Greetings, I am the rising young star of the high school kendo world, the one they call the Blue Thunder, and your gracious narrator, the noble, handsome and intelligent Tatewaki Kunou. Age Seventeen.
Apparently last chapter dwelled mainly on the lives of two peasants who managed to be both not me, and not interacting with me, at the same time. In fact, if I am to understand this correctly, I did not even appear last chapter! But I have faith, for is not my divine providence such that I can not help but fail to not appear? Truly, it is my fate that the pitiful lives of these pathetic beings shall lead up to events which only I can properly address in a satisfactory manner!
Therefore, I shall tell you, my adoring public, of what transpired. First, that horrid deceitful wizard Ukyou Kuonji went through elaborate preparations to make the readers think she was a woman (this involved taking off all her clothes… and she… uh… moving on…). Shortly thereafter Ukyou fell asleep and had terrible dreams, proving she is not a girl because they did not involve me in any way. It appeared in this dream she is actually somebody named “Aaron” and he died along with a young man named “Chris” in a horrible car accident.
Then we learned that Chris was not truly aware of this, but had woken up in the body of a shambling corpse that used to be a indigent living off the street in some place that isn’t Japan. As if any place that isn’t Japan could truly matter. Probably more of Aaron’s foul sorcery, I say. Chris was reflecting on this while lying in a storm drain, which appears to be one of his hobbies, not that I shall pass judgement upon this. The poor must do something to pass their lives away, I suppose. It appears he killed a fine young woman named Sheila in a madness induced by the decay of his body, after which he found himself in HER body instead. Uh…. moving on… I shall have to remember to smite him for that.
Yes, I fully intend to remember all this.
Chris, intending to find asylum with the government of whatever country he comes from, went shopping for shoes, for the fine young woman’s high-heeled shoes with which she had been innocently standing on a street corner with, were apparently not up to his satisfaction. At least not after he broke them. So he went to a department store to purchase new ones, and decided for some fool reason that this was what he considered the past, and that furthermore this was a comic book, or some such. Apparently, the madness had not yet left him.
Aaron (who claims to be Ukyou) had used trickery to befriend my dear love Akane and… some pompous ass named Ranma, whomever he is. Aaron planned to traverse the city to accost some young women named the Sailor Senshi. Thankfully, he left with only Ranma and thus I feel less a need to visit holy vengeance upon him for taking my Akane away from my magnificent presence overlong.
Apparently Aaron (or Ukyou) quite loves Ranma. Which, aside from being strange in itself, just makes getting between me and my tigress all the more unforgiveable. He pondered this before arriving at the temple where the Sailor Senshi usually meet. There, he ran into a fine chap named Jadeite. Of course, Ukyou and Ranma were quite rude to Jadeite when they met, despite his humble manner and polite greetings. He can hardly be blamed for sending one of his servants to correct their manners, can he not?
Despite a valiant fight wherein the Saotome boy was laid low straight away, the servant was defeated by the mysterious evil power that dwells in Aaron’s dark soul. A good-hearted woman named Sailor Pluto tried to punish him for this, but the coward ran away. Sailor Pluto seems to think that Aaron, or Ukyou, shall destroy the universe.
Nonsense. I am here.
After this, the dead boy Chris pointed out how he desired power (apparently so his bodies would last longer before rotting), and the only way he could get it was killing his betters. So he remembered how he had done that with a series of innocents before coming to Tokyo. I also learned that apparently Aaron’s dark power causes him personal harm. Something I will put to good use in our next confrontation!
Then Chris killed my sister, Kodachi. Filial loyalty compels me to point out how much of a tragedy this was and…
She’ll never hear any of this?
Well, shit! Then I just want to tell that bitch once and for all that-
C&A Productions Presents
A Work of Blatant Self-Insertion
Chapter 4: Lying From You
Akane yawned and stretched as she stepped out of her room. She had already put on her school uniform and brushed her long hair until it looked fine, at least in her opinion. She ran her hand through the dark locks as she wandered down the stairs to where Kasumi was setting up breakfast. Doing so reminded her that it had been a long time since she had seen Doctor Tofu. In fact, she had barely even thought of him much in the last three or four days. She guessed it was forgivable, with everything that had happened since Ukyou and Ranma had stepped into her life. But she reminded herself firmly that she was going to take some time after school to go and see him. Maybe she could even arrange for Ukyou to give her a nice bruise or scrape in one of their sparring sessions…
“Hey Akane,” Nabiki drawled from the table. “Your boyfriend’s famous.”
“What? Who?” Akane blinked and looked at the table. Her father was sitting at his usual position at the head, reading his daily paper. Genma, whose face drew a snarl to Akane’s lips, was sitting next to him. Nabiki was the only other person at the table now, since Kasumi was busy in the kitchen. Which meant that Ranma wasn’t here. Which meant he was… where?
“Take a look,” Nabiki pointed at the paper in Dad’s hand. Akane sat down, allowing her puzzlement to show on her face. That didn’t last long as she got her first good look at the huge banner headline and the equally large picture underneath it.
MYSTERY BOY SAVES BUS FULL OF SCHOOOLGIRLS FROM MONSTER!
Underneath the huge block letters was a picture of Ukyou. The girl in boy’s clothing was fighting… something. At first Akane thought it was a human being, but no human had a face like that. It was a monster, like the headline claimed; a grotesque parody of a woman with a fanged maw and deadly claws. In the picture, Ukyou was catching the thing’s kick on the shaft of her combat spatula, a grimace of concentration on her face.
“I don’t believe it…” Akane said after a moment, at a loss to say much of anything else.
“Neither do I, really.” Nabiki buffed her nails on her blouse and shrugged. “I mean, magical curses are one thing. Monsters that capture schoolgirls and drag them off to another dimension for who-knows-what?” The way Nabiki emphasized the last words, she most definitely had an idea what ‘who-knows- what’ was and thought it was rather naughty. Akane opened her mouth to scold her, realised Nabiki hadn’t technically said anything wrong, and closed it again.
“No, that I can believe,” Akane said with a shrug. “After all, the police officer she saved me from wasn’t even human either.” The rest of the table stared at her, but she hastily continued before any of them could ask any questions. “What I can’t believe is that she DITCHED me! Again! This is twice she’s run off to confront some horrible evil danger and left me behind!”
“And you’re complaining about this?” Nabiki pointed out, rolling her eyes. Akane could only grunt and cross her arms, mentally revising her earlier plan: she was going to give UKYOU a few bruises and scrapes as an excuse to go see Doctor Tofu later.
“Well I think it’s wonderful,” Dad called from behind the paper. He rolled it up in one hand and placed it on the floor beside him, beaming a cheerful smile at her. It was the same smile he used to give Akane when she learned a new form of the Anything Goes school. “You’ve certainly found a wonderful young man to be betrothed to!”
“Betrothed!” Akane blurted out. She felt heat rush to her cheeks, but she scowled. The idea of dating Ukyou still made Akane a little queasy, even if it was fake. That her father… oh god, what if he found out the truth about Ukyou and Genma? Then Akane would be really in trouble. He didn’t seem to mind that Ranma was half-girl when it came to fobbing the boy off on Nabiki. Then again, he might not mind that Ukyou was one hundred percent girl if her special past came up. Thinking about that reminded Akane to glare at Genma again, who gave her a puzzled frown in return. What a pig, she mentally snarled, before turning her nose up at him.
Kasumi came into the room with a tray of breakfast foods. It wasn’t anything special, just miso, rice and a few pickles, but Akane didn’t mind. Unlike some people – and here she specifically cited Ranma – she had the decency to be grateful for what was given to her. Thinking that, she remembered to thank Kasumi especially enthusiastically when the food was served in front of her. Her eldest sister blushed a bit at the praise but waved it off. She then stepped away and went into the kitchen to retrieve her own food.
“Well, it hardly matters about your fiancé now,” Dad pointed out. Akane groused at the presumption but said nothing. Sometimes it was best to let her father live in his own fantasy world. Besides, if she protested too much they might not think she and Ukyou were a couple, and then she could be in Nabiki’s position. “What’s important is the lack of Nabiki’s fiancé.” Speaking of…
“Maybe he just ran out on me?” Nabiki said with a shrug, but her voice contained an equal mix of wistful hope and sarcasm.
“Ranma would never do that!” Genma defended his so-called son. “He is as dedicated to the family’s honor as I am!” His words came out slightly distorted, because he was halfway through his own rice at the time. Taking this as her cue, Akane dug into her own bowl. The rest of the family followed her lead.
“If you say so…” Nabiki commented as she finished one of her bites. “I just think he might not be ready for a relationship with an actual girl.”
“What do you mean by that?” Akane snapped. Nabiki looked at her oddly, and Akane closed her mouth. Of course, nobody here, besides Genma and her obviously, knew about Ukyou’s true gender. That couldn’t have been a sly insult. Nabiki opened her mouth, presumably to ask Akane what she meant, and the younger sister began to try to formulate a reasonable response.
Akane and Nabiki turned to see Genma with his head face-down in the miso soup. Akane opened her mouth to ask if he was okay, but no words came out. It felt like her tongue had swollen up and turned into cotton. Her vision grew blurry, the lights seeming to both dim and flare at the same time. The room, it was spinning and spinning and Akane saw the table rushing up to greet her face-
It was almost too easy. Slip down from the roof. Only one person up… Kasumi, of course, having just dropped her own plate of food, staring in presumable shock at everyone else’s involuntary reaction to the drugged rice. Whip out a baton, rap her smartly on the back of the skull. She never knew what hit her.
Watching Kasumi Tendo crumple unconscious to the ground gave Chris a surge of only slightly guilt-tinged satisfaction. So much for fanfic canon. Ooooh, nobody can hurt Kasumi! Well, THIS undead possessing spirit sure could! Not that she was really hurt, aside from maybe a lump on the head, but it was the thought that counted.
He looked around the room. Everyone else was definitely nicely unconscious already. Ah, Kodachi’s extensive practice in chemical warfare was an excellent skill to know, indeed. There was Soun, Nabiki, Akane, Genma…
Genma. Just Genma. But no Ranma.
A sliver of fear ran through him. Was Ranma here? At this house? Somehow not at breakfast? That didn’t make sense. He’d planned on the possibility of Ranma being there, but of course, had expected he’d eat the drugged rice. He certainly couldn’t hope to fight Ranma.
But he wasn’t coming. Maybe… he hadn’t done anything too out of the ordinary for Kodachi yet. Ranma didn’t like hitting girls. If he was around, Chris could talk his way out of this. If he was around. Better find out. He crept up the stairs… man, it was weird, actually being IN the Tendo Dojo, cute little signs on the girl’s doors and all.
There was the room. He was sure of it. It was nearly bare, that lamp hanging from the ceiling, two futons… and two big backpacks. Just like he remembered. But Ranma wasn’t there.
That proved he at least lived there, though. So why wasn’t he here? He certainly hadn’t left early for school. Walking back down to the dining room, he considered, then shrugged. Ukyou. Had to be. As the only changed variable in the equation so far, the faux-Ukyou almost had to be the culprit. Which meant… what? Had she anticipated his plan and removed her most powerful potential ally? Maybe. But probably not. Probably it was something unrelated. Hopefully. But either way, he’d better get his business over with quickly, because Ranma – or Ukyou – coming back early was a dangerous possibility.
He swiftly tied Akane and Nabiki up in ribbon – whee, how kinky – and dragged them out of the room. Then he placed the carefully prepared note on the centre of the table. Good thing he’d accounted for the possibility of Ranma being there, at least. How the faux-Ukyou responded to this would tell him a lot about how much she really knew, and how smart she was.
Finally, with a spin that he had never done before but simultaneously had performed hundreds of times, he twirled his ribbon around himself, spraying black rose petals all over the room and the unconscious remaining occupants of the house. It seemed RIGHT to laugh along with it… and why not? It was kind of cool to be able to laugh like that, anyway.
Then he picked up his two captives and bounded away. Time enough to learn where Ranma and Ukyou might be once his bait had been properly secured.
Ranma blinked and opened his eyes. Something had prompted him awake, and he sat up rubbing his eyes as he tried to figure out what that was. His back hurt a bit from having slept hunched over on the chair all night, but that wasn’t what had woken him up. Neither was the vague grumbling that reminded him he hadn’t eaten since lunchtime yesterday. It was something moving next to him, or very near him. Something that was making a great deal of noise.
His vision started to clear, and he looked to his left. It was Ukyou, and she didn’t look good. She was awake, or almost so, but her eyes had rolled back into her head and her body was thrashing around like a fish out of water. A shallow froth was forming along the edge of her lips, and her head kept jerking around. For a few seconds, all Ranma could do was stare in shock at the sight. Then he jumped from his chair, grabbing onto her shoulders.
“Ucchan! Snap out of it!” he shouted, jostling her, but she only rolled her eyes over him without even the slightest hint of acknowledgement. She continued to jerk and gyrate in place, her mouth opening and closing as strange half-formed words erupted from her mouth. “Doctor! Come quick! I need a doctor!”
Ranma continued to call out as he backed away from the girl. She seemed to be doing nothing to hurt herself, but Ranma had no idea what to do. Finally a nurse rushed into the room, drawn by his shouts. She was a short dark-haired girl in a modest uniform, and had a harried look about her.
“Sir, calm down for a moment and tell me-“
“Ukyou won’t stop uh… what you call it, what she’s doing!” Ranma cut her off as he stepped away from his childhood friend and indicated her with one hand. The nurse took one look at the thrashing girl and stepped forward to check her over.
“How long has she been like this?” the nurse asked brusquely.
“I don’t know, I just woke up when she started I guess, a few seconds ago…” Ranma trailed off, unsure what to say.
“I need you to go get a doctor and-” she cut off as Ukyou gasped suddenly, her back arching. Then the girl on the bed visibly relaxed. Her eyes focused on the ceiling and her arms and legs stilled. She took a few more deep breaths.
“Ucchan? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, Ranma,” Ukyou breathed out slowly. She certainly didn’t look fine. She sat up slowly in bed, only to find her path barred as the nurse placed a gentle hand on her stomach to restrain her.
“I’m afraid you can’t get up just yet, miss,” the nurse pointed out. “You just had a form of seizure or convulsion.”
“I see,” Ukyou said with a frown as she laid back again. “If you say so, nurse…” Ukyou let her eyes focus on the ceiling again. Her face had become that cold, expressionless mask.
“You don’t seem surprised,” the nurse pointed out slowly as she looked at the few devices hooked up to Ukyou. There were all kinds of medical stuff attached to his best buddy that Ranma couldn’t even begin to describe, much less explain the purpose of. “Have you had these kinds of fits before?”
Ukyou took a long time answering the question. “Yes, but you don’t have to worry about it. I have medication for the convulsions, but it is back at my apartment.”
“Medication? What kind?”
“Anti-epileptics,” Ukyou said with a shrug. “I’m not sure of the full name.” The nurse frowned at this, but nodded and made a note on the chart hanging from the wall near Ukyou. “I think I was brought in here because I fainted?”
“Yes, your friend brought you in late last night,” the nurse responded. She flipped through the pages of her chart. “You were suffering from massive blood loss, subdermal hematomas and… oh dear, you suffered some sort of massive attack. You were bleeding from burst capillaries in the mouth, nose, eyes, lungs and throughout most of your body.”
“Indeed…” Ukyou sighed and raised her arm up to look at it. There was still a slight purpling around her limbs. “So, how am I doing now?”
“Fine,” the nurse said. “I should have a doctor speak to you about it, but from all appearances, your bleeding stopped quickly. You had a transfusion, and now you should be alright.”
“I thought as much.” Ukyou nodded.
“Let me go get a doctor, he can talk with you more about this,” the nurse offered as she walked out of the room. Ranma released a sigh as she left and sat down in the chair he had vacated earlier.
“Are you okay, Ucchan?”
“Hmm? Ranma?” Ukyou turned and looked at him. “You’re… here.” She seemed faintly surprised, as if she had just noticed him there.
“Yeah! Of course I am! Did you think I was going to abandon you?” Ukyou smiled a little bit at that and chuckled softly. There was a slight flush in her cheeks when she responded.
