Hiiiiiiiii~~~! Usagi Tsukino here, and I am just SOOOO excited to be your recapper! Are you reading, my dearest-
-what do you mean someone did that already?
Grrrr, I HATE that girl! Wait, he’s a guy? And Ukyou’s a girl? But… but… I just watched Ukyou be all heroic and everything last chapter, and I totally thought he… looked… but he’s a she… and…
It’s even worse because I won’t remember any of this!
Well, anyway, last chapter was the big, dramatic showdown between us and Jadeite! “Us” being myself and the other heroic – but not quite as beautiful – Sailor Senshi, not to mention our friends from Nerima! Also this girl named Ran showed up, but she was just doing a piece for her student newspaper or something. She took lots of pictures; I hope she got my good side!
Back to my dramatic victory! Well, actually, I have to admit it was Ukyou’s dramatic victory. Well, actually, to be honest, it was kinda Akane’s dramatic victory. But I helped! Well, actually, I ended up helping the bad guys, when the trap set by that youma Tethys took away all my energy and gave it to Jadeite so he became superpowered and things looked really scary and he ripped up Ukyou’s arm and things looked really bad…
But we won! Because the good guys, powered by love and friendship, will always prevail! So, yay! Jadeite has been defeated, Nabiki was rescued, and Tethys vanished somewhere along the way, so everything should be just fine from now on!
And that was pretty much it, since Chris and Pink and Link and everybody else who wasn’t in the fight didn’t appear. Maybe they will this time!
Thanks a lot for reading, and remember, friendship and cooperation always triumphs over evil disco balls that steal aggressive energy! Sailor Moon says! Tee-hee!
C&A Productions Presents
A Work of Blatant Self-Insertion
Chapter 8: Pushing Me Away
What was it Dave Barry had written about flying JAL first class?
‘Feeling like one of the more decadent Roman Emperors’ …yeah, that was it. Of course, there were probably more luxuries involved in a trans-Atlantic flight, but this was still pretty damn nice.
Pink, sitting ‘next’ to him (or the closest equivalent in the wide, semi-private seats), certainly seemed to be enjoying the experience, helping herself to the complimentary treats with gusto. She’d been more than willing to help herself to the complimentary alcohol as well, but Chris has hastily waved the flight attendant on with a ‘no thanks, we’re underage’ before that could happen. The smiling twin had pouted briefly – seeing the two expressions juxtaposed was odd – but had apparently gotten over it. Which was good, since the last thing Chris (or the other passengers) needed was a tipsy sadistic poisoner around.
Honestly, he hadn’t expected to be returning to Japan by such a mundane method of transportation, instead thinking vaguely of crossing the Sea of Japan by some plant-assisted means, or perhaps the twins and he would bribe/drug their way onto a ship. He’d been surprised to find the twins in fact had papers in good order, but hadn’t looked a gift horse in the mouth. A few bribes and two more plane tickets later, and they were on their way. He wondered how they’d gotten to Japan in the manga.
Overland, the trip had been uneventful, if rather longer than his solo one. Since the twins couldn’t match his pace and of course had to sleep, he rented carts and later cars for them as much as possible, and passed the idle times writing in his journals. Of course, Pink had promptly tried to peek at those when she thought his attention was elsewhere, but had been disappointed to find the contents were written in English.
“And what are you thinking about, over?” came the voice next to him. He glanced over and met Pink’s gaze, seeing amused curiosity in her eyes.
“About you,” he replied honestly, and smirked a bit himself as Pink looked taken aback. “Nothing too serious,” he reassured her, “Just wondering if there was anything else I needed to tell you. Which, in fact, there is. When we arrive, you should know that people we meet probably won’t know my real name. So they – and you when around them, please – will call me Kodachi.”
Pink nodded, but on the other side of her, Link looked over at him for the first time since the flight had begun. “If that’s not your name, who’s the real Kodachi, over?”
Chris sighed. He knew this had probably been coming. “I am. Or rather,” he corrected, looking down at Kodachi’s body, “this is.” For a moment, the twins stared at him uncomprehendingly. Then Link’s eyes widened as realisation sunk in. She opened her mouth, but he cut her off before she could say anything (or scream). “Hear me out. That’s why I want to preserve this body for as long as possible: so I don’t need a new one. However, you needn’t worry. Kodachi was a nasty, nasty person. At least as bad as Shampoo. That’s the only sort I could bear to take the body of, you understand?” Or at least that was the plan from here on in. “And that’s why I’m looking for a cure, as well. So hopefully it won’t even be a problem for much longer.”
Link didn’t exactly look reassured. She hissed something in Chinese to her sister, and the two quickly got into an argument in hushed voices, the contents of which he could guess. He waited silently for the outcome, thankful there weren’t so many people in first class that anybody had likely caught more than bits or pieces of the conversation. As for the disagreement between Pink and Link, there was no help for it. They would have figured it out sooner or later anyway, and if the promise he’d given them wasn’t enough, there was nothing more he could do to make them stay. Hell, he wouldn’t even blame them if they dropped the whole thing. He wasn’t sure he would have stayed with himself, no matter what the promise was.
The argument had heated up. He heard ‘Shampoo’ several times, mostly from Pink. Finally they seemed to reach a resolution, as Pink declared something with finality. Link still didn’t seem pleased at all, but made a sound that might generously have been construed as affirmative and then resumed not looking at him.
Pink, however, turned to him and grinned. “You’ll have to excuse my sister. She’s a little bit… nervous, over.”
“I don’t blame her. I’d be nervous too.”
Pink shrugged. “It’s not your fault what you are. You have to do the best you can. In your situation, I’d do the same, over.”
Well, do the same minus the ‘only kill bad people’ part, he more than suspected. But then, that was the same as him, wasn’t it? Still, he relaxed, feeling a weight lifting from his shoulders. “Thanks,” he said, and meant it. “Though I wish I hadn’t dumped all of this on you so suddenly.”
“Don’t worry-” Pink began, and then cut off as the plane hit some turbulence. Some clanking came from the bag Chris had under his seat. He wasn’t letting that – with the journals and cursed water cargo – out of his sight, and yet another sizeable bribe had kept the customs official from giving it more than a cursory glance. Chris had decided there were definitely some advantages to corrupt dictatorships.
He glanced back at Pink, expecting her to continue her previous sentence, but she was now looking at the bag with undisguised curiosity. “So what exactly do you have in there? I wouldn’t think corpses needed to carry much in the way of supplies, over.”
He laughed. “That was direct. Well, I’ll tell you, but keep out of it. The contents are rather dangerous, and besides, I plan to keep it permanently within eyeshot. And I don’t even blink.” Pink didn’t look too concerned about the warning, but he’d expected that. “Before I came to your village, I stopped off at a place called Jyusenkyou, and-“
He was cut off by a piercing shriek that DID get the attention of the few other first class passengers, and proved himself a liar by blinking as Pink shot out of her seat and backed away from him to stand beside her sister. Link was also looking at him once again, but the expression of horror and disgust on her face this time wasn’t directed at him, but instead at the bag.
“Keep that away from us, over!” Pink snapped.
“Sure…” he said slowly, “But what’s the big problem? I guess you’ve heard of it, but the water I took is in sealed containers.”
“Not good enough,” Link growled. “Jyusenkyou is… it’s cursed. Nobody with any sense goes near it, over.”
“I have many dollars, but few sense,” he quipped, but then seriously added, “It can’t affect me. But it IS magical, so I wanted to take some samples. It might be able to help somehow, or to bribe someone else who can help.”
The twins exchanged glances; something seemed to pass between them, but he couldn’t tell what. A really extreme reaction. Was Jyusenkyou that ill-rumoured? Or something else? He made a mental note to find out later, after they hopefully trusted him a bit more. After a moment, Pink returned to her seat, though her good mood had seemingly evaporated and she had slid a little farther away from him. “I understand,” she said shortly. “But just make sure you be careful. And keep it away from us, over.”
“I was planning to anyway, so don’t worry about it.” The conversation seemed to be at an end for a moment, so he leaned back, preparing to relax for the rest of the flight. Strange girls. But then, he knew that. And he was pretty strange himself. Chris smiled a bit. Things would be fine.
“… and then the battle became serious when… ah damn,” Ukyou groaned out loud. She had just reached the end of the page, and the article had one of those handy little ‘continued on page A-5’ notes. In a way it was flattering. Almost a week later and still appearing in the papers. It was also the best free publicity she could ever ask for. If she ever got around to opening her restaurant,
(Hey, remember that, my dream before you screwed up my life?)
then she would hardly need to advertise. It was also annoying, because her other hand was currently occupied with her lunch and that made flipping the paper with one hand, especially her bad one, rather difficult. Normally, eating an okonomiyaki with one hand was nearly impossible. But Aaron had suggested thinning up the crust and rolling it up like a burrito, stuffing it full of all the meatstrips and vegetables – and for once, Ukyou had listened to him. The result was rather nice, actually. The batter was a little soft; maybe she could crisp it up, make it more like a crust… add noodles…
Ukyou cut off that line of thought. Speculating about food was nice. It was still her greatest dream, and something she planned on throwing herself into fully once this whole mess was resolved. But it wasn’t what she came out here for. So she focused her attention back on finding a way to flip the pages of the newspaper while keeping a grip on her lunch. The trouble was, she couldn’t just put one down to free up a hand. That was the problem with sitting in a tree: no storage space.
Aaron spotted their targets approaching. Ukyou sighed and folded the paper up before deftly depositing it in one of the many interior pockets of her trenchcoat. She took a large bite of her lunch while sliding to her feet. She had to bend slightly to avoid hitting her head on another branch. Thankfully, she wouldn’t have to stand like this for long, as the two were approaching quickly.
“Hello, can I have a minute of your time?” Ukyou called down once they were directly below.
Usagi stumbled to a halt with a startled squeak. The street she was walking down was practically abandoned at this time of day, a fact Ukyou was well aware of. The girl must be wondering where the voice that had called out to her had come from. Not really wanting to play with her too much, Ukyou cleared her throat loudly and called down, “Up here.”
Usagi looked up, her long blonde pigtails whipping audibly and her large blue eyes blinking in confusion. The cat cradled in her arms looked up as well. It had human eyes. They weren’t even slitted like a cat’s. For a moment, Ukyou’s focus drifted, and she felt like she was falling. Then she shook her head and the feeling evaporated.
“Do you mean me?” Usagi asked in a small voice. Sometime during Ukyou’s mental hiccup, Usagi had recovered from the shock of seeing a boy standing above her in a tree. She was even pointing timidly at herself, and her cheeks were red. Ukyou wondered if the wind made it seem colder when you weren’t sheltered by a tree.
“Actually no, I was talking to your cat,” Ukyou pointed out in a deadpan voice. Usagi laughed. The girl probably thought Ukyou was joking. Ukyou chuckled herself, remembering her brief conversation with Ranma this morning.
(“I’m going with you!” he insisted.
“You really don’t want to do that, Ranma.”
“Yes I do.”
“Trust me, you don’t.”
“What makes you think that?”
“I’m going to have a long conversation with a talking cat.”
“Have fun! See you this evening!”)
“I guess I have a few minutes to talk…” Usagi breathed with a small giggle. “If Luna doesn’t mind.” She held up the cat towards Ukyou, and the beast obligingly meowed. Ukyou rolled her eyes. She stepped out of the tree, plummeted four meters to the pavement below and landed on one foot without so much as a tremble. She felt her coat flap and billow behind her as it settled in the breeze her fall had created. Usagi made a small gleeful noise.
“That was so cool!”
“Uh, if you say so.” Ukyou transferred her lunch to her bad hand and ran her freed fingers through her bangs. Seeing Usagi’s eyes follow the motion, Ukyou held the surprisingly tasty concoction towards her. “I’m pretty full. You want the rest of this?”
“Sure!” Usagi cried and snatched it from her hand. Luna gave a screech of protest as she was unceremoniously dropped. Still, the cat managed to land with some semblance of grace. Usagi was blushing even harder now as she sniffed the okonomiyaki roll and bit into it. “Wow, this is really good,” she said after chewing for a few seconds.
“Thanks,” Ukyou replied with a short laugh. Maybe she should look into refining that recipe after all. “It’s just something I came up wi-“
“Oh god! Your arm!”
Ukyou blinked at the girl’s sudden exclamation. Then she remembered and looked down at her left arm. She guessed it would stand out. It wasn’t like she could roll her sleeve down over it, with the fifty needles sticking through it at every angle, making it look like someone had turned her arm into a pincushion. Then again, if Doc Tofu hadn’t been able to use his techniques to hold the arm together while it healed, it was likely it never would have. But even when the bones fully healed, the scars would remain. Five parallel gouges, the phantom remnants of the fingers of Jadeite as they had melted into her flesh.
“It looks worse than it is,” Ukyou explained as she curled and uncurled the fingers of her wounded arm. “The needles are actually quickening the healing process.”
“Wow…” Usagi stretched a finger towards one of the delicate silver needles and Ukyou jerked her arm back.
“They’re very sensitive,” Ukyou lied quickly. Remembering just how much of a klutz Usagi was, she wasn’t about to risk it even if Tofu said touching them was safe. “I have to keep them relatively undisturbed.”
“Oh…” Usagi backed away. She looked up at Ukyou’s face and then down again, blushing suddenly. Ukyou tilted her head to the side, wondering what that was about. “You came to see me? Aren’t you that boy from the papers and…“
Oh. That must be it. “Ah. Well, we’ve already been introduced but I guess we can do it again, if you insist,” Ukyou shrugged. She stepped back and made a short bow. “I’m Ukyou Kuonji. And you are Usagi Tsukino, also known as Sailor Moon, also known as Princess Serenity also known as et cetera et cetera…”
“What?!” the girl shrieked and stepped back, her hands flying up. Ukyou watched her okonomiyaki-roll fly into the air and tumble towards the pavement. With a sigh she snapped her good hand out and snatched it.
“You dropped this,” she pointed out as she handed the food back again. Usagi blushed again and grabbed it, clutching it with both hands so it wouldn’t slip from her grasp.
“You must have me confused with someone else…” Usagi mumbled out.
“No. No, I don’t,” Ukyou shrugged. “But I didn’t come to speak to you. Like I said, I came to speak to the cat.” Ukyou turned her attention from the flustered girl and quickly spotted the small black cat standing nearby, watching her warily. Ukyou kneeled down and held her good hand out, palm up while she flashed her most winning smile. Luna quirked her head in a distinctly cat-like gesture, her ears flicking slightly. The golden cresecnt on her forehead caught the afternoon rays of the sun just right to make it sparkle a bit.
“Meow?” Luna said inquisitively. Ukyou let Aaron take over for a bit: he was always better with animals than with people. He fished a little treat from his coat and held it out to Luna, still smiling.
“Don’t be coy with me,” Ukyou said with a mock pout. “We can hardly have a civil discussion if all you do is meow at me.” Aaron offered the treat again, and Luna seemed to consider it before walking over and licking it from her hand with her ticklish little red sandpaper tongue. Aaron flicked her fingers quickly and began to scratch the cat behind the ears. Luna rolled her head to the side, nudging a little closer and purring. “As much fun as this is, Luna, we really need to have an adult conversation.”
The cat merely meowed and purred a bit more as Aaron used hands trained from twelve years of cat ownership to scratch and pet the moon cat with practised ease. Ukyou looked up at Usagi, who shrugged helplessly.
“Well, how do you get her to talk to you?” Ukyou said with a smirk.
“It’s getting her to shut up that’s usually the problem!” Usagi laughed nervously.
Aaron scooped up the cat in the crook of his arm before it had a chance to scamper away and used Ukyou’s bad hand to get to some serious petting. Not too hard, but not too soft either. In smooth, rhythmic strokes. That was the ticket. The little hedonist stretched and purred at the attention, occasionally shooting an accusatory ‘why don’t you do this’ glare at Usagi.
“Luna, there’s really no need to play at being a normal cat,” Ukyou explained patiently. “I know all about you, the Sailor Senshi, the Silver Millennium and on down the line. In fact, I know more about all this than you do, which is the point of this meeting.” She paused, but Luna only looked at her and meowed. “Okay, if you don’t want the Ginzuishou, I guess I can find some use for it… maybe a paperweight or something…”
“The Ginzuisho!” the cat in her arms screeched aloud suddenly. Ukyou was taken aback for a moment. Luna sounded much too young… then she remembered that in the original Japanese the voice actress had gone for the typical saccharine headache-inducing voice, rather than the English version’s mature, vaguely British matron’s voice.
“It does speak,” Ukyou laughed.
“Uh, surprise?” Usagi gulped.
“Don’t worry, kid,” Ukyou shrugged and allowed Aaron to resume petting Luna. “I’m on your side. Up until Jadeite decided to make this personal, I was content to sit out this little war. I think… no, I KNOW that you’re more than capable of winning it on your own. I just want to tip the odds in your favour to repay this little debt the Dark Kingdom owes me.” Ukyou waved her needle- perforated arm.
“How do you know all this?” Luna asked. It was weird watching the cat talk.
“I’ve seen the future,” Ukyou shrugged easily.
“Really?” Usagi gasped. Luna looked more doubtful.
Addressing the cat, Ukyou explained. “You know about Sailor Pluto and the time gates. It’s possible to travel back and forth to the future, so why can’t I have seen it?”
“I suppose it’s possible,” Luna mused. “But the question then becomes how…”
“I just woke up like this one day.” Ukyou frowned and looked up at the sky. The sun was drifting behind some thick white clouds. She hated thinking back to the day she had woken up with Aaron trapped in her skull. The day her life as she had known it had ended. “I didn’t ask to be who I am now, I guess. Who does, really? I just have to learn to move forward, stop asking ‘why?’ and keep thinking ‘what next?'”
“That’s so deep,” Usagi sighed. Ukyou shot her a look, but the girl had her eyes closed so she missed it completely. Ukyou shrugged it off, however. Usagi was destined to fall for Tuxedo What’s-his-name, so it wasn’t like she could be developing anything besides a harmless crush on her. And Ukyou was fine with women who let their gazes linger on her from afar. As long as it never really went beyond that… but that line of thought was making both her and Aaron uncomfortable, so she quashed it.
“The point is that I can help you a great deal,” Ukyou continued. “Now you can look this gift horse in the mouth, or you can trust me and make this war of yours a lot shorter and easier.”
“I suppose we can trust you…” Luna murmured uncertainly.
“Great!” Ukyou scratched her just under the chin as a reward. “I don’t blame you for being apprehensive. I certainly would be, if the roles were reversed.”
“What do you want for this help, anyway?” Luna asked sharply.
“Nothing,” Ukyou replied with a shrug.
“Nothing? You can’t expect me to believe that.” Luna frowned. It was a far too human expression. She really did look nothing like a cat at all, at least when it came to her face.
“Believe what you want,” Ukyou responded coolly. “Let’s get down to business. First Luna, we’ll need the… uh, Rainbow Moon Wand? Cutie Moon Dream Rod? I keep forgetting the name of that thing…”
“Just a sec…” Ukyou knelt down and deposited the cat on the ground. Once her good hand was free, she slipped it into one of her many interior pockets and retrieved her small sketchpad. “This thing,” she said as she flipped it open to the correct page. She displayed the picture to Luna. It was crudely done, by her standards, but showed all the important features. The crescent moon top, the delicate handle, the circular connection with the three gems inset and so on.
“The Moon Stick…” Luna blinked.
“That’s it!” Ukyou smiled. “Could you do the backflip thing and give the… stick to Usagi here? We’re going to need it if we’re going to fetch all the Rainbow Crystals.” Ukyou paused and looked over at Usagi. “You might want to transform; we’re going to be busy today, and it’ll require a lot of explaining if I have to carry you from place to place.”
