to concern. “Is something bothering you, Ranma?”

“No,” the girl replied. “But thank you for asking. Is there anything troubling you?”

Akane shook her head and smiled in return. This was a side of Ranma-chan that rarely came to the forefront. Her usual course language and manners were being replaced with perfectly civilized behavior, and the best part was that none of it appeared strained. Akane was almost certain she would see through one of the redhead’s acts. She hadn’t spent so much time in Ranma-chan’s company that she couldn’t pick up on her fiancé’s more obvious ploys and moods. In fact, she was fairly confident that she could read Ranma-chan’s emotions close to three quarters of the time. Well, when the shorter girl didn’t do something to anger Akane, which always ended up clouding the youngest Tendo’s judgment. But those actions were unmistakably becoming, at least slightly, less as time went on. Akane had to grin as she came to realize that her fiancé had indeed been saying the wrong thing less and less. Maybe he was finally starting to learn some manners.

“What are you smiling about?” Ranma-chan asked innocently.

Akane snapped out of her reverie. It was probably best that she not give the whole truth, Ranma-chan might get offended if accused of foot in mouth disease. “I’m just happy that you invited me to eat with you.” That was the truth, and it was plenty of reason to smile.

Saotome gained a smile of her own. “It’s always better to have a friend at your side.”

Akane’s mouth nearly hit the floor in surprise. It was nothing short of amazement that her fiancé would actually say such words without being prodded or cajoled into speaking them. Yes, if someone had asked her point blank Akane would have said she believed she was Ranma-chan’s friend, and that the redhead felt the same way. But to hear those words slide so easily from the girl’s mouth was a total shock.

“You should really chew with your mouth closed,” Ranma-chan advised to her gaping companion.

Akane shut her mouth and calmed down. To have her Ranma-chan being so open was uplifting to say the least.

The silence between the two of them lingered for a little while before Ranma-chan spoke once more. “Have you ever considered wearing a little more make-up?”

Akane’s good mood was shattered in an instant as Ranma-chan’s mouth once again had to mess everything up. “So you think I’m ugly, is that it?!”

The redhead held her hands up defensively. “Not at all. I just think it would make you look cuter than you already are.”

For the second time in less than ten minutes Akane was once again caught totally off guard. Ranma-chan had just used the word ‘cute’ without an ‘un’ before it when describing her.

“Is something wrong with your jaw?” Ranma-chan asked, concern obviously written on her face. “It keeps hanging open, and it’s so far down it looks like you should be in a lot of pain.”

Akane recovered enough to shut it once again. “I’m fine,” she replied meekly. “Did you just call me cute?” It wasn’t too late for it all to be revealed as some massive hallucination brought on by sampling some of her own cooking.

“Of course, why do you think all those boys were after you when I first arrived here,” Ranma-chan happily explained. “I just think if you would apply a little more make-up, and maybe curl your hair a little, you would go from simply being cute to beautiful.”

Akane nearly passed out. It was all some kind of dream. That was the only explanation. Either that or Ranma-chan just had a personality transplant.

Ranma-chan lay back on the wooden flooring of the porch as she took in a deep breath of air. “It feels so good to just have the wind blowing over you when the weather is perfect like today.”

Akane couldn’t help smiling as she gazed upon the prone figure. Her fiancé had not just called her cute, but said she could be beautiful. BEAUTIFUL! It was unbelievable. Ranma-chan never said anything remotely like that. Never. Akane hadn’t felt this happy in a very long time. She took her gaze from Ranma-chan and looked out into the yard. The redhead was right. The day was beautiful, and Akane couldn’t help feeling that somehow, in some way, Ranma-chan had made it just perfect with one word. The feeling was just so alien to her. She had literally never felt that way before, about anything or anyone. And it felt so… indescribable.

“You know,” Akane began to look towards her fiancé, then hesitated. It was difficult to talk if she looked directly at the girl since words were failing her. The only way she seemed to be able to talk coherently was if she looked away, so she chose to gaze out at the yard while continuing. “I’ve been thinking a lot about the way things have been going lately. We’ve been through a lot together. An awful lot. Some of it good, and some of it bad. But if it was a choice between not going through it and not meeting you, or the way things have turned out now. I would pick having you around every time.”

“Thanks, Akane.” Ranma-chan smiled at the compliment. “I feel the same way.”

He didn’t make a joke or play it off. Ranma-chan was actually listening to what she was saying and taking it seriously. It was too good an opportunity to pass up. For some odd reason she felt like continuing, though she had to keep looking away from her fiancé and out towards the yard. It did not really matter though. The words were what was important, not the physical appearance of one another.

“I know we sort of had this engagement thing forced upon us, and neither of us want it. And sometimes maybe I make a big deal out of it and act sort of angry occasionally.” Akane realized she was beginning to ramble and tried concentrating on what she wanted to say. “And I might not make it easy for us to deal with the way our fathers act because sometimes I blame you instead of them. But as many times as you’ve said you don’t like it either, the whole situation could be a lot worse. I mean, you’ve never tried taking advantage of me or the fact we’re engaged, not that I’d let you,” she quickly added.

“Believe me,” Ranma-chan said. “You don’t have to worry about that sort of thing from me now.”

Akane played with her fingers, not daring to look at Ranma-chan. No comments about how he wouldn’t hit on an uncute tomboy. The day was getting better and better. She gulped as she continued. “So even though I sometimes say I can’t stand you, I don’t always mean it the way it sounds. I mean you really do drive me up the wall a lot of the time, but not always. And I do want you to realize that, even if I don’t always mention it, I kind of do appreciate having you around. And every now and then you do nice things for me, and maybe I don’t always act like I enjoy it, but I do.”

Damn! She was rambling and nearly incoherent again, but it was so difficult to say such things, and it was not like she rehearsed them or anything. Akane overheard Shampoo-kun announce he had returned before giving total concentration to her thoughts once more, continuing to gaze towards the yard and intentionally avoiding looking at Ranma-chan.

“And there’s something else I want to mention. Maybe sometimes I push my cooking on you, but it’s only because I want to help everyone, and I want to help you. I know sometimes what I cook isn’t good, sometimes, but I’m not trying to poison you. I just want to share things with you. And maybe, just maybe, sometimes I overreact to things every now and then. I’m not saying I do it often, and like I said, you really say some rotten things occasionally, but sometimes you don’t and I overreact because I misinterpret a situation or misunderstand something you say. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that I’m kind of sorry for losing my temp…” She trailed off as she at last turned to look the redhead in the eye as she apologized for her occasionally somewhat overreacting behavior.

Ranma-chan was nowhere to be seen.

Akane had been opening up her heart and feelings to the jerk and he just ran off in the middle of her big speech. She immediately took back the apology, despite no one being around. Her fiancé was the biggest jerk she had ever known. And the next time she ran into him she would let him know. Oh would he ever.

Ranma-chan had run off not because she was bored with Akane, but there were some things she was going to have to inform everyone about the engagement that were going to have to change. And it seemed that Akane was talking about things that were not going to mesh well with what Ranma-chan was going to have to reveal. The redhead was trying to figure out exactly how to tell her fiancée when something else even more important came up.

Shampoo-kun had returned.

Ranma-chan leaped to her feet and ran as fast as the wind to see the Amazon come to the door. Shampoo-kun was already taking off his shoes when he saw Ranma-chan speed up to him in the doorway.

“How did your little trip go? Did you find what you needed?” Ranma-chan asked.

Shampoo-kun shook his head. “It nothing special. Just some things Kasumi wanted.”

“You are so generous and thoughtful. Tell me, are you planning on working out soon?”

Shampoo-kun nodded his head. Ranma-chan was paying an unusual amount of attention to him, perhaps to make up for the lack of attention the Amazon had been returning. It just felt so awkward since the little weekend vacation. But it was time to fight through the awkwardness and press on. “Yes. You want to spar too?” That was like asking Kunou if he felt like reciting a few lines of poetry. Ranma-chan could never refuse an opportunity to spar.

Until now.

“No thanks,” she replied evasively. “I don’t feel like it today. Why don’t you spar with Akane and Pop?”

“Is you okay?” Shampoo-kun asked, suspecting Ranma-chan was suffering from some kind of injury.

“Oh yes,” Ranma-chan replied, then seemed to blush red. “Thank you for asking. I’ll see you in a little while.” And with that she ran off into the interior of the house.

Shampoo-kun was left there, standing absolutely still. Something was different about Ranma-chan. Something different about the way she walked and talked, but the Amazon was damned if he could figure out what it was. Shrugging his shoulders he went inside to grab some hot water and get into a gi to start sparring.

Akane was enthusiastic about the chance to release some of her pent up frustrations and spar. She had originally intended to hunt down Ranma-chan and confront the shorter girl about the abandonment, but had not made it three steps from the back porch when her anger started to dissipate, and within three more steps at was almost entirely gone. And Akane knew exactly why.

“…you would go from simply being cute to beautiful.”

Those words still burned in her mind despite Ranma-chan’s abandonment. Somehow, they made the anger just drift away. But there was still a need to work out and release the excess energy she seemed to have, and sparring was the best way to go about it. Aside from that, she had not had the opportunity to really show Shampoo what she had learned from Tarou yet. It was going to be good to cut loose.

Shampoo had changed both clothes and sexes in time to see everyone gather around the backyard for the sparring match. Akane was already present, and even Nabiki was there, drinking a glass of lemonade as she sat idly by and read a book. The two fathers were taking the match seriously and were standing on opposite sides of the pond to judge just how good the fighters appeared. Kasumi and Ranma-chan stood around waiting for someone, evidently Shampoo.

