Heat washed over the land in palpable waves, riding violent winds that kicked up swirls of sand across the endless desert. Visibility was less than the length of a man's arm with the tempestuous winds blowing up the loose earth from the land. The various creatures that made their home in the sandy wastes had long since learned to seek shelter from such powerful sandstorms; those that hadn't learned had become carcasses.
Yet despite conditions so hostile they could kill any species on the planet in under half an hour, a man strode through the center of the storm, making his way across the expanse of desert, placing one foot in front of the other. He was tall; a giant of seven feet, and his form was massive. His legs were thick as small trees, and his arms and shoulders broad. It appeared as though he could bear the weight of the world on his shoulders; the mythical figure of Atlas given flesh.
His gait was unaffected by the ferocious winds as they pummeled him head on, blowing tiny bits of rock so hard they could flay the flesh from any other creature's bones. The garments he wore spoke of one who had wandered through such terrain for a thousand miles. Every thread was travel-worn and torn. Only a plain brown cloak wrapped around his body, its hood pulled over his head and hiding his face, served as any form of protection from the elements, and even that was far from effective since it was in even worse shape than the clothing that adorned his body.
Hidden in the dark recess beneath the hood, red eyes blazed, fixating on some far off object to the east. Even sand blown directly into those crimson orbs could not make them deviate from the invisible target they sought. Softly, too softly most would say considering his size, the figure intoned but two words full of unstoppable determination.
The figure took another step.
Followed by another.
And the sandstorm raged on.
A Ranma ½ story
by DB Sommer
Any and all C&C is appreciated. You can contact me at email@example.com
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video.
Last revision: October 7, 2002
Last chapter was a bit more serious, so here we'll emphasize more humor. And do remember, what happens within is done for humorous effect, not as some kind of commentary on characters or their abilities.
Preface: What's happened before: Akane got her hands on a wish and used it to wish her mother had never been in a car accident and was alive in the present. Well, her mother wasn't in an accident, and is with them in the present, there's only the slight complication that she was plucked out of time at the ripe old age of seventeen…
Little Nabiki bit her lip worriedly as she looked over to where her big sister, Kasumi, was bawling her eyes out as she cradled a finger hidden beneath a bandage. Two nurses tried to comfort the girl, offering lollipops and soft words of comfort, but it was to no avail as she kept crying loudly.
Now Nabiki was really scared. Big Sister Kasumi never cried about anything. If this made her cry, it must have been really bad.
Nabiki's mommy held her hand and tried making her go into the place that Kasumi had emerged from crying. Her mommy told her, "Come on, Nabiki. It's time for your check up."
Nabiki dug her tiny heels in. "Don't wanna."
Her mommy's voice didn't sound happy, like it usually did. Instead it was very firm. "Nabiki, you have to go in. It won't be worse than a pinprick. It'll all be over before you know it."
Nabiki shook her head, then looked over at her bawling big sister again. She felt her own eyes begin to get watery in sympathy for her big sister's pain.
Her mommy also turned to Kasumi and said in a voice that sounded like it was very tired, "Kasumi, we can get that little apron that looks like mine when we're through here."
Kasumi stopped crying out loud. She rubbed tears from her eyes with her sleeve and sniffled, "Really, Mama?"
Kasumi stopped sniffling, and smiled beatifically at her mommy.
One of the nurses laughed and said, "Kids. They can be something else. I can't wait to have one of my own."
Nabiki heard her mommy mumble something about having a spare at home so she could give one to the nurse if she had her heart set on it. "What's a spare?" Nabiki asked.
Her mommy grimaced at the question. "It's nothing, dear. Now let's go in."
Nabiki felt frightened as she was led to 'The Bad Place That Made Big Sister Kasumi Cry.' Or at least it had until a moment ago. Now the no longer crying girl was sucking on a lollipop as though nothing had happened. Still, Nabiki felt terrified, even if her mommy would be there to protect her from anything bad, except the things that had made big sister Kasumi cry. After all, her mommy had been with big sister and she had cried anyway. Miserably, Nabiki said, "How come big sister Kasumi gets something and I don't?"
Her mommy stopped. "Well, fair is fair. What do you want? An apron like Kasumi?"
Nabiki shook her head. "I wanna icecream." Icecream was easier to say as one word, instead of two, like every one else said it.
Her mommy bent down to Nabiki's level so she could talk to her face-to-face. She seemed to consider the request. "Icecream? You want icecream? I think we can arrange that."
"I want five," Nabiki held up both hands and all her fingers to show the number.
"Five will make you sick. You can have one."
"Four," Nabiki said, she was uncertain how much that really was, other than it was more than one.
Her Mommy seemed amused. "Oh, a bargainer, eh? You can have two."
"Two or none, and that's my final offer."
Nabiki had to think that one over. She was pretty sure two was a lot of icecream.
While she thought about it, Big Sister Kasumi said to one of the nurses, "I'm going to get an apron so I can help my Mama cook. And when I get big, I'll cook all her food for her."
Her mommy said, "Remember that helpful attitude when I get really old and decrepit and it's your turn to change my diapers."
Big Sister Kasumi laughed. "You're silly, Mama. You don't wear diapers. Akane does."
Nabiki tugged her mommy's skirt and informed her, "I want two icecream."
"Deal." Her mommy held out her hand. Nabiki held hers out. Her mommy grabbed the hand and pumped it up and down.
As she did so, Nabiki noticed a small white line on the middle knuckle. She pointed to it with her free hand. "What's that?"
Her mommy withdrew the hand and looked at it. For a moment, Nabiki thought her mommy looked sad. "Just a memento of the past." Then the sad look was gone and she looked normal. She held Nabiki's hand. "Now come along. The doctor's just going to check you up, then you can get your icecream."
As Nabiki began walking down the corridor, hand-in-hand with her parent, she looked up into her mommy's face, and her mommy smiled at her. It was that special one that always made Nabiki feel better, even if she scraped her knee and it hurt. It would chase away her fears when she was afraid of sleeping alone at night. And if she was just feeling ordinary and her mommy smiled like that, it always made Nabiki happy and warm inside because she knew she was loved.
And then there was a loud noise coming from the halls. At first it frightened her, but then something in Nabiki's memory came surging to the forefront. Her mother and the doctor's office melted away as the word 'alarm clock' became conceptualized.
Nabiki's eyes opened with a snap and she hit the alarm with far more force than was necessary. She remembered the last moments of the dream, moments she would have preferred to drift into the oblivion that all the other dreams had traveled into.
Nabiki turned a baleful gaze at the wall, in the direction that Akane's room laid. "You are not my mother," she snarled. And she would prove it to herself today.
"Saotome, are you certain this is a good idea?"
"Tendou, old buddy, drastic times call for drastic measures."
Soun stood in his backyard and looked up at the window of the room that now served as his wife's quarters. He was dressed in a suit that had to be dragged out of mothballs; a relic dating back from the time his wife was older and still alive. There was a little tightness in the waist, but aside from that minor discomfort it fit like a glove. It was a boost to his ego to know that he had stayed in such great shape over the years.
Soun adjusted the guitar in his hands. "But don't serenades usually take place in the evening? It's still early morning."
Genma scoffed. "That's the problem. Evening serenades are cliché and unoriginal. Doing it in the morning shows you're willing to go that extra step and do things no one else would think of to win your wife's heart."
"Sound reasoning," Soun agreed.
Genma looked down at his watch. "All right. It's now six o' one on the nose. Her alarm should have gone off and she's awake. Play that music."
Strumming the strings of his instrument, Soun began playing a soft melody that came easily to his hands. It was a tune he had played for his wife when they were still in the early romantic stages of their relationship. He began to sing the song with the volume that accompanied the words.
"I can't get no sat-is-fac-tion!"
Genma jostled his friend, making him hit a stray note. "Be careful, Saotome," Soun warned.
"I saw the curtain in the window move," Genma said.
"Oh." Soun sang louder this time, knowing that Kachiko would swoon at the serenade he was singing. It sang of the frustration in his soul at being denied his rightful place at his wife's side. And by showing her his pain, she would come to understand his suffering, take pity on him, and see him in a new light.
"The window just went up, though she hasn't stuck her head out yet," Genma informed him.
Soun sang louder, his heart beginning to fill at joy at finally inspiring his wife to take notice of him.
"And I cry. CryAGH—!"
Cried out in pain, specifically, as a barbell connected solidly between his eyes.
Sticking her head out the window, a bleary-eyed Kachiko shouted, "Whatever you're doing to that cat, stop it now, you evil fiend!" and slammed the window shut.
Genma looked down at the barbell shaped impression left on his fallen friend's face. "Maybe she'll be more responsive to music in the evening. Some folks just aren't morning people."
"But I don't want to fight you, Ranma," Kachiko said as she adjusted her gi.
"You have to," Ranma insisted, following her down the hallway leading to the dojo.
Kachiko shook her head. "I don't have the time. I have special preparations to make before I head to school today. No way am I letting that size-changing freak drain me again."
"Your beating me was a fluke. I was going easy on you. You fought dirty. I demand a rematch."
"You're not going to give up on this, are you?" Kachiko gasped in exasperation.
"Not until you let me have a rematch."
Kachiko made a great production of looking at a clock on the wall. "Well, I suppose if I forgo my usual workout, I'll have the time. Very well."
Ranma jumped up for joy and pumped his fist. "All right!"
Kachiko rolled her eyes as Ranma grabbed her hand and made them rush to the dojo. They came across Akane just as they were about to enter.
"What are you two up to?" Akane asked suspiciously, glaring at the way Ranma was holding her mother's hand.
"Rematch time," Ranma said gleefully. "I'm going to prove once and for all her beating me was just luck."
Akane grimaced slightly. "Well, don't get carried away. She is my mom, you know."
"Relax, Akane. I won't hurt her."
As they entered the dojo proper, Kachiko turned and sat on bent knee before Ranma. She bowed her head to the floor, her forehead making contact with the sturdy wood surface. "Ranma, I must thank you for saving me from that horrible car accident the other day. You kept me from a fate worse than death, and I feel terribly sorry now about what I did during our last fight. I promise you that this time I won't go for a shot to your nuts." She raised her head from the floor and asked coyly, "Are they feeling better now?" Her hand headed towards the area of inquiry.
Akane slapped it away before it could close the distance to its target. "Cut it out, Mom!"
Seeing the apologetic (and slightly amorous) look on Kachiko's face, Ranma couldn't help saying, "Hey, no problem. I'll go easy on you." And it was the complete and honest truth. Largely in part because if he gave Kachiko so much as a bruise, Mr. Tendou would go so demon head he'd probably give Ranma a heart attack or something. And Kasumi would probably look at him disapprovingly for roughing up her mother, which in many ways would be worse. But it didn't matter. The fight was already in the bag. It was just a formality to make official.
Kachiko bowed again and profusely said, "Oh, thank you so very much for being merciful."
Ranma laughed embarrassingly, causing Akane to roll her eyes exactly as her mother had earlier. The act was so transparent it caused her to wince. She couldn't believe Ranma was gullible enough to fall for it. Ryouga, perhaps, but not Ranma. Yet her fiancé seemed to be eating up every word Kachiko said. Part of Akane wanted to warn him, but another part made her remain silent. As much as she wanted him to win, he had become cockier than usual since that whole Saffron thing. Maybe being taken down a peg or two would be for the best in the long run. And besides, it was hard for Akane to root against her mother.
