A Ranma ½ / Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon / Ah! My Goddess crossover story
by L. S. McGill
Disclaimer: Ranma 1/2 characters property of Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video. Sailor Moon characters property of Takeuchi Naoko, Koudansha, TV Asahi, and Toei Douga, and DIC. Ah! My Goddess property of Fujishima Kosuke, Kodansha, TBS and KSS films; AnimEigo, Studio Proteus, and Dark Horse Comics. Other characters who may cameo are property of respective owners. All are used without permission. I did not write this for profit, but for practice. Will be removed at request of original creators or authorized rep.
Zhu Shu (who shoo), Tao-Ching, Xi'an Chi (zy-an chee), and Clans' Dragon and Skorpion are mine, and may be used so long as I am asked beforehand.
Book One: The Mandarin
Chapter Three: Revelations
Zhu Shu walked the landscapes of memory, flitting from one dream to the next as she slept. She was aware she was dreaming, and that she had been for some time, but wakefulness still eluded her, and she had finally allowed the dreams to take her where they would. She had wandered the byways of her life until she found herself once more at the start of her journey, and stood again before a familiar door.
The pagoda was ancient; the oldest building in the village, but few people used it beyond Zhu Shu and her grandfather. Most of the village was Buddhist and went to the temple on the cliff above the village. Zhu Shu followed the ancient family beliefs, and the Shrine of the Dragon had always felt more like home than the inn. Whenever she was here, she had always felt like her family's guardian deity surrounded her and watched over her. She prayed he was with her today.
She bowed to the carved doors before entering the shrine, her bare feet making no noise on the intricately tiled floor. She stopped silently at the edge of the Dragon mandala that filled the center of the single room and waited until the elderly man at the altar finished his meditations. He looked up shortly and smiled.
"You are early for your lessons, Little Mouse."
Zhu Shu bowed. "I have come to ask a question, Revered Grandfather." She hoped the butterflies in her stomach did not show.
Her grandfather raised an eyebrow. "So formal, Granddaughter?" He folded his hands into the sleeves of his robe. "It must be important indeed if you feel the need to approach as a supplicant." He bowed at her. "I will hear you, Granddaughter."
Zhu Shu took a deep breath as she straightened. "I have heard my aunt talking to the revered magistrate."
He nodded. "Go on, Little Mouse."
"Sung Li is unworthy of me," she said, head bowed.
"He is the son of the wealthiest man in the village. His bloodline is pure. His father is honored at the thought of joining his house to Clan Dragon. How is Sung Li unworthy?"
Zhu Shu took another breath to calm herself and hoped her grandfather would be willing to listen. "He is lazy and lustful. He has treated me as if I am already his, and has laid hands on me in familiar ways. I despise him."
"It is not necessary for you to love him to do your duty. What would you have me do, Little Mouse? He is the only eligible boy in the village. Had your father left you a brother, you would be free to follow your heart, but you are the last Dragon. You must bear an heir."
Zhu Shu reddened in shame at her grandfather's implied disapproval, but forced herself to go on. "I would quest for a husband who is worthy of me, Grandfather."
Her grandfather looked at her for what seemed like an eternity. "You have been listening to the Amazon storyteller again, haven't you?"
Zhu Shu bowed.
"Would you quest as they do? Seek a husband who can defeat you in battle?"
"And would you insist that the man who defeats you marry you as they do? Whether they wish to or not?"
"Then what would you desire, Little Mouse?"
"A husband who loves me."
Her grandfather strode across the mandala to cup her chin in one strong hand as he searched her jade green eyes for a long moment. Finally he looked away and in a barely audible whisper, spoke. "So, it has finally come, as she said it must." He turned away without explaining the remark.
"This quest may break your heart, beloved Little Mouse."
Zhu Shu said nothing, hoping against hope at the implication she would be allowed to go.
He sighed heavily and looked at the scarlet and gold Dragon that formed the altar. "A suitor who can best you in combat would indeed be worthy of the name Song, and a husband who loves you would treat you as the treasure you are, Little Mouse…" The tone of resignation in his voice surprised her. "I would see you happy, Granddaughter. Perhaps it is true that only in this way may it be found…"
He turned to her again. "Go. Fulfill your quest. I will pray that the Dragon guides you to the happiness you will not find here…"
Zhu Shu bowed and turned to go, but as she was leaving, she caught a glimpse of her grandfather before the shrine doors closed. The joy she felt at the approval of her quest was tempered by that glimpse. Her grandfather had always been the strongest man she had ever known, always full of life and vitality despite his white hair. Age had never bowed his shoulders…
Yet for that brief instant, he had seemed… old and frail.
Zhu Shu woke from her dreams of the past in a place far softer than she'd thought she'd be after the lightning dragon had bit her. As her eyes opened, they focused on a vase of flowers that sat on the table beside the bed she was tucked into. She stretched under the blankets, and, reluctant to leave the warmth of the bed, felt gingerly along her spine, where she remembered a burning sensation before blacking out. Her skin felt fine, but the explorations confirmed she was nude under the blankets. She looked around the room.
A cheongsam hung above a Japanese sword stand where both her swords were set with honor. They had been cleaned and polished, and shone brightly, the tattered remnants of her ribbons replaced in red silk. A small meditation mat had been set before the swords, and Zhu Shu smiled at the thoughtfulness. She peeled back the blankets and stood, her ankle giving her barely a twinge.
She stepped over to the mat and sat on her knees to begin her exercises. She opened her chakra first and purged her channels of the chaotic energy she'd absorbed from the lightning and the huge surge, as she began to re-establish her normal flows. She was surprised that her environment seemed to be free of the typical disruptions she was used to dealing with in cities. The local energy was clean, almost purified, which could only mean she was in a shrine. It took her less time than anticipated to clear the wild energy out. Calm again, she reached out to re-link with her swords. A strong surge swept back through her channels as her hands touched the hilts and a wave of dizziness washed over her. She shuddered, and shook her head to clear it. Apparently, the bolt had left her farther off-center than she had thought. She closed her eyes and sought her center, grounding herself before she placed the swords behind her back.
Pleased her control was returning, she focused her chi along the side of her hand and began to clear her body of all the hair that had sprouted since she had been knocked unconscious, the exercise one her grandfather had insisted on to teach her fine control of the Dragon's Claw technique, now performed as a calming routine. Once again hairless from the neck down, she relaxed, assured she was once more in control of herself. She stood and stretched again before starting her kata.
Her warm-up routine took about twenty minutes, and her ankle gave her almost no trouble, a sign she'd been unconscious at least a few days. She healed quickly if she meditated, but as badly as she had wrenched it, there was no way it could have healed this far if she had only been unconscious a night. She finished with her workout and stood in front of the mirror on the folding screen, examining herself. She seemed to have no burns, and her hair had only a few frazzled ends. Somehow, other than her extended unconsciousness, she'd survived the bolt almost unscathed. Her eyes locked for a moment on the slit-pupiled eyes of her guardian in the reflection of her tattoo and she smiled. Grandfather had asked for him to watch over her, after all. She closed her eyes and concentrated for a moment. When she opened them, the tattoo had vanished. Satisfied, she reached up for the silk dress.
A few minutes later, she stepped from the room into a hallway. A quick search along the hall showed her a small bedroom piled with clothes and lots of thin books full of pictures and Japanese text. A second door led into the main shrine area. As she stepped into the large room, she saw a girl on the outer steps sweeping. The girl looked up at Zhu Shu's entrance. "Hello. It's good to see you awake."
Zhu Shu jumped back, her swords flashing into her hands. She knew that aura. "Why? Wait for second chance to kill Zhu Shu?!"
The girl looked puzzled, then alarmed. "What… Why would I… you think I… you think I tried to kill you?"
"Zhu Shu not fool! Not wear Sailor suit, but aura not lie! Sailor Mars try kill Zhu Shu once already! She game for rematch!!"
Panicked, the girl stepped inside and slammed the shrine doors closed. Zhu Shu stepped further back into the hall, watching the girl warily, but not wanting to fight in a shrine. Rei turned to her, hands up. "Wait! Please! Will you accept my word as a Shinto priestess that I mean you no harm?!"
Zhu Shu blinked as her swords lowered. "Priestess?!"
Rei nodded. "Hai. Rei Hino, priestess of Hikawa Shrine, Juuban ward."
"Why priestess attack Zhu Shu?" the Mandarin girl asked in wonder.