Ranma-chan greeted her and approached bearing a glass of water in hand. As she was almost to Shampoo she seemed to trip over something and tilted the glass forward, spilling its contents over Shampoo and triggering the change.

Ranma-chan’s hands immediately went to her face in shame. “I’m so sorry! Let me clean that up.” She grabbed a towel and started dabbing at Shampoo-kun’s shirt. As she continued dabbing, her motions became lower and lower.

“I not wet down there,” Shampoo-kun informed his new towel girl.

“Sorry,” Ranma-chan said as she blushed and ceased her cleaning attempts. “I just wanted to make sure you were dry.”

“Thanks,” Shampoo-kun said before turning to Kasumi. “Could you get me hot water?”

“Certainly.” She moved over to the kitchen to fetch the water even as Ranma-chan and Shampoo-kun went out back, the redhead choosing to sit in the same spot on the porch as she had earlier in the day. Shampoo-kun waited patiently for Kasumi to return. The eldest Tendo daughter returned with nothing more than a look of disappointment upon her face.

“The kettle wasn’t on the stove,” she informed everyone. “And I could have sworn I had placed it on there. At any rate, I have another one going right now. It will take a while to heat up though.”

“No worry about it,” Shampoo-kun reassured the girl. The response of Kasumi’s smile ran a series of conflicting emotions through the Amazon. There was no time to think about that as he was about to practice with Akane, who appeared more than a little eager to begin the session today. That sat fine with Shampoo-kun. A tough workout would clear his mind of the new set of complications that had crept up in his life.

Kasumi sat down next to Ranma-chan as the fight began. The two fathers watched the battle closely while Nabiki looked on with disinterest.

Ranma-chan gave a sigh as the match began. “Shampoo certainly looks handsome today.”

Kasumi nodded in agreement. “Look at the way the sun glances off his flaxen hair.”

“Oh yes,” Ranma-chan agreed, then pointed at his gi, which was open just enough to show off his chest. “And the way his chest just seems to call out for attention.”

“Oh, I agree wholeheartedly,” Kasumi said. “And his legs are nice looking, especially his calves.”

“His butt sure is cute too.” Ranma-chan began giggling, only to be sprayed in the face by Nabiki, who was nearly choking to death on the drink she had just swallowed.

“Are you all right?” Kasumi asked of her sister.

“Wrong… pipe,” Nabiki managed to choke out before recovering and moving closer to the two girls who went back to watching the fight, and, more specifically, Shampoo-kun

“And that face. So dreamy.” Ranma-chan gave yet another sigh as she wiped her face dry.

Kasumi nodded once again. “I think his eyes are his most outstanding feature there.”

“I like his smile, myself,” Ranma-chan said. “As well as those broad shoulders.”

Kasumi sighed herself, then said. “And that cute little mole he has on the inside of his thigh, right next to his… Oh, my! I forgot about the laundry.” And with that Kasumi stood up to head to the washer.

Nabiki almost let her sister get out of sight before she realized where the girl had left off. “Wait a minute! Where is that mole located?” As she heaved herself to her feet in order to stop her sister, she felt something land on her head.

“What the hell?” She managed to get out even as the family’s flying pet bent its head downward to look in its makeshift landing pad’s eyes.

“AHHHHH! GET IT OFF!!!” Nabiki roared. That had the effect of Birdy trying to take off, pulling at Nabiki’s hair with its feet.

“Nabiki!” Kasumi shouted.

Nabiki stopped struggling as Birdy released his hold and flew around to perch gently on Kasumi’s shoulder.

Kasumi gave a hurt look to her sister. “I know you don’t like Birdy, but please don’t attack him.”

“WHAT?!” she shouted out in shock. “I didn’t attack him! He attacked me!”

“He would never do anything like that,” she said, then turned to the pterodactyl.  “Would you?”

Birdy shook his head no.

Nabiki looked on in shock. “Don’t tell me you believe him over me?”

Kasumi looked almost depressed. “I know you never liked pets, especially my poor little hamster…”

Nabiki placed her hands over her ears as Kasumi gave the same speech she had so long ago about her pet hamster. Whoever said Kasumi wasn’t capable of unleashing a guilt trip on someone was dead wrong. She had laid the old hamster story on Nabiki at least four times over the years. It was not Nabiki’s fault she was allergic to the repulsive little rodents. But still, somehow, Kasumi made her feel guilty about something that was totally out of her control.

“I give up, Sis. I won’t harass Birdy anymore.”

That seemed to placate Kasumi as she turned to leave with Birdy still hanging on to her shoulder. The pterodactyl turned around from its perch and stuck out its tongue at Nabiki. The facial twitch that developed on the middle Tendo was all the response that needed to tell everyone what she thought of that.

In the meantime the sparring session had ended, Akane losing once again, but putting in a good showing. She left in disappointment for her room while Shampoo-kun started to drift off to his own chamber. Ranma-chan barely got there in time to intercept him.

“Nice fight.”

“Thank you,” Shampoo-kun said. Praise from Ranma-chan and her expertise was always appreciated.

“You look tense,” Ranma-chan commented. “Allow me to help you unwind.”

“What you mean?” The Amazon looked curiously at the smaller girl. He had been around her long enough to know Ranma-chan was up to something.

“Come into my room and I’ll show you.” She practically carried Shampoo-kun as she snared his arm, even as she had done to Ryouga earlier in the day, and took him to her room. Once inside she shut the door and made him lie on his stomach on the floor.

“A massage is just what you need to help you unwind,” Ranma-chan informed the youth.

“You no have to do that.”

Ranma-chan would have none of that. “It’ll be just like at the beach,” she said as she straddled Shampoo-kun’s back. “You did it for me, now I’ll do it for you.”

Shampoo-kun assented to the treatment. Too bad she wasn’t a girl so she could enjoy it that way. Ranma-chan quickly showed great skill at working out the tightness in Shampoo-kun’s muscles as she kneaded the Amazon’s flesh. They made idle conversation, Shampoo-kun taking note of the odd way Ranma-chan was speaking. If he didn’t know better, he would have assumed the redhead was acting much more feminine than usual, which was foolish. Ranma-chan was proud of his manhood and would never act that way. It probably had something to do with the Amazon’s current mental state.

“Your muscles are so big and hard,” Ranma-chan said softly.

“Of course,” Shampoo-kun sniffed. “I a powerful Amazon warrior. I not weak.”

“No. You definitely are not that,” Ranma-chan agreed, voice remaining soft.

There was a comfortable silence between them, only Shampoo-kun’s sounds of pleasure from the redhead’s attention breaking silence. Eventually Ranma-chan spoke up once more. “Shampoo,” Ranma-chan began nervously, “Are you seeing someone?”

Shampoo-kun went as stiff as a board. “W… what you mean?”

“I just want to know if you have a significant other in your life.” The redhead stopped her ministrations as she waited for the answer.

His answer came out somewhat slowly. “Ah, no. Not really. Not the way you mean.” He silently wondered what Ranma-chan was up to. She never asked questions like that. And there was the manner she asked them in as well. She still sounded awfully feminine to Shampoo-kun’s ears. But the girl’s concern was definitely eliciting a response within the Amazon as he felt his pulse quicken slightly.

“That’s good,” Ranma-chan sighed, then continued in her actions, pausing after a few minutes. “Your gi is in the way,” Ranma-chan informed her ‘customer,’ then began pulling back on the upper part of it to free Shampoo-kun’s arms and peel the top back. Shampoo-kun lay back down and prepared for another round of Saotome’s firm yet gentle touch.

“What are all these scratches on your back?” Ranma-chan asked as she saw a series of partially healed marks on the back.

Shampoo-kun stiffened once again. “I fall down a hill while on vacation,” Shampoo-kun said calmly. “It from the bushes I fall into, but no need to worry. I just get scratched a little bit.”

“Then why are they all in sets of four?” Ranma-chan asked.

“Odd coincidence.” Shampoo-kun answered, then smacked his head. “I forget, I got class project due soon. Must get back to work. Bye-bye” Shampoo-kun practically knocked Ranma-chan on her bottom as he got out from under the redhead and made his way back to his room.

Ranma-chan took a brief note that Shampoo-kun had almost seemed scared. Perhaps he was afraid he had contracted a disease from his roll in the bushes and didn’t want her to get it. Deciding to allow the Amazon to go, Ranma-chan went to find Kasumi. It took but a moment to discover that the eldest Tendo daughter had taken a break and was reading a magazine.

“Kasumi, I have a favor to ask you,” Ranma-chan began.

“What is it?”

The redhead informed Kasumi of her desire.

“I don’t think it’ll be a problem at all, Ranma.” Kasumi got up to retrieve what Saotome had asked for. “Akane has several extras, and I know she wouldn’t miss one. I can have it ready for you by tomorrow. And it’s good to see you’re coming to terms with your curse.”

Ranma-chan was too polite to correct the older girl. She wanted to get rid of her other form more than anything else in the world. It would just take time to figure out something.

The next morning Akane got up to the smell of breakfast emanating from the downstairs. Whatever it was it smelled good. Kasumi must have been experimenting with a new dish and judging by how hungry Akane felt, whatever it was would hit the spot. She would just have to watch out and not eat too much. A girl had to watch her weight after all.

As she went past her mirror she paused to take a close look at herself. She had never really considered curling her hair, but perhaps Ranma was right. She could curl the ends at least, and maybe add just a little more make up than usual. But not too much. She was never that big on make up, considering how much she would sweat when she worked out or defended herself. Too much make up would just end up ruining whatever affect she was going for.

She went downstairs to catch breakfast and then clean up before school. As she got to the bottom she almost ran into Shampoo who was heading for the table as well. Nabiki came into the hallway dressed in a towel, having hit the bath first. All three met at the same time as a figure emerged from the kitchen. All present were a bit surprised to see who had emerged bearing a skillet in hand.