“No, I don’t suppose I did.” She looked at the towel laid out on the bedside table Ranma had been using as a pillow. “You really were here all night. How did you manage that?”
“Ain’t nobody tellin’ me I can’t stay in the same room as my hurt friend!” Ranma blustered a bit. Then he sighed again and felt his face drop.
“Ukyou, are you really okay? What happened to you last night? What happened earlier? I have a feeling you don’t have any drugs to take care of this.”
Ukyou cast an eye over her shoulder at the door and shrugged. “You’re right, Ranma. I just said that to throw them off the scent. They couldn’t treat what I have. It… remember my curse, Ranma?”
“The one that means you can’t act like a girl?”
“That one exactly,” Ukyou said as she turned her eyes back to the ceiling. “What you saw last night, and just a few moments ago, were both caused by my curse.”
“Geez!” Ranma blinked. “And I thought I had it bad. You mean you can bleed and have a convolution-“
“Convulsion,” Ukyou corrected him.
“Whatever,” he waved that aside. She knew what he meant. “You can have all that because of what happened to you?”
“Indeed,” Ukyou answered dourly. “But that’s for later. For now, I have to find a way to get them to discharge me quickly. I don’t want a bunch of doctors running tests on me for stuff they’ll never find.”
“Okay…” Ranma said dubiously. “But you’re still hurt.”
“I’m fine, Ranma,” Ukyou said with a shrug. “I think I recovered all my strength last night.”
“Are you certain? I mean…”
“Ranma! I’m fine, really,” Ukyou sighed and placed her hands over her face. “What I have, modern science can’t help me with. I just… I just want to get out of here. Hospitals depress me.”
She went silent for a moment. “My father died in a room just like this. It was only five or six months ago.”
“I’m… I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be, he died in his sleep.”
“Wow. That must suck, losing your dad like that…”
“Indeed…” Ukyou sighed into her hands, then pulled them away from her face. “Ranma… remind me to take you on a little trip when we get back to Nerima.”
“A little trip?”
“There’s someone I want you to meet.” Ukyou sat up, the blanket falling from her shoulders. Underneath, she was clad only in a green hospital gown. Ranma blinked as he saw the swell of her breasts underneath the sterile fabric. “But I think I’ll leave it a surprise for now. Let’s just concentrate on getting back to Nerima as quickly as possible first.”
“If you say so.” Ranma shrugged and scratched the back of his neck. He casually made sure he was looking in any direction but at Ukyou, who was still mainly focused on the ceiling. One of these days, he swore he would figure out what was actually going on with her.
Nabiki had never regained consciousness after being knocked out before, and she noted with some annoyance that she didn’t like it much. Her head hurt, for one thing. Her mouth was also filled with some terrible aftertaste. It was probably the result of whatever drug she had been slipped. There really was no other explanation, unless everyone in her family had come down with a sudden case of fainting sickness.
She resisted the urge to swear as she opened her eyes. She was in some anonymous room, not really traditional Japanese style. There were no windows, and instead of a paper screen there was a solid-looking wooden door. She arched her aching head around, trying to get a good view of things. Where the hell was she? She tried to stand up, but found herself instead toppling over onto her side.
She blinked and looked down, noticing that her legs were tied with some sort of cloth around the ankles. A quick tug with her arms confirmed that those were also tied, behind her back at the wrist. A few seconds of futile struggle followed before Nabiki was forced to conclude that she was quite securely bound. She beat back her panic with a few choice curses, not bothering to try and cover them up now. As she did, she twisted and bounced her body back into a sitting position.
Oh, whoever did this was going to pay. Nabiki didn’t know how yet, but she was sure of that.
“Hey! Come here and get me out of these!” Nabiki yelled as loud as she could. She wasn’t sure how thick the walls were, but yelling made her feel better. There was no immediate response so Nabiki repeated herself, annoyed at the dry aftertaste that left her voice slightly harsh and panicked-sounding. She took another deep cleansing breath before yelling a third time. After that she groaned and leaned back.
There was nothing to do but sit and wait now. If her first few yells hadn’t caught the right attention, then a dozen more would not do much better. Besides, yelling was exacerbating her headache. Nabiki tried to rub her temples, before rediscovering that she was tied up. She settled for groaning.
Time passed. Nabiki spent it fidgeting and staring at the walls, trying to combat the dull pain and the even more dull boredom. She mainly did this by imagining various elaborate and exquisite revenge schemes she would launch once this was finished. Then there was movement at the door. Nabiki snapped her head up as her presumable captor stepped into the room.
The girl who entered moved with a haughty grace that was matched by her cold beauty. She was tall, with imperious features well-accented by lightly applied makeup. Her black hair was tied back in a ponytail that fell to the small of her back, and she was clad only in a form-fitting black leotard cut high on the hips. She was carrying a huge sack tossed over her shoulder with one hand, barely getting it through the door unobstructed.
She saw Nabiki was awake and smiled. It was an expression that utterly failed to reach her unblinking eyes. She carefully placed the bag on the floor.
“Ah, Miss Tendo, I see you’ve awakened.” Her voice was cool and elegant.
“I see you know my name. Can I know yours, so that the police can put the proper one on the arrest warrant?” Nabiki tried to inject as much acid and false bravado as she could into her voice. That sack looked really heavy, and she hadn’t failed to notice that this mystery girl hefted it with one hand. Nabiki lived with the former martial arts champion of Furinkan High… she knew exactly what a properly–trained fighter could do. She wasn’t, however, about to let that show on her face.
The woman shifted her grip on the bag and moved it into the corner. It made a sound like many tiny metallic objects striking each other. “I’m surprised you don’t know my name, Miss Tendo. Perhaps you’re not as well-informed as you think.” She flashed an insincere smile. “I am Kodachi Kunou. I believe you are acquainted with my brother… in fact, you’re in the same class, are you not?”
“Tatewaki?” Nabiki blinked. Well, that explained some things. Nabiki did her best to shrug, a much harder process when you were bound than it looked. “I think you have the wrong sister. Akane is the one your brother is after.”
“Oh no no no, Miss Tendo, I know EXACTLY who I have, and why.” Her voice lost some of its haughty edge and took on a level of cold malice as she continued. She leaned forward, practically in Nabiki’s face. “I want to ask you a few questions about someone you’re also acquainted with. Someone by the name of Ukyou Kuonji.” Nabiki refused to be intimidated, but found herself wishing she didn’t have to stare into those hard, soulless eyes.
“Once again, wrong sister. Akane is the one dating Mr. Heroic Stranger, not me.”
“And because of that, your knowledge is more valuable to me. You are the one who can tell me the facts, unswayed by emotions, or a willingness to protect the individual involved even at a risk to yourself.”
Nabiki didn’t like the implied threat. She liked even less the growing certainty in the back of her mind that this girl was capable of acting it out. She bit the inside of her cheek surreptitiously, and really wished she didn’t have to look at those eyes anymore. They never wavered or blinked. The pupils didn’t move at all.
“Since you seem to already know the facts, why bother questioning me at all?” Nabiki asked quickly to buy time. She hated to admit it publicly, or even to herself, but she knew very little about Ukyou Kuonji. She didn’t have the pull to get a peek at his personal records, nor the money to hire a private investigator. There was practically no rumors about the boy at school aside from the usual lurid ones (half of which had begun to include Ranma, in both forms, among the usual suspects). Gosunkugi had never been able to catch the boy on film except in the most innocuous circumstances.
“No no no, Miss Tendo. I know the facts about you, for I know of you through reputation and your dealings with my brother… oh, and a few other things. But I don’t know nearly enough about Ukyou Kuonji. That’s why you’re here. I want you to tell me everything you know about Ukyou Kuonji. Everything you think about Ukyou Kuonji. Everything you suspect. Everything.” Kodachi moved back, standing to her full height once again. She smiled in a patronising manner at Nabiki. Nabiki resisted the urge to sigh in relief. It was much easier to keep her eyes on the other girl’s face at this distance. “Don’t worry. I don’t plan to hurt you… as long as you’re forthcoming with me. I will be most displeased to find out you held something back, though… at any time in the future.”
“Then I’ll have to tell you what I did before,” Nabiki groused softly. There was no hope for it but the truth. “Ukyou is dating my sister. He’s some sort of martial artist. He knows Genma and Ranma Saotome from a few years back. And he seems to like playing the mysterious hero coming to the last second rescue. Other than that, you’ll have to ask Akane.” Nabiki tried to console her wounded ego by reminding herself that this was all unimportant information, the kind anybody with an ear to the ground and two eyes in their head could find out. Unfortunately, that only emphasised how little Nabiki knew about Ukyou herself. She sighed. No point in worrying about it now. And besides… she’d really been too focused on getting out of her predicament with Ranma to worry too much about what her sister had going on the side.
Kodachi frowned, mainly to herself. Her voice took on an impatient tone, all its haughty elegance fleeing it. “No, you know more than that. How did she arrive in your happy household? How did you meet her? How did Akane meet her?”
Nabiki grit her teeth behind her lips. What was so special about Ukyou Kuonji that this girl was going to such lengths to find out about him? Nabiki felt her own curiosity aroused now. Damn, her life had gotten much too complicated since that spatula-wielding boy had entered it. “He was looking for Ranma and Genma and followed Akane around. I don’t know how they met exactly, but apparently they started dating shortly after Ukyou beat up your brother the first time. I’m sure he told you about Ukyou; he certainly doesn’t stop carping on about him around me. I met him when he came to the house to confront Genma and Ranma.” Again, it was all minor information. But now Nabiki resolved she was going to find out the real truth behind Ukyou Kuonji. No boy had such an extensive list of enemies as this boy did without having something in his past he wanted to hide. And if Ukyou had something to hide, Nabiki had leverage over him. If this worked out well, it could solve her problem with Ranma at the same time. Nabiki smiled unconsciously, a thin malicious smile of her own.
Kodachi gave Nabiki an incredulous look then stepped back a bit. She allowed herself a long pause as she apparently thought. Kodachi reached up to her face and grabbed for something near her eyes, then frowned when she realised that nothing was there. Did she usually wear glasses? “Dating… Ukyou Kuonji is dating your sister, Akane Tendo. Has Akane said anything about this? Any reasons? Your sister doesn’t really like boys very much, does she?” Her voice was slow and careful as she spoke. Some of her imperious tone had filtered back into her speech.
“Akane?” Nabiki’s smile turned into a sour grimace. She hadn’t really been thinking about Akane much. But now that the girl in front of her had brought the subject back up, Nabiki couldn’t help but consider it. Was Akane in danger because of her relationship with Ukyou? Already, someone had threatened her with a gun since the spatula-wielding mystery man had shown up. Could this be some sort of jilted lover? “I couldn’t say. Akane and Ukyou spend a lot of time together, and Akane seems really happy-” Nabiki almost added ‘for the first time in years’ but cut herself off. “I guess it’s the same reasons any guy and girl date. Akane may be pissed off with what YOUR brother did to her, but she likes guys…” Nabiki almost added ‘I think’ to the end of that statement but allowed herself to trail off first. Honestly, Nabiki couldn’t remember any time Akane had shown interest in any guy who wasn’t Doc Tofu. And everyone had a crush on the handsome young doctor at some point, even half his male patients. There was something about this conversation that tickled the back of Nabiki’s mind. Something that her captor had let slip, and Nabiki had missed.
Kodachi began to tap her finger on the side of her jaw as she thought about Nabiki’s words. “They spend a lot of time together, hmm? And what about Ranma? What does he think of that? Aren’t they…” Kodachi trailed off as she ceased tapping her chin. Then she just stared at Nabiki, apparently expecting a prompt answer.
Nabiki grit her teeth behind her smile again. She hated not having control of this conversation, but there was little she could do about it. “I can’t tell you what Ranma thinks. My darling fiancé spends more time hanging out with Ukyou than with me.” Nabiki purposefully dropped the bit about Ranma, trying to make it sound angry, which wasn’t hard. With narrowed eyes, she carefully analysed Kodachi’s response.
Nabiki saw a flash of surprise on the girl’s face for a fraction of a second before she composed herself. Kodachi smirked a little, and her voice was full of irony when she asked, “So, Ranma Saotome is your fiancé, is he? That sounds positively charming. But you’re so young. How did that happen?”
“I thought you wanted to know about Ukyou,” Nabiki said with another difficult shrug. “It was an arrangement between our families.”
“And you just let yourself be pushed into it?” This made Kodachi laugh, a slightly crazed cackle while she partially covered her mouth with the back of her hand. “I’d have expected you’d at least have tried to volunteer one of your sisters for such an arrangement.”
Nabiki blinked. That had been almost exactly what had happened, except Kodachi couldn’t possibly know that. Suspicious, Nabiki phrased her words carefully. It was time to start skirting the truth, just a little. “I didn’t exactly have much choice in the situation.”
Kodachi’s good humour evaporated suddenly. She affixed Nabiki with a far too intimidating glare from those cold, lifeless eyes. “You’re not being very talkative, Miss Tendo. I get a feeling you’re not being entirely forthcoming. This displeases me. It is not in your best interest to displease me. I have a very long memory, Miss Tendo. Now, I want to know everything about Ukyou Kuonji. This I told you. If there is anything… anything at all… in your thoughts, or in what you’ve observed that you haven’t told me, you would do well to do so now.”
“I told you everything I know about Ukyou,” Nabiki answered with complete sincerity, unable to keep a bit of smugness from her tone. Nabiki still refused to be intimidated, but it was getting harder to ignore the impulse. “Everything else you could learn by picking up the newspaper or asking anybody at school.”
Kodachi closed her eyes and sighed, than began to mutter to herself. Nabiki leaned in a bit and was able to just overhear her. “So much for the vaunted Nabiki Tendo, Super-Know-It-All-Genius.” When she looked up again, Nabiki was back to her former position, feeling a little insulted on top of everything else now. “Very well. If that’s all you know, that’s all you know. But I can still make use of you,” Kodachi pointed out with an irritated growl. She made an elegant flourish with her hands and was suddenly holding a wide strip of some green fabric. Nabiki blinked, wondering what this was for, then she began to cringe away as the taller girl stepped towards her. Nabiki put up a token struggle as she was gagged. “Now stay here like a good little girl until I’m ready for the arrival of your friend.”
Kodachi turned away from her, retrieved the sack and stalked from the room. Her graceful walk had been replaced by a brisk, irritated stride. The door closed behind her with a dreadful finality. For a few minutes, all Nabiki did was stare at the door and focus on her hate for Kodachi Kunou.
Then, when the silence grew heavy and the adrenaline ran out, Nabiki Tendo began to cry.
The trip back to Nerima was uneventful and short. Aaron had managed to bullshit his way out of the hospital, aided a great deal by the fact that there was nothing the staff could do to actually hold Ukyou against her will. Ranma had tried to strike up conversations a few times during the trip, but neither Ukyou nor Aaron were in a very talkative mood. At least, not in the mood to be talking to anyone outside their shared skull at the moment.
The fact was that they had screwed up. Ukyou wanted to lay all the blame on Aaron, but was unable to bring herself to do so. She knew every detail about the Sailor Moon anime that he did, whether she liked it or not. The fact that she had agreed with his plan, agreed with all his decisions at the scene, and gone along with them all without hesitation or debate made her as much to blame for this debacle as he was. Aaron seemed willing enough to blame himself for the problems, which didn’t make her feel any better.
But regardless of that, it was clear Aaron had been running on instinct too much. He had hoped to coast along through all the hassles of living in an anime universe as a secondary character without having to do much of anything. He had been so caught up in trying to preserve his identity that he hadn’t been paying attention to the world around him. It was tempting to wallow in self- pity, but instead he was more annoyed with himself.
There was the vague hope that this would all blow over, but both Aaron and Ukyou severely doubted that. Sailor Pluto still had it in for them, and now Jadeite might be interested as well. Not to mention they had probably alienated Usagi. It was time to start walking with one eye over their shoulders. It was also time to stop relying on Ukyou’s inherent skills and start exploiting some of that encyclopaedic knowledge of anime and manga Aaron was so proud of. When next they encountered Sailor Pluto, the Dark Kingdom or whatever other surprises this universe had in store for them, Ukyou and Aaron both planned to have more tricks up their collective sleeve than a bag of flour.
