Extra! Extra! Catch it here first, folks! This is your one and only chance to get THE straight scoop. One hundred percent pure authorial oversight perception is what this plucky reporter has been granted, and since these meanies tell me I’m going to lose it soon, I better make it count!
Your humble narrator, the beautiful and eloquent Ran Hibiki, has found herself increasingly drawn into the world of Ukyou and her friends. It appears Ukyou has problems, as her bizarre split personality is getting to her and making her more violent. Just last chapter, she went nuts and broke the spine of her old arch-rival Hayato Myoujin. This is after she went totally uber-bitch on Ranma’s mother, then Ranma, then Akane. And now, she has vanished!
Meanwhile, Chris the undead body-stealer is up to his old tricks, so to speak. He got Pink and Link to help him kill Sentarou Daimonji so he could replace his rotting old body and steal the boy’s martial arts tea ceremony mad wind ninja skills! In exchange for their help, Pink and Link are looking to grab some of the mitama… which are these funky blue seeds that turn things into monsters and which Chris failed to retrieve last time he tried because this carrot-skinned guy named Kusanagi broke it.
In other news, Nabiki is trying to acquire Ukyou’s title of queen bitch by tricking Ryouga into thinking he raped her. Also, Cologne is trying to defend her old title by toying with her great grand-daughter’s destiny by using the info Chris gave her way back to push Shampoo into a confrontation in Nerima Shampoo isn’t really prepared for. Darn, that sentence ran on… oh well, that’s what editors are for!
So lay down your bets folks, because the Tokyo bitch-fest contest continues! Who IS the most vile, manipulative customer in all of Hybrid Theory? Find out next, because your humble reporter does not have a clue!
C&A Productions Presents
A Work of Blatant Self-Insertion
Chapter 10: One Step Closer
“Hey, stud, you heard the latest news?”
Ranma looked up from the spiral he had etched into the sand in the lot behind Tofu’s. Ran was leaning on the fence, her head resting on her folded arms. Her ever-present camera was hanging down in front of her, and she was carrying a rolled-up newspaper in one hand. Seeing she had his attention, Ran vaulted the fence, her long black ponytail streaming out behind her as she landed in the back lot.
“I thought that was your department,” Ranma grumbled. He wasn’t very happy with Ran at the moment, and let that show in his voice.
“What’s your problem?” Ran asked, puzzled. She knelt down next to him.
“You’re the one who printed that stuff about my best buddy going psycho and breaking somebody’s spine!” Ranma accused.
“Uh… Ranma. Ukyou did go psycho and break somebody’s spine,” Ran pointed out mildly. “I just told the truth. That’s kind of my job.”
“Oh…” Ranma blinked. “I guess I hadn’t thought about it like that.”
“Well, do so next time, you lummox.” Ran snickered as she rapped his head with her knuckles good-naturedly. Ranma made a show of rubbing his head and frowning at her, but there was no real malice behind it. Ran was right. It was just the truth. Heck, he wasn’t sure he really wanted to think that deeply about it himself. So... he didn’t.
“Anyway,” Ranma said, dismissing the previous subject. “What brings you here?”
“The giant monster attacking the ship out in the middle of Tokyo Bay,” Ran pointed out with a shrug.
“Well, Tokyo Bay is all the way over on the other side of town, so what… did you say giant monster?”
“Yes,” Ran giggled.
“Oh.” Ranma nodded. “Just checking.”
“I just thought I’d come over to see if you guys knew anything about it.” Ran shrugged, adjusting her thick vest with her free hand. “With all the weirdos that keep showing up around you guys, I just thought I’d check before heading over.”
“You’re going to the monster attack?”
“Naturally.” Ran smirked and held up her camera. “Of course, I won’t get the scoop on this one. But I plan on at least getting some good shots I can sell to local papers.”
“Well then,” Ranma stood up from the spiral and dusted off his knees. “Let’s get going, then.“
“Us?” Ran blinked.
“Yeah, us.” Ranma frowned. “You want a scoop, right?” He smirked and cracked his neck. “How does, ‘Ranma Saotome kills monster! Saves city!’ sound to you?”
“Heh. Trying to follow in Ukyou’s footsteps?”
“Nah. I’m just thinking, you know. Ukyou is a monster hunter. There is a giant monster to kill. So if I show up and help, I’ll probably get to talk to Ukyou again. Which I kinda need to do after what happened yesterday. The fact that I will get some of the glory never entered my thinking at all!” Ranma shot out the last part in indignation.
“Right,” Ran drawled and rolled her eyes.
“Besides, you’re going and it could be dangerous,” Ranma said as he led the way out of the lot. He and Ran leapt up to a neighbouring rooftop, where they paused to orient themselves. “If anything goes wrong, I want to make sure someone’s there to protect you.”
“I’m capable of defending myself,” Ran pointed out as they took off at a brisk pace across the rooftops. It might have been faster to go by car or bus, since Ranma still hadn’t learned how to maintain top speed for an extended period of time. Yet he preferred the direct approach, and Ran didn’t seem to have any objections.
“I know that,” Ranma chuckled. “I didn’t say I needed to protect you, Ran. I said I wanted to protect you.”
“I…” Ran trailed off oddly. Ranma looked over at her and saw she was blushing a little and giving him an odd look. He shrugged it off. Girls always acted weird, and just because he turned into one on occasion didn’t mean he understood them any better. “Right…” Ran cleared her throat. “But you’re mainly going to try and find Ukyou?”
“Yeah.” Ranma nodded seriously. Their conversation paused as they both sprinted to build up speed for a leap over a wide road. Ranma made it with ease, but Ran only got her toes on the edge of the roof. He caught her hand and pulled her up, accepting her silent nod of thanks with a nod of his own.
“What do you see in him? I mean, besides him being a better fighter than you and you can learn from him…”
“Ukyou isn’t a better fighter than me,” Ranma interrupted her. Seeing her disbelieving look, Ranma decided it was time to remove a few false impressions from her mind. “It’s true. Ask anyone who knows the two of us well. Tofu, Akane… I’m just faster, stronger, tougher, more skilled. I am better, in every way, than Ukyou.” Ranma said it without a hint of conceit in his voice. It wasn’t bragging if you were just telling the truth.
“But you were studying under him, weren’t you?”
“Yes.” Ranma nodded. “Just because I’m better than Ukyou doesn’t mean I can’t learn from… him.” Ranma swished his tongue around in his mouth, searching for the right way to say what he meant. “I respect Ukyou, as a fighter. He may not be as good as me… but he has the same spirit. The same drive to win. Maybe even more. The people Ukyou has fights with are… good. Real good. They’re tricky and strong. Yet… Ukyou wins. Not by being strong or tough, but by sheer force of will. By thinking fast and never giving up, ya know?” Ranma wasn’t sure if his point was getting across, so he tried rephrasing it one more time. “When I win, it’s because I’m better than my opponent. When Ukyou wins… it’s because she wants it more than the other guy.” Ranma nodded again. “That’s why I respect Ukyou’s skill. That’s the talent I want to pick up.”
“I see…” Ran trailed off again. “Wait, did you just say ‘she’?”
“Did I?” Ranma laughed nervously. “Wow! That was stupid! Why would I say something stupid that might suggest Ukyou is really a girl? That’s just silly!”
“Ranma…” Ran drew out his name menacingly. “Are you hiding something from me?”
“No!” Ranma insisted, starting to sweat.
“Aha! I knew it! Sorry to say, but you are a terrible liar, stud.” Ran smirked. “So spill the beans. You know I’m just going to get you to tell me anyway, so why fight it?”
“Fight what?” Ranma laughed, quickening his pace so he was slightly outdistancing Ran. She pushed to catch up.
“You can’t escape from the free press!”
“We’ll just see about that!” Ranma upped his speed a notch, and Ran continued to chase him across Tokyo.
Chris hopped down from the rooftop and began walking along the street. A quick glance back confirmed that Pink and Link were there, though he couldn’t tell which was which under the cloaks they were wearing.
“Why are we slowing down, over?” An irritated tone; that one on the left would be Link, then.
“We’re close,” he replied. “I saw a police helicopter, so I want to avoid attracting attention until we’re closer.” Link made an impatient noise, but seemed to acquiesce for the moment. Chris, however, was a little anxious himself. Police helicopter, or the TAC? If they beat the jellyfish aragami before he could get there, it wouldn’t be good. Still, he was pretty sure that in that episode, they hadn’t succeeded until very late at night. It was only around one in the morning; plenty of time, with any luck. Maybe.
Hopefully this would help smooth things over with Link. She was his favourite of the twins, and more importantly, definitely the nicer of the two, always running around saving people from Pink’s poisons. She’d even saved Ranma’s life twice in the manga… granted, once was when she didn’t know the female Ranma was ‘Shampoo’s husband’, and once was to save her own skin, but still. Link was essentially a good person, unlike her sister. She was no Akane, but it still bothered him how much she disliked him. Was his very existence that distasteful to her?
He shook off those thoughts. With any luck, he’d be alive again soon. But first things first. They were growing near to Tokyo Bay now. In the distance, he could spot the target, though he couldn’t make out any other details in the gloom. Still, there was no mistaking it: a single ship in the water, with nothing else anywhere near it.
Nothing at all? He saw police boats moored nearby, but nothing visibly near the ship. They must have been pulled back. Irksome, but not a big problem. “Pink? Let’s get a boat.”
He could almost sense her grin. “No problem, over.”
He glanced around as the poison-loving twin did her work. Nobody seemed to be around other than the police; cleared out, or was this just not a popular spot for drunken salarymen? Maybe a bit of both. In any case, he stepped forward as the last few police slumped over, sleeping peacefully. None of them had had a chance to raise any sort of ruckus. After removing the occupants of one of the small boats, he and the twins climbed in. Good thing he could drive a boat. Well, sort of. Well, at least enough to go in a straight line.
“Are you two ready to go?” he yelled over the roar of the engine. Another reason to be glad the twins were here. He remembered from the anime Blue Seed that this monster Link had sensed was like a monstrous jellyfish, and its flesh was very acidic, styming all attempts by Kusanagi and the TAC to defeat it until Matsudaira (the scientist) had come up with the idea to solidify its mostly-liquid form with a large quantity of the polymers they used in diapers to solidify liquid waste, thus rendering it able to be destroyed. He’d at first been thinking that he’d get some large bags of salt to do a similar trick, but Pink and Link pooh-poohed the idea upon hearing it. After all, they pointed out, water was something plants consumed. They were confident that they could come up with something to suck out the fluid from the creature, making its mitama easy pickings.
“Don’t worry about us,” Pink yelled back. “Just make sure you keep that plant-guy out of our way, over.”
Oh well. Wouldn’t be too glorious-looking for him this time, fighting off the heroes. But worth it for a little peace of mind with his allies. “I’ll make sure of it, but you two be careful. Remember, that thing has lots of tentacles to attack with, and it’s acidic enough to eat through steel.” It was true… as they drew nearer the afflicted cruise ship, he saw the dark shape looming over the bow. The metal there was quite damaged from the creature’s corrosive form, the hull eroded and split. Not down to the waterline yet, though.
“Don’t worry about us. Just do your job, over,” Link called back. She didn’t sound as annoyed or standoffish as usual, though. More… excited. She must have been already looking forward to finally getting her hands on the mitama… or maybe it was simply the thrill of the moment.
Either way, it made this worth it. Chris smiled. “Can do. You two ready to jump?”
“Then let’s do it!” Wheeling the boat parallel to the cruise ship and cutting the motor, he stepped back, grabbed the twins around their waists, and leaped. Legs far stronger than any on the Earth he’d been born to carried them easily up and over the railing. He landed lightly on a walkway just behind the bow and released Pink and Link. This was it.
The first thing he saw was Kusanagi. The orange-skinned man was standing about eight meters in front of them, one hand in the pocket of his red trenchcoat, the other rubbing the back of his head. Before him was the likely object of his consternation. The jellyfish aragami was about two stories tall, and twice that wide. It was a dark purple in colour, aside from the dozens of glistening red eyes (well, eye-like things) ringed around its ‘lip’. And there was the tentacles. Thankfully, none of them were phallus-shaped, but there were dozens of them; pale, and flailing around threateningly. It seemed to still be agitated from Kusanagi (presumably) attacking it before they’d arrived.
He stepped forward. Time to be a suitable distraction. “Hey, Kusanagi. Having a little trouble with this one?”
Kusanagi whipped around, glanced at him, obviously dismissed him in an instant, and started to turn back around again. “I don’t have any idea who you are, but unless you want to get hurt, you should probably get out of here.”
Chris rolled his eyes. Kusanagi was such an arrogant twat, at least before Murakumo showed up to kick his ass every other episode. “I don’t think so. Actually, I’m here to retrieve the mitama from our translucent friend over there. I trust you have no problems with that?”
That got his attention again. “You what?”
He smiled. “Just what I said. I’m here to beat the aragami and take its mitama.”
Kusanagi ran a hand through his short green hair and blinked oafishly a few times. Then he raised one finger and pointed it at Chris. “Okey-dokey. I have no idea who you are, but you obviously have some sort of problem, so for your own good I’m going to knock some sense into you and then, I dunno, drop you off the side of the ship.” He paused, then added sarcastically, “If that’s okay?”
Well, that was easier than he’d expected. Grinning, he leaped back onto the superstructure of the cruise ship. “Bring it, carrot-boy!”
Link glanced idly in the direction Chris had drawn the strange hybrid plant/man with his taunts. She resisted the urge to follow. While the… whatever that boy Kusanagi was seemed fascinating, it wasn’t their objective. Also, she had spotted at least two of those mitamas on the backs of his hands. Maybe once she had her hands on one of them herself, she could figure out everything she needed to know.
“Stop daydreaming, over,” Pink hissed in her ear as she strode out onto the now empty deck. The crew of the ship had obviously been evacuated already. Link frowned more deeply than usual and followed her. Her sister paused just out of the reach of the aragami’s tendrils. Link joined her, pulling back the hood of her cloak so she could more easily reach her stores of unguents and powders.
“It seems to be content to just sit there and dissolve things,” Pink pointed out as she shook her head. “What a waste, over.”
“You would prefer it start attacking us, over?” Link said as she rolled her eyes. Pink had, by now, joined her in laying out a selection of their most potent potions and infusions. Link ran a trained eye over the selection her sister was offering up, and began to remove those she saw as worthless for the current situation, while replacing them with ones she thought applied more. Pink mimicked her actions, correcting Link’s mistakes even as Link corrected hers. This silent and comfortable exchange continued for a few seconds while they talked.
“Well, it needs to have a strong root system, over.”
“Yes, but… it needs to also be able to drill through its hide and resist that acid, over.”
“Unfortunately, most hardy plants like that don’t absorb water quick enough, over.”
“It can’t rely on topiary, because there’s not much sunlight, over.”
“So, how about… if we splice something new and interesting together, over?”
“You always want to splice things. What’s wrong with the tried and true approach, over?”
“Unless you missed it, this is not exactly a situation we have dealt with before, over.”
“Yes, but you have to look at it from a different perspective! There are no plants that deal with this situation… but there are plants that suck up a lot of water because there isn’t much available. We just have to… hypercharge one, over.”
“Right, like a cactus! And it has spines, for the drilling! But for protection against the acid… we’ll need something like the ironwood tree! Only… more iron-y, over.”