“You made breakfast?” Nabiki asked as her eyebrow lifted itself quizzically.

“Yes,” Ranma-chan answered. “I hope you like what I made. I got up extra early this morning to make a good meal for all of you when I found out the news.”

“What news?” Akane asked.

“Kasumi was sick this morning.”


All heads turned to see the sound was Shampoo’s body hitting the floor. The girl was laid out prone and completely unconscious.

Ranma-chan was by her side in an instant, nearly in tears “What’s wrong, Shampoo? Speak to me.”

Any further questions were cut off as Shampoo’s body was dragged from Ranma-chan’s side and off to the Amazon’s makeshift bedroom by Nabiki, who used the Amazon’s ponytail as her handhold.

“Nabiki, what are you doing?” Ranma-chan asked as Akane simply stood there, trying to figure out what was going on.

“Don’t worry. I’ll make sure Shampoo’s all right. You guys have breakfast. I need to talk to her in private.” And with that she entered the room and shut the door behind her. A loud splash was heard followed by the words. “You did do it, didn’t you?!”

“You is crazy!” Everyone heard Shampoo-kun’s voice shout back. “I just concerned about Kasumi and I been suffering from fainting spells! That all it was, Stupid Extortionist Girl!”

“Yeah, right!” was Nabiki’s reply as both people continued their animated discussion.

Akane and Ranma-chan settled down as the two fathers came down for breakfast. All four remained at the table as the redhead began serving everyone.

“Here you go, Father.” Ranma-chan made certain to give her father an extra generous helping.

“That’s my boy.” Genma said. “It’s good to see you finally treating your old man with the respect he deserves.”

“Of course, Father.” Ranma-chan bowed. “It’s the least I could do for someone that is so important in my life.”

“I did notice you missed practice today. As much as I appreciate your making this delicious meal, you still shouldn’t be skipping things as important as that. You simply have to find a way to do both.”

Ranma-chan looked down to the floor, unable to meet her father’s eyes. “About my working out, Father. You see I no longer want to—”

All else was cut off as an ugly figure glomped onto Ranma-chan’s breasts. “SWEETO!!!” Happosai shouted. “It’s been way too long since the last time I enjoyed this feel. And I know you missed it too.”

After the initial shock, Ranma-chan did what now came naturally. “AAAAHHHHH!!!”

In less than two seconds Happosai was knocked off of the girl’s chest and into the floor by Shampoo-kun.

“Stupid Pervert not know when to give up!” Shampoo-kun growled at Happosai’s laid out body.

Shampoo-kun discovered a pair of arms that suddenly found themselves around his waist as Ranma-chan hugged him tightly. “Oh, Shampoo. You saved me,” she cooed.

Everyone, even Shampoo-kun, stared on in shock at the reaction. Ranma-chan was enjoying her position until she felt the hard muscles of Shampoo-kun’s chest become soft. She broke off her embrace to see Happosai had already recovered and grabbed the kettle of hot water, pouring the contents over Shampoo-kun’s head to trigger the change.

“I’ve missed you too, Shampoo.” And with that he buried himself between her breasts.

Shampoo tried unsuccessfully to pry off the offending pervert. Unfortunately the glomp was exceptionally powerful upon this occasion and he had no intention of letting go of the pillow he made of Shampoo’s chest anytime soon. She was beginning to lose hope when she felt herself splashed with cold water.

“Awww!” Happosai pouted as he felt the breasts go away. “Why’d you do that?”

Ranma-chan looked over with her glass of water in hand. “It’s not right for you to do that sort of thing to him, Grandfather.”

“Well I want to snuggle her for a little while.” He grabbed the hot water kettle and poured the contents over Shampoo, causing yet another change.

“Please stop that, Grandfather. He doesn’t want you to do that.” Ranma-chan poured a bucket of cold water over the now motionless Shampoo-kun, changing him again.

“I want to feel some Amazon cleavage today, damn it! Now quit interfering!” Happosai pulled out an even larger bucket of hot water and splashed Shampoo with it.

“No! I won’t let you do that to him!” Ranma-chan pulled out a large barrel of cold water and poured it over Shampoo-kun.

“Yes!” A large barrel of hot water came from nowhere and ended up dumped over Shampoo.

“No!” This time Ranma-chan used a bathtub of cold water.

“Yes!” Happosai used a bathtub even bigger than Ranma-chan’s.

“I WILL NOT ALLOW YOU TO DO THAT TO HIM!!!” Ranma-chan shouted at the top of her lungs while pointing her fist to the sky, a huge battle aura glowing. She then leaped over the wall surrounding the dojo and out of sight.

Everyone remained where they were, waiting for something to happen. No one moved for an untold amount of time, not even an attempted glomp by Happosai until, at last, everyone heard a rhythmic sound.




The sounds grew louder as the source of the noise got closer and closer to the dojo. Everyone continued to remain motionless, no one having the courage to see what the source was. Eventually, the origin of the thunderous noise made its presence known.

Everyone’s eyes bugged out as they saw a huge water tower, the kind from on top of large buildings and bearing thousands of gallons of cold water, appear above the surrounding wall. A part of the wall shattered as one of the metal struts that usually supported it broke through and allowed the person carrying it, Ranma-chan, to come into the yard. It was obvious from the strain that Ranma-chan was barely able to keep it up or balanced, as the tower swayed dangerously back and forth.


A step.


Another step.


A third into the yard.


At last Akane broke the aura of shock that permeated the occupants of the house. “Ranma! You can’t possibly support all that weight!”

Ranma-chan thought about it then stopped moving forward.

“I wish you hadn’t said that,” she mumbled as the tower started to lean forward.

“NO!” Nabiki shouted. “If that falls over you’ll—“

Too late, the tower came crashing down and all the water poured into the house, deluging it and all the occupants. Fortunately everyone managed to grab onto something solid and kept from being swept away until the flow passed.

“…Flood the house,” Nabiki finished as she spit out some water.

Happosai pulled himself from out of the makeshift barricade he had made out of Genma and Soun and walked over to Ranma-chan, a sad look on his face. “I understand now, Ranma.”

“You do?” She responded.

“Yes,” he nodded. “I do. You’re jealous of the attention I’ve been lavishing on Shampoo. There’s no need to fear.” The familiar gleam entered his eyes. “I’ll give all of my attention to you!” he declared and subsequently glomped onto her chest.

Ranma-chan began to quake in paralyzed terror, unable to do anything. The hold didn’t last long before Happosai found himself easily removed by a very powerful force.

A waterlogged Akane looked evilly at him. “THAT”S ENOUGH OUT OF YOU!!!” And with that punted him hard enough to send him somewhere near Hawaii.

Akane calmly turned her attention to the others. “Let’s get ready to go to school. I’ve had more than enough excitement for one day.” And left to go to her room. There was not going to be any attempt to make herself look more beautiful today. She would settle for not looking like a drowned rat.

Akane finished making herself presentable and headed to the front door, just waiting for something to go wrong. Nothing happened as she saw that Nabiki and Shampoo-kun were already there.

“Where’s Ranma?” she asked as she joined the others. Happosai had already made them late and no more delays could be afforded.

“Here I am.” A voice chimed in behind her. She turned to see Ranma-chan had appeared for school. There was only one slight change that separated her appearance from the usual mornings when they went to school.

Ranma-chan was wearing a girl’s school uniform.

“How do I look?” she asked as everyone just stared on in confusion.

“Ranma,” Akane began. “You’re wearing a dress.”

“Yes,’ Ranma-chan agreed. “It’s one of your old ones. Kasumi helped me loosen the chest and tighten the waist so it would fit me, but I think its presentable now.”

Akane missed the slight against her figure. “You’re wearing a dress,” she repeated, still in shock.

“You already said that.” Ranma-chan informed her. “Do you like it?”

“Yes, we do.” Nabiki answered then grabbed Ranma-chan by the arm. “Shampoo wears the boys uniform and you wear the girls. Now everyone falls under the dress code and all we have to worry about is the principal trying to make us late so we have to clean out the toilets. So let’s get going.”

Shampoo-kun and Akane looked at each other, bewildered, then followed. Each knew something bizarre was up and that it was time to find out what it was.

As Shampoo-kun caught up to Ranma-chan the redhead moved closer to him. “You don’t have to worry about Kasumi. I’m sure it’s just that flu that’s been going around.”

“Yes,” Shampoo-kun agreed. “You is probably right.”

The quartet were not the only ones running late. Halfway to school they ran into Ukyou, Ryouga, Kyoko, and Ai, who were hurrying along as well. When Ryouga spotted Ranma-chan he backed up, getting as much distance as he could from the redhead. Ranma-chan gave him a soft smile which caused Ryouga to get even more nervous.

Ukyou and Kyoko picked up on Ryouga’s reaction immediately. “What’s wrong?” Ukyou asked first.

“N… nothing.” Ryouga stammered then looked to the ground and started to drift a good distance away from the group. Both Ukyou and Kyoko sighed then grabbed him before he ended up in another district.

Everyone arrived at school to see that once again the entire student population had gathered in the front yard. At the forefront stood Kunou, standing in all of his self proclaimed majestic glory.

Nabiki ran away from the group and headed towards her new best informant, Ryonami. “What’s going on?”

“Kunou made a really bold statement today and said he was going to take his loves away from the influence of ‘The Foul Saotome.’”

“He always does that,” Nabiki said, unimpressed.

“Today was different.” Ryonami replied. “Everyone in his kendo club said he has some new technique which makes him invincible.”

Nabiki raised an eyebrow at that. “This I want to see.”