Which brought them to their next problem: the mysterious “chi” that they had tapped into to fight Jadeite’s youma. Aaron was still convinced that that energy was somehow ‘his’ chi, and the fact it seemed to be something distinctly different from Ukyou’s chi supported his idea. Ukyou was not convinced. If it was chi, then why had it done so much harm to her when she’d used it in that fight? Ukyou had been tapping into her chi since almost as soon as she could walk, and doing so had never caused her to spit up blood, faint or develop bruises along her limbs that still hadn’t faded.
But believing it was Aaron’s chi also made her feel better. If he had a completely separate energy than her, it meant that this damn merger of minds wasn’t also a merger of souls. Which meant that they could be free of each other. It was almost refreshing to feel it back there. Now that they had found it once, it was impossible not to feel that pool of energy deep in their gut.
“We’re here,” Ranma said somewhat reluctantly, causing Ukyou to look up. Sure enough, they had arrived at the Tendo compound. Ukyou sighed. She had put up a brave front for Ranma, but she still felt half-dead. Her every muscle ached and she was slightly light-headed. It would be good to be able to relax now that they were back.
“Let’s go inside,” Ukyou said as she walked through the main gate. “I have to explain what happened to Akane, at the very least.”
“Thanks heavens you’re here!”
Aaron blinked and looked down as a new growth suddenly attached itself around Ukyou’s waist. It was Soun, with his arms wrapped firmly around her torso. He was sobbing like a baby into her midsection. Aaron was briefly thankful Ukyou had thought to “borrow” some medical bandages from the hospital before leaving. But even the best chest binding wouldn’t stop Soun from realizing Ukyou’s secret if he kept clinging to her like that.
With a sigh Aaron flipped Ukyou’s combat spatula from his back and used it as a pry-lever to pop the Tendo patriarch off him. Soun landed in an undignified sprawl on the path. Ukyou regretted that for a moment, but was as aware as Aaron how irrational the mustached man could be. Hopefully the fall would jar some sense into him.
“What’s going on?” Ranma asked as he stepped up beside his friend. Ukyou shrugged, waiting for Soun to recompose himself. She never had that chance, as shortly after his question Genma appeared on the path as well, looming as best he could over Ranma.
“Boy! How dare you run off when your fiancée is in mortal peril!”
“Mortal peril?” Ranma blinked. Ukyou took a step back. Genma had a tendency to overreact, so she and Aaron wanted to hear what was going on before leaping to conclusions.
“Ukyou! You have to save my baby girl!” Soun wailed as he flipped to his feet. He was remarkably spry for someone his age. Then again, it was easy to forget he was also a trained martial artist. Wait, what did he say?
“Explain!” Aaron barked shortly.
Soun stared at Ukyou’s face for a moment, made a little whimpering sound and fell back on his ass. The scene almost caused Ukyou to burst out in a fit of laughter. Aaron kept rigid control over their features, but only barely.
“Yeah pops, what are you two going on about?”
“Ranma, someone has kidnapped your fiancée and her younger sister,” Genma explained as he adjusted his glasses with one hand. The light glinted off the lenses. “As the heir to the Anything Goes school and as a man it is your duty to rescue them.”
“Rescue?” Ranma looked perplexed. “Wait, back up a sec…”
Ukyou didn’t hear the rest of what Ranma had to say. She was already striding briskly into the house. Aaron knew that getting a straight answer from either Genma or Soun was entirely unlikely, so he hoped that the only other person in the house might be able to help.
They found Kasumi in the living room, sitting with a frown on her face and holding an icepack to the back of her head. Warning lights went off in their mind.
“Kasumi, are you okay?” Ukyou said in her most consoling tone. She knelt down next to the taller girl and began to look her over, tapping into Aaron’s extensive medical lore. She didn’t look badly hurt.
“I’m fine, it’s just a small bump,” Kasumi pointed out mildly. Ukyou noted that Soun was entering the household and allowed Aaron to shoot the man a dangerous glare. This caused him to back off a bit. Apparently Ranma and Genma were still debating manly duties outside.
“What happened here?” Ukyou asked slowly and softly. Despite Aaron’s preconceptions of her as a boring, one-dimensional character, the two of them had found themselves liking Kasumi the few times they had interacted with her.
“I’m not quite sure.” Kasumi began slowly, but gradually grew more confident as she spoke. “I served breakfast, and everyone just sort of fainted in front of me as I was sitting down myself to eat. Then I felt a sharp pain in the back of my head. The next thing I remember, I woke up, and Akane and Nabiki were gone.”
“Just gone. Father and Uncle Saotome were still unconscious at the time.”
“Indeed…” Aaron frowned, but only for a moment. Ukyou made them smile and she patted Kasumi reassuringly on the shoulder.
“There was a note,” Kasumi pointed out as Ukyou began to rise. She looked down at the pseudo-housewife and allowed a curious frown to cross her features. Kasumi reached into her pocket and pulled out a small piece of paper. Ukyou held out her hand and smiled at the long-haired girl, who smiled back and handed over the note.
“Dearest Ukyou Kuonji,” Aaron read aloud. “I, the rising young star of the gymnastics world…blah, blah, blah, known as Kodachi Kunou, the Black Rose, am extremely anxious to meet with you, as well as Nabiki and Akane Tendo, who came ahead of you, at the Kunou Estate this afternoon. The Tendo siblings have expressed their desire that you come alone, for this will be more pleasing to them. I look forward to your timely arrival.”
“See!” Soun burst into their field of view and snatched the note from their unresisting fingers. “Someone has kidnapped my baby girls! You… you’re a hero! You rescue people! Rescue them!” He was really beginning to tear up now.
“Mr. Tendo, calm down,” Ukyou told him with a bit of understanding in her tone. He had every right to be worried about two of his three daughters. It was just so hard to see the man behind the parody that Aaron knew so well. “I have every intention of helping out Akane and Nabiki.”
They spent the next few seconds fending off the man’s enthusiastic thanks.
When Ukyou stepped outside, she saw Ranma leaning next to the wall and grumbling. Genma was sitting cross-legged nearby, intently watching him. Ukyou rolled her eyes at the scene but stepped forward anyway.
“Ucchan, do you have any idea what’s going on here?” Ranma blurted out when she was within a few paces of him.
“Yeah, we’re going to save Akane and Nabiki from a kidnapper,” Aaron pointed out evenly.
“Yes, we,” Ukyou smiled at him. “Or I could leave you behind this time.”
“Oh no! Not that again!” Ranma waved both arms in front of her face. “I’ve already missed all the action twice now.”
“Third time’s the charm,” Aaron chuckled. Ranma blinked at this, but was cut off from responding as he walked Ukyou’s body out the gate. Ranma leapt to catch up.
“Where are we going?”
“To get supplies,” Ukyou said evenly. She wanted to sigh. This was not fair. She was still feeling weak from yesterday. And now Kodachi Kunou was deciding to get all-
Wait. Wait just one second.
Ranma walked on a few paces before he realised Ukyou had stopped in the middle of the street. He paused and glanced over his shoulder at the girl. Ukyou was too busy mentally debating with Aaron to really notice.
This made no sense. There was no reason for Kodachi to kidnap Akane and Nabiki. It wasn’t even her style. No, there was something else behind this. Could it be the Dark Kingdom? With their magic, it might have been possible to track Ukyou down quickly… but this wasn’t their style either. Maybe it was some other anime that Aaron hadn’t yet identified that also inhabited this universe? Damn, too many unknowns.
“What’s the hold up, Ucchan?”
“I’m just thinking about this,” Ukyou stated simply. “Yesterday I walked right into an ambush because I forgot the simple lessons of warfare.”
“Lessons of warfare?” Ranma murmured.
“But I’m not going to make that mistake again.” Ukyou sighed. She ran her hand through her bangs. “Ranma, before we go any further, I’m going to tell you everything I know about Kodachi Kunou.”
Chris surveyed the Kunou mansion courtyard with a feeling of smug satisfaction. It was, if he did say so himself, perfect. Or as close as could be reasonably expected under the time constraints given. Thank goodness he didn’t get tired… ever since he took Kodachi’s body, he’d been moving, working, plotting, and training, sometimes all at once.
But now things were nearly set. He’d worried ‘Ukyou’ might show up too early for the party, but it seemed that wasn’t going to be a problem. What WAS a problem was Nabiki, or rather her unexpected unhelpfulness. He wasn’t sure if she had been holding back, or just honestly was completely ignorant. She didn’t even seem to know Ukyou’s real gender. He’d referred to Ukyou as “her” a few times before realising that, but Nabiki seemed to be too concerned over her own situation to catch the slip. No matter.
The problem is, he hardly knew any better than before what Ukyou’s game was. And what he did know just raised more questions. Why was Ukyou posing as Akane’s boyfriend? Why had she interfered in the formation of the Ranma/Akane engagement? And, of course, Nabiki wouldn’t know how strong she was, or was pretending to be, or any unusual abilities she’d displayed.
Which left his other captive, whom he was now staring down at. She was unconscious, of course. He’d been very, very careful to ensure she would be. Akane was no helpless victim, and the stupid anime movies notwithstanding, had a habit of rescuing herself from these sorts of situations without outside help. The last thing he needed, during the fight with Ukyou, was Akane breaking out of her bonds and joining in against him.
But now… continued safety, or information? He’d decided on the latter. Akane was strong, but he’d made sure she was tied up very firmly, even for a superhuman. She got a burst of strength when enraged… he’d make sure she didn’t get to that point. And if she did, well, there was that bouquet of black roses lying nearby. Handy, that. Especially when it couldn’t affect you on account of the whole “dead” thing.
Moving Akane into a seated position, he uncorked a small bottle, vaguely noticing the strong smell. Waving it under her nose a few times, he took a step back and awaited the results. Kodachi wasn’t Pink and Link or anything, but she was more than competent. Akane would recover quickly.
She did. After a few moments, she groaned and her eyelids fluttered.
“Wha..?” she muttered, then seemed to realise her circumstances. Reflexively, her arms moved, muscles bunching… but the bonds held. Thank goodness for martial arts death machine-worthy gymnastics ribbon. Akane was looking around now, blinking away the last of her drug-induced sleep. Her eyes had fastened upon him.
He took a step forward, carefully settling into Kodachi’s arrogant, high-class speech pattern. “Greetings, Miss Tendo. You seem to have awakened. Did you sleep well?”
Her expression showed confusion, then flashed to anger. It was very… Akane. “Who the- what do you think you’re doing!? Untie me!”
He burned with impatience, to demand the answers out of her. Ukyou could arrive at any moment. But Kodachi wouldn’t do that. Had to keep up the facade. Calm and steady. “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Miss Tendo. For the moment, you’re my guest.” Cover mouth with hand, laugh that oh-so-stereotypical upper-class snob laugh.
That didn’t exactly calm her down, unsurprisingly. She struggled with her bonds again, banging the wall a bit. “Guests are usually invited, not kidnapped and tied up!”
“Ah, but you are a very special guest, Miss Tendo. You are more than a guest, in fact… you are the bait on my hook, which will lure the fish to me.” And that’s the bait to make you interested, Akane. He silently shouted at her to take it.
“Bait?” Her anger was again replaced by confusion. She bit her lip, clearly considering the words, then looked up at him again. “You… you’re just using me to get to someone else!? But who?”
He leaned forward, affecting a pleased expression. “Why, none other than your… purported boyfriend, Miss Tendo. Ukyou Kuonji.” He put a generous dollop of sarcasm on ‘boyfriend’. Let’s see if Akane knew the truth.
She recoiled slightly from him, opened her mouth as if to say something, closed it again. After a long pause, she spoke again, quietly. “What do you want with Ukyou?”
Well, she didn’t protest the sarcasm. Or maybe she didn’t notice it? Akane was not exactly noted for that kind of perception. Still, now she was concerned for Ukyou, as well as angry at him. That’s what he wanted. He crouched before her, grinning. “Would you like to know, my dear Miss Tendo? Marvellous. There are some things I wish to know from you as well. Tell me them, and I’ll reveal my intentions to you. A fair exchange, is it not?”
Akane turned her head away, avoiding his gaze. “I won’t help you hurt Ukyou,” she said softly. She seemed to struggle internally for a moment, then turned back, her face serious but no longer angry. “Please, just tell me what your problem is here!”
Oh, it was Akane’s Sympathy For The Devil routine. Drug my family, kidnap me, be vaguely threatening towards my friend? You can’t be all bad! How can I help you with your problems? Heh. Too nice for her own good. But he could work with that. He broke out of his crouch, sitting before her cross- legged, putting them at the same level. He let the smirk fade from his face, and looked calm, maybe just the slightest bit sad.
“I’m sorry, Miss Tendo. I can’t tell you what my problem is, unless you tell me what I need to know – because until you do, I’m not sure what my problem may be, exactly.” True, after a fashion. “I can tell you that if I know more, I may not need to hurt Ukyou. But I need to know more about her.” Damn, slipped again! Well, see how she reacted. “And I need you to help me. Otherwise…” he shrugged. “I’ll have to find out what I need. By any means necessary.”
Akane stared at him strangely after the gender-slip. Now what did that mean? But she settled his doubts a moment later. “I told you I can’t help you hurt my friend,” Akane said fiercely, gritting her teeth. “Ukyou has done too much for me to betray her!” So she knew. And Nabiki didn’t. Interesting. But Akane was still staring at him. Not angrily, just… determined. “Maybe… maybe we can talk about this. Tell me what you want to know. If it isn’t something dangerous, maybe I can help you after all.”
Hmm. He didn’t want to lie to her. Much. So what was close to the truth? A-ha. This ought to work. “I… knew Ukyou. Before you met her. But she showed up here, and she’s… changed. She’s not acting like the same person. I’m worried she ISN’T the same person. I want to know what you know about her. How you met her. Anything unusual she’s done. Anything that can help me figure out what’s happened to her.”
“Huh? But Ranma seems to get along with Ukyou just fine…” Suddenly, her eyes widened. “You mean you knew Ukyou from before she met Ranma? Back before Genma ruined her life?” Her expression grew sad. “Yes, she must seem like a different person, after what that bastard did to her.”
What the hell was she babbling about? Why would he know or care what Ukyou was like before she was six? Okay, sure, it sounded like a stupid anime plotline, but… maybe she’d jumped to conclusions. He shook his head. “No, you don’t get it. I knew Ukyou before she came here, to Tokyo. She was a different person then. And she just… vanished, and came here. But now she’s different. Completely different. And I want to know why.”
“That doesn’t make any sense, then.” Akane shook her head. “If what you’re saying is true, that would mean Ukyou lied to me. And I’m much more inclined to believe her than you, considering how she saved my life and you kidnapped me.”
“And what did Ukyou tell you?”
“Nothing about changing at all. She’s always been… kinda private about her condition. She came here to find Ranma and Genma.”
This was frustratingly uninformative. And taking too damn long. He strained to hold in his impatience. “Yes, that’s what I want to know. How she came here. How you met. Why you’re posing as a couple.”
“She was following me around for a while, trying to see if I knew where Ranma and Genma were. Then I caught up with her and… well, it’s kinda embarrassing. Anyway she told me her story. Then she noticed that I was having these problems with guys at school and offered to help me with it.” She paused, and glanced down at her bonds. “I’d be much more inclined to trust you if you let me go. I promise not to try to run away or attack you.”
Sounded credible, if again, frustratingly unhelpful. ‘Ukyou’ obviously wasn’t giving much away. And that promise… tempting. He wouldn’t have to worry about her escaping to fight against him, as long as he wasn’t actually killing Ukyou. Which he didn’t intend to do. At least not until he had answers. He quickly rethought some plans. Could work. “I could believe you… but if I let you go, you must promise not to interfere at all when Ukyou comes here. In return, I promise not to severely injure her. But I will probably have to fight her. I tried talking to her before… and she wouldn’t tell me anything. So I’ll have to force her to give me the answers I want. Can you accept that?”