“Hmm, I’m not sure about that, over…”
“You’re right! It’ll need to defend itself against the attacks of the aragami. So we mix in a little venus flytrap. You know, to eat the tentacles, over.”
“No, what I meant was… is it really a good idea to randomly use an untested superweapon plant on this plant-based acidic monster whose origins and powers we do not even begin to understand, over?”
“What sort of nonsense is that, sister?! We are the masters of plants and all things flora! What could possibly go wrong, over?”
“You’re right. How silly of me. So, you ready now, over?”
“Then on three. One… two…”
“Stupid ocean,” Ranma complained as she hauled herself out of the water. Ran snickered down at her and couldn’t resist getting a snapshot of her expression. Ranma crossed her eyes and stuck her tongue out at Ran. Ran dutifully ignored her and scampered up the anchor chain to the deck. It had been Ranma’s idea to swim out to the ship, after all. She had no one to blame for her current gender but herself. Besides, she deserved a gentle ribbing for calling her carefully selected and economically useful Vest of Many Pockets ™ a lifejacket.
The deck itself was deserted. Ran backed away, letting Ranma vault onto the woodpaneled deck. Ranma spent a few seconds wringing the sea water out of her shirt… a process which made Ran raise an eyebrow since it consisted of removing said shirt.
“Ever hear of feminine dignity, Ranma?”
“Is that the thing that makes girls always act stuck up?”
“Yes,” Ran replied flatly. “That’s it exactly.”
“Then I guess I have,” Ranma murmured as she replaced her shirt. Ran rolled her eyes at Ranma’s casual insensitivity while checking to make sure their swim hadn’t damaged her precious (and expensive) equipment. From what she had seen, there were no other reporters on the cruise ship. That meant only one thing…
“Hey, earth to Ran,” Ranma snapped her fingers in front of Ran’s face. “We’re on the other side of the ship and if I want to, ya know, save the day and everything… we’ll have to go that-a-way.” Ranma jerked her thumb towards the curve of the ship’s hull.
“Lead the way then… look out!” Ran leapt back, only a fraction of a second slower than Ranma herself. The huge wire-mesh frame crashed down between them a moment later, caving in the wooden floor and sending a shower of sparks flying in all directions. Ran landed, shaking the ringing aftertone of the impact from her ears. It looked like a radar… thingie of some kind.
“What the…” Ranma muttered and looked up towards the top of the ship.
“STOP SITTING DOWN AND MOVING SO FAST, YOU JERK!” a voice echoed from on high.
“Friend of yours?” Ran asked.
“Uh…” Ranma rubbed the back of her neck. “Hang back a second while I check this out, will ya?”
“I thought I told you-“
Ran was cut off by a pair of feminine shrieks of pure terror. You know, the kind that always filled the soundtracks of horror films.
“Oh man,” Ranma grumbled. “And it sounds like there’s a cool battle going on up top, too.” Ranma shook her head and dashed around the side of the ship. Ran glanced up, then after Ranma. Well… follow the story, you know.
She pursued Ranma. It took them only a few seconds to cross the deck and come along the bow of the ship. There Ran paused.
Well, she could certainly understand the shriek now. The thing that was perched on the bow was about four stories tall, covered in a thick purple shell that had thousands of spiny needles growing out of it in all directions. Each of the spines was dripping a noxious ooze that, when it hit the ground, ate through the steel with both disturbing speed and a painful-sounding hiss. Out from under that shell stretched dozens of tentacles, each tipped with a horrible, slime- covered mouth large enough to swallow a cow whole. A heart-stopping alien screech was being blasted from each of the mouths… reminded Ran of nothing so much as King Ghidora. A comparison she did not find exactly comforting.
“I thought it was supposed to be a jellyfish,” Ran said through a nervous gulp.
“Sure don’t look like no jellyfish I ever seen,” Ranma felt the need to point out.
“…’what could go wrong’, over! That’s what you said, over!”
“There you go, blaming me for your own lack of forethought, over.”
“MY LACK, OVER!”
“You’re supposed to be the cautious one. It’s your job to stop us from doing stupid things like this, over.”
Ran looked down to see two teenage girls, wait, make that two identical teenage girls, huddled nervously just under one of the creature’s many mouthy tendrils. Gobs of lethal acid were raining down about them, a fact they seemed to be ignoring in favour of continued recriminations.
“You two! Hold still, I’m coming!”
Ran didn’t even bother to glance in Ranma’s direction as she sprinted across the deck towards the… Cthuloid Monstrosity. Oh, she liked the ring of that. “Cthuloid Monstrosity Attacks Tokyo Bay!” Ran quoted into her recorder. That would sell a few papers.
Ran then realised she was missing the show. Flipping up her camera, she began to click rapid-fire pictures of Ranma’s dramatic rescue. She had to admit, the boy-turned-girl had quite a few tricks up her sleeve. She zigged and zagged, flipping over and rolling under the flailing limbs of the Cthuloid Monstrosity with the ease of a trained circus monkey. The girls didn’t even notice Ranma’s approach until she had scooped them up, one in each arm. With a deceptively simple twist of her step, Ranma somehow reversed her momentum and backflipped away from the creature, seconds before one of the gibbering mouths slammed into the girls’ previous position with enough force to send a shower of debris in all directions. Ranma then made her way back through the hell of swirling tentacles, the wide-eyed passengers on her arms clinging tightly to her (and flinging accusations at each other, but Ran would leave that part out of her article).
With a final grunt, Ranma flipped clear of the Cthuloid Monstrosity’s reach. She spun elegantly, landing with a flourish directly in front of Ran. Somehow, she had twisted the two girls out of their vicelike grips on her and placed one on either side so Ranma could pose with her arms around their shoulders and fingers on both hands making “V”-signs. Ran lowered her camera.
“Hey, this is a great shot!” Ranma complained.
“I’m a reporter, not a PR rep, Ranma,” Ran pointed out. Then she took the picture anyway.
“Hey, you’re not Chris, over!” the one on the right shouted accusingly.
“Who are you, over?” Lefty added.
“Are you trying to steal my mitama, over?” Righty continued.
“Hey, I just saved your lives. You could be grateful,” Ranma grumbled.
“Oh, fine, if you insist. Thank you for saving our lives. Now go away, over.” Lefty said through her sneer.
“Yes, thank you, but we have this totally under control, over.” The other frowned seriously.
“Uh-huh… right…” Ranma drawled sarcastically.
“We did! I’ll have you know we had the perfect plan for killing that thing, over!”
“There were a few unexpected variables. But nothing outside our area of expertise, over.”
“Guys…” Ran said, backing up a step.
“You have to be the most ungrateful chicks I have ever saved since that… wait… did you say ‘Chris’?”
“GUYS!” Ran shouted, waving from her safe position ten meters down the deck.
“What? I’m busy!” Ranma shouted back.
“Monster!” Ran pointed.
“Oh, right,” all three said simultaneously. With the twins adding “over”. Then Ranma leapt straight up, barely avoiding another giant maw as it tried to swallow them whole.
“Geez,” Ran muttered as she snapped pictures of their… ‘heroic’ escape. “Can’t a girl remain a neutral observer around here?”
“STOP SITTING DOWN AND MOVING SO FAST, YOU JERK!” Kusanagi spat as the radar tower tumbled down behind him. The boy was smirking at him and sitting only a few meters away, looking calm and collected in his jeans and black t- shirt. Kusanagi was beginning to hate that insufferable grin, and most of the face it was attached to. He smiled as he thought about how entertaining it would be to rearrange it into a more pleasant configuration.
“Hmmm. Let me consider your proposition carefully and… NO!” The boy snapped his arms up, and Kusanagi dodged this time. He had learned his lesson the hard way last time, and still had some of those damn tea spoons embedded in his right arm. But really, who the hell threw spoons, anyway? Kusanagi landed a few meters away in a crouch. He grimaced and flexed his left arm, extending his second arm-blade with a wet popping sound. The boy only smirked wider.
“You have a lot of fancy tricks,” Kusanagi grunted. “But that won’t save you… I have tricks of my own!” he roared and punched towards the boy. The jerk would be caught flat-footed when Kusanagi’s arm extended forward with the power of a battering ram and… “HEY! You’re not supposed to dodge!”
The boy spread his hands apologetically. “Well, you keep dodging my teaspoons. So it’s only fair.”
“But… they’re TEASPOONS!”
“What, you don’t like tea? What sort of half-plant mitama-implanted Japanese citizen are you?”
Kusanagi responded by whipping his still extended arm towards the boy, only to shout in frustration as he seemed to fade away from the attack. Kusanagi blinked. The jerk had vanished into thin air! How the hell did he do that? And for that matter, how did he move without even standing up? And how did he know so much about the mitamas? And… and… Damnit! Why couldn’t more people just be simple idiots he could intimidate into obeying him? Like the TAC?
“Yoo-hoo, up here,” the boy’s voice called, drawing Kusanagi’s line of sight up along the side of the nearby smokestack. He was kneeling on a gantry that surrounded the top of the stack. Except he was underneath it. And upside down. And still sitting there, defying gravity. Kusanagi mused that it took a special kind of arrogant bastard to ignore the laws of physics when they didn’t suit him.
“Aw, man…” Kusanagi moaned. “Can’t you just fight like a normal person?”
“Have you ever heard of the word ‘irony’?” the boy called back. Then for some reason his eyes widened and his attention slipped away from Kusanagi for a second. A perfect opening!
With a cry Kusanagi propelled himself from the ship, spreading his arms out. The boy didn’t even notice him until it was too late. With a bone-jarring thud they collided and Kusanagi clamped his arms around the slippery bastard with a cry of triumph. “Dodge this, you little worm!” Rebounding from the smokestack, Kusanagi flipped down at the deck, screaming in joy all the time.
“Oh fuck off, Kusanagi! We just got a bigger prob-” the rest of the little worm’s sentence was cut off as Kusanagi drove him headfirst into the metal deckplates. The retort of the roof buckling under their impact caused Kusanagi’s ears to whine annoyingly. But he could barely notice over the rushing blood of triumph!
It was about that point that the worm kicked him off and rolled to his knees. Kusanagi thumped to the ground a few meters away and rose slowly, rubbing his gut. The insufferable little worm was fingering the top of his head gingerly.
“It doesn’t look like you split the skull…” he muttered in obvious annoyance. “Thanks a lot, Kusanagi. Do you know how much of my time you would have wasted if you’d killed me?”
“Never mind that!” he growled, waving his hands. “Look. Bigger problem!” The worm pointed over Kusanagi’s shoulder.
“Like I’m gonna fall for that,” Kusanagi growled and rose to his feet.
“Oh for crying out… don’t tell me you’re using that old schtick?” the worm groaned and put his palm to his forehead. “Listen. I will use small words. Giant. Monster. Eating. Ship. Behind. You. Look. Now.”
“Oh that, it’s not really a big threat…”
“It is now.”
Kusanagi was about to retort again. But then he became aware of an odd sound. It was like… tearing. And dripping. And shrieking. Inhuman shrieking. Also some human shrieking, come to think of it. Well, maybe a quick peek…
“HOLY CRAP! That ain’t no goddamn jellyfish!”
“That was about what I was thinking when you cheaply attacked me from behind,” the worm offered.
“This is all your fault, isn’t it?” Kusanagi accused.
“Well… no. But I think I know whose fault it is.”
“Great…” Kusanagi frowned. He had to warn those jerks at the TAC not to come on the ship. He could… feel the energy off that thing. It was resonating with the seven mitamas embedded in his hands, feet and chest. And it was still growing. If those idiots brought Momiji too close… “Stand back,” Kusanagi shouted and waved his arm towards the little worm. “I’ll handle this thing.” For a moment, he considered using his battle form. But then again… it was just an aragami, still.
“Of course you will.” The worm had somehow moved up next to him, still kneeling. “I’ll just come and observe.”
“Whatever…” Kusanagi grunted. “Just don’t get in my way and…”
Kusanagi trailed off as someone landed on the roof two meters in front of him. Well, actually, it was three someones. It was some punk kid and two girls on her arms. Twins, actually. Twins clinging tenaciously to the girl in the centre, the reptilian hindbrain portion of his mind noted with interest.
“You two can let go now,” the girl in the centre pointed out dryly. “I kinda need my hands free.”
“Oh, sorry, over,” the one on the left replied. The girls let go simultaneously and stepped away… only to be grabbed back a moment later.
“Wait a second! I’m not finished askin‘ you about Chris yet!”
“Make up your mind, over!” the one on the right said with an annoyed smile.
Wait a minute.
“Hey! You’re those girls that tried to molest Momiji!” Kusanagi shouted and pointed.
“Huh?” the girl in the oversized (but wet!) shirt glanced at him. “Who are you? And why do you look like a walking carrot?”
“None of your business, little girl!” Kusanagi snapped. “I want to have a talk with those two-“
“CHRIS!” the worm shouted from behind him. Kusanagi blinked, wondering who he was calling out to. Had some other idiot decided to go aragami hunting today?
“AHA! I knew it! Where is he!?” the punkette released the girls from her grip.
“Girls! You’ve found a mighty warrior. Thank god!” The worm pointed at Kusanagi. Kusanagi blinked again and pointed his thumb at his chest. “Please, you have to help us stop Chris. That undead BODY-SWAPPING monster is too strong for the likes of us!”
Everyone stood still for a moment. The only sound was the horrible crunching of the aragami eating the front half of the ship.
“Uh… what are you talking about-“
“Right, girls?” the worm shouted as he seemed to teleport to the smiling girl’s side and elbow her in the ribs. “That’s Chris, the evil monster that has tormented us for days and unleashed this mutated horror upon the earth!”
“Oh… right. Him, over.”
“Yeah, beat him up for us, will you, over?” the frowning one asked the punkette.
“Heh. My pleasure,” the girl grinned maliciously and cracked her knuckles. “I’ve been waiting a long time for a rematch with you.”
Kusanagi felt that the situation was slipping through his fingers. “But we’ve never fought before!”
“You fool! When you last fought me, I was a man!”
Kusanagi was caught totally flat-footed when the fist slammed into his cheek. Stars exploded across his eyes and he could feel the metal of the deck skimming away under his toes. Oh. He must be flying backward at an improbably dangerous speed.
The smokestack Kusanagi collided with actually held, right up until the punkette slammed her shoulder into his chest with the force of a freight train. As Kusanagi emerged from the blossom of shrapnel, pain radiating from his chest, he reflected that some days it just didn’t pay to get out of bed.
Chris almost felt like dancing as he rushed away from the impending Clash Of The Gullible Morons, but he was still practicing Sentarou’s ‘glide around on the tips of his toes while sitting in proper Martial Arts Tea Ceremony position’ technique, so he stayed seated. Still, that couldn’t really have worked out better if he’d planned it. His new body was fast, even faster than Kusanagi, especially when he really hadn’t been trying to hurt the plant-man. And now, those two would likely be keeping each other busy for a good long time. It would probably end with Ranma beating Kusanagi to a bloody pulp, in his expert opinion, but that was okay, since Ranma wouldn’t kill him.
Which left him to deal with the aragami. Or whatever the hell it was now.
“What exactly did you two DO to that thing?”
“Merely failed to take into account a few minor variables,” Pink said defensively. “It’d work perfectly next time, over.”
“Right.” Chris sized up the situation. Giant, protected by shell, still acidic, tentacles more dangerous, drill-like spines everywhere… oh, and it could SHOOT them at things, he mentally added as he dodged. Great. “I think next time I’ll just bring the salt, if it’s okay with you.”