Rei looked downcast. "I-I made a mistake, I… thought you were possessed. I wanted to exorcise you. We didn't know you were under a spell."
Zhu Shu put her swords away and put her hands on her hips. "Nearly kill with lightning. Zhu Shu not build tolerance from Lum, maybe would kill!"
Rei's face flamed with shame as she answered in a small voice, "I know. I-I am sorry. I didn't know."
Zhu Shu hesitated, then nodded. "Can accept. Zhu Shu knows about bad spirits. Priestess must fight." She cocked her head. "Beside. If want dead, Zhu Shu not wake up at all. Had two day to kill at least."
Rei seemed to deflate in relief. "Thank you." She looked around to double-check that they were alone, then looked back at Zhu Shu. "How can you know I'm Sailor Mars though?
Zhu Shu cocked an eyebrow. "Rei is priestess? Not know auras?"
"Y-you can see auras?"
Zhu Shu nodded.
Rei leaned against the wall. "Th-that is incredibly dangerous for both of us. Spirits help me, but I have no idea what to do about you. I-I have to call the others." She looked up at Zhu Shu. "Please don't be alarmed when they arrive. I-I won't let anyone hurt you, and I'd rather die than cause you further harm, but we must decide what we should do about you. There are creatures out there that would stop at nothing to enslave you for the knowledge you possess."
Zhu Shu sighed as she put her swords away. "Why not surprised? Is okay. Call friends. Zhu Shu have more important thing do." She rubbed her flat belly, "Zhu Shu hungry. Make lunch…."
Rei sat on the temple steps waiting for the other Senshi a few minutes later, trying to figure the Chinese girl out. She had presented mystery after mystery since her appearance, and Rei had a hard time getting her out of her mind. There was something about her that… Minako's arrival disrupted her train of thought. The leggy blonde looked askance at Rei's gi top and skirt. "I thought this was a Scout meeting?"
Rei shrugged. "It is."
"Shouldn't you change?"
Rei shook her head. "There's no point."
Minako looked at her oddly, but as Ami and Makoto arrived with Usagi, she refrained from any more questions.
"Hi, guys! What's up?" Usagi asked brightly, then saw Rei. "Whoops! What's going on?"
Rei looked over her shoulder at the closed shrine doors. "We have a problem."
"Oh no! Don't tell me she died?!" Usagi looked horrified, both fists pressed together under her mouth, "Wahhhh!! We killed her!!" Streams of tears poured from her eyes.
"Will you dry up?!" Rei shouted. Usagi froze, her ponytails straight out behind her from the force of Rei's shout. Rei crossed her arms and tapped her fingers as she growled, "Just come inside and see for yourself."
Rei stormed into the shrine, followed by the other girls, and stopped at the cheerful "Nihao!" from Zhu Shu. She stared at the small grill and wok, the cloth laid out on the floor with full placesettings, and the nearly complete meal Zhu Shu was cooking. Where had Zhu Shu gotten all this? And how? She'd only been outside for ten minutes!
"Oh, wow! Chinese!" Usagi cried.
Zhu Shu finished chopping vegetables for her stir-fry and turned the shrimp over on her grill before she looked up. "Sailor Rei say must talk. Never talk on not full stomach. Come! Eat!"
Ami looked over at the priestess, "Sailor… Rei?!"
Rei nodded as she led the way to the table setting. "That's what we need to talk about…."
It had been a tough two days for Ranma. His first day of school had ended up being as much of a disaster as his meeting with the Tendos. He hadn't even made it to school before he'd been doused, and Akane had had to get him some hot water from the crazy doctor she was sweet on.
Then he'd watched as Akane plowed her way through the school's boys just to get in the gate. Then he'd had a fight with the mad kendoist, Kuno. He would have won if it hadn't rained. Changing back had made him late to class, and he'd had to stand in the hall with Akane. Then Kuno had to go and attack him again. And to top it off, he'd molested him in the pool! And to add insult to injury, Kuno had gone and insulted his bravery, so he had had to beat him into the ground! For most people, that would have been enough, but not for Kuno! No! He'd had to go and issue a challenge to Ranma's girl side too!
So here he stood, waiting in the field by the school, ticking off the minutes till the appointed hour, getting more and more pissed. He wasn't going to settle for unconsciousness this time!
At precisely ten o'clock, Kuno appeared. "So. You have come, my tree-borne kettle girl!"
Annoyed, Ranma shot back. "You don't learn quick, do you pal?" He looked around for Kuno's bokken, but it was nowhere to be seen. "Where's your sword?!"
"Heh." Kuno smiled. "I have no need of a sword."
"Yeah? Pretty confident, I guess."
"Confident enough to give you—" With a sudden motion, Kuno threw something. "—THIS!!"
Ranma caught it easily, intending to throw it back, but the odd way it crinkled drew his attention. He lowered it slowly, not believing his eyes.
Kuno blushed as he turned to walk away, but Ranma heard him clearly. "I love you."
Wide-eyed in shock, Ranma could only stare after him. Then his legs gave way and he slid to his knees, sitting and holding the roses as a wind blew the petals away.
The only thought he could form was to recall Zhu Shu's words from the pond, and realize how right she had been.
Urd groaned as the morning sun attacked her, bludgeoning its way through her eyeballs to laughingly sizzle her brain cells. Throwing her arm up to try and block the grinning orb just made things worse as she immediately had to lurch to the bathroom.
As she stepped out of the bathroom and made her way to the dining room, she found herself looking at a Chinese girl doing exercises in front of the shrine. Curiosity fighting nausea, she headed towards the kitchen, hunting for her sister. "Hey, Belldandy! Who's the girl practicing in the courtyard?"
Belldandy poked her head out of the kitchen, and smiled. "Her name is Shan Pu. She's your assignment."
Urd made a noise that might have been "Urk!" and froze, the sick look on her face more than just the hangover as vague memories returned. "Um… Sis… I'm on probation, remember?!"
"I know!" Belldandy beamed, "Isn't it wonderful? Kami-Sama is giving you a chance to get your license back! Peorth dropped off the documents yesterday"
"Yesterday? How long was I out?"
"Well, you were drinking for most of a week before Skuld and I saw the transmittal beam. You've been sleeping since then. Peorth said you'd blown most of your energy on the transmittal, since it was an unauthorized wish. She was rather upset at that, but Kami-Sama has commanded her to process it, providing you do the work on granting the wish. Isn't that great?"
"Uh, yeah… great," Urd muttered, her head pounding. How Belldandy could see the bright side of what was sure to be a hellish assignment, she could never understand. And how the hell did she get stuck with a wish case? She couldn't even remember transmitting the wish clearly. Surely it couldn't have been a valid wish? It shouldn't have counted. Even that club-fingered incompetent replacement sysop, Peorth, should have seen that!
The phone rang. Urd lurched around to stare at it in horror, a sinking feeling in her stomach that she knew exactly who was calling.
Oblivious to her sister's state, Belldandy called to her, "Urd? Could you get that? My hands are covered in flour."
Urd swallowed. Hard.
Picking up the phone, she answered, "H-hello?"
Belldandy finished her dumplings and washed her hands, then went into the hall to see her sister still standing by the phone, her hair blown into disarray and a frozen grimace on her face.
"Urd?" a concerned Belldandy asked.
"I'm doomed," Urd croaked.
Shan Pu finished her practice session in the courtyard and sat at the entrance to the shrine to meditate. She hadn't really meant to spend the last two days here, but the place just radiated an aura of peace and tranquility, like Zhu Shu when she was cooking, only magnified a thousand, ten thousand times. She'd found the last couple of days to be a perfect remedy to the depression she'd felt on arriving here.
And Belldandy had clarified what had happened as Urd recovered from her multi-day drinking binge. It seemed the white-haired goddess wasn't the perfect being one might think a goddess would be, but the wish was real enough. Belldandy had verified it with her home office. It had just been a matter of waiting until Urd had slept everything off. Meanwhile, Shan Pu had been told to just relax and recuperate.
She'd so rarely had truly quiet times like this at the Amazon village. She had so much to live up to as Ke Lun's great-granddaughter, and she'd trained hard all of her life. It had been the joy of her life to be Champion! Then one kick from Ranma had changed all of it.
At first, it had been such a humiliation. To have been bested so easily by an outsider! A non-Amazon! The shame of being defeated so quickly had been more than she could bear. She'd been so gleeful to give her the Kiss of Death!
Then Zhu Shu had told her the truth about Ranma, and it had all changed again.