Kunou held his bokken high up into the sky. “The Diana of my hunt, the beauteous Akane Tendo. My red-haired Chinese Love Goddess, Shampoo. Today is the day I accept both of you in my arms.”

“There’s no time for this,” Akane grumbled and rolled up her short sleeve. “I’ll take care of him.”

“No. Wait,” Ranma-chan said. “Allow me.”

Akane looked quizzically at Ranma-chan but allowed the shorter girl to go on ahead. That was more like Ranma-chan, always ready to handle a jerk like Kunou.

Ranma-chan stepped within easy reach of Kunou and stared up at him. Rather than strike him, she began speaking. “Upperclassman Kunou. Exactly how do you feel about me?”

“You are my true love. You are like the wind to me. You—“

Ranma-chan interrupted the rest of the grand speech he was about to make. “And how do you feel about Akane?”

“She is my true love as well. She is like the ocean, her lips—“

“And that is your problem.” Ranma-chan cut him off once more. “How can you expect any girl to take you seriously when you say things like that? You are a playboy. Now I’ll admit, your open honesty about your feelings is certainly refreshing, even if it means you like two women. And you can certainly get a woman to swoon with those words of yours and make her feel like she’s the center of the world. But you’ll never be able to work anything out with a girl if you constantly harp on about others. No one likes a lech.”

Kunou considered those words for the briefest of moments, then thought things through using the Kunou family common sense. “But I cannot allow one to suffer without me. It would break her heart. It can work out. It must work out. I must have both of you. Starting with yourself.” And with that he reached forward and latched onto Ranma-chan, bringing the girl close.

Everyone expected Ranma-chan to react by simply punting him into the atmosphere as she usually did. It was a tremendous surprise when the redhead just wiggled in his grasp and began screaming. “Let me go! Let me go! Shampoo, save me!”

Shampoo-kun ignored the mistake Ranma-chan made in using his real name and went forward anyway. He did not understand exactly why the girl was acting the way she was, but it was obvious Ranma-chan needed help and Shampoo-kun was damned if he wasn’t going to give it to her.

Kunou saw the approaching Amazon and released his hold on Ranma-chan, taking some distance from her. “At last, foul Saotome,” he smirked. “Vengeance is mine.”

“So is a sore head.” Shampoo-kun went forward, unimpressed. He went for his standard right fist front kick Kunou elimination combination. As his fist went forward Kunou moved, tilting his body ever so slightly to the left and deflected the blow using the bokken. The parry caught Shampoo-kun so off guard that he was off balance momentarily and stumbled forward. Even as he turned to regain his balance a second blow fell on the back of his neck, knocking him to the ground.

Gasps emanated from every female in the crowd as Shampoo-kun slowly regained his feet. For the first time Kunou had somehow landed a blow upon his adversary.

“Yield, vile Saotome.” Kunou laughed at his fallen foe. “You cannot defeat me.”

Shampoo-kun slowly regained his feet. If he could take the likes of Mousse and Mint, he could defeat a clueless moron like Kunou easily. It was just one lucky blow. There would not be a second. Shampoo-kun went in for another fist strike. This time Kunou did not even move as he blocked the blow by striking the inside of the Amazon’s forearm and lunged forward with the bokken. More than ten strikes, lightning quick, got inside Shampoo-kun’s guard and connected with his chest.

Sounds of disbelief came from the crowd. Kunou had never been that fast or accurate, yet it seemed each one of his blows were quicker than the eye could follow.

“And now to finish it!” Kunou yelled dramatically to the skies. Shampoo-kun fought back the pain and tried to kick Kunou once again. That blow was directly blocked by the bokken, which stopped the kick and flowed past once the forward progress of the blow was halted, and connected solidly with Shampoo-kun’s midsection once more. The result of the strike sent Shampoo-kun flying into a wall of the school which he bounced off of and landed with a dull thud.

Murmurs ran roughshod through the crowd of Kunou’s total domination of the Amazon. No one, save the kendo club, had been prepared for the outcome.

“Victory is mine! HAHAHAHA!” Kunou laughed in a near insane manner in his triumph. Only someone saying “excuse me” caught his attention and caused him to break off his laugh.

“Beauteous Akane Tendo. You are at last free of the wicked one’s ways. Free from the bonds of slavery the scum foisted upon you. Come into my arms.” His attempt at a glomp ended abruptly as he was belted far into the stratosphere by Akane.

“Well,” Akane said as she watched his dwindling form. “That proves he’s not invincible, but how did he get good enough to beat Shampoo?” Shampoo-kun appeared to be in top form for that fight so that meant it was Kunou who had gotten better. But there was still the question of how had he gotten better so quickly. A new sensei perhaps, or something more sinister? If Minami had been present she could have detected any magic involved. Or was it drugs that had enhanced his abilities? He did seem the same on the outside, so drugs didn’t seem likely, but it was difficult to tell.

In the meantime the horde of Furinkan girls swooned over Shampoo-kun’s fate. Their hero had fallen at the hands of the evil Kunou, who would get his comeuppance if he dared to set foot on school grounds again. Several went over to help the fallen Amazon when one of their number held out her hands in an effort to stop the group.

“What is it?” One of them asked.

“Ranma’s beat up pretty bad,” the one who had stopped the others said.

“Which is why we need to help him,” another girl spoke up.

The girl that had halted the others shook her head. “You don’t understand. What happens if a girl beats him up?”

“He has to go out with them,” a series of girls answered at the same time.

The leader smiled. “That’s right. And now Kunou softened him up. Which means—“

“Whoever defeats him first gets to date him.”

“But wouldn’t taking advantage of him be kind of low.” A single voice rose in protest. As every head turned toward her she rethought her position. “You’re right. Screw the advantage. I’ll beat him up, go out with him, and then he can take advantage of me.”

All eyes slowly went from the girl who had spoken to Shampoo-kun’s battered form. At last he was able to slowly rise up from the impact and was unaware of the current predicament. His obliviousness did not last as the horde gave out a battle cry and charged him. There was nowhere to run and there was no way he could defeat all of them.

Ukyou assessed the situation and quickly ran over to Ranma-chan. “You want to help Shampoo, right?” she asked.

Ranma-chan quickly nodded her head. “Of course. I would do anything to help him.”

“All right then.” And with that she slid her giant spatula under the redhead and hurled her at Shampoo-kun. Ranma-chan’s flying body arrived just before the first wave of the horde of girls did. Ukyou’s throw was on target as Ranma-chan landed right atop Shampoo-kun’s head, knocking him out.

Ryouga came over to Ukyou’s side. “Exactly how did that help Shampoo?”

“There’s no way Shampoo wants to go out with a girl,” Ukyou explained. “And Ranchan’s really a guy. So even though they’ll be in their cursed forms, it will be a perfectly normal date. Normal relative to the fact it’s Ranchan and Shampoo, of course.”

The horde of girls all stopped in front of Ranma-chan, who was cradling Shampoo-kun’s head and pleading with him to speak to her. Sniffles and cries began to erupt from the crowd, all of them essentially meaning the same thing:

“Shampoo gets to date Ranma now! WAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!”

Shampoo-kun began moaning and holding his head as he came around. Ukyou made her way through the crowd and stood before the pair.

“Congratulations. You two have fun on your date.”

Ranma-chan was the first to understand what Ukyou meant. “Oh, my,” the redhead said in a very Kasumi-like manner. “This is all so sudden. I don’t know what to say. I’ve never had a boyfriend before.”

New cries of agony broke out from the assembled crowd and the idea of a lynching started to crop up. A careful fingering by Ukyou of her spatula ceased the talk as quickly as it came. Ranma-chan was still gushing and making plans when Akane stepped through the crowd, grabbed Ranma-chan by the pigtail, and dragged her off.

“Oww!” Ranma-chan protested. “That hurts.”

Akane set her down roughly well away from the crowd. “What the hell is going on, Ranma?” she said.

“I don’t know what you mean.” Ranma-chan began chewing her nails as she felt a mix of fear and confusion over Akane’s actions. She had not done anything to anger her fiancée so.

“You’ve been acting really weird since yesterday.”

“I have. In what way?” she asked innocently.

Akane became flustered. Ranma-chan was playing dumb and she had no idea exactly how to put it into words. As she struggled in frustration over what to do next the others joined up at Akane’s side.

“How do you feel?” Ukyou asked.

“I feel fine. It really was the only way to protect,” She paused as she realized that Kyoko and Ai were present. “Ranma.”

“Thank you.” Shampoo-kun breathed in relief. Going out with a woman was the last thing he needed. Not with the way he felt lately.

“She’s acting weird,” Akane informed the other.

“She was like this yesterday.” Ryouga told the others “She was acting the same way around Ranma as she did with me.”

“Wait a minute!” Kyoko suddenly said. “Are you telling me Shampoo came onto you?”

 “Not really.” Ryouga then corrected himself. “Well sort of. But I didn’t—“

“You little hussy!” Kyoko suddenly got into Ranma-chan’s face. “How dare you hit on my boyfriend.” She placed her hands around Ranma-chan’s neck and began to choke her as she shook the redhead back and forth. “If I wasn’t such a nice girl, I might do something rash. Like hurt you!”

It took the combined efforts of Ai, Ryouga, and Ukyou to pry Kyoko’s iron grip from around Saotome’s neck. Ranma-chan quickly hid behind Shampoo-kun while Kyoko continued shouting out what she would do to Ranma-chan if she weren’t such a nice girl. Ukyou and the other two carried the cheerleader off while the remaining three considered what to do.

“Let’s head in. I don’t want to be late for class.” And with that Ranma-chan rushed into school.