Akane looked torn. She wanted to help him, wanted to help Ukyou, clearly… was there something else? She wasn’t as easy to read as he thought. Guess those thought balloons in the manga really helped. Suddenly, she brightened hopefully. “Wait, I have an idea! Why don’t you have me talk to Ukyou? We’re really close friends. If I explain what’s going on, maybe she’ll tell us both?”
Hmm. No, if the faux-Ukyou cared enough about Akane to respect a request from her, she wouldn’t be lying to her in the first place. He shook his head sadly. “I’m afraid I already tried that, Akane. She knows what’s going on, and what my concerns are. But she wouldn’t tell me anything. I doubt it’ll be any different with you. No, I’m afraid I’m going to have to incapacitate her before she’ll talk.”
“But Ukyou isn’t that kind of person!” Akane insisted. “She never lies to me, she just chooses to keep a few things private. I mean, she’s a hero! Didn’t you see what she did yesterday?”
“Why no, I did not. I was rather busy yesterday. What did she do?”
“She only saved two or three busloads of innocent people from a real live monster! She even knew it was going to happen, and left yesterday just in time to stop them and everything…” here she trailed off, muttering just loud enough for him to hear, “…of course, she could have taken me along too.” She shook off her irritation and was back to defence mode quickly, though. “The point is, Ukyou is a good person. If she’s hiding something from you, she has a very good reason! Maybe if she sees that you just want to help, and I ask her too, then we can get her to open up a little bit?”
His mind worked furiously. A monster? Busloads of people? The hell? Some series he didn’t know about? Or… it could be Sailor Moon, he supposed. Maybe. Hell, it could be Blue Seed for all he knew (was that here too?). And either way, no reason for Ukyou to be involved, busloads of innocent people or not. And ‘knew it was going to happen’… ah, but she knew. She KNEW. The dropped Evangelion reference. So she must have been interfering in the plot of another anime. But what? And why?
And what to do about Akane? Well, she obviously wasn’t going to add much more to his information stockpile, though at least now he knew where Ukyou – and Ranma? – had vanished to. He let anger flow into his voice. It wasn’t hard. “No, Akane, that’s just it. Maybe I just want to help, and maybe I don’t. Helping Ukyou is one thing. But that person you know looks like Ukyou, calls herself Ukyou… and is NOT Ukyou. I’ll guarantee it from the bottom of my soul. Nothing that happened to her would explain the Ukyou I knew becoming the Ukyou you know. I don’t know if she’s something else with the shape of Ukyou’s body imitating her, or whether she’s possessed, or… I don’t know. I don’t know. But the one thing I DO know is that she lied. She’s NOT Ukyou. And I’m sorry if you don’t believe me. But I’m sure. And I’m sure she won’t tell either of us the truth just because we ask. Like I told you, I tried that.”
“But Ranma’s known her since she was six and he believes she’s the real Ukyou!”
He snorted. “Akane, Ranma knew Ukyou WHEN she was six. And didn’t see her again until they met here. He didn’t even know Ukyou was a girl. So I think I’m a slightly better judge than him.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way,” Akane sighed. “I don’t know if I believe what you say is true. If Ukyou has changed so much… what was she like before? I can’t imagine her having changed so totally you don’t even recognise her anymore.”
He paused, then decided to go for broke. Akane already knew enough to know she wasn’t Kodachi anyway, as soon as she and Ukyou talked, and that was under the dubious assumption Ukyou wouldn’t find out in the fight anyway. So let’s see what might surprise her and what might not. He scrutinised her reactions carefully. “Well, for starters, the real Ukyou doesn’t fight monsters. She was training for revenge on Genma, but fighting wasn’t her thing. Her only true hobby was cooking okonomiyaki. She loved that. Wanted to own her own restaurant, and she talked about it a lot. And oh yes: she’s been in love with Ranma for ten years. She wants to marry him. She certainly wouldn’t have any interest in pretending to be your boyfriend and thus stalling that, even as a favour.”
“Marry Ranma? But… that’s just… you must be joking?” Then she blinked. “Well, there was the time she threw up on him, I suppose…”
“Threw up on him? Um… okay, whatever. Trust me when I say this, Akane: if that’s the real Ukyou, she loves Ranma more than she loves anyone or anything else. She spent the last ten years of her life pretending to be a boy and training hard in fighting even though she didn’t like it because of him. Though I have no doubt Ukyou could be friends with you, she’d throw you aside or even beat the crap out of you to be with him. I can’t think of anything she values more.” Ah, nothing could beat the sincere ring of truth, when trying to persuade.
“Let me get this straight: she pretended to be a boy because she was in love with another boy?” She didn’t sound sarcastic, just understandably confused. “Uh, right.” Again she muttered mainly to herself. “Maybe that’s why Ukyou keeps dashing off with Ranma and leaving me behind all the time…” Then she shook her head disbelievingly.
One more try. “There are reasons, Akane. I can’t tell you them, because they’re Ukyou’s secrets to tell, not mine. I only said as much as I did because I wanted you to believe me. But now we’ve come to the crux. Either you do believe me, and agree to our deal… or you don’t, and I’ll have to do things by myself. The choice is up to you.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t stand by while you hurt Ukyou!” She sighed. “No matter what, she saved my life once. If you’re so dead set on this, you’ll have to fight me as well.” She looked up at him, determined and defiant.
Zero for two. He was really stressed today. No matter. Back to Plan “A”. He straightened. “In that case, Akane, I’m very sorry. Perhaps, once it’s all over, it will be explained to you. I guess we’ll see if I win, then, won’t we?”
As he turned to pick up the bouquet, he heard her voice again. “I’m sorry.” She sounded like she meant it. But of course she did. She was Akane. And she was too nice for her own good. Too stubborn, too. He’d tried to let her in on things. He’d let on too much; again, he’d tried too hard. It wasn’t his fault she had absolute loyalty to someone she’d known for a couple of weeks at most.
So why was it that he felt so utterly rotten about it?
He angrily shoved that away. He didn’t have time for doubt. He pushed the bouquet into her face. She tried to avoid it, but tied up as she was, didn’t have much success. Her body slumped bonelessly as she inhaled the fumes released. Producing another strip of cloth much like he had used on her sister, he gagged her. She wouldn’t be able to speak very LOUDLY while paralysed… but better safe than sorry.
He didn’t speak again as he left the room, shutting the door behind him. He felt her eyes on his back, but ignored it. It was time to finish preparing. Ukyou would arrive soon. And then he’d see just how much better than the real thing she might be.
Then he’d finally have his answers.
Ranma followed Ukyou along as she stormed down the street. The tail of her new black trenchcoat flapped along behind her. It had been one of the many purchases Ukyou had made over the last hour as she pulled Ranma along in her wake. He still wasn’t sure about some of the stuff Ukyou had gotten. A lot of it seemed to be standard cooking ingredients, and other stuff she had been forced to buy from people with dark sunglasses and shorter-than-normal fingers. Not that Ranma was scared of their type; you dealt with them enough when you got in the occasional pit fight.
“I just wish I had been able to get more than one of these,” Ukyou grumbled as she held up a small metal box in her hands. Ranma wasn’t sure what it was, but shrugged as she slipped it into her coat again. “Ranma, if you see any clouds of gas, hold your breath and leap over it and get away.”
“Man, you’re being awfully paranoid, Ucchan.” Ranma shrugged as he scratched at the back of his neck. “This Kodachi chick doesn’t sound too bad. Maybe a little skewed in the head about the whole fair play deal, but otherwise not that dangerous.”
“Always be prepared,” Ukyou said as she ran her hands through her bangs again. “Anyway, no use crying over spilt milk. We’re here.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
There was no doubt the place was big. It was surrounded by a wall, like the Tendo compound. But the wall was much longer, and the building which rose behind it much more… well, big.
“Okay,” Ukyou sighed. “Let’s get this over with.” She looked at Ranma and smiled, and he smiled back. Her face shifted to its standard cold-eyed stare a moment later and she walked up to the huge gate. Then with a twin snapping of her knuckles she loosened herself up. And finally, she drew back one hand… and knocked.
There was a loud buzz and the door gradually swung open. Ukyou cocked her head to the side, then shrugged with a short chortle. She waited until the door was all the way open before stepping forward. Her manner was wary and slow as she moved in. Her huge combat spatula was kept slightly in front of her. Ranma waited a half-second then shrugged and idled on through himself. He wasn’t really as concerned as Ukyou was by some psycho chick with a poison fetish.
Ukyou stopped Ranma with a raised hand as they entered the threshold of the compound. It was possible to see inside now. The place looked good enough, Ranma guessed. It had all the traditional Japanese points of interest. The yard was huge, by most standards, but not really impressive to a guy who had been wandering in the great wilderness wastes of China for the better portion of a year.
Beyond the front yard was the mansion itself. It was two stories high, with a traditional sloping roof with those weird tiles Ranma never did like the design of. They made the roof too slippery. The front doors were open. He could see something beyond the front doors, but not very well at this distance. Ranma gave the rest of the area a quick scan, noticing nothing unusual. He made a few mental notes of the tactical options the place offered, then just shrugged.
This was kinda boring. Where was the monster?
Ranma was about to step forward when Ukyou stopped him by tapping him on the shoulder. Leaning her spatula on the ground, she cupped her hands around her mouth.
“Oy, Kodachi Kunou! I believe you’ve kidnapped some friends of mine. If you hand them over now, I won’t feel obligated to kick your ass!” Ukyou yelled as loud as she could. Ranma staggered back a bit and clutched his ears, shooting a bit of a frown at Ukyou. Man, that girl had a set of lun… er, a really loud voice.
“OHOHOHOHOHOHOHOHOHO! Welcome, Ukyou Kuonji. I’ve been expecting you. Please enter my humble abode. What you see there may interest you.”
Well, that person certainly didn’t sound very stable. He glanced around, trying to pinpoint the source of the voice. Aside from ‘in front of him’ he wasn’t able to narrow it down at all. Ukyou ran her hands through her bangs and sighed. It was impossible to tell what she was thinking behind that ice-cold mask she called an expression.
“Okay, you asked for it,” Ukyou said softly as she pulled a small packet from her coat. She flipped it through the air and the packet unraveled as it flew. A cloud of dust fell down behind it, slowly settling onto the ground. Then the ground exploded. Ranma yelped and leapt backward as a trail of fire erupted in a straight line between Ukyou and the doorway. “I hope you weren’t too attached to your house, Kodachi!” Ukyou cried out again. “I don’t plan on leaving much of it standing when I’m finished!”
Ukyou waited for the explosions to die down, then started across the burnt pathway she had created towards the doorway. Ranma rubbed his fingers in his ears and followed her.
“What the hell was that?”
“Tempura flakes mixed with gunpowder, at about triple my usual admixture.” Ukyou grinned evilly. Ranma gave her a long, serious stare and then reminded himself never to get on her bad side.
Another laugh reached them as they neared the door. “Dear me. I guess you’re not nearly as good a friend as a certain Miss Tendo told me you were, to so callously risk her life, now are you?”
“Hey, that’s right, you can’t exactly burn the place down,” Ranma pointed out.
“I never planned on doing that… until Akane and Nabiki are safe,” Ukyou pointed out as they neared the door. “After that, I’ll probably beat Kodachi black and blue, torch a bit of her house and otherwise ‘convince’ her not to mess with me. Whatever problem she has, I’m going to solve it before it gets out of hand.”
Ranma blinked as Ukyou spoke. Her voice was cold and certain. Those weren’t idle threats. He found himself putting a little more space between them. This was a side of his friend that he had never seen before.
Ukyou looked around the interior with a critical eye. Ranma looked over her shoulder past the front hall. He could see that the hall was short and led to a back patio, maybe some sort of centre courtyard deal? There was a bit of smoke left over from Ukyou’s stunt, but Ranma could see the bright sunshine bouncing off two figures standing back to back out there. He couldn’t make out any other details.
“Hey, Ucchan, check it out!” Ranma tapped Ukyou on the shoulder and pointed towards the figures which were barely in view. Ukyou nodded and then stepped back a bit.
“Akane! Nabiki! Can you hear me? Can you respond?” Ukyou called out again. They waited a few seconds with no reply and Ukyou shrugged and spoke in a lower tone. “Probably drugged.”
“Well, let’s go get them out of there…”
“Wait.” Ukyou grabbed his shoulder. She reached into her jacket and pulled out a dozen of her miniature spatulas. “Kodachi probably has the entire place rigged with booby-traps. Let’s see if we can spring any before they become a problem.” With that Ukyou tossed the blades into the house one at a time, taking special attention to hit any flowers she saw within line of sight. Ranma blinked as a few of the arrangements suddenly exploded into clouds of noxious–looking purple smoke. “Way too predictable.” Ukyou pulled out her larger spatula and began to wave it around, dispersing the small clouds easily. Then, with a simple efficiency, she retrieved her weapons from the walls, making sure to clean them off on the outside of her jacket before returning them to storage.
Ranma walked forward into the room while she did that. Now that he was further in, he could get a better angle on the back patio. The outside was indeed some sort of interior courtyard. The first thing Ranma’s eyes settled on were the two girls in the exact centre of the open space. They were bound to some kind of wooden post, black hoods over their heads. They were wearing Furinkan school uniforms and looked to be about the right height. Ranma glanced around the rest of the area. A few scattered pieces of kendo equipment were pushed against the walls, and a bunch of other wrapped bundles were scattered about in various places about the yard. The yard itself was grassy, but well-trimmed. It was fairly small, no larger than the Tendo’s backyard. Ranma looked up and spotted their enemy for the first time.
She was standing imperiously on the top of the building straight across from Ranma. She was long-legged, a fact made evident by her high-cut black leotard that was tight enough to leave very little to the imagination. Then again, when one saw such things from Ranma’s point of view often enough, they began to lose their carnal impact. Still, it was an interesting outfit. Her long black hair was tied up in a pony-tail that flipped and swayed behind her as it caught in the wind. Her elegant face was smirking down at them… until she seemed to notice Ranma, and then her mouth fell into a stern frown.
“It was requested that you come alone, Ukyou Kuonji. This… interloper was not invited.” Kodachi sounded irritated, and her posture reflected as much. Ukyou stepped in front of Ranma before he could shoot his own response back.
“And I decided to ignore your request,” Ukyou pointed out coldly. “Now, I’ll repeat what I said before. You can give up now and let me and my friends walk out of here, or I can rescue them, break your legs, and maybe burn your house to the ground.”
“An uncouth response. I think not. Very well, Ukyou Kuonji. I will not so insult you by offering you the chance to surrender.” She reached out, stretching a long thin ribbon between her hands. Ranma tightened his posture a bit; Ukyou had warned him not to underestimate that weapon. “I will remember your threat to break my legs. Let us see if you can carry it out.”
“Ask and ye shall receive,” Ukyou responded frostily. With a snap of her arms, Ukyou pulled a small swarm of throwing spatulas from her coat and sent them flying. Kodachi grinned and began to twirl her ribbon in front of her, obviously expecting to deflect the attack. It might have worked too, if Ukyou had been aiming for Kodachi. Instead the shuriken-like weapons let out a series of hollow thuds as they impacted into the post holding the two girls up. With deceptive slowness the ropes fell away, neatly bisected in a dozen places. Ranma kept his attention split between Ukyou and the girl on the roof. Kodachi dropped her ribbon, her annoyed frown deepening slightly. She gestured behind her back and then her hands reappeared with a pair of gymnastics batons. Ranma had also been warned that such batons often carried hidden surprises.
His companion, however, didn’t even give Kodachi a second glance. Ukyou was already moving again, her motion efficiently transferring from one throw to reach inside her coat. With a cry she flipped her hands out, and long strands leapt from her fingertips.
“Woah,” Ranma called as the bands slapped into the two toppling girls’ bodies, and adhered there. Now that Ranma could see the strands, they looked like super-thick noodles of some kind. He only had a few seconds to notice this before Ukyou jerked with all her strength, lifted the girls off their feet and propelling them through the air. Kodachi gasped in shock and pulled back her batons to throw them.
“Ranma, deflect them!” Ukyou barked.