The Amazon mindset was peculiar. Men were considered the caretakers, women the warriors. For a man to possess the skill to defeat an Amazon warrior was a sign he would give her strong children. The Amazons were not a numerous tribe, and survival was very important. She could not let a prize like Ranma get away! All Zhu Shu's tales had done was increase the burning desire she had for him. She found her thoughts returning to the day of their fight constantly, the flash of blue eyes, the sun on red hair….
Despite Zhu Shu's descriptions, her mind could not conjure up a male version of Ranma's face. Her mind refused to stop glorifying the image beyond any sort of reality. If his female side was so beautiful, what a handsome man he had to be!
Shan Pu sighed and dismissed her daydream. She believed Belldandy's assurance that her wish had been approved, and that now the Ultimate Force and Urd were at work, she just wished they would work faster.
But, then, Shan Pu really had no idea how big her wish was….
Usagi was so busy stuffing her face she could barely mumble, "So what?" when Rei told them Zhu Shu could read their auras well enough to identify them, but Ami realized what she meant right off.
"You mean she can see through our disguises?" she asked, looking around at the other Senshi, still in their uniforms.
Rei nodded. "She took one look at me and knew I was the same girl who had led the attack on her. And with the speed of her reactions, I doubt I could have changed in time before she would have cut me to ribbons. I'm glad she went on the defensive at first and gave me a chance to talk."
"Zhu Shu never attacks first. And would not kill priestess. Much bad Karma. Only sought to stop from casting spell first night. But can see would take as attack," the Chinese girl added, without looking up from her cooking.
Ami looked over to where Zhu Shu was chopping vegetables for a second round of stir fry. The knife moved almost too quickly to see as the vegetables appeared to fairly fly into the wok. Despite the aura of happy tranquility Zhu Shu exuded, Ami had no trouble contemplating what those knives could do to her before she could say "Shabon Spray" and shuddered as Makoto looked on jealously at the speed with which Zhu Shu was making the meal.
The gruesome thought sparked a revelation in the studious girl's mind. She looked over at Rei in sudden understanding. "You didn't transform so she wouldn't feel threatened…."
Rei nodded. "And also because there was no point to it. She'll recognize me in any disguise. It would take years to learn how to change my ki aura enough for me to hide from her."
Ami nodded, noting the raised eyebrow of the Chinese girl. "I agree." She took out her wand and stepped away from the table. "Mercury Power, Makeup!"
Usagi looked at her, a pair of chopsticks halfway to her mouth. "Whatcha do that for? Now she'll recognize you."
Rei glared at her. "Haven't you listened to a thing I've said?!"
Usagi emptied another bowlful of stir fry. "I've listened!"
"Then what did I say?" Rei challenged.
"Um…" Usagi thought, but couldn't answer.
Rei buried her face in her hands.
"Usagi, what Rei-chan said was that Zhu Shu can see who we are whether we are in Sailor Senshi guise or not." Ami sat down. "I think she has a point. We can't hide from her, and she already knows too much about us for us to just ignore her. We should make friends. She's far too dangerous for us not to. We can't afford for her to be an enemy." She turned to Zhu Shu and bowed. "I am Ami Mizuno. Juuban Junior High."
Zhu Shu bowed back. "Song Zhu Shu of Clan Dragon. Song school of Sword Dance," she intoned formally, giving her full name. They were trusting her with a secret, after all.
Usagi looked at them and muttered, "Luna will be sooo pissed about this if she ever finds out…." But she took out her locket.
When introductions had been made all around, and the third round of stir fry had been eaten, the question and answers began. Zhu Shu told about her quest (Wow! You mean they still do things like that? Sigh. That's sooo romantic!) (Hush Usagi! Let her finish!) and the Senshi had told her about the fight with Queen Beryl and how they had just defeated an alien pair who had been stealing life energy. Zhu Shu forgave them for thinking she might have been a Cardian. She could understand the mistake, and the fact that the Senshi would assume she was one of those creatures in her cursed form.
Still, they did owe her for the destruction of her clothes, and they decided to take her to the Ginza and do some shopping for some… or so they said. Zhu Shu found out quickly that "shopping" meant running from store to store trying different makeup and squealing over "cute" outfits.
"Oh, come on, Zhu Shu, you just have to try this eye shadow!" Minako squealed. "It'll make the boys just drool over you!"
Zhu Shu looked at the eye shadow in question, a dubious electric shade of blue, and shook her head. "Zhu Shu have own makeup, Mina-chan. No need for more."
"How about this one?" She held up a color even more eye shattering. Zhu Shu shook her head again, and tried to deflect the exuberant shopaholic by pointing to a display of jewelry that didn't look too tawdry.
"Zhu Shu need hair ornaments more than makeup."
The blonde girl's eyes sparkled as she took in the shiny objects on the counter, and she nearly dove to inspect them closer. Zhu Shu breathed a sigh of relief and turned to find Rei just behind her, and she jumped in surprise.
"Do you like this dress?" Rei asked, smoothing out the fifteenth dress in as many minutes. This one was actually a decent cheongsam in a pattern of red and gold. Zhu Shu gave it a once over and nodded.
"Rei look nice. Zhu Shu think dress very pretty."
"There's a whole bunch on sale over there. Maybe they have your size!"
Zhu Shu examined the dress more critically, noting the light weight stitching along the seams, and the poor quality of the silk compared to the dresses she had lost. There was no way the dress would withstand a practice session. Still, she allowed Rei to lead her to the table with the dresses and searched through them to find ones that might fit her. After trying them on, she decided they would work for casual wearing, and with a philosophical shrug, she resigned herself to more early morning kata again. Sooner or later, she had to find a real dressmaker.
Hunting for panties proved even worse than looking for dresses. Zhu Shu had never seen anything like some of the "underwear" the Senshi showed her. Zhu Shu blinked repeatedly at the various outfits the girls demonstrated at a store called by the strange name "Frederick's of Hollywood". While she found the outfits rather intriguing, especially when Mina and Rei actually dared each other to try some on, they were far too impractical. Nor were the versions she found for sale in any of the other stores the girls visited. After viewing the various uncomfortable looking wisps of silk, she decided she'd just have to endure a few drafts until she found what she needed.
Following the trip, Rei invited Zhu Shu to stay at the temple until she found Ranma. Zhu Shu thought that would be a better alternative than Lum's saucer. It would certainly be safer; Makoto wouldn't throw lightning bolts as casually as Lum, and she'd be safe from Ataru and the Hentai squad. A quick call had resulted in a visit by the Oni and her "Darling" to deliver the few things she'd left in the saucer, including her mountain of stuffed toys. But socializing was cut short when Lum found Ataru hitting on Minako and Usagi. Makoto rated the lightning blasts at a 6.9, but the rest of the Senshi gave them 8's.
They spent the rest of the afternoon telling each other more about their adventures, and Zhu Shu promised to not tell anyone about their secret. She also told them a little about her style, and after several requests, demonstrated one of the actual dances her form was based on. She was immediately besieged following the dance with pleas to teach them a few steps. She finally capitulated, but made them promise to learn the whole style, not just the dances. She got five eager students who promised to show up for daily lessons after school, providing their Sailor duties didn't interfere.
And five best friends.
Urd looked through the folder Belldandy had given her, looking more and more despondent. Kami-Sama had to be punishing her for that whole bit about the Terrible Master, as well as the unauthorized wish. Okay, so maybe taking Shan Pu on as a client because she was dead drunk might not be the absolutely stupidest thing she'd ever done, but the wish had been validated, and now it was up to her to help grant it.
But by the Heavens, she'd never seen such a tangled wish! Most wishes could be granted in seconds by the Ultimate Force, but Shampoo's wish had been vague enough that an immediate resolution couldn't be decided on by Yggdrasil, so it had kicked it back as a direct supervision case. So now she had to find a solution that would satisfy the conditions that Shan Pu's subconscious had set. She sighed. Well, a wish was a wish, and she was a Goddess! Second Class!
Or at least one on probation….
She slumped, resting her head on one hand as she looked down at the folder yet again and read the original destiny. Poor Shan Pu was to have been destined to be a failure, trying time and again to win Ranma's love, but doomed to never succeed. Urd could sympathize… She had days like that too. No… Let’s be honest… she'd had years like that! In fact, she'd swear she was having a year like that now!