So Akane took a neutral stance and allowed the fight to play out as it would. She did find herself continuing to shake her head sadly at Ranma's gullibility as the opponents' warmed up, then squared off with one another.
All levity disappeared as they fell into stances identical to their first confrontation. After a full half minute of neither doing anything, Ranma chose to run forward, and unleash an assault, making sure his defenses were primarily guarding against a high blow.
Kachiko retaliated by shifting to an identical pose from the first fight when she delivered her attack to Ranma. Her fist gained an aura of blue as she shouted, "ROARING THUNDERFIST OF DOOM!" and launched a punch towards Ranma's head.
It was halfway there before stopping. Instead of following through, Kachiko's foot began to rise off the floor.
Ranma smirked as he immediately refocused his defense to his lower anatomy. What kind of a chump did she take him for? He knew Kachiko was full of crap when she kissed up and said she wouldn't go for his nuts. Ranma Saotome never fell for the same trick twice. From Ryouga to Herb, he could find the perfect counter to any attack seen once. It didn't matter if he had to hold back. Ranma had thought long and hard after the last fight and knew how to counter Kachiko's 'Roaring Thunderfist' attack and subdue her without hurting her in the slightest. And the attempt to kick him in the groin was how it all began. "I didn't fall for it, Suck—"
And then the foot, which had only raised a centimeter off the ground, sat back down as the fist continued forward, doubling its speed.
A feint! Ranma almost got his hand up despite the unexpected shift in the direction of the Thunderfist attack. But Kachiko was deceptively fast. Ranma only managed to brush the arm as the glowing fist impacted directly into his open mouth, cutting off the rest of his mocking sentence.
For a moment, Ranma was surprised, despite the fact it was a chi attack, the punch felt barely stronger than a normal blow. It wouldn't come close to doing more than making him back off for a moment.
And then Kachiko unleashed the second half of the attack.
Akane's eyes bulged as she saw Kachiko's chi discharge directly into Ranma's mouth. For a moment, he bulged up like a balloon, then shrank down to normal proportions. Kachiko backed away, but held her no longer glowing fist ready to unleash another blow. Ranma stood motionless. A small trail of blue wafted up from his mouth as he began teetering back and forth. Then his eyes rolled into the back of his head as he fell over.
Kachiko flashed a 'V' for victory sign to her daughter. "Lesson Number Twenty of the Tendou School of Martial Arts: martial artists are never as tough on the inside as they are on the outside, which makes the 'Turn Them Inside Out Technique' particularly effective." Kachiko took on a more flustered mien. "Unless of course they know that stupid Iron Stomach Technique, in which case the attack will be reflected back to you and knock you out. But how was I to know that bull dyke, Yumi, would have a counter to my unstoppable attack? And it wasn't fair how she made me dress in a boy's school uniform since I lost. And what's worse, everyone thought I looked good as a boy. I hate perverted cross-dressers." Kachiko sniffled slightly.
Akane paid almost no attention to her mother as she rushed to Ranma's side. She cradled his fallen form in her arms, then she shouted to Kachiko. "What were you thinking?! You could have killed him!"
Kachiko waved her hand dismissively. "Get real. I've used that attack plenty of times. You just have to know how to work it so it disrupts an opponent's insides rather than causing them genuine harm. The only long term effect should be a decrease in his appetite for a couple of days. I've never killed anyone with it." She looked Ranma over more closely. "Um, he is still breathing, isn't he?"
Ranma gurgled slightly, blue still coming out of his mouth.
"No thanks to you," Akane said.
"Hey, he's stronger than me. If I don't go all out right from the start, I might lose," Kachiko countered.
"You tricked him," Akane accused.
Kachiko shrugged off the accusation. "If you can't overpower your opponent, you'd darn well better outsmart him, or you might as well give up before you start." Seeing Ranma was starting to fully rouse himself, Kachiko decided it would be best to leave, lest he unreasonably lose his temper and do something she might regret later. She exited the room without looking back.
Akane shivered slightly. There were times when her mother reminded her of Nabiki way too often.
Nabiki applauded as Kachiko exited the dojo.
That made the time lost girl shoot her middle 'daughter' a suspicious glare. "What's that for?"
"An impressive victory over a more powerful opponent. I can appreciate someone using their head around here for a change, and the truth is, Ranma tends to get too full of himself when it comes to martial arts."
Kachiko seemed delighted by the praise. "Thanks for the compliment. I didn't think you had it in you."
"Oh, I enjoyed the outcome tremendously." Since Ranma is going to endlessly harass you for a rematch until he kicks your tail, and you can only avoid him for so long, but it'll be fun to watch you try to squirm out of it, Nabiki wanted to say but didn't. Best to allow Kachiko find out the hard way.
"Hey, what's with the camera?"
Nabiki flinched. She had wanted to 'congratulate' her mother so badly that she had forgotten to hide the camera. The pictures she had taken of Kachiko warming up and beating Ranma would fetch a good price from Kunou, one that would recoup some of the losses incurred from her mother's presence. But now she had gotten sloppy, and her scheme was in jeopardy.
Thinking fast, Nabiki said, "It's a new one. I wanted to shoot something to make sure it works right."
Kachiko chuckled. "My poor, sweet, silly daughter."
Nabiki's heart stepped a beat. How did her mother know she was lying?
Shaking her head sadly, Kachiko said, "The answer to all your woes is right here."
"Um, it is?" Nabiki said, completely at a loss.
"Sure. I'm highly photogenic." Kachiko struck a sexy stance, pretending she was blowing a kiss at Nabiki.
Nabiki was forced to blink three times before she could concentrate enough to respond. "You're actually going to… voluntarily pose, for me?"
Kachiko changed her stance, giving Nabiki a coy, yet kittenish smile. "Sure. You couldn't use a better model."
"What's the catch?"
Kachiko stopped posing and looked at her in confusion. "Catch? What catch could there be in having your picture shot? Look, if you're going to be whiny just because some money of yours got misplaced, I'll leave and you can shoot some trees or something."
"No!" Nabiki was quick to say.
"Okay." Kachiko struck a 'playful' pose.
Nabiki began snapping away. She couldn't believe her luck. Sometimes good things did come to the truly deserving. It was about time something went her way, given how this intruder had managed to disrupt her life so easily.
Walking alone to school so that she could have some time to herself, Nabiki leafed through the collection of pictures she had accumulated in one morning. The seductive ones of Kachiko would fetch the best price; the girl did know how to pose for the camera. Kunou would lay down a fortune for his newest 'Tigress of Passion' or whatever silly name he had concocted for Kachiko.
Now there was a thought that soured Nabiki's mood; Tatewaki Kunou becoming her stepfather. She'd have to be careful not to encourage him too hard. True, she did not want to consider Kachiko her mother, and it was getting easier by the day, but technically she was, and certainly everyone else that knew regarded her as such. If a romance with Kunou ended up blossoming… well, even Nabiki's mind did not want to think along those lines.
Unfortunately, once the thought came to her, Nabiki found she could not get it out of her head. She was still thinking of how repellent having Kunou as her stepfather would be when an unusual sight caught her eye and broke the unappealing train of thought. A rather large man, equipped with a number of painful looking devices on his belt, was hanging up posters on light posts. He was totally absorbed in his work as he finished the hanging a poster and moved to the next.
Nabiki paused in front of the sheet. It was a warning issued from some group called 'The CLAP', concerning some woman suspected of 'acts of perversion involving young children.'
And then Nabiki's eyes settled on the hand drawn picture at the bottom depicting the 'perpetrator'. "Excuse me, Sir?"
The man turned to Nabiki, looking at her through only one eye, the other ringed in black and completely swollen shut. "Yes?"
Nabiki selected a picture from her collection. It was one of the 'tame' photos of Kachiko that was merely a head shot. Nabiki had decided to throw it away since it wouldn't be able to fetch a good price, and she didn't want to flood the Kunou Market too fast. She held it in front of the man. "This wouldn't happen to be the girl you're looking for?"
The man tore the photo out of Nabiki's hands and managed a cyclopean glint of evil at it. "Oh yes. That's the one. How did you get this?"
"I shoot photos of people and happened to take one of her as she passed by," Nabiki lied.
The man continued staring evilly at the photograph. "Thanks a lot for your help. This will make warning people about her easier. We'll remake the posters right away." He all but ran down the street.
Nabiki smiled to herself. Some days, it was just too easy.
The side trip delayed Nabiki long enough that she knew she had arrived well after Ranma, Akane, and Kachiko had made it to school. As she entered through the gates, she saw that there was a huge public spectacle of some sort going on. A large crowd of students had gathered in front of the school, talking loudly among themselves.
Nabiki went up to a random student. "What's going on?"
"It's a showdown," she answered.
Something that might need her attention, then. Nabiki muscled her way through the crowd. Presumably, it was the standard routine: Ranma and either one of the usual suspects, or some random wandering martial artist that realized it was Wednesday and it was time to reveal himself so he could challenge Ranma. However, the assumption was debunked when Nabiki made her way to the edge of the ring that had formed in the middle of the crowd. She saw Ranma was not in the center, but rather standing along the inner edge of the ring, next to Akane. It was Kachiko who dominated the attention of the student body, standing in the middle of the clearing with her fists firmly planted on her hips in an open show of defiance. Opposite her stood an adult Miss Hinako, looking somewhat sexy as she had one hand firmly on her hip and looked down at the smaller girl in irritation.
"I should have known," Nabiki told herself. She decided to look for Kunou later. For the moment, she was going to watch her mother in action and see how she could take advantage of the outcome.
The tense silence between the challengers ended as Hinako said, "Have you done as I told you and forsworn any interest in my man, you faithless little tramp, or do you need another lesson in morals?" She flipped a coin up, sunlight dancing on its surface, then nimbly plucked it out of midair.
Kachiko's face began twitching. "No one tells me who I'm interested in and who I'm not." She turned to the crowd and said, "Hey everyone! Do you know what Miss Hinako and a dick have in common? When they fill up with something, they get really big, but when they shoot it off, they shrink back down to their normal size."
Scandalized, Hinako turned a furious shade of red that made everyone remotely near her back away in fear. "How dare you compare me to male genitalia! You're just jealous of my proportions because you're a little girl in every sense of the word." Hinako crossed her arms under her ample bosom to accentuate the point.
Kachiko impossibly turned a darker shade of crimson. "Like anyone with an inflatable bust has the right to comment on another woman's chest size!"
Hinako brought up her coin. "Do you have anything else to say before I drain you so dry you won't have enough energy to want a man ever again?"
Kachiko switched from anger to amusement. "Do you think I'm stupid enough to fall for the same trick twice? My mind is like a steel trap. My expertise in the field of combat; unsurpassed. I'm ten moves ahead of you and you don't even know it. I—"
"I have to get a lesson plan ready, so hurry up and finish posturing so I can drain you," Hinako snapped.
"Yeah, get on with it!" someone shouted.
"You're rambling as bad as Kunou," another chimed in.
"Attack her or let her drain you, we have to get to class," came a voice from the back.