“Right.” Ranma pulled out a few of the miniature spatulas Ukyou had provided him and threw them on instinct. The weapons zinged over Ukyou’s head, causing her hair to ruffle in their wake. His aim was true, and each of his weapons struck one of Kodachi’s batons in mid-flight, knocking them off path. A second later, Ukyou grunted as the two bodies slammed into her and she fell towards Ranma as she tumbled under their weight. Ranma easily side-stepped the collapsing pile of females.
“You okay, Ucchan?” Ranma asked swiftly as he bent over to check on her. She was currently buried under a pile of girls. Ranma was about to help her up when he felt something snap tightly around his neck. “Gargh!” Ranma tried to scream as he hands flew reflexively to his neck. He could feel the thin ribbon rubbing against his flesh with the tip of his fingers, but couldn’t get them under it.
Then he was flying. He gasped in pain as a force wrenched at his neck. The world spun around him. His hands grasped the ribbon and he righted himself. He briefly saw Kodachi as she jerked him skyward. She was standing on the post now. She smiled maliciously as Ranma reached the apex of his flight.
“OHOHOHOHOHO! You fools!”
With a vicious tug Kodachi pulled him from the sky, sending Ranma flying towards the ground. Ranma tried to gasp, but he could barely breathe. The ground was really approaching fast…
Ukyou’s voice caught Ranma’s attention and he saw her sprinting across the grass towards him. Her expression had lost all its cold composure. She leapt, stretching her arms out and catching Ranma as he fell. Ukyou let out a gasp as Ranma smashed into her stomach. A split-second later they hit the ground, which gave with a resounding crack. Ranma grunted, barely feeling the impact.
He snarled, pulling one of Ukyou’s mini-spatulas from his sleeve and slashed apart the ribbon holding him. Immediately the pressure on his throat ceased. He took a deep breath and sat up.
“Dammit,” Ranma growled at Kodachi. The girl was still standing on the post in the centre of the yard, a self-satisfied smirk on her lips. “You crazy freak.” Ranma looked down at Ukyou before the leotard-clad teenager could respond. “Ucchan, thanks for the assist, but it really wasn’t necessary…” he trailed off.
Ukyou was staring up at him, her eyes glassy and her mouth slowly opening and closing. Ranma frowned. Ukyou’s arms and legs twitched slightly, but otherwise she wasn’t moving.
“Ukyou? Are you hurt?”
“Pppp…” Ukyou gasped between vibrating lips. “P-poison!”
Ranma stepped off of Ukyou and looked down at her. Now that he had a better angle, he could see them. Dozens of tiny caltrops, all sticking into Ukyou’s body from multiple angles. Each one glistened with some sort of strange fluid. Ranma looked around the yard. Now that he knew what to look for, he could see them. Tiny pieces of metal glinting throughout the entire grassy area. Who knew how many had been under Ukyou when she had landed?
Carefully placing his feet, Ranma turned and glared at Kodachi, who was smiling down at him.
“You hurt my friend,” Ranma informed her coolly. “I won’t forgive you.”
Even as he said that, the girl was flipping back up, landing once more on the far roof. “Dear boy, your friend planned to hurt me rather badly. Or did you perhaps not hear her threat? Fair is fair… and I, after all, have not hurt her nearly so badly as that.”
Great. If she left the courtyard, Ranma would have more room to manoeuvre without worrying about those caltrops. He grinned. Obviously, she didn’t know that the Saotome School focused on mid-air combat.
“And you kidnapped Akane,” Ranma said as he bunched his legs and followed her. “Don’t think you’re getting away with this!” Ranma flew straight at her. He cocked back one hand for a punch. But he was already planning ahead. She would likely evade. If she went right, he could tap off the roof and spin into a kick. If she went left, he would continue past her and rebound with a powerful thrust that should catch her off balance.
Left. She was going left, he could see her posture shift towards that, and her hand was reaching down. He grinned… but then Kodachi hesitated. Her eyes widened as they focused on his approach – was that fear on her face? – and he was upon her. His fist slammed into her gut. He wasn’t gentle about it… he didn’t like hitting chicks, but this one had kidnapped girls and hurt Ucchan. She folded up and tumbled back, but something was odd. Something wrong about how she’d reacted to the blow. Normally that drove the wind out of someone, but she hadn’t…
His feet touched the roof, and thoughts of Kodachi vanished from Ranma’s mind, because suddenly he was falling. Had he landed wrong? He scrabbled for purchase, but his hands slipped over the tiles. They were greased! And that meant he was falling… towards the grass. And those poisoned caltrops in it. He desperately flung out his hands, searching for something that would hold him… and caught it. A leotard-clad form tumbled past him as he jerked to a halt, but he ignored her, looking at what he had grabbed. It was another tile. But it wasn’t greased. Wait, it was where Kodachi had been standing. She HAD flipped back to the exact same spot when she returned to the roof. Hadn’t thought anything of it at the time, but… he reached his other hand up to secure his grip.
And the tile broke.
He stared at the broken shard in his hand dumbly for a moment, then frantically dropped it and reached out with both hands. But it was too late, because gravity had taken over, and he was falling, towards the eaves of the house, towards the grass below. He looked around for something, anything, saw something dark, kicked himself towards it as he slid from the roof.
The world spun around crazily, then suddenly came to a halt. Ranma lay still for a moment. He didn’t feel any pricks, no poison coursing through his veins, no inability to move. Okay. He carefully moved to his feet. Where was Kodachi… oh.
Kodachi was below him, having served as his impromptu cushion. Her haughty face was pale, and her eyes wide. Her mouth hung open, and she was still except for a slight twitch of her cheek. Her eyes stared up, but not at him. In fact, they didn’t seem to be focused on anything, or even conscious anymore. Instead, they were glassy and blank.
It was over already? Damn. That was fast. Ranma was just getting warmed up.
“That was kinda disappointing,” Ranma grumbled. Well, first job was getting to Ukyou. Ranma stood up on Kodachi’s stomach, not really surprised by her lack of protest, and began to look for some way to go over and help Ukyou without risking getting poisoned himself. That was a bit of a pickle… then Ranma smacked his fist into his palm and grinned. “Excuse me,” he told the unconscious Kodachi as he reached down and plucked her ribbon from her nerveless fingers.
Ranma leapt across the yard, landing on the central post. Then with a snap whipped out the ribbon a few times. The first few attempts didn’t do much good, but on about the third try he got the trick of it. With that he snatched the huge spatula lying next to Ukyou and pulled it to him. A few second later he had flung it on the ground next to her. With a sigh of relief he leapt the short distance to land on the large flat of the blade.
“Hang on, Ucchan,” Ranma murmured simply. He used the last of the miniature shuriken-like spatulas Ukyou had given him to carefully remove the caltrops from her body. Then he lifted her up and tossed her over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry. It appeared the thick leather of Ukyou’s coat had kept most of the caltrops on her back from penetrating all the way through. “Right, now let’s go get the others and…”
Ranma cut off as a soft sound came to him. He snapped his head to the side and saw Kodachi. She was standing on the eave again, carrying a pair of batons with spiked heads in each hand. She was smiling.
“What the…” Ranma reached up with his free hand and rubbed his eyes. “How did you get back up!?”
“Silly, silly Ranma. Do you think I would be so easily hoist by my own petard? Now, don’t move, dear boy, there’s a bit of a problem here for you.” She held out the batons, poised for a throw. “The spikes on these are coated with a very lethal little concoction I’ve brewed up. A single hit… a single SCRATCH means certain death. But, as I am merciful, I do not feel it necessary to use them. Unless you make me, of course. I have many of them, including these four I have ready to throw now. You quite admirably deflected them before, but now unfortunately, you are burdened by your friend, whom you probably do not wish to drop upon the poisonous little surprises that were somehow left in the grass. But you are fast and strong, I can see that. You could probably save yourself and her from being touched by them. Probably. But could you save those other two girls as well? They are rather far away, aren’t they? And you certainly can’t let yourself be distracted, turning your back on me…”
Ranma stared at her dumbly for a few seconds. Then shook his head. “Wow, you are nuts. I didn’t believe Ucchan when she told me about you.” He stretched his neck. “Well… I guess I’ll just have to stop you from using those things.” Ranma narrowed his eyes, scanning the courtyard for something, anything, he could use to stop Kodachi before she carried out her threat.
With a soft sigh Kodachi flung one of the batons. Ranma didn’t flinch as the weapon thudded into the ground in front of his feet. “Dear boy, you didn’t listen. I said, do not move. Not a single muscle, save perhaps for that lovely mouth of yours, to respond to what I say. There will be no further warnings, I am afraid.”
Ranma frowned now. Kodachi sounded serious. But there was no way Ranma was going to back down. Kodachi had just gone from mildly annoying kidnapper to potential murderer. Worse, she was using the threat of harming his friends to try and get him to back down. Ranma tensed his muscles invisibly under his clothes, his eyes scanning across the area for some weapon he could use to defend himself, Ukyou and the two Tendo sisters all at once.
His hand tensed slightly and he realized he still had the ribbon. That could help, but at best he could snatch one baton in mid-air before it reached a target, and Kodachi had three of them left. If only he had a bit more practice with the unusual weapon…
“Excellent decision,” Kodachi purred, cutting off that train of thought. “Now remember, not even a twitch until I tell you. You’re rather troublesome, boy. You weren’t supposed to be here. Now what shall I do with you? It simply wouldn’t do to leave you as a proper factor here. How unfortunate for you that I hold all the cards in this situation, hmm?” Her voice suddenly grew ice-cold. “You have two choices. Either leave, right now, or step on one of the caltrops and stay to observe what happens. Think quickly.”
“Nah.” Ranma grinned happily. “You want Ukyou so bad? Catch.” Ranma moved quickly, cutting off Kodachi before she could speak. With a mighty heave he thrust the arm holding Ukyou forward… and suddenly a cloud of billowing black flew towards Kodachi. But Ukyou wasn’t in the coat anymore, Ranma having held onto her well enough to prevent that. Ranma didn’t wait to see Kodachi’s reaction as the obscuring black coat blasted towards her. Instead he muttered a soft prayer asking Ukyou for forgiveness as he spun on one toe… and threw her through a nearby window into the house proper. Ranma transferred the momentum of his spin even further, tapping off the spatula beneath him and leaping in the direction of the doorway Akane and Nabiki were in.
There was a triple thump as the batons slammed into the coat and the entire mass suddenly reversed direction. Ranma was barely leaping by the time it reached him, but he grinned as his gambit paid off. He could feel something brush past his leg as he leapt away, but it was just leather against his pants. Ranma saw Kodachi already reacting, pulling more of those batons from wherever she was storing them. She was reaching back for a throw and Ranma couldn’t tell if she was aiming for him or the girls beyond. He grit his teeth. This had to work!
Ranma snapped his hand out as he flew over the ground. Time seemed to slow down as the ribbon unrolled towards the house. Was it too high? Had he missed? Could he adjust it in mid-flight? Should he? No! Trust yourself, Ranma! This WOULD work!
The ribbon wrapped tightly about its target… the door handle! With a triumphant yell Ranma pulled the improvised grapple sharply. The door slammed shut. Now, Kodachi was cut off from all three of the helpless girls! His leap had also looked like it was toward the house, but it really was just high enough to allow him to tuck in his legs and land on the roof itself. Unfortunately he had no time to unravel the ribbon, and was forced to drop it as he landed on the roof.
His triumph was short-lived as his legs suddenly shot out from under him. He fell backward, and felt more than saw the sudden passage of a pair of poison-tipped batons as they flew through the space he would have occupied had he landed upright. Ranma almost sighed in relief. Then he was falling off the edge of the roof, towards that damn trapped ground again!
With a yell Ranma punched downward. He could just see the glitter of metal amidst the grass… and his fist slammed down into the ground, barely a millimeter from the edge of one of the poison-coated spines. For an agonising instant his muscles fought gravity as he tried to support his weight on that one hand. Then he heard the whistle of incoming projectiles. Gritting his teeth and cursing whatever gods were supposed to be looking out for him, Ranma pushed.
He was airborne again. The batons slammed into the ground where his hand had been moments before. His push had achieved some altitude, but it wouldn’t last forever and he could now see the cursing Kodachi seeming to dance in place as she launched batons at him in sequence, tracking his motion.
Ranma had lost the ribbon. He had no way to defend himself from the attacks. In a second his inertia would cease carrying him upward and then he’d be a sitting duck. His mouth cocked into a grin as his brain suddenly provided him with what might be an answer.
Ranma’s hands moved fast. One hand clamped onto each side of his shirt and with a staccato of popping wooden ties he ripped it open. A quick shrug and the silk garment was pulled from his chest and swinging around ahead of him. It had worked before. But Ukyou’s leather coat was much thicker than Ranma’s silk shirt. Still he snapped the fabric with as much force as he could, wishing he’d bothered to learn that iron cloth thing.
The fabric collided with the first baton that would have caught him and he grinned as it flew off course. Then Ranma spun the cloth again, knocking a second and third weapon out of the way. He could hear the shirt ripping and tearing as he descended. It wouldn’t last two more blows. But Ranma was almost down to the roof again. The slightly shining roof.
Ranma had almost forgotten the grease again. He needed some way to stay on the roof… to manoeuvre without restriction. Wait, that might work-
Ranma had no more time for thinking. He spun in place, putting his legs beneath him and kicked out with as much force as he could muster. The tile of the roof hit his foot and splintered into dozens of pieces. He was stable!
His shirt gave out at last, tearing into shreds as he knocked aside one last baton. Ranma couldn’t afford to stay still. With a grin he used his stable footing to launch himself along the eave of the roof. Every time his foot came down it wasn’t a gentle tap. His footsteps left a trail of splintered tile in his wake. Not elegant, but definitely effective. Now he just had to stay ahead of those damn batons and circle around to Kodachi’s part of the roof!
It took Ranma a fraction of a second to realize he was no longer hearing the whizzing sound of projectiles, but instead the rhythmic sound of hands clapping. He slowed his pace a fraction and saw Kodachi applauding him. Noticing she had his attention, Kodachi spoke in a low, amused tone. “Excellent, Ranma, excellent. Masterfully played. Truly, you are a wonder, a martial arts genius far beyond my stature.”
“Heh, I am the best.” Ranma grinned as he pulled to a stop. He was halfway around the courtyard to Kodachi at this point. A good solid leap would carry him to her, but leave him too vulnerable in the air. Best to keep running. But first, he’d give her one last chance to back down. “You might as well give it up. You ain’t never gonna beat me. No matter what other tricks you have up your sleeve.”
“However, as superb as you are, you couldn’t think of everything. You got all three of the girls inside the house. You guarded them. You slammed the door.” Kodachi stopped clapping and drew her hand up to her cheek. Her mouth dropped open into an overblown O of shock. “Unfortunately for you, you neglected to block the very window you just threw Ukyou Kuonji through. And more unfortunately still, my aim was quite good enough to send several of my weapons through that while you were dancing around waving your shirt at me.” Ranma felt his heart skip a beat. Ukyou! Kodachi smiled as she saw his reaction. Her next words were oily and slow, making sure he heard every word. “Miss Kuonji, most unfortunately, will expire within minutes. Far too quickly to take her to a doctor. But all is not lost. I have an antidote, of course. Merely throw yourself to the lawn below you and I shall be most happy to administer it to her.”
“You’re bluffing!” Ranma cried as he began to lunge across the roof towards her. Great geysers of debris erupted in his wake as he pushed with all his speed. She had to be bluffing. Nobody could make that kind of shot. Ranma had thrown Ukyou so she would roll out of the way. Hadn’t he? It had been so fast, he might not have done the throw perfect. Plus Ukyou was a lot of deadweight at the time. “Dammit! You psychopath!”
Kodachi flipped down to the courtyard as he approached and Ranma skidded to a halt on the eave of the roof. Could he follow her down there and risk searching her for the antidote… “You’re wasting time, Ranma. Precious time. YOU could have made that shot. You know I could. And I did. I won’t let Ukyou die if I can avoid it. Talking to her is important to me. But not so much that I’ll surrender to you. Beat me, bludgeon me… even if I break, how much time will it take? Ukyou’s time, Ranma. What’s more valuable to you? Winning, or her?”