By the time school ended the situation was a real mess. Ranma-chan had not gotten any better and continued to act in the same manner as before. Any time the others tried to press Ranma-chan about her behavior she would brush it off and insist nothing was wrong and that she was behaving normally. To make matters worse Akane and Shampoo-kun had to defuse several bad situations between the female population and Ranma-chan, whose mere existence seemed to anger the girls.

At the end of the day Shampoo-kun made his way outside first and arrived at the gate to wait for his compatriots. Both Akane and Ranma-chan were late and the Amazon was afraid something had happened to them. It was much to his relief that Ranma-chan showed up.

“Sorry I’m late. Some very rude young men made some off color remarks about me,” she explained.

“I kill him,” Shampoo-kun threatened as he balled up his fist and prepared to make his way back inside the school.

“No need.” Ranma-chan assured him. “Another nicer boy said the first boy shouldn’t talk to me that way, and the two of them got into a fight. And then some other boys got into it and, well…”

Almost as though some higher power sensed Ranma-chan’s pause, an explanation of what happened was provided with the noise of shattered glass as a chair was hurled out a window and the sounds of a war came from within.

“…I think I sort of started a riot,” Ranma-chan finished.

Shampoo-kun just looked on in awe at the ever-increasing noise from within. That was a bit wild, even for Furinkan. Japan was such a weird place.

“Let’s get out of here before it spills outside.” Ranma-chan grabbed the Amazon’s hand and looked bashfully at him.

Shampoo-kun just stared in wide-eyed wonder at Ranma-chan’s maneuver. “What about Akane?” Shampoo-kun asked.

Ranma-chan suddenly became uncomfortable. “I’ll be able to see her at home. Right now I want to spend time with you, if you don’t mind.”

“No. I don’t.” Shampoo-kun answered as he started walking towards the dojo, the two walking off hand in hand and oblivious to the hundreds of girls, who wanted nothing to do with a riot over Ranma-chan. They had watched the whole scene and directed curses towards Ranma-chan for being such a blatant tramp.

As inconceivable as it seemed, Akane’s bad mood had been made worse. As she was leaving school one of her fellow students asked her to thank ‘Just Ranma’ (as Ranma-kun was known.) for giving them his windsock. It was much to Akane’s surprise that the ‘windsock’ was actually the sweater she had knit for Ranma just a little while ago. The only saving grace was that apparently it had been instrumental in their winning a science project that had gained first place in an international competition. She kept repeating to herself through gritted teeth that it was all in the name of school pride that her clothing had to be used for something other than its original purpose.

And then she got caught in the war zone. The school halls were filled with students, mostly boys, rioting and causing one huge mess. After Akane fought her way through three quarters of them she had pieced together enough information to figure our Ranma-chan’s presence had triggered the war somehow. And then disaster struck once again.

The sound of a ukulele being played over loudspeakers drowned out the brawlers, causing everyone to pause and look around in stark terror. Events had spun out of control until the keeper of the school felt the need to rein the students in.

One of the walls erupted inward as Principal Kunou chose to show off his new toy, a tank that had several small palm trees growing out of the turret, and his associates, the unofficial disciplinarian, Gompachi Chabane, and the new official disciplinarian Hinako Hinomiya. Life around Furinkan really had taken a turn for the worse of late.

The teacher, currently in her young body, began jumping up and down in glee at the spectacle before her. “You really are all delinquents! I can see it’s going to take some time to clean up this school. And we are going to start now! HAPPO GO EN SATSU!!!”

There was an American saying for situations like that and Akane knew it well: it was time to get the hell out of Dodge. Akane jumped out of a window even as she felt the first vestiges of her chi being sucked out of her. She landed with a thud in some bushes, then turned to look back at the building to see students withering away under the assault. It was definitely time to go home.

Almost as soon as Akane arrived home and stepped foot inside Nabiki informed her there was a family meeting going on that Ranma had called together. Upon entering the room she could see that everyone was already gathered around, even a pale Kasumi that was sitting next to Shampoo-kun, who was fussing over her making certain she was all right.

Akane took a place next to Nabiki as Ranma-chan began to speak.

“I realize you all wish to know why I called everyone together for this meeting. I have a very important announcement to make. I want you all to know that this is not easy for me. Every one of you means so much that it just hurts me to even think about what I must say. I have considered remaining silent and saving everyone from a great deal of grief and pain. But I realize now that that is not a possibility, as much as I wish it were otherwise, for if I say nothing then that too will cause pain to others. There is no path I can take that is free, so it now falls to me to choose how I will hurt oth…others” Ranma-chan’s voice caught as she obviously tried to hold back tears. Of everyone in the room only Genma focused on Ranma-chan’s behavior instead of what she was saying. Even he could see something was wrong with his son, and only he understood what repercussions that could have.

Ranma-chan continued. “As everyone knows, there has been a long standing engagement between myself and Akane due to an agreement by my father and Mr. Tendo. I have little doubt that they both thought this was a good idea. After all, they are such thoughtful and caring people that I am certain they believed that the happiness that was between them could be shared with their children. And Akane and I have certainly had some fun times together. I know I am a better person, not just because of her, but because of all the Tendo family. Thank you.”

All were moved by the confession, even Nabiki. Few people ever said such things to her without hope of some recompense.

Akane felt proud of Ranma-chan’s declaration, but there was also a feeling of building dread that something else was going to happen. Something bad.

“That is why it makes what I have to do so much harder, but it must be done. I’m sorry, but I must dissolve the engagement.”

Everyone just looked on in shock. Then all hell broke loose.

“What are you talking about, boy?!”

“Son, how dare you do this to your fiancée!”

“Whoa! What did you and Akane fight over now?”

“Oh my!”

Only two people remained silent, and for quite different reasons. Shampoo-kun said nothing because of an overwhelming shock to the system. It took a few moments for him to truly grasp exactly what had been said, but at last it settled in. It was over. Ranma-chan had finally come to her senses and threw off the yoke of the undesired engagement, setting herself free to be with whomever she wanted. Just as it should have always been.

Akane was in shock once again, yet she remained silent until, eventually, everyone turned her way, waiting to see her reaction. It was almost a full minute before she began to shake in anger. How could he? How could he do it? How could he call her beautiful one day and break off the engagement the next? What kind of a monster was he to make her believe one thing, to build up her hopes with a single word, then shatter them irreparably with his next?

It was another thirty seconds before she spoke up, tears streaming down her eyes. “How dare you toy with my emotions that way! I hate you! I HATE YOU!!!”

Ranma-chan began crying in response and tried to move to comfort her. “I…I’m sorry, Akane. But I can’t—“

The rest was cut off by the slap Ranma-chan felt across her mouth.

“How dare you say you’re sorry! You’re not! You just used me to feed your ego and make yourself feel good! You used me, you sick bastard! STAY AWAY FROM ME!!!” Akane prepared to storm out of the room even as Genma stood up and grabbed Ranma-chan by the collar.

“You don’t get it, do you, boy? You can’t just say ‘I’m no longer engaged’, and it’s dissolved. It doesn’t work that way.”

Soun made his presence known once again. “Why can’t you marry her, son? What’s happened? Did you two have a fight? If you did I can guarantee it can be worked out.”

“Don’t any of you understand?” Ranma-chan pleaded. “I can’t be married to Akane for the same reason I’m giving up martial arts. And please don’t call me son.”

The second declaration made everyone sit up and take notice again. It even managed to cut through Akane’s sorrow filled heart. Ranma-chan giving up martial arts?

“WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT, BOY?!!!” Genma raged. “You can’t give up martial arts. They’re your life.”

“I have to, Father. And please don’t call me boy.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?!” Genma shouted.

“Well I would think it’s obvious,” Ranma-chan calmly stated as she regained control of her emotions. “After all, I am a girl.”

Ranma-chan was more than a little surprised at the stunned look on everyone’s faces.

Akane was the first to shake off her shock and moved to stand next to Ranma-chan. “What are you talking about, Ranma? You’re a boy.”

Ranma-chan shook her head fiercely. “No! I’m a girl. That’s why I have to give up martial arts. It’s not proper for a girl to practice them. And that’s why I can’t marry you. You’re a nice girl and you’ll make someone a very happy bride someday. But it can’t be me. Girls can’t marry girls. It’s wrong.”

“What are you talking about?” Akane did not know whether to be angry or frightened. Was it all some plot to break off the engagement, or was Ranma-chan really having delusions?

Ranma-chan sighed and pointed to her chest. “Boys don’t have things like this. That proves I’m a girl.”

“Ranma, you only have breasts because of the curse.” Akane reminded him. “You are a guy who changes into a girl when your hit with cold water. Don’t you remember?”

“I know what you’re talking about.” Ranma-chan gained a far off cast to her eyes. “It’s sort of like a dream from a lifetime ago. But it was just that, a dream. I am a girl now. I know that hurts you, but you have to accept it. We can never be more than friends. I’m sorry.”

It was Nabiki’s turn to interject herself. “I think I know what’s going on.”

“You do?” Soun asked as all heads turned to the middle Tendo child.

Nabiki held up her finger and delivered her answer. “It’s rather obvious when you think about it. I mean we should have seen this coming for some time now. Why, I have to say that I expected something like this would happen. It’s a miracle it di—“

Her speech was cut short as a bonbori smashed the table in front of her. “Spit it out now, Nabiki!” Shampoo-kun threatened.

“Right,” she answered nervously. The only reason Shampoo would use Nabiki’s real name like that was if Nabiki had hit the limit, and if she fooled around any longer the next blow probably would be aimed at her skull. Choosing to skip her next dramatic pause she delivered her statement. “Ranma is having a nervous breakdown.”

“What makes you say that?” Kasumi asked.

“Think about it. He’s had—”

“She,” Ranma-chan corrected. “Please refer to me by my proper gender.”