Sheesh! She'd just been trying to help out her little sister! It wasn't her fault Belldandy was such an innocent! Or that Keiichi couldn't get a single one of her plans right! Or that Mara had had to follow them all to Earth, or that—
A rumble of thunder derailed that train of thought and she hastily went back to reading the folder.
Ranma. Akane. Shan Pu. Ukyo. Kodachi. Tatewaki. Mu Si. Zhu Shu. Ryouga. Nabiki. Tao-Ching. Nodoka. Ke Lun. Rei…
Her head started to spin as she looked over the alternate threads of destiny. So many people impacted by this one wish! It was worse than her favorite soap opera! And the further one got into the future, the worse it got!
Maybe she could get Skuld to help her out by calling future Urd and asking her how she'd done it. A glance up at the boiling cloud that had appeared over her let her know what Kami-Sama thought of that idea. She sighed again. Kami-Sama hadn't forbidden her to ask her sisters for help, after all, her domain was the past, but just as obviously, he wasn't going to allow her to cheat either. She had to come up with a plan on her own.
It shouldn't be that hard. It was fairly routine goddess work after all. It's just she couldn't remember the last time any goddess had been given a mess quite this tangled….
Then again, she couldn't recall any other goddesses giving out a wish while drunk either… not even Peorth.
Did she really want her license back that much?
Yes. Yes, she did. She wasn't cut out to be a mortal and she really didn't want to take the only other option open to her. Demon, Third class, limited was not a title she'd be able to bear. Mara would never let her live it down!
No. Kami-Sama had made it quite clear this was her last chance to get her license back, and had been very explicit with the descriptions of exactly what failure meant to her personally. She imagined her face with the twin red slashes she'd borne as the Terrible Master and shuddered. Maybe mortal life was better….
She leafed through the folder again, and sighed once more. At least there wasn't much she could do to make the situation worse. It was a time bomb all on its own.
She closed her eyes and checked the variables with Yggdrasil, the tattoos on her face glowing briefly, and shook her head in disbelief. This had the potential to spawn four blood feuds, one of which could lead to a major war that could escalate into a world war. Another timeline led to a world controlled by Chaos. A third led to a long and bloody vendetta that ended with all of the principle participants dead or suicides. Yet another led to Shan Pu's death at Ranma's hands. She kept running through alternate timelines, amazed by the sheer number of possibilities. Ranma, blood cursed by Shan Pu in a futile attempt to win his love. Shan Pu committing seppuku in shame following Ranma's marriage. Shan Pu falling in love with Akane and helping her kill off her rivals before sneaking away with her forever. Shan Pu, Akane and a kunoichi…
Urd shuddered, it could all get out of hand so easily.
Face it, Urd, She told herself, there is no easy solution to this one. You're actually going to have to work at it!
And that, she had to admit, was probably why Kami-Sama had made it her test.
She glared at nothing and pouted. She felt so picked upon. Belldandy would never have a test like this!
Then again, Belldandy would never get herself put on probation either. Or drunk. In fact, Belldandy probably could solve this tangle, so all Urd had to do was try hard to think what Belldandy would do.
So what would Belldandy do? Urd thought for long moments before it finally occurred to her. Belldandy would try to find a way to make everybody happy.
She scowled. It was a perfectly obvious answer; the only question was how….
She checked with Yggdrasil again, running profiles of all of the varied characters in her little drama, and a germ of an idea began to form in her mind. She thought and checked personalities, cross-checked compatibilities, and all the while a smile grew wider and wider on her face. As she finished laying out the possibilities to Yggdrasil, the world computer laid out possible courses of action.
She laughed. She could do it! She knew she could!
After all, she was a Goddess of Love, right?
She gave herself a hug of delight then exploded into a dozen chibi Urds, all zipping off in different directions to check on the players in her little game. Behind her, forgotten on the step, the folder lay unattended, but not for long. As the shadow of a tree fell across the folder, a figure emerged.
In form, she looked much like Urd, with pale blonde hair, only the scarlet split V on her forehead and the double triangles on her cheeks made her look more sinister. She smiled, a long, slow smile that showed extended canines, and bent to pick up the folder. She flipped through it slowly.
"So," she said, "Urd has a new assignment. How… interesting…" She came to the final page. She looked over it for long moments, a wild light beginning to grow in her eyes. She laughed maniacally, "Urd, Demon Third Class, Limited!" She hugged the folder to her chest. "Now I will be able to get my revenge!" She hissed, "I will pay her back for making me her slave! For trying to feed me to Fenrir!" She dropped the folder back on the step. "I will make the Terrible Master bow before me!" She stepped back into the shadows, her laughter now indistinguishable from sobs. As she faded from view, a final whisper could be heard, "Finally, Urd will be mine once more…."
With a last whisper of wind, Mara vanished back into the shadows.
Tuesday morning in Juuban found Zhu Shu up and performing her forms at a small pool behind the temple. She was regretting more than ever that her travels had been so hard on her clothes. The Senshi had been kind enough to buy her a few new dresses to replace the ones they'd destroyed, but the machine-made silk just wasn't as good as the ones she had lost. She especially regretted losing her new practice dresses, the gifts from Ke Lun and Shan Pu. They had been her only clothes that could endure the contortions she put her body through in practice, which meant that once again, she had to do her exercises in the nude.
It wasn't that she really minded that; she was discovering that it was actually kind of refreshing to not have to pull a stretch because the cloth of her dress bound, but Rei's grandfather was nearly as bad a letch as Ataru had been and she was having to get up at dawn to do her exercises before he woke; otherwise she would have had to deal with him spying on her. But at dawn, she had the small pool all to herself.
She had spent yesterday helping Rei around the temple until it was time to go to school, then she had searched the schools around Juuban for signs of Ranma. After school, she had given the Senshi their first lessons…
Zhu Shu stood at side wall of the shrine, the Senshi before her dressed in their physical education outfits in lieu of gi. Makoto had brought hers but had decided to match the rest of her friends, and Rei had loaned Zhu Shu one of her spare sets as none of the dresses they had bought were suitable for her to teach in.
They had also been forced to send both Yuichirou and Rei's grandfather out on errands just to get a chance to practice without the pair of them trying to sneak peeks at them; but even so, they had elected to practice in the shrine's main room for privacy.
As Zhu Shu looked over the group, only Makoto seemed to be doing stretches to warm up for practice. She cleared her throat to get everyone's attention.
"Zhu Shu need know what skill Senshi have before can know how train," she began when everyone was looking at her. "Song school take much practice to do dance, and will be some time before Zhu Shu teach attacks, but if have training already, may make easier."
"Well, I practice some martial arts," Makoto said, "but I'm the only one of us who does. I also do gymnastics."
Zhu Shu looked around at the rest of the Senshi, with a raised eyebrow. "No know even basics? How you win fights with evil?"
The Senshi looked at each other, and Usagi shrugged. "Usually, we blast the bad guys with our powers."
Zhu Shu nodded. "But what if attack when not transformed?"
Usagi shrugged again. "Then I just transform and blast 'em."
Zhu Shu nodded. "Show transform."
Usagi shrugged and pulled out her locket. A few moments later, Zhu Shu sniffed and rubbed her nose as Sailor Moon did a Ta Da in front of her, then nodded.
"Zhu Shu see how that could distract until transformation done, but it take too long."
"What do you mean?" Rei asked.
Zhu Shu sighed. "Zhu Shu, or any enemy who quick, could take Senshi out before could transform."
"Yeah, like that could happen," Usagi said cockily. "No-one's that fast."
Zhu Shu raised her eyebrow. "Let ask this. Does transform restore Senshi?"
Ami nodded. "Yes, when ever we henshin, it heals us of damage. And we can withstand a lot more when in Senshi form."
Zhu Shu nodded. "Good. Usagi, change back."
Usagi did so, while the rest of the Senshi looked at Zhu Shu curiously. She had her eyes closed and seemed to be meditating. A faint glow of green grew around her. As Usagi finished her change, Zhu Shu opened her eyes again.
"Now. Senshi change and attack."
The Senshi looked at each other, and then Makoto shrugged. "Okay, she's asking for it." The others nodded and pulled out their henshin wands.
A whirlwind exploded through the room, and the five girls found themselves caught in what was for all intents a natural disaster. Zhu Shu had vanished into the wind, and they found their wands ripped from their hands as their bodies were hit with the power of a speeding car. As a group, they went flying, and several slammed into the shrine's walls with the crunch of broken bones.