“Excuse me! Could I get your names on the record, please?” This was accompanied by the bright flash of a bulb going off.
The voice wasn’t one he knew, but it was definitely a familiar character… hey, it was Ran Hibiki! What the hell was she doing here? Oh, right, she wrote the articles about Ukyou. Must’ve whetted her appetite for this sort of thing. Wait, if she was here, and Ranma was here… “Hey, is Ukyou here?”
“Hey, I thought I was asking the questions! And watch out, it’s trying to eat you again.” They both casually dodged another tentacle strike.
Chris grinned a bit. “Perhaps you were, but it’s a cardinal rule of news that information is traded, stolen or bought, hardly ever given for free.”
“Well, I guess you don’t keep up on the news much,” Ran shrugged. “Ukyou hasn’t been seen since he broke that guy’s back this afternoon.”
Oh, well, that made sense- WHAT!? The hell?
“Monster, over!” Pink yelled from the twins’ relatively safe perch below. Chris waved in acknowledgement as he dodged another spine.
“Wait a minute,” he said, landing. “Broke a guy’s back? Who? Why?”
Ran grinned maliciously. “What were you just saying about the exchange of information?”
Well, he’d walked into that. “Fair enough. I’m Chris, and those two are… hmm… the Astounding Chinese Floral Mistresses.”
“We’re the WHAT, over?”
“Do you want you-know-who to know who’s waiting for her when she gets to Japan? She CAN read.”
“Are you certain, over?” Pink asked skeptically.
“Pretty certain, yeah.” He flipped over another tentacle slash, and as he landed, Ran was waiting with a newspaper in her hand. He found himself staring at an article headlined ‘Is Mystery Hero In Fact Mystery Psycho?’ Riiiiight. He filed that away for later. Giant monster first, Ukyou acting un-Ukyou-like (again) later. And there was suddenly a microphone in his face to replace it.
“And just who exactly is this mysterious stranger that your sidekicks don’t want to reveal their location to?”
“I am NOT that thing’s sidekick, over!” Link yelled, indignantly and predictably.
“Never mind that,” he said, waving the microphone away. “Sorry, Ms. Hibiki, but I must stop this monster before it causes even more damage.” That ought to play well, he thought, striking a dramatic pose, and was gratified by an immediate camera flash.
Well, with the playing to the press out of the way, he hopped down to the twins’ sides. “Okay. Is this thing still basically an aragami?”
“It still has that mitama thing, if that’s what you mean, over,” Link said.
“Good. In that case, it’s alive, because the mitamas attach to unintelligent host organisms. Sometimes more than one host organism, it seems. But it’s still a host organism, plant or animal, and that means you guys should be able to whip up something to kill it rather thoroughly, no?”
“But we don’t want to kill the mitama, over,” Pink objected.
He shook his head. “Not a problem. It’s separate from the host; the TAC’s beaten at least one that I can recall by poisoning and killing the organism it’s inhabiting.”
“I guess we can work something out,” Link frowned. “But we’ll need a sample of it, over.”
Chris nodded. “All right. Any particular part?”
“Not really,” said Pink, “but the fresher the better, over!”
Without bothering to respond, he leapt up, unfolding his legs beneath him. Kodachi’s techniques would serve him better here. Judging the position of the tentacles, he angled himself towards one stem. From there, he could leap nearer the main body and…
…a huge spotlight shone from above, glaring in his eyes. His dead eyes didn’t need to squint, but as he looked over at it, he could only see the silhouettes of helicopters.
“HALT WHERE YOU ARE!” shouted an authoritative-sounding voice.
Chris considered the difficulty of doing that in mid-leap for only a moment before he touched delicately down on the stem of one of the tendrils. Before the acid had a chance to eat through more than the soles of his socks he was away again, threading a ribbon through his hands.
“THIS IS THE TERRESTRIAL ADMINISTRATION CENTRE. BY THE AUTHORITY OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT, YOU ARE ORDERED TO CEASE YOUR CURRENT ACTIVITIES AND LEAVE THIS AREA IMMEDIATELY!”
He continued to ignore them, on account of doing otherwise in his current position was to invite… well, not death, but at least severe unpleasantness. He located a spine on the thing’s… hide? Carapace? Whatever… and snapped out his ribbon. The moment it wrapped around the protrusion, he yanked with all his might, causing it to pull free and skitter across the deck.
Well, couldn’t get much fresher than that. Flipping in the air, he avoided a tentacle strike and landed back on the deck. Spotting the spine he’d dislodged, he hurled a baton at it, sending it careening towards where Pink and Link were hiding, though not so fast they couldn’t dodge it, probably.
Okay. NOW to deal with the TAC.
One of the helicopters was closer than the rest. A door was open in the side, and a figure in it. She was holding some sort of long tube… oh, that must be Matsudaira, with her diaper-polymer-gun-bazooka-thingy. He watched with idle curiosity. There was a flare of light, he saw the projectile arc gracefully into the hide of the monstrosity… and then explode harmlessly in a burst of orange smoke.
Well, that wasn’t surprising: it was a mite tougher now than the jellyfish aragami had been. Wait, Matsudaira had lost her balance and fallen from the helicopter. But then, he remembered she’d done that in the anime too. Well, no problem, Kusanagi would rescue her just like he had in…
Also around then, the aragami reminded everybody of its projectile weapon capacity by blowing the helicopter out of the sky with one of its spines.
Chris mentally retracted his earlier comment about how everything was working out perfectly. Or even well. Or even ‘not half-bad’. He looked around for Ran. She wasn’t hard to spot, given the large flashes of light emanating from her position. He leaped beside her. “Okay, I need a favour.”
“Is it worth the name of your friend’s mystery nemesis?” she called cheerfully, continuing to take pictures of the Helicopters vs. Aragami battle.
He felt a headache coming on, and that was quite a feat in his current state. “Ran, I know you’re a good person. Really. So listen. That woman just fell from the helicopter into the water over there. Someone has to rescue her before she drowns.”
Ran arched an eyebrow at him. “Annnnnnd… you can’t do this… why?”
Because I’d sink like a stone, he thought sardonically. Out loud, he composed his voice and said patiently, “Because there’s you, me, and two non-combatants here. Someone has to swim a little ways to save someone, and someone has to fight the giant monster. Do we have to rock-paper-scissors for this, or do you have a preference?”
At this point, Ranma walked up beside them, the unconscious form of Kusanagi draped over his shoulder. His clothes were in tatters (though not so much as to make his currently female body indecent) and he had a few bruises on his face, but otherwise seemed fine. Actually, seemed pleased as punch. “Heya, Ran!” he enthused. “This bastard wasn’t so tough. Well, maybe a little tough, but no match for me! See, I told you! Want a picture?”
“Sure.” *CLICK* “By the way, Chris here was just saying someone needs to swim out there to save a woman, and somebody needs to stay to fight the Cthuloid Monstrosity.”
Ranma blinked, and Chris felt that headache intensifying. “Chris?”
Think fast, oh yeah, okay. “YES, CHRIS! IN A NEW BODY, RIGHT OVER THERE!” He pointed dramatically behind Ranma.
Ranma, being, well, a Gullible Moron, promptly turned to look. That was when Chris grabbed Ran by her vest and hurled her out in the general direction of Matsudaira.
“HEY YOu jerrrrrrkkkk…”
So much for his good writeup in the paper. Ranma whirled, dropping Kusanagi, who landed on the ground with a grunt of pain. “There was nobody there!” he declared.
“That’s because he threw Ran into the ocean!” Chris cried, hoping desperately Ranma would actually care. “You have to rescue her! And the other woman, too!”
Ranma waved that aside. “Aw, Ran can take care of herself.” Then he leaned forward, staring intently at his face.
“But the other girl can’t… aw, the hell with it. Ranma, go talk to the two girls over there; they’ve got something that can kill the monster instantly, or close enough. Just please let them get the… uh… blue thing, okay?”
Ranma backed up a step, pointing accusingly at him. “Hey! YOU’RE Chris, aren’t you!”
Headache…increasing… “Ranma… just… hit me later, okay? There’s a ship and two innocent women to save, and I don’t really care if you kill the monster or go save them, but they’re both more important than revenge, right?”
“How do I know this isn’t some other trick, like last time?” he said suspiciously.
Well, there was a fable about ‘crying wolf’ or somesuch that applied here. “Because, Ranma, there IS a monster, and there IS two women in the ocean, and… frick.” He stepped forward, and pointed at his chin. “Okay. Tell you what. Hit me. Once. Then go save something. Anything. I don’t care. But act like a hero. You don’t need ME to tell you how to do that, do you?”
Ranma considered that for a fraction of a millisecond, and then Chris felt himself flying back into the ship’s railing with enough force to dent it. His jaw was apparently dislocated. But, he noted with a vague pleasure, he’d actually seen the punch coming. He also saw when Ranma leaped past him and into the water.
Huh. He would’ve figured Ranma would have gone for the glory of beating the monster. Maybe he didn’t trust Chris to actually save them. Oh well. He ran over to where Pink and Link were, dodging spines and popping his jaw back into place as he went. “You guys done?”
“Yes, over.” Pink handed him a giant Chinese medicinal herbal bead, roughly the size of a chair.
“Wow, that’s pretty big. But then, it’s a big monster. Anyplace I need to apply it?”
“Internally, over,” Link noted.
One of the big problems with being dead was that aspirin wouldn’t work.
“Okay… uh …would shoving it into one of those mouths work?”
The twins exchanged glances. “Maaaaaaaaaybe, over.”
The fact that the headache was, literally, only in his mind wasn’t a comforting thought. “Right.” He looked around. The monster had actually eaten most of the bow at this point, and the ship was starting to lean forward as it took on water. How to insert, how to insert… ah-hah.
Walking forward, he took hold of the edge of some of the exposed metal plating of the deck. Yanking off a good-sized chunk, he rolled it into something approximating a cone. That ought to do.
Running forward, he dodged another spine and leaped a tentacle swipe. Touching down only a few meters away from the thing, he pushed into the air once more. Raising the makeshift ‘hypodermic’ over his head, he drove it into the thing’s hide with all the force he could muster. The glistening carapace – looking like nothing so much as thick, knotted wood that just happened to be purple – cracked and split around the funnel. The fluids oozing out quickly began dissolving it, but he only needed a moment. Shoving the ball down inside as far as it could go, he used the funnel as a perch to leap back from, sighted, and hurled a baton down at the ball, pushing all his energy down into the strike.
Wait a second. When he did that, it felt… weird. Like a jolt had just run up his arm. Glancing down at it, he didn’t see anything, and it now felt fine, meaning it felt like nothing at all. What the hell?
He touched the ground once more, and looked up to see the result of his attack. His eyes widened.
He had intended the baton to smash the ball of poison and drive as much of it as possible into the wound through the crack opened by the funnel. Which, he supposed, it had. And then some. Where he had thrown, he had apparently ripped a enormous hole in the creature, at least three meters wide, with no sign of either funnel or ball. The creature staggered back, and his ears picked up another loud retort as something exploded from the other side of it.
Was even Sentarou that strong? Maybe…
The mouths of the creature shrieked as if they were in pain. Its surface turned from purple to an unhealthy-looking red, first in a blotch surrounding the wound, but quickly spreading throughout its form. Then, as he watched, the creature… rotted. That was the best description he could put to it. The flailing tendrils slapped wetly against the deck, pieces breaking from them. The spines turned a sickly yellow and started falling off, raining onto the ship and into the water below. It thrashed around but grew weaker and weaker; now its skin had lost its shine, and was collapsing in great mushy craters as it could no longer support itself. In an astonishingly short time, its mass halved, and halved again, and finally its last structural integrity failed it and it dissolved into glop, tumbling into the ocean.
Link dashed up beside him, pointing frantically. Chris lashed out with the gymnastics ribbon before even thinking, but his eyes caught the tiny gleaming object with ease. A moment later, the end of the ribbon snapped around it before it could hit the water, and he yanked it back towards him. He wiped the remainder of the slime off on his shirt and presented it to her.
“Well, it didn’t exactly work out great, but it worked out. Now let’s get the hell out of here.”
“Geez, one of you needs to go on a diet,” Ranma groaned as he hoisted himself up onto the dock. This was more difficult than it sounded, considering he was carrying an unconscious person over each shoulder. Water sloshed over the wooden planks as he slumped down and gently placed each of them on the dock. He sat down and eased back, stretching the kinks out of his spine. He frowned as his breasts bounced uncomfortably under his wet shirt.
“Stupid curse.” If Ranma had been a man, he could have won that fight against the guy in the red trenchcoat sooner. That might have prevented Chris from getting away with tossing Ran out into the ocean. You’d think the girl would have been able to stay conscious after such a short throw, but she had been sinking almost as fast as the old broad.
The lady was obviously middle-aged, but still something of a looker. Her hair was plastered all over her sodden lab coat and she was pale and shivering from her plunge into the icy waters of the bay, but she was breathing. Which was good, because Ranma knew how to patch up scrapes and cuts and even put a splint on, but Pops hadn’t told him anything about dealing with drowned people.
Well, he knew enough to figure it’d be best to get them warm. Ranma reluctantly rose to his feet and located some tarps that nobody but a few crates were using. They’d make good blankets to help keep the ladies warm, he guessed. At least they weren’t shivering as much. Ranma tucked in Ran first, then moved to the older lady.
As if cued by his attention, the woman began to cough and roll on the ground. Ranma reached out and steadied her shoulder as she moaned her way back to consciousness. Her eyes fluttered open and she began to brush vaguely at her forehead.
“What… happened…?” she muttered weakly.
“You went for a swim,” Ranma chuckled.
“I did?” The woman tried to sit up, but Ranma’s firm but gentle pressure on her shoulder held her down.
“Whoa, you better not be moving around too much,” Ranma pointed out. “You might be hurt. The ambulance should be here soon.” Ranma wasn’t sure about the ambulance part. But since the docks had been crawling with cops when he had shown up, he figured it was only a matter of time before one of them stumbled onto them.
“I… thank you, you’re probably right,” the lady agreed. “Did you rescue me?”
“Yeah.” Ranma smirked, but it faded quickly. The fact that he had saved the two of them was fine. But more importantly, Chris had used them against him. Chris… Ranma was going to get another shot at that jerk. Next time, there would be no innocent victims for him to use against Ranma.
“I’m sorry, I must be such a bother… I thought I could help fighting the aragami…”
“You don’t know?”
“Then what were you doing out there? Aren’t you with the… no… you’re too young to be with the police or the coast guard…“ The woman was looking at him oddly now. Ranma felt a kind of self-consciousness under her gaze that he was unfamiliar with. She looked at him like he was a specimen, not a human being. “Who are you, exactly?”
“Ranma Saotome,” he said without hesitating.
“I’m Azusa Matsudaira,” the woman replied, nodding politely. “Thank you for saving me…” Matsudaira turned her head and spotted Ran lying nearby. The other girl was shivering slightly, and sneezed when their attention focused on her. “And this girl as well? You’ve been busy tonight.”
“Yeah, just comes with the territory, I suppose,” Ranma shrugged. “Frankly, dragging you two out of the water was nothing compared to fighting that carrot-skinned guy.” Ranma pulled up his shirt to display the shallow cut up his ribs. “Damn jerk should watch it with those blade things. Almost ripped my guts open. I’m kinda glad I punched his lights out. Even if it was because I thought he was that body-stealing undead monster guy. Guess I owe him an apology, really…”
“Wait… are you saying you fought Kusanagi… and won?” The woman seemed more animated all of a sudden.