Confounded by the inability to deliver her speech and instill terror in the heart of her opponent, which for some odd reason was only making Hinako calm down as she grew bored, Kachiko declared, "Behold, the ultimate defense against your energy draining attack." Kachiko pulled out a large pile of silvery material from her school bag.
Hinako tensed up slightly at the move.
Then Kachiko showed what it was by donning the material. It took her less than a handful of seconds to put on the outfit, zipper it up, and lock the helmet into place. Once she confirmed the seals were intact, she shouted out in a muffled voice, "Behold this cutting edge piece of modern technology: a radiation suit. Constructed by Mishima Heavy Industries, it's guaranteed to seal off a human being and protect them from nasty energy. I could walk through a nuclear reactor and not even break a sweat. Encased within its protective confines, you and your stupid power can't harm me. Ha ha ha ha!"
Everyone save Nabiki sweatdropped at the declaration. She scowled and wondered where Kachiko found the money to purchase such an expensive suit. She patted down the outside of her skirt and felt the reassuring weight of her billfold. Then she reconsidered and reached inside. Her fingers caressed the unmistakably exotic texture of a genuine bill. Apparently she had overestimated her mother's savvy.
Kachiko continued her boisterous posturing. "Now that I'm insulated from your lame attack, you one trick pony, I'm really going to teach you what it is to mess with Kachiko Ten—"
"Happo-gojuuen Setsu," Hinako said idly as she held up her coin.
Chi energy coursed out of the radiation suit, causing it to collapse into itself.
Hinako walked over to stand on top of the shiny material. She stared contemptuously at it. "I have no idea what Soun-chan can possibly see in juvenile delinquent like you." She twisted her heel on the heap, then turned to the now bored spectators, who seemed to be losing interest with the challenge having ended with a decided whimper. "No more lounging about out here. Everyone go to class."
Hinako spun around once again on her heel, shot the pile an amused glance, and walked off.
"I was so sure it would work," Kachiko moaned inside the suit as Ranma and Akane dragged her crumpled form inside.
"Mo… err, Cousin, you have got to get a grip," Akane said,
The recovered Kachiko trembled in anger. "No way. That's twice she's attacked me for no reason."
Akane said, "Well, it's over sort of a misunderstanding. She doesn't realize that Dad's always been married to you and thinks he's still available. Maybe I should explain things to her."
"I am NOT married to him, and that's besides the point," Kachiko snarled. "No, it's too late to explain things. I have been wronged and need revenge."
"Exactly," Ranma said.
Kachiko unleashed an impish smile at the boy. "See? Even Ranma agrees with me."
"No, I was agreeing with your reasoning since it applies to me too," Ranma corrected. "I've been wronged twice, and I need revenge against you. I want a rematch."
"That's the twentieth time you've bugged me about it since this morning! Let it go!"
"No way! You ain't better than me. All you did was use another dirty trick. You went against standard martial arts etiquette."
Kachiko stared at him. "What the heck are you talking about? What standard martial arts etiquette?"
"Don't you know anything?" Ranma asked. "It's simple. The way it always works is, if someone learns some new, powerful technique, and they attack me with it and put me at a temporary disadvantage—"
"You mean they beat you," Kachiko clarified
"No," Ranma said firmly. "I never lose. I just get put at a temporary disadvantage."
"They beat him," Akane told her mother.
"They do not! It's just like the early rounds of a fight, and they get more points is all," Ranma insisted. "Anyhow, the way it always works is, even if someone does learn some new technique that can beat mine, I always devise a way to counter it and then beat the guy when he tries to use the technique again. And then they go away and don't bother me again. Except Ryouga, and he doesn't try to hassle me anymore, so it just took longer in his case. See? I always win in the end.
"But you broke with tradition. You modified your technique BEFORE I could use my counter to it. I practiced so that every way you could possibly kick me in the balls with that attack could be blocked. And then you made it seem like you were going to kick me by saying you wouldn't and laid it on real thick with bad acting."
"It was not bad acting, I was serious and I didn't try to do it." Kachiko sniffled as her eyes took on a watery sheen. "Ranma, I'm hurt that you think I would lie to you."
"I'm sure you never would," he stated.
Kachiko looked happily at him through her watery eyes.
"Unless it was convenient for you," he finished.
The impending tears disappeared and Kachiko snapped her fingers. "Darn. I thought I could sucker you at least one more time." She pulled out her small notebook and muttered as she wrote, "Marginally less gullible than originally believed."
Ranma turned smug at the perceived compliment. "Anyway, the real problem is you pretended you were going to use the exact same technique you did last time, and acted like you were trying to outsmart me by saying you weren't going to use the technique when you were. Except you really didn't use the same move. What you were supposed to do was try to trick me by saying you weren't going to use the same technique, and then really use it, since I had a counter to it and had no intention of believing you in the first place," Ranma explained. "I mean you even gave it the same name. At least say 'Modified Roaring Thunderfist of Doom' or something."
Kachiko looked at him quizzically. "And if I don't do that, you think of it as cheating?"
Ranma considered the words. "Well, it is, sort of. I know if I said 'Kachuu Tenshin Amaguriken' and used my 'Mokou Takabisha' instead, everyone would complain. What would you call it?"
'Learning' was what Kachiko wanted to say, but then it occurred to her that Ranma grasping the concept of 'learning' might not be in her best interest. Instead she said, "So your primary complaint is, I didn't act in the same predictable manner everyone else you've fought did, which is the real reason you suffered a 'temporary disadvantage' today?"
"Yep." Ranma looked at her smugly.
Kachiko bowed before Ranma and said in a voice full of sincerity, "I'm sorry. You're right. That was rude of me. I'll use the exact same attack next time, and we'll see if you've come up with a decent counter. How's that?"
Ranma nodded his head in agreement, then asked, "So we can have the rematch tomorrow?"
Ranma tugged at her blouse like a little child asking a parent to buy them a toy. "I want a rematch."
"You're not going to stop until I say yes, are you?"
"Rematch," he repeated.
The walls of resistance finally collapsed with an exasperated sigh. "Fine."
"Yes!" Ranma smiled openly. That nagging technique was nearly invincible when wielded by someone with his relentless persistence. Or a five year old.
Seeing his satisfied state, Kachiko then added, "But only if you agree to go out on a date with me."
"Deal," Ranma said quickly.
"Ranma," Akane growled out in a warning tone he was all too familiar with.
He held up his hands defensively, "Relax. I have no intention of losing. I've learned from my mistakes and will be ready for everything. And once I win, I don't have to go anywhere."
"Whoa! Hold on there," Kachiko interrupted. "Who said anything about me having to win? I said I'd give you a rematch if you'd go out on a date with me. I never put in any stipulation about winning."
That took Ranma aback. "Well of course you gotta win. Those are the stakes in the fight. It ain't fair if you get to go out on a date with me even if I lose."
Kachiko's eyes took on a knowing light. "Oh. Stakes. I see. You want stakes?"
Ranma nodded his head. "You got it."
"Okay," Kachiko said. "If I win, I get a second date with you, and if you win, you only have to go out with me once."
Ranma said, "All right! That'll… hey! I'd still have to go out on a date with you, and maybe even two. That's worse than before."
"Not for me, and you're the one that wanted to fight for something. The stakes are for one date. The second date you can think of as the entry fee to the fight."
"No way!" Ranma said adamantly.
"No rematch then. But don't worry. I won't let anyone know I beat you. Except maybe Tachi-chan, I bet he'll get a kick out of it since he does so crappy against you."
"You can't tell Tachi-chan about…" Ranma's eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "Tachi-chan? When did Kunou become Tachi-chan?"
"Yesterday," Kachiko gushed as she envisioned a dashing Kunou reciting poetry about her beauty while he swept her off her feet. He hadn't actually done that yet, but she knew he would once they had a moment alone. "That's the pet name I came up for him. I haven't come up with one for you yet. You're a hard one to nail down."
"You shouldn't be so familiar with him," Akane said. "It'll only encourage him."
"Yes, that would be the point behind pet nicknames. It's a sign of affection," Kachiko said slowly, as though explaining something to a small child.
"But you can't date him!" Akane insisted.
Kachiko shot Akane a dirty look. "Let's see. According to you, I can't date Ranma or Tachi-chan. According to tall, saggy, and skanky, I can't date Soun, not that I want to. Gee, I guess that leaves Mr. Saotome."
"He's married!" Akane said.
"Right," Kachiko confirmed. "So here's an idea. I'll date who I want, when I want, and if you're really desperate, you can have sloppy seconds."
"Enough," Kachiko growled. "I'm not in the mood for romance anyway. I want to teach that vampiric brat a lesson. She's made me suffer a temporary setback, and in my case it really is a temporary setback instead of an inability to admit when I'm outclassed. I have to prove my superiority by being the first one to beat her."
"Actually, I've beaten her before," Ranma said with no hint of modesty whatsoever.
Kachiko shot him a suspicious glance. "You're just saying that, aren't you?"
Ranma shook his head. "Unlike you, I don't lie about who I beat and who I didn't. I defeated her in front of the entire school. Just ask anyone."
Akane nodded in confirmation
Instantly, Kachiko had Ranma's hand held in hers and unleashed a starry-eyed gaze upon him. "Oh great and powerful Ranma, please tell me how I would go about defeating that mewling brat?"
"Can I have a rematch without the dates?"
"I'll seriously consider it," Kachiko promised.
Ranma nodded. "Okay, the first thing I did was ambush her from above. I hid out on top of the lights in one of the hallways outside her classroom and waited for her to pass by."
"Yes! I should have thought of that myself!" Kachiko released his hand and bolted off.
"Hey, she sensed me and drained me before I could get the drop on her!" Kachiko complained.
"That's because you ran off before I could tell you it didn't work," Ranma said.
Kachiko dragged herself up to Ranma, her strength slowly returning. She noted Akane had evidently gone on to class. It was just as well. The fewer people who heard of the tactical blunder, the better. "Why would you tell me what didn't work?"
"So you wouldn't repeat my mistakes."
Kachiko sighed. "Okay, so what did you do to beat her?"
"Next I held in my battle aura so she couldn't power up by draining me."
"And that worked?"
"No, she just used a bigger coin."
Kachiko shot a look dirty enough to make even Ranma cringe. In a low and dangerous voice, she intoned, "Why don't we skip over the attacks that didn't work and go directly to the ones that did?"
"Well, if you don't want to learn from my mistakes…"
"I don't," Kachiko assured him.
Ranma began speaking in a lecturing manner. "Okay. In order to beat her, you have to lock out her draining and shooting ability."
"You do this by touching a set of pressure points on her right breast."
Kachiko's hand curled into a fist as her eyebrow began twitching violently. It was times like this that Ranma really hated the close resemblance she had to Akane.
"I see how it is," Kachiko snarled.
"Umm, you do?"
Kachiko nodded. "You're not going to tell me since you were able to beat her, and if I can't do the same, that makes you better than me in your mind. Fine! You don't have to tell me. I'll figure out how to beat her on my own."
"No, I'm being serious. You need to grab her breast—"
"Ha!" Kachiko cut him off. "I know you and your kind. I thought you might be different, but I see I was wrong, you pervert. You're no different from every other guy I met, and Yumi. You're just like every twisted manga artist out there."