“Right,” Nabiki glowered. “She’s had a curse that changes his… I mean her sex with cold water. She’s had half the martial artists in the world after her hide. Every other day someone either attacks her or tries to hit on her. She was forced into an engagement without being told about it until the last minute. Her entire life has been composed of nothing but martial arts. She was thrown repeatedly into a pit of hungry cats until she developed a psychosis at the ripe old age of about seven. And she has Mr. Saotome as her father, that alone would drive most people out of their minds.”

Genma’s protest about character assassinations was cut off by a “Saotome,” by Soun.

“I did not have a nervous breakdown. I am the picture of perfect mental health,” Ranma-chan declared.

Everyone evaluated the statement, formed huge sweatdrops (save for Kasumi), then turned back to Nabiki.

Akane spoke first. “So what do we do to cure him?”

“Her,” Ranma-chan corrected.

“The way I figure it,” Nabiki began. “A lot of the reason she thinks she’s a girl is because she hasn’t changed in a while. When was the last time anyone saw her as a guy?”

“It was the day before yesterday,” Shampoo-kun supplied.

“So all we have to do is splash her with hot water?” Akane asked, her mood suddenly improving. Ranma-chan hadn’t rejected her. Ranma-chan was crazy. Of course that brought about a whole new set of problems, but at least she wasn’t in his right mind when she broke off the engagement. Unfortunately that also meant that everything she had told Akane the day before was while she was in the process of having her mind shattered. But if getting back the engagement meant the kind words Akane’s fiancé spoke to her were all a lie, then it would be worth it. A high price to pay, but one that had to be done.

At the realization that Nabiki probably was right, Shampoo-kun, forced himself to suppress the urge to start laughing insanely. Just when Ranma-chan had started to show some outward signs of affection towards the Amazon, it turned out she was demented. Oh yes, that made perfect sense to Shampoo-kun. Couldn’t have things going his way, now could they? Nope, he could be led on by mentally deranged Ranma-chan, but couldn’t get any real affection from the boy, well, girl now, when she was in her right mind. And Ranma-chan’s behavior towards him had been so thoughtful and caring. The attention he had received from Saotome had helped to coalesce the Amazon’s feelings towards her. Now it turned out those signs of affection were nothing more than the product of a diseased mind. And Shampoo-kun’s desires had blinded him to that fact.

In hindsight it should have been obvious: Ranma-chan always being in female form, the dresses, her unusual acceptance of the flattery of the other male students, trying to dissuade Kunou through words instead of action. And the list went on and on. There was more than a little guilt as Shampoo-kun understood that he had felt more than a great deal of appreciation at the attention he had received from the mentally addled Ranma-chan. He claimed he loved Saotome, but to not notice a little thing like a mental breakdown occur right before his eyes was more than enough to make him feel as though perhaps all of his so called feelings for Ranma-chan were nothing more than some pathetic attempt at attention. All in all it was a heartbreaking experience.

All of that also meant once Ranma-chan recovered then the engagement would be revalidated to that damned Akane. Akane did not love her fiancé and certainly didn’t want to get married to him, yet no matter what, the cursed engagement just wouldn’t go away. Shampoo-kun’s greatest foe was one she could not fight.

But now was not the time for self-pity. If Ranma-chan needed help Shampoo-kun would be there for him. Ranma-chan would do no less. “So all we need is to pour some hot water on him?” Shampoo-kun said. “That easy.”

Akane beat the Amazon over to the kettle and headed towards Ranma-chan. “Here you go, Ranma. Just let me give you a little hot water and we’ll show you that you’re really a boy.”

“No.” Ranma-chan leaped out of the way. “I am not a boy, I’m a girl. Quit telling me I’m a boy, and keep that water away from me.”

“It’s for your own good, Ranma,” Akane pointed out.

“I’m happy just the way I am,” she protested.

Akane had had enough. “Stand still so I can get you.” Much to her annoyance Ranma-chan jumped deftly out of the way of the attempted dousing. “Look, if you’re really a girl than it won’t make any difference what you look like on the outside. You’ll still be the same person on the inside”


“Please,” Akane softly pleaded.

Ranma-chan shook her head. “No. I’m sorry Akane. But I can never be the sort of person you want me to be. So please quit trying to make me into something I’m not.”

Somehow those words cut deep, even though she knew Ranma-chan wasn’t thinking right. Akane started to protest, but was cut off as Genma finally made his move. He picked up a second kettle of hot water and quietly sneaked up behind Ranma-chan, then poured it over the motionless girl.

“Enough whining, boy. I didn’t raise my son to think he’s some sort of woman. I’ve raised you to be a man among men.” He paused long enough to examine the now quite male Ranma in front of him. “See.”

“How do you feel now?” Shampoo-kun asked as everyone watched intently for the reaction.

Ranma remained motionless, then slowly looked down at his chest, feeling the area where his breasts had been a moment ago.

“You see,” Akane said softly, as though afraid a loud noise would cause him to run away in fright. “You are a boy.”

Tears formed in Ranma’s eyes as he began crying. “I’m a girl! A girl!” And with that he took off and ran for the pond. No one moved to prevent his leap as he jumped in and triggered the transformation. Quickly Ranma-chan reached down to her chest and felt the return of her reassuring cleavage, then breathed a sigh of relief. Everything was still there.

“See,” she said without the slightest bit of doubt in her voice. “I am a girl.”

“It didn’t work,” Akane said under her breath. It took her several minutes to compose herself before she trusted her ability to speak. “I need to go upstairs. Good bye, Ranma.” Akane said quietly to the girl who remained in the pond, almost as though she were afraid she would revert back to her male form if she left its watery confines.

Akane sat down on her bed and simply stared off into space. There was only one emotion she could feel. Whether or not it was because it was so overwhelming that it drowned out the others, or if there was nothing else to feel she couldn’t tell. What she was certain of was that she had just lost something precious. There was no other explanation for the feeling of total desolation that dominated her like no other emotion ever had.

Back in the pond Ranma-chan remained where she was. True, it was wet and uncomfortable, but to get out meant facing the others again. And they were behaving so irrationally. Why was everyone insisting she was a boy? Couldn’t they see the obvious? She was a girl.

And then there was Akane. Ranma-chan had suspected she would take the breaking of the engagement hard, but she just had to cry, and Ranma-chan hated that. But it was for her own good. Ranma-chan simply did not like girls that way and she just knew Akane didn’t either, although she did faintly remember a time when Akane kissed her and she was most definitely a girl. But that was a distant memory, like a dream from that long time ago when Ranma-chan was confused. Now she was thinking clearly for what might have been the first time ever. All that was left to do was get the others to open their eyes and accept that fact as well. Eventually they would, and then she and Akane could be friends again just like during the engagement. Akane’s friendship was important to her, and losing it would hurt a lot. Ranma-chan would do whatever she had to, to make sure a peace existed between the two of them.

Ranma-chan noticed her father start to walk over to her. She had prayed all last night that he would understand why she had to give up martial arts. Her natural inclination was not to be a petulant child, but there was the propriety of the matter. It just wasn’t proper for a lady to do such things. Now that her mind was clear, Ranma-chan knew she wanted to be more like Kasumi than Akane, and her father was just going to have to accept that as a fact. Maybe she could convince him Shampoo-kun would make a worthy heir to carry on the tradition of Anything Goes School of Martial Arts. Shampoo-kun was just so perfect, how could her father not accept him as a successor?

“Now do you see, Father?” she began as Genma stood next to her along the edge of the pond. “I am a girl. I have breasts and everythAHHH!”

Genma picked his ‘daughter’ up and out of the pond hurling her to the ground. Ranma-chan had no chance to get up as he then placed his tremendous bulk fully on top of her, pinning her to the ground while not allowing her the slightest bit of leverage. “I don’t know what game you’re playing at, boy, but it stops here and now. Tendo! The water!”

Soun came over with a steaming kettle and poured the contents directly over Ranma-chan’s head. “This is for your own good, son. We have to make you better and get you engaged to Akane again.”

“I don’t wanna be engaged to a girl! I am a girl!” Ranma tried squirming his way out from under Genma’s tremendous bulk, but all to no avail. “Someone help me!”

Shampoo-kun moved around a corner to spare him the sight of Ranma’s struggles. Reflexively he wanted to come to Ranma’s aid, but it really was all for his own good. Ranma was disturbed, and the fathers seemed to think this was what would cure Ranma. Ranma would forgive Shampoo-kun later for not interfering.

“Please, anyone!”

Shampoo-kun balled his fists up and shut his eyes, trying to remain where he was. Ranma sounded weak. That wasn’t the Ranma Shampoo-kun knew. The real Ranma would never cry out like some helpless little child. Why, he would be humiliated if someone even suggested such a thing. When this was all over Ranma would show his appreciation for allowing the fathers to cure him.

“Kasumi, help me!”

Shampoo-kun heard Kasumi’s response. “Are you sure this is such a good idea? He seems to be very uncomfortable and I don’t think it’s so bad for him to get in touch with his female side.”

“He isn’t getting in touch with it,” Soun protested. “He thinks he is one!”

“My son will be a man among men,” Genma defended. “He is not getting in touch with anything female except Akane.”

“I won’t marry her. I’m a girl!”

“What’s that, boy?”

“Ouch!” Ranma cried out. “I can’t breath! Please help me, Nabiki!”

“Leave me out of this, Saotome. It’s your mess.”

He didn’t want to hear Ranma cry out like that. Ranma never cried. As Shampoo-kun’s hands went to the ears he felt something wet trickle down his face. He opened his eyes to see that he had balled his fists so tightly that the fingernails had broken flesh, causing them to bleed.

“Akane, save me! I know you’re angry, but I need help. They’re hurting me!”