“He’s tall, has orange skin and green hair, wears a red trenchcoat…”
“Oh, him.” Ranma rubbed the back of his head and chuckled. “Yeah. He was pretty tough. But I’m the best.”
“But… you’re just a human being!”
“Well, duh.” Ranma rolled his eyes.
“That’s simply not possible!” Matsudaira insisted.
“Neither was turning into a girl with cold water a few months back.”
“Nevermind,” Ranma waved the question aside.
“Ugh, please tell me someone got a shot of the truck that hit me?”
Ranma scooted over to Ran. He helped her cough herself awake with a few encouraging pats on the back.
“Man… you’d think you could have taken a fall like that, Ran,” Ranma joked once she was fully awake.
“Hey, I was busy trying to protect my camera…” Ran trailed off and began to pat down her vest. She shot up so suddenly that Ranma could do nothing to stop her. “MY CAMERA! NO!”
“What about it?” Ranma scratched his neck.
“I lost it… no… you saved me. So... YOU lost it!” Ran pointed at him. Her eyes quivered with rage and sadness. Ranma backed up, unsure how to deal with this. “How could you save me and not save my camera? Do you know how important that was to me? Do you!?”
“Uh… no…” Ranma admitted slowly.
“Of course you don’t, you insensitive jerk!” Ran moaned and rubbed her face with both hands.
“I’m sorry, miss,” Matsudaira spoke up. “I’m afraid your friend was too busy helping to pull me out of the bay to catch your camera.”
“Yeah, what she said!” Ranma gave a grateful look to the scientist lady. She smiled back. Hey, she didn’t look half-bad when she smiled. If you were into the middle-aged woman type, he guessed.
“You were…” Ran blinked and looked at Matsudaira. “I… that still doesn’t excuse you! You… you have to get it back!”
“What?” Ranma shouted.
“Go back in there and get my camera back!” Ran pointed imperiously out towards the water.
“One camera? That’s all of Tokyo Bay you’re talking about…” Matsudaira pointed out.
“I know… but… but that camera was everything to me…” Ran crossed her arms over her chest and hunched her shoulders. “It cost me… I can’t possibly replace it. Especially since without my shots, I don’t even have a story and…” Ran began to shudder. “…and…” Ran began to sob and hiccup. Ranma stared, unable to do anything but watch the tears begin to flow out of the corners of her eyes.
“Oh man, stop crying,” Ranma stood up and began to stretch. “I’ll go get your stupid camera.” He turned and walked over to the edge of the dock. In the distance the ship was still finishing its long slow sink into the ocean. Helicopters and coast guard cutters flickered the surface of the dark water with spotlights. Too bad none of them would cut all the way to the bottom of the bay. It was really going to suck stumbling around in the dark for the next few hours. Oh well, best just to jump in headfirst and get it over with…
“What is it now, Ran?” Ranma called over his shoulder.
“You’re… really going to do it?”
“I said I would, didn’t I?” Ranma rolled his eyes. Ran just didn’t know that a promise from Ranma Saotome was worth his weight in gold.
“No… Ranma, don’t do it.”
“Can’t you make up your mind?” Ranma grumbled, while inwardly sighing in relief. That job might have tested even his considerable limits.
“Yes,” Ran was smiling at him now. Her wet hair was plastered along the simple curve of her cheek and her eyes shone with the sparkle of fresh tears. Ranma blinked; wow, how did someone go from so angry to so… cute so quickly?
“Thank you, but I’ll live without it.”
Ranma shrugged and sat down. Then spent the next few minutes fending off Matsudaira’s endless questions until the ambulances arrived.
Shampoo was impatient. She was standing in the living room of this ‘Tendo Dojo’ great-grandmother had brought her to. The nice girl with the brown hair had served tea, and was now sitting at the table looking pleasant and… well, that was about it, really. The other girl, with the shorter brown hair, was staring at her oddly, and flipping through some sort of scrapbook. Shampoo was preferring to ignore that. Maybe that was the perverted girl great-grandmother had asked about?
And yes, great-grandmother. She was perched atop the table, talking in that damn islander babble-talk at two old men. They were sweating heavily and obviously nervous, while great-grandmother was insistent. This was supposedly a training hall, but if there were any real warriors here, Shampoo didn’t see it.
Shampoo also didn’t see Ranma, and that was what was making her impatient. She hadn’t followed the elder here so she could watch her talk to broken-down old men, she had been told this was where Ranma was! So where was she?
She stamped her foot. “Ranma!” Everyone in the room was looking at her, now. The fat old bald man, especially, was looking even more nervous than before. Did he know where she was? “Where… Ranma?” She knew at least that much of their primitive gibberish.
The brown-haired nice woman started talking. She heard ‘Ranma‘ mentioned at least once, but couldn’t really make out most of the rest. Something about her being somewhere… “Great-grandmother,” she said, reverting to her native tongue. “What did that girl say? Where’s Ranma?”
“Not here,” Great-grandmother said simply.
“But they know her! They know that name! Where is she?” Shampoo was feeling frustrated. “And what’s with that old fart? He looks like he’s about to run away any minute!”
“He’s afraid of Happousai,” she explained, which didn’t really explain anything.
“Who’s that? Do they have something to do with Ranma?”
“That is what I’m attempting to discover. Really, child, you should have been taking the time along our trip to practice your Japanese. That is why I gave you the Stone of Acclimation, after all.”
“I had you with me, Great-grandmother,” Shampoo replied. “Why bother learning Japanese then? I was training! Now, can we hurry up and find Ranma, whereever she is?”
“Ranma will be here soon enough. This is HIS home.” The emphasis was clear.
Shampoo rolled her eyes. Again with the ‘Ranma is a boy’ garbage. But she remained quiet for the moment. Around that point, the short-haired girl went, “Ah-ha!”, closed her scrapbook and tapped it on the table a few times, and walked out of the room. What was that all about? Japanese people were weird.
Just as the short-haired girl left the room, she apparently ran into someone. Shampoo heard her footsteps stop, and she said “Hello,” and then something else. From her voice, she obviously didn’t like the person she was talking to very much. Shampoo turned to size up the new arrival and…
“RANMA!” she cried in a mixture of joy and fury. At last! Whipping out her twin maces, she assumed a battle position.
The sopping wet girl’s eyes widened in fear. Sweet, sweet fear.
Before she could say anything further, Shampoo attacked, whipping one of the beachball-sized maces at her enemy’s head. Ranma bent back like a reed, allowing it to whistle harmlessly through the air and take a large chunk out of the doorframe. All the more room to manoeuvre. Shampoo pressed the attack, swinging down the other mace to crush her.
Ranma scuttled backwards on her hands and feet like a crab. Ripping the mace from the splintered remains of the floor, Shampoo pointed it at her.
“Ranma… Shampoo kill!” she threatened in Japanese.
Ranma seemed distracted, however, as the short-haired girl with the scrapbook was yelling at her, pointing angrily at the holes in her house. Ranma turned somewhat away, yelling back. An opening! With a fierce yell she leaped forward, whipping both weapons together as she did. Ranma’s chest would be crushed like an overripe melon between the two mace heads.
Or that was the plan, except a staff was suddenly thrust out before her, and the heads of her weapons bounced off it harmlessly. “Great-grandmother!” Shampoo screamed in rage.
“Calm down, child.” the old woman said from her perch on top of Ranma’s head.
“I will NOT be calm!” she roared. “Great-grandmother, you are my revered elder, but this is going too far! You cannot interfere in my quest of honour! Remove yourself from the field of battle at once!”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” the old bag said, adroitly dodging Ranma’s attempts to remove her from her head. “You do not quite have all the information necessary to fulfill your actual obligations.”
Shampoo’s hands were shaking in rage. “Not this again! Look, you stupid old woman! That is a GIRL! Her breasts are bouncing around more than you are as she moves!”
The old woman ignored her! She turned, instead, asking the nice girl for something, and received a happy acknowledgement as the girl bustled off to the kitchen.
A noise caused her to whip her head back around towards Ranma, just in time to see her foe get knocked to the ground by the old woman in the middle of trying to escape. “I don’t need your help!” she growled. “Get out of my way and let me kill her! Or take her shirt off if you have to! Hell, strip her naked! But then she’s mine!”
“Fine,” the old woman said, grinning that obnoxiously smug grin. “I shall strip her naked, and afterwards, you may do as you like. But first… I want my tea.”
Shampoo roared in pure rage and punched through a nearby door like it was made of paper. Actually, it WAS mostly made of paper. Stupid Japanese, that wasn’t satisfying at all. She smashed her fist through a wall, which was made of sturdier building material. That felt better. But only slightly.
“Great-grandmother, you can’t do this! This is against every law and protocol to interfere with me for your own insane ends!”
“Actually, great-granddaughter, you gave me the right when you made the promise to me back at the village. If Ranma is a boy, you will marry him, correct?”
Shampoo gritted her teeth. At that point, great-grandmother whipped around and yelled something at Ranma while casually deflecting the girl’s latest attempt to knock her off her head. Ranma was shouting something that sounded insulting back, about her being old. Well, she was. Old and stupid and senile. First thing Ranma had ever been right about, probably.
The brown-haired girl arrived a moment later, smiling and bearing a pot of tea. Shampoo waited impatiently as the old bat picked up the teapot and… poured it over Ranma’s head? Whatever, at least this idiocy… would be… over… wait, something was wrong here…
A fraction of a second later, great-grandmother waved her staff and disintegrated Ranma’s clothes.
“Oh dear,” the nice girl said, and walked quickly out of the room.
“You… you’re not Ranma!” Shampoo said, staring as the obvious boy tried to cover himself up. “Where’s the real Ranma!?”
“Right here,” the elder said, tapping the not-Ranma-boy on the shoulder.
“Wrong,” Shampoo growled. “I told you, I SAW HER ALMOST NAKED. That was a girl, and this… is…”
Shampoo trailed off as great-grandmother poured a bucket of water over the man’s head, and he… ceased being a man. Shampoo didn’t quite know what to say to that. A moment later, the old woman poured the rest of the tea, and Ranma was a man again. He was also yelling at the elder, but they both ignored him.
“That’s…. that’s not possible.”
“It’s quite possible, Shampoo. There is, as you know, a place near our village called Jyusenkyou. What you did not know was, if you fall into one of the springs at that cursed place, you temporarily take on the form of whatever creature perished within it. If you are splashed with hot water, you will be returned to your natural form, but cold water repeats the process forevermore.”
Shampoo stared. But what the old woman had splashed Ranma with… “Then that means… Ranma was originally…”
“A man. Just as I told you. Perhaps you should start listening to your elders with more respect.”
Shampoo clenched her fists. This was impossible! “Why didn’t you tell me about this?” she demanded.
“I tried, but you didn’t want to listen.”
“You didn’t tell me anything about Jyusenkyou!”
“Yes I did.”
“Nothing that would have helped! You just fed me this ridiculous story about a girl being a man!”
The old woman tore Ranma’s hands away from his groin. “Ridiculous story, eh?”
Shampoo wanted to punch something really, really hard again. Thankfully, there were more walls around. With that done, she turned her back on the sobbing long-haired old geezer (the bald one had apparently disappeared) and pointed an accusing finger at the elder. “It was ridiculous how you told it! You tricked me!”
“You tricked yourself, Shampoo.” Great-grandmother knocked away another frantic attempt by the boy/girl to attack her and escape. “You should have known better than to assume I was either a fool or mistaken.” She grinned that insufferable grin again. “I haven’t lived this long by being either very often.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter!” Shampoo snapped. “Stand aside, so I can kill her, him, whatever!”
“Ah ah ah,” she responded, waving her staff like the proverbial finger in her face. “You made a promise, on ancient tradition and sacred honour.”
“I didn’t make any damn…” Shampoo trailed off. But she had. And it was as inescapable as the Kiss of Death. “No. NO! I won’t marry this half-man cowardly freak!”
Great-grandmother didn’t even respond. She knew she didn’t have to. She sat on Ranma’s head, and began smoking her pipe, still with that unforgivable smirk on her face. She was still fending off Ranma’s attempts to attack her with her other hand, too. Damn her! She’d led Shampoo right into this! Her own flesh and blood!
And now she had to marry him. HIM. The person she despised more than… well, right now he felt like only her second-worst enemy in the world, but that didn’t make it any more palatable!
And her first-worst enemy was looking at her again expectantly. Oh, right, just like the Kiss of Death, the law meant to seal the tradition she’d have to…
But there was no escape. She walked forward, stiff steps carrying her towards her… betrothed. Even thinking the word left a vile taste in her mouth. She tossed her weapons aside. The old woman ‘helpfully’ propped Ranma up to receive her.
“Ranma…” Shampoo forced through gritted teeth.
“NOOOOOOOO!” Ranma cried, waving his hands frantically. Shampoo agreed with the sentiment completely. He then babbled some other crap, but she cut him off by grabbing his head in a vice-like grip and dragging his lips to hers.
A moment later she shoved him away. He was staring at her, scratching the top of his head. Like a monkey.
“You… I… love.” Then she turned to the side and spat.
Nabiki sat down lazily on the park bench. Her luck seemed to be on the rise. First Ukyou had proven how ruthless he was, vindicating Nabiki’s feelings. It even seemed to have finally struck to Akane’s heart. At least, her sister had seemed shocked and disgusted by what had happened. Of course, Nabiki had no idea how she was taking it now. The youngest Tendo had spent the entire night at the hospital with Nerima’s newest cripple. ‘I need to do something about it’ had been Akane’s reason. Personally, Nabiki just thought she was trying to make time with Dr. Tofu.
Now that girl Shampoo had shown up. With any luck, Nabiki would be able to use her as a way to get rid of this nagging engagement with Ranma. Truthfully, their so-called engagement hadn’t really inconvenienced her that much. She and Ranma barely talked, and mostly actively avoided each other. Even the rumour mongers at school had let the torrid tales of their tryst diminish.
But it was the principle of the thing. Nabiki was used to playing her own tune, setting her own rhythm. Ranma’s engagement had forced her to adapt to his presence. Getting rid of him would be a more symbolic step than a necessary one, but Nabiki would enjoy it nonetheless.
“Father… it is obvious that Ranma and Shampoo love each other very much and I, being a true lady, can not stand between such affection so I must… BWAHAHAH!” Nabiki clutched her gut and shook her head. No, this would never work unless she kept a straight face. Her father was a gullible idiot, but even he would catch on to her scheme if she was laughing like a loon. That was why she had come out here to practice. She had to make sure her speech was perfect: disarming all his objections before he even had a chance to raise them. The problem was that Shampoo so obviously hated Ranma, it was hard to take their pairing seriously.
Nabiki smirked. At least she had advance notice of what all the commotion had been about. She had read the data on the Chinese newcomer. In time, Shampoo would fall madly in love with Ranma. Although why Ukyou had bothered to list Shampoo as his ‘main rival’ was still something that perplexed Nabiki.
She was deep in thought, trying to figure out what to say when she returned home when something caught her attention. It was a small, pathetic sound. Nabiki wouldn’t have even noticed it were it not for its persistence.