Ukyou turned back to Luna before she could note Usagi’s reaction. She was just in time to see the cat finish her graceful backflip. A swirl of silvery sparks floated in her wake like a tiny galaxy, coalescing together in a single point. With a final flash the ‘Moon Stick’
(God, what an awful name)
materialised. The gaudy device floated just above the pavement.
“Well, it’s your royal heritage, Sailor Moon.” Ukyou stood up and ran a hand through her bangs. Usagi stepped forward, reaching out with a trembling hand, and retrieved the device.
“This stick is a very dangerous weapon,” Luna pointed out to Usagi as she held it up. “But also a miraculous tool for peace. Its function depends on the character of the user as much as the magic within it. Having it and using it are great responsibilities, and you should take them seriously.”
“And you work on remembering how to use that thing to remove the Rainbow Crystal from someone without turning them into monsters,” Ukyou shot to Luna as she put away her sketchbook, while retrieving a similar notepad from one of her other pockets. “Now, we have to meet with a man known as Game Machine Joe…”
Shampoo sat in the small room. The chair was uncomfortable, and she knew that was deliberate. She had been waiting, she guessed, for over two hours, and that too was certainly deliberate. That, however, wasn’t what made her angry.
Angry? No, that wasn’t a strong enough word. Enraged. That was what she was. Every time she closed her eyes, even to blink, she saw that face, that face she hated more than anything else in the world.
Ranma. Ranma. Ranma. That damnable foreign girl. Who had come to her village uninvited, eaten the feast Shampoo had won for once again becoming the champion of the Nyuuchezu’s village tournament, and…
Humiliated her. Humiliated HER. Shampoo! The greatest, most promising warrior of her village! That damn girl had accepted her outraged challenge, and, before she had known it, Shampoo was beaten. Just like that. In front of the entire village, her victory had turned to ashes, her pride into shame.
She had thought she couldn’t possibly hate Ranma even more, that there was nothing the foreign girl could do to possibly shame her further. But she had been wrong. Which was why she was sitting here now. Because of Ranma. That damn coward! But it wasn’t the end. Not yet. She wouldn’t let it end like this, no matter what happened. She closed her eyes, seeing that smirking Japanese face before her.
Shampoo was going to enjoy watching Ranma die.
“Great-granddaughter, have you come home to fight a battle? I warn you; I won’t tolerate your wrecking my furniture.”
Shampoo’s head snapped up, her eyes opening again. Great-grandmother Cologne was there now. She hadn’t heard the old woman enter, but that was normal. Great-grandmother was perched on her staff; Shampoo couldn’t read her expression, but she got a sense of displeasure from her body language. But then, that wasn’t surprising, under the circumstances.
“Let us get straight to the point, great-granddaughter. Why have you returned?”
Shampoo felt her cheeks burn. She hadn’t wanted to come back, to compound her humiliation. But the only alternative was unacceptable. “I had no choice. The girl, Ranma,” she spit the name, “escaped across the ocean to Japan. I…” She gritted her teeth. It was hard to admit her failure. “I am unable to follow her there, as I don’t know their language. I need help if I’m going to find her.”
Great-grandmother took a long draw on her pipe, and then exhaled slowly. Her face crinkled a bit. “I believe there once was a little girl who informed her elders that she did not NEED to learn Japanese.”
Shampoo flushed further. But then, great-grandmother was right. She hadn’t thought anything like this could happen. “I am sorry, great-grandmother.”
“Sorry about not learning Japanese, or sorry for invoking an ancient custom you now cannot wriggle your way out of?”
“I will NOT wriggle out of it!” Shampoo snapped. “I will hunt down-“
“Then, if you are not trying to wriggle out of it, why have you returned empty-handed to ask for my help?”
Shampoo swallowed her anger as best she could. “I want to find Ranma. I will find Ranma. But in that foreign country, I can’t ask anyone of her whereabouts. I need some way to communicate. I know you can help me with that, so I am humbly begging…” She rose from the chair and then kneeled before the elder. “I am humbly begging for you to help me.”
Great-grandmother paused for a moment, obviously considering. Shampoo remained in her supplicant position. She had almost prostrated herself, but… even for great-grandmother, even for this, she couldn’t do that.
When the elder spoke again, her voice was toneless, revealing nothing.
“Precisely what do you know of this… Ranma?”
Shampoo blinked. Why did she ask that? “I… don’t know very much, great-grandmother. She is a fast, tricky one. Many times I thought to have caught her, but she and her pet panda would vanish right from under my nose.” She paused, considering what else she had observed. “She’s a shameless one. Once I found her after bathing; she was strutting around topless for anyone to see.”
“Right after bathing, you say?” Cologne’s voice was sharp. “Bathing where?”
“Umm… why do you want to know?”
“Because there are things about Ranma that I suspect.”
Shampoo was beginning to worry about her great-grandmother. Perhaps old age was finally beginning to tell? “I… don’t really know where. It was in a river… close to Shanghai?”
“A river, hmm? Interesting…” The old woman puffed seriously on her pipe.
Perhaps it would have been better to simply sneak in at night and borrow what she needed. Except Shampoo didn’t really know what she needed…
Cologne looked at her again. “Tell me… you’ve fought this girl several times. Has she ever done anything… strange in your battles?”
“Things that normal girls don’t do to other girls. Especially when fighting.”
At first, Shampoo had thought great-grandmother was acting a little senile, focusing on meaningless trivia. Now, she didn’t know what to think.
“Umm… no. Not that I ever noticed, no.”
“What about the panda?”
“Stop saying ‘umm’, child, it’s undignified.”
“Great-grandmother, are you feeling all right?”
“Yes, yes, perfectly fine,” she snapped impatiently. “Now answer the question.”
“I never… uh… noticed the panda doing anything strange, no. Except for the fact it walked around on its hind legs and talked to Ranma using signs. And ate human food. And drank human tea… in fact, it also MADE the tea.” Now that she thought about it, it really was a very strange panda. But why on earth did great-grandmother care? “It kept running away with Ranma, too. It was very fast, for a panda.”
“Shampoo, what would you say if I told you that this person you’ve been trying to kill is actually a man?”
Shampoo stared. Wonderful. Great-grandmother had totally lost it. Why couldn’t she have waited just one more day for senility to set in? “Great-grandmother,” she said in her most patient tone, “That is silly. I told you, I saw this girl almost naked.”
“Yes, yes, but that hardly matters, child.”
Shampoo felt the beginnings of a headache coming on, but kept her voice steady and tried not to grit her teeth too much. “Yes, great-grandmother, it does. She was not at all fat enough to have those on her chest. It was definitely a girl.”
The old woman chuckled. “Ah, the naivete of youth. Just for a moment, Shampoo, forget what it was you saw and believe what I say. What would you do, if Ranma were a man?”
She decided to play along, for now. Needed to get the help. Had to remember that. “Well… I guess, if Ranma were a man, then I’d have to marry him.” Except it would be hard to marry a corpse, which Ranma was very soon to be, but she kept that to herself.
“So that would be your decision?”
“No,” she said firmly. “That’s the law. My decision is to hunt down Ranma and pin her to the ground like a squealing pig, then-“
“Yes, yes, child.” She waved absently. “But what I’m saying is that if this Ranma is a boy, you are going to marry him, for that is the law, and you chose to observe the ancient laws?”
Shampoo sighed. “If somehow that was true, I… suppose I would have to do it. But I’d rather just kill him…HER! Now you’ve got me saying it!” she added a little resentfully.
“Well, then, that settles that, I suppose.” Cologne nodded vigourously.
“Now that this game of make-believe is over, can you please help me, great-grandmother? I want to be back after Ranma as soon as possible.”
“Of course I can help you, child. We leave in the morning.”
Shampoo blinked. “We?”
“But why would you come along?”
“If you can tell me the true secret of Jyusenkyou, I will answer that question for you.”
Shampoo wanted to break something. A lot of somethings. Violently. She wished her favourite identical twin punching bags were here. “Jyusenkyou is a forbidden place. Nobody goes there, so who cares what secrets it has? What does that have to do with anything?”
“I fear that is a question you will have to discover the answer to yourself, child.”
The water rolled over her body in a gentle river. The soft trickle of it was soothing, almost hypnotic. Her eyes almost closed from their own weight once or twice as she lay there waiting. Her body felt weak. Weaker than it ever had before. She could feel her physical self, her very essence, threatening to unravel. That was why she could not allow herself to fall into sleep. Sleep was death. Sleep was giving up. Sleep meant she would never have her revenge.
She clawed at the porous stone around her, finding thin handholds. Moaning, she pulled with all her strength, and slowly her face and then her entire body emerged from the soft trickle of the grey water. Her other hand reached out blindly, groping, until she felt it settle on one of the iron rungs of the nearby ladder. The ladder led up to the light. The unforgiving light…
She took stock of her surroundings with a single glare. Tethys was not familiar with human customs, but even she could recognise a sewer when she saw one. She snorted. It was an appropriate place. She hardly even remembered dragging herself to this dank pit to escape. The last clear memory she had was of ripping the ward from Jadeite’s…
A shudder ran up her body. What was this feeling? Sorrow? A human failing! No, it must be anger and rage, but unlike any she had felt before. And the reason for that was equally clear. Always in the past, she had been the cat with the mouse. When her anger grew, she merely killed the mouse and was done with it. But now that was beyond her ability. The mouse was out of her reach, and her anger was growing. This feeling, then, was anger gone sour from age. The all-consuming need for revenge. Yes, if she could revenge herself upon those who had taken everything from her, she would feel better.
She tapped her critically low reserves and forced herself to begin climbing. She would never get her revenge in this sewer. Tethys needed energy to restore herself to her full strength. And she needed more than that. Jadeite had been brimming with power, power she had hardly seen even in the hands of Queen Beryl, and still he had lost. Clearly, power alone was not enough.
So what secret did this Ukyou command that would allow her to topple so mighty a man as Jadeite? Tethys forced down another bout of sour rage at the thought of his ignominious death. She had not seen it herself, but she knew the truth of what had happened. All she needed to know now was the method.
Metal rasped against stone as Tethys lifted the cover of her sanctuary free. As she climbed out she noted that night had swallowed the land above, its darkness feebly held back by the light of a street lamp she had glimpsed from the bottom of the ladder. That too suited her mood. She stumbled over to the nearest wall and leaned against it. She was taking a great risk by coming out in the open like this. In her natural form, she was quite conspicuous and lacked any ability to blend in with the humans. But the need outweighed the risk. She appeared to be in some narrow, dirty, untraveled backroad of the city. There were no humans to see her.
As if summoned by her thoughts, she felt two radiant energy sources enter the alleyway. She shied back, hiding behind a trash receptacle. She need not have bothered. The humans were totally intent on each other. The male was draped over the female. His rumpled suit was partially removed. The female wore very little herself, and what she did wear seemed designed to come off with very little force. Tethys would have sneered, had she a mouth with which to do it. It appeared she had stumbled upon a human mating ritual.
That was good. She knew from long study that one of the human energy peaks occurred during their mating. It was so unlike mating with her kind. For the youma, sex was about dominance and power. You took who you wanted when you wanted, to show that you were higher on the magical food chain than they were. Humans seemed to get some bizarre pleasure out of it for its own sake, without it proving anything. She almost pitied them.
She would have no better opportunity than now. Gathering up the very last of her reserves, Tethys stepped around the dumpster and strode purposefully towards the pair. They were much too involved in their activity to notice her. That suited her fine. Once she reached them, her hands pistoned out and grabbed both by their necks. Screams died stillborn in their throats as Tethys cut off their oxygen. Then she began to feed.
The essence of the two humans flowed into her body in a viscous cloud. She felt the strange tang of human arousal in their energy, now mixed with the sweet ambrosia of human terror. She drank in their power, growing slowly in strength. She continued feeding long after the humans had lost consciousness, long after their bodies died. She continued feeding until there was nothing left of these two fools but withered husks that she dropped to the pavement.
It was glorious. She hadn’t fed like that… since… since before Serenity had banished all her kind beneath a cold arctic prison. She paused to exult in the feeling of it. Why had she denied herself like this for so long?
The answer came to her immediately. Because for millennia, there had been nothing to feed off of but her fellow youma. And while destroying your fellows was permissible in certain circumstances, it had become a serious crime once Queen Beryl realised that such cannibalism only weakened her forces in the long run. So they had all learned to feed in moderation. To hold back their hunger. They had become so good at it that ritual had become habit had become instinct. Now, if she had a mouth, she would have smiled. To hell with that lesser feeding. From now on, she would feast!
Tethys laughed as she evoked her glamour and cloaked herself in the appearance of a human being. She then strode out into the neon-lit streets of the human city. So many meals… no. She had to be quiet. The Sailor Senshi still patrolled this city, and they had an unsightly talent for turning up at the worst possible times. She would have to feed sporadically, never in the same place twice. It would not do to encounter her adversaries again until she was ready.
That left her only with the need to find some place to stay. Once, she could have simply returned to her home, but she knew that would now be suicide. Even if Queen Beryl did not vapourise her on the spot for being part of such a disaster, Zoicite would never forget what Tethys had cost him, and his revenge would involve a much more agonisingly slow demise. She was on her own. Just her versus the human Ukyou.
She started down the street, whistling a tune that had ceased to exist on this planet thousands of years ago. She would find out the secret of Ukyou’s power and turn it against the boy. Strong and resourceful he might be, but he was still just a human. Once the playing field between them had been levelled, there could be only one outcome to their next encounter.
“Mysterious Hero Saves City!”
That’s what the headline said, emblazoned in a huge typeface right above the picture of Ukyou battling with Jadeite that took up about half of the front page. The other, more “respectable” papers had been a little less overtly enthusiastic. They’d also cribbed from Ran Hibiki’s – that added Rival Schools to the series’ he knew existed – original story without shame (or credit). Chris wondered if that backhanded acknowledgement had pleased or annoyed her.
The other papers had toned things down, left out a few details, or given different spins on the facts of Ran’s article, but they were faithful enough that Chris figured Ran’s original ‘extra special publication issue’ had to be fairly accurate. And that was something that worried him a great deal.
From the story and accompanying photographs, he had gotten the gist. Nearly a week ago, Ukyou, Ranma, Akane, Ryouga and the Sailor Senshi (well, the first three Senshi) had fought Jadeite and some youma, to rescue Nabiki. That should have been an unholy beatdown, and in fact it was, but on the wrong end. Jadeite was somehow superpowered, and he took out pretty much everyone before Ukyou had made a ‘miraculous’ come-from-behind victory. The next part, only Ran had mentioned, and she was very vague on the details, but apparently there’d been some sort of argument between Ukyou and her friends and the Senshi; then they’d gone their separate ways.
He leaned back in the chair, massaging his temples. What a lovely mess to come home to. First off, Ukyou was apparently assembling herself a nice little army to go fight menaces with, which didn’t exactly make him feel terribly secure. Even more importantly, Ukyou was messing around in the Sailor Moon plotline. Chris really didn’t know the series very well – certainly not compared to Ranma 1/2 – but he did know that they would be responsible for saving the world from destruction not once, but several times. As well, the sort of foes they fought were generally paranormal magical beings of great power; not, by any stretch of the imagination, Ukyou’s area of expertise. So what was she thinking, messing around with the plot of a series upon which the fate of the world rested?
“Hey,” came the voice from over his shoulder. “You’ve been staring at those papers ever since you got that weedy little guy to get them. Do you know that person, over?”
He glanced back, unsurprised to see Pink. “Yeah, I know her, more or less. I just don’t know what happened, or why.”
“Well, seems like what happened is pretty weird,” Pink noted. “Does stuff like this happen in Japan all the time, over?”
He turned around in the chair with a shrug, noted idly from the corner of his eye that Link was at the back of the room, apparently talking in a low voice to a potted plant. “More or less,” he replied to Pink, “It’s pretty weird here.”
“So what’s the problem? If you know her, go ask her what happened, over.”
He chuckled. “I’d try, but she’d probably attack me on sight. Not everyone’s as tolerant of my condition as you are.” Pink seemed to find that very amusing. “I take it you two have looked around by now, then. How did you find the gardens?”
“Acceptable, over,” noted Link curtly. She didn’t look at him.
“You have some interesting plants,” grinned Pink, “even if they’re all pretty normal, over.”
“Good good. You two can plant whatever you like, as long as you leave the plants I noted alone. I need them on occasion.”
“So you need to paralyse people,” Pink smirked. It wasn’t a question. “I wonder what for, over?”
“Not for what you think,” he quickly replied. “It’s simply a good way to keep me out of fights I don’t want to get into.”
“Of course,” came the smug response. “And speaking of that, what are you going to do about your little problem, over?”
“Actually,” he said, rising to his feet, “I think I have an idea about that.” It was true Ukyou probably wouldn’t even listen to him, much less answer his questions… but there was someone else who might. “I’ll need to go out for a little bit. Don’t get into trouble while I’m gone.”
“Of course not, over,” said Pink, and smiled.
“…the only thing that makes sense!”
“Ranma, first off, that’s crazy. Second off, you’re crazy for thinking that up. Third off, you’re even crazier if you think I’m going to entertain the idea for a minute.”
“Then I hope you have a better idea, because that’s all I can come up with.”
“Don’t you believe the explanation Ukyou already gave us?”
“Of course I do but… oh, hi, Nabiki.”
Nabiki nodded in acknowledgement. Ranma had come around the corner first, followed shortly thereafter by her little sister. The two rarely even talked to each other during school hours. Except to talk about HIM. Nabiki felt her neutral expression turning sour as she thought about it.
“So, uh, nice day and all, huh?” Ranma shot his mouth into the uncomfortable silence that had descended over the three of them. Nabiki just turned around and began to walk in the other direction. She did not need their empty pleasantries. She definitely did not need to be reminded of how conversations about Ukyou stopped the moment she entered the room.
“Nabiki, wait up!”
Nabiki didn’t stop at her sister’s shout. She did not stop until Akane grabbed her elbow and pulled on her gently. Only then did Nabiki pause and look down at the offending hand. Akane snapped it away quickly, a distinct metallic ‘ching’ sound accompanying her movement. There was some sort of bulge under the sleeves of her uniform, something she was hiding.
“What do you want, Akane?” Nabiki allowed a layer of frost to coat her words. Akane blinked but smiled.
“I just wanted to talk. We are still sisters, aren’t we?” Nabiki refused to look at her little sister’s smile any longer. The smile was infectious. Akane had been flashing it all over the house the last few days. She was always finding some excuse to be close to Nabiki and talk to her like they were suddenly best pals. And the topic of conversation always returned to how Akane was going to ‘be there’ for Nabiki when she needed her. It always focused on how Akane wanted to ‘look out’ for her and ‘make sure you’re safe’ and how ‘thanks to Ukyou, I’m a lot stronger now!’
“I think your friend is waiting for you.” Nabiki pointed with her chin over Akane’s shoulder. Sure enough, the man of the hour was standing at the gate, or on it to be more precise. Everyone was gathered around the pedestal he had climbed up on, shouting and waving for his attention, but he ignored them. His gaze was entirely fixed upon Ranma and Akane… and her. Nabiki knew that it was impossible at this distance, but she imagined their eyes met for just a moment and Nabiki saw mockery in those eyes. It wasn’t much of a stretch. Ukyou had made no secret of his feelings for her.
Nabiki remembered clearly how she had walked, alone, into Ukyou’s hospital room. The boy had been leaning against a pillow, his arm filled with tiny needles. He had looked over at her, and before Nabiki could say anything had opened right up with “You don’t need to apologise, Nabiki. Just never fuck with forces you can’t understand again. Okay?”
Apologise! The nerve of that arrogant little prick. Her hand tightened on her bookbag until her knuckles turned white.
“Nabiki, it doesn’t have to be like this,” Akane sighed. “Ukyou is a nice… guy, and if you just give him a chance…”
“I’m certain he is,” Nabiki stepped away from her sister and turned her back. Hearing her sister defend that man made her nauseous. “So go have fun with him, if he’s so nice. And take my ‘fiancee’ with you.”