“Stop whining, boy. Just admit that you’re a man and we’ll let you go.”

“I’m a girl.”

Why couldn’t he just be silent and accept the treatment? Why couldn’t Ranma just get cured? Surely the fathers weren’t really hurting him. And even if they were causing him a little pain wouldn’t Ranma’s instincts protect him and maybe break through his dementia? He was strong and could defeat both of them easily if he had to. Ranma’s instincts would kick in any second now and he would get better. He would be normal.

“Help! Akane!”

He sounded just like a weak little girl, not the strong man he really was. Ranma never let anyone see him weak. Both of his arms could be hacked off and he would still do nothing but protest that he was fine. He could never truly be happy the way he was now. He had to be cured no matter what.

“Help, Shampoo!”

Now it had become painfully obvious Ranma was crying his eyes out as he shouted. Hands went to Shampoo-kun’s ears, regardless of the blood, as he shut his eyes as hard as he could. Damn him! Why wouldn’t Ranma just be quiet?

“Shampoo, please! I need you!”


“You promised you’d protect me, remember? On the ship you swore you would protect me from anyone that would try to hurt me! I need your help! I’m begging you, save me!”


Shampoo-kun cried out his name. Too much. The screams. The pleading. The crying. It all was too much to take as he raced into the yard and punted Genma off of Ranma’s prone form. When the weight was removed the crying boy grabbed onto Shampoo-kun and buried himself into the Amazon’s arms. Shampoo-kun returned the embrace and began apologizing to Ranma, barely keeping in tears of his own.

“I sorry, Ranma! I sorry! I was wrong. I should no have let them hurt you. I swear to you, I not abandon you again. I sooner die than do that. I promise.”

Shampoo-kun turned his attention to the two fathers. “Leave her alone or you answer to me.” That warning was leveled at the nearby Soun as well as Genma, whose body was stuck into a wall from the force of Shampoo-kun’s kick. Once he was certain the two fathers were taking him seriously he began to check out what damage they might have inflicted on Ranma. “Is you all right?”

“I n… need w… water,” he managed to sob out.

Akane had at last made it downstairs. She had been in motion the second time Ranma had called out her name and raced down at breakneck speed. Like Shampoo-kun, she wanted him cured, but at the same time could not reject his pleas for help. Each one had cut like a knife. She arrived just in time to hear Ranma’s plea and quickly grabbed a glass of water and poured it over the cowering boy. Almost as soon as the water hit Ranma-chan calmed down slightly.

“It’s okay, Ranma. We’ll treat you like a girl,” Akane assured her.

“Y… you will?” Ranma-chan sniffled back.

Akane smiled and nodded her head. “Yep. If that’s what makes you happy, then we won’t force you turn into a boy. Will we?” The question was directed at Genma and Soun, who upon seeing the VERY mean stares of Shampoo-kun and Akane, silently acceded to the demands.

Ranma-chan slowly detached herself from Shampoo-kun and looked softly at her saviors. “Thank you.”

Both Shampoo-kun and Akane gave the redhead convincing, if insincere, smiles. They needed to calm Ranma-chan down, but neither had any idea of what to do next. And if they didn’t do something soon, well, neither wanted to consider that particular outcome. They would handle one problem at a time. Something would come up. Something always came up. It had to.

It just had to.

“Fall, foul demon!”

Kunou lunged forward even as the pus colored, three-headed demon lashed out with twenty of its razor sharp tentacles, hoping to impale the attacking kendoist. With great effort Kunou narrowly managed to parry each of the near fatal strikes, although two of the tentacles slashed through part of his hakama while a third nicked his cheek, drawing blood.

While Kunou distracted it with a frontal assault, Yohko and Azusa launched themselves in the air.

“Azusa, now!” Yohko ordered.

Being the good devil-hunter-in-training that Azusa was, she obeyed and attacked the remaining four tentacles that the demon had left to guard its main body. With those out of the way, Yohko at last had a path to the demon’s anchor to the physical world, the Gem of Shadol, which was embedded in its pulpy chest. She deftly leaped over two of the heads that tried to snap her in half with their long pointed snouts and foot long teeth. The third set of jaws that attempted to clamp down on her were severed, along with the rest of the head, by Yohko’s Soulsword. Before the monstrosity’s head hit the ground Yohko found herself poised to strike the final blow.

“This is your end, Lohkar!” And with that final condemnation Yohko thrust her sword directly into the gem, shattering it into a million iridescent shards of crystal.

The effect was instantaneous as the tentacles rose to the moonlit sky in agony and the demon began to melt. “You will pay for this travesty, one hundred and eighth generation of devil hunter. You and your little Azusa too.”

Kunou raised his bokken high to the sky. “And if you dare to threaten either of these fair damsels, or any other innocent, you will have to face the awesome power of Tatewaki Kunou, repulsive demon.”

“I have not forgotten you either, True Blunder,” the creature gurgled as it continued to melt.

“That’s ‘Blue Thunder’!”

“Whatever,” the creature spoke its last as the final pieces melted, leaving nothing but a huge puddle of goo.

“I will await your return, evil demon, and send you back to the hell from whence you came.” Kunou struck yet another dramatic pose, more for his benefit than the two girls that were with him.

Off to the side, Azusa saw an all too familiar gleam in her mentor’s eyes. “Yohko, I don’t think you want to do that.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Yohko answered dreamily.

Azusa sighed. “Yes you do. All of the guys you fall for are either demons, get sacrificed, or are nothing but illusions to begin with.”

“He’s different. I can tell.”

 “Well I’ll agree with you there,” Azusa lamented.  “He’s weirder than most.”

“Look at his noble face. His chivalrous attitude. His…”

Azusa shut out the rest of his ‘awesome’ attributes as she rolled her eyes. There was no getting through to Yohko tonight. Perhaps common sense would kick in tomorrow. And maybe Chi would stick to one of her diets.

Devil Hunter Yohko finished her list and approached the man that had assisted them in tracking down and destroying Lohkar. “Thanks. You were great!”

Kunou brushed his hair back in an aristocratic manner. “No need for gratitude. I would scarcely be the noble soul I contend that I am if I were to allow beauties such as yourselves to fall prey to the devilish machinations of such abominations.”

The young man next to her excited Yohko like no other had before. She decided to take a chance. “I’m usually not this forward, but are you seeing someone?”

Kunou gave a wide smile. “Ah, my handsome features have captured yet another young girl’s fancy. But alas, I cannot date you, I already have two loves.”

Yohko looked at him in confusion. Two loves? He was some kind if two-timer? No, that just couldn’t be. The youth was too heroic and handsome. No doubt he meant something appropriately noble, like he was wedded to both his code of honor and his sword.

He gave a bow before Yohko. “It is time for me to depart, but first,” He brought his hands behind his back for a moment before bringing them forward once more, this time bearing a bouquet of red roses. “For you.”

Yohko nearly passed out from joy. A handsome man just gave her flowers. She could die happy now.

“I must depart.” And with that Kunou left for Nerima. How unfortunate he had to miss the rest of the day at school and give the foul Saotome the thrashing he deserved. That could have been the only reason Akane Tendo would smite him so. He would have been back earlier if he had not landed in the middle of a battle involving the two girls and a monster. The demon called Lohkar would no doubt have harmed the young women, and it was Kunou’s duty to protect helpless girls from danger. So the rest of the day was spent tracking the fleeing demon down and running him to ground. Now it was time to go back home and truly give Saotome the beating he deserved. Then the two goddesses would be his.

Yohko sighed at Kunou’s departing form. He was truly the man of her dreams. She silently vowed to herself that that was not the last time she and Tatewaki Kunou would cross paths. And the next time Yohko Mano saw him she would make him hers.


Joketsuzoku, China:

Be Dea walked towards the center of the Great Hall and awaited her allies to approach her. Well, her allies and Shou Ya, though why that particular elder seemed to hang around someone she professed to dislike and disagreed with almost all the time was beyond her. At least she wasn’t spying, that much she could be sure of.

“<So your request passed,>” Shou Ya said in a tired voice.

“<No thanks to you,>” Be Dea answered. “<I thought you said you were going to back me.>” She had to call in a lot of favors to get everything she wanted, and it all would have been easy of Shou Ya had backed her.

“<I changed my mind.>” Shou Ya shrugged. “<I say let the child be. If she does become leader someday, then she’s going to have to enjoy these times of little responsibility as much as she can. And before you ask, no, I don’t believe she is cursed. And neither do you, else you would have said something about it at the meeting.>”

“<I just think Ku-Lon is up to something and I think Shan-Pu is involved up to her neck in it.> Be Dea stated in a firm voice. “<I tell you, something is going on and I want to get to the bottom of it.>”

“<It sounds like you know something.>” Talcum moved closer to Be Dea. Getting the inside line on things always interested her. It was one of the reasons she had voted with Be Dea on sending out a party to track down Shampoo.

For the first time that anyone could remember, Be Dea actually seemed worried. “You know my grandson, Fleece?>” the others nodded. “<Well, you know how sensitive he is to the world around him. Anyway, he’s been having… problems.>”

“<What sort of problems?>” Comb asked.

“<Dreams mostly. But real bad ones. And they’ve been getting worse.>” Be Dea was reluctant to mention what else was going on with the others. She was a private person by nature as well as because of necessity, but she had to tell someone. “<He keeps waking up shouting out that someone hates him, and no, it’s not his wife. I’m pretty sure these aren’t normal nightmares either. It all started one night when he saw some strange lights around Jusenkyou.. Since then he’s been getting worse. I talked with the guide up there and discovered that there have been an awful lot of visitors lately, and more often than not they end up taking a dip.>”

The others made sounds of sympathy.