“I don’t believe you…” Ranma growled but he could hear the fear in his own voice. He tensed his legs, ready to leap. He had to risk going down there blind.
Before he could move, Kodachi’s hand flickered to her waist and returned holding a small vial of something. “No more negotiations. Do what I said. Now. Or I’ll smash it, and we see if you can brew another one in the remaining minutes of her lifespan.”
Ranma could feel it. Feel the fight draining out of him. There was no way he could get down there faster than Kodachi could destroy that potion. Especially not with all those poisoned caltrops spread across the yard. He couldn’t surrender! But… it went against everything he stood for. There was always a chance… always a possibility… except there wasn’t. Kodachi held all the cards. His fists unclenched and his chin fell to his chest.
“Alright! You win!”
“Of course I do. Now jump down on the lawn, landing with your whole body, if you please, not your very agile feet. Don’t leap towards me, as I am of course expecting that.”
Ranma growled and nodded. He stepped forward, toppling off the edge of the roof. He spun once, spreading his arms and legs as he plummeted. The impact didn’t hurt as much as he thought it would. He felt the burning points on his back as the tiny metal spikes drilled into him. He let out an involuntary gasp, and it was the last solid sound he made. The poison didn’t creep through his system. It hit like diving into a pool of water, swallowing him all at once. He could feel, feel everything, but couldn’t control any of it.
Ranma tried to scream as he watched three of the batons impact with his chest, drawing long lines of blood on his bared skin. It came out only as a strangled gurgle. That bitch! He would kill her! He needed to move, just enough to finish her off… He heard the ground crunching softly under footfalls as the girl approached. He rolled his eyes, trying to get a good look at her. If he could see her, he could will her dead with just his hatred! She appeared in his line of sight, looking slightly amused at his expression. She crouched down beside him. Then her entire posture and expression changed. Her shoulders slumped. Her smile went from gloating to relieved. Everything about her changed… except her eyes. Those cold, empty, dead eyes. When she spoke, she sounded barely like the girl he had been fighting. Every word she said was different, less haughty, less HER somehow.
“Geez, Ranma. You scared the crap out of me. I wasn’t at all sure if I could handle you. To put your mind at ease, neither Ukyou nor you are in danger. My batons were poisoned, but only with the same chemical on the caltrops. Paralysis, nothing more. You’ll remain perfectly conscious, if perhaps uncomfortable. Which is good. You should pay attention to what’s going to happen. You might learn a thing or two about your ‘friend’, Ukyou.”
Then she sighed and smiled at him one last time before standing to walk away.
Being thrown through a window was not ever going to be high on Ukyou’s list of favourite things to experience. Neither was being paralysed. Landing on a hardwood floor after having both done to you was definitely going on her ‘never repeat’ list. The fall might not have hurt that much, had she been able to roll with the impact. She had somehow managed to land face up in a small pool of broken glass as well. This was not turning out to be one of her best days.
Someone was going to pay, she and Aaron vowed silently. Kodachi wasn’t really to blame, she was just a convenient scapegoat. There had to be someone else behind what was happening here with Kodachi. Once Aaron could figure out who that was, they would find out what it was like to be thrown through a window or two.
But the first priority was moving. Aaron couldn’t remember how long Kodachi’s paralysis concoctions lasted, but he knew moving anytime soon was probably a slim chance. In fact, he was inclined to wait. Ranma was out there, and he was more than a match for Kodachi in one-on-one combat. Even if Kodachi had booby-trapped every inch of the estate, Ranma was still likely to come out on top.
Except this wasn’t just Kodachi. Someone had to have set her up on this errand. There was no other explanation for her showing so much interest in Ukyou, a person she had no reason to have even heard much about. Someone else was behind this, and that someone could decide to step up and tip the scales in Kodachi’s favor.
It was a chance Ukyou just wasn’t willing to live with. Which left them both back at square one. How to start moving again?
Aaron frowned as an idea came to him, a radical and really stupid idea. But until they learned “anti-poison fu”, then it was all they had. Ukyou wasn’t too wild about the concept either, but she wasn’t coming any closer to a solution than Aaron.
So they reached out, feeling for that small pocket of strange energy that was Aaron’s self-destructive chi. With a gasp they filtered it through their body. Ukyou really didn’t have much control over her chi, just the basics of how to enhance muscle strength, eliminate fatigue and otherwise render oneself superhuman. But Aaron built on that, focusing the strange energy using techniques he had mastered in ‘his world’ to control breathing and heartbeat. Aaron then concentrated the painful energy around the dozens of small punctures which Kodachi’s hidden caltrops had punched into Ukyou’s arms and legs.
They could feel the bleeding start almost immediately, and with it a slow release of the vicelike grip of the poison. He had been right: the poison was bleeding out of his system. But they couldn’t afford to bleed it all out. Some had managed to work its way in too deep, and they had already lost a lot of blood the day before.
With some reluctance Ukyou stopped them. She tested her reflexes a few times and found them slow and sluggish, but there. Good, they could move again. It wasn’t much of a struggle to get to her feet. She could hear the sounds of the battle outside the window, but didn’t risk a glance outside. In her state, intervening directly in the fight would make her more liability than asset. Aaron first noted the clubs embedded in the wall nearby. Kodachi had probably missed them by centimeters with that throw.
Chuckling to herself, Ukyou strode over and plucked the clubs from the wood. All her tools had been left outside, so arming herself seemed prudent. A quick examination led to her finding a way to retract the spines. Best not to toy with a potentially lethal poison, though Ukyou wasn’t sure she thought Kodachi capable of using something like that.
Though tempted to go outside and stick the things in Kodachi’s thighs, Ukyou resisted the urge and departed via the handy doorway. She had other priorities now. Now, which way to where she had left the two unconscious girls? Ukyou had been tossed through a window on the opposite side of the house, and she would have to circle the entire courtyard to get to them. One way had to be faster than the other, however. Well, Aaron always claimed to have an excellent sense of direction, so she trusted him as he guided them down the hallway, the sounds of the battle outside slowly dimming as they left the room. Aaron blinked as the hallway swam for a moment, but managed to keep going. They had really lost a lot of blood. He sure hoped Ranma could take care of this without Ukyou’s help.
Aaron guessed right, and in short order they entered the foyer. The two girls were still lying unconscious on the floor. Ukyou knelt down next to them as Aaron quickly went through normal first aid on them… and his hands hesitated. Something about these two seemed off. Frowning, he grasped the obscuring hoods and yanked them off without preamble. A brown-haired and a black-haired girl, but neither of them was Nabiki or Akane.
“A trick,” Ukyou groused aloud. “I should have known.” Then Aaron snapped their head to the side. He had felt the telltale tickle of the martial arts danger sense. Walking into the room in the same direction Ukyou had come from was Kodachi. Ukyou cursed under her breath and rose to her feet, flipping the twin batons in her hand into a defensive posture.
Kodachi did not look happy when she walked in: her pretty mouth was scowling, and her pace was hurried. Plus she seemed to be following something on the floor… ah yes, the blood trail. Then Kodachi looked up and spied Ukyou. She smirked, raising one hand to her cheek. “Well, you managed to get up somehow, but didn’t get very far, hmm? I also see you noticed those aren’t your friends. Well, then again, I never said they were. Assumptions may well be the death of you.”
“You beat Ranma…” Aaron said slowly. He almost added ‘that shouldn’t be possible’, but his inherent distaste for stock dialogue prevented him. “You’re more dangerous than you have any right to be, Kodachi Kunou.”
Kodachi swung a pair of batons from behind her back. “Which makes us even, I suppose, since you’re supposed to be lying helpless on the ground.” Wait, that didn’t sound very much like Kodachi. There was a twin set of snaps as the bulbs at the end of her batons extended their dripping spines. “But you know, that’s just peachy. Because, me? I’ve been under a lot of stress lately, and of all the people you and I brought here, you are the only one I do not feel the slightest bit guilty letting out all that stress on. Please don’t crumple too easily, and I promise I won’t damage your mouth too badly.”
Ukyou gasped as Kodachi leapt across the space between them. A desperate parry kept the first blow from smashing into her stomach, and a second deflection prevented the follow-up from catching her. Aaron backpedalled away, trying to gain manoeuvring room, but Kodachi pursued almost faster than he could follow. They were in serious trouble. Blood loss, poison and injury were slowing them down. Kodachi was fighting like she was fresh, and they couldn’t risk touching those spines again.
Ukyou kept up a series of parries as Kodachi snarled and lashed out again and again. She caught a particularly strong swing with both of her own clubs and the sheer force of it sent her flying back into the wall. The wood splintered around her and Aaron cried out in pain.
The world swayed as the injuries and dizziness caught up with them. They didn’t even see Kodachi charge in, just felt the sickening impact of the club driving into their stomach. Ukyou folded over the head of the weapon. She saw Kodachi smirk. The girl had intentionally retracted her spines? An uppercut with the other club caught them square on the chin. Stars erupted across the inside of their eyelids. They didn’t even feel the wall behind them collapse until they were already falling into the next room.
Ukyou propped herself up on one hand. Aaron noted wryly that they had lost their clubs somewhere in the exchange. Kodachi stepped calmly through the hole in the wall she had created, smirking evilly. Her eyes weren’t smiling, however. Ukyou spit a gob of blood to the side. With tremendous will she forced herself to kick out, trying to catch Kodachi in the ankles. The girl bounced up over the attack. Ukyou watched her curl into a ball to avoid clipping the ceiling, then vault off it down at them. With a curse Aaron pushed them to the side. Kodachi came down where they had been laying with enough force to splinter the floorboards. But they weren’t fast enough to avoid her follow-up kick. Once again stars burst across their vision, this time accompanied by a disturbing darkness at the edge of her eyes.
“Oh my, are you almost finished already? That simply won’t do. I suppose I’ll have to take things just a little bit easier.” Aaron was struggling to lift themselves up while Ukyou tried to get a fix on Kodachi’s position. They had landed on their side against the wall, and could only hear her approaching footsteps. Then an unkind hand grabbed a hold of their hair and jerked their face up. Before they could do more than note Kodachi’s evil smirk they were thrust into the floorboards again. The floor didn’t give way this time, but it certainly vibrated. “Certain types of pain are almost as good as a cold shower for waking up. Did that break your nose? Should I try again?”
“Fuck you,” Aaron hissed between clenched teeth, trying to rise. Their nose did feel bruised, but probably not broken yet.
“Goodness, such language. Well, it’s not like you weren’t warned. Oh, and you brought Ranma after I specifically told you to come alone. Most vexing. This is for that.” Ukyou’s head fell to the floorboards again as Kodachi released it. Then something snapped around her ankle. The ribbon? A second later she was airborne. A long scream erupted from her throat. They didn’t see what they hit, but their back exploded in pain as it collided with something very hard. Whatever it was, it thankfully broke before their spine did. They flew through the sudden rain of broken statuary, and Aaron noted in one of those bizarre extremely lucid moments that he could see a bit of Principal Kunou’s face smiling ridiculously at him. Then they collided with the wall again and collapsed in a heap.
The sound of footsteps approaching kept them from falling unconscious. Ukyou was still struggling to lift herself up, but wasn’t doing too well. Aaron was just about ready to give up and just let them drift off. “Well, that was… fairly satisfying. I guess you probably can’t take much more. Too bad.” A none-too-delicate poke from Kodachi’s foot flipped them over onto their side. She smiled down at them, but her eyes were not reflecting her glee. Reaching out with one hand, she grabbed the front of Ukyou’s shirt and pulled them up to eye level. Ukyou struggled to keep her head up, but it bobbed annoyingly. “Or not. It does feel kind of wrong to be beating up someone who looks that much like Ukyou. But, c’est la vie.” Huh? Aaron blinked. “You look like you could use some fresh air, and I haven’t QUITE paid you back for last night, though, soooooooo…” With a grin, Kodachi spun on one heel and flung them through a nearby window. Not another damn window, Aaron groused internally. But the passage was brief and now they were falling into the yard. The yard laced with poison-caltrops.
Acting on instinct, Aaron drew on a bit more of his own strange chi, somehow gaining the strength to push his hands in front of him and land with both palms against the grass. Tiny metal weapons glinted nearby. Ukyou took over, using the momentum of the throw and the pivot of their palms to complete a flip. It hurled them into the center of the courtyard. With a cry they slammed into the post there. Again acting on instinct, Aaron draped an arm around it, keeping them from collapsing.
Now that they weren’t flying through the air, Aaron had a moment to think. What the hell had Kodachi meant there, at the end? Payback for last night? Was this actually some Dark Kingdom thing, after all? But that other sentence, it tickled the back of Aaron’s memory. There was something here he was missing. He hated that.
His musing were cut off as the door into the courtyard exploded off its hinges. Kodachi strode out, stepping into the grass without a hint of worry. Nor did she move with any of Kodachi’s characteristic grace, Aaron’s critical eye noted. “And you’re moving… again! Congratulations on your resilience. Does that mean I get to beat you up a little more, or are you just about ready to call it a match for now?”
“What do you want, Kodachi?” Ukyou spit a gob of blood from the corner of her mouth. “I’ve never done anything to you!”
“Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong, Ukyou-who-isn’t. Last night…” She paused, and frowned. “No, wait, it was the night before, wasn’t it? Damn my lousy time sense. Well, you try staying underwater for nearly 24 hours and see how well you remember a day. Anyway. I told you then we were going to talk sooner than you thought. And now we are going to. And you are going to tell me everything. Everything.”
“Two nights ago…” Ukyou said slowly. Aaron stared at the girl before them. “No… it can’t be. Chris?”
“Bingo! Got it in one! Not quite so arrogant now, are we? Not quite so smugly superior, huh? But gloating, as fun as it may be, is just a waste of time. Tell me, whoever-you-are. Tell me what you know. Tell me why you look like Ukyou but don’t act like her. Tell me how you knew about Evangelion. And while we’re at it, tell me just what series you were messing with the plot of yesterday. In fact, just tell me everything that may be of the slightest interest to me. And be very convincing that you’re doing so, because I’ll be more than happy to try various methods of making sure you’re not holding anything back.” ‘Kodachi’s’ voice rose with every word, growing more and more shrill and angry as she went on. By the time she finished her diatribe she was shaking with suppressed rage. Then she took a deep breath and visibly calmed down. “Heh. You really did piss me off. But I’m all better now. So talk.”
“Chris…” Aaron trailed off. Was he some kind of shapeshifter? No, that didn’t make any sense. What had happened to him? More importantly, to Ukyou’s mind, what had happened to Kodachi? Ukyou hardened her face, about to loudly tell the jerk to go fuck himself until he told her what had happened to the real Kodachi. But Aaron snapped her mouth closed. Why couldn’t they tell him a bit of the truth? This was Chris. Aaron had trusted the man with more of his deepest secrets than anyone else on the planet. He needed to know what had happened to the boy. Ukyou was having none of it. The ‘trusted friend’ had beaten them within an inch of their life. Threatened her. Kidnapped Akane, twice. She could even see Ranma laying shirtless and bloody nearby. Let the boy beat them senseless, she wasn’t giving him the satisfaction of breaking. The mental battle of wills waged inside their head, forming a new headache that somehow managed to make them feel even more pain then they already were. This might have continued for a good long time, if Chris-as-Kodachi hadn’t gotten impatient.
Chris/Kodachi stalked forward, her face twisting into a vicious snarl. Her hand raised as if she was about to backhand Ukyou… and stopped. For a moment the hand quivered in the air, then it dropped to her side. When the Kodachi-lookalike next spoke her voice was weary, but it slowly grew in both strength and vehemence as she talked. “All right. All right. Let me put things straight for you. You had your chance to talk nice-nice with me. But you dicked around and held back with clever answers and finally dangled your knowledge in front of my face like water in front of a man dying in the desert. You ASKED for this. You damn near forced it, in fact. And then you came here with Ranma, who was probably ready to kill me – ha! – by the end of this fight. I’m very, very tired of you right now. You ARE going to give me answers. Now, I’m trying to get you to give them willingly. Believe it or not, I really, really don’t want to hurt any of your friends. I don’t even want to hurt you, much. But I will. So help me, if you push me I’ll break every bone in your body one by one, and if that’s not good enough Ranma and Akane are next. And if that’s not good enough – because god knows if you actually care about them, or are just acting – I will find SOMETHING. Something WILL make you talk. Let that something be a threat, whoever-you-are, because I will do more than threaten if you force me. Capiche?”