Nabiki heard Akane call out to her a few more times before she rounded the corner of the building, but there was no pursuit this time. Once she was out of eyesight, Nabiki turned and placed her hands against the wall. She squeezed her eyes shut, forcing back the tears she knew were threatening beneath her eyelids. Nabiki hated feeling like this. She hated feeling like she didn’t know what was going on. She hated being lied to. She hated…
She hated feeling afraid.
There, she’d admitted it. She felt afraid and helpless. She knew better than to blame her recent string of humiliations and life-threatening dangers directly on Ukyou, but he was their source nonetheless. He was the one who had dragged her kicking and screaming into his world. He was the one who had made her – Nabiki! – into the victim in his little dramas. Well, it was time to stop being the helpless one.
She took one final cleansing breath and stepped away from the wall. She glared around her at the few loitering students who had been watching her, and they scattered. She dismissed them from her mind. Her reputation in this school was already shot to hell; there was little else she could do to ruin it now. Despite her best efforts, her ‘engagement’ to Saotome had leaked out, and his curse had also leaked out. Now that she found herself tied to him, and through him to Ukyou, she was the target of all the school’s gossip and not the source. She had heard every rumor imaginable. From those which suggested that Nabiki was Ukyou’s secret lover, to the ones which suggested that the only reason she was with Ranma was because of his female side. The latter had grown a strong set of legs, considering how much Nabiki went out of her way to avoid Ranma at school, where he managed to maintain his manhood most of the time.
These thoughts flew through her head and were dismissed as unimportant. She quickly strode back into the school. The halls were empty but not silent, as the unlucky students were still within their classrooms cleaning them up. She walked briskly past the doors to all the classes without pausing. Then she walked straight into the library.
The library was one of the few parts of the campus that was open after school hours. Along with the gymnasium, the library had its own entrance and exit into the school grounds, and students were allowed – indeed, encouraged – to come after hours to cram for finals or work on near-due projects. The librarian was a sleepy, fat little man with an awful comb-over and a nasal voice. But he spent all his time behind his desk playing solitaire, and ignored everything that happened in the rest of the small library. So Nabiki was not worried about him interfering with her.
She spotted her prey easily and walked quickly over to him. Zaitochi was a rabbit of a boy. His build was slim, his eyes beady and his nose had a tendency to twitch when he got nervous. He was also a fabulous sprinter, thanks to his years of evading pursuits from bullies in one school after another. Despite all that, he was gregarious and intelligent. He often helped others with their homework, charging only mild fees for his impressive tutoring skills.
“Zaitochi,” Nabiki called once she was standing behind him. The boy started and spun his head to see her. His nose twitched, and his entire body tensed as if to flee. Then he saw her and relaxed.
“Nabiki,” he sighed. “Don’t sneak up on me like that.”
“I need it.”
Zaitochi raised an eyebrow at her simple statement. Then his eyes widened and he thumbed the side of his nose as comprehension dawned.
“I’m not finished translating.”
“How much have you finished?”
“Almost all of it, actually,” he admitted as he turned back in his seat. He produced a bookbag from under his table and placed it next to him. A few seconds of blind groping within and he pulled out two manila folders. Nabiki strode around to the other side of the table and sat herself down. It would look to any curious onlookers as if she was just getting homework advice. “The trick is reassembling all the damaged portions. Some of it is beyond retrieval, but not all of it. I have to use a lot of educated guesswork to fill in the blanks. Unfortunately, the fire left it so that without that educated guesswork, a lot of it’s been useless.”
“You’ve been reading it,” Nabiki said with a frown. Of course he had been reading it. How else was he supposed to translate it? She had also forgotten about Zaitochi’s inquisitive streak. But he was the only person she knew who spoke fluent English – a legacy of his grandfather, who had been an American soldier.
“Some of it is very fascinating,” Zaitochi explained as he flipped open one of the folders and pointed to the top page. “This, for instance, seems to be a timeline… for events that haven’t happened yet.”
“What?” Nabiki grabbed the paper and swung it around to face her. Zaitochi’s neat, simple handwriting had translated a list out in kana, with dates and notes attached.
“Yes,” the boy leaned forward and his nose twitched. “It talks about the election in America this fall. Claims Clinton is going to win.” Nabiki only paid passing attention to American politics, but since she knew Bush was the current president, she guessed Clinton was the other guy. “It also has the results for the next two elections, and the elections in Canada as well. It also has some data on who is going to be prime minister of England, Germany and even Japan. Though the data is missing or lax on a lot of countries, but that might be because of the damage.”
“That isn’t anything special,” Nabiki pointed out. “Just someone playing at politics.”
“And sports, and economics, and warfare,” Zaitochi pointed out. “Look at this.” He tapped a part of the paper.
“Tokyo, 1996… Sarin Nerve Gas Attack In Subway…?” Nabiki read aloud. “What is this?”
“I don’t know,” Zaitochi admitted. “But there is a lot of other stuff in there. And a lot of it is pretty specific. Stuff about a ‘dotcom crash’ on Wall Street, some sort of big terrorist attack in New York in 2001, wars in Serbia and Mogadishu and Afganistan and Iraq… pretty scary stuff.”
“Scary stuff,” Nabiki repeated as she read down the page, and the next five pages as well. There was too much data here, covering too many different things, for this to all just be speculation. But what did it mean? “What else was there?”
“A profile of you,” Zaitochi said as he flipped the page for her.
“Nabiki Tendo; Age Seventeen, Middle Tendo Daughter… Mostly Harmless?”
“That’s what it says.”
“But… mostly harmless?” Nabiki didn’t know whether to feel insulted or not.
“There was a picture that accompanied the profile,” Zaitochi pointed out. “From what survived of it, it looked like a good likeness.”
“Were there more?”
“Yes. Profiles of your sisters, and Ranma, and Kunou… and profiles of people I’ve never met before.” He looked up at her. “Do we have a principal? I can’t recall ever seeing him.”
“He’s on some sort of extended leave of absence.” Nabiki shrugged. “Has been since before I came here. The vice-principal runs the school, and seems to be doing an okay job. I think there are statues of the guy somewhere on campus.”
“Well, I think whoever wrote this has met him,” Zaitochi flipped a few pages. “Here: Principal Kunou; Age Unknown, Father of Tatewaki Kunou, Hawaii fetish, obession with haircuts, general nuisance.” Nabiki gave him a long look. “I’m not the one who wrote all this. A lot of the profiles were badly burned. I have some names to go with some pictures and a few snippets of descriptions.”
He leaned back and laced his hands behind his neck. “But you may want to keep flipping forward. I put a special surprise a few pages in. I’m sure you’ll realise what it is when you get to it.”
Nabiki gave him a long look, but complied. He was right; it didn’t take her long to figure out what the surprise was. It was a single piece of the burned notebook, almost intact. On it was a picture of a man, or three pictures. One facial shot, one full body shot and a profile. Next to it was a stream of neat little English letters. Zaitochi hadn’t translated the English to kana on a seperate page, he’d just written down the translation in the ample white space left over.
“Jadeite,” Nabiki read to herself as her stomach sank. She recognised that face. She still saw it in her nightmares. Saw it leaning across the table from her with dark hunger in his eyes… she shook off the image and continued reading. “The first of four Generals of the Dark Kingdom. Prefers to engage opponents through proxy by use of ‘youmas’, a sort of parasitic malevolent entity. Jadeite is defeated for the final time at the Narita Airport…” she trailed off. “No way.”
“Heh, my thoughts exactly,” Zaitochi said from behind a grin. “You gave me this notebook three whole days before the battle at Narita.”
“Who are you?” Nabiki said as she looked down at the notepaper in her hands. Zaitochi didn’t catch the meaning of her question, so he remained silent. Finally Nabiki stood up, reached into her pocket and extracted a large roll of bills. She slammed it down on the table. Normally, getting her to actually pay her own money for something was like pulling teeth. Not this time. “Have you finished translating all the text?”
“Technically, yes,” Zaitochi said with a frown.
“Then I have no further need of your services.”
“But what am I supposed to do about…”
“Nothing,” Nabiki said as she gathered up both folders. “Forget you ever saw these.”
“I can hardly do that,” the boy chuckled.
“I suggest you figure out a way,” Nabiki advised icily. “I have a little sister and a fiancé who can help me survive this insanity. Do you know anyone willing and able to do the same for you?”
Zaitochi blinked, staring at her for a moment. Then slowly his face drained of all colour. “You mean…” he croaked.
“Keep this to yourself, don’t speak of it to anyone but me.” She paused. “In fact, you’d best not ever speak to me again. You should forget you ever saw this. It’s too dangerous.”
Nabiki didn’t wait to see his reaction. She had already stowed the papers in her bookbag and started towards the exit. She really did hope the boy followed her advice, and never tried to follow up on what he had learned from this notebook. Just being associated with Ukyou Kuonji was dangerous, triply so for mere mortals like herself and Zaitochi. What danger could you lead yourself into if you knew his secrets?
Nabiki fully intended to find out. She would go carefully, but she would go forward. There was simply no other conceivable direction.
Tofu Ono balanced the tray of drinks with one hand, pocketing a jar of burn ointment with the other. He nodded politely to one of the workmen as he stepped out of the way. The men Ukyou had hired to work on getting his clinic rebuilt were decent, hard-working fellows from what he could tell, and they seemed to be ahead of schedule. He called out a cheerful greeting to a few of the people in the neighbourhood as he walked around the block to the vacant lot. He was glad everyone had understood his circumstances. It meant he wouldn’t lose any customers, at the very least.
“Doctor Tofu!” Tsubasa cried out as she stepped out of a mailbox along his route. Ono took her appearance in good humour. After seeing the young Saotome boy change gender at the slightest shower, he figured there was no reason to be surprised about how strange Ukyou’s friends were. “Are you going to visit Ukyou?”
“Bringing her friends and her a drink,” Ono replied as he continued along. Tsubasa fell into step behind him. She was a rather cute girl, her long brown hair decorated by a single large yellow bow. She was wearing a deep navy blue school uniform, which fit her well but left her looking curiously underdeveloped for a girl her age. At least she wasn’t wearing the giant mutant street sign with the suction cup feet outfit. That one had been vaguely disturbing.
The first thing Ono heard as he stepped into the clearing was the crackle of the bonfire. Ranma sat cross-legged in front of it, staring into the flames that roared slightly taller than his head. Sweat rolled down his cheeks, but whether it was from the heat or from his obviously intense concentration, Ono couldn’t say. He noted the boy’s aura was much more focused today than it had been the day before. Despite his own incredulity, Ukyou’s training seemed to be producing results.
“Hey, Doc,” Ranma called out as he looked up for a minute. He grinned, and cracked his knuckles. “Check this out!” Ono obliged him and paused while Tsubasa stepped around the fire without stopping. Ranma reached back with one hand and then thrust it into the bonfire, again and again. Ono could follow the motion of his hand, but only after reflexively enhancing his vision with a bit of chi. To a normal human, Ranma’s arm would have disappeared into a red blur.
“Gotcha!” Ranma cried triumphantly as he held up a double handful of steaming chestnuts. “Heh. This ain’t so tough.”
“Very good, Ranma.” Ono coughed politely. “Your sleeve is on fire.”
“ACK!” Ranma dropped the chestnuts back into the flames and began to beat at his burning clothes. Unfortunately, his frantic waving was only fanning the flames. Sighing, Ono flipped one of the glasses from his tray towards the boy. Seconds later Ranma was female and covered in sticky lemonade, but at least he wasn’t on fire.
Ono still found the transformation itself fascinating. If he could study how it worked, he could expand his knowledge of magic a great deal. Of course, he doubted Ranma would like being treated like a guinea pig. Therefore, the subject had never been brought up.
“Thanks, Doc,” Ranma grumbled. She rolled up her charred sleeves, trying to salvage some of her outfit. Ono noted the burns on her palms and knuckles and refrained from clucking his tongue in disappointment. His father had passed that habit along to him, but Ono always made sure to repress it. The less he acted like his father, the better, all things considered.
“Don’t worry about it, Ranma,” Ono called. He fetched the burn ointment from his back pocket and handed it to the boy as he passed. “Here.” Ranma thanked him as Ono stepped past the bonfire into the clearing proper. Ono wasn’t really worried about the boy injuring himself. Not only did he have a chi-enhanced resistance to damage, but he healed with amazing alacrity.
“-don’t think so much about your attacks, Akane,” Ukyou’s voice faded into hearing as Ono stepped away from the roaring flame. The girl was dressed in a pair of loose slacks and a button-up shirt. As usual, she was concealing her feminine traits with remarkable ability. Akane was on the ground at her feet and Ukyou was offering the other girl a hand up. Akane’s yellow training gi was stained with dirt and sweat, and her forehead shone with a light sheen as she took deep breaths. Ukyou appeared immaculate in comparison.
“Easy for you to say,” Akane groused good-naturedly.
“It isn’t about knowing your enemy, Akane,” Ukyou pointed out once the other girl was back on her feet. Her voice had taken on the strangely gentle steel edge that Ono had begun to call her ‘teaching voice’. “It’s about knowing yourself, and trusting in that. You can’t be second-guessing yourself in the middle of a battle. You have to commit yourself totally to an action. If you don’t… your chi won’t respond.”
“So when I try to hit-“
“Do or do not, there is no try,” Ukyou quoted happily. “You can’t doubt that your attack is going to hit.” Ukyou stepped away from her and began a slow kata. Ono watched her, as her aura snapped tight and focused. “The key to accessing your chi is knowing that it will respond.” She began to speed up her technique. Her aura was taut and almost crackled around her, barely any leaking away from her body. Ono was impressed. He had never actually gotten a chance to see Ukyou use her aura like that. All his tutelage had focused on imparting knowledge of the accelerated healing techniques to her. He hadn’t even taught her about his Five Chakra theory, but she was definitely focusing almost solely through her Wind Chakra. “Chi is not a force we bend to our will, Akane. It does not come to our command. It flows to match our desire! You can’t just want it, or wish it… you have to need it, rely on it… make it a part of you!”
By the time Ukyou completed her speech, she was blurring through the motions of her kata. Her aura had leaked into the visible spectrum and sheathed her body in a quiet white glow. But there was something… an emptiness in her spirit that Ono could just barely make out. But before he could focus further, she had ceased her exercise and turned back to Akane. Her aura returned to its normal state.
“Wow! That was way too cool, Ukyou!” Tsubasa cried as she ran up to her old friend. Ukyou seemed to brace herself for the girl to leap on her, but Tsuabasa stopped a few steps away and just clasped her hands together as she bounced on her heels.
“Hey, Fungus,” Ukyou said in her deadpan tone. Akane had asked Ukyou about that nickname a few days back, but Ukyou had just responded that it was ‘a long story’ and refused to explain further. Tsubasa always frowned when Ukyou called her that. “Okay… let’s go through the list.” Ukyou held up five fingers. “One; I will not go out with you today. Two; I will not change my mind. Three; yes, just going for a walk counts as a date. Four; I am flattered by your love letter, but can not accept it. Five; I am not interested in talking about any of the above.” Ukyou lowered a finger after each point until she was holding up a fist. “Does that about cover the usual idiocy?”
“Ukyou, you can’t mean to be so mean!” Tsubasa pouted. Her eyes brimmed with unshed tears. “Ever since I found you again, you’ve done nothing but be mad at me.”
“Ever consider the reason I didn’t leave a forwarding address was because I didn’t want to be found by you?” Ukyou grumbled and sat down. “Ono,” Ukyou called as she turned her attention away from the girl. “Why don’t you sit down while I start up lunch?”
“Ukyou, look… you’re making Tsubasa cry,” Akane pointed out in a slightly chiding tone.
“Some people just don’t understand gentle rejection,” Ukyou said with a glare at her old ‘friend’. “I’ve been turning down Tsubasa for almost three months.”
“But I love you, Ukyou!”
“Indeed?” Ukyou crossed her arms. “The only reason you pursued me so much was because you were the only person at my old school that knew my secret.”
“Wait a minute…” Ono was slightly surprised to see Ranma sitting nearby. He had missed the boy-turned-girl‘s approach somehow. “You know Ukyou’s not a guy?”
“Well, of course,” Tsubasa said. She then did a double take and stared hard at Ranma’s breasts. “Wait… weren’t YOU a guy?”
“And I still am!” Ranma growled and made a fist. Ono smiled, but concealed it by pretending he had lost his grip on the lemonade tray. Ukyou didn’t bother to conceal her smile as she set up her mobile grill.
“Wow… that’s impressive!” Tsubasa smiled and leaned forward. Ranma sat in a sort of stunned horror as the girl reached out and began to massage both of Ranma’s breasts vigourously. “They feel so real!” she chirped. “Soft and warm and-“
“Ah, that’s quite enough…” Ono cut the girl off as he snatched her hands away. Ranma had turned as red as a fire hydrant, and her eyes had taken on a hollow quality. Her left eyebrow twitched, once. Akane took one long look at Ranma’s face, then broke out into a fit of laughter. This snapped Ranma out of her stupor.
“I wouldn’t laugh, you! Don’t think I forgot about what happened in the dojo!” Ranma growled at her. Akane’s laughter choked off and she blushed deeply.
“Wait? Who did what in the where now?” Ukyou cried in confusion as she looked up from their lunch.
“I see now…” Tsubasa had, at some point during all this, begun to glare at Ranma. “So you think you can replace me in Ukyou’s heart, do you? Just because you have better breasts than I do!” Tsubasa stood, pointing accusingly at Ranma. Ranma blanched.
“What? Are you insane?”
“Don’t deny it! Well, I know you won’t replace me! You’re ugly and have absolutely NO sense of fashion!” Tsubasa accused imperiously. She ended her brief tirade by smirking and placing her hands on her hips.
“You take that back!” Ranma shouted and leapt to her feet. “I’ll have you know I am incredibly sexy!”
“Oh please, you couldn’t even get a guy to ask you out on a date…”
“I could too!”
“Ranma,” Ukyou interrupted in a flat, laconic tone. “Think for just a second about what you are saying.”
“I knew he was a pervert all along,” Akane stage-whispered to Ukyou.
“Like… take the Doc here!” Ranma grabbed Ono’s collar and dragged him down to her eye level. “You’ve seen me mostly naked. I have a fantastic body, one that any guy would drool over. Agreed?” From the tone and the dangerous glint in her eyes, Ono thought it best just to nod. Ranma smirked and let him go.
No sooner was he released than Tsubasa was holding him by the lapels and pulling him towards her. “Yes, but that’s just because of his massive chest. You agree that far more men would be interested in a girl with an adorable face and killer fashion like me. Correct?” Her tone and the glint of her eye almost exactly mirrored Ranma’s. The mute nod Ono gave her exactly replicated the one he had given Ranma.
Ono found himself released again, only to feel someone tap on his shoulder. It was Akane. She was staring at him with earnest, wide eyes. “Doctor Tofu… do you… really find girls like them attractive?” Her tone wasn’t dangerous, but Ono somehow sensed there was a deeper subtext to her question. What that subtext could be, he hadn’t a clue.
What had he done to get dragged into the centre of this?
Ono looked to Ukyou for support. Ukyou had always shown a remarkable level of maturity for her age. Sometimes, when they talked late into the night, Ono felt as if he could close his eyes and he would be sitting across from someone his own age. But Ukyou was no help. Her face was a stony mask. Except for the violent twitching of her lips as she tried to suppress her smile. Her hand continued to go about the mechanical act of preparing her specialty food without pause, but the rest of her body shuddered slightly as laughter attempted to squeeze out of her mouth.
“There’s only one way to settle this…” Tsubasa hissed dangerously as she glared at Ranma. Ranma glared back. Ono scrambled back a few steps as he saw their auras clashing and sparking off each other like two storm fronts.
“Is that a challenge?” Ranma grinned. “Because if it is… then I’m more than ready for anything you got!”