“<Now I don’t know about you, but when a lot of people end up in those pools, more often than not, bad things start to happen,>” Be Dea mentioned.

“<You think the Musk are involved?>” Shou Ya asked. “<Maybe changing their people into animals to help them build the army?>”

“<It’s a strong possibility,>” Be Dea agreed. “<At any rate, I think if we haul in Shan-Pu, Ku-Lon will soon follow, or at least tell us what’s really going on in order to countermand the council decision about bringing Shan-Pu back. And with all that’s happening around us, I want the matriarch close by. I can’t help feeling like this is all the calm before some kind of storm. There’s just something different in the air.>”

The others nodded in agreement, though had reservations about the statement. Foretelling was a rare talent, and Be Dea had never shown any inclination towards it.

Talcum spoke up. “<You said that you were going to personally take care of the matter. Who are you going to send? Surely you aren’t going?>”

Be Dea laughed at that. “<I should say not. While Ku-Lon’s gone I intend to enjoy every moment of peace I have around here. And I have a feeling that when we grab Shan-Pu the matriarch will be back, and none too happy with me. This could all blow up in my face yet. As to who I’ll send, I have someone special in mind.>”

“<You mean her?>” Comb asked emphasizing the last word in such a way as everyone knew who she was talking about.

“<Yes.>” Be Dea nodded. “<She’s impressed me a great deal since her return. Did you know she even managed to out argue me in a discussion we had.>”

“<What did you do?>” Shou Ya asked.

“<I did what the elders used to do to us whenever we scored one over on them when we were her age.>”

“<You told her to shut up and mind her own business,>” Comb said flatly.

“<Of course.>” Be Dea smiled.”<I think she’ll be perfect for the hunt.>”

“<You’ve really taken her under your wing.>” Shou Ya, said that more as a statement than a question.

Be Dea gave a toothy grin every bit as horrifying as Cologne’s. “<She is nothing short of incredible. She’s beaten everyone in her age category and higher in the months since her return, beaten them easily. And the girl has a mind that’s as sharp as a razor. I personally think she could not only take Shan-Pu, but I believe that perhaps one day she could be leader.>”

“<Can’t get it yourself so you want to live vicariously through others by having them attain the goal you sought. How petty,>” Shou Ya commented.

Be Dea held her temper in check. “<No. I truly believe she should be leader someday because of who she is and what she can do, not because of some feeling of dissatisfaction.>”

“<You’d still enjoy seeing the matriarch’s great granddaughter fall from contendership though?>” Comb asked.

“<That’s just a bonus.>” Be Dea admitted. “<I’m going to inform her now. I shall see you all later.>”

The others said their good-byes as Be Dea left for the girl’s home. Be Dea had been understating her admiration for the young girl. Most women would not have the opportunity to be considered for leadership until they hit the age of fifty or so, but Be Dea had a feeling that the girl was so good she might actually gain the leadership that much sooner. And the look of disappointment on Cologne’s face when Shampoo fell would come close to allowing Be Dea to die a happy woman.

She arrived at the girl’s house and knocked on the door. Her mother, Rinse, answered immediately and gave a deep bow.

“<Greetings honored elder. What brings you here at this time of day?>”

“<I’ve come to talk to your daughter,>” Be Dea explained. “<Is she in?>”

Rinse admitted she was and ushered the elder directly to the girl’s room. Be Dea looked past Rinse and into the room even as she was introduced. Rinse’s husband had added on to the house to accommodate the girl’s possessions, of which there were many. Rinse excused herself, much to the elder’s surprise, and closed the door behind her, leaving her alone with the girl. Now that Be Dea was in the room she saw the girl for the first time today. The girl started to put down the book she had been holding and was about to get up to bow before Be Dea.

“<Sit down. I have enough people bow before me every day that my back is stooped from all the bending I have to do. I won’t miss it if a couple of them just give me a pleasant, ‘good day, Elder’.>”

The girl took the cue and sat back down. “<Good day, Elder.>”

“<Now you see, my back feels better already.>” Be Dea usually took the friendly tact with those she wished to relax in her presence, but now that she had watched the girl for almost a minute she realized there was very little tension in her. Very little. A mixture of emotions went through the elder with that realization. It was good to see the girl had great control and refused to be impressed with one’s title, but she should still have respect for her betters. At least as long as they were her betters.  Be Dea would have to watch the girl more carefully to make certain she did not lose respect for how the village hierarchy worked.

“<What was that you were reading?>” Be Dea asked, pointing to the book the girl had just put down.

The girl picked it up and showed the title to Be Dea. “<Dante’s Inferno, in the original Italian. You know, it’s true what they say about it losing something in the translation.>”

“<You can read Italian?>”

“<Oh yes,>” the girl said. “<I’m fluent in that as well as Japanese, English, and German. I can also speak a little Hindi, French, Vietnamese, and Russian. I have a knack for languages, and as I learned under my various masters, most of them prefer it when you speak to them in their native tongue.>”

“<I guess so,>” Be Dea commented while hiding the fact she was impressed. True, learning a foreign language was hardly a good indicator if someone was smart or dull-witted, Be Dea’s difficulty in learning anything outside of Chinese was proof of that, but in this case she felt it did speak volumes of the girl’s intelligence.

Be Dea paused in thought to look upon the bookshelves that had been a recent addition to the room. Hundreds of volumes sat upon those wooden boards. Only the tribe’s library held more. “<You have many books here,>” she commented as she let her hand trail along the spines of the various texts as she strolled past them.

“<I traveled to many different places and picked them up over time,>” the girl explained. “<Whenever I found one I wanted to keep I’d send it to a storage facility in Hong Kong. When I returned home I sent for them. Even I wasn’t really aware of just how much I accumulated over time.>”

Many of the texts were in their native tongue, and indecipherable to the elder, but some were translated. She could read some of the titles though. Books on philosophy, politics, and economics were numerous. Be Dea was about to turn away when her eyes fell upon a title that was very familiar. She picked up the dog-eared copy of the book. “<Ah. Sun-Tzu. I remember my first copy of ‘The Art of War’. Mine was even more worn out than this when I was your age.>” She began leafing through the pages, reminiscing about her past, when she noticed something peculiar about the copy she held in her hand. “<What’s all this writing doing in the margins?>”

“<Oh, those are the revisions I did to the book.>” the girl stated without a trace of bravado. “<That’s just the unorganized scribbling I wrote down when I first went through it. If you want, I can show you the good copy I have with all the detailed descriptions.>”

Be Dea just stood there in shock. She… REVISED the ‘Art of War’.

The girl was able to read the elder’s emotions immediately and knew she had to take action right away unless she wished to jeopardize what headway she had made with the elder in the past months since her return. “<Most of them are simply updated ideas to fit into the modern era of combat. The face of the world has changed, and not all of the ideas are feasible without a great deal of modifications. I did very little revising involving old or bad ideas that were a little off. I still regard it as one of the greatest books I’ve ever read.>”

Be Dea relaxed ever so slightly at the admission. The idea that anyone could improve on that book was absurd, though she did pocket the copy that she had been holding. It would give her insight as to how the girl’s mind really worked.

The girl decided to take the initiative. “<You did not come here to borrow books, did you, Elder?>”

It was time to get down to business. “<I have a task for you. One which will measure the true extent of your abilities.>” Be Dea paused to allow that bit of information to sink in. The girl’s reaction was just what Be Dea had thought it would. The girl was extremely skilled at hiding her emotions, but far from perfect. There was just the slightest hint of the excitement she held within etched on her face.

“<The council has authorized an action. I wish for you to be given charge of its execution.>” Be Dea gave an imposing stare at the girl. It was much to her delight that the youth didn’t cringe at all, but rather looked eager to accept the task.

“<I will do it, honored Elder,>” the girl reassured.

“<You have not yet heard what it is.>”

The girl shook her head. “<It does not matter. I will accept it no matter the task.>”

Those were easy words to utter. Be Dea would test the resolve of them.“<What if I told you it is a secret mission to break into the Musk’s fortress to gain intelligence on them?>”

“<I would begin by looking through the ancient texts to see if there is anything on how Hu Chiang pierced their walls,>” the girl answered, her eyes indicating that her mind was already racing with what steps she would have to take. “<Then I would interview anyone who had been to the fortress to see what they remembered. And then—>.”

The rest was cut off as Be Dea raised her hand. “<Don’t be in such a rush. That’s not what you have to do, though I believe your enthusiasm demonstrates you are more than ready for the real task.>”

The girl fell to one knee. “<I swear to you I will do my best, Elder.>”

Be Dea shook her head reassuringly. “<Excellent. Your eagerness does you justice. And this task will gain you much notoriety should you succeed.>”

“<I cannot see the future, so there is no guarantee of victory,>” the girl admitted. “<But if it can be done then I shall succeed, come hell or high water.>”

“<That’s good to hear. Few admit when things are beyond their abilities, especially the young, but you approach things with the realization that victory is not a certainty. I acknowledge your acceptance.>” Be Dea would have adopted this girl in a heartbeat if she did not already have a clan and family. “<If you must know, there is one other reason I think you will enjoy this. Think of it as a bonus.>”

The girl’s eyebrows cocked up quizzically. “<And why is that?>”

The moment to spring the surprise had at last come. Be Dea had been waiting to watch the girl’s reaction to the good news. “<You are going to have the opportunity to avenge yourself of a terrible wrong done to you in the past. We are authorizing you to hunt down and bring back your old rival, Shan-Pu. Congratulations, Perfume.>”


To be continued.

Special Thanks to:

  • Harold Ancell
  • Ryan Anderson
  • Gary Kleppe
  • Jason Liao
  • Lord Talon
  • Shadowmage
  • Dr. Wade Tritschler
Chapter 27
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