"What are you talking about?" Ranma asked.
"As if you didn't know," Kachiko sniffed. "You're trying to set me up so you can see some erotic lesbian action."
The accusation made Ranma's mouth nearly hit the floor. "I do not want to see any erotic lesbian action!" he bristled.
Like magic words, the statement summoned a crowd of students as if they had appeared out of thin air. The boys were all incredibly interested, while the girls wore angry glares. All of them were united in their focus on who dared to utter such words.
Ranma, realizing Kachiko was in full anger mode and either unaware or unconcerned with the gathering, tried to make her calm down with hand gestures.
The motions only served to fuel Kachiko's anger. "Well I've got news for you, Mr. Saotome! I am not getting into any erotic lesbian action with Miss Hinako for you or anyone else! So you can keep your perverted fantasies to yourself!" Kachiko stomped off.
Now the center of all the attention, Ranma looked with trepidation at the crowd. They stared at him in either admiration or ire, depending on the gender involved. Experience had taught him that was a very, very bad sign. "That wasn't what it sounded like. It was a misunderstanding."
"You mean you don't want to see any erotic lesbian action?" one of the guys asked.
"Of course not!" Ranma snapped back.
"So you aren't interested in women?" Another asked.
"Of course I am!" Ranma snapped back.
A third said, "But most of the guys I know would love to get a chance to see two hot looking women going at it."
"I'm not like that." Ranma insisted.
"Ha! All men are into that twisted stuff." boasted one of the girls, who Ranma identified as Rurika. She turned to the group of men, who had segregated to one side of the corridor, leaving the girls on the opposite side, and making Ranma right in the middle between the two groups. "For instance, we'll take Sora over here." Rurika grabbed a tall, attractive girl and forced her to stand right next to her. She kept a hand around her waist, easily violating the girl's personal space. "Now, who among you den of wolves would like to see me rip off her clothes and run my tongue all over her nubile body?"
Many of the hands shot up among the group of men.
Rurika drew Sora closer, continuing as her voice dropped to a low, throaty rasp, "I would press my breasts against hers, kissing every inch of her body, our forms intertwining until they became one."
More hands went up among them men, as did some among the group of women.
Rurika gazed deeply into Sora's eyes. "I would show her carnal pleasures that only a woman can show another woman, making her scream in ecstasy for hours on end. How many would like to see such a sight?"
Rurika turned her gaze to Ranma and pointed at the group of men. "Just as I thought. See what I mean?"
Ranma turned to see that among the group of men, only he and one other didn't have their hands up. Suddenly put on the spot, Ranma sought safety in numbers, even if that number was only two. "Kyosuke doesn't have his hand up either."
"He's gay," Rurika informed him.
Kyosuke shrugged helplessly at Ranma. "Now if she had said you and Yoshi over there, sure, I could go for it."
One of the guys towards the front spoke, "So if only gay guys don't want to see hot lesbian action, and Ranma doesn't want to see hot lesbian action, then obviously Ranma must be gay."
Seeing a multitude of heads nod in both groups, and an interested gleam come to Kyosuke's eye, Ranma took action "I am not gay!"
"So you want to see some erotic lesbian action?"
"It's got to be one or the other."
Ranma cringed; he had to think fast, otherwise the rumors of him being both gay, as well as wanting to see some hot lesbian action, would run rampant throughout the school and then he'd never get any measure of peace. He'd have to say something, even if it was a lie, just to get them to back off and defuse the situation. "It's not that I'm gay, it's just that erotic lesbian action doesn't turn me on because… um, because, because…"
And then he had it.
"Because my female body is much hotter than any other girl's. So seeing two girls not as attractive as me getting it on wouldn't get me excited in the slightest." As the last word left his mouth, Ranma realized it was the one of the most stupid things he had ever said in his entire life.
Silence reigned through both crowds. Then there was a quiet discussion among each group. Finally Rurika, Sora now clinging affectionately to her, said, "I've got it. Ranma is telling the truth. He's not gay, and he's not a pervert that's into erotic lesbian action, because he's completely narcissistic."
Sensing an opportunity to get out of his dire predicament, Ranma nodded enthusiastically. "That's right. I'm narcissistic."
It began at the front of both crowds and worked its way back. It took the form of people saying, "I knew it all the time," to "It was obvious from the beginning." Like a rock thrown in a pond, the ripples worked their way back until they reached the end and had nowhere else to go. With the 'truth' of the matter decided by unspoken popular consent, the crowds broke up and the topic was dropped in favor of other, more interesting rumors and speculations.
Left alone in the hall, Ranma laughed hard. Ranma laughed deep. He had won one. He had actually talked his way out of a situation that should have been misinterpreted as him being a pervert. Being labeled a narcissist was a small price to pay compared to being called a pervert yet again. Of course it was a total fabrication:
He had never smoked a day in his life.
Oh yes, sometimes it was good to be Ranma Saotome.
Kachiko Tendou smiled to herself as she continued baiting the trap. Sometimes she was so brilliant she scared herself. "It's great to be me," she snickered, and laid down another piece of candy. Three more, and she was at the corner of the hall.
Once around the corner, and making certain the last piece in plain sight from her vantage point, she raised the kendo stick she had borrowed from Kunou above her head and waited for Hinako come by and receive her just reward. The plan was foolproof because of its simplicity. A little surreptitious inquiry revealed Hinako had a major sweet tooth. That was her weakness, one Kachiko was eager to exploit. All she had to do was leave some candy lying around, and the walking parasite would be certain to gather it up. With her guard lowered as she scooped up the trail of sweets, she would come around the corner to the greedily suck down the last piece. Once her head came into view, Kachiko would brain her, and that would end once and for all the question of who the better woman was.
Kachiko continued snickering to herself until the sound of the candy being picked up reached her ears. She remained silent, holding her breath in anticipation as the noise grew closer.
The maker of the sound was almost upon Kachiko. She even stopped blinking for fear of losing her window of opportunity. The parasite was fast, and if she drew her coin first, the match would be over before it had begun.
There was the unmistakable sound of the next to last piece being picked up. Kachiko's grip tightened until her knuckles turned white. The sound of wood straining reached her ears, and she hoped it didn't give away her position. She could hear the soft tread of a shoe. Just one more step.
The lowered head came into view and Kachiko swung with all her might. The blow struck cleanly on the top of the head, producing a loud crack as wood made contact with hair, flesh and skull.
Kachiko laughed, "Ha! I told you I'd kick your ass, Akane." The laughter died. "Akane?"
Akane spun around in circles, completely disoriented from the unexpected blow. Her eyes whirled nearly as much as her body as she staggered back and forth like a drunken sailor riding on a nitro-fuel injected merry-go-round.
"Ah, Akane! I'm so, so sorry!" Kachiko cried out as she grabbed her nominal daughter to keep her from running into anything, as well as preventing her from making Kachiko dizzy trying to follow the spinning motion.
It took Akane several moments to reorient herself and gather her wits. Once she was able to focus, she shot her mother an evil glare. "What did you do that for?!"
"It was an accident. Forgive me." Kachiko looked around until she realized she still clutched the kendo stick in hand. She held it out, as though it was a family's honor sword, and presented it to Akane. "As a measure of atonement, I insist you hit me."
Akane tore the stick out of Kachiko's grasp and brought it down hard on top of her skull.
It was the time-lost girl's turn to reel about. It took her less time than her daughter to reorient herself as she stopped spinning around, then turned on Akane. "What did you do that for?!"
"Because you hit me in the head first and then you told me to," Akane said with no small measure of satisfaction.
"But I'm your mother!" Kachiko snapped. "You were supposed to say, 'I could never hurt you, oh great and beautiful woman who brought me forth into this world', and then forgive me for hitting you. You weren't supposed to accept the stick and thump me in the head with it."
"Tough luck. You weren't getting away with that one," Akane said icily. "And why were you lying in ambush and hitting people in the head anyway?"
Using a conspiratory whisper, Kachiko said, "I wasn't aiming at you. I was laying in wait for Miss Hinako to come around."
Akane held her hand to her head. "You drive me crazy. You're just as bad as Ranma on his worst days. Would you behave yourself and quit trying to attack Miss Hinako? Just let it go." Akane became fed up with the situation and walked off.
"Oh yeah? Keep up that attitude and you'll end up grounded until you're seventeen! No, make that eighteen!" Kachiko shouted to her daughter's departing form.
A voice from behind Kachiko said, "Excuse me, did you leave this candy in the hall?"
Continuing to scowl at Akane's back, Kachiko turned slowly around as she snapped, "Yeah, what's it to you… Uh oh."
The very adult Miss Hinako smirked. "Not only are you obnoxious, a delinquent, and a faithless tramp, but you're also a litterbug. And around here, litterbugs are punished. Here's to the environment. Happo No Coin Return!"
Hinako formed a ring with her fingers and unleashed a blast of energy that hit Kachiko squarely in the chest. The time lost girl shot backward and into a wall, bounced off it, and struck a second wall before ending up embedded in it.
The now youthful Miss Hinako gave a rousing cheer. "Yes, I got a bank shot! Oooo, candy!" She began picking up the fallen pieces, undid the wrappers, and greedily began stuffing them into her mouth.
Still embedded in the wall, Kachiko weakly murmured, "I'm getting you for that one."
Nabiki's eyes gleamed as Kunou stuffed her hand with the wad of cash. His eyes were not concerned with monetary matters, but rather on the prizes he held in his own hands.
"So many striking pictures of the new lioness of passion in my life. Truly I am blessed with good fortune," he gushed. "Just look at the magnificent poses she has struck for my benefit alone."
"You could say that," Nabiki agreed as she double-checked the amount. Not that she believed Kunou would cheat her, he might have been dense, but greed was not his forte. Still, he was so captivated by some of the more risqué photos that he might have miscounted some of the funds. But no, all was as it should be. "It was a pleasure doing business with you, Kunou-chan."
Kunou turned his nose up at the appellation. "Nabiki Tendou, it ill-behooves you to try to catch my interest by being so familiar with me. Your sister and cousin already have my full attention, and even if they did not, I assure you I would still have no interest in you."
"Gee, thanks." Nabiki said through a half-lidded stare. Just for that one the next batch would cost fifteen percent more. That was another thing added to the mental list of grievances Nabiki had tallied against her mother; she had become more popular than Nabiki in a matter of days. Not that Nabiki went out of her way to be popular, but there was a principle involved.
However, Nabiki found she could not maintain any level of anger. It had been a truly blessed morning. Things had gone off even better than she had planned. Life was too good to be angry, especially now that she had finally recouped the monetary losses her mother had inflicted. And the best part of all was that Kachiko had been an unwitting pawn in the process. In addition to what had happened on the way to school, that put Nabiki ahead of the game.
The realization she had won made her laugh. "No one can outfox Nabiki Tendou. Like any good car, she's an improvement over the previous model of Tendou." She rearranged the money in order, then pulled out her billfold to add it to her total. She rolled off the first five thousand yen bill…
….And discovered that all that lay under the first bill was nothing more than a bunch of receipts.
"AHHH!" Nabiki shouted, as incensed at being outwitted as by the loss of money. She threw the worthless paper into the air. Kachiko was going to pay for this transgression. She would pay. The only question was how to go about it?