“Then it’s agreed? We’ll settle this like honourable men!”
“You’re on! Name the time, name the place!”
“WHAhahaHOAHAHAHAHAAAH!” Ukyou collapsed, unable to keep it in any longer. She had managed to finish preparing everyone’s meal first, even Tsubasa’s. Everyone turned to her as she rolled about helplessly on the ground, clutching her stomach. She was laughing so hard now that nothing but a strangled whistle escaped her lips. Her cheeks were turning blue, Ono noted with some concern.
“She can’t breathe!” Akane cried in alarm.
“I’ll give her mouth to mouth!” Tsubasa shouted and leapt for Ukyou. Ranma intercepted the girl by catching the back of her collar.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“Saving her life?” Tsubasa offered hopefully.
“I think she made it clear she don’t want nothing to do with you,” Ranma noted dryly.
“So I was right, you ARE trying to replace me!”
“Okay… okay… I think this has gone on long enough,” Ukyou gasped between breaths as she finally recovered. She rolled to a sitting position. “Ranma, are you really feeling your femininity is threatened by Tsubasa here?”
“What? No… I…”
“Good. Because I can assure you that you are more of a woman than Tsubasa will ever be,” Ukyou said with a chuckle.
Tsubasa backed away from Ukyou, her body frozen and her hands held up in demon-warding gestures. “Can… can it be…” she gasped.
“Because Tsubasa is a guy,” Ukyou pointed out when she saw Ranma’s obvious confusion.
“A guy?” Akane gasped.
“Yes… in drag,” Ukyou chuckled. “You know, dressed up to look like a girl.”
“So you mean she, I mean he… I mean… Tsubasa is really a MAN!?” Ranma waved his hands helplessly in the transvestite’s direction. Ono gave the ‘girl’ another look. How could he have missed something like that? He was a trained doctor. He was supposed to have developed skills of observation, both mundane and mystic, that should have made such a ruse impossible. But as Ono focused his attention on the boy, he began to see how he had pulled it off. It was… a field of chi. Very unfocused, totally uncontrolled. It was the same kind of unconsciously strong chi aura he had seen in concert violinists or exceptionally well-liked politicians. Tsubasa wasn’t aware of it, but he was using chi to ‘smooth’ out his disguise. Now that Ono knew what to look for, he could see past the subtle illusion to the boy’s adam’s apple and other physical features. Ono had never considered such an application of chi control… the repercussions were fascinating.
“Oh, like you didn’t know,” Tsubasa said cattily. “With the amount of work you must have put into that, you had to have picked up my tells.”
“Put into what?”
“He’s trying to imply that you’re a cross-dresser, Ranma,” Ukyou explained in level tones. But she was smiling in a manner that reminded Ono of a cat playing with a mouse.
“I am NOT!” Ranma shouted and picked up Tsubasa by the lapels. “I don’t care if you are a guy or a girl or whatever, nobody calls me a fairy!”
“Geez, you should come out of the closet…”
“You freak! Take that back!” Ranma shouted and pulled the boy in girl’s clothes off his feet. She held Tsubasa up with one hand, seemingly without effort. Tsubasa had begun to look distinctly nervous. Ono stepped forward, intending to intervene before this got out of hand.
“You’re just a violent brute!” Tsubasa shouted back. “You don’t deserve Ukyou!” Apparently his nervousness wasn’t going to hold back Tsubasa’s tongue. Ono reached out and gently placed a hand on Ranma’s shoulder. His artful fingers prodded a few pressure points there without being seen, and Ono let his chi flow into the Saotome boy’s. Almost immediately the angry energy began to shrink in Ranma’s aura. Ranma was beginning to lose her furious scowl.
“And who said I was yours?” Ukyou replied calmly. At the same time, she bapped Tsubasa on the back of the head. Ono blinked, having completely missed her standing up behind the cross-dresser. He saw Tsubasa’s eyes loll back and then the boy went limp. Ono recognised the technique: he had taught it to Ukyou himself. “Stupid fungus, never could take no for an answer…” Ukyou walked back to her grill. “Just get rid of him, Ranma.”
“Uh… right…” Ranma began to look around for someplace to ‘get rid of’ the unconscious body in her arms. Ono ignored him and considered having a very stern talk with Ukyou about how she was treating Tsubasa. He had been meaning to say something since the first time he had seen the disguise-wearing young man. After recovering from the attack on the clinic, Ono had managed to get out of his own bed and into Ukyou’s room. There with all her friends (including some girl with a camera whose name Ono couldn’t recall), he had waited for her to awaken. When she had, she had seemed pleased to see everyone. And they had been pleased to see her recover.
Then a nearby cardiac monitor had sprouted arms and a face and joyfully proclaimed how glad it was that Ukyou was okay. That had been Ono’s first introduction to Tsubasa, though he hadn’t have learned her… his name until a few days later. Ukyou had stared at the cardiac monitor/girl hybrid that had clutched onto her for a few seconds, then calmly raised her good hand and hit them about ten times in the head until Tsubasa was thoroughly unconscious. Ono was still trying to digest what was going on when Ukyou had asked Akane to open the window to her hospital room. Mechanically, Akane had done so. This allowed Ukyou to toss Tsubasa out the window… her third story window.
Horrified, Ono had asked what was going on. Ukyou had only laughed and said “That’s just the Fungus. He’ll be back. Unfortunately.” Ono hadn’t been able to think of anything to say to that. Considering he had been ambushed by extra-dimensional energy vampires only a day ago, he was willing to accept anything. And the thing was that Tsubasa HAD come back, the next day and every day since. And always Ukyou would put up with him for about ten minutes, then she would hit him and toss him away. Ono wasn’t sure if that was a decent way to treat another human being, but he really had no idea what to say about it.
Finally, after seeing Ranma toss Tsubasa onto the back of a passing truck, Ono sighed and resolved to deal with this problem like he dealt with so many other problems: he ignored it. He sat down and enjoyed the fine meal that Ukyou had prepared for the four of them. They ate in comfortable silence for a few minutes, a once again male Ranma taking a triple serving that Ukyou was more than pleased to serve. She was a very good cook, especially when it came to her favourite food. She obviously enjoyed it, too. Once she had told him that when ‘this’ (whatever this was) was all over, she was going to open her own restaurant. He fully believed her. She hadn’t let him cook his own meals since moving in with him, and he wasn’t about to complain.
“I’m glad to see everyone is doing so well with their training,” Ono said to break the post-meal silence. He still couldn’t believe that his student had two students of her own. Especially one that was so obviously more advanced in the art than she was.
“Heh, this is a snap,” Ranma grinned as he wolfed down his second helping. Well, that might have been what he said, it was hard to tell from behind his mouthful of food. Ranma swallowed. “I’m just not sure what the point is. Grabbing chestnuts and all, I mean.”
“I already told you,” Ukyou said in a level tone. “It’s tantric training. Half the point of doing it is to figure out WHY you are doing it.” Ukyou allowed a grin to emerge on her usually impassive face. “Or are you saying you can’t get it?”
“No way!” Ranma growled and slammed a fist into the dirt. “I can handle any training!”
“Uh, doesn’t that hurt?” Akane asked, pointed down at the large burn Ranma was grinding into the dirt.
“Not at all,” Ranma moaned as tears emerged in the corners of his eyes. “Why do you ask?”
“Well, I wouldn’t want to step on Ukyou’s toes…” Ono mused aloud. “But I think she’s trying to increase the chi flow through your Wind Chakra.”
“My who in the what now?” Ranma blinked.
“You never taught me about anything like that,” Ukyou said as she blinked as well.
“I didn’t, did I?”
“Huh,” Ono removed his glasses and cleaned them on the edge of his shirt. “Well, that’s odd. The Five Chakra theory is just the entire basis of my theory on martial arts and chi control.” He grinned and put his glasses back on. “I guess, with all the excitement, I kind of forgot about teaching you about it!”
Ono’s head rocked back on his neck as Ukyou bapped him lightly on the forehead. The girl rolled back to a kneeling position, her fist still clenched and her eyes narrow and dangerous.
“In my own defence, you seemed so intent on learning the rapid healing technique that I didn’t really want to slow you down with a lot of pure theory,” Ono cried as he held his hands in front of him to ward off another attack.
“I wanted to learn chi theory!” Ukyou grunted as she crossed her arms over her chest. “That was the point of you teaching me. I know about specific training techniques…” she trailed off into a sigh. “No, it’s not your fault.” Ukyou gestured with her left arm. “I’d still be in the hospital if you hadn’t taught me as much about accelerating healing as you did.”
“Wait… Chakras? Chi theory? Accelerated healing?” Akane waved for attention and everyone turned to her. Strangely, once everyone was, she blushed and refused to look at Ono directly. Instead she addressed Ukyou. “I think you’ve lost me. Dad never taught me anything like this.”
“Yeah.” Ranma tapped his fingers against his knees. “Pops never mentioned nothin’ about Chakra either. He just sort of… taught me stuff, ya know? Like he kept punching me until I learned to block or dodge it.”
“Hmm, well I guess a little primer wouldn’t hurt for everyone,” Ono said before chuckling to himself. He looked around and located a long thin piece of wood. He snapped it up and tested it in the dirt, finding it served as a good pencil. Nodding, he quickly sketched in a human diagram. “Let’s see… well you all know what chi is, right?”
Seeing everyone nod, he proceeded, “Beyond the basic concept that chi exists, people have always been working on finding ways to measure, classify and otherwise divide chi down into a more useful form. The ways they have done this have varied across cultures. Western theory proposed four alchemical elements; fire, water, wind and earth. Chinese alchemy had five; wood, metal, fire, water and earth. Taoist philosophy divides all chi into yin and yang. Other theories divide chi into hot and cold flows, heavy and light and every flavour in between.
“I think that all these theories understood a part of the truth, but not the whole picture. I started from the base of the old secrets and worked from them. I combined them. I’ve come up with my own theory, through rigourous application of the scientific method and years of trial and error. The difference between my theory and the old ones is mine always works!”
Ono coughed and chuckled. “Sorry if I sound a little egotistical. But I am very proud of my work. I’ve been trying to get it accepted for years and…” he trailed off. “Never mind that, I’m rambling now. Back to what’s important.”
“My theory separates chi into five natural channels in the human body, each of which is linked to a certain type of chi and a certain type of natural task.” Tofu drew a line to the brow of the diagram and quickly labelled the line with a symbol and some text. “This is the Wind Chakra, located in the temple. It’s through this chakra that we draw the energy which enhances our intellect and our speed and agility.” He drew a second line to the sternum of the figure.
“Just here, is the Water Chakra. Water chi is our link to health and vitality. Next, we have the Earth Chakra.” Ono drew a sign linked to the stomach of the figure. “Traditionally seen as the seat of chi itself, I believe this is because of the stability of the Earth Chakra. This chi leads to stamina and resistance to disease.” He drew a final line, this time into the crotch of the figure. “And here we have the Fire Chakra, which is the link to passion and strength.”
Ono leaned back, making sure he had gotten all the details right. Not that he needed to worry in such a crude picture, and there was a lot more to it than he had said, but the basis was all there.
“Wait, you said five chakra points… where’s the fifth one?” Ukyou asked. There was something about the way she asked the question that made Ono look at her sharply. Akane was peering at the diagram in puzzlement, and Ranma was only giving it a passing glance. Ukyou, however, was staring at the diagram intently.
“The fifth Chakra is not actually located in the body.” Seeing everyone’s puzzled expression, he elaborated, “the fifth Chakra is an invisible one that surrounds us from every direction.” He drew a circle around the diagram. “It is the barrier that separates what is US from what is not us. Our sense of this chakra is what makes for our perceptions of things outside our body. Mainly, this Chakra is defined by what it is not. So I named it the Void Chakra.” He labelled the final part of the diagram and put the stick aside.
“Earth, Fire, Water, Wind and Void…” Ukyou said, her voice taking on a slightly incredulous tone. “You’re not serious… are you?”
“Stop pulling my leg, Doc,” Ukyou said from behind a deep frown. “It isn’t funny. You must have taken a peek at my journal and I don’t appreciate that. Rubbing it in my face like this is kind of low.”
“I... have no idea what you’re talking about,” Ono said with a blink. He was genuinely confused. This was the first time Ukyou had ever been mad at him directly. Looking into her impassive eyes, he felt just slightly intimidated.
“You mean… you really did come up with this totally on your own?” Ukyou suddenly shifted from anger to confusion.
“That’s what I said,” Ono confirmed. “Though I also spent a good deal of time studying previous theories, refining them and…”
“No,” Ukyou shook her head. “That’s not possible…”
“What isn’t possible?” Akane asked, her tone curious.
“It’s just that…” Ukyou looked up at the sky. “It’s nothing. Not important.”
“No, it is something,” Akane insisted.
“It’s nothing!” Ukyou growled back. “Just that what Ono was describing sounds remarkably close to… something someone told me once.”
“Really?” Ono asked, enthused. If someone else had come to the same conclusions about chi, entirely separate from him, that was great. It would be like parallel development. It would reinforce his own theory. And maybe if this person was well-respected, it could even allow Ono to bring his theories to the mainstream! “Can you tell me who?”
“He’s dead now,” Ukyou said softly.
“Oh…” Ono trailed off. There was no sorrow in Ukyou’s voice. More… a kind of quiet anger. He probed her aura and saw it swirling with the familiar kinesthetic greens and reds, all in dark shades… some so dark they had turned black. It was an aura that looked sickly to his eyes. He had seen that aura on Ukyou the first time she had woken up in his clinic. Not before that. When she slept, her aura calmed down to a uniform grey. But that aura had been with her since the first time he had met her, and it had only grown more violent since. But Ono had spent so much time looking at books and studying arcane history that he didn’t know how to talk to her about it. He could be polite to people, even charming in his own way. But the thing was that he didn’t really understand them. He had barely passed his mandatory psychology courses in university. So, like most problems related to people, he ignored this one too.
After all, Ukyou would be fine.
“Well, like I said, the type of chi determines what kind of activity it’s best suited for,” Ono continued his explanation, deciding to let Ukyou’s odd statement pass. “That isn’t to say that you can’t use one type of chi to accomplish virtually any task… but you will find it’s really inefficient. The reason I’ve been teaching you to meditate on your heart beat and the flow of your blood is because that ties into your Water Chakra, which is linked to your overall health and makes it easy to regenerate the damage you have taken. But if you wanted to increase your speed, you’d be focusing on your Wind Chakra; your Fire Chakra is for strength and your Earth Chakra is for stamina. The Void Chakra is used for esoteric skills and perception.”
“Indeed…” Ukyou nodded, but her nod was perfunctory. It was like someone hearing something they already knew confirmed.
“So, all you have to do is learn to use the right Chakra to do the right skill?” Akane asked.
“Well, it’s more complex than that.” Tofu sat back and rubbed his chin. “You see, each person has a natural inclination towards one kind of chi over the other types. Whether this is an inborn trait or a result of personality and development I can’t say, as I don’t have enough data. But the important thing is that this inclination exists. What that means is that it is much harder for a person to use chi not compatible with their natural inclination and much easier to use chi techniques based on it. For instance: if you were a natural Wind aspect, you would find yourself hard-pressed to gain access to Fire aspect abilities. Both because your Wind chi is not suited to using Fire abilities, and because your Wind chi opposes Fire chi and makes it harder for you to draw on that Chakra.”
“So it’s just a fancy way of saying everyone has strengths and weaknesses,” Ranma pointed out with a shrug.
“Can you determine your own aspect, Doctor?” Ukyou asked pointedly.
“Uh, yes… quite simply in fact.” Ono picked up his glass. “I’ll be right back.” He walked over to the water tap and cleaned out his glass before filling it half-way with cold water. Finding a leaf on the ground, he placed that atop the glass and walked back to the group. Ukyou blinked as he set the glass down.
“Wait! Wait!” Ukyou shot her hand up. “We test our chi with a glass of water and a leaf?”
“You don’t read comic books, do you?”
“Just checking…” Ukyou murmured and sat back.
“What you have to do is release your chi and hold your aura over the glass for about a minute. Depending on how the water reacts, that determines what your most natural Chakra aspect is. Allow me to demonstrate.”
Ono closed his eyes and focused inward, synchronising his breathing and the beating of his heart. When he opened his eyes he could see the chi flowing down the length of his arm, gathering in-between his palms. With an incandescent flash, the chi passed the critical point that allowed it to be seen by the untrained eye. He heard Akane gasp, but didn’t let that distract him. Moving skillfully, he slid his hands around the glass without touching it. His aura flowed over the water as he breathed slowly and easily. Finally the leaf atop the water twitched once, then twice and at last it began to spin around in tight circles. Ono released his hold on his aura and the light vanished while the leaf’s spin stopped.
“As you could see, the leaf moved,” Ono pointed out. “That means my best aspect is the Wind Chakra. If the leaf had sunk, that would have been a sign of a strong Earth Chakra. If the water level rises, then you are strong in your Water Chakra, and if it lowers you are strong in your Void aspect. With a Fire aspect there is no obvious visual sign, but you can tell by the fact that the temperature of the water increases. Why don’t you all give it a try?”
He was then subject to three blank stares.
“Uh… how do we do that?” Ranma asked, finally seeming to have taken an interest in the conversation for the first time.
“Oh, uh… you just sort of release your aura between your hands…” Ono gestured lamely. “Let’s see.” He paused to think about it. “Okay, try to clear your mind and focus all your attention between your hands. Don’t try and force anything, just let yourself go. If you have any personal ritual for when you access your chi, you might want to try using that first.”
He watched as the three shifted position and pushed their arms in front of themselves. For the next few minutes the lot was silent save for their slow breathing and the soft rustle of the breeze through the grass. Ranma was the first to open his eyes with a cry of glee as the nebulous white light formed between his palms. Ukyou followed shortly thereafter, though she greeted her achievement with only a satisfied nod. Akane opened her eyes to gaze at them, only to close them again and screw her face up into a frown. Her brow furrowed and a bead of sweat trickled down her nose.
“You can do it, Akane,” Ukyou said softly as she clapped the other girl on the shoulder. “Like he said. Don’t force it. Just feel it.”
Akane looked at her friend, grinned and nodded. A minute later, Akane cried out in delight as the light began to flicker between her hands.
“Well, let’s all see what we are.” Ukyou gestured for her friends to go first.
Ranma eagerly slid forward and placed his palms around the cup. He smirked and summoned up his aura. It didn’t take long before the effect became obvious, as water began to spill over the lip of the cup. Ono stopped him by pulling the cup away before the leaf could float off.
Ukyou let Akane take the next turn. It took a little longer for Akane to summon up her chi than Ranma, but she seemed much more comfortable doing it the second time around. Ono waited as a minute passed with no obvious effect, then stuck his finger in the glass. He nodded at what he had suspected all along.
“You’re a Fire aspect, Akane,” he said with a smile.
“Oh… I was kind of hoping for Wind…” She frowned.
“There are no good or bad aspects, Akane.”
“Yeah, you should be proud to have the crotch chakra!” Ranma chuckled. Seconds later he was chuckling through a layer of dirt with Akane standing over him brandishing Ono’s discarded drawing stick. Or at least part of it. It must have splintered in two when she hit him.
“I guess it’s my turn,” Ukyou said from behind a wry smile. She retrieved the glass and placed it in front of her. Ono watched as she summoned her aura, noting with some pleasure that while Ranma had created a chi aura far faster, Ukyou had created one that was much brighter and more stable. Then Ono’s eyes widened as the water in the glass suddenly turned from a pristine picture to spinning maelstrom. Everyone stared as the leaf spun like mad around the glass, before it suddenly hit the bottom. There was no water left. “Huh… what does that mean?”