Glancing down, she spotted the little black pig sitting patiently at her feet. Nabiki resisted the urge to smile. Her luck was really on the upswing. She hadn’t expected to see him back for at least another week. Now that he had her attention, the tiny animal was gesturing to the side. Nabiki turned her head and blinked. There was a tea stand not far down the pathway. Two and two became four and Nabiki knew what Ryouga wanted. Of course, she had to play dumb. Technically, she didn’t ‘know’ about his curse yet.
“What do you want, you cute little piggy?” Nabiki leaned down, letting loose with her most sweet and innocent tone. Her position would also give Ryouga a nice peek down her blouse. The pig’s eyes crossed and then, quite deliberately, he shook himself and looked away. Nabiki smiled, genuinely. Good. Shame was what she needed. Shame and honour.
Nabiki allowed the man-turned-animal to play charades with her for a while longer. She knew her make-up from the other day was long since washed off, but it appeared Ryouga hadn’t picked up on that. Good. That might have ruined her plan. After about fifteen minutes of tormenting Ryouga with her false niceness and an occasional naughty glimpse she finally carried the pig to a more secluded area of the park with a cup of hot tea.
As the pig indicated she should place them both down, Nabiki did so. She then crouched down, making sure her back was to the soft grass. “Well, Mr. Pig… this is what you wanted?” The pig nodded. “I don’t see why. You must be a very smart pig.”
Ryouga bent his head, unable to meet her eyes. She watched, fascinated, as the pig began to drag the cup of tea towards a nearby bush. Of course. He didn’t have any clothes. Oh, that would make this even better.
A second after the pig disappeared into the leaves the entire bush shuddered. Ryouga popped out of it like some X-rated jack-in-the-box. Nabiki screamed on cue and fell back. His expression at her scream was just the right combination of shame and horror.
“NO! You… stay back! I’ll scream!”
“No! Please!” Ryouga cried. Literally. Fresh tears trailed down his cheeks. “Don’t scream! I won’t… I won’t hurt you again…”
“Haven’t you already done enough…” Nabiki said in a tiny voice. She began to scramble backward, but not very quickly.
“Please… don’t leave. I…” Ryouga crouched, disappearing up to his chin in the bush. “I have to say this to you. Then… you can leave. You can summon the police, or do whatever you want. I won’t resist.”
“Say what?” Nabiki was proud of the fearful but hopeful tremble she put into her voice.
“I’m sorry.” Ryouga ducked his head, planting both fists into the dirt in front of his concealment. “I know… that means nothing. After what I did to you. I know it can’t take back what I did. I just wanted to say that.”
Nabiki remained silent. Her poise had to look agonised but also sympathetic. Yet even so, she had to let a bit of anger show on her face. It was a delicate balancing act of emotional manipulation, and Nabiki always cursed the fact that you couldn’t figure out how well the performance had gone until the mark reacted.
“You hate me…” Ryouga moaned. He rubbed the balls of his hands into his eyes. More tears leaked down his cheeks.
“Of course I hate you,” Nabiki said in a small voice. Ryouga only looked at her slowly. His eyes were filled with anguish. “You… ruined me. You destroyed me. I can’t talk to anyone about it. Just remembering that… makes me sick and angry.” Nabiki’s voice had been slowly rising as she spoke. Now it was time to approach the crescendo. “Of course I hate you! I hate you because now I hate myself! I can’t stand to look at myself in the mirror. I know I’m never safe. I thought… I thought people like you were here to protect me. I hate myself because I trusted you!”
Nabiki turned away, sobbing on cue. She mainly turned away because even she couldn’t force out enough crocodile tears to look realistic. Instead, a few dabs of water ruined her light makeup, making it look like she had been crying much more than she had.
“Whatever punishment you want,” Ryouga croaked. “I’ll accept it. Exile. Jail…” He paused. “If you want me to die… I will.”
“Die?” Nabiki snapped her head around to face him. “Death is too good for you. You think I want you dead? I want you to suffer like I have!”
“I’m suffering…” he trailed off.
Nabiki snarled. “If I had my way, you’d suffer ten times more.”
“No…” Nabiki sighed and rubbed her eyes. “I can’t. Even asking you to die. I can’t.” She stood up. “I’m not taking you to the police. I haven’t told my father about this. It would kill him to know.” Well, it would kill someone if he ‘knew’ about this. “The police… everyone will know.” Nabiki shook her head. “I’m taking this secret to my grave. Nobody needs to know. Nobody can ever know. If you want to promise me anything, promise me that.”
“I will…” Ryouga nodded emphatically. “But… is that it? I…” He looked down again. “I can’t… just, this can’t be the end of it!”
“Isn’t this better for you?” Nabiki hissed. “You’ve cleared your conscience. You’ve offered contrition and penance. You never have to fear me revealing to anyone what you did.”
“I can’t… I won’t let it end like this!” Ryouga cried. “I have to do something. I can’t live with this…”
“Do what?” Nabiki snapped. “I don’t want your death on my conscience. And I’m never letting this go beyond us. Get lost. There’s nothing else for you here.”
Nabiki began to walk away. She took seven measured steps. Then she stopped. She tilted her head to the side. When she spoke, her voice was soft. “Do… you mean it?”
“Mean what?” Ryouga replied.
“Would you die for me?”
“Yes,” he said without hesitation.
“You would die for me… would you die to protect me?”
“This world… is a dangerous one. Monsters. Psychos… predators…” she allowed the last word to linger. “I’m just a normal girl. I can’t fight like my sister. I don’t have magic powers like a Sailor Senshi. I need… someone to stand up for me.”
“I… I can do that! I’m good at fighting!”
“Yes…” Nabiki hissed. “I know how good you are at hurting people.” That shut him up. “Never mind. I don’t know why I told you. I can never trust you to protect me…” Please let him say what needed to be said next. It would be so much more reasonable if he said it.
“Wait!” Ryouga gasped happily. “You can trust me. In fact, I can guarantee that you will never need to fear me. All you need… is cold water.”
“Cold water?” Nabiki said slowly. Inwardly she was doing mental cartwheels.
“I have a curse. When I’m splashed with cold water… I turn into that helpless and harmless pig you saw me as earlier.”
“Like Ranma and his father?”
Uh-oh. Better not distract him. “Show me.”
Ryouga snapped his attention back to her. “I’ll need some cold water.”
“Then stay right here. I’ll be back.”
Nabiki walked away slowly. Her back was to Ryouga, so she could safely smirk. Things were going exactly as she planned. Now… she had her own patsy. A strong patsy. She flipped out the notebook containing all the information recovered from Ukyou’s files once she was out of his sight. The page she needed was already dog-eared. “Bakusaitenketsu…” she read the title aloud. Yes. Ryouga would be a strong patsy, one that Nabiki was going to make even stronger.
“You should go home.”
Hayato didn’t open his eyes. The doctor wasn’t talking to him.
“I want to be here when he wakes up. He needs… someone to help him. Even if I don’t know what I could possibly do to help.”
Hayato felt nothing special as the girl’s words reached his ears. He didn’t even know her name. What did he care about her empty platitudes, anyway? They only left ashes in his mouth.
“You need to rest. Go home.”
“Go home.” The doctor’s voice was gentle. He was forgiving her. For what?
“Here, take this note to your teachers. They’ll forgive you for missing the class time.”
The sound of the girl’s footsteps rang across the linoleum, followed shortly thereafter by the opening and closing of the door. Hayato heard the doctor drag a chair over next to the bed and settle himself down.
“You can open your eyes now. She’s gone.”
“How did you know I was awake?” Hayato asked slowly. He wasn’t really curious.
“I have a knack for it,” the doctor explained with a chuckle. “But could you open your eyes?” The sudden seriousness in the doctor’s tone prompted Hayato to open his eyes and look. The doctor was much as he remembered him before he had lost consciousness; tall, young, with short brown hair and a pair of thin glasses. “Good. How long have you been awake?”
“A few hours,” Hayato answered. “I’m paralysed, aren’t I?”
The doctor took a second to respond. “Yes. One of your vertebrae was driven into your spinal cord, almost totally severing it. The damage has resulted in a complete loss of motor function in all four of your limbs.”
“I guessed as much when I couldn’t move…” Hayato replied neutrally.
“You… don’t seem that upset…” the doctor said in confusion.
“No. More I’m… so upset I don’t know how to feel.”
“Nevermind,” Hayato sighed. There was no way he could explain it to the man. Hayato was more than just upset. He was… enraged. He had come to this town, seeking to absolve a debt of honour. He had come here to find a worthy opponent, and what had she done to him? She had destroyed him. It would have been kinder to kill him.
What good was his years of training now? He had dedicated everything to his art. Perfecting his fighting skills, his cooking skills… both at the cost of everything else. He had no friends. He had no skills beyond cooking and fighting. He had dropped out of school, forsaken everything else in his quest to gain the power and technique that would take him above Ukyou.
Now… now what? He would never walk again. He would never even cook again. What difference was there between this and death? But Hayato was not the kind of person who allowed himself to get depressed. He had not let his humiliation and daily hell of living with The Mask bring him down. No, Hayato had channeled all his frustration and sadness into rage. That was how he had survived. Rage had driven him forward where lesser men might have faltered. Rage had allowed him to keep his word and remember that he was wearing The Mask as a lesson.
So when he had discovered his condition, Hayato had done the thing that came most naturally. He had channelled his depression into anger. But he had found, finally, that there was a limit to anger. A point where the rage had built up so much that his mind simply couldn’t handle it anymore. He felt that, maybe, his mind had snapped. Maybe he had gone mad. He didn’t feel mad. In fact his mind felt calmer, more in control than it had ever been. For all the use that was, considering he was totally helpless.
“Hayato… I’m sorry about what happened. I know it’s a difficult time for you. But you are actually in a better situation than most would be if they were you,” the doctor said after a minute of thinking.
“How so?” Hayato replied.
“Most quadriplegics require assistance of some sort. Thankfully, you have a very intelligent little friend to help you out.”
“Patoratsyu…” Hayato sighed. The girl had shown up earlier, carrying his faithful companion under her arm. Now the little octopus was sprawled on the foot of the bed, looking as forlorn as one would expect. The girl had explained that Patoratsyu had fought like a demon to keep from being separated from him. Hayato had even smiled a little bit at that. He had not lost everything, it had seemed at the time. But as the hours rolled by and the gravity of the situation came down on him… “He is very smart, I’ll admit. But even he knows that I’ve lost everything.”
“You’re alive,” the doctor intoned formally.
The doctor seemed to have no good answer for that. He said some more things after a minute of silence. Hayato tuned him out. He was probably explaining the specific medical problems that Hayato would have to live with. He hadn’t even begun to think about them, and didn’t want to. Eventually the doctor left.
Hayato was alone for only a few minutes. When the nurse sauntered into view, he blinked. The beautiful woman was almost impossible to ignore. Her hair was strikingly long and a dark blue shade, her eyes entrancing and sea-green. Her white nurse’s uniform was next to skin-tight, and she wore it with a sensual awareness of how it presented her. Hayato found his breath catching at the mere sight of her. The golden amulet she wore on a chain around her neck further caught his eye. It was a crescent, open at the top, with a stylised lightning bolt on the bottom. Despite her stunning beauty, Hayato couldn’t help but notice he wasn’t reacting much like a man should. Great. One more thing to blame Ukyou for.
As the nurse approached, Hayato’s attention was distracted by a sudden harsh sound. He looked down to see Patoratsyu had raised himself up on his tentacles and was hissing at the woman.
“You humans are such fragile creatures,” the nurse purred as she sat down beside the bed. The woman made a production of crossing her legs, allowing her skirt to ride up her thighs. Hayato blinked. Wait, had he heard her correctly?
“And so pathetic as well. I can’t believe they didn’t just kill you the moment they discovered your injuries were permanent.”
“Excuse me?” Hayato frowned.
“I mean, what good are you to anyone now? You can’t fight. You can’t even move.” The nurse ran a finger along her cheek. “Rather a pathetic state. I could kill you, if you like? My people aren’t very big on mercy… but I could use a snack, and you are still full of life energy.”
“What are you talking about?” Hayato snapped. This woman was surreal.
“Oh?” The nurse smiled seductively and leaned forward. “I suppose I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Tethys. I am… well… we call ourselves ‘youma‘, but you humans have so many names for demons, what is one more?”
“You must be kidding me! Did you walk out of the mental ward or something?”
Hayato had no trouble tracking the blow, but could do little to dodge as the woman slapped him, hard. “Don’t risk my ire, human. Or else I’ll leave you like this.”
Hayato snarled. That slap had barely hurt at all. He twisted his head back to look at her. “That’s your big threat? That you’ll leave me be? Fine. Go ahead.”
Tethys chuckled. “You won’t be saying so once I tell you what I came here to do for you.”
“I’m not interested in your insanity now…”
The nurse stretched out a hand and gently grabbed his forearm. He couldn’t feel a thing as she began to rub her fingers along his flesh. He opened his mouth to protest… then stopped. He could see beads of water trailing in the wake of her fingers. But more importantly, he could feel them now. Slowly, he felt the numbness receding from his arm. His fingers jerked once, twice… then he could wriggle them freely.
“This has nothing to do with your god,” Tethys snickered. She released his hand. Instantly, he felt the numbness return. His fingers went limp and his arm flopped back to the mattress like a dead fish.
“What did you do?!” Hayato shouted.
“It’s a little complex… but I’ll try to explain.” Tethys chuckled and leaned back in her chair. “We youma are not flesh and blood like you humans. We are energy beings. Our matrix, if you will, inhabits physical matter. This gives us form and substance. The matter we inhabit need not be inanimate, either. In fact, we can… share our energy with a human. That is what I did. I granted animation to your flesh when it had none, just like I can do so with water.”
“I don’t care how you did it,” Hayato growled. “Do it again!”
“Why?” Tethys grinned seductively. “You seemed to want me gone a few minutes ago.”
“I… take it back…” Hayato replied. He swallowed the bile in his throat. This woman… could heal him. He could walk again. He could cook again…
“Good.” Tethys sat up straight. “I came here, to you, because we share a common enemy. The boy, Ukyou. He took away the things most precious to both of us. I want to destroy him. I want you to help me.”
“Heal me and I’ll defeat Ukyou-“
“No. I want more than to defeat Ukyou. I want him dead.” The woman stretched herself to her feet. A dark, malevolent red light began to pour from her eyes. Hayato could feel all his instincts screaming at him now. They warned him of danger. They wanted him to flee. Patoratsyu suddenly leapt in front of him. The little octopus began to flail its tentacles in a threatening manner.
“Get out of my way…” Tethys hissed and swatted Patoratsyu aside. Hayato gasped.
“How dare you-!”
“Shut up,” Tethys shot out, cutting him off. “Understand this, human. I did not come here to form a partnership. I have the power here. I can give you your legs back, or I can kill you with equal ease. Your existence to me is merely a convenience.”
Hayato swallowed his anger. He nodded. He needed to at least hear her out. The prospect of being cured, of not having to spend the rest of his life in beds like this one – it was too good an opportunity to pass up. And if her price was too high… well, what did he care if she killed him?
Tethys raised her arms and a dark aura formed around her. As the energy flowed up her body, her image rippled like water. Then she was transformed. Her hair grew darker, her skin turned a light blue and her outfit became a skin-tight body stocking. The most dramatic change was to her face – she no longer had one. Only a pair of demonic red slits adorned the smooth curve of her ‘face’, where normal people had eyes, a mouth and a nose. Her golden amulet had somehow migrated to her forehead and trebled in size.