In less then five seconds, the wind stopped to reveal Zhu Shu standing in the middle of the shrine, holding four wands and a locket. Rei righted herself from the tangle she found herself in and groaned. "I think you broke my wrist." she said with tears in her eyes
The other girls groaned in agreement. Zhu Shu nodded. "Yes. Do Senshi think enemy do less? Zhu Shu at least not do major injury. But think has made point. Senshi should learn fight with bodies and mind. Not rely on powers."
She handed the wands and locket back out to the whimpering girls and made them transform to Senshi and back. A lot more seriously, they gathered back before Zhu Shu again.
"Did you have to hurt us so much?" Usagi whined as she rubbed the sore spot where her arm had been broken. "I thought you were our friend?"
Zhu Shu nodded. "Yes. But Senshi have chosen the path of warrior. There no avoiding pain. Zhu Shu will train, will try make Senshi better warrior, but must make sure they are serious. Is not game. If story told Zhu Shu true, Senshi face foes have no mercy. Is why Zhu Shu agree train. Senshi Zhu Shu friends. Not be good friend let go fight untrained."
Rei and Makoto nodded, while Usagi pouted, but she nodded too. Ami looked a little unsure, but game to continue, while Minako grinned.
"Hey, I've had worse doing stunts for my movies. I can't wait to try some of your moves on the set." The blonde sailor grinned. Zhu Shu smiled back and started her lessons with basic stretches.
As Zhu Shu finished her more advanced versions of those same stretches, she smiled at the memory of the Senshi's clumsy attempts to duplicate her easy motions. Then she let out a giggle at the thought of how their eyes would bug out if they could see her morning exercises! Pulling her swords from behind her back, she settled into a form and reflected about her new friends and how welcome they had made her.
Still, nice as the gaggle of fifteen-year-old girls were, she had to find Ranma and fulfill her quest.
She stopped in mid-form as she realized she was no longer alone. She turned, swords ready, to face the intruder.
Standing in the shade of a cherry tree was a beautiful woman with tousled blonde hair. She was dressed in an ornate outfit of black and red that despite its intricacy left little to the imagination. A scarlet split V tattoo adorned her forehead and twin double triangles defined her cheeks. She smiled and Zhu Shu saw a hint of tooth at the corners of her smile.
"Song Zhu Shu?" the sinister looking woman asked.
Zhu Shu's eyes narrowed.
The woman spent a long moment looking Zhu Shu over like she was a delicacy she was about to devour, then said, "If you want to find Ranma Saotome, be here at this time." She walked up to Zhu Shu like a stalking cat, and stuck a folded piece of paper on the end of one sword.
Zhu Shu tried to move, but the woman's gaze held her frozen, something in her eyes trapping her will, draining her of all hope, all strength. She felt like a mouse fixated by a snake. The woman walked around her, looking her up and down. "How interesting. You can actually sense my true nature?" she purred. Zhu Shu shivered, the tones of the woman's voice sending chills through her soul. "Usually, only priests like your fifteen-year-old defender over there can do that."
Zhu Shu heard a gulp, and the sound of hurried chanting.
The woman laughed evilly, unconcerned. "Don't bother. I'm only here to pass a message, and was leaving anyway. Besides, that charm won't have any effect on me, dear." She gave Rei a grin that promised all the tortures of hell, before she turned and walked back towards the shadows under the trees. At the edge of the shadow, she turned and looked back over her shoulder. "Don't forget to say hi to his fiancée for me!" She laughed as the shadows seemed to leap and engulf her and she faded from view.
Rei rushed up and grabbed Zhu Shu in a hug from behind, "Are you okay? I was so afraid for you. She radiated such evil, she had to be a demon or an evil spirit! I woke up as soon as I felt her presence and ran down here!" She hugged Zhu Shu tighter.
Distracted, Zhu Shu answered. "Zhu Shu fine, but could Rei please let go of breast? After way woman look at, Zhu Shu really not in mood."
She could feel Rei's blush of embarrassment right through the girl's pajamas as she reached to pluck the slip of paper from the end of her sword.
It had two items. A time, and the name “Furinkan”.
A few hours later, Zhu Shu stood on the roof of an apartment building near the school Rei had directed her to, as Ranma was pulled past by a pretty Japanese girl who had him by his braid. She had debated about the meaning of the mysterious visitor, but it seemed she had been a godsend. Zhu Shu followed Ranma, studying the girl. She seemed pretty enough, but her motions seemed clumsy, almost too powerful. She brought to mind the image of a young tiger cub, and Zhu Shu could only imagine how beautiful she could be if she learned to be graceful….
Zhu Shu stopped that dangerous line of thought. That's how she and Ying Ying….
Her thoughts were interrupted by her quarry's arrival at school. She found a vantage in a tree just as the girl slammed Ranma into the wall just inside the gate at Furinkan High.
"Listen Ranma! Why don't you keep your big mouth—"
"Whaddaya mean 'Big Mouth'?!" Ranma interrupted.
"I mean about Dr. Tofu and—" the girl broke off to stare at Ranma's chest then ripped open the front of Ranma's shirt, revealing his breasts. "When… When did…???"
"I told you to wait!"
Behind them, unnoticed, a crowd of boys had gathered, dressed in various sports outfits. They looked on to the scene between the two and gave a collective low whistle.
Ranma yelled "Hey! Get outta there, you perverts!" as the girl whipped around into a defensive pose. "So…" she called, "who's first today?"
The crowd sobbed collectively as one of the boys spoke. "Akane… We shall no longer challenge you."
"Instead, we shall swallow our sobs," another boy said, "and give our approval to your engagement to Ranma!!"
Zhu Shu almost fell out of her tree.
"What in the name of…?" a still open-shirted Ranma started, but was interrupted by an aside from Akane. "Button your blouse!" She hissed, then turned back to the crowd, "Now. What in the name of…?"
"So, then," a new voice interrupted, "you have all heard this rumor… this falsehood…" The newcomer was a tall male whose chest and face were so swaddled in bandages that only his eyes were visible. "…that Ranma Saotome defeated me!" Maniacal laughter echoed around the yard. "Upperclassman Kuno does not admit defeat!"
The crowd of crying boys turned back to Akane. "Kuno was the greatest fighter at Furinkan High!" one said.
"Yeah! And it's greatest pervert!" an anonymous voice called.
"Pervert!" Kuno steamed.
"If it's Ranma you've chosen," the first speaker sobbed, "then we shall give you up"
Akane looked at Ranma. "They don't know a real pervert when they see one," she giggled
"I'll let that one slide," Ranma growled.
The kendoist started to unwrap his bandages. "Kuno shall not give you up! A hundred, two hundred kicks…" Huge foot-shaped bruises were revealed as the bandages fell away. "…from a coward like Ranma, do not even itch!!"
Zhu Shu watched as Ranma steamed and shook her head. He had never listened to Zhu Shu about the importance of keeping his temper.
"Just who are you calling a coward?!" he asked as he stepped forward. "Can't admit that you lost, huh?!"
"Watch it, Ranma!" Akane called.
Kuno meanwhile had seemed to notice Ranma for the first time. "Ohhh! It is you!" He sobbed in joy. "My pigtailed goddess!"
Ranma froze. "Urk!"
Zhu Shu giggled. She had warned him!
"You just can't remember, can you?" Akane said resignedly.
Kuno stepped close to Ranma. "How I have pined to see you!" Tears of joy dripped down his face.
"Whoa! Whoa!" Ranma protested, "I thought you liked Akane!"
"Of course I do," Kuno replied, puzzled.
"She's watching, you know!"
Kuno looked over to where Akane had deliberately turned her back. "No, she's not."
Ranma looked at her. "Hey! Akane! Watch us already!"
"Please… Upperclassman Kuno…" Akane turned wide eyes towards the kendoist. "…if you really love this girl… I won't stand in your way!" The one hand poised below her mouth gave her a look of heartbreak barely hidden. Zhu Shu had to admire the artistry.
"Oh, Akane. Akane," Kuno murmured in wonder, as an irate Ranma called out, "Hey! What gives here!?"
To thin air, Kuno emoted, "’I won't stand in your way’! So noble! So touching! So sweet! Oh, Akane! How can I discard you?! I love you both!" he cried as he lunged towards the two girls and was met with a simultaneous kick and punch. He went down twitching.
The crowd of boys looked on. "Well. We've said our piece!" They turned to go. "Give our congratulations to Ranma!"