“Do it again,” Ono ordered after he filled the cup with more water. Ukyou complied and the results this time were much the same. But Ono distinctly saw the water both spinning and shrinking away. He stopped her before the water could disappear entirely. “I’ve never seen anything like that before. Now granted, I haven’t done it on a wide scale… but it looks like you have an equally strong Wind and Void Chakra. Which shouldn’t really be possible.”
“But I guess it is,” Ukyou pointed out. “Because we just saw as much.”
“It’s still strange…” Ono murmured.
“If you say so.” Ukyou stood up and dusted off her hands. “But we really should get back to serious training now, don’t you think?” The question was addressed to Ranma and Akane, who both nodded. Ono sat back and watched them drift off towards their various pursuits. He was sure what he had just seen was not possible. Maybe he could talk with her more about it later…
Akane groaned as she stepped into her room and slid her door closed behind her. Ukyou, she decided inwardly, was a madwoman. And Doctor Tofu, good, sweet, friendly Doctor Tofu, was a madman. And when the two of them got together, they were madness incarnate. Case in point, the huge lead weights that Akane was even now removing from her arms. She was tempted to let the damnable things fall, but she wasn’t convinced the floor could survive the impact. So instead she crouched and gently laid them down. Thankfully, this gave her easy access to the weights attached to her ankles, and Akane gratefully took the chance to remove them as well. She spent the next few minutes trying to rub the feeling back into her legs.
Akane wasn’t sure she was ready to go through with this. All this talk of chakras and mantras and sutras and tantras and foci and dragon paths and… it made her head rattle when she tried to grasp it all. The worst part was how easily Ukyou seemed to be understanding it. Akane had even caught Ranma staring in befuddlement as Ukyou and Tofu threw ideas back and forth like pros at a tennis match. She definitely wasn’t used to working out this much, which was to say she wasn’t used to working out constantly.
But Ukyou had insisted. ‘If you want to break past the limits of your art as it exists, Akane, you have to go beyond seeing martial arts as a tool or a means to an end, and more as a lifestyle,’ Akane heard her mental reproduction of Ukyou say (perhaps the voice was slightly more condescending than the real one, but Akane wasn’t being fair at the moment). ‘These weights will turn the act of walking, of picking up a pencil, even the simplest acts into training. Once you can move around in them like you could without them, we increase the weight. And then again, and then again. Eventually when you take off the weights, you’ll be ten times as strong as before.’
Akane could almost see the logic in it. But that hardly mattered to her now. What mattered was that she was sixteen years old, and this kind of physical exertion was only the tip of the torture sessions that were her daily training with Ukyou and Tofu. She just hoped they never expected her to stick her hands into a bonfire like they were making Ranma. No chestnuts could be worth that.
She smiled a little and shook her head. Now that she was thinking more clearly, she realised how… childish? Yes, childish, that was how she sounded even to herself. Akane had asked to be trained at the same level that Ranma and Ukyou trained, and she would just have to endure the pain to do so. The way Ranma hadn’t even batted an eye while he was set to his own tasks made Akane just a bit cranky, however. It would help if Ukyou didn’t spend her days either sitting with Tofu in quiet meditation or getting them to attack her while she danced around that spiral she had drawn in the ground.
Akane yawned and rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand. Fatigue hit her suddenly and she felt the concerns drain from her mind. She realised she was too tired to even change into her nightclothes. Oh well… she would just have to iron her dress in the morning. Stretching and yawning, she half-walked, half- crawled over to her bed and pulled back the covers.
The paper that fell from them to the floor almost escaped her attention, but Akane still caught it out of the corner of her eyes. Some note from Kasumi? Maybe even Nabiki? The latter thought sent a thrill through Akane. Maybe Nabiki was finally willing to start talking to her again. The cold shoulder treatment her sister was giving her and everyone else was beginning to worry Akane. She would have raised the issue with the others, but to what end? Ukyou made her dislike of Akane’s elder sister plain, and Ranma’s distrust for his ‘fiancée’ was nearly legendary around the school.
She picked up the note and sat on her bed. Oh man, this bed was comfortable. Maybe she could read the note in the morning and just sleep a little right now? Her muscles said yes, but the better part of her nature said no. Thus Akane scanned the note, her eyes widening with every sentence.
I really need to talk to you. Ukyou or Ranma would likely attack me if I tried to talk to them, so I’m hoping you’ll be willing to listen. Just listen, that’s all I want. I’m not going to attack you or kidnap you or try to harm anyone. If I wasn’t sincere in this, I wouldn’t write this note, would I? So please don’t scream or try to get Ranma, because then we’ll never be able to speak peacefully. I am above you.
Above her? Was that some sort of backhanded insult? Then the meaning struck Akane, and her head snapped up, her long forelocks flashing in the corner of her eyes, as she stared at the ceiling.
The figure above her was mainly hidden in the shadows, but was still clear to an alert viewer. She was spread-eagled, bracing her limbs against the beams in Akane’s ceiling, removed shoes clutched in the tips of her left hand’s fingers. Her long ponytail dipped down over her shoulder and she was wearing a loose white t-shirt and tight blue jeans. Her skin appeared remarkably pale, but that might have been the light. Chris. He… she… it was back. Akane opened her mouth to scream for help… then snapped it closed.
Maybe it was the weariness, or the sincerity of the note, or her own recent thoughts about building bridges with her sister… but Akane remained quiet.
“Hi,” the dead woman above her whispered in Kodachi’s voice. “Mind if I come down?” Akane shook her head mutely. Chris dropped feather–quiet to the floor, landing with grace and panache. From the way he was smirking, he was obviously enjoying the abilities he had stolen from the girl along with her life. Akane forced that thought aside. True as it was, getting into a shouting match here would do no good. She would never forgive Chris for what he did, but she would… forget it, for now.
“Thank you,” Chris said in a low voice. He sat cross-legged on the floor, carefully setting his shoes aside. “I’m sorry I had to sneak in here like this, but I couldn’t think of another way to talk to you alone.”
“If you want me to trust you” – Akane crossed her arms, trying not to let the wince of pain the motion caused show on her face – “this wasn’t the best way to do it.” Akane kept her voice low. “Now what do you want?”
He sighed, and sounded genuinely regretful in so doing. “I can see you haven’t exactly forgiven me. Well, I suppose I can’t blame you. I’ll try to make this short so I can let you get to sleep.” Akane nodded curtly, and he sighed again before continuing. “Shortly after we last saw each other, I headed to China in order to look for some people and places that might help me find a solution to my problems. This took me about a week, so I only got back earlier today. Shortly after returning, I found out about what had happened at the airport, and it concerned me quite a bit.”
“Why would it do that?” Akane asked, partly suspicious and partly genuinely curious. Akane wondered how much Chris had heard about it, or about her own involvement. She blushed a bit as she thought of getting to be the hero for a few minutes there. It was that night, more than anything else, which kept her putting on those damn weights every morning. A part of her even resented being almost entirely left out of the articles Ran had written about the fight except as ‘the poor victim’s sister’ and ‘Ukyou’s true and loyal friend’.
“I’ll admit I was a tad concerned about the fact Ukyou seemed to have a large ally group now, but I think that’s just paranoia on my part. The real problem is bigger than that, and bigger than me. The Sailor Senshi…” he paused. “Did Ukyou tell you who they… no, she probably didn’t. I’m not sure what she told you about how I knew so much about you guys, either. But I know about them, too. The Sailor Senshi are… important. Very important. That’s what really concerns me. Because if someone messes with them, and it goes wrong… it could doom the entire world. You, me, Ukyou, everyone else, gone. So I don’t understand why Ukyou’s getting involved in their…” he paused again. “Let’s say affairs. Please note, I’m not saying Ukyou’s trying to kill everybody or anything, but she might not realise how dangerous the situation is.” He frowned, as if suddenly thinking of something, but seemed not about to say anything further for the moment.
Akane rolled her head to the side, and irritably reached up to push one of her hairlocks from her face. Man, long hair was a pain… but Akane didn’t know what the living dead girl meant. Ukyou had warned them about the Sailor Senshi, about the Dark Kingdom, and told them the entire history of their conflict. “Ukyou didn’t choose that fight,” Akane said slowly. “It chose her.” Akane considered elaborating, but decided against it. Friendly as he was being for the moment, Chris was still a dangerous enemy and a potential threat. She decided to keep things close to her chest, for now.
“So I heard. Jadeite kidnapped Nabiki and all that. I don’t blame you for going to the fight then. But… it doesn’t explain why Ukyou was involved with the Senshi in the first place. I mean, they’re from a different,” another pause, “…part of Tokyo. Why would she be involved in their battles?”
“You wouldn’t know… I guess.” Akane frowned slightly. What harm would it do in telling him just this much? None that Akane could see. Maybe it would even scare him off. “The Dark Kingdom is after the energy of human beings. Or, as we martial artists have learned to call it, our chi. And we martial artists are like giant batteries of chi to them. Just one of us seems to have more energy than an entire roomful of normal people. So they come after us.”
Of course, Akane didn’t even bother to voice Ranma’s particular opinion of that. The idea that Ukyou was secretly some sort of demon-slaying legendary warrior was… patently ridiculous. The idea that she was training the two of them to be her partners, even more so. Ukyou certainly wouldn’t keep something like that from them. She certainly would NOT drag them into that kind of situation without at least asking them what they thought first. Would she?
Chris, meanwhile, seemed to be greatly relieved, and his whole frame relaxed and slumped visibly. “Superhuman martial artists are chi batteries… that makes sense. Wonder why they didn’t notice before…? But anything could make the difference, I suppose.” He looked up at her, smiling a bit. “If that’s the case, I feel a lot better about it, and I’ll trust Ukyou to have the discretion not to screw anything up for them. Thank you for telling me.”
Akane had a brief moment of hope that this would be the end of the whole conversation, so she kept silent. When it became clear from the thoughtful frown on Kodachi’s face that Chris wasn’t finished, she remained quiet more out of social inertia than anything else.
Finally, he spoke. “Just one more thing, then. I was thinking about something. I’d like to share a secret with you. If you know it, it might make things a bit easier on both of us, and may even help prevent any further conflict. Or it might make no difference. But because it involves things I and Ukyou know are going to happen, it might make you uncomfortable. So I won’t force you to listen. It’s up to you if you want to hear it.” He looked up at her, his expression unreadable.
Akane stared. Wow. Maybe he could have been more vague, but he would have had to try hard. She tried to parse the sentence, figuring out eactly what she was or was not saying no or yes to. Finally, she gave up. “What are you talking about?” she snapped in frustration.
He blinked in confusion, then laughed a little. “I’m sorry. Okay, I’ll try to phrase that in a less convoluted manner. Something is going to happen. Ukyou and I know about it. What Ukyou doesn’t know is that I have to do something about it. If I tell you what I’m going to do, hopefully you can help make sure Ukyou and I don’t end up butting heads. But because it requires me telling you what’s going to happen in the future, it might make you uncomfortable, so I wanted your permission to tell you. Did that help?”
Akane remembered now… Ukyou’s ghost was supposed to be from the future. Just like this boy. Maybe… maybe he was trying to do something to prevent the accident that would kill him in that future? Something that would stop the whole awful series of events before it even started? Possible… but still, there seemed to be something wrong with that conclusion. It was impossible to read the eyes of this dead woman, but his voice didn’t betray any sense of urgency about it like Akane would have expected.
Once she dismissed the possibility of this being an urgent thing, Akane began to really consider the proposal. She had never really thought about it up until now, but Ukyou, and Chris, they had knowledge of the future. They might know many things about her and everyone else. Things that Akane could learn and… and what? She remembered once, when Ukyou and she had been brawling in the park, back before Ranma arrived. Ukyou had put her to the ground once again, overwhelming her with her superior speed and strength. Akane had asked, half-jokingly, why Ukyou was so willing to spar with Akane when she obviously wasn’t at her level. Then Ukyou had stopped, and her face had grown serious and thoughtful. She reached out and clasped Akane firmly on the shoulder and had said to her, ‘Because I see potential in you, Akane. Potential that goes beyond how fast you throw a punch, or how well you take a hit. I see you not just for who you are, but for who you could one day be. And I want to be the friend of that person, just like I’m your friend now.’ Akane had walked away from that interlude with a deep and secret joy in her heart. Now… now she wondered if Ukyou was speaking metaphorically. Or was Ukyou instead talking about some future Akane she had seen…
Akane held her hand to her forehead. The implications of this… did she really want to know her future? “Before I answer you, I want to ask one question,” Akane said slowly. “Is the future you know… is it… fixed? Stuck? Can we change our future?”
He bit his lip, seeming to consider his words carefully. “I can’t say for certain whether you can – but I expect, with knowledge of what will happen, you could change nearly anything. Ukyou and I can, I know. I, of course, have already changed the future. And Ukyou… Ukyou has already, apparently, changed one of the biggest things your future was going to hold. So no, I don’t think it’s fixed for either of us.”
“Then I don’t want to know,” Akane said before she realised it. “The future… if the future isn’t fixed, then I don’t care what you saw in it.” Akane waved him quiet as she continued. “If you want to give a message to Ukyou about this, I have some paper and pens on the desk next to my school supplies. Write it down, fold it up and I’ll deliver it to her in the morning. Then she can decide whether she wants to listen to you or not.”
He stood up, shaking his head. “No. I’ll just do my best to stay out of Ukyou’s way. It’s not a large thing… it wouldn’t even concern Ukyou much, except I think she’s inclined to think the worst of me and thus could try to stop me without even trying to find out what I was doing, or why.” He looked down at her with a small, sad little smile. “It’s not your problem, in any case. I don’t blame you for not wanting to know. It’s probably an intimidating thing, or at least one with vast implications, to know even the tiniest bit of your own future.”
Chris stepped towards the window, white fingers reaching up to slide it open. A few strands of Kodachi’s black hair flipped in the breeze as he stared out into the night. “As I promised, I’ll leave you alone. And I’ll try my best to make sure not to intrude upon your life from now on. Nonetheless, thank you, Akane. Thank you for listening, and for telling me what you knew honestly. You’re a good person. And, I realise, I don’t know that because of anything I read, but because of what I’ve seen, and it means more for it. I’m sorry we couldn’t have met under different circumstances.”
And with that, he flashed out the window and was gone.
Ukyou leapt over the wall of the Tendo compound in a single bound. The door was usually closed this early in the morning, but Ukyou had never let that stop her from visiting. Usually she brought along some breakfast okonomiyaki to treat the house to, but today she was getting ready for other business, so hadn’t bothered. Today was a day to be keeping promises.
“Good morning, Ukyou,” Kasumi called from the kitchen window as Ukyou strode past. “I was just making breakfast, did you want to join us?”
“Nope,” Ukyou shook her head and stuffed her hands into her pockets. “Got some serious business today with Ranma. Thanks, though.” Ukyou didn’t really like Kasumi, but she admitted the girl was nice, and treated her kindly in return. Aaron was as close to despising Kasumi as he was capable of, but as with so many of Aaron’s desires, Ukyou ignored this.
She found Ranma behind the main building, sparring with his father. She spent a few seconds watching the two of them hover in mid-air. Each stroke and counter was meant to steal momentum and lift from the opponent, tricking gravity into allowing them a few more seconds of flight. Ukyou felt a touch of jealousy at the ease they showed.
Noticing that Genma was gaining something of an upper hand, Ukyou smiled diabolically. “Genma!” she shouted in her angriest tone. The man somehow spun in mid-air, his entire body tensing to flee. Ranma’s eye glinted as his father turned from him.
“An opening!” the black-haired boy shouted as he spun his body in a perfect mid-air axe kick. Genma didn’t have a chance as the blow struck him in the back of his skull and sent him plummeting into the reflecting pond. Ranma had used the rebound from his strike to propel himself back, so he avoided the geyser of water. He clutched his stomach and laughed. “Take that, old man!”
The panda looked none too pleased as it crawled out of the water. Ranma gave it a wide berth as he strode over to Ukyou. The dawn light caressed his unblemished face, and the breeze caught his hair with just enough grip to make his bangs dance along his brow. Ukyou reflected that the shadows and light made him seem as a person caught between two worlds. And maybe he was; caught between male and female, child and man. He certainly looked attractive, but not heart- rendingly so.
“Heya, Ucchan,” Ranma greeted as he got close. Ukyou smiled at the use of the childhood nickname. “Thanks for the assist. Not that I needed it…” Ukyou chuckled. Ranma Saotome: the ego that walks like a man.
“Indeed,” Ukyou agreed. “Just because they don’t need it doesn’t mean friends can’t help each other out.”
“I guess,” Ranma shrugged. “So… you bring breakfast today?” Ranma grinned and tried to look behind her. Ukyou pulled out her hands and showed him how empty they were. His face fell briefly, but he recovered quickly.
“I actually came to fulfill a promise today, Ranma,” Ukyou explained obliquely.
“I won’t allow it!” Genma shouted as he ran out of the house. His head was still steaming, which matched his expression perfectly. “You can’t…” Genma trailed off.
“I can’t what?” Ukyou asked flatly as she glared at him. Genma backed away from her a step. Ukyou felt a dull rage whenever she looked at the pathetic man. It was a dark and dangerous anger. She bit back some harsh words she wanted to shout. She couldn’t allow herself to get angry at him, not really. For months she had been avoiding him, despite wanting very badly to beat him into a bloody pulp. All because she thought that if she started… she might not stop.
“This has nothing to do with what is between me and you, Genma.” She spat the name out like she had tasted something vile. “This isn’t even something between Ranma and me. This is about Ranma, and Ranma alone.”
“Very well… but I have my eye on you!” Genma grunted as he began to walk away. Ukyou frowned slightly as he turned his back to her. It was a perfect opportunity. Her hand lashed up and caught him on the back of the head, precisely at a pressure point. The middle-ages man wasn’t even able to sense it, much less react in time. She watched as he staggered forward a few steps and then collapsed on the porch. Ono had taught her that attack a while back, and she was already finding good use for it. Granted, such a precise attack was virtually impossible to pull off in the heat of battle. But it worked wonders when you wanted to knock out someone without hurting them.
“So what’s the big deal?” Ranma asked as they stepped away from the house.
“It’s a surprise,” Ukyou said back with a cheerful smile. She had to resist the impulse to quote Xelloss.
They both turned and looked up to see Akane leaning out her window. She was dressed in a pair of pyjamas, but during the night the first few buttons had come undone and that, combined with her leaning forward, gave them both an unobstructed view straight into her cleavage. The sunlight was shining directly onto her face, and the breeze came from her right. Her long hair hung free and billowed around her body in the wind. She was smiling in that dazzling way she had. She was so beautiful. Ukyou was glad she had manipulated everyone so she didn’t have to compete with that.
Not that Ukyou thought she was ugly… except for the scars that would now mar her arm forever. She just… never felt as beautiful as Akane looked right now. Oh, who was she kidding? Ukyou had spent so much time being a boy she had basically forgotten what being a woman meant. She could probably put on a good show. But in her heart, it wasn’t beauty and wifely devotion that she was dedicated to. She had dedicated her life to…
To Ranma? To being a world–class chef?
Yes, they were both true. She still loved Ranma. And it was her dream to be a chef. But in the last few months, she hadn’t exactly been going out of her way to win his heart. And while she made lunch for Akane and Ranma every day at school, and had taken over the cooking for Ono… she hadn’t opened up her restaurant. Her dream had been put on hold. It had to be put on hold, until this hitchhiker could be forced out of her skull.
That was it. She wasn’t losing touch with what was important. It was all Aaron’s fault! He had forced her to hold back her feelings from Ranma. He had put her in a position where opening a restaurant, and declaring her location to the world, would be nigh-suicidal. She allowed the hatred against the bastard to build, and she felt Aaron writhe under the assault. But as always, the hatred peaked and burned away quickly. It was impossible to hate him intensely all the time, because even as she forced him to experience her hate (and thus, forced him to hate himself) she could feel his pain and guilt and loss. But she had every right to hate him!
So why did she still feel like what she was doing was wrong?