Nabiki was still deep in thought when she glanced out the school gates and the answer presented itself to her. She casually walked over to the man busying himself next to the wall and said, "Could I borrow some of those extra posters you have there?"
Haroka Kiramitsu found herself becoming a statistic. She was just another ordinary, simple country girl trying to make it in the big city, only to find herself robbed at knife point in some dead end alley by an unshaven thug that smelled of cheap wine and month old grime and dirt.
"Give me your purse," he snarled, hand shaking badly.
Haroka started to hand it to him when a bolt of ebony energy blasted him in the side. The force of the bolt hurled him down the alleyway, limp like a broken doll. He struck the wall at the far end with a bone-crunching thud, then slid down into a heap at the base, motionless.
Haroka turned in the direction of her savior. Four figures stood outlined by the light from the opening of the alley. Three were huge, the size of small trees, concealed within the confines of trench coats and wide brimmed hats that rode low and hid their faces in shadow. The fourth figure, standing in the front of the quartet, was the exact opposite. He was of normal stature, with a widow's peak of oily black hair. He appeared to be in his late twenties, and wore an impeccable suit obviously military in design. A number of decorations adorned his left breast. There was a palpable air of sophistication about him.
"Thank you for saving me," Haroka said to the man as she collected her wits.
He bowed. "My pleasure."
"If there is anything I can do for you, name it," she said.
"I'd like to borrow your soul. Well, no, borrowing implies it'll be returned to you, which it most assuredly won't."
"Actually I was thinking of something more along the lines of a date," Haroka admitted.
"Oh, where are my manners?" The man said. "Allow me to properly introduce myself. I am General Formica, formerly commander of her Majesty Queen Serenity's Royal Bodyguard, now contracting out as an enforcer for the Greater Demon Kangar-Oo. And yes, in answer to your unspoken question, he does look like a demonic marsupial. However, he is quite capable of laying this entire city to waste should he feels so inclined, and I warn you he becomes irritable when people point it out since he doesn't see the resemblance."
Haroka Kiramitsu sighed as she found herself becoming yet another statistic. An ordinary, simple country girl trying to make it in the big city, only to find her soul consumed by some demonic power. She knew she should have stayed in the country. Out there the only thing out of the ordinary she had to worry about was when Totoro took a monster crap in her yard. "I assume he wants my soul as energy to fuel some device which will let him rule or destroy the universe?"
Formica shook his head. "No. He merely collects souls the way people do stamps. It's just a hobby. He has neither nihilistic tendencies nor a desire to rule anything. All things considered, he is a bit lazy for a Greater Demon. But the pay is good and you wouldn't believe the benefits package. The succubae really go for the suit as well." He adjusted his lapel slightly.
"You do cut the dashing figure," Haroka agreed.
"Thank you," Formica said as he and his followers drew closer. His left hand began to glow. "Now, be a good girl and hold still, will you? I wouldn't want to blow off a limb. It's murder getting the bloodstains out of this uniform, let me tell you."
Just as Formica was about to unleash his soul devouring blast, he suddenly became aware of a presence behind him. He turned to see a huge stranger hidden within the confines of a tattered brown cloak. "Oh dear. You have the earmarks of a hero that intends to save this girl from harm."
The man strode forward at a slow but deliberate pace.
Formica said, "I see. The strong silent type." He turned to his three minions. "Oh, boys."
The trio's hats and trench coats shredded, revealing their true monstrous forms. They were all youma of various types. One appeared to have a huge vat of bubbling clear fluid attached to its purple back and a couple of hoses leading to sprayers embedded on the backs of its hands. A second one, gray in color, had two huge guns for its arms, as well as a number of smaller openings across the front of its body. The third was silvery and hard to look at, since there seemed to be nothing but razor sharp edges to it.
Formica pointed at the trio. "Allow me to introduce Scald, Buckshot, and Scalpel. Unlike my idiotic compatriots, I have analyzed the tactics of past youma. My conclusion was they always lost miserably because they tended to be stupid and their powers were based on ridiculous things, like pastries and computers and such. Therefore I have created smart youma whose powers are based on inherently dangerous things. You see, I'm not the moron those other generals were. Not only have I survived my contemporaries, but I have thrived. You shall learn this firsthand, tall dark and silent. Buckshot!"
The one with the guns for arms immediately opened fire. The air was filled with thunder as from every opening bullets poured forth, forming a hail of gunpowder driven metal that would have reduced a tank to scrap within seconds.
In the case of the tall stranger, the bullets merely bounced off, not even making him break stride.
Buckshot ceased fire and looked to his leader for orders.
Formica shrugged. "Obviously he's bulletproof. He looks like he needs a bath. Scald!"
The one with the water on his back stepped forward and unleashed a torrent of superheated water that was as close to evaporation as possible. The powerful streams struck the man squarely, raising a cloud of steam that turned the alley into a sauna.
Formica indicated Scald should stop. The youma did so. The General than looked down at his suit. "Oh bother. The heat made it wilt. Now I have to get it, eh?" He looked more closely at the steam.
Emerging from the cloud, the man continued striding without adjusting his pace.
Formica appeared impressed. "Heat resistant too. Scalpel!"
The one composed of edges ran forward, sun glistening off his razor body as he headed directly toward the intruder.
In response, the man simply took another step.
Scalpel struck the man with a body block, the surface of his skin slicing at his opponent with a thousand different blades.
The sound was deafening as the youma literally shattered into a thousand pieces.
A glow began to emit from Formica's hands. "Obviously he's a bit more powerful than those silly girls in the fuku. We will attack him en masse. Buckshot! Scald! Charge!"
Formica noted that the two did indeed obey his orders to the letter, if not their intent, as they charged in the opposite direction. Buckshot unleashed a volley that changed the dead end to a throughway that allowed the pair to escape.
Formica watched their retreating forms. "I see why the others made stupid youma. Much more loyal." He turned to the stranger. "Very well. Rather than hold back, I shall unleash my greatest attack. The Hand of Death."
This time the stranger responded by bringing up both hands. As the cloak retreated from his bare arms, heavily corded muscle could be seen, indicating a strength that could shatter stone merely by flexing.
Formica decided to mirror the stranger's attitude, which he had to admit was pretty cool, and charged.
The stranger pointed forward with his index fingers.
"Now fall!" Formica shouted.
Before Formica could bring his hand forward to throw his palm strike, the stranger lashed out so blindingly fast that it appeared he struck once instead of a thousand times. As his hands blurred, he shouted, "YATA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA ATA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA ATA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA TA ATA TA TA."
And then it was over.
Haroka looked in amazement at the results of the stranger's handiwork. "I've never seen someone poked to death like that before. You didn't even break the skin. You just… poked him."
"I don't like getting blood on the outfit," the stranger admitted.
Haroka looked the man over. "I might regret saying this, since I certainly do the last time I said it, but if there's anything I can do for you, name it. Except giving you my soul or dating you. I don't go for the strong silent type."
"Where is Kachiko Tendou?" the stranger asked.
Haroka thought about that. "Can't say I know the name. The only Tendous I know live the next district over in Nerima. I worked as a take out girl for a while there and became familiar with the area. I can give you the address if you want."
"Yes, Kachiko Tendou is in Nerima," the man said, a decidedly disturbing smile now decorating his features.
Kachiko made her way through the halls, heading to the locker room showers. Being blasted into the masonry made her body ache, as well as collecting a good bit of dirt and grime from the shattered remains of the wall. She needed to clean off, even if it meant missing the start of her next class. As she walked, a constant litany of grumbling followed in her wake. It wasn't fair that the oversized brat (or was that undersized bitch?) kept winning. All Kachiko had done was try to defend her honor, which had been compromised once by being beaten and a second time for the implication that she would have anything to do with old perverts. It would have been fine if she had gotten some measure of revenge, but somehow that blasted Hinako was always ferreting out the complex plans set against her and not only evading them, but coming out on top. Wasn't there justice in the world?
"It's all that darn Nabiki's fault for siccing the giant leech on me," Kachiko grumbled. She was going to have to figure out a way to get even with that devious middle daughter of hers. No one could outfox Kachiko Tendou, not when it really mattered. Not some watered down version of her, not some walking parasite, and no one else who came along and thought they were top dog.
Thoughts of revenge fell from Kachiko's mind as the world was reeling and she suddenly became dizzy and disoriented. It was similar to when she was knocked off the fence by Ranma, except several times worse. She barely had enough sense to fall against the wall and use it to support her as she slumped towards the ground. Her hands scraped against the wall trying to find a purchase, but they failed and all her fingers did was scratch against inset tiles. She slid to the floor, ending up on her hands and knees.
Then just as it seemed she would never stop spinning, the world righted itself again. Kachiko shook her head a few times, not daring to rise at first. However, once it became evident the bout of vertigo had passed and left no lingering traces, she stood up and reassessed herself.
Finding nothing wrong, she said, "Must have been some leftover effect from that brat's draining." Not quite trusting her balance, she kept one hand on the wall as she continued on her way to the school showers.
No further incidents occurred, nor did Kachiko encounter anyone else in the halls. It looked like she was going to be late and forced to hold buckets outside class. Maybe she could use her draining victim status to have the school nurse write up an excuse. She figured it was worth a shot as she entered the girls' locker room.
The locker room was just as Kachiko hoped: completely empty. The last gym class must have finished dressing and already headed out. That was for the best, since she had no desire for anyone to see the results of her humiliating temporary setback.
It took only a moment for Kachiko to strip and enter the showers. She walked down a row of shower heads and stopped at the fourth one. She noted that the sprayers had changed in design, and the shower itself had been completely redone in a tasteful light blue instead of the abysmal gray from when she had attended the school. Back then showering had always carried a dour pall considering the depressing color scheme. Actually the entire school had been colored very blandly. Principal Faust had been of the opinion that bright colors made for active students, and active students made trouble. But bland colors made for depressed students, which made for a more sedate student body. Principal Faust liked sedate students, since it was less likely they would make a run for it.
But everything had changed. This Beach Bum Principal liked bright, vivid colors and the whole school had an underlying tropical motif. Such an environment made the atmosphere much more pleasant. Now school officials didn't go about dressed in oppressive-looking military garb that seemed to be the standard for most military regimes. There were no scantily clad, ridiculously over-endowed, and grossly powerful female enforcers monitoring the halls. No security system that tried to trace a student's location the moment they stepped on school property. Everything was better. It was like a tropical paradise compared to the gulag it was before. That the students still insisted on grumbling about it made Kachiko realize just how much kids took for granted nowadays.
Turning her thoughts from the past, Kachiko spun the knob on the shower. Within moments a spray of warm water hit her body. That, combined with the cheerier color, delighted the girl and she began humming to herself as she relaxed and let her body counter whatever lingering effect Hinako's technique had left.
Ukyou thumped her chest and gave a hacking cough. It was just her rotten luck that the teacher had asked her to stay behind and help him put away some school supplies. And if having to go to gym class late wasn't bad enough, the teacher slipped and dropped a box full of dusty erasers right on her nice school uniform, which was now covered in a healthy coating of white chalk that contrasted the dark material quite nicely. To make matters worse, the dust was irritating her nose, making her sound like she had developed pneumonia. At least she was finished with returning all of the supplies and could catch up with the rest of her classmates.