“You… you would really hurt all of those people, just to get back at me because I didn’t trust you? What happened to you? The Chris I knew, he would… well, he would…” Aaron trailed off. He couldn’t bring himself to say that the Chris he knew would never do that. Aaron was, after all, a realist. He knew that Chris was only human. But what could drive the man to such lengths? When Chris lost his temper, he yelled and screamed and threw video game controllers at television screens. But no one got hurt. “My god, what happened to you?”
Kodachi froze. “The Chris… you knew…” she repeated slowly. “Who’s the Chris you knew? Who the fuck ARE you?”
“My name is Ukyou Kuonji!” Ukyou spat out, a bit of blood flying from her lips as she did so. Aaron couldn’t stop her, nor did he really want to. Kodachi stared at them as Aaron tried to figure out what to say next. He wanted to tell Chris the truth, really he did. But how could he? What was the truth? Kodachi’s face twisted. Her mouth became a vicious snarl, her nostrils flared. Aaron could literally see the bangs of her hair rising and flapping as her chi slowly bled into the visible light. But her eyes didn’t change. Those dead, emotionless eyes. Why hadn’t either of them seen those eyes before? Chris raised Kodachi’s hands slowly, curled into strangling claws.
“You… you… you…” Chris hissed between clenched teeth. Ukyou’s eyes widened.
“Jenn is alive!” Aaron shouted out as loud as he could. It was all he could think of to hopefully snap Chris out of what looked like a killing rage.
It worked. Kodachi’s hands fell nervelessly to her sides. Then she took a deep breath and looked back at Ukyou again, her face still a tight mask of anger. “Damn you, you sneaky… you’re toying with me AGAIN. Not this time. The truth! Who are you? Now!” Before Aaron could say anything, Chris cut in again. “And I swear, if you say ‘I’m Ukyou Kuonji’ again, I’m going to go over and break every one of Ranma’s fingers before asking you a third time.”
Ukyou stared as she saw her own hand pulling back from the slap she had just delivered. She hadn’t even thought about it. She’d just drawn on Aaron’s chi enough to deliver the blow. But now that she saw herself do it, she couldn’t help but feel… empowered by it. She was angry. This bastard… he didn’t even… Kodachi was staring at her in mute shock, caught completely flat-footed, and Ukyou let loose before she could recover.
“My name is fucking Ukyou Kuonji, you jackass!” she shouted. “How the hell would you know differently?” Ukyou felt the anger building up in her. The frustration that had been mounting and mounting ever since she had woken up one day with this fucking stranger in her head. And here this self-righteous geek voyeur prick was attacking her at the core of her being. “How DARE you! What the hell do you know about Ukyou Kuonji that makes you such a fucking expert on the subject!? What have you really seen about her? Snapshots on a page! Ink on paper! You know NOTHING about who I am! Can you even name my father? My mother? Do I even have siblings? To you I’m nothing but a fucking caricature, aren’t I!?” Ukyou snarled, she was really working herself into a good fever now. Aaron couldn’t do anything to stop her. He was helpless before this sudden, unexpected swell of emotion. “Oh, let’s have Ukyou fall in love with Tarou and have him break her heart! That’ll be fun! Or how about sticking her in the body of an android and making her watch her own body die! Sounds great! No wait, let’s clone her so much she has no identity, make the only person who cares about her a psychopath and drive her so insane she tries to kill all her friends! That’s the best part of all! You self-righteous little prick! You can’t see anything but your truth, you can’t see anything but what you think is right. You’ve always been like that. To think Aaron likes you! To think he trusts you! To think he wants to tell you everything! I refuse! Threaten my friends all you want. If you touch one finger on Ranma’s body, if you disturb one hair on Akane’s head, I’ll fucking finish what that truck started!”
Chris-as-Kodachi stared at them, her hand reaching up to her cheek. Ukyou snarled, breathing heavily. That attack hadn’t cost her as much as she thought it would. The anger, the sweet anger rolled out of somewhere deep inside her, making the pain go away. Ukyou had never known there was anger like this in her soul. She had never suspected anger like this could exist. It was liberating. She almost felt like laughing.
Then it hit her. This wasn’t her anger. This was Aaron’s anger. He recognised it. He remembered it. The anger he had locked away, ever since he had understood what it meant. Aaron feared this freeing, satisfying anger more than anything. Feared it so much, he had spent the last decade and a half of his life a virtual robot.
Control. He needed to control it before it went too far. A grimace of self-disgust crossed Ukyou’s features as she realised what she had tapped into. Yes. They needed to control themselves. Rein in the anger. Concentrate on her heartbeat. Will yourself calm. Emotionless.
“Aaron,” Chris said softly with Kodachi’s voice. Ukyou looked at him blankly. Had he discovered the truth? Did he know? A part of her, she wasn’t sure whose part, wanted him to know the truth. A part of her wanted it secret.
“Aaron. Aaron. Of COURSE. But that means…” The girl that had once been Aaron’s friend trailed off and stared at Ukyou with those blank eyes. Aaron wanted to say something, but he was too busy helping Ukyou control the emotions they felt. “Aaron was the person you knew that died? Okay, him and me both here? But… wait. If you knew Aaron, and you knew of me, why the hell didn’t you just say so?”
Here the Kodachi-Chris stopped. Then a look of incredulous disbelief crossed her face. Her next words came out short and sharp, but without real force behind them. “Because of fanfics? Because we wrote some STORIES about you as a fictional character? Holy fucking crap, Ukyou, that might’ve miffed you, but if you associated with him enough to learn all that… what the hell is going on here? How did he even die? As far as I can tell, that’s next to impossible. Unless… did he rot? Or the body got destroyed or something? Wait… he WANTS to? So he’s not dead? Where the hell is he?” Kodachi’s voice grew more and more frustrated as she continued talking, by the end her hands were clenched into fists. Her knuckles strained and should have turned white from it, but Aaron idly noticed that her entire hand was already pale. Not just her hand, either; her entire body was pale. He blinked. Rotted? A fleeting memory of clammy skin against Ukyou’s hand as she delivered her slap came to mind. “Goddamnit, Ukyou, this isn’t a fucking game! If you know him, knew him, whatever, you should know that! Why the hell couldn’t you just tell me the truth? Because of STORIES? Shit, fuck, motherfucking… I’m SORRY I wrote stories about you. Does that balance the scales?” Kodachi’s voice had become slightly shrill as real anger once again entered into it. “Yeah, I’m SO FUCKING SORRY I read about you in a comic book, Ukyou Kuonji, and never realised you existed somewhere, somehow. That really is just as bad as taunting me and abandoning me as a rotting corpse when you could have given me some help and hope, huh? Jesus. Fine. Tell me where Aaron is, or if he IS dead, tell me what you know, and I’ll get out of your life. If you knew me, you should have known I never would have wanted to hurt you, or Ranma, or Akane. You damn well forced me into this by refusing to tell me a damn thing. But nobody’s permanently injured or… well, none of your friends have been hurt except for some scratches on Ranma. So just tell me what the HELL is going on here, please?”
Rotting corpse? Abandoning? Pale skin. Clammy flesh.
(“This body is just a vessel.” He looked up at her, stared her in the eyes. “Just a vessel. It doesn’t bleed. It’s not even alive.”)
“I don’t know what’s going on,” Aaron answered truthfully. He opened his mouth to answer Chris, to finally tell all. Then the part of them that was Ukyou thought ‘And what happened to Kodachi then?’ and his mouth snapped shut. “You killed her. You killed Kodachi, didn’t you?” they said in mixed shock and horror.
“I…” Chris clamped Kodachi’s mouth shut and narrowed her eyes. “No. No, I see what you’re doing. Getting me to answer questions without answering any of mine, again. I’ll answer you when you answer me, Ukyou. You still haven’t explained a damn thing. And you’re STILL not acting like Ukyou should, and I’m SORRY where I draw my knowledge from, but nobody else here acts so utterly different than what I expected. So, fine, I’ll believe you’re Ukyou, since you’re a damn good actress if you can fake that much anger. But something obviously changed you. So what was it? Meeting Aaron? What happened? Why are you so damn determined not to tell me anything?”
“Meeting Aaron? Meeting him…” Ukyou snickered. She couldn’t help herself. “Yes, it was meeting him. Aaron changed my life. Aaron ruined my life. Because of Aaron I can’t tell Ranma how I feel about him. Because of Aaron I can’t get mad at anyone without risking it blowing up into a berserk rage. Because of him Sailor Pluto is trying to kill me, and the Dark Kingdom is attacking me. Because of Aaron I’ve seen myself in ways I never wanted to see myself. Oh… and let’s not forget, Aaron’s ‘friend’ is threatening to kill me while in the corpse of Kodachi Kunou!” Ukyou took a deep breath, trying to let Aaron reign in the anger she felt again. “I hate Aaron Peori,” she spat softly. She couldn’t help it. She didn’t want to do it. She could almost sympathise with Aaron. He was just as much a victim here as she was. Except she couldn’t.
Chris stared at them mutely for a moment. “What the hell are you talking about?” Kodachi’s voice was dumbfounded. “Because of Aaron, because of Aaron. Obviously he’s no mind-controller…” Ukyou burst out into a short, bitter laugh. But Chris just gave her a funny look and continued.”…so how he’s doing all this stuff, I don’t know. And you obviously got mad at me just fine. Well, that makes us even, since I was certainly mad at you. Although, just to make a point, I never threatened to kill you. ANYway…” Chris reached up and massaged her temples, closing her eyes. “You’re evading the point again. I don’t think you’re doing it deliberately, because you’re obviously agitated about the whole thing. I don’t know why you hate him. I don’t know why you hate me, previous to today’s encounter. But I’m willing to let bygones be bygones. However, you’ve got to give me a little here. I need to know what’s going on. Hell, if you’re having so much trouble with him, maybe I can help you.” Her voice was growing bitter. She opened her eyes and stared straight into Ukyou’s. “But you have to help me first. Just spit it out, for christ’s sake. Get mad all you want, threaten all you want, but the fact is, you’re not getting out of this situation without telling me anything, so let’s deal with this situation rationally. Trust me, no matter how much you hate that I wrote fictional versions of you to be angsty, I’ve suffered PLENTY for it, okay?”
“I can’t help you, Chris,” Ukyou said slowly. “At least, not yet.” She tried to straighten herself up, but her vision swam with black sparks. Giving up, she resumed her slump against the post. “I don’t think you can help me either. Aaron… Aaron gave me a lot of baggage to carry, Chris. Up here…” Ukyou tapped her forehead. “Up here Aaron has done a lot of damage. But it’s okay. I can help you, in the future. You already know how. The Sword, Chris. In only a few months, it will hit the magic number and I plan to be there when it does. I can help you then.”
Before Chris could reply, Aaron cut in. “Chris. You have to believe me… I want to help you. But there’s nothing I can say that can make what you’re going through better. I have no clue why this all happened to you. I have no clue why it happened to me as well. And I wouldn’t look for Aaron either, he can’t help you now.” Aaron dipped their head. “If that doesn’t satisfy you, then I suggest you beat me up some more. Get it out of your system.”
“Oh, trust me, I’m tempted.” The anger was clear in her voice. “Once again, once again, you won’t tell me CRAP. And I don’t know why, but I’m getting plenty sick of it. The sword? The Wishing Sword, you mean? Who gives a shit? Do you even know where it is? Because nothing ever said that. And even if it did…” She sighed and looked at her hands. “Months. Probably at least three months, maybe four, given the current circumstances. I can’t wait for that. There won’t be anything left of me by then. Unless… but I can’t take the risk. If you want to help me, help me by TELLING ME. You may not know why this happening – I don’t even think you know WHAT is happening – but you damn well know more than I do. Why won’t you tell me what you do know? Do I have to get on my knees and beg you? Jeezus! Goddamn… JEEZUS!” She swung wildly, her fist whistling in the air. Ukyou didn’t flinch. “I don’t care if you’re Ukyou! I’m not going to sit here like a good little corpse and, and, FUCK! You WILL tell me what you know! You gave me no reason to do anything other than twist the truth out of you, but I tried talking. I believed you, I trusted what you told me. And you’re STILL dicking me around!” Ukyou just looked on dully as the Kodachi-corpse turned her eyes back to her. “Don’t. Don’t do this to me, Ukyou. You don’t know me any more than I know you. But I’m not the person Aaron knew. You said it yourself. What I’ve gone through… what I’ve become… you can’t imagine. I hope you can’t. But don’t do this to me. Because I won’t let you. And I’m scared of what might happen. What I might… just tell me. Please. I AM begging you. Tell me. Tell me what happened to you. What happened to Aaron. What’s going on. I need to know. I NEED it.”
“I can’t help you, damn it!” Ukyou said in exhaustion, tired of this. “You want to know what I know. Fine. You and Aaron were hit by a truck when he went to visit you. You died fast, he died slowly and painfully. Now you’re here. End. Of. Story.” Ukyou stared at the ground. It took her a few seconds to realise she was crying. “I’m not dicking you around, Chris.” She brushed a few tears from her cheeks and noted with distaste that it was mixed with blood. “You want the truth… so do I. I want to know what fucking happened to me. I want to know why I remember things that haven’t happened yet. You want to know what happened to Aaron? He died and I felt him die. I know everything he knew. I don’t know HOW, okay?” Ukyou slumped down, no longer able to hold up her body. “Just, leave me alone. I can’t take this anymore. Just leave me and my friends alone.”
Ukyou stared at the ground, unable to work up the emotional or physical energy to look up and see Chris’s reactions. A few seconds passed without any response. “So… some sort of soul-bond. So you felt him, and you knew what he knew, and… no wonder you act so different. You’re… what, Ukyou with a dash of Aaron. With all his memories. And he’s dead.” A short bark of bitter laughter erupted from above Ukyou’s head. “Well, isn’t that rich. He’s dead. He’s dead, and I’m dead, except he’s more dead. Or maybe I’m more dead. How should I know? I’m real good at that, I guess. You know, having dead friends. You should know, if you have his memories.”
Ukyou didn’t respond. Aaron didn’t feel like doing so either. What was the point? They just continued to watch tears of blood drip from their face to the ground. “All right. So you told me,” Chris said in Kodachi’s voice. She sounded weary. “Look, I believe you. I’m not so horrible. And since I promised, here’s what I am. Yes, I killed Kodachi. I killed her, and I killed the person whose body you last saw me in, and I killed someone before that, and before that, and before that, and before that I woke up in the body of someone I presume who had just died. You say I’m dead in the real world? Or my world, or whatever? I guess that explains why I’m dead now. And I AM dead. I’m a walking corpse. I don’t breathe, and I don’t feel things like I did before, and I don’t have bloodflow or, well, any of the other things you probably could intuit me not having due to being a corpse. But it gets more fun than that, Ukyou. Oh yes. I can kill people, and take their bodies, take their memories, their skills, and learn them. You know that. You’ve seen that. You must think I’m horrible. You’re probably right. But I’m not doing it for no reason.
“They’re dead. They’re dead, and they start to rot. Rot. I can feel THAT. I can feel myself rotting from the inside out. It’s like… I can’t say what it’s like without making it sound trivial. It’s… my entire BEING is hollowing out, becoming softer and softer, decomposing, and then the insects come, and…” Kodachi’s voice quivered and Ukyou could almost feel her shudder. “I can’t take it. I was going insane, in that first body. I kept running from place to place so the maggots and flies wouldn’t get me. I ran across someone, they called out to me. I think they were making fun of me, that body was of a street bum. I was so… ANGRY. I snapped. I killed them. I didn’t even realise what I did until I was standing over them… and then I felt it, I felt this void calling to me, and I was in her body, I WAS her, and I could feel what she felt, remember what she remembered.”