Ukyou tore herself away from her reverie and forced those thoughts back into her subconscious. Ranma was talking to Akane now. Or more accurately, he was shouting insults at her while dodging various thrown accessories. From the way Akane was clutching her collar closed, she guessed he had told her about her compromising position with his usual lack of tact. Ukyou sighed and reached back to get her spatula so she could deflect a few items and…
Oh, right. She would have to remember to replace that. But getting ahold of a specialty battle spatula was more difficult than it sounded. Ukyou had never bothered to learn where her father had bought the things. Occhan, a good friend who had allowed her to apprentice in his okonomiyaki restuarant, might know, but he was unfortunately still living in Kyoto. She knew, from Aaron’s memories, that he would move to Nerima sometime in the future. The problem was she knew neither when nor why. Well, maybe some simple replacement could be found… but first, other matters were more important.
“Akane, you’re getting your stuff all dirty,” Ukyou pointed out. It was enough to make Akane pause and look at her. “I need Ranma in one piece today; you can break him tomorrow.” Akane grinned at the small joke, Ranma reacted with an offended exclamation. “We’ll see you later.” She waved at Akane as she grabbed Ranma and leapt to the top of the Tendo’s exterior wall.
“Wait! I want to come with you!” Akane shouted. “Just let me get dressed…”
“Sorry, Akane,” Ukyou chuckled. While seeing her reaction to what she had planned might be funny, it was also a bit too likely to blow up in Ukyou’s face. “This is… a personal thing. Just Ranma comes along. Don’t worry, we’re not going off to fight monsters.”
“No, wait! I have something I need to tell-“
Ukyou ignored Akane and leapt away across the rooftops. She noted how much easier it had become. Apparently she was improving. Ranma caught up with ease, then slowed to match her pace.
“I think Akane’s a bit upset,” he shouted over the wind that rushed past their ears.
“She’ll get over it,” Ukyou replied flippantly. “I meant what I said, Ranma. This is a very personal errand. Having Akane around… while not bad, it just doesn’t strike me as right.”
Ranma murmured something that sounded like an agreement, but whatever it was got drowned out by the wind.
Pink wasn’t sure exactly what had happened when Chris had gone out to act on her ‘idea’, but the results had clearly not been good. The undead girl had returned quickly last night, as promised, but had been distracted and closemouthed. Today, if anything, she seemed even worse. If Pink had to guess, she’d say their unusual ally was depressed. She was basically spending the day staring out the window, responding only to direct questions and then only with short, curt responses.
Well, this wouldn’t do. This wouldn’t do at all. Link was already skittish enough about working with Chris: if the dead girl continued being so moody, Link might just decide to leave. That wasn’t a bluff Pink wanted to call, and she certainly wasn’t willing to give up this weapon before she’d had a chance to use it.
She walked over to her, peering over the top of the large chair Chris was slumped in. The dead girl slowly raised her head to peer at her. As always, Pink felt a small surge of mingled trepidation and fascination as she looked into those glassy, dead eyes. “Would you like something?” Chris asked drily.
“Actually, yes,” Pink replied. “You’ve been upset and depressed ever since you got home last night, over.”
The girl’s eyebrow quirked up, and she looked faintly amused. “Oh, were you concerned about me?”
“No,” Pink answered honestly. “But my sister is, and she already is worried about this entire operation. So why don’t you tell me what the problem is, over?”
Chris looked back out the window, the afternoon sun reflecting from her eyes. For a long moment she was silent, and Pink was just considering what tactic to try next when she finally spoke. “I’m not sure you’d.. .well, never mind. Consider, for a moment, then… think of someone with a heart of gold. Someone so generous, so giving, so full of kindness that it’s sometimes hard to believe. Someone who, if kidnapped by an apparent lunatic, would instead of hating them try to help them and find out their problems. Someone who would help their worst enemy without a second thought, and would try to get others to help them too. Someone like that.” She looked at Pink again, soulless eyes revealing nothing. “And that someone, that someone who can not hate, who can forgive anything… hates YOU. Can not forgive YOU for what you have done. And looking at them, you somehow feel there’s nothing you can do, nothing that can make it up, nothing that could make the person who doesn’t hate stop hating you. Maybe what you’ve done – no matter the reasons – can’t be forgiven. Maybe… maybe you deserve to be hated.”
She fell silent again, and glanced away, seemingly in embarrassment. Pink, for her part, could barely keep from laughing. Here was this undead monster, wearing the skin of a girl she’d killed (was Chris even originally female?), and getting mopey because really nice people didn’t like her very much? It was too funny. Guess some people were just not cut out for certain jobs. Still, she said it might be a week or two until Shampoo would show up, so best to put a lid on this situation. She smiled at the dead girl, considering carefully what to say. “Well, it’s like I said before, over… it’s not your fault what you are. What could you have done, other than what you did? You seem to be doing the best you can, over.”
Her expression didn’t change. “Am I? Have I? I don’t know.”
This wasn’t working, so Pink changed tactics. “Well, if it’s bothering you, maybe you should do something that will make you feel better about yourself, over.”
That got her attention; she looked over. “Okay… like what?”
“Well, if it’s the opinion of that person that bothers you, maybe you should do something that proves they were wrong about you, over.” Pink almost giggled as she thought of the undead girl passing out candy to children or helping kittens out of trees.
Chris, however, looked thoughtful, tapping the side of her jaw with a single finger. “I’m not really sure what-” she began, then cut off as Link rushed into the room.
“Are you listening to the news, over?” she asked, so preoccupied she even seemed to be ignoring the presence of the dead girl.
“No. What is it, over?”
“There’s some sort of giant plant monster, over,” Link said with a trace of excitement in her voice. “It’s attacked a subway!”
A giant plant monster? It really was weird in Tokyo. Pink wondered who created it… but who cared? “I want to go see it. This could be interesting, over.”
The noise of the chair scraping back caused both twins to look in Chris’ direction. She was suddenly grinning. “Do something, huh. Yes, I think I want to go look at the ara… I’d like to see the plant monster too.” She looked apologetically at Link. “Do you still want to come along?”
“We go everywhere together, over,” Pink said instantly. That was all their ally needed to know.
“Fair enough,” was the response. “Then let’s get going.”
Ranma walked along uncomfortably. The girl on his arm wasn’t quite cutting off his circulation, but she kept pulling and tugging and throwing him off his stride. That and she wouldn’t shut up. Ranma allowed his ears to tune back into her words again-
“…so Joshi was saying that I can’t possibly be a good mother, and I was so not going to let her get away with that and the next day I asked Davin about it and he got all blue–faced and refused to talk about it and then I realised he thought I was talking about us and I explained it and we laughed but he never quite looked at me the same way and so we broke up and now Joshi, that slut, is going out with him and I think that she set it all up in the first place and I really wish I could prove it because I know that she’s a bitch and I don’t want to talk to her anymore but we are both on the cheer squad so I don’t know what to do and we have been friends since grade school back when she gave me her ice cream when mine fell on the beach and we played together all afternoon and neither of us had a care in the world and it was great but this is just unforgiveable if it is true because it’s the biggest betrayal ever and she had to know that because I really liked him and…”
Ranma allowed her voice to return to a high–pitched buzz in the background. Trying to follow what she was saying was harder than trying to follow a fish swimming underwater in the middle of a monsoon so you could catch it, and Ranma knew this from personal experience. The girl, whose name started with a A or E or something, was pretty to look at and seemed pleasant. She had long black hair, with brown roots and a freckled but slender face. She wore some sort of shirt with a huge collar that fell down over her entire bust and most of her forearms, but incredibly tight jeans.
Ranma might have been interested in her if she ever shut up. He would have much preferred to be with one of the girls that Ucchan was talking to. Frankly, the idea of his best friend helping Ranma pick up girls was kind of unnerving. Especially when that friend was a girl. It was even more unnerving that Ukyou was proving to have more success at it than Ranma. Not that she was better at it. Ranma was just off his game today.
“Ranma, you having fun back there?” Ukyou called over her shoulder. The two girls walking on either side of her took the chance to glare at each other. Either Ukyou didn’t notice the growing aura of imminent violence, or she chose to ignore it.
“…can you believe that she wanted to wear pink on her first date and that Joshi didn’t seem to care at all and we won’t even get into how Davin has no fashion sense and he shouldn’t be giving advice to anyone about how well they look with his little mustache that he thinks is so cool but really makes him look like a caterpillar crawled onto his lip and died so you can understand why…”
“I’m overjoyed…” Ranma moaned. Ukyou tilted her head slightly and smiled, just a little bit. He could tell from the sparkle in her eyes that she saw just how uncomfortable he was, and apparently didn’t care. Ranma harumphed and crossed his arms… or tried to. He had forgotten that his ‘date’ had glomped onto his arm almost the moment they had left the mall.
“Don’t worry, Ranma,” Ukyou laughed as she turned back to her companions. “We’re almost to our real destination.” Ranma let the comment pass as he concentrated on saving his few remaining brain cells from the assault of his date’s high-pitched, endless rambling. Ever since Ukyou had led him to the small mall, Ranma had been asking her what they were doing out today. She refused to answer with anything more definite than ‘it’s a surprise’ or ‘you’ll enjoy it when we get there’.
Ranma had been willing to let her lead him around from then on. He hadn’t even protested that much when the girl had begun to (literally) push him in the direction of eligible-looking young women and crow on about how Ranma needed a date for today. Ranma had actually kind of liked chatting with girls his age who didn’t seem to want to fight or fleece him. He had grown kind of worried when Ukyou had started picking her own girls out of the crowds. Was it possible Ukyou was… that way?
The more Ranma thought about it, the more it kind of made sense. Ukyou was a tomboy, and had gone out of her way to get in a relationship with Akane. Then there was the whole Tsubasa thing. Why else would Tsubasa think Ukyou was interested in girls… and Ukyou be so rejecting of him despite the fact that he was actually a guy underneath his disguise? Plus there was the ease with which Ukyou had picked up the girls. Not that Ranma was jealous of how quickly his friend was able to charm the ladies. Ranma, after all, hadn’t really had his heart in it.
He perked up when he saw Ukyou turn back to him and allowed his ears to open…
“…it was getting dark out and no matter how much I hated the guy I wasn’t about to walk home in the dark and the rain so I insisted he drive me home and can you believe how much of a jerk he was because he said no and I just had to slap him and he yelled at me and I yelled back and well one thing led to another and you know how these things go and we ended up kissing but I want to assure that this is over between us, by which I mean Davin and me and not you and me after all…”
“I’m sorry,” Ranma muttered as he cleared out one of his ears. “Could you repeat that, I didn’t catch it.”
“I said, ‘We’re here,'” Ukyou pointed out with a wave of her hand. They had stopped in front of a traditional Japanese house behind a low wall. It was two stories with a sloping roof. It didn’t look like anything special to Ranma, but Ukyou looked excited. Well, excited by Ukyou standards, anyway.
“What’s this?” Ranma scratched the back of his neck with his free hand.
“You’ll see,” Ukyou called over her shoulder with a mischievous wink. “You girls wait here with Ranma, I just have to talk to someone on my own.”
“Ack!” Ranma didn’t feel a string of panic as the other two girls gave one last glance at Ukyou before turning to face him. Ranma Saotome did not panic. Especially not because of girls. Even if they did have predatory gleams in their eyes. Even if he could no longer feel his hand because his ‘date’ was squeezing too tight. Ranma tried to think of a way to call out to Ukyou… not for help… certainly not! No, just to… remind her that she was responsible for all these girls and that it was her job to look after them! That was it.
Ukyou, however, was ignoring his plight. She had marched briskly up to the door and knocked just loud enough to draw attention. Ranma was forced to juggle the attentions of the three girls they had picked up this morning, and could only watch what happened next.
The woman who answered the door seemed… vaguely familiar to Ranma. She was just slightly taller than Ukyou and dressed in an elegant, but threadbare, kimono. She was pretty, in a motherly sort of way, with black hair pulled back so it looked shorter than it was. She seemed surprised to see Ukyou, and soon the two were talking. Ranma strained to hear…
“…oh please Kairi don’t give me that excuse like the last time you tried to poach on my man back when we were twelve and you couldn’t stand to see Davin with an actual girlfriend for once instead of someone who was just looking for a boy with a cute ass since we know perfectly well that is what you are…”
…but found he couldn’t hear what they were saying over the din of the girl’s talking. Even the two girls who had been with Ukyou seemed to have been stunned into silence by the sheer volume of words that came out of his ‘date’s’ mouth.
Ranma saw the woman look at him closely. Then look at Ukyou and ask something. She nodded and the woman looked back. Ukyou nodded in Ranma’s direction and waved slightly. Not sure what was going on, he waved back as best he could. The woman took one stumbling step forward. Ranma found himself suddenly loose from the pack of girls, an unbidden fear gripping his heart as he thought the woman might fall. But now she was walking towards him, mouthing something to herself but no words were coming out.
“RANMA!” the woman finally cried and before he could react Ranma found himself enveloped in her arms. He stiffened, but the woman’s embrace was not possessive or romantic… it was… soft and hesitant, like the woman believed that if she squeezed too hard Ranma’s body would dissolve into mist and dreams under her touch. He found himself relaxing. There was something… nice, nice and strangely familiar about the way she held him. “Oh, Buddha be praised… Ranma, it is you! Isn’t it?”
“Uh, yeah…” Ranma blinked.
“My son! After so long, you’ve finally come home…” the woman had to stop as her voice grew choked with tears.
“M… mom?” Ranma stammered. His mother? No… that couldn’t be… his mother was dead! Wasn’t she? He had always just assumed, since Pops never talked about her, that…
“Yes…” the woman who Ranma found himself hugging replied. He wasn’t sure how to feel. He had thought, for so long, that he was alone except for his father. But here was this woman, and he could see the approval in Ukyou’s eyes. She believed this woman was his mother. And she just might know… and… and Ranma felt it. Somewhere buried under twelve years of memory was some primal feeling.
Men didn’t cry. So that must have been something else Ranma felt on his cheek as he leaned in to embrace this woman who, until three seconds ago, had been a stranger. He didn’t know how much time had passed until he felt them break apart. Mom was patting her sleeve against her cheek, drying the moisture there.
“Oh, you’ve grown so well… you must be so manly…”
Ranma fidgeted a bit as she ran her eyes appraisingly up and down his body, a small satisfied little grin on her lips. “But how rude of me,” Mom cried out as she looked over Ranma’s shoulder. “Here you are with all your girlfriends and I’m forcing the group of you to stand on the street. Come in, come in. Everyone come in and we’ll get a chance to catch up over tea!“
The three of them bounded over the rooftops, following Link’s lead. Pink noted that Chris certainly seemed to be in a hurry; after Link had come in with the news, she had only paused long enough to grab a large bag of some sort, and had then urged them to run as fast as possible ‘or we’ll miss it’.
“Hey,” said the dead girl as they leaped to the next building, “What sort of plant creature was it, anyway?”
“Actually,” said Link, breathing a little heavily from the exertion, “the news first reported an anomaly in Tokyo’s water supply. But then they showed a monster looking like it was made of water attacking the subway line near Ichigaya station, over.”
Pink looked oddly at her sister. “So where’s the plant, over?”
“That’s just it, over,” said Link. “It looked like water, but it was a plant. Some sort of algae. I was sure of it, over.”
“Talented,” murmured Chris. She, unsurprisingly, wasn’t breathing heavily. “It must have moved, though… this isn’t the way to that station.”
“I don’t know where it’s going,” Link said, “but it’s moving.” She frowned. “I can… feel it, somehow, over.”
Chris laughed. “Well, aren’t you a regular little Kushinada. Can you feel it too, Pink?”
“Not like that, over.” Though, as they moved, Pink was beginning to feel something. She wasn’t sure what it was yet, but… “Link’s better at the empathy stuff. But, what did you mean when you said she was a Kushi-“
She was cut off as Link cried out, pointing directly ahead. Even as they looked, streams of water exploded from a large building in front of them.
As they watched, the streams of water coalesced into a vaguely humanoid shape. It was at least twenty metres tall and translucent, with recognisable limbs and head. Pulsing within the head and chest of the creature were some sort of green organs. And between the organs… something… something warm…
“Right, I remember this,” Chris noted. She put the bag down and rummaged around inside, retrieving a large gymnastics hoop. She swirled it around the inside of her wrist, and there was a metallic gleam from the outer rim. “Should be a snap.”
Then she leaped, soaring through the air with practiced grace. The distance to the creature, whose attention seemed currently occupied by something else, was crossed in an instant, and at the apex of her leap, Chris hurled the hoop. The gymnastics tool sliced through the monster with ease, separating the right arm at the shoulder. But even as the limb crashed to the ground and dissolved into liquid, another one grew in its place.
The dead girl, however, now had the creature’s undivided attention. It lashed out at her, one limb flashing into a torrential cascade of water that whipped out at its opponent. Chris, however, quickly flipped out of the way. Several following attacks were similarly easily avoided. Pink thought that their ally must be enjoying herself… her huge grin was visible even at this distance. She was also fairly impressed with the undead’s martial prowess. Dodging, leaping, and rolling out of the way, she flowed seamlessly from defence to offence. Her motions combined dodge and counterattack, chopping chunks from the creature with ribbon and baton. Pink felt a tiny thrill of exultation. Chris’ graceful dance around the creature looked effortless: she was playing with it. Pink was sure of it. With that kind of power… she didn’t get tired, or feel pain, couldn’t be knocked out… Shampoo would fall. HAD to fall. Victory was within their grasp.
Pink started to laugh, long and loud and hard. Or at least she would have, if Link hadn’t almost immediately waved a hand at her to shush her. Pink opened her mouth in curiosity, but her sister impatiently waved again. She seemed to be concentrating, holding her other hand up as if trying to listen to something. Pink recognised the technique her sister was using, even if she’d never bothered to develop it herself. Why was she trying to get a focus on a plant’s health? What plant? The monster?
Link suddenly swore in Chinese, causing Pink to look over inquiringly.
“It’s… communicating,” Link explained. “It’s intelligent! Not as much as a person, but I can hear it. It’s like it’s speaking, saying something about ‘its place’. I was trying to talk to it, but it’s too angry! It’s not listening, over!”
Intelligent? Interesting. Pink had talked to plants… but they didn’t generally talk back. “Should we get Chris to back off, over?”
Link shook her head, frustrated. “That’s not what it’s angry about. It’s taking out the anger on her, but it’s something else, over…”
There was a loud sound, and Pink looked back to see the monster dissolve its entire form into a vortex of water. It arced through the air, forcing Chris to leap to the side as it smashed into and through the street, disappearing into the hole it created.
As she watched, a girl in some sort of uniform ran up and began talking animatedly at Chris. She seemed young, rather plain, with shoulder-length brown hair. And… Pink started. She could feel that warmth from her, that same feeling as from the monster.
“There’s something strange about that girl, over,” Link stated.
“You feel it too, over?” Her sister nodded in response. “I want to know what that is.”
“Me too, over,” Link agreed. “Let’s go talk to… her. To both of them, over.”
They leaped down from the rooftop. Just as they touched down, the earth rumbled. The creature, still looking like a swirling waterspout, exploded from the ground beneath Chris and the brown-haired girl. Chris appeared to have anticipated this attack, however, and had nimbly leaped out of the way at the last moment. She also seemed to have yanked the other girl out of the way with her gymnastics ribbon. The girl was struggling to untangle herself (while showing her cartoon-animal-decorated panties, Pink noted with amusement) as the twins approached. Chris looked at them, raising an eyebrow. Pink bypassed the undead for the moment, however, to focus on the girl.
“You,” she said. The girl, who had been rearranging her skirt to a more modest position, looked up at her. “There’s something strange about you,” Pink said bluntly. “Something… strange that I can feel from you and the monster both. Who are you, and what are you doing here, over?”