Another fit of coughing passed. Ukyou was relived that this bout wasn't as bad as the others. Still, she wanted to get out of her clothes and into a clean shirt and shorts and breathe some fresh air.
Ukyou entered the girl's locker room and headed toward a locker. She paused in front of it, the sound of a shower running gaining her attention. Curiosity aroused, she walked over to see who had decided to take a shower before gym class instead of afterwards.
Only able to see a partial profile of the girl — due to the amount of steam and heavy flow of water — Ukyou could just make out the familiar form of Akane. The girl was obviously unaware of Ukyou's presence as she was fully immersed in enjoying the way the water was cleansing her body. Showering before class was odd, but then Ukyou knew from experience that Akane could be really strange sometimes.
Ukyou was about to leave Akane to her own devices when she paused to consider something. She ran a finger along her cheek and came up with a smudge of white. That was all the convincing it took. She decided to catch Akane's attention, "Hey, there. I'll join you in a minute."
Kachiko turned her head in shock, took one look at the person who had stated they were going to 'join' her in the shower, then screamed at the top of her lungs, "AHHHHHH! PERVERT!"
The entire gym class turned its head at the scream of terror. It was followed a moment later by the sound of the earth trembling as one of the walls outside the girls' locker room detonated in an explosion of plastic, metal, and cement. All eyes followed a dark projectile that came hurtling out from the center of the explosion. It kicked up a cloud of dust and rock as it skidded along the ground like a missile whose engine had malfunctioned, urging it forward while never being able to reach the sky. The laws of gravity, friction, and inertia worked in conjunction to halt the object, forcing it to skid to a stop a short distance away from the ogling gym class. A low, pain-filled moan came from the prone figure's dust obscured form.
A second projectile came shooting out of the breach in the side of the building. This one moved upright and with much better control over its direction than the last one. It stopped above the prone figure in the dirt, revealing itself to be Kachiko Tendou. She was clad only in a small towel that just barely stretched past the bottom of her posterior and only made its way slightly above the halfway point of her breasts.
Forced to keep the towel from conceding the uphill territory it occupied by holding it in place with her arms, Kachiko was restricted to administering her 'righteous' punishment by bringing her foot up and down repeatedly on the prone figure. Every pair of male eyes in the class were riveted to the pedal action. Having no slack, each time Kachiko's leg went up, the bottom of the towel crawled up her body almost high enough to show what goods it was supposedly trying to hide.
Kachiko abruptly stopped stomping as she sensed the eyes attuned to her body. She looked up, focusing on one youth in the entire class. Her demeanor switched from rage to tears as she shouted, "Ranma, protect me!" She ran to him and cowered behind his body, using it as a shield between her and the prone figure.
Ranma became all too aware of the towel's inadequate thickness as Kachiko pressed herself against him and shivered. Judging by what was poking him in the back, he could personally guarantee she was either cold or excited. He extricated himself from her before someone got the wrong idea. "What's going on?"
Kachiko sobbed, "I was in the locker room minding my own business, cleaning up to help me recover from the brat's unprovoked attack, when that pervert came right in and told me he was going to molest me in the shower." She pointed to the face down figure. However, in order to point, she had to remove one of her hands from her top. That gave Ranma a clear view of most of what was there, the really important parts hidden by only the slimmest of margins. What he could see indicated that while Hinako did indeed have plenty of room to brag, Kachiko was far from being a 'little girl' in that sense of the word. That towel really needed to be several centimeters larger. Like about twenty.
Ranma turned his eyes away before someone, most likely Akane, realized he had almost been given a free show. He looked into Kachiko's eyes to see that she did indeed seem to be genuinely frightened rather than it being some scheme. Protective instincts rising to the fore, he promised, "Don't worry. I'll take care of the pervert."
Everyone watched as Ranma approached the figure, which was only now starting to rise. He paused in front of it and said, "Okay, pal. Here's where you get yours for trying to force yourself on girls in the locker… oh, it's you, Ucchan. What are you doing here?"
Ukyou shot an irritated look at Ranma as she finally summoned the strength to rise to her feet. "I got attacked for no damn reason."
Ranma nodded in understanding. "Yeah, I'm sure it's a mistake. You aren't beat up too bad, are you?"
Ukyou brushed off some of the dirt that had joined the chalk stains on her uniform. "No. It's just superficial."
Seeing her much wanted vengeance not coming about, Kachiko stomped her foot and shouted, "Ranma, what are you doing talking to that pervert? Beat him up for trying to molest me!"
Ranma gave a dismissive wave to her. "Don't be silly. I'm not going to beat up Ucchan. We're friends."
"I see how it is!" Kachiko fumed. "Since that pervert's your friend, you're going to let what he tried to do to me go unpunished since you don't think he did anything wrong. Well, I've got news for you, Mr. Saotome. I don't care how close we are, I am not some bicycle that you can let all your perverted friends hop on for a ride. Your other girlfriends might be loose enough to share their bodies with everyone you know, but I am not that way!"
Seeing the effect the words had on his classmates, Ranma paled at the accusation. "What are you talking about?!"
Hiroshi and Daisuke moved up to Ranma's side. Anger was evident on both their faces.
Hiroshi made a fist and shook it in Ranma's direction. "Ranma, how could you be so cruel?"
"Yeah, I thought we were buddies," Daisuke agreed. "If you were sharing your girlfriends with other guys, you should have given us first crack."
Tears of anguish coursed down Hiroshi's face. "I would have loved to share Shampoo with you."
Daisuke said, "Akane would have been my first choice." He felt an aura of anger emit from the direction of the gym class. Suddenly sweating, he said, "Did I say Akane? Ha ha. Silly me. I meant Kodachi."
"I'm not sharing anyone with anybody!" Ranma protested.
"And why didn't either of you mention me?" Ukyou snapped.
Hiroshi brought up his fist and pointed it at Ranma, "I'm afraid we can't let this pass, can we Dai?"
"Nope," Daisuke said in agreement, cracking his knuckles. "Ranma has to answer for this crime."
Both tried to uppercut him just like they had seen all of the other girls do when they were angered by his actions.
Ranma effortlessly caught both their fists. "Like I'm going to let you two morons hit me." Ranma then decided to take out some of his frustration on them.
"You're beating up the wrong people! The pervert's next to you! Beat him up," Kachiko insisted.
Akane walked up to her mother. "Kachi, Ukyou's not a boy. She's really a girl."
Kachiko looked at Akane in shock. "Then that makes it even worse. At least if she was a man she would be following her normal impulses. But not only is she a pervert, she's a sexual deviant as well."
"I am not a sexual deviant! I only like guys!" Ukyou retorted.
"Then why did you try to molest me in the shower?"
"I thought you were Akane," Ukyou snapped.
A knowing light came on in Kachiko's eyes. "Oh, I see now. You were trying to molest Akane."
Ukyou nodded her head. "Yes, that's ri… No! I mean, I was trying to take a shower with her, but I wasn't trying to molest her."
Kachiko nodded her head. "Oh. So it's not molestation. It's consensual between the two of you." Kachiko turned to Akane and placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "Akane, I don't care about your sexual preferences. You'll always be family to me." She then turned to Ranma and shouted, "Ranma, Akane's come out of the closet and is going to go out with her lesbian friend from now on, so we can start dating and she won't be able to complain anymore."
"What?!" Ranma ceased exerting force on the headlock that was slapped on Hiroshi and stopped stomping on the fallen Daisuke.
"I am not a lesbian, and I am not interested in Ukyou!" Akane snapped.
"And neither am I," Ukyou agreed.
Kachiko looked at the pair in confusion. "So you hop in the shower with Akane as a sort of heterosexual casual sex thing?"
"There is no sex involved!" Ukyou shrieked.
"I'm getting some seriously mixed signals here," Kachiko admitted.
Akane said in a tired voice, "Ukyou is straight. She just dresses like a boy since she swore off her femininity and went to a boy's school and kind of acts like a guy. And she confused you with me, which meant she thought she was jumping in the shower with me." Akane thought about that for a moment. She turned to Ukyou. "That does sound kind of perverted. Why did you want to jump in the shower with me?"
Ukyou was trembling with anger as she said, "I was dirty. That's the only reason."
"More like an excuse," Kachiko said with a suspicious glare. "I know your kind. You're another perverted cross-dressing lesbian, just like Yumi was. Well, I got my eye on you, Little Miss 'Let me join you in the shower while I leave the lesbian sex part unsaid'. You come too close to me, and you'll be sorry, just like Yumi was. I always kicked her butt when she tried to lure me into her world of perversion. Except the time she stole my clothing and I had to dress like a boy since her outfits were the only ones around. And then there was the time me and her had our clothing disintegrated and ended up falling on top of one another right in front of the entire student body. And there was the one instance where she tricked me into going out on a date with another girl whom I had a really good time with, but only in a platonic way, even if she did give me a good night kiss on the lips. But she didn't get past first base. Aside from those times, and a handful of others that are too numerous to mention, I showed her a thing or two. No one outsmarts Kachiko Tendou."
Seeing everyone staring at her peculiarly, Kachiko announced, "I'm going to finish my shower now. And no cross-dressers are allowed!" She turned and headed towards the hole in the wall.
Akane stared at her departing mother. "Okay, maybe I understand why she's so touchy about cross-dressers."
It was after gym class (when Kachiko was no longer anywhere near the showers) that Akane and Ukyou finally had a chance to clean themselves off. Akane noted that the other girls were giving them a wide berth, and that Akane wasn't all that comfortable with Ukyou seeking her out while they were showering. Not that she thought Ukyou was interested in her, even if she did seem to enjoy having an effeminate guy like Konatsu hanging around her. Just because she had a man that made for a very good-looking girl living under the same roof didn't mean Ukyou had any deviant tendencies. She wanted Ranma, after all. Ranma who could change into a girl.
Hmm. Maybe Kachiko was on to something.
"Are you listening to me, Akane?"
The question snapped Akane out of her pondering. Reflexively she covered her private parts up. "What was that?"
Ukyou did not seem to notice the movement. "I said I can't believe your cousin. Half the class is looking at me like they believe what she said."
"Well, you do dress as a guy all the time, and this isn't an all boys school," Akane pointed out.
Ukyou appeared bewildered by the statement. "I think I look good in a guy's outfit. Don't you think so?"
Akane suddenly felt very uncomfortable. Why was Ukyou asking if she thought she was attractive? "I never noticed."
Ukyou looked over her shoulder and down her back. "I think dresses make my butt look big. You don't think my butt's big, do you?" She turned around and thrust her posterior slightly out for Akane to inspect.
That was bad. Somehow they had moved to assessing parts of Ukyou body. Akane never assessed parts of any girl's body. Not even Ranma's. "I hadn't noticed. Um, nice weather we're having."
"Actually it's been muggy and overcast," Ukyou said. "You know, I will admit, it's starting to get pretty uncomfortable with the chest bindings lately." Ukyou handled her breasts. "Do you think my bust's gotten bigger?"
"All done showering," Akane announced and headed out. Much to her chagrin, Ukyou followed.
"How do you do it?" Ukyou asked as Akane began to dress.