“Because of what I need from you, I can’t just take it. So I propose a deal. I will grant you my power. I will animate your limbs and give you abilities you have not even dreamed of. In exchange, I will gain from you knowledge… of your fighting art. I will learn everything you know.” Tethys lowered her arms. “Don’t fool yourself, boy. I am not an angel. My intention is to destroy Ukyou Kuonji. I will destroy him, his friends, his family… and anyone who stands in my way. You will help me do so. You will do so willingly.” Tethys chuckled. “I have heard tales on this world that you think demons want your souls. I have no interest in that. I want your body, your skill… your life and your obedience. You will serve me and I will give you the ability to do so. That is the deal. No negotiation.” She leaned over him and ran a long-nailed finger across his cheek. “Choose.”
Akane caught her breath as the elevator rose up to the tenth floor. She should have been half-way home by now, but she had forgotten her bag in Hayato’s room. Not that she really minded running all the way back here. She still hadn’t much liked the thought of leaving in the first place. Maybe the boy would finally be willing to talk to her. He hadn’t said more than a few perfunctory thank yous after she had returned with his pet octopus.
The hallway Akane took to Hayato’s room was nearly deserted. Akane did not like being alone in hospitals. They always gave her the chills. So long as she could be around people… she was fine. But the thought of standing by herself in one of those sterile-smelling, stale lighted corridors caused goosebumps. It was really too bad that Akane had been forced to spend so much time in hospitals ever since she had met Ukyou.
Ah. There it was. The thought she had been avoiding. Akane stopped. She might as well admit it to herself: she had decided to stay with Hayato because she knew that was the one place Ukyou would not show up. Oh… there was something to say about being there for the boy. But Akane knew there was nothing she could do for Hayato. He didn’t know her, and he clearly didn’t want her comfort. But Ukyou…
Akane wasn’t sure she knew who Ukyou was anymore. And the person she was beginning to see Ukyou as frightened her.
She dispelled those thoughts as she opened the door to Hayato’s room. Her cheerful greeting died on her lips. The bed looked to have been torn apart. Pieces of it were scattered to the four corners of the chamber. Puddles of water lay among the debris. The rest of the furniture was intact but toppled about. Akane gulped and stepped inside.
“Mr. Myoujin?” Akane whispered. “Are you okay?” A short search of the room revealed no sign of Hayato. What on earth could have happened here? Akane started as a piece of furniture fell over behind her suddenly. Swinging about into a martial arts stance, she shouted “Who’s there?”
‘Who’ turned out to be ‘what’. The tiny octopus pet of Hayato lay beneath a pile of furniture, quivering so much it was sending tiny ripples through the puddle of water it was in. Akane sighed and walked over to it. “Hey, I’m sorry, little guy. Are you okay?” She crouched down and reached out her hand towards it. The octopus cringed back, and Akane froze in place. “Patoratsyu? Isn’t that your name? I don’t want to hurt you…” Akane said in her most soothing voice. Slowly the animal opened its big black eyes and looked at her. Then, moving almost too fast for her to follow, it pushed forward into the nook of her arm. She cradled the poor creature and stood up. “Where is your master? Hmm?”
Patoratsyu merely blinked a few times. Akane saw its eyes shimmer. It was crying? Well… that couldn’t be good. It was time she got some help.
“Dr. Tofu!” Akane cried as she ran out of the room, still cradling the octopus to her chest.
Ukyou frowned and readjusted her new staff in its harness again. One of these days, she was going to learn how to store these things in the aether, or a subspace pocket or hammerspace or wherever it was that all these huge weapons disappeared to when martial artists weren’t using them.
(Maybe if we use that strange energy…)
Ukyou pushed that thought out of her mind with a snarl. There was no way she was even touching that damnable power again! It was Aaron’s tainted chi that had pushed her into going too far in the fight against Hayato. She had been… corrupted by him. No. Let him rot without his precious power.
Ukyou felt Aaron’s mental cringes as she directed her rage inwards. She knew how much it hurt him, this constant barrage of hatred and accusations. But she couldn’t stop it. Aaron had no one but himself to blame.
Ukyou sat down and began to breathe deeply. This would get her nowhere. There were more important things to do than lose herself in recriminations. Like finishing what she had started a few weeks ago. Ukyou looked up, watching as the trains passed by. The rhythmic clatter of their wheels and the gentle whoosh of their engines seemed to fill her with a tenuous peace. Here was the place to where she had tracked the boy down. The last of the holders of the seven Rainbow Crystals. All she had to do was find him and drag him over to Sailor Moon so she could use that stick to remove the crystal from his heart. Then, with the Silver Crystal in her hands, victory for the Senshi would be assured.
That was the least Ukyou owed the Dark Kingdom for putting her through so much trouble.
She turned around quickly, having sensed a brief tingle of danger on the edge of her awareness. Had Pluto decided to show her face again? Apparently not now, as there was no sign of the green-haired annoyance. Ukyou just wished Pluto would stop dicking around with her and confront her. They both knew it was coming. Whatever reason Pluto had for attacking her, Ukyou had long since ceased to care.
For a moment her eyes settled on a young woman standing near the entrance to the train station. She was nothing special to look at, but Ukyou couldn’t help but feel she should know her from somewhere. Some anime that Aaron wasn’t very familiar with? She was young, maybe seventeen at the most, with a short feathered bob cut and a serious expression. She wasn’t even looking at Ukyou; instead focusing all her attention on the schedule. It occurred to Aaron that this was what was making her stand out. Unlike everyone else, who was glancing conspicuously at the teenager in her leather trenchcoat with accompanying bo staff, this girl wasn’t even giving her a first look.
Ukyou dismissed her after a moment and whirled to find the boy. More important matters now, she had to remember. It had taken forever to track down this ‘Ryo Urawa’, especially considering he should have been one of the easiest to find. Now, Aaron’s memories of the story were sketchy and he had only seen the DIC hackjob dub, but he knew that Ryo had been one of the smartest kids in the nation, competing in some sort of genius contest when he had first met Ami. Japan was not exactly the kind of place that kept genius kids a secret.
Still, every time that Ukyou had thought she had tracked him down, the boy had moved out of his home to some other part of Tokyo. But today was not going to be such a day. Ukyou had managed to get one step ahead of him by tracking down his father. A short conversation with the man and a bit of the Kuonji charm had allowed her to learn where the boy would be this afternoon. Now, Ukyou just had to wait for him to show up.
The only problem was that waiting left her with nothing to do but think. Think and remember. Remember the sweet sound of Hayato’s spine snapping. Remember Tofu’s harsh words. Remember Ranma’s blank face and Akane’s horrified stare.
Thankfully, before her memories could grow any more painful, the boy’s train arrived. Ukyou drifted away from the wall, the bottom of her coat swishing around her slacks as she walked forward. She could spot Ryo Urawa stepping out of his car now. Now that she saw him again, Aaron’s memory crystallised and she knew this was the right boy. He had ear-length brown hair and a sallow complexion. He was short, probably not having hit his second growth spurt yet. Ukyou smirked to herself at how young he looked. She kept forgetting she was only two years his elder. She felt so much older now.
As Ukyou stepped out of the crowd, Urawa looked up and spotted her. Their eyes met. Ukyou knew something was wrong when she saw the fear in them. Her forward momentum ground to a halt. The boy stepped back, trembling. His bookbag fell from nerveless fingers. Ukyou raised her hand towards him, slowly. The boy took another step back. Suddenly he was pinwheeling his arms. His left foot had slipped from the platform and his body balanced precariously on the edge of the tracks.
Ukyou summoned her chi, bursting across the distance so fast that quite a few people fell over in her wake. Her fingers snapped tight around his wrist, but he didn’t latch onto her. Instead his mouth opened and he began to scream.
“NO! NO! You’re a dream! A nightmare! You can’t be real!”
“What?” Ukyou dragged him back onto the platform. A few armchair good samaritans began to approach, asking if everything was okay. Ukyou waved them off. “What are you talking about? Why are you so afraid-” Then Aaron remembered. Urawa could see the future…
“Let me go!” Normally the bookish boy’s attempts to escape Ukyou’s grip would have been laughable. Yet when he yanked, his arm slipped free like it had been greased. “I won’t let it happen!” Then Urawa was sprinting away.
Ukyou took a few seconds to gather her faculties. Then she frowned. She could see the crowd parting around the racing boy. A single bound carried her up and over them, so she could land directly in front of him.
“You aren’t leaving here yet. Not until you answer my questions…” Ukyou realiaed she was growling when she talked. She tried to force her face to look pleasant and remove the anger from her tone, but she was finding very few pleasant things to think about at the moment.
“I won’t help you do it…” Urawa gulped and backed away. “I won’t let you bring about that future!”
“I have no idea what you are talking about!” Ukyou shouted. “What future?”
“The one where everything goes wrong… the battles, the war, where everyone dies… where time itself ends…” he trailed off. He was gulping for air and his eyes shimmered on the verge of tears. Ukyou glanced to the side self-consciously. She suddenly realised that perhaps this wasn’t the best place to have such a private conversation.
“You’re coming with me,” Ukyou said and grabbed Urawa’s wrist again.
“You misunderstand,” the vicious little part of Ukyou made her say. “It was not a request.”
Ukyou hauled Urawa forward, clamped her arms around him tightly, and leapt. A few bounces later and she set down in a small park. The park wasn’t deserted at this time of day, but there wasn’t anyone nearby and Ukyou felt the boy would be more comfortable here than on top of a building where he thought he would have nowhere to run. As she released him, Urawa collapsed to his knees.
“It’s all going to come true…” he gasped. His eyes had become distant, and tears ran down his cheeks.
“Oh no.” Ukyou crouched in front of him and placed her hands on his shoulders. “You aren’t freaking out on me that easily. Explain yourself.”
“You already know…”
“About your precognitive powers? Yes.” Ukyou backed away. “But I swear, I don’t know what it is you’ve seen.” She reached out slowly and cupped his chin in her hand. Delicately, she lifted his face to meet her gaze. “Look into my eyes and know I’m telling you the truth. I have no idea what kind of horror you’ve seen. And the only thing that will guarantee it comes about is keeping it to yourself.”
“You…” Urawa stared into her eyes for a minute. Then he blinked and rubbed his tears away with the back of one hand. “You really… don’t know what’s going to happen?”
“I know some of it,” Ukyou admitted as she released his chin. “I know about the crystal in your heart and the monster in your soul. I know about how you feel about Ami and how much you don’t want to hurt her. I came here to help you with that… you have to believe that.”
“I think I do.” He chuckled weakly. “You’re not nearly the monster I thought you would be.”
“Thanks… I think.” Ukyou forced herself to chuckle as well. She had to keep him talking.
“You’re right. I have had the ability to see the future, ever since I was a child. For the most part it’s been little things – vague glances, nothing really useful. But over the last few months my power has been growing, and they keep getting stronger and stronger.” Ukyou nodded. Aaron knew this part.
“Then, three months ago the real visions began. I thought I knew what nightmares were before, but I had no idea.
“It starts with a woman’s voice. Every night, the moment I close my eyes. She is telling me that she is sending these visions as a warning. Standing before me is a young woman. You… but older. I can’t tell how much older. You’re different in some ways… the same in some others. You wear that coat, for example… but you have on tight leggings and a kind of shirt that doesn’t hide your body nearly as well. You have the scars on your arm… but your right arm has some kind of tattoo on it. Like… ribbons? No. More like circuits. Three glowing circles, full of figures and symbols rotate around your body. The voice of the woman tells me your name… tells me that you have surrendered to some great darkness inside of you. You are preparing to fight an enemy… then I see your face. There is a bright symbol on your forehead. So bright I can’t make it out. And your eyes… they’re so wrong…
“The woman gives one final plea. She claims to be the last survivor. I believe her. I don’t much understand what she’s saying, but her voice is too urgent… too sincere to be faked. Then the clouds part and out of the sky comes a figure whose features I can’t make out. It just… it just feels wrong, in a way that words can’t describe. You reach up and I think you’re grabbing or creating some kind of weapon… a staff or something… then you smile. And then it ends.”
Ukyou stared at him. “The dream? The dream ends?”
“No… everything ends. I see what happens next and I see the result of the first blow. The entire world… no… the entire universe! You destroy it! You unmake it! I feel it,” Urawa cried and beat his chest. “In here. I feel the ultimate nothing. A complete emptiness. Mercifully, at that point I always wake up.”
Ukyou staggered back as if struck. That… wasn’t possible! He must be mistaken. Something had gotten to him. Something that wanted to turn him against her…
“Every night, I have that nightmare. But that is only the worst. I keep getting visions, clearer and clearer, during the day. A dead prince giving life to three young women… The return of a pure light, deep inside a lonely mountain… A blonde girl crying in the flaming ruins of a great city… You standing over a bloody mask… Two serpents with eight heads devouring each other… A girl born to death, who will be abandoned to endless life… A laughing man with blue eyes and the girl who kills for him… A woman with two faces standing over a dead queen… One child is lost, another is found, and the world trembles…” Urawa trailed off. Ukyou had fallen backwards, her jaw gaping. “I can’t make sense of any of them. There are places I haven’t been… people I haven’t seen. I can’t tell what order they come in. That’s why I’ve been avoiding you.”
“I saw you coming to me.” Urawa sighed and stood up. “I wanted to avoid it, my fate. I knew that THIS moment, it was important, like one of the dominos that has to fall. But you can’t sidestep fate… Every time I saw you coming for me, I would try to run, but it appears the future can’t be so easily turned aside.” He paused and looked up at the sky. “I only wonder what changed this time. Every other time I saw you coming. Why I didn’t see it this time…”
Ukyou stood up slowly as well. Only one thing had been different this time: Aaron had been the one who had found Urawa. Ukyou had guided the investigation all the other times. But she had been too busy trying to figure out what to do about her… accident to concentrate on it. So Aaron had guided her hands when locating the boy. He had walked them here.
It was his fault.
It was all his fault! He would cause all
the pain Urawa had described. After all, what was he but some stupid pretentious self-insert asshole? He even had the powers! That strange energy of his! What other dark force could the warning from the future refer to but Aaron himself? He was
a dangerous man. He admitted it himself. He didn’t care about human beings. He didn’t feel the same way that normal people felt. For him, killing was no more important than stepping on a blade of grass. He had never done so in his world…
(I haven’t. I won’t.)
But who cared? She knew he talked big. Liked to frighten people with how crazy he was. What little it would take to push Aaron over the edge… Ask anyone who knew him. ‘He was such a quiet boy. Never did anything wrong…’
(NO! THIS IS NOT MY FAULT!)
Ukyou screamed and clutched her head. Urawa started and backed away.
What right… what gall did Ukyou have to blame Aaron for this? She was right about one thing: you could only push him so far before he snapped. Even Aaron’s self-control could not last forever. And this was too far. He would not sit mutely in the back of her mind, absorbing her hate and bile until he became the monster she wanted him to be!
Who was behind the mess they were in now? Ukyou was. It was Ukyou that had been the acting force. It was Ukyou that had decided to lie to her friends. It was Ukyou that had hid the truth from them. It was Ukyou that had pushed away Chris. It was her that had turned the closest thing Aaron had to a one true friend into a bitter enemy. Ukyou resisted Aaron’s will, but Aaron kept attacking her with the one thing she could not deny. The truth. Aaron knew it. Ukyou knew it. Until now, he had been content to let them deceive themselves.