The girl gasped, backing up a step and reaching up to her chest. “You know… you know about-“
Chris cut in. “Huh, you two can sense it? That’s the mitama, the ‘soul’ of the monster. It’s what’s animated and changing that algae. Momiji here has one implanted in her chest, but since she’s somewhat more intelligent than algae…” she grinned, “…it can’t affect her mind.”
The girl apparently named Momiji’s eyes had widened at every word. “How do you know all that!?” she burst out. ‘Who are you people? Do you work for the TAC too… oops… I’m not supposed to say… I mean…”
Pink ignored her, looking seriously at Chris. “Can you get that mitama thing, over?”
“Sure, I was planning to anyway. You want it intact?”
“Yes,” Link responded instantly. “I want to talk with it, over.”
Chris nodded. “Problem not. So where is it right now?”
She looked around. She could feel the warmth of its ‘mitama’, the trembling of the ground from its movement. But not underneath… instead… she looked up, just as Momiji screamed “It’s in the building!”
A column of water exploded like a spear from the side of a building on the other side of the road. Pink didn’t even have time to scream before the sheer force of the water’s passage hurled her through the air. As she landed and rolled back to her feet, she saw Link and that Momiji girl climbing to theirs, but Chris was gone. Looking over, she saw a dark, gaping hole in the side of the building that had been behind them. The monster had already left: she could feel it once more moving beneath the earth.
At that point, a military jeep screeched down the road and pulled up alongside them. At the wheel was another woman, this one in a loud pink jumpsuit, with orange hair that was held out of her eyes by a headband. She seemed quite agitated: also, Pink couldn’t help but notice, her back seat was occupied by a variety of military-type weapons. “Momiji!” the new girl cried, “I’ve been looking all over for you! Get in already!”
“Koume!” Momiji cried in obvious relief. “I’m so glad to see you! But… these people…”
“Huh?” said the new girl, and looked at them. “Oh, okay.” She stood up in the seat and glowered at them. “All right, you civilians, get outta here!” she barked. “Let us professionals handle this!”
There was a slightly derisive laugh, and everyone turned to see Chris emerge from the hole in the building. She was soaked, and her t-shirt and jeans were torn in multiple places, showing a greater but not quite obscene amount of pale skin. She had a wide, almost maniacal grin on her face. “Civilians, huh?” she said, walking over to a nearby lamppole. “That barely cracked a few ribs.” Almost casually, she gripped the pole in one hand and swung her fist, smashing through the metal as if it was made of glass. Hefting the improvised weapon, she grinned first at the monster which had regenerated itself down the street, and then at the girl in the jeep. “Whattaya say, Koume? Shall we see who beats it first?”
Koume glared at her. “Another freak, huh? You’re on!” With a squeal of tires, she took off towards the monster with Chris in pursuit, leaving Pink, Link and Momiji behind.
“Oh dear,” said Momiji, looking even more flustered. “This isn’t good… umm, who are you people? How did that girl do that?”
Pink looked down the road. Chris was leaping around slashing at the monster with the pole; the Koume girl was firing at it with some sort of big gun. They’d probably win, but… Pink exchanged a glance with her sister. They both nodded and then turned on Momiji, who was still looking at them expectantly.
“We’re curious, over.” Link began.
“Yes.” Pink added. “Very curious about that mitama you have on your chest, over.”
Momiji backed up a step. “Um… yes?” she squeaked.
“We’d like to see it, over.”
“Yes, so please take your shirt off, over.”
Momiji turned red. “Why… I mean… no, I couldn’t…”
She was going to be difficult. Pink stepped forward. If the mitama thing was alive, she didn’t want to risk harming it. No Mandragora, then. Guess just a regular old knockout poison… boring, but effective.
Pink was almost within reach of the girl when an orange and red blur interspersed itself between them. The new arrival was a man, tall, wearing a shirt, slacks and a red trenchcoat. Somewhat more notably, he had green hair, orange skin, and eyes with pupils slit like a cat’s. More notable still… Pink looked at her sister and received a nod in acknowledgement. This man – or whatever he was – radiated that feeling, that warmth, of those mitamas, like Momiji… but far, far stronger. He had more than one. Five, six? Pink couldn’t tell, exactly. But there was a lot.
“Hey, there you are!” the strange man (?) said. “I’ve been looking all over for you, Momi-“
“Kusanagi!” the girl broke in. “These people just… they came and said… she’s really strong…”
The man apparently wasn’t paying much attention to the girl’s babbling, instead looking over at the developing fight. “Looks like you brought some company. Who’s the new girl?”
“I don’t know! That’s what I’m trying to tell-“
“Heh,” the orange-skinned man grinned. “Then I guess I’d better go up and introduce myself!”
Before Momiji could protest further, the man ran towards the fight. Pink glanced after him, then found herself staring in amazement: as Kusanagi ran, some sort of thorn-blades… grew from his arms, sliding out almost like a switchblade. Definitely unusual. Chris had also noticed the newcomer: as Kusanagi ran towards the fight, the dead girl redoubled her efforts to kill the watery monster.
Well, all that ought to prove a useful distraction. And Momiji was still staring after that orange-skinned man… Pink moved forward, dipping her hand into a hidden pocket for a Lullabye Blossom-
Pink paused as she felt a dull echo of pain. For a moment she wondered what it was, and then she heard and felt her twin cry out. Turning, she saw Link fall to her knees, her hands flying up to clutch her temples. “Link, Link, what’s wrong, over?” she said and rushed over to her sister, Lullabye Blossom forgotten.
She was vaguely conscious of the girl, Momiji, also beside her, asking Link if she was all right. But both twins ignored her. “There’s something…” Link said slowly, then flinched. A fresh throbbing flashed through Pink’s head. “Something they feel,” her sister continued after a moment. “It’s moving… it’s in the earth… it’s hurting them, over!”
“Hurting who? What’s hurting?” Momiji asked, obviously confused.
“The plants,” Link hissed between clenched teeth. “Something’s in the ground… their root systems can feel it. It’s shredding the roots, over!”
“Shut up, over,” snapped Pink. The throbbing in her head was annoying, and the pain Link felt was worse. “What is it? Another one of those monsters, over?”
Link made a tiny shake of her head. “No mitama. That’s what she said: the mitama animates it, right, over? There’s not one. It’s almost like there’s an earthquake… but it’s moving, and only in one place at a time, over.” She pointed down the road, where a small green space was still undisturbed by the melee. “There! It’s following the fight, over!”
Pink looked where her sister indicated. Now that she knew where, she could see… something. The lawn of the small park was rippling, ever so slightly, like the surface of a pond. She moved a step towards it. What was that…?
She felt more than saw Momiji run past her, towards the fight. Before Pink could react, the girl was shouting out to that strange man. “Kusanagi! There’s something else here!”
“Momiji!” he yelled back. “Where is it? Where’s the mitama?”
She paused, looked at the monster for a moment. “It’s… it’s between the head and the chest! But I think you should look at-“
Kusanagi ignored her as he grinned viciously and plunged his hand deep into the monster’s head. He reached out, seemed to be straining… and then leaped back to avoid the swing of a lightpole. “What’re you doing!?” he demanded.
“I made a bet.” Chris grinned. She raised the pole high, preparing to thrust down…
And then there was a loud retort and a projectile streaked over Pink’s head before smashing into the throat of the monster. It shrieked, and something glittering flew out of its back… something she could feel… “That’s it, over!”
“I know!” responded Chris, leaping from the monster even as it began to shrink and steam, still roaring unintelligibly. Kusanagi flashed past her, but Chris reacted quickly, whipping out one of those ribbons and lashing out. It streamed past Kusanagi, wrapped around the tiny gleaming object… and then one of Kusanagi’s arm blades slashed through it as he dropped past. Almost instantly, Link cried out.
“You killed it! You killed it, over!”
Kusanagi and Chris both landed lightly, and the orange-skinned man brushed the dust off his hands, grinning. “Looks like I win the bet.”
“Oh no you don’t!” came a female voice. The other woman walked up, still brandishing a smoking bazooka. “I got that one fair and square!”
A screech of tires drew Pink’s attention; a car had pulled up behind them. Two people emerged: a balding older man and a woman with glossy black hair that covered one eye. They held guns, which were levelled directly at Chris, but she noticed the woman looking suspiciously at her and Link. Who were they?
“Freeze!” the man barked. “Who are you!? What are you doing here!?”
Chris glanced back. Her lip twisted up. “Tch. Next you’ll be asking me to ‘state my business’.” Turning around fully, she glanced at Pink and Link. “Later, TAC.”
Before anyone could react, her hand twitched suddenly and a thick cloud of white smoke enveloped her. The smoke wavered, as if a strong breeze passed, just as shots rang out from the two newcomers… and then Pink was flying. And just as suddenly, set down again, which was when she realised she had been grabbed. And so had Link, who was standing behind her. “What, over-“
“Run!” said Chris in a low voice. “Before they think to start looking!”
She took off, running down the narrow laneway she had deposited them in, and the twins followed her. After a few moments, they reached a blind alley, only dimly lit by a crack of sunlight filtering from the rooftops overhead. Chris slowed to a stop here. “Kusanagi’s faster than me, but I caught him off-guard. They’ll stop looking in a few minutes and start comparing stories, at which point we can head back.”
“Who were they, over?” Pink asked.
Chris shrugged. “The TAC. A governmental organisation devoted to dealing with problems such as the one we just saw.”
Link took a deep breath. She clenched and unclenched her fists. And then she looked up to the nearly invisible sky and began cursing. Not so loud as to carry beyond the alley, but loud enough to clearly show her displeasure. She walked in circles, gesticulating angrily with both hands while cursing Kusanagi, his ancestors, his descendants, his manhood, his father’s manhood, and throwing in several unkind insinuations about his mother, her sexual proclivities, and her choice in species to mate with.
Pink watched all this with bemusement. Link didn’t get angry often, but when she did, it was… colourful.
“Oookay…” came a somewhat hushed voice, and Pink glanced over at Chris. The dead girl was staring at the ranting Link, eyes wide, with a large bead of sweat on her head.
“What’re you staring at, over?” Pink asked, further amused by the reaction. Link also looked over, a dangerous gleam in her eye, and obviously also interested in why their undead companion was staring.
“Uhh… it’s just… I’m a little surprised,” Chris finally said. “I didn’t think you swore… I mean-“
“Of COURSE I’m fucking swearing, over!” Link snapped. “That son of a bitch killed it! KILLED IT! And he’s got so many! I didn’t even get to LOOK at it, over!”
Chris held her hands up placatingly. “Okay, okay, just relax. It’s not that big a deal. Those monsters, the aragami… there’ll be more of them. Don’t sweat it. I’ll be able to get you one before the TAC even get there next time, with any luck. All right?”
“It’s more than that, over!” Link growled. “It was ALIVE, and now it’s DEAD. You of all people should understand THAT. It was alive…” she paused, considering. “It was alive in a way I’d never felt any plant before. And now it’s dead. Getting another won’t replace THAT. It was like… it was like killing a child. How DARE he!”
Chris pursed her lips, apparently thinking carefully about her response.
“Very well. But it was hurting people, so you have to consider their position-“
“Who gives a damn, over! Lions can hurt people, but they’re endangered; you just can’t kill them out of hand! That ‘monster’ was just looking for… it was LOOKING for something! Something humans took away! Whose fault is that? Why shouldn’t it be angry, over!?”
“I don’t necessarily disagree with you,” Chris said seriously.
“Well, who gives a flying fuck about what you think! It’s not like you understand anything about the natural order, over!”
“Now now, over,” said Pink soothingly, stepping between the two just as Chris’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “Let’s just calm down here. What’s done is done. If there are more of those plant creatures, like Chris said, we can get to them before that group does, and both get our own mitamas AND save them from being killed. That’s the best option, over.”
Link’s lip twisted, but she nodded in assent. Chris shrugged, and the anger faded from her expression. “Sounds good to me,” she noted. “Anyway, they’ve probably gone back to talking by now. Let’s go.”
Ukyou leaned back with a smirk on her face and let the events of the scene play themselves out. Nodoka had reacted exactly like she had known she would. Being overjoyed at Ranma’s arrival, not to mention the company of three beautiful young women, had driven all thoughts of that stupid contract from the woman’s head. Ukyou had basically let everyone else do the talking, and kept her eyes out for possible disasters. It hadn’t taken much effort to keep Ranma away from cold water.
Not that Ukyou thought she could conceal Ranma’s curse from Nodoka forever. It would just be much easier for her to accept if she already thought of her son as a playboy. She wondered if she could conspire to make it so that Nodoka caught Ranma trying to sneak into a girl’s locker room in his girl form. It might take a bit of doing… but Ukyou thought she could pull it off.
The three girls were playing their part perfectly, even without a script. Ukyou had picked them out specifically for the traits that would best serve Ranma here. Of course, she had been forced to walk around in circles basically talking Ranma up to the other two so that instead of focusing their attentions on Ukyou, they would both go after him. The third had taken to Ranma right away.
Right now their jealousy was starting to win out over their sympathy for Ranma’s situation. The catty comments and acidic snipes were coming out in full force. Nodoka was looking on in approval as Ranma tried to play peacemaker between the three girls. Ukyou was enjoying Ranma’s discomfort so much she almost wished that Akane could be here to see it with her. But Akane would have been a stumbling block in the plan, so she would have to come along to meet the Saotome mother later.
“That’s just shameful behaviour,” a voice whispered into Ukyou’s ear. She found herself nodding along… until she recognised it. Then she gasped and leaped away from the potted plant she had been leaning against.
“Ukyou?” Nodoka said with a blink.
“Fungus! What are you doing here?” Ukyou growled and pointed at the plant.
“No, that’s a fern,” Ranma pointed out helpfully. Even as he did, his words were made lies when the plant sprouted a head and two arms. “Oh… it’s just Tsubasa,” Ranma grunted.
“That’s right, Saotome!” the Fungus laughed as he pulled himself completely free of his hiding place. He had changed since this morning, and was now clad in a dress that contained far too much pink and far too many frills to be considered legal. “At last, I’ve seen your true personality! How could you do this, you two-timing lecher!”
“Oh no!” one of the girls cried.
“You already had a girlfriend?” another whined reproachfully.
“…this is just like the time Joshi and Azako found Mina in the closest and…”
“Are you really dating behind your girlfriend’s back?” Nodoka asked in an entirely too cheerful tone. Sometimes that woman scared Aaron.
“Oh no you don’t,” Ukyou growled as she grabbed the Fungus by the lapel. “You are not ruining this,” she informed him, dragging him towards the backyard.
“Ukyou!” Nodoka cried out, forcing the girl to stop. She looked over her shoulder to see Nodoka glaring at her. “Gentlemen don’t treat ladies with such disrespect! Especially not in my house.” Ukyou was in the process of weighing the danger of potentially pissing off Ranma’s mother versus the damage Tsubasa could do to her plan when the point became moot, as the Fungus slipped free of her grip.
“Tsubasa is not… ” Ukyou hissed as the tranvestite slipped into a comfortable position between Ranma and her. Nodoka offered the Fungus tea without pause, which he gratefully accepted. Ukyou considered just spilling the beans, as far as the Fungus’ gender went, but decided against it. Too much possibility of backfiring.
“You wound me!” the Fungus moaned dramatically, holding his forearm against his brow as if he felt faint. “What about all the times we have spent together? The exchange we’ve had between our deepest hearts? All the secrets we share?”
“Go to hell!” Ukyou shouted. She hadn’t wanted to shout. She hadn’t wanted to do anything but glare and try to figure out how to get him to leave. But… it had just slipped out. It was probably Aaron’s fault again. She had never had so much difficulty controlling her temper before he showed up.
“Wow, sounds like they had a bad break up…” one of the girls stage-whispered to her friend.
“Oh yeah, they have all the signs,” the other answered while nodding vigourously.
“…Davin wasn’t about to let that big guy run off with Azako and Mina watching, so he assumed the Spitting Cobra Stance and charged at the guy with the bandolier…”
“Really, Ukyou, you’d think you’d be glad I showed up when I did,” the Fungus smiled and waved a finger in her face. It took all her self-control not to break it on the spot. “Look at this cad, stringing along three different girls!” Nodoka sighed and smiled. “Even if he is much better at dress up than I am, that’s no reason to hang out with him considering all his other flaws.”
“Dress up?” Nodoka frowned slightly and looked at Ranma.
“Maybe Ranma’s a secret fashion designer!” one of the girls cried.
“Just my luck, a hunk and a great fashion sense and he’s already taken… by someone with even better fashion sense!” Ukyou gave the other girl a long look. She hated to see what the girl considered bad fashion sense if Tsubasa was considered good.
“…I couldn’t just stand by and let Davin unleash the full power of the Seven Seals of Set Style without moral support so I had to go along with him to the warehouse where Master Dingo was holding Joshi hostage…”
“Hey pal, don’t even compare me to you! I ain’t got no choice, you’re just sick!” Ranma growled. Uh-oh. Ukyou had to put a halt to this before it spiralled out of control. Aaron was convinced that if Nodoka had a chance to get to know her son well beforehand, then learning about the curse would only give her a slight pause before she ripped up that stupid contract. The trouble was giving Ranma that time before his curse, and the Fungus, ruined any chances he had. Ukyou searched her mind frantically for an answer… and leapt at the first choice that came to mind.
“My god! It’s Tom Cruise!” Ukyou shouted, pointing out the door.
“Where?” Nodoka cried as she spun in place. Everyone else did so as well, turning to look quickly out through the patio door. Ukyou smiled and lashed out, her backhand catching the Fungus high on the temple. There was a crash as the wall behind the two of them gave out when the unconscious body went flying through it. So it wasn’t an elegant solution, but it would shut the Fungus up for a few minutes. During that time Ukyou knew she could come up with some way of dealing with him. If she grew desperate enough, maybe she would even let Aaron try and come up with a solution.
“Where did the young lady go?” Nodoka asked as she turned back.
Ukyou was in the middle of a shrug when she heard the shorter girl shriek practically into her ear.
“You… you killed her!”
“I saw it all!” the girl pointed at her accusingly. “I was turning to look, but you… and she flew through a wall! A wall! People don’t go flying through walls!”
“They don’t?” Ranma asked, in genuine confusion.
“I certainly have never seen it happen,” the taller girl said to him. Ukyou frowned as she tried to remember their names. But she seemed to have inherited Aaron’s talent for names, which is to say she couldn’t recall them for the life of her.
“…nobody was expecting the zombies (really, who ever does expect zombies?) but we were all grateful for them as long as it meant Master Dingo couldn’t complete his evil experiments on Joshi, so Azako, Mina and I looted the armory…”
“I did not kill hi… er, her!” Ukyou shouted back. The girl cringed away from her, eyes wide and shaking.
“Don’t bully poor Hayako!” the less whiny one yelled back at Ukyou. Ukyou turned her passively dangerous eyes on her and the colour drained from her face.
“Ukyou, did you kill Tsubasa?” Nodoka asked, in the same tone of voice one would use to ask if it was raining outside.
“No!” Ukyou groaned. “H… she’s just outside, perfectly fine!” Ukyou stood up and walked over to the hole in the wall and stuck her head out. A fine drizzle immediately coated her hair and face. Great, it was raining out. This was just wonderful. “See, she’s right…” Ukyou trailed off. There was no sign of Tsubasa. “Great, now he’s hiding…” she murmured.
“The body disappeared?” Hayako moaned.
“How convenient!” her friend said with a smirk as she crossed her arms.
Ukyou pulled her head in and glared at them both.
“Ah, Ukyou, is it raining outside?” Ranma asked in the same tone of voice one would use to ask if you had just murdered someone.
“Just a little, don’t worry, I brought an umbrella…” Ukyou began to reach into her trenchcoat.
“No!” Hayako shouted and dived behind Nodoka. “He’s got a gun!”
“You do?” Ranma blinked.