Kodachi started pacing in front of them. Her voice came out in short bursts, like she was spitting up something unpleasant. “I didn’t want to do it. I was horrified, you understand? I was going to try and get back to Canada, give myself to the government. But then I found out. This wasn’t my world. It wasn’t even the right year. I found out that Sailor Moon existed, and then was pretty sure Ranma did too. I knew, if I was going to get help, I needed to come to Japan. Because that’s where everything was. Where everything HAPPENED. This was magic, it’d be in Japan or China I’d find a cure for it.”
Another pause. This time the voice that drifted down to Ukyou’s ears was heavy and drained. “But I couldn’t get there in that body. And, in fact, I realised the problem went deeper than that. The body was already rotting. Two, three days, they lasted, and then it’d happen again, and I couldn’t take it. I decided I needed a body. A stronger body. A superhuman body, like this world was full of. It was horrible, but what choice did I have? In a body like this, I hoped, I could stay for weeks, maybe even months. Then I’d have TIME to look for an answer, for a cure, without it always being in the back of my mind, rotting, always looking for a new victim. Less people would die. The ends were worth the means.”
Chris sighed. “Small consolation for Kodachi, right? I don’t think my life is worth more than other people’s. You should know THAT courtesy of what Aaron knew. But I couldn’t take just staying in the body while it rotted again. And I didn’t know what else to do. I wasn’t even sure if I could kill myself. Yes, as you no doubt have already guessed, Akane was my planned target. But I couldn’t do it. Even before you interrupted… you saw, didn’t you? I didn’t take the gun. So Kodachi was next. She was the only other target I could think of, that I knew I could have a chance of killing. And she wasn’t Akane. It wasn’t pleasant, but Kodachi’s an evil bitch, and I could force myself to kill her.
“And the goal, of course: to find out about you. What you knew. Because all I knew was that you looked like Ukyou, didn’t act like Ukyou, and knew about me, knew something nobody from this world should have, and wouldn’t tell me the truth. For all I knew, you had the key to freeing me from this damn curse. Or knew what had happened, which I could at least take to an expert. I’m sorry things turned out the way they did, but you didn’t exactly help, you know. I still don’t understand why you wouldn’t tell me the truth then. Didn’t you realise something was wrong? I dunno.”
Aaron didn’t respond. Let Chris paint them as the villain, if he wanted. It cost Aaron nothing to let him do so. He knew there was something wrong with what he had done. But then again, how was Aaron to know that Chris had been in such a bad position? It wasn’t like he wasn’t in a bad situation himself.
“Maybe you were just resenting getting in contact with someone who Aaron knew. Maybe I can’t blame you. But you can’t blame me, either. It’s not that I WANT to be like this. I don’t want to kill people, not you, not Akane, not Kodachi, not even the people I don’t know. It’s easy to say I should have just tied myself up and sunk to the bottom of the river, or something. I don’t know.” Another sigh. “Whatever. Now you know my story, too. That’s what I promised. Now, I’ll help you and Ranma get to a hospital, and free Akane and Nabiki. I’ll stay out of your affairs, I guess. If you do get the sword, I guess you can let me know, if I’m still stuck here. Hopefully this body will last long enough. Hopefully…” Kodachi’s voice trailed off.
Ukyou shuddered. “No,” she said softly. “Just… give Ranma the antidote. Get Akane and Nabiki. Let us go.”
When Chris next spoke he couldn’t quite conceal the resentment behind his voice. “Whatever suits you. I’ll go get the girls.” Fine. Let him dislike Ukyou. Maybe it would keep them away. Aaron couldn’t stand to see him in that body anymore. It reminded Aaron of everything he had lost. Aaron could hardly stand to think of himself anymore. Ukyou’s hatred for him was contagious. Maybe… maybe Aaron didn’t deserve to live either. Was he so different from Chris, stealing second after second of Ukyou’s life? Kodachi’s footfalls fell off slowly as she walked away from them.
Ukyou and Aaron were left alone, beaten and defeated, each in their own way.
Chris walked up the stairs with a scowl. Maybe it was a little petty to be annoyed at how much Ukyou disliked him and wouldn’t help him. But maybe it was a little petty of her, too. Everything that had happened was as much her fault as his. She had figured out who he was, if not what he was, the other night. Nothing stopped her from telling him the truth then, except her goddamn resentment of him. For what? Because Aaron had known him? Because he wrote fanfics? What a joke.
But he forced himself to calm down. Ukyou might have been asinine, but she was a done issue. Besides, she was young. Very young. It was easy to forget that. Only sixteen. So maybe expecting rationality was a bit much.
It was still very hard not to be angry at her.
He swung the door open to where Akane had been held captive. Looking down, his eyes adjusting to the dimness, she was struggling weakly to free herself, and then she was staring at him. Wait. Struggling weakly? That paralysing gas took Ranma out of commission for an entire night in the manga. Of course, Kodachi had caught Ranma by total surprise, whereas Akane could hardly have been shocked at the thought that the flowers would do something bad. She must have not inhaled much. Sloppy. He’d have to be more careful in the future.
Stepping inside, he opened a dusty wardrobe next to her, and retrieved the katana he had stored inside it earlier as a weapon of last resort. Thankfully it hadn’t come to that. Akane was still staring at him. Not glaring, for which he was oddly grateful, but just staring, piercingly.
He unsheathed the sword, and sliced it down with a swift but delicate motion. Akane flinched involuntarily, but his aim was superhumanly perfect, severing every strand of the ropes that bound her without touching even a thread of her clothing. That made him feel good as well. This whole thing might have been a total, stupid, useless waste, but at least he had his body, now. His martial-arts-death-machine body. That gave him hope.
He looked down again after a moment. Akane has removed her gag, but had not said anything. She was still staring at him with a half angry, half sad look. For a moment they remained like that, and then she spoke. “Why?”
“Why?” he repeated, confused. “I already told you… oh. That’s right. You must’ve heard everything. That’s why I put you in this room.” He glanced towards the small window that peered into the courtyard. “So you could hear the truth when I did. Except it wasn’t a truth I’d expected.” He gazed down at her again with a wry little smile. “I guess you were right. She is Ukyou, after all.”
“Was it worth it? All this?”
He sighed. “Who can say, Akane? Who can say? But you’ll all be fine. You, your sister, Ukyou, Ranma… none of you are permanently injured. It could’ve been worse. It could’ve been much worse. So, in that way, it isn’t so bad. And at least it’s over.”
“Is it?” Akane tried to stand up, and he instinctively reached down to help her with his free hand. She flinched away from his touch, staggering back to the window. Well, he couldn’t blame her for that reaction. “I didn’t understand half of what you two were talking about. I thought… Ukyou was just a normal girl who had been abandoned by Mr. Saotome. Now I find out all this. This all seems… bigger now.”
He flipped the katana over his shoulder, tapping the blunt side against it for a moment. “I’m not going to apologise for that, Akane. I’ll apologise for kidnapping you. I’ll apologise for beating up Ukyou. And I apologise for what I almost did two nights ago. But I won’t apologise for what you found out today. If Ukyou’s your friend… well, friends share things. Friends try to help friends in trouble. Now you know more about the trouble Ukyou has. I suppose, if anything, that’s the one good thing for you to come out of this.”
“I have so many… no. I have to help her…” She pushed past him, and staggered to the door, obviously woozy still. “She needs my help.”
Typical. He sighed. “Wait a second, Akane.” She kept walking, well, staggering anyway. “You said it yourself, I have to get her to a doctor… thankfully I know someone nearby who can help.”
He walked out behind her. “Yes, Akane. A certain Doctor Tofu, right? A good idea. But first off, if you won’t let me assist you in walking, slow down a bit, because if you fall down the stairs and break your neck that leaves only Nabiki to take the three of you there. Second, Ranma and Ukyou happen to be in the middle of a grassy area liberally covered with poisoned spiky bits of metal. You’re going to need some better footwear before you try to extricate them.”
“I can take care of myself…” she began reflexively, and then stopped with a sigh. “Fine… wait. You said Nabiki was here?”
Whoops. “Yes, actually. I grabbed her and you both this morning. She’s in another part of the house; I’ll go free her while you help Ranma and Ukyou.”
She paused, but then seemed to accept it. “Okay. I need some sturdy shoes then.”
He tapped the katana again. Probably should have put that back. Oh well, too late now. “Yes… if you go down these stairs – be careful – you’ll go into the main foyer. If you then take a… right, you’ll see a small door in the hallway on your left, which is a closet. That’s where the servants put the footwear, I believe. You should be able to find something suitable.” He paused, then laughed a bit. “I’m sorry. Talking like this… it seems sort of surreal, somehow.”
She looked over her shoulder at him. Her expression was sad. She opened her mouth, closed it again, then turned and walked away. As she vanished down the stairs, he leaned against the wall and stared up at the ceiling. There was a crack, probably from Ranma smashing up the roof. A bit of dust hovered in the air.
Could things have gone differently?
He shrugged. It wouldn’t have mattered. Ukyou was prejudiced against him from the start. It was too bad Akane had gotten involved. But he wasn’t exactly counting on her help or anything. And now she knew enough to get the truth out of Ukyou. In the long run, that’d probably improve any friendship they had. Especially since Ukyou had so conveniently taken Akane out of the Ranma sweepstakes. So, probably, this would end up being good for them. Not that either would likely see it that way.
Good for him? Well, he had his body. Once he got rid of them, he’d get to work. Have to feed Kunou – currently tied up, drugged, and stripped to his underwear in his bedroom – a story to explain what happened. Have to do something about the bodies of Midorigame and Officer Takashita, hidden and sunk under the bridge of the pond, respectively. Maybe the police? Maybe the yakuza? Whatever.
And after that, he’d start using the money and connections he now had. Maybe he could find another series with the sort of expertise he needed. If not… it’d be awhile before Cologne departed to come here. Maybe a trip to China would be in order.
He walked away from the stairwell Akane had gone down. He’d free Nabiki and get them out of here. They could go home and commiserate about how they’d almost been killed by the awful, horrible, hateful monster. Oh well. At least they’d stay the heck out of his business from now on.
Getting Ukyou and the others to Doctor Tofu’s place took a lot more work than Akane thought it would. First, there was the problem of the two other girls to deal with. Akane recognised their faces, if not their names. She wasn’t about to leave the two of them here with Kodachi, or Chris, or whoever it was that had just done all this.
It was all so stupid!
Akane forced herself not to think about that while she worked. A set of wooden clogs protected Akane’s feet while she got Ukyou and Ranma out of the yard. She remembered gasping when she finally got a good look at Ukyou. There was so much blood, coming from her mouth and nose and eyes and ears and all the small cuts on her body. Her face and hands were covered with bruises. Akane couldn’t see the rest of her, but imagined it was much the same. Akane had went to help her but had been stopped by Ukyou’s soft but insistent voice.
That had been all the girl had said, since Akane had shown up in the yard until she was back at the office recovering in one of Tofu’s beds. Akane wanted to argue, but she just couldn’t. So she had ended up carrying Ranma out of the yard first. By the time Akane was heading back out for her friend, Nabiki had shown up.
Nabiki seemed shocked by the level of damage done to both the Kunou estate and to both Ranma and Ukyou. Compared to that, the rope-burns on her wrists and ankles seemed unworthy of comment. After that, the two of them did their best to carry/drag the quartet back to Tofu’s clinic. Akane ended up doing most of the work, though Ukyou was able to partially support her own weight.
Tofu took one look at the group Akane led into his offices and shooed out the rest of his customers. He wanted to get Ukyou to a real hospital, but the girl refused for some reason. Thankfully, all that Ranma and Akane’s schoolmates needed was a few judicious pokes with Tofu’s practiced hand and a dose of some vile-smelling concoction. All three were up and walking within an hour. Akane herself got a good swallow of the potion, and discovered it tasted about as bad as it smelled. It did clear her head.
Now… now she was just sitting next to Ukyou’s bed. Ranma was sitting on a windowsill, staring alternately at Ukyou or out at the setting sun. A few minutes ago Ukyou had fallen unconscious. Tofu had left to go consult some texts of his. He seemed worried; far more worried than Akane had ever seen him. Nabiki had wanted to come in and speak with all three of them, but Akane had been forced to keep her out.
She remembered Ukyou’s last words to her, before she had drifted off. “I don’t want… anybody to know about what happened. Keep it secret… please.” Akane felt kind of bad about keeping her sister away, and the look Nabiki gave her promised trouble down the line. Akane was just reminded of how stupid this all was by that.
How could it have come to this? Akane couldn’t help but feel that if the two of them had just been willing to talk with each other from the beginning, if just one of them had been willing to trust the other with their secrets…
Akane snapped her head up as Ranma leapt down from the windowsill. He stalked over to the door, scratching idly at the shirt Tofu had been kind enough to loan him.
“Where are you going?”
“I can’t…” He looked over at Ukyou and dropped his head. “I can’t just watch her like this again.”
Ranma walked out of the room. Akane sighed and set her chin on her palm. In a few minutes, she would probably have to leave herself. Her father was probably worried sick about her, not to mention Kasumi. But she didn’t want to leave quite yet. There were too many questions swimming around in her head. Questions only Ukyou could properly answer. She hadn’t heard everything the two had been talking about, but she had heard enough to know that there was far more going on here than Ukyou had once led Akane to believe.
Akane reached out and grabbed Ukyou’s limp hand. However it turned out, Ukyou had friends. Maybe Ukyou had done something wrong. But Akane would be here when she woke up, and Ranma was going to be here too. Whatever problems Chris, or whoever that was, had… they were behind them now.
To Be Continued…
Blade: Well, that was about as much of us as any sane reader would ever want to handle, so we should probably keep our pretentious self-indulgence short.
Epsilon: And to think people were actually asking us to tone down the angst.
Blade: Feh. “They don’t know us vewy well, do they?”
Epsilon: Well, I really don’t have anything to say here. It pretty much explains itself.
Blade: What, no translations of Japanese names for Ranma’s amazing Shirt Shield technique? Or Tile Breaking Stance?
Epsilon: That sounds like a Charm from Exalted.
Blade: Oh jeezus. Shut up about Exalted already.
Epsilon: (gleeful fanboy mode) I statted up Hybrid Theory Ukyou in Exalted! It was COOL! (/GFB)
Blade: Well, this is a reversal of roles. Anyway, so yeah. Never fear, people who read this self-insert fic, but not for the self-insert elements! It will be a good long while before there’s as much Chris and Aaron as there was in this chapter.
Epsilon: Yes, other characters will have a chance to angst too!
Blade: Because god knows Ranma 1/2 is certainly well-known for all its rampaging angst.
Epsilon: Anyway, there’s nothing much else to add…
Blade: And I’m horrendously sick, so I’m probably forgetting whatever brilliant geniusosity I normally would…
Epsilon: …right. So let’s hit the next chapter preview!
“I woke up almost eight hours ago now. I spent a lot of that time lying here and getting very familiar with what that ceiling looks like. I also spent a lot of that time thinking. I was thinking about what I was going to tell you when you came and you had questions. Questions about me, about Chris, about Aaron and about how all three of us are connected. And I came up with a lot of things I could say to you. I spent a great deal of time refining the message over and over in my mind, editing it and revising it. I perfected it the same way a politician perfects a speech or a storyteller perfects a tale, introducing the right levels of drama and exoticism, playing to the emotional appeals of my audience. I came up with a brilliant way to give you what you wanted to hear.
“Now, sitting here, looking at the two of you, I can’t say any of it. Because everything I was going to say to you was a lie. Oh, I could call it a subtle half-truth, or just a little white lie, or a harmless omission… but I seem to have lost the ability to deceive myself even as I become a better liar. I look at your faces and I feel like a bitch when I prepare myself to lie to you so openly. I can’t do it. You two mean too much to me. So instead I’m going to tell you the truth, or a good part of it.
“There are parts of the truth I’m not going to tell you. Some of that is because I don’t know the whole truth. Some of that is because there are things I just don’t feel like telling anyone. There are secrets in my heart that I want to keep, and if it’s wrong for me to hide them from you then I’m wrong, but that doesn’t change how I feel.”
Hybrid Theory Chapter 5: Session