Akane pushed the female Ranma the other way. "When I… uh… see him. Sure"
Ranma said not a word as he walked off. Zhu Shu sat back in the tree and thought about what had just happened. There were so many levels to consider. Shan Pu… Ranma… and now Akane….
She decided she was just going to have to watch them for a while and gather more information before deciding on a course of action.
Below her, Kuno groaned and sat up. Zhu Shu watched, approving of his stamina. He might have been worthy as a possible husband candidate if it hadn't been so obvious that he was as crazy as a loon. He stood and looked around. "Oh, curse my weakness that I fainted! My beloveds are gone!" His sword lashed out to slice through a tree. Unfortunately, it happened to be the one Zhu Shu was using as a perch. She leaped across to another tree, but Kuno was at the base of it, too. "Spy! Villain! Assassin! Show yourself!" His blade hit the trunk, and there were no other trees nearby.
Zhu Shu did a flip in midair, and led with one foot. Kuno watched her descend, mesmerized. He whispered "Lovely…" just before her foot impacted with his face, and he crashed to the ground once again. Zhu Shu landed lightly, and frowned at the smile on Kuno's face. She really was going to have to do something about panties soon.
At gym class, Zhu Shu spied on Akane and Ranma as they participated in their separate activities, her vantage point too far away to hear what was being said. The boys were apparently impressed with his gymnastics ability, but Zhu Shu knew he was just playing. Ranma mostly ignored the boys, staring distractedly at Akane playing softball.
Zhu Shu smiled. She knew that look. He might fight it, he might deny it, he might even run away from it — and if she knew Ranma, he refused to admit it even to himself — but he was interested. Somehow, Akane had caught his interest in a way Zhu Shu herself had never done.
The softball confirmed it, at least well enough for her. Had he not been distracted looking at Akane, he would have at least dodged the rather slow-moving ball, instead of obliviously getting hit with it.
She sat back and considered. This definitely meant complications for Shan Pu. Ranma was a complete novice at anything dealing with relationships. While he might be interested in this Akane, likely he'd already started off badly with her, which could be an advantage.
But… she wanted to see Ranma happy. She owed him that much, at least, for friendship's sake. The question was what would make him happy, and could she reconcile his happiness with her oath to see him married to Shan Pu. Her eyes fell on the girl Ranma's gaze kept straying to. She needed more information before she could decide. She had to find out if Akane shared the same feelings.
From her vantage in a squirrel's nest, the Chibi Urd who was watching Zhu Shu stared in amazement. The Chinese girl might not have the ability to read minds, but she was better at untangling the conflicting array of emotions she could see from auras than Urd would have given anyone credit for. Intrigued, she looked deeper into her. What she saw brought a wide-eyed look to her face, and an awed "Whoa".
Compared to the intrigues of the Mandarin court Zhu Shu had been trained to serve in, this was fairly simple. She understood the emotions involved, and even had a dozen different plans for either eliminating Akane as a rival if she didn't love Ranma, or grooming both of them to wed Shan Pu if she did. She had to admire such practicality!
Away on his throne in the Heavens, Kami-Sama sighed. Urd had missed the point again. She'd forgotten to look at the one truly important thing he had hoped she would see: why Zhu Shu was doing it.
He had not yet given up hope that his selfish daughter would learn what it meant to do something just because she cared about a friend.
Still, it was one of the reasons he'd given her this assignment, though it was the smallest one. She still had much to do to see it through. So much depended on it.
He rubbed his temples and sighed again. Sometimes, even an Almighty had to have faith.
Zhu Shu followed Ranma and Akane for the rest of the day, having taken a break during their classes to return to the shrine and leave a note for the girls that she would be out late, so there would be no class that night. Ranma had a bandage on his cheek from where Akane had hit him with the foul ball. She couldn't see what went on in the doctor's office, but when Akane left shortly after the arrival of a tall beautiful girl with a ponytail, Zhu Shu followed her. After a period of wandering, she went into a large dojo/house combo. Zhu Shu found a vantage point to watch as she set up a training session. Akane broke brick after brick until Ranma found her. Zhu Shu moved to where she could watch Akane's face as they sparred.
"Come on! Fight back!" Akane yelled as Ranma dodged. "How can I work out my stress if you won't fight?!"
"Akane," Ranma said as he dodged several other blows, "don't you ever get tired of being angry all the time?"
"That's my business!" she yelled as he dodged yet another blow.
"Okay. But you know… you're cute when you smile."
From her tree, Zhu Shu smiled at the expression in Akane's eyes and aura for that split second before Ranma caught her with a nerve strike to the forehead. "Blew it!" he catcalled.
Zhu Shu departed her tree to the sounds of Akane's protesting "That wasn't fair!" and made her way to the walkway outside. She had her answer now. Akane was at least as interested as Ranma was.
So now she had to make a decision. Her own conscience wouldn't let her destroy what might be blossoming. Her own love had been ripped away because of someone's deciding they knew what was best; there was no way she could do that to Ranma.
Yet, her oath and her bond to Shan Pu demanded that she aid her blood-sister to achieve Ranma's marriage to Shan Pu. Shan Pu had taught her much of Amazon society, and how absolute the laws were. Shan Pu had to marry Ranma.
Even if it meant killing Akane to eliminate a rival.
Yet, if what she had just seen was an indication, that would make Ranma unhappy, and possibly even cause him to hate Shan Pu, which would more or less mean she had failed in that quest too.
No. There had to be a way to work it all out. She sat on a bus stop bench to think.
Ranma was engaged, and at least seemed interested. Akane seemed about the same. Shan Pu, on the other hand, was head over heels in love with her visions of what she thought Ranma had to be like. She seemed to think that all it would take would be finding Ranma, explaining Amazon Law, then dragging him off to make babies happily ever after. It wasn't that Shan Pu was unintelligent; she was actually quite bright, but she was too used to other Amazons. And Zhu Shu hadn't had much luck explaining that Ranma likely wouldn't respond as well as Shan Pu hoped. He had too much pride to allow Shan Pu a dominant role in a relationship.
She thought back to what she had seen between Ranma and Akane already, and realized that the fights she had seen so far seemed to be along those same lines. Both Ranma and Akane were too proud to bend, because they were so competitive. Still, compared to Shan Pu's pride, they were at least malleable.
And that meant she might have more luck getting them working to try and build a relationship of equals. Then once she had that relationship established firmly, she could use that to convince Shan Pu that she would have more success making Akane a sister-wife than eliminating her.
So who to start with?
Feeling relieved that she had a course of action, she headed back to the shrine. Tomorrow was time enough to decide.
The next morning, she pretended not to notice Rei trying to watch her secretly at her exercises, but she did do her hardest forms. No sense in wasting the opportunity to show her exactly how much she had yet to learn. Rei's aura worried her a little, but at least it wasn't Usagi or Minako. Rei was a priestess, and hopefully mature enough to recognize a minor fascination with a novel stranger as what it was. She could read the swirled tangle of admiration, envy and desire and knew it wasn't serious yet, however muddled teenaged hormones could make the situation seem. Rei was curious, and undecided if she should pursue that curiosity.
Zhu Shu sighed. She could sympathize with her. Those years hadn't been easy on her, either. She'd had her own share of confused feelings. She recalled that spring day in their cave with Ying Ying, and how mad her aunt had been at the blood on her dress. How she had been beaten until she had told her what had happened. How if her grandfather had not intervened, her aunt might have beaten her to death. Nor had she forgotten one word of the Lectures on Familial Duties, or the Duty of the Wife to Produce an Heir. That one day of innocent exploration and tenderness had led to two years of her aunt training her in the Marital Arts as well as her duties as an Imperial servant, and a further year of training in the Duties of a Concubine to her Emperor.
And, as her aunt had hoped, it had forever settled those questions in Zhu Shu's mind.
She'd always wondered if her aunt had been responsible for Ying Ying's family moving to another village a week after that day. She'd stood at the edge of the village watching her wave goodbye from the back of her family's wagon, promising she'd never forget Zhu Shu. Zhu Shu had watched until they were out of sight and had turned to find that miserable Sung Li looking at her with a grin. "Well, babe. There goes your only competition for me. Guess you win by default! Too bad. Would have been fun watching you two catfight over me."
She hadn't even been able to summon the will to hit him.
Back in the present, she closed her eyes and closed off the thoughts once more, only a single tear falling down her cheek as she exerted all of her mental discipline on her unruly memories and sealed them behind an iron wall. She brought her forms to a close in a long moment of stillness, then put away her swords and walked over to put on her dress. A mischievous impulse made her smile, and she blurred.