“No, I don’t!” Ukyou growled as she pulled the umbrella free. The handle did look kind of gun-like, with its ‘trigger’–style opening mechanism…
“Young man, I won’t have you frightening young ladies or killing them in my house,” Nodoka informed Ukyou.
“But I didn’t kill anyone!”
“…there was nothing to do but hope Davin’s unlocked potential was enough to face down the Zombie Master Dingo, since we were all occupied sealing the doors to the Secret Government Alien Lab with blowtorches…”
“A likely story!” Hayako’s friend smirked and pointed at Ukyou. “If so, where did that girl go?”
“She probably turned into a clock or a painting or something…” Ukyou murmured. She ran a hand through her bangs and looked around for anything that seemed out of place.
“…Space Nazis are a pain in the butt, I tell you from personal experience, what with their Nazi Death Borg Commandos and everything, I swear if I hadn’t been carrying that Personal Fighting Familiar that looked like a ball of lime jell-o I would have been in a lot of trouble…”
“She probably has someone helping her!” Hayako cried from behind Nodoka.
“Like who? A ninja assassin death squad?” Ukyou growled. This was getting seriously annoying.
“Aha! See, she admits to having a ninja assassin death squad!”
“I did no such thing!” Ukyou began to wave her arms as she rebuked Hayako’s friend. “Haven’t you ever heard of sarcasm?”
“Yeah, Ukyou isn’t a ninja, she’s a demon hunter!” Ranma backed her up. Ukyou paused. Wait, what? She looked at Ranma askance.
“Demon hunter?” Nodoka said with a blink.
“You mean… you’re that boy!” Hayako’s friend gasped.
“Waaah! The hero of Narita is a murderer!” Hayako sniffed from her position behind the elder Saotome.
“Then again, maybe Ukyou is training me and Akane to be part of her Anti-Demon Ninja Death Squad?” Ranma said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.
“I’m not sure I approve of you joining a ninja clan, Ranma,” Nodoka opined primly.
“Wah! We know too much about her now! She’ll kill us all like that poor girl with the great fashion sense!”
“C’mon mom, it would be cool!”
“I’ll protect you from her, Hayako!”
“Ranma, I am your mother and I say you are not joining a ninja clan, even if they fight demons.”
“…so then we had Space Nazi Zombie Commando Borgs made out of green Jell-O ™ coming out of the woodwork and even with Davin’s Invincible Serpent Uncoiling Technique it looked like we were all about to be eaten and that was the absolute WORST possible time for Joshi to accuse me of being a bad mother, I mean, you lose one little Fighting Familiar to the forces of darkness and everyone is all over you…”
“ENOUGH! Everyone SHUT UP!”
Blissful silence fell over the room, except for the pitter-patter of rain on the roof. Ukyou was standing now, partially hunched over, breathing deeply. She felt… cold. It was like her entire body had dropped ten degrees. She wanted to not say anything. She wanted to apologise and explain. But she felt her control slipping. She realised with a shock that she didn’t care about these people’s feelings at the moment. She realised she didn’t care about Ranma or his mother or the three idiots… it was remarkably freeing.
“You idiots don’t even bother to listen, do you? Tsubasa is not dead! I just punched him, and not even that hard! I wished I had punched him harder, but he’s still awake. And you…” she pointed at Hayako. “You shouldn’t leap to conclusions about people you know nothing about. And you, whoever you are, I don’t know where you get off being such a bitch to me but I am about this close…” Ukyou held her fingers a centimetre apart. “…from shutting your mouth the hard way. And you, I don’t know what the hell kind of sugar rush you’re on… but shut the hell up!”
“But I was just getting to the end of my story…”
“What did I just fucking say!?” Ukyou roared. A flash of shame surged from her gut at the way the girl cringed, but Ukyou was far too angry to really care.
“Ukyou…” Nodoka’s voice was cold and hard. Ukyou spun towards her like a cat and met the woman’s cold glare with an equally dangerous gaze. “I think I’ve heard just about enough. This may be my husband’s house, but I am in charge of it! I forbid you from setting foot in it again!”
“You… you forbid me…” Ukyou growled. “After all I went through to take your son back to you, after everything your stupid husband did to me…”
“And furthermore, I won’t have you associating with my son anymore.” She turned to Ranma. “Ranma, I don’t know how you came to meet this person, but I ask you never to speak to him again.”
“Mom!” Ranma gasped. “Ukyou’s… Ukyou’s my best friend!”
“Forget it, Ranma,” Ukyou hissed. “She’s having a power trip. Let her do what she wants, I don’t give a shit about her anymore.”
Ukyou stormed out of the house, not bothering to look back.
“That was kinda fun, you guys!”
“You would think so…” Usagi whined.
Rei shook her head and allowed the others to lead the way. She didn’t know what to think of the new girl. Makoto was both taller and more physically capable than any of them, as proven by how well she had taken on that tennis-ball-throwing youma. But she was also supposed to be a violent thug. In fact, she was in the middle of an expulsion hearing from her old school because of all the fights she was getting into. Makoto had laughed off the subject when Ami had brought it up, saying she probably wouldn’t fight it like she usually did. After all, if she was expelled from her current school, the next closest was Juuban.
Rei adjusted her umbrella, shifting it to her left hand for a moment. No, it wasn’t that which set Rei ill at ease. It was… that boy. Ukyou. Ukyou had led Usagi and Luna right to Makoto Kino, and apparently convinced her that her help was needed fighting the Dark Kingdom. With her height, cocky attitude and (from what Rei had heard) love of cooking, Makoto reminded her a bit too much of Ukyou.
“I’m just glad you were there,” Ami said in that shy, self-effacing way she had. Rei had considered trying to get her to come out of her shell a bit, but Usagi had adopted that task and was doing… an almost competent job. Besides, they needed someone with a level head in the group.
“Yes, goodness knows we couldn’t count on Usagi,” Luna said in a sing-song voice.
“Luna, that’s a bit harsh, don’t you think?”
“Waaah! Luna, stop being harsh to me!”
“You know, I think I should be freaked out by a talking cat, but I’m really not. This strikes me as very… familiar somehow,” Makoto called over her shoulder. “Anybody else get that feeling?”
“Now that you mention it…” Rei mused aloud. No matter how she had felt about Makoto, there was no doubting the fact that they were all getting along famously. Makoto had integrated herself into their new little clique almost immediately. Her and Usagi and Ami were all talking like they had been friends for years, not just days. It was almost eerie.
“Plus being a kickass Sailor Senshi has other perks,” Makoto laughed. “Like all the cute guys! First that Ukyou guy from yesterday, and then that Tuxedo Kamen guy!”
“Hey! Tuxedo Kamen is mine!” Usagi shouted.
“Oh, I thought you liked Ukyou?”
“I… oh… I can’t decide between them!”
“Hmm, you may have a point there,” Makoto mused. “Do you go for tall, dark and mysterious, or beautiful, cool and a great cook? I can’t decide myself…”
“I wouldn’t get too hung up on Ukyou, if I were you two,” Rei warned. Now seemed like a good enough time to bring up her worries.
“Huh? Why not?”
“Yeah, Rei. You just want to stomp on my fun again.”
“Be serious, Usagi!” Rei hissed. “Tuxedo Kamen is one thing, but he is clearly on our side. He always shows up to help us. Can we say the same about this Ukyou? Where was he when we fought that youma that had possesed your friend, Usagi?”
“But he helped us a lot! You saw him fight Jadeite. And he got us all these Rainbow Crystals…” Usagi reached into her pack and brought out one of the six crystals she and Luna had collected yesterday.
“And there are supposed to be seven of them,” Rei pointed out. “What about the last one?”
“The guy doesn’t live in Tokyo…”
“Maybe… but Ukyou has admitted he has a hidden agenda! He doesn’t really care about… how did he put it, Luna?”
“‘Our little war’,” Luna chimed in. “And I agree with Rei on this one. We can’t trust Ukyou. Something about that boy raises my hackles.”
“Plus, there is Sailor Pluto,” Rei said, crossing her arms to signify the argument was over.
“Who?” Makoto blinked.
“‘The Guardian of Time, Mysterious Woman Representing the Planet Pluto, Sailor Pluto,'” Ami quoted. “She’s a fifth Senshi, but we don’t know much about her. Luna seems to recall that she was a very important person and one to be trusted implicitly. The strange thing is that she and that boy Ukyou appear to be enemies. Neither one has really been forthcoming with why this might be.”
“Ah, maybe it’s just a lover’s spat?” Makoto grinned and nudged Rei with an elbow. Rei raised an eyebrow and gave her a long hard stare. Makoto coughed into her hand and backed up. “Or not.”
“Well, I don’t care what Sailor Pluto or Rei says,” Usagi declared while pointing into the sky. “Ukyou is too cute to be evil, and I’ll trust him with my life!”
“You’re hopeless,” Rei groused and started walking again. She heard the others begin to talk again in the background. Luna and Usagi were arguing about boys. Ami and Makoto were talking about possibly getting her transferred to Juuban so she could be closer to Usagi, the Princess they needed to protect. That is, if you believed Ukyou.
Rei sighed. She hoped Usagi was right about that boy. But something had struck her as wrong about him from the first time they had met. And when they had met again the other day, after Usagi introduced Makoto to the group, Rei had done something she usually didn’t do. She had focused her chi and tried to read the spirit of this Ukyou Kuonji, much like Rei read the spirit of her fire or read the spirit of her youma opponents to discern their weaknesses. There had been a layer of cold energy, like a shell around Ukyou’s spirit. And when Rei had probed further she had been forced to stop, because Ukyou had started looking directly at her. Not like she knew what Rei was doing, but more like she was curious.
And Rei had let herself stop. Because she had felt enough to just pierce the tip of Ukyou’s cold shell. And what she found under that shell scared her more than all the vague suspicions or Sailor Pluto’s attacks ever could. Because under that shell, Rei had sensed… nothing.
Nothing at all.
Ono wisely stayed out of Ukyou’s way when she walked into the small apartment they shared until his clinic could be rebuilt. Or, he did once he pointed out that she was dripping wet, despite carrying an unfolded umbrella in one hand. Ukyou had taken one look at it, and let out a vulgarity so loud that it had woken up a neighbour’s dog (who was still barking) and smashed the umbrella over her knee. Then she had growled something about making his own dinner and retreated to her room. So Ono was willing to let her have her privacy. All he did was set out a box of Midol in an inconspicuous location.
Hey, he was a doctor, but he wasn’t suicidal.
Ono had been almost reluctant to answer the knock he heard from the entrance. But he could feel the urgency in the other person’s chi, even through the door. So, he had answered. Akane had blushed a bit at seeing him. She must have forgotten that he and Ukyou shared quarters. The girl had begun to stammer something out, fumbling over her words.
Ono had saved her from embarrassment by saying he would fetch Ukyou for her. Akane was really a nice girl. Not a beautiful girl like her eldest sister, but… He paused in the hallway, shaking his head to clear the fog from it. Hmm? When had he removed Ukyou’s door from its hinges? And why was Ukyou pressed against the wall?
“Ono, are you okay?” Ukyou asked slowly.
“I’m fine… but it appears someone broke your door.” He chuckled.
“Yeah, someone…” Ukyou walked towards him. “Kasumi isn’t here, is she?”
“Huh? No. Akane is, though…”
“Great…” Ukyou sighed. “Listen, I’m in no mood to have a civil discussion with anyone… tell her to come back tomorrow.”
“It seemed rather urgent,” Ono pointed out. He felt that whatever was troubling Ukyou, talking would probably help her more than brooding in her room. Besides, Akane was a girl. Maybe she would have better advice about that than Ono would.
“Indeed…” Ukyou ran her fingers through her hair, then nodded. “I’ll go get rid of her then. It’s probably nothing serious. Thank you.”
Ono allowed her past him and down the small hallway to the living room-slash-foyer. For a second his gaze lingered in her wake. His better nature warred with his curiosity and lost. Soon enough he was pulling a cloak over his chi and stepping down the hallway as quietly as he could.
It wasn’t really eavesdropping. It was just looking out for his charges. How was he supposed to help, if they kept him in the dark all the time? Look where that had gotten him last time. And maybe if he kept thinking about it like that, he would eventually justify it to himself.
“…no, I haven’t seen Ranma all day,” Akane was saying. This was close enough; Ono didn’t want to risk getting any closer. His cloak wasn’t exactly reliable, and nothing close to true invisibility.
“Damn… have him call me the moment he gets in, okay? I need to talk with him about what happened at his mother’s…”
“It’s a long story. You had something you needed to talk to me about?”
“Ukyou… I don’t know how to say this, so I’ll just come straight out with it.”
“Chris visited me last night.”
“WHAT! That bastard! Are you hurt? He didn’t do anything to you…?”
“NO! No… I’m fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes… I’m sure. You can let go of my arm, Ukyou. Your grip is a little tight.”
“I had to talk with him, Ukyou. He surprised me in the middle of the night-“
“Why didn’t you call out to Ranma?” Ukyou’s voice had taken on an edge of anger.
“He asked me not to… he was actually very nice about it.”
“Damn! Akane, you can’t let him talk to you. His words are poison. He is very good at earning people’s sympathy.”
“But Ukyou, I think he…”
“Don’t think about him! Trust me, Chris is a monster! If he’s trying to win your trust, he’s only using it for one of his own twisted purposes. Either that, or he wants to get you to believe in him to make himself feel better. He’s sick like that. He can justify anything to himself, as long as someone he respects believes in him.”
“He respects me?”
“Yes, yes… that isn’t important! No matter what, you can’t believe anything he says. Chris is from the same place as Aaron. He knows more about you than you may even know about yourself! Using that knowledge he can manipulate you, make you think you’re doing what you want when all you’re really doing is playing into his hands!”
“I don’t think it was like that. He was just asking us to leave him alone…”
“US! Leave HIM alone! That bastard!” Ono jumped as something cracked sharply. “He has no right! Wasn’t beating me to a pulp once enough? Does he have to play these games with my friends as well?”
“Ukyou, calm down,” Akane’s voice had taken on a frantic tone.
“I’m sick of being fucking calm! I’m not calm and I don’t want to be. That monster ruined my life! You have no idea… no idea…”
“Tell me everything he said!”
“I… I don’t know exactly…”
“Fuck! What did he say, Akane? You do realise what this is about? He’s probably going to kill someone else! Do you want that on your conscience?”
“Of course not!”
“Then tell me! Everything you know may help.”
“He said something about the future, and you knowing what’s going to happen, and Chris having to do something about it… it was very confusing.”
“Damn it… riddles. Wasn’t he more specific?”
“Well, he could have been. He actually asked me if I wanted to know exactly what was going on, but I refused. I don’t want to know about-“
“You refused! What kind of an idiot…“ There were a series of loud stomps. Ono frowned.
“We could have known exactly what he was going to do, and you refused to listen? That’s… that’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever done, Akane!”
“I mean, I’ve seen you pull some bone-headed stuff, but even I never thought you would be this dumb!”
“You just told me to never listen to a thing he said!” Akane cried. Her voice was a mixture of fury and despair. Ono felt he should do something. But what? He really had no idea how to deal with people. What if he did step out there? What would it accomplish?
“Don’t try and make this about me,” Ukyou hissed. “I’m not the one who screwed up. Fuck! Why is everything unravelling NOW?”
“Ukyou…” Akane was fighting back a sob now.
“Get out of my sight!” Ukyou shouted. “Just… get out! I’ll find some way to fix this mess you created.” There was a pregnant pause. “And you wonder why I leave you behind all the time…”
“Ukyou… you… why?”
“Didn’t I just tell you to get out?”
A few seconds, and a few hiccuping sobs later, and the door to Ono’s apartment slammed closed with dreadful finality. Ono stood dumbstruck, and was still standing there like a statue when Ukyou rounded the corner. She gave him a look. It was filled with cold anger. He could literally feel the wind chi pouring off her body in nearly visible waves. Then she pushed him aside and stalked over to her room. Ono turned towards her and opened his mouth at her retreating back. But what was he going to say?
To be continued…
Blade: Man, Ukyou/you is a real bitch/bastard.
Epsilon: Well, that’s what you keep telling me, anyway, so I thought I’d just be true to character.
Blade: Meanie. Akane’s totally gonna be MY friend now.
Epsilon: Maybe if you stopped killing people.
Blade: But… but… there are so many people with kickass supernatural abilities for me to steal that noone will miss anyway! Like Kodachi! Who needs her? Pink is like Kodachi, only better!
Blade: Well, okay, Kunou probably cares, but that presupposes anybody caring about what Kunou cares about.
Epsilon: Well, much as I hate to interrupt you demolishing whatever goodwill you built up with readers this chapter… it’s convenient segue time! So, speaking of people with supernatural abilities that other people care about… like the readers…
Blade: That was a really lame segue.
Epsilon: Lame segues are my middle name!
Blade: So you’re Aaron Ukyou Epsilon Lame Segue Peori Kuonji? That sounds like some retarded college fraternity.
Epsilon: A college fraternity where a bunch of anime characters go! And, speaking of anime characters…
Epsilon: …I hereby warn the readers that Hybrid Theory contains… yes, SPOILERS!
Audience: *gasp* *shock* *amazement*
Blade: Yeah. Specifically, there will be spoilers for Sailor Moon, Blue Seed, Ranma 1/2…
Epsilon: Like they needed to be told that.
Blade: Hmm. Well, there’s also going to be spoilers for other series’ the readers don’t as of yet technically know exist! Indeed, the fact they exist in Hybrid Theory are in and of itself spoilers for Hybrid Theory!
Epsilon: So we can’t tell the readers what series are going to be spoiled for them until you’ve already been spoiled?
Epsilon: I see. Our recommended solution, then, is to watch every anime series and read every manga and play every video game ever made before the next chapter comes out. That way, you will be protected from all spoilers. (checks watch) Which gives you… 28 days. Better get moving.
Blade: Way to kill off our already pitifully small readerbase. Actually, in truth, the spoiler problem is NOT so bad… Blue Seed will get sort of spoiled, but who really cares about Sailor Moon or Ranma spoilers? I mean, really: if you care, you know them already. However, this is one series I feel obligated to warn people about and it ISN’T much of a problem to note it’s here somewhere: Revolutionary Girl Utena. It will, unfortunately, be spoiled the HELL out of. Since it’s the Greatest Anime Of All Times, I recommend you try and check it out if you haven’t already: you’ve got more than a couple of months before this becomes any sort of issue. Sorry!
Epsilon: Or you could just do what I do and not care about spoilers.
Blade: Or that, yeah.
Epsilon: And speaking of things people don’t care about, how about the preview for the next chapter?
Blade: I’d like to remind you I once again possess a bokken and the will to use it.
Epsilon: But can your bokken get the Hybrid Theory cast and crew out of THIS situation!?
“Oh, Ranma!” The voice was Kasumi again. “A kind lady is here, and she says she’s your mother. Isn’t that nice?”
Ran blinked. Then she rubbed her eyes. Then she blinked again. Yes, Ranma had really disappeared. Ran hadn’t thought anyone could move faster than her eyes could follow. Ran shrugged and looked around, quickly locating the young martial artist clinging to the ceiling directly above his former position. She sighed. The boy had a lot to learn about a successful vanishing act if that was the best he could think of doing.
“Ranma, what are you doing up there?”
“SHH! I don’t want her to find me!” Ranma hissed insistently.
Akane was now looking up at him as well. “Don’t want who to find you?”
“My mother!” Ranma hissed back down at her.
“Wow, some juicy family problems you have?” Ran grinned as she whipped her pad and pencil into her hands.
“Sorry, Akane. Force of habit.” Ran put away her pad. She did not, however, turn off her tape recorder.
Hybrid Theory Chapter 9: Hit The Floor
Blade: Yeah. I bet the readers are TERRIFIED for poor Ranma’s fate. He’ll never make it out of THIS one alive, folks!