But no more.
Ukyou had chosen to fight Jadeite. Ukyou had chosen to fight Hayato. Ukyou had chosen to attack them both when they were down. Aaron was to blame as well. He had liked breaking their bones as much as her. But he had not decided to do so. That had been all Ukyou. Ukyou had yelled at Akane, driven her away. Ukyou had gone ahead with that ‘cute’ plan involving Nodoka… Aaron had thought of it, but never would have done something so inane. Ukyou had decided to go with that plan, almost as if she wanted to do so to spite him. Ukyou had done all these things… and why? Because she hated Aaron. Not for stealing her life. Not for drawing enemies to her.
It went deeper than that. Ukyou hated Aaron because he was REAL.
Silence filled the small park. Ukyou had been screaming. Roaring for Aaron to shut up. Urawa had tumbled down and was staring at them in horror. But neither of them could care about that. The final fatal thought had entered their minds, and there was no denying it now.
Aaron was real. He had been born and raised and lived in a world that was nothing like her own. In his world, Ukyou was a figment
(not gonna think about this)
of the imagination; nothing more than ink on paper, or dots chasing each other across glass. Aaron had seen all her adventures. Discovered
(not gonna think about this)
a great deal about her. But Ukyou had never read “Aaron Peori“, the manga. There was no way she could have created him out of whole cloth. She knew too much about him. She knew English through him. She knew his life, intimately.
But could the same be said in reverse? Was it possible that this was all a fever dream? Maybe Aaron was on a bed in a hospital,
(Please please please please)
comatose and wasting. Without input from the outside world, his mind had snapped. Maybe it was Ukyou who was the intruder in his mind… rather than the other way around?
“STOP IT!” Ukyou shouted and fell forward. She curled into the fetal position. She was real. She was real. She wasn’t a dream. She wasn’t less than him. She had a family… who were all dead. She had memories… wacky adventures… but how many had not happened in Aaron’s manga? And how much sense did it all make? Her one true love was a boy she barely knew who spent half his time as a girl. She had mastered a style of fighting based on bad puns and okonomiyaki cooking. Her enemies were strange. Her friends even stranger.
HER ‘OLD FRIEND’ OCCHAN HAD A FUCKING SPATULA FOR A HEAD! Where did he put his goddamn brain!?
Aaron felt her pain, her uncertainty. How could he not? He realised that he was just doing what she had done to him for so long. Ever since they had met Chris… but knowing and wanting were two different things.
And speaking of Chris. Oh yes. Don’t think that Aaron had forgotten about that. The real reason Ukyou hated HIM. Ukyou hated Chris because he was like Aaron. He was from outside. But he was safe to hate. Hating Chris didn’t echo in her mind. Her special hate for his potential realness had blossomed into true rancor. It had festered in her mind… and in Aaron’s. Aaron forced himself to admit it. He had let that hatred gather so deep in their shared psyche that he could no longer see Chris as a friend.
That was his fault. He was willing to accept his share of the blame. He had always been a great hypocrite. He encouraged people to vote, to step up, to intervene and to care. Yet he did so little of that himself. For Aaron, responsibility was a burden to be avoided at all costs. He saw ambition as a waste of time and energy. Thus… it had been so easy. When he had arrived in her mind, Ukyou had been so full of conviction and ambition. It was so easy to do what he always did and let somebody else take the reins. And look where it had gotten him. Look where it had gotten them.
Ukyou might not like it, but Aaron was through taking a backseat to her desires. He wasn’t going to live as her sinkhole for all her hate and self-doubt. Aaron opened Ukyou’s eyes.
Sailor Pluto was standing over them. The tip of her key staff was an inch above Ukyou’s nose. The woman looked sad.
“Now you know why this has to happen. You deserved at least that much.”
Pluto walked over to the thrashing form of Ukyou. She spared a glance at the boy she was with. Pluto knew about him, of course, and his ability. She always knew that his ability would cease functioning long before he became a possible threat to the fabric of time. He wasn’t a priority. Still… best to play it safe.
“Ryo Urawa,” Pluto intoned as she held up her staff. “You must leave this place. Go… to Juuban Middle School. There you will meet the woman of your destiny. She will heal you and bring you peace. Go.”
Urawa didn’t really need more than that. The boy shot off like the hounds of hell were at his ankles. Pluto smiled. At least, with him getting to Sailor Moon before the Dark Kingdom discovered him, there would be no chance of unleashing the monster lurking within him. Pluto drove concerns for him from her mind. There was one final thing to do… and this time there would be no chance of failure.
“Dark Dome Enclose!”
Pluto staggered as the power radiated from her key staff. This was the one truly forbidden power of her office. By driving her staff into the streams of time, she could interrupt its flow. Even now the leaves halted their rustling, and the wind ceased its howl. The trickle of a nearby fountain went silent as the droplets froze in mid-air.
The strain of maintaining this power was terrible. If she had been forced to hold more than this small area out of the flow of time, it might have killed her. As it was… she knew she was going to die from this. Because she still had to deliver the final blow. Normally, the Dead Scream would strain her no more than walking. To cast it now, however, was suicide. But it would be suicide with a purpose.
At least, if she died, she knew that she could not be the last survivor to witness that horror at the end of time.
Standing over Ukyou’s head, she levelled the staff at the teenager’s face. She was so still now, compared to her thrashing and screaming from earlier. Sympathy threatened to unmake Pluto, but she reaffirmed her resolve by thinking of Urawa. He, too, had seen the future. There was no doubt now. There couldn’t be.
“Now you know why this has to happen. You deserved at least that much,” Pluto sighed. “Dead-“
Pluto’s voice cut off as Ukyou’s hand clasped around the edge of her staff. How?
Suddenly the earth escaped from Pluto’s feet. The sky tumbled back in her vision. Pain blossomed up her shins. Ukyou had kicked her. Pluto could see a bird floating overhead, its wings caught between beats in that eternal instant.
Her head collided hard with the ground. She felt the time key staff fly from her hands. Her connection to the gates weakened and time rushed back forward. Pluto gasped as the force of all that time collided with her body. It was like a thousand trucks striking her at once. Unconsciousness threatened to consume her…
Then Ukyou was picking her up by the collar and shaking her awake. Pluto gasped. She was alive. Her body has survived the strain of stopping time… but just barely.
“You bitch,” Ukyou hissed into Pluto’s face. “Setsuna… why couldn’t you just TELL me!? If you had told me sooner… so much could have been avoided…” Ukyou released her and Pluto collapsed to the ground. “You secretive little psychopath! You knew about those visions. That’s why… that’s why you want to kill me. For something I MIGHT do!? What gives you the right?” Ukyou clenched her fists and her posture became calm… colder somehow. “Why don’t you go back in time and kill Hitler? Or some other monster?” She leaned down over her. “You want me to guide you to Osama Bin Laden? Kill him and you’ll prevent the death of three thousand people… and a series of pointless and evil wars.”
“This is different…” Pluto gasped, barely finding her voice. Who was this Bin Laden person, anyway? “Those are wars. Man always has wars. People always die. But time… time is eternal. It goes on. That is what defines it.” Pluto propped herself up on one hand. Anger was beginning to restore her strength. “I am the Senshi of the Ninth Planet, Sailor Pluto. I am Guardian of Time, holder of the key to the Gates of Time. My task is not to guard a princess. My task is not to protect our world from invasion. My task is not to slay the enemies of peace and justice. My task is to protect the one thing that can never be allowed to end! I must forever ensure the continuum of time itself! Without it… there is no universe! That is why you must die. Because you will destroy it. You will bring an end to time!”
“No,” Ukyou said with cold finality. “I don’t believe in destiny or fate. My future… everyone’s future… Time is what we make of it! I refuse to bow my head down and die because you think I will become a monster! I refuse to become a monster because a voice from the future tells me it is so. I refuse to believe that fate can not be changed.” She backed away, smirking. “I’ve already changed it, after all. I’ve changed the destiny of those around me. I will do so again.”
Ukyou stepped away and pulled her staff from the harness on her back.
“This world… there is something terribly wrong with it. I know that it can’t be a coincidence that I am here and this is happening to me. I’m no hero. I don’t intend to save the world. But I sure as hell won’t destroy it either. First, I’ll have to learn about this world. I’ve let it pass me by. I was too focused on my own goals…”
Ukyou swept her staff out. Pluto’s eyes widened. There was nothing but a blur of motion… and then the staff came to a quivering halt a centimeter from Pluto’s throat.
“We don’t need to be enemies. But if you choose to be my enemy… I will no longer fight to escape or to turn you aside. If you come after me again, Pluto, I’ll defeat you. Don’t make me do it.”
Ukyou spun, her coat swirling as she restored her staff in a single smooth motion. Pluto watched as the young girl strode purposefully out of the park. She had never TRULY understood it until now. That Ukyou could somehow destroy everything. But Pluto had now seen the proof. She had stopped time itself… and Ukyou had still moved. That was impossible. Not just hard. Not just improbable. Literally impossible.
Ukyou Kuonji had within her a power that could threaten all existence. And now… Pluto would risk facing that power directly if she wanted to confront Ukyou again.
“So be it,” she intoned calmly.
Rei stumbled as she landed, holding her stomach. Her lunch lurched dangerously inside of her and she strode dizzily into the deserted park where her friends were waiting. She couldn’t have stood another minute of that. That was why they had all fled. The police, the witnesses… the body…. the missing girls… it all added up, didn’t it?
“Why didn’t things turn around… we did so well the last time…”
That was Usagi, again. She was taking this the worst of anyone. Luna was trying to console her, telling her there was nothing they could have done. They had just arrived one step too late. Again.
“DAMNIT!” Makoto screamed and smashed her fist into a tree. Her magically enhanced strength knocked a dent into the wood. Rei felt like joining her, but instead sat down. Luna was right: this wasn’t Usagi’s fault. It was Rei’s.
Shibakawa had gone to the school near hers. She had known about him. She should have seen the signs. Maybe when he suddenly started doing portraits instead of landscapes? Maybe Rei would have known something was up, if she had been paying attention. But nobody had been paying attention to Kijin Shibakawa lately. His first place in a national photography contest had been buried deep in the local papers and wasn’t even being reported elsewhere. The news was too full of disasters lately for something as… normal as that to catch anyone’s attention.
“I thought we did so well last time…” Usagi murmured again. She was crouched on the ground, her arms wrapped around her knees. The tails of her hair were lying in the dirt. Rei frowned. She didn’t state the obvious fact: that the victim of that attack had been Usagi’s own home economics teacher had been all that had allowed Usagi to act in time. This time… they had been too distracted to even notice what was going on. Just like the time before.
“We can’t let this stop us,” Rei declared suddenly. She stood up straight, catching the attention of all her fellow Sailor Senshi. Even Ami, who hadn’t looked up from her computer since they’d stumbled out of the indoor pool. Rei knew she struck an impressive figure in her red and white Sailor uniform, so she played it up a bit. After all, somebody had to take charge, and Usagi didn’t seem up to it. “The Dark Kingdom has been one step ahead of us a few times. But we can defeat them… we just have to change strategies. We can’t joke around about this anymore. We’re going to have to get serious about protecting these people if we ever want to be able to do it!”
“Rei has a point,” Luna confirmed with a nod. “It is about time you girls started getting serious about being Sailor Senshi.”
Usagi just looked at Luna, then went back to burying her face between her knees. Rei could hear her crying. Her heart felt for Usagi, it did. She didn’t want to be cruel. She had to be. It was for Usagi’s own good.
“Snap out of it, you airhead!” Rei shouted. “You’re useless to everyone if you just sit there crying!” Usagi’s head snapped up and her eyes shook with fear. Then her face vanished as the green-skirted Makoto interposed herself between her and Rei.
“Rei! That was uncalled for!” Makoto was the kind of person who wore her emotions on her sleeve, and her anger was obvious. Her face, her posture, her voice… Rei knew she was treading on thin ice. But she couldn’t afford to let up now.
“It is exactly what’s called for. We’ve all been distracted lately. I’m as much to blame for what happened here as all of you, if not more. I admit that,” Rei said, the words leaving a bitter taste in her mouth. “We can’t just keep hoping to randomly run into the Dark Kingdom’s agents anymore. Three times they’ve escaped clean…”
Rei trailed off. Her voice had been on the verge of cracking. Why her? She was fourteen years old. Did she really have it in her to save the world?
“And who made you the boss!?” Makoto shouted back. “Last I checked, Usagi was the princess reborn. She’s our leader.”
Rei narrowed her eyes. Yes. She had it in her. She had it in her because Usagi was crumbling. One more lost life and the kind-hearted girl might not be able to take it. Rei wouldn’t let that happen.
Before Rei could shout something back, Ami cut in. “Perhaps Rei has a point,” the normally unobtrusive girl said simply. Rei turned to her with a smile. You could always count on Ami to be the voice of reason. “According to my data… all the people that have been targeted by the Dark Kingdom have been people with high levels of talent in a single field. People that have either had their work go unappreciated, or who are on the verge of reaching their full potential. I speculate that our enemies must be seeking to harvest this potential, this unrealised talent, as a source of energy.”
“How can you say that so coldly? Aren’t these people, not crops?” Makoto muttered. Ami recoiled as if slapped. The smaller girl blinked rapidly, her eyes shimmering.
“Mako!” That shocked Usagi out of her self-pity. She was standing up now, her face thrust into Makoto’s. The much more physically imposing Senshi backed away from something she saw in Usagi’s face. “In case you’re forgetting, one of those people was Ami’s friend!“
Rei looked down. She had been too busy with a date that day to be there to help the old man. The kicker of it was that she had been about to walk right into the park with Mamoru that day, but then the two of them had run into Makoto ,and Rei had gotten jealous when the other girl started flirting with her man and… Rei sighed. No time to regret the past now.
“Of… of course… I’m sorry. Ami… you have to believe I didn’t mean to imply…”
“It’s okay, Makoto,” Ami said with a forced smile. “I know you’re just upset. I know you want so much to aid us in fighting. It must be frustrating to not be able to even show up for the battles.” Makoto nodded. “As I was saying, I think I can figure out a pattern from this. Maybe predict who the next target is going to be…”
“How?” Rei sighed and leaned back against a tree. “What you’ve just described probably covers hundreds… if not thousands of people right here in Tokyo. Unless there was some other connection?”
“None,” Ami sighed, then immediately added, “That I’m aware of. Maybe with more data…” Ami trailed off. Everyone let the implications of that statement pass unremarked upon.
“Maybe what we should do is have Ami get a list of these people, and then we can…” Makoto raised her fists. “Do something. Limit the Dark Kingdom’s options.”
“Huh?” Rei blinked.
“You know… break their legs or something. Make sure they never reach their potential. What? Why are you all staring at me like that? It’s better than them dying, isn’t it?”
“Mako! The Sailor Senshi stand for love and justice! Not random acts of senseless violence!” Usagi cried.
“Do you have a better idea?” Makoto sighed and tugged on her ponytail briefly.
“Maybe we can ask for help. Tuxedo Mask, or that boy Ukyou…”
“Will you stop it with Ukyou!?” Rei snapped. “He’s a dangerous man! I showed you that article on how he crippled a boy, didn’t I?”