"I don't wear chest bindings so I don't think I can give you advice on them," Akane said nervously.
"I mean your cousin. How do you put up with her?"
"Oh," Akane said, relieved, even if it meant the topic of conversation was her mother. "It's easier than you think."
"She's caused nothing but trouble since she got here," Ukyou said. "She's getting into fights with Miss Hinako. She actually thinks Kunou's cute. And she's openly after Ranma. I saw the way she rubbed her body against his when she tried to get him to do her dirty work for her."
"She was pretty close to him," Akane admitted, a dark mood clouding her features.
"And she does it openly when she knows one of his fiancées is right there, too. Doesn't she have any sense of shame?"
"No, no she doesn't," Akane admitted, her mood darkening further.
Ukyou seemed unaware of the change as she continued her own litany of anger. "I know if she was living under my roof and hit on my Ranchan she'd be out on the street in no time, cousin or not."
"It's… not that simple," Akane said.
"You shouldn't be that forgiving of her, Akane. I know I won't be. The next time she hits on Ranchan in front of me, I'm giving her a piece of my mind. And you might want to consider doing the same." Ukyou finished dressing and headed out of the locker room.
Akane was in no hurry as she dressed. A lot of what Ukyou said made sense, and repeated many of the doubts Akane had held in her mind; one's she had not dared give voice to, since it was her mother she was thinking about.
In the beginning, it was easy enough to think of it as a phase Kachiko was going through as she reoriented herself to her new time. She didn't understand the proper scheme of things and how they worked. She didn't realize she was already married and had a family. Ranma was his usual kind self, and Kachiko had simply latched onto him as a way of helping her cope with the sudden changes she had undergone. But Akane had been operating under the assumption that Kachiko would straighten out and rekindle her marriage with her husband. Instead, she was pulling farther away from him and acting continuously like a teenager that had been allowed to live on her own for the first time in her life. And worse, every time it was explained Ranma was a taken man, she ignored it and went after him anyway. Just like Shampoo, Kodachi, and even Ukyou.
Akane finished dressing and headed out of the locker room. Maybe Ukyou was right. Maybe it was time to stop turning a blind eye to all of this and set things straight with her mother. Ranma was Akane's fiancé. His marrying someone else was not up for grabs, even if Kachiko had tricked the fathers into agreeing with it. She not only had no business hitting on someone else's fiancé, as well as the high school idiot, but she should have been where she belonged; with the man she had married, loved, and brought forth a family into this world. Akane could see that every day her father went without his beloved wife, the more it hurt him. In some ways, he was almost as much a basket case as when Kachiko had first died. It wasn't fair to her father, Kasumi, Nabiki or herself. It wasn't fair that Kachiko was who they had always wanted, but refused to act like it. And it wasn't fair she was trying to take Ranma away, as well as denying the role of mother to a family that needed one.
On the other hand, taking that sort of attitude with Kachiko might very well alienate her, and Akane didn't want that. She could already see how much Nabiki didn't get along with her, and the feeling was assuredly returned on Kachiko's part. Akane didn't know how she would react if her mother dealt with her so angrily. They were friends of a sort. It wasn't the ideal relationship Akane had wanted, but it was better than avoidance or outright hatred.
Part of the responsibility lay with Ranma. It was his fault Akane was being placed in the position that she had to warn her mother off and possibly alienate her for life. If he would just be a man and forcefully tell Kachiko to leave him alone and that Akane was his fiancée and no other girl was, that would end everything. But in his typical wishy-washy manner, he refused to risk hurting Kachiko's feelings, and just acted evasive rather than decisive. And staring at Kachiko's breasts like he had outside when she was trying to get him to beat up Ukyou only encouraged that sort of behavior. Acting interested by staring and blushing at other girls' breasts was not the way a fiancé was supposed to act. There was only one person he was supposed to be interested in. But because he almost never acted like he was interested in Akane, it made everyone think he was up for grabs.
And then there was possibly the worst of all: his agreeing to delay any marriage. True, Akane didn't want to get married now, but that he would openly state such a thing, knowing it would only complicate matters, showed how self-centered he was. Akane knew he was egotistical, but he had always tried to help others when they were in need. Now Akane was in need, and he was ignoring that need by saying he didn't want to get married to her. Even if it was only in a temporary sense, it still hurt, especially after Mount Phoenix and what they shared. After that all the barriers should have been gone. So why was he putting up more? And why couldn't he just make Kachiko stop pursuing him?
Akane was growing increasingly angry with Ranma's blundering when a voice said, "Miss Tendou?"
Akane turned to see the young form of Hinako before her. Akane's first impulse was to walk in the other direction, since the teacher's tracking Akane down undoubtedly had something to do with Kachiko. But then she noticed an uncharacteristic look of concern on the teacher's features; a very unusual thing in her younger form. "What is it, Miss Hinako?"
"I need to talk to you about your new stepmother."
Akane truly dreaded this. She wondered if revealing the truth about Kachiko might be the best thing to do. Hinako might let the matter drop if she knew Kachiko really was Akane's long lost mother, but that would make things even more awkward in school. No, it was best to continue the charade. "What about her?"
Hinako wrung her hands in nervousness. "You don't like her much, do you?"
Now that was an awkward question. "Oh, she's okay."
"I didn't mean as a person. I meant as a stepmother. She's not very motherly at all. In fact, she acts more like a juvenile delinquent than any sort of parental figure."
Akane laughed, pity lacing it. That was way closer to the truth than Hinako realized. "I'll admit, no matter how hard we try, she doesn't act very responsibly."
"And then there's the way she chases after Mr. Saotome and Mr. Kunou. Admittedly, delinquents are drawn to other delinquents, but she's married to the most wonderful, caring man in the world. Yet she's openly cheating on him and trying to take on two other lovers at the same time. Why, I heard her threaten to ground you for trying to defend me."
"Yeah," was all Akane could get out. She felt nauseated at Kachiko's actions as well.
"She looks just like your mother did at that age, doesn't she?"
Akane's blood nearly froze in her veins. Had Hinako somehow stumbled onto the truth? "I'm not sure what you're getting at." Neither an admission nor a denial of the accusation. The answer would have done Nabiki proud.
Hinako nodded as though Akane had responded to the question with the expected answer. "I thought as much. That would explain why Soun-chan would marry someone who's so young and unsuitable for him. At first I thought it was some form of mind-control or blackmail that made him marry her. Maybe even something involving money, but you've been going along with it easily. That meant he must have married her willingly."
"He did," Akane confirmed, really hoping Hinako would let the matter drop.
The teacher continued. "It probably would have been best if you had stopped him, but I suppose it would have been a bit much for you. I know how badly you wanted your real mother back from the last time I tried to romance your father. Settling for someone who looked like her was probably the closest you could come to getting the real thing back, so you accepted her."
The words hit far too close to home. Akane was barely able to keep from exclaiming Kachiko was the real thing. Except, even though she was, she refused to act like it.
Hinako continued. "Your father made a horrible mistake, and it's my fault for backing off and letting his unhealthy preoccupation about the past consume him. Cherishing the memories of those lost to us is good and normal, but obsessing about them until you sacrifice your present and future is wrong. Soun's made a terrible mistake, and I care about him too much to let it stand and ruin his life. I'm not giving up without a fight."
Declaration made, Hinako turned and set off with a determination that Akane had never associated with her flighty younger form.
What Akane wanted to do was tell Hinako she was wrong, her father would be happy with her mother, and it was all just a matter of time before things returned to their natural state and they could be one big happy family. All they needed was time and things would turn out just like she wished for. But the words Hinako spoke carried too much of truth to them. Instead, Akane found herself more unsettled than ever after the speech.
Kasumi heard a knock on the door. She stopped cleaning and answered it. At the threshold stood a large man in a cloak and hood.
"Kachiko Tendou," the man said.
Kasumi shook her head. "She isn't here right now. She's at school. Why are you looking for her?"
The man's eyes blazed as they stared down at the girl. "I have something to… give her."
A delivery person. Well that made sense. "Perhaps you can leave it here and I can give it to her."
"No. It is something I must deliver… personally." He unleashed a smile, one that was all teeth and seemed closer to a grimace than a sign of delight.
Kasumi shrugged and gave the man directions to the school.
Kachiko looked at herself in the mirror, mindful that no cross-dressing perverts were trying to insinuate themselves in the lavatory while she was implementing her latest scheme. This plan was foolproof. She would render Hinako powerless, then serve up a big helping of retribution that she so richly deserved. It would be the perfect end to an otherwise lousy day. Being alternately drained and blasted, dealing with cross-dressing lesbian perverts, being almost naked in front of an entire gym class, Ranma not meting out violence to the perpetrator of her near dishonor like a proper love interest should, corn beef and hash served at lunch, all of it was too much for one poor, lonely girl to take. Even Tachi-chan hadn't been able to cheer her up, despite serenading her with poetry. At least when Ranma stumbled on the scene he had acted jealous and pounded on Tachi-chan and ordered him to leave her alone. Displays like that gave her renewed hope that Ranma would overcome his shyness toward admitting his feelings to the opposite sex.
However now was not the time for romance, now was the time for revenge. Kachiko adjusted the mustache and inch thick, horn-rimmed glasses once again. Perfect. Mistress of disguise that she was, Hinako would never recognize Kachiko. Not until it was far too late.
"I'm too smart for the likes of that brat," Kachiko bragged to her image in the mirror. She turned and exited the lavatory. If she timed it right, she could run into Hinako during her free period. That would give Kachiko forty-five minutes to indulge herself without the risk of interruption.
Kachiko emerged into the hall, swaggering in confidence at her newly created anonymity. She hummed to herself as she made her way to Hinako's chambers.
Everyone's eyes remained fixed on her as she strolled past.
Two floors down, Kachiko found herself slightly disoriented. Apparently they had reconstructed part of the wing in this section of the school. Gone were the biolabs of the past in favor of more standard areas of sciences less esoteric than 'Recombining DNA,' and 'Bio-Symbiote Crossbreeding.'
Kachiko tapped a student on the shoulder. "Where's room 10-C?"
He gave her a mystified look, but hesitantly answered. "Make a left."
"Thanks." Kachiko walked on, leaving the student watching her wake.
The student's directions were correct as Kachiko found herself in front of the room. She knocked on the door, and was delighted to hear a high-pitched voice say, "Enter."
Kachiko walked in, making certain to close the door behind her. She would have locked it, save that she didn't have the key . Still, Miss Hinako was far from the most popular teacher, which meant the chance of someone coming in was slight. Deepening her voice, Kachiko said, "I need some help only you can provide, Miss Hinako."
The young Hinako looked up from the test she was grading and took note of her visitor. She gave a bewildered look and said, "Miss, what is that thing on your lip?"
Kachiko was about to ask Hinako what she meant by 'Miss', when she looked down to see that in her quest for perfecting the perfect disguise, she had paid sole attention to her face and none to her garments.
She was still in her female student uniform.
Thinking fast, Kachiko said, "Ah, hairlip problem. Is it noticeable?"
Hinako sweatdropped. "No, no it isn't," she said quickly. "What can I do to help you? Shaving gel and a razor?"
"No, no, nothing like that." Kachiko assured her. "I just need some change."
"All right, I'll be glad to help." Hinako went for her change pocket.
Kachiko brought out a bill. "It's for ten thousand yen."
Hinako stopped bringing out the coins. "I don't think I have that much."
"Whatever you have will do," Kachiko assured her. "It's important.
I need to make a phone call to
"I have a calling card," Hinako said, starting for another pocket.
"The telephone is broken and only takes money," Kachiko quickly countered
Eager to help a student in need, Hinako emptied her pockets and counted the change in her hand. "I'm sorry, I only have three thousand five hundred and seventy yen."
"That'll do!" Kachiko forced the bill into Hinako's hand and grabbed all of the coinage.
"I don't want to short change you," Hinako said.
Kachiko spoke in her true voice as she snickered, "Don't worry. I'll be taking the difference out on your hide." She tore off the mustache and glasses.
Hinako recoiled and said in painfully over-dramatic fashion. "It's you."
Kachiko grimaced in pain at having ripped off the mustache that had been glued to her upper lip. At least it would take care of her hairlip problem for a while. Bringing the pain under control, she unleashed her 'predator finally having cornered its prey' smile. "Indeed. You are now at my mercy, and I'm afraid I had all my mercy drained out of me today by a tiny leech."
Hinako stood her ground. Defiant, she stated, "It doesn't matter. I'll never let you have Soun-chan."
That made Kachiko recoil. "Don't gross me out by implying the fight is over him, or I just might let you go. This is all about my pound of flesh."
"Even if you add a pound of flesh to your breasts, it still won't make a difference. You'd need at least five pounds to make them a reasonable size," Hinako stated.
Kachiko gave the little girl a dark glare. "Oh, you're really going to get it for that one."
Akane hurried through the halls, anger over her mother's behavior forgotten as more important matters had come to her attention. Matters that had to be taken care of right away. Her mother had to be warned of what had happened.
Ranma spotted Akane as she hurried past. Noting her distress, he turned to catch up with her. "What's going on?"
"This." Akane stuffed a paper she had been carrying in his face.
Ranma read it. "That's not good."
"Someone posted them all over the school. I've been taking them down as I come across them, but I think the damage might have been done."
"We'd better find Kachi and warn her," Ranma agreed.
The two went down to the first floor and began asking students if they had seen Kachiko. A small percentage of them, bored, decided to follow. The pair had a sizable group accompanying them when one of the students they interrogated answered, "Yes, I told her where room 10-C was. But there was something strange. She seemed to have a bad hairlip problem."
"It runs in the family. Kasumi has it the worst," Akane admitted.
Ranma said, "Yeah, I noticed you had one too when we met, but I didn't think you'd appreciate me pointing it ou—"
An elbow delivered to the gut ended Ranma's commentary on Akane's less feminine genetic traits.
"We have to find her," Akane emphasized.
The pair, with the group in tow, walked up to the door to 10-C. Akane threw open the door and thrust the poster forward. "Bad news, Kachi. Some anti-pervert group is passing these posters around claiming you're suspected of engaging in perverted acts with… young… children."
All eyes looked past Akane to see what was occurring in the room to bring her to such an abrupt halt.
Kachiko was sitting on a chair, pinning a squirming Hinako over her lap so that the teacher's head was pointed to the floor and her bottom was centered perfectly between Kachiko's legs. The time lost girl had her open hand raised high, as though she had been about to deliver a powerful spanking.
The 'pervert' in question had her jaw come unhinged as she saw the Wanted poster in Akane's hand. Seeing all of the wide-eyed stares pointed in her direction, and suddenly grasping what the situation appeared to indicate all too well, Kachiko cried out, "This isn't what it looks like! I was just helping Miss Hinako fix a tear on the back of her dress!" Quickly, she grabbed Hinako and stood the girl on her feet, smoothing out the teacher's dress. "There, you see? Completely unmolested in any way shape or form. I would never do something like that to one of the great educators of our school system. Hehehehe."
Hinako held her hand out. "Coin," she commanded.
Kachiko winced as she reluctantly handed over a fifty yen piece.
"Thank god the day is finally over," Kachiko moaned. Her shoulders were slumped forward so far that her knuckles were practically dragging on the ground.
"You did most of it to yourself," Akane informed her. "If you'd just left well enough alone, none of those bad things would have happened to you."
"Young girls shouldn't give their mother's speeches," Kachiko said tiredly.
Ranma said, "Now about that rematch."
Kachiko shot him a nasty look. "Ranma, you do understand that at this point killing you would only brighten my day."
Ranma decided to let the matter drop for an hour or two.
A deep, baritone voice that sounded as though it held the power of a force of nature, like a hurricane, behind it bellowed out, "Kachiko Tendou!"
The trio looked up to see a huge, cloaked stranger standing directly in front of them.
"I'm Kachiko Tendou," she said.
The man's head jerked under the hood. Slowly he pulled it back revealing a man in his late thirties with a handsome, if weary, face. He brushed back his cloak, revealing underneath an open black leather vest and a chest that appeared as though it had been carved from chiseled rock. More noticeable than the excellent physique was the set of seven round scars on his torso. They started at his navel and led up to the middle of his breastbone.
Akane placed a hand on her mother's arm. "I don't like the looks of this guy."
The air seemed to fill with electricity. Tensions rose as the man's gaze seemed to try to burn holes in the much smaller girl.
Ranma began to position himself between Kachiko and the stranger. "You'd better let me handle—"
Kachiko placed a hand on his chest to prevent him from continuing to move in front of her. There was an iron in her voice he had not heard before as she stated in cold, hard tones, "No. He's come for me. I'll deal with this." Before Ranma could protest, she took a step towards the man.
The hint of potential violence that hung in the air increased as the distance between the two lessened. The man's eyes glowed twice as bright, and his face became a sneer as Kachiko continued walking until she stood directly in front of him. She balled her fists, and her feet shifted. Ranma noted she could move to the right or left quickly should the need arise.
"You wanted me?" she asked.
The man looked down at the smaller girl. He flexed hands that were large enough to engulf her head and crumple it the way a person might crumple a piece of paper. "Yes. I've come a long way to meet you. I've traveled decades and untold thousands of miles to see you here on this day. And now, it's time!" His hands were a blur as they went under his cloak.
"Ranma!" Akane shouted.
Ranma was already in motion, though he knew he would not arrive in time given how impossibly fast the large man's hands moved. He shouted, "Kachi!"
Ranma found his assessment was correct. He had covered less than half the distance as the man's hands emerged from the confines of his cloak and he thrust an object towards Kachiko. He said in cold, hard tones, "Sign here."
Ranma made a deft facefault at Kachiko's feet as she casually signed her name to the clipboard.
Kachiko looked down at him. "No need to get bent out of shape. I'll let you look at the package," she assured him.
Ranma shot to his feet. "What the hell was all that tension about if this just a delivery guy?!"
Kachiko shrugged. "I didn't notice any tension." She turned to the delivery person. "How about you?"
"I think he's just paranoid," the man said as he handed Kachiko a large cardboard package that had also been hidden in the folds of the cloak.
"What was up with the dirty look you shot her?" Ranma said.
The man scratched his head. "Dirty look? I didn't give her a dirty look. I've never even met her before today, so why would I shoot her a dirty look? That was my 'I'm really uncomfortable' look."
"You're uncomfortable?" Ranma asked.
"Bowel trouble. I—"
"No more!" Ranma exclaimed as he covered his ears.
"Those are some nasty scars." Akane said, pointing at the seven hideous gouges in the man's torso. "What made them?"
The man fingered the marks. "Oh, these? They're from a case of chicken pox I had when I was a kid."
Kachiko laughed. "I'd hate to see the chicken that made those."
Everyone looked at her in irritation for having their hearing assaulted in such a manner.
Seeking to change the subject, Kachiko held up the package. "Why don't we just find out who sent this?" Kachiko read the return address. "It's got Wacky Wakaba's name on it, and it's postmarked from over twenty years ago!"
The man proudly stated, "Whether it's storms, natural disasters, wars, or being hurled into far off lands filled with murderous and insanely powerful fighters that can make people explode with a touch, it doesn't matter because Federal Express always delivers."
Kachiko quickly tore the tape around the cardboard off. Everyone peered over her shoulder as she opened the top. She tossed aside the packing foam and looked inside. Taking up most of the package was an odd mechanical device, circular in nature, and about the width and height of a cooking pot. On the very top of the item there was black charring that was centered on a button. Sitting on top of the device was a card addressed to Kachi.
She opened it up and read it aloud. "'For your birthday, I decided to give you your very own dimensional oscillation bomb. I hope you enjoy your unplanned trip to another dimension! WAHAHAHAHA!' and it's signed Wakaba." She clutched the letter to her chest. "That's so sweet. She remembered by birthday. Let's give it a whirl." Kachiko pushed the button.
Kachiko examined the black charring more closely. "Hey! This thing's broken!"
The light of realization came to the man's eyes. "So that explains it! I really was in some other dimensional post apocalyptic world. All this time I thought I made a wrong turn and ended up in New Jersey." The man shrugged the unplanned trip off. "Time to go back to headquarters. I got a heck of a lot of back-pay to pick up." He departed the school grounds using the same methodical pace he had used for the last twenty years.
Kachiko placed the device back in the box. "I suppose it doesn't matter if it's broken. It's the thought that counts." She looked to the skies. "Thank you Wakaba, wherever you may be."
Akane's eyebrow twitched violently. "You do understand that the only reason you weren't the one hurled into the dimension that guy went to was because the bomb accidentally went off while he was carrying it? That his little trip was, in fact, meant for you?"
Kachiko looked at Akane as though she was stupid. "Of course it was for me. It's just the sort of thing Wakaba would do for me for my birthday. She knew how much I liked to travel. She was a really good, thoughtful, caring friend." Kachiko sighed in remembrance of the friendship of the past.
Surrendering in the face of such obliviousness, Akane shook her head and said, "It's way past time to head home. Let's go."
Kachiko agreed, but took one last look at the school and shouted, "But just you wait until tomorrow, you dwarf! If you think today was bad, I'll show you a thing or two about—"
Akane and Ranma grabbed Kachiko by the arms and dragged her off towards home, epithets about size changing teachers following in their wake.
Yuka and Sayuri were deep in conversation as they headed out past the front gates of Furinkan. Lately, things had been hectic enough in Akane's life that they left her to her own devices when it came to walking home.
Yuka said to her companion. "So let me get this straight. Ranma was caught giving erotic lesbian action to Miss Hinako, Ukyou has been officially accused by The CLAP of being a pervert, Akane tried to molest Sora in the showers, Anno is trying his hand at a high school romance series, and Kachi is a narcissist?"
"Yeah. I bet Anno does an episode all in stills and tries saying he's being 'artistic' instead of just plain lazy."
Yuka nodded in agreement. "Still, that thing about Kachi surprises me."
"Me too," Sayuri agreed. "I didn't have her pegged as a smoker."
"So pretty much of the same old same, huh?"
"Pretty much. You ever think anything different is going to happen around here?"
"Not in my lifetime," Yuka admitted.
Thoroughly bored, the two headed home.
To be continued.
Author's notes: Since others have mentioned it, no, I didn't see "Back to the Future II". The time lost person delivery joke is a case of similar lines of thought, not plagiarism.
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