From Rei's point of view, Zhu Shu disappeared, only to reappear right beside her. Zhu Shu gave her a quick peck on the cheek, then vanished again as Rei collapsed in a heap, wide-eyed and with her heart hammering, unsure if she was dreaming, and not sure if she wanted to be.
Following the little encounter with Rei, Zhu Shu had followed the directions Makoto had given her to an herbalist in the local Chinatown, so she could restock her herb kit and sundry supplies. She was unprepared for the reaction she got, though.
The Chinese herbalist had stared wide-eyed at the list Zhu Shu had given him, written in neat Mandarin pictograms, and fingered the circular seal at the bottom. "Where did you get this symbol from, little one?"
Puzzled, Zhu Shu answered, "It is my clan's crest."
The herbalist blanched and a drop of sweat rolled down his temple, "I-I will have this order made by tomorrow, Revered One!" He bowed and bowed as he vanished into the shop's back room. Even more puzzled, Zhu Shu left the shop when it became clear that he wasn't coming back. She walked down the street, feeling the weight of eyes all around her as the people all stared at her, and the air buzzed with a thousand conversations. Unnerved, she ran.
On a rooftop outside of the Chinatown, She sat and tried to figure out what had happened, but none of it made sense. They'd been staring at her like she was a goddess, a dream made real… She couldn't understand it. What did they think she was?
No answers came, and it was almost time for Ranma's school to start.
Ke Lun stared down the narrow trail, to the mouth of the cavern under the old Buddhist shrine. She nodded to herself. Well-hidden and easily defended; a natural spot for hiding. She could easily see how any survivors of Clan Dragon would have viewed the secluded village as a haven. Had she not had directions from Zhu Shu, she would have had to spend a day or more finding the secluded mountain valley. While it was only a few days from the Amazon village, it was outside of their normal territory, and didn't carry on much trade with its neighbors. Three hundred years ago, it likely had been as hard to find as legendary Shangri-La, and even now, the road to the village was little more than a jeep track. Only the fact that a local magistrate for Qinghai province lived here had rated the construction of a road at all.
Various paths led from the cave mouth to the shrine and to what looked to be a meadow higher up. A small building stood at the entrance to the cave, bearing a Chinese flag. Ke Lun smiled. It looked to be about as well-tended as the one at the PRC office in the Amazon village, though the house adjoining it was neat and orderly. That would likely be the home of Sung Po, the magistrate, an unusual member of the Communist Party in that he kept the PRC influence in the province to a minimum. He seemed to have no more a wish for the "benevolent" rule of the PRC than the Amazons did.
She had waited several months before coming, spending the time going over the old records and studying the remains of the once-proud Clan Dragon stronghold, discovering that a long-since collapsed secret passage from the heart of the castle did exist. Three hundred years ago, when the Musk had razed the castle, it had been undetectable. The Amazons had come too late for anything but revenge, and bad blood had remained between the Musk Dynasty survivors and the Amazons. The Musk had incurred a debt that could never be repaid, but had survived by locking themselves into their fortress. There had been no way to eradicate them then, and little point in the centuries since. The much reduced Dynasty wasn't worth the Amazon's time, however arrogant and skilled their prince was.
She took a deep breath. The Amazons had failed in their oath then, and as the leader in charge of the contingent that had been sent to Clan Dragon's aid, she had felt that personally all these centuries. Zhu Shu had been a godsend, a chance to redeem one of her failures. But there was much that she had sensed that Zhu Shu had not been forthcoming about. A bitterness she needed to get to the bottom of, and a seeming lack of certain knowledge that she would have expected the heir of Clan Dragon to possess.
A tall man with long white hair and a beard stepped out of the shadows of the cavern and looked at her. Ke Lun could have sworn the way he moved looked familiar. He seemed to be waiting for her. Warily, she descended the trail, her senses on alert. As she drew closer, she realized the man had no presence, she couldn't even sense his chi. Finally close enough to see his face, she realized why. It had to be Zhu Shu's grandfather.
He bowed as she stopped in front of him, "Greetings, Ke Lun. I assume since you have finally found us, my granddaughter found her way to your village?"
Ke Lun raised an eyebrow. "Yes. I admit I was surprised to discover the survival of Clan Dragon."
The old man sighed. "I would hardly call my escape with my wife and child a survival, Ke Lun."
"Yet you did survive. Why did you not come to us? We would have defended you."
The old man shook his head sadly. "From what we fled, no. We escaped because no one knew we survived. Had we come to your village for protection, the Amazons would be no more."
"We slaughtered the Musk. Though we came too late to save the stronghold, we still held to our oaths. We could have protected you, helped you rebuild Clan Dragon. You would not now be reduced sending the sole heir on a husband quest."
"No. Not against what hunted. The dragon guided me here, and has sheltered us since.
Ke Lun sighed. "That does not seem like you, Shi. I remember the confident man who once tried to woo me. You did not hide behind platitudes. Or run scared."
The old man chuckled ruefully. "Survival has made me cautious, Ke. And I learned a very hard lesson. There are things no amount of physical skill will defeat."
"And what would that be, Shi? The Amazons fear nothing. Whatever it was, we could have prevailed."
"Then suffice it to say I had already seen too many friends die, Ke. I had no more stomach for death. I came here to nurture life."
Ke Lun nodded sadly, "How many generations have called you grandfather since?"
The old man smiled ruefully. "Six. Little Mouse is the last of the line. I have done everything for her I can, given her as much leeway as I could while doing my duty, but she must marry and produce an heir."
Ke Lun nodded. "I agree. Yet you seem saddened by this."
The old man nodded and turned to the cavern mouth. "Come. There is much I suppose you must learn about my beloved great-grandchild."
Ke Lun watched the old man enter the shadows, then followed. Life had been full of surprises lately, what with Zhu Shu, and Shan Pu's prospective husband. The last thing in the world she had expected was the only man to ever fight her to a draw, Song Shi Wang, Weapons Master of Clan Dragon, and, once upon a time, her best friend.
Zhu Shu spent the day observing Akane and studying the Japanese school system. She wasn't sure how long she would be at this, and she might have to enter school to keep an eye on things. She watched as Akane talked to her friends about Ranma, and Akane's boy troubles, and other normal topics for schoolgirls; and by listening, Zhu Shu verified that Akane was as confused about her feelings as Ranma had always been about his, and just as competitive. By the end of the school day, she'd had two more fights with Ranma, and Zhu Shu decided that the time had come for direct action. She waited until Akane was alone in the practice yard working off her frustrations.
Akane smashed another brick with a cry of "Ranma! You jerk!" and looked around for another one. But that had been her last. Disappointed, she kicked a piece into the Koi pond and plopped down on a bench under a tree.
"Confusing he is, yes no?"
Akane nodded. "Very!"
"Give insult, then say nice thing."
"He's such a JERK!" Akane growled.
"He confused. Not know how to say he care."
"Ha! Right! I wish I could believe that!"
"Akane confused too. She not know how say either."
"Like I would want to!"
"Akane does. Zhu Shu has seen way look at him."
Akane sighed, then did a double take and whirled. A beautiful Chinese girl hung upside down from the tree looking at her curiously, "Akane not make easy for Ranma either. Is too competitive too!"
Akane gaped, "W-w-w-who are y-you?"
The girl flipped and twisted midair to land in front of Akane. She bowed. "Song Zhu Shu of China. Song School of Sword Dance." She straightened. "Friends call Zhu Shu. Hope Akane is friend."
"Zhu Shu??" Akane asked. The girl nodded. "What were you doing in my tree?"
"Zhu Shu watch Akane and Ranma. Think Akane need someone talk to know Ranma well."
"You know Ranma?" Quick surge of jealousy. "But— How?! I've never seen you before!" Ranma knew this beautiful girl?
Zhu Shu giggled, "Silly. Ranma not just start existing on Akane doorstep! Zhu Shu follow Ranma since Jusenkyo." She looked both ways as if looking for listeners then added in a conspiratorial tone, "Zhu Shu have to teach Ranma how to deal with curse. Ranma nearly panic when have first period!" She laughed infectiously.
Akane had to join in, the image of what Ranma's reaction had to be was hysterical, and then Zhu Shu added, "Ranma thought he broken!"
"He must have thrown a fit!" Akane giggled. "I'll bet he couldn't wait to change!"
"Zhu Shu not let! Not have many pad! Not let Ranma waste!"