“But nothing. I want nothing to do with Ukyou. He’s dangerous,” Rei growled out. She wasn’t even sure where her anger at the boy had come from. There was just something about that boy that frayed at Rei’s nerves. It was dumb and without reason, but Rei couldn’t help but feel like somehow Ukyou was the cause of all their troubles. Her entire life had been spent honing her trust in her instincts, a necessary part of her Shinto training. Yet she couldn’t quite pin down why she distrusted him.
While the others debated what to do about the situation, Rei strode a little bit away. She had tried before to pin down the feeling that made her dislike Ukyou. Yet she never could. Rei focused on her feelings… trying to discover some truth and-
The earth had eyes!
Rei started. What was that? She stared down. She had been facing directly at the earth when she had felt it. An overpowering feeling of being watched. Being watched from all over. Being watched from all angles. Something heavy and oppressive and… alien. Rei closed her eyes and spun slowly on one heel. Yes… the feeling was still there. It was still everywhere.
“Everyone! Get out! Get out of the trees!”
“What?” Luna cried back.
“There’s something here!” Rei was already running towards them. They were just standing there, like sheep. Couldn’t they feel it? Rei knew it was moving now. It knew it had been discovered. “Don’t just stand there… run!” Rei reached out and scooped up Usagi in both arms before leaping free of the small copse the Senshi had concealed themselves in. A moment later she heard the leaves rustle as Ami and Makoto followed her. She could only hope one of them had thought to grab Luna.
“What’s going on, Rei? Have you gone nuts!?” Makoto demanded as she landed and released Luna. Rei tried to release Usagi, but the clearly terrified girl was whimpering and clinging tightly to her.
“No… I can see it too,” Ami said, staring back into the trees. She had her clear blue visor on, and arcane symbols traced a path across her vision. “Some sort of bio-energy pattern infused with all the trees and the ground…”
“Wh-what is it?” Usagi gulped.
“I don’t know…” Rei frowned. The feeling had not lessened. But it wasn’t moving anymore. In fact the entire copse had become eerily silent and still. Rei reached behind her and withdrew a ward.
“Fascinating… this is like no youma I’ve ever seen. It appears to be a bio-entity… very similar to human in fact from the readings and-ah!”
Ami was hurled back as a root burst from the ground and smashed into her like a whip. Her compact computer flew from her hand and clattered to the ground. Rei watched as the root rose into the air above it. In a moment of clarity, Rei knew that this attack wasn’t against Ami. It was against the computer.
“Oh no you don’t! Fire Soul!” Rei snapped her hands forward, gathering her energy at the tips of her fingers. With a flash, fire erupted from them and Rei screamed, sending the ball spiralling into the root. Thankfully it was no more resistant to flames than normal wood.
“This is more like it!” Makoto cried. “Supreme Thunder!” Thunder crashed as a bolt of lightning fell from the heavens and collected around Makoto’s head. Then she released it into the trees. There was a burst of fire and a shower of wood chips, but not much else. “Did I get it?”
“No…” Rei frowned. “It’s still… underneath!” Acting on instinct Rei leapt into the sky, a split second before a hole suddenly opened up in the groundwhere she had been standing, as if to swallow her.
“Sailor Moon, don’t just stand there, help them!” Luna cried.
“But how? Where do I fire?”
Rei landed. She could sense the thing homing in on her landing spot but could do nothing to halt her momentum. Sure enough, as she touched down, the earth around her erupted. She threw her arms in front of her face as the liquid earth rose around her in undulating waves. It would have crashed down on her, but then a blast of thunder rang out and Rei was surrounded by a shower of stones.
“Sailor Moon…” Ami gasped. She was lying on the ground and clutching her side. But she had managed to retrieve her computer. “The enemy is permeating the earth. It’s a bio-chemical agent. You’ll have to hit it all at once!”
“The moon stick!” Luna cried. “Use the power of the moon stick!”
Usagi nodded and snapped her hand out. Suddenly the pink and gold crescent moon wand was there. Rei had never seen the thing used. For all she knew, its only purpose was to locate and retrieve the fragments of the Silver Crystal… apparently it had more martial uses. But even as Usagi began to spin in place, gathering the energy for her attack, the earth roared and struck.
And Rei meant that literally. A huge face, a distorted earthen parody of a man, formed from the sediment and let loose an inhuman roar. Fingers of stone burst from the ground, encircling the distracted Moon Senshi in a giant brown fist. Usagi screamed, her head snapping back and her hair whipping about wildly. Rei said something very unladylike and raised her hands. She could see Makoto doing the same nearby.
With twin shouts they both unleashed their attacks. Somehow Rei knew just how to sync up with Makoto so that their attacks collided in mid-air. Instead of exploding against each other, the magic combined, becoming a roaring ball of flame with flashing sparks along its surface. The doubled attack struck the fist, blowing it into chunks. Usagi was sent flying from the explosion, and Rei wondered in horror for a moment if they had accidentally hurt her.
Then she landed and began to cry. “Rei, Mako! That hurt!”
Rei sighed in relief. Usagi was fine. Affixing her with a firm glare, she shouted “Stop crying and finish it off!”
The giant face looked worried now. It was sinking back into the earth. Rei turned to face it, unsure how to stop it. She could sense fear now. It was retreating. Damn… if they didn’t stop it now… It had overheard their entire conversation! It knew their real names!
Rei blinked when the red rose stabbed into the forehead of the monster. She whipped her head back, following the projected flight path of the weapon. Sure enough, there was Tuxedo Mask standing atop a nearby lightpost, cape rippling.
“Sailor Moon, this wicked monster is using the very forces of nature against you. Believe in yourself and the friends you have to protect you, and it cannot win!” the masked man declared eloquently once he had everyone’s attention.
“Right!” Usagi snapped her arm out, holding the moon wand in ready position again. The monster seemed to have been stunned by Tuxedo Mask’s attack, and wasn’t able to respond as Sailor Moon completed her pirouette. “Moon Healing Escalation!”
Rei shaded her eyes as Sailor Moon suddenly became a beacon of blazing silver light. She could barely make out orbs of energy flowing from the tip of the moon stick and pouring into the face of the monster on the ground. Its face grew incandescent, blurring out of Rei’s sight. Then the light began to fade.
When Rei could see again, there was a man on the ground. He was curled up in a fetal position. He was totally hairless… a fact that was easy to tell since he was also totally naked. Rei felt her cheeks burn and she spun away. She heard more than saw Tuxedo Mask leap down behind her.
“It’s okay… you can look now,” he said after a moment. Rei turned and saw that the masked mystery man had taken off his cape and draped it over the man on the ground like a blanket.
“Who is that?” Makoto was the first to speak. “What just happened?”
“He’s… totally human,” Ami declared after a moment of consulting her visor. “His genetic code is almost exactly identical to that of the monster…”
“How is that possible?” Luna stated as she approached the man.
“I don’t know,” Tuxedo Mask declared and stepped back. “But I’ll leave him in your capable care. Until next time.” With a flourish, the man in the top hat leapt away, despite Usagi’s protests for him to wait. Rei ignored his departure, more concerned with the strange hairless man. She focused her senses on him, but could sense none of the oppressive presence from before.
“I think… I think he used to be human and then someone, or something, turned him into that monster,” Ami said slowly into the silence that followed Tuxedo Mask’s departure.
“How horrible!” Makoto hissed.
“He’s coming around…” Luna pointed out. “Perhaps he might be scared if he found himself suddenly surrounded by several hostile–looking Sailor Senshi…” she hinted.
“Yes,” Rei nodded. “Let’s not give him any more shocks. He probably doesn’t even remember anything about what happened.” Or at least, Rei hoped he didn’t.
Transforming from Sailor Mars back into plain old Rei Hino always left Rei with a vague feeling of loss. Like she had been on the verge of something profound, and then turned away from it. Even so, she often felt better as plain old Rei instead of a superheroine. She brushed out her skirt and sat down next to the man, thinking about what to tell him.
“AHHH!” the man sprang up like a punching dummy. His hands grasped his head as he sat on the grass and screamed. “NO! What happened? What have you done to me!?”
“Calm down, sir,” Rei said, laying a soothing hand on his shoulder. “You’re safe now.”
“Safe? What?” the man turned and blinked at her. “Who are you? What happened to me? Where did the Sailor Senshi go…“
“You shouldn’t be straining yourself,” Ami said from where she was sitting nearby. She was still clutching her side from where the monster had struck her. “You seem to have been through quite an ordeal. We only came because we saw all the fireworks. The Sailor Senshi said they transformed you back into a human, then left you with us.”
“With you…” the man blinked. “Wait… human… human…” He kept repeating the word ‘human’ over and over again. He wrapped his hands around his bald head again and began to hyperventilate. “No… I’m human… I’m human…” Rei patted him gently. The poor soul. It must have been very traumatic being turned into a monster. He still couldn’t believe his nightmare was over.
“Don’t worry, sir. You’re safe now. We’ll go get to the police and they can help you get back home… though, what is your name?”
“Name?” the man turned to her and blinked. “I… I am Dyme…”
“Well, Dyme, I’m Rei. I’ll stay with you while my friends go get help.”
“Rei…” the man stared at her. His face suddenly grew calm. “Yes, Rei. I think I would like that.”
Ranma stared into the flames. They were hot. His hands kept telling him this. Stupid hands. They would learn. Heat was nothing. Blistering, burning, skin-melting heat would not stop Ranma Saotome! He would have those chestnuts. He had never wanted any food so much as he wanted those chestnuts now.
Except for that soup he’d stolen from that guy in China.
And the time Pop had starved him for a week as “endurance training” and…
Well. Let’s just say Ranma wanted those chestnuts really really badly, and leave it at that. He raised his hands, cracking and popping the joints as he flexed in preparation. Oh yes… they would be his. It was just a matter of speed and accuracy… focus… concentration! Just one perfect movem–
“Ah, there you are, Son-in-law.”
“AHHHHH! MY HANDS!” Ranma ran screaming from the fire and dunked his burning digits into the convenient koi pond. He turned a glare back over his shoulder at the old troll that had interrupted him. She was sitting – no, she was perched like a vulture on top of that stick of hers. She didn’t seem to be paying attention to him. She was more interested in staring into the flames.
Did she want his chestnuts? No! They were Ranma’s!
“Hey, back off old hag!” Ranma shouted in what he was hoping to be his most intimidating tone. He grimaced as it came out about two octaves too high. Stupid curse.
“What… exactly are you doing here, Son-in-law?” the old hag asked, still not bothering to look in Ranma’s direction. She had at least leapt down from her walking stick. Ranma wanted to walk over and punt her away like a football, but he kept a healthy distance. The old lady was fast, and like nearly every girl he had met, seemed interested in ripping off all his clothes. Not that he was afraid of her beating him. But he had been naked quite enough today, thank you very much.
“None of your business, old hag!” Ranma shouted.
“You weren’t trying to do this, were you?”
Ranma blinked. He saw something. A blur of motion around Cologne. Then she turned to him, holding a double-handful of roasted chestnuts. She was smiling. Ranma’s mouth opened.
“How’d you do that?” he demanded.
“Maybe if you tell me what I want to know, I’ll tell you what you want to know,” the old hag said through her smirk. Ranma was beginning to see why that girl Shampoo was always yelling at her. Not that he agreed with much else Shampoo wanted. Especially since her two motivations seemed to be ‘kill him’ and ‘marry him’, possibly in that order.
“I was trying to get the chestnuts, okay. Now tell me how you did it?”
“And where did you get such an idea? From your father? Or perhaps a friend of his?” The old hag’s voice had lost all its amusement, taking on a deadly serious tone.
“Huh? No.” Ranma laughed and rubbed the back of his neck. “My Pop is too dumb to come up with anything like that.”
“My buddy, Ucchan,” Ranma said with a shrug. He couldn’t see the harm in talking about her training here. It wasn’t like Ukyou had ever sworn him to secrecy or anything.
“‘Ucchan‘ is it?” Cologne narrowed her eyes. “And why did ‘Ucchan‘ teach you this?”
“To make me stronger. Something about wind and fire and chakras or some junk. I never really understood it.” Ranma shrugged again and knelt down. Now that the old hag wasn’t trying to strip him or make him marry that psychopath, she was almost tolerable to talk to. Besides, talking shop always interested Ranma. “I think Ukyou must have already mastered that technique, though. She was working on some spiral thing while she had me doing it. Then she did this neat thing with a tornado to that octopus guy.” Ranma grinned and stared into the sky. “Now that was a technique. I’m definitely going to learn that from her once I get this one down pat.”
“Spiral… tornado…” Cologne said. Ranma didn’t miss the dangerously level way she said that; he simply didn’t think much of it. After all, even Kunou could sound dangerous.
“Now you do your part, old hag,” Ranma insisted. He pointed accusingly at her handful of rapidly-cooling chestnuts. “Teach me how to do that!”
Ranma recoiled as the old woman beaned him off the head with one of the nuts. “Not until you can speak with respect,” she informed hi.
“Hey! We had a deal, you little frea-ow!” Ranma rubbed his forehead.
“Stop doing that you crazy old-ow!” Ranma shielded his head with his hands.
“Hah! Try to hit me now… ah! MY CHEST! That hurt!”
“I should hope so, it was meant to.”
Ranma had the best comeback ever. He was going to deliver it with such wit and panache that it would have left Cologne stunned and unable to recover. She would have bowed down to his superior skills and instantly taught him everything she knew. Too bad the moment he opened his mouth, his words were drowned out by a giant explosion that literally rocked the entire Tendo complex.
“Not again,” Ranma grumbled and turned to look at what was causing the ruckus this time. “I hope this isn’t those Dork Kingdom losers again…”
Ranma stared as the smoke from the front of the house cleared. There was a giant, unopened rose where the front gate to the Tendo home should be. It stood nearly three stories tall. The afternoon light glinted off its perfect bulb.
“Oh, it’s those plant things again. Come back for a rematch, huh?” Ranma stood up and began to roll up his sleeves. Then he paused. The bulb was unfolding, and standing in the middle of the delicate leaves were two girls. Twins really. They even had identical outfits and…
Wait a minute. Where had he seen those two before? As he wondered about this, the girls rose up, striking mirrored poses like circus acrobats about to perform an elaborate stunt.
“At last the flower of justice has bloomed, over!” the smiling one on the left sung out triumphantly.
“And so quail, Shampoo. Quail, for this flower of vengeance has been growing for ten years, over!” the frowning one on the right added in.
“Beware, the hundred blows of pain! The hundred times one hundred blows, even, over!” the first girl declared and, as if on cue, both girls spun in place and pointed down into the courtyard of the dojo.
“Uh…. Shampoo’s inside,” Ranma told them and jerked his thumb over his shoulder.
There was a long pause as the duo stared at him.
“We knew that, over!” the smiling one shouted angrily.
“It was all part of our plan, over!” the other said as they both stood with hands on hips.
“You didn’t really expect us to unleash our deadly sneak attack after declaring our intentions openly, did you, over?”
“I dunno. Maybe?” Ranma shrugged. More fruitcakes, he supposed. Surprisingly familiar fruitcakes, but still just another pair of psycho girls. Why were all the women Ranma met crazy? Even Ukyou was a little nuts. At least they weren’t his problem.
“Come along, sister. The time to strike is nigh, over!” the smiling one informed her twin in a voice that still rang out over half the neighbourhood. The other girl nodded and both turned around and began to sneak down the enormous stem of their three-story tall rose bloom.
“Friends of yours?” Ranma said, turning back to Cologne.
Cologne, who was