"You mean he had to stay a girl all through it?!" Akane had to hold her sides as she laughed. "Oh, what poetic justice!"
"Hey! What are you laughing about Aka—" Ranma froze at the door. "Zhu Shu?!"
Zhu Shu waved. "Nihao, Ranma! Zhu Shu come
Zhu Shu hopped over and patted Ranma on the cheek. "Of course. Ranma not be trusted on own without friend to help!"
"Hey! I'm not doing that badly!"
Zhu Shu looked over at Akane. "Zhu Shu would not have guessed!"
He fumed, "You don't know what she's like! She acts like a guy! Not like y—" He broke off when he realized what he had been about to say.
"Not like WHAT?!" Akane yelled as she took a step towards him. Zhu Shu casually sidestepped and neither Ranma nor Akane saw her quick foot as she caught Akane's heel and gave her a boost.
Ranma had been prepared to dodge a punch, not the lurch Akane gave. Before he could move, Akane had stumbled into his arms and her lips met his.
They both froze for a split second, then both jumped back, hearts pounding, looking wide-eyed at each other.
"W-w-what w-was t-that f-for?!" Ranma stuttered.
Akane blushed and turned away. "What was what for?"
"Y-you kissed me!"
"I-I did not! I-I just… fell!"
"Oh." Ranma actually looked disappointed. "Well, if you had just a bit of grace…!"
Akane's embarrassment turned to fury. "Why you… you… " She swung a punch at Ranma, which he started to dodge.
Again, their lips met. Zhu Shu had caught Ranma's foot just as he had begun to move, and as a result, Akane's fist was straight out behind his head as he found himself face to face and lip to lip with her.
The frozen tableau held long enough for the sound of the wind to whistle, then they both jumped back, blushing furiously.
"So nice. Ranma kiss Akane for apology," Zhu Shu said sweetly as she stood to one side, her hands innocently behind her back..
"Wha—" Whatever else Ranma had been about to say was muffled as Zhu Shu's hand covered his mouth.
"How cute," Zhu Shu continued, "Ranma all tongue-tied!" She smiled winningly at Akane, "He say he sorry. Ask forgive?" She gave Ranma a nerve poke and his eyes glazed in pain. "Right?"
Ranma looked at the finger still at the ready and nodded furiously.
Akane looked bewilderedly from the mad Chinese girl to a Ranma who was rapidly turning purple and looking at her with big pleading eyes. Her lips still burned with the feel of Ranma's and she felt like she was in a daze, "It's alright…" She said faintly. "I forgive him…."
She turned and wandered into the house. She needed to sit down and let her head clear and maybe figure out what had just happened.
Ranma blinked twice after Akane, and even after Zhu Shu's hand left his mouth, it took him a few seconds to remember to breathe. He'd never seen Akane act like that, except when looking at Dr. Tofu. Certainly never after a fight with him. He scratched his head and looked over at the Chinese girl sitting on the bench.
"Two questions, Zhu Shu. One. Why'd you do that for? And two. What's up with her?"
Zhu Shu shook her head and sighed. He had so much to learn… but it was a start.
Kasumi came out of the kitchen to see Akane staring off into nothing, a stunned expression on her face as she absently pressed her lips. "Akane?" she asked worriedly.
"He… kissed me…" was Akane's only reply.
Kasumi beamed. That was so wonderful! She went back to the kitchen to get Akane a cup of tea, but paused, looking out over the Koi pond. Who was that Chinese girl Ranma was talking with?
She approached quietly to ask him and heard him talking to her. "But she's so angry all the time, Zhu Shu! It's like she hates me!"
"Same girl who dazed by Ranma kiss?"
"Oh, come on Zhu Shu. You know that only happened because you tripped me!"
"Zhu Shu should not have had to trip!"
"Ahem," Kasumi cleared her throat to let them know she was there. "Hello Ranma. May I meet your friend?"
Ranma jumped, "Oh. Hi Kasumi… Um, yeah…
This is Zhu Shu. She's from
The girl rose and gave Kasumi a deep bow and introduced herself formally. "Song Zhu Shu, of China."
Pleased at such politeness, Kasumi smiled and introduced herself. "And I am Kasumi Tendo. Would you like some tea?"
"Zhu Shu would be honored," a glance and a slight roll of her eyes
indicated she thought Ranma should have already offered, and Kasumi silently
agreed. She invited them into the house and inquired as she led the way, "May
I ask what brings you to
"Zhu Shu comes hunt Ranma. Abandoned at Amazon village. Zhu Shu think should kill for leaving her to fight Amazons alone. But, decide too much friend to kill," the Chinese girl said lightly.
"W-w-what?!" a very taken-aback Ranma looked at her in horror.
Kasumi could tell from her tone and body language that she wasn't serious, but Ranma obviously didn't. "Abandoned?! Pop said that you had asked us to escort you there! I thought it was where you were going!"
Zhu Shu sighed. "Should have guessed. Panda man big liar."
Kasumi noted the resignation in the Chinese girl's voice and figured she had reasons not to like Mister Saotome much. She was very curious, but it would be impolite to ask. She got them sat around the small kitchen table and bustled around getting tea things together as Ranma continued.
"You mean that wasn't where you were going? Man, if I had known that, I would never have left you there! I thought you'd be safe."
"Zhu Shu nearly have to fight whole Amazon tribe. Only fact Clan Dragon she did not." There was a strong hint of amusement in her voice.
"Oh man, Zhu Shu. I am so sorry!"
Kasumi raised an eyebrow. He not only sounded sincere, but actually contrite. This girl must mean a lot to him. She studied her in the reflections on the kettle.
Zhu Shu was looking him up and down with a calculating look in her eye. "Ranma sorry? Wish make up to Zhu Shu?" Kasumi frowned. The girl was definitely up to something. Kasumi hoped she wasn't setting Akane up for a heartbreak.
"Anything!" Ranma said firmly
"On honor Saotome name?" Zhu Shu prodded.
"Yes, Zhu Shu. Just tell me what you want me to do!"
The small Chinese girl got up and leaned over to poke Ranma in the chest. "No punish Akane for not be Zhu Shu!"
Kasumi dropped the kettle as Ranma froze.
In the silence that followed, Zhu Shu spoke, "Ranma not want Akane be like Zhu Shu. Believe Zhu Shu." She turned and sat down again.
Kasumi recovered and moved to pick up the kettle. "Oh, how clumsy of me." She grabbed a mop to clean up the mess.
Ranma finally got his voice back. "But Zhu Shu, she's so unfeminine! She acts like a boy! Not like a girl at all!"
"And think Zhu Shu does?"
"Yes! You act like a girl! You're the classiest girl I know!"
"And think Akane should be like?"
Zhu Shu looked away, "Really think Akane should be like Zhu Shu? No. Ranma not know what he say." There was a strange edge to her voice.
"Yes I do. You taught me all I know about females! You showed me what a real female acts like!"
"So you punish Akane for not be like Zhu Shu?! Fight with her, call her name?" Shadows overhung the Chinese girl's face. "Maybe want Zhu Shu teach Akane be like her?!"
"Why not?" Ranma yelled, "Then she'd act like a real girl."
Zhu Shu stood. "Maybe Zhu Shu should show what type of girl is. Maybe not want Akane act like that." Her voice was strained. Kasumi paused her mopping to look at her. Was she okay?
Ranma was oblivious, caught up in his rant. "But I like your type of girl Zhu Shu. You're all soft and fem… ah…"
He trailed off out of pure shock. Zhu Shu had moved and swept Kasumi into an embrace as she planted a long kiss on her.
The mop handle bounced on the floor.
Kasumi was too shocked even to protest, and by the time she had recovered enough composure to act, Zhu Shu had released her, and turned to Ranma. "Now understand? Zhu Shu teach Ranma about girl because she want him be girl! She like girl! Ranma take care. Akane cute girl… Not treat well, maybe Zhu Shu steal!" She turned and stalked out the door.
Kasumi and Ranma stared after her, then Kasumi looked down to the small note that had been left in her hand. She read the barely legible Kanji, written even more brokenly than Zhu Shu's speech, and blushed slightly. Her hand came to her lips as she said "Oh my!" softly and looked out the door after the vanished girl again.
She agreed with the letter that Ranma would not have gotten the point without blunt trauma, and she could forgive Zhu Shu for the surprise.
But she hadn't expected to be thanked for such a wonderful kiss.
To be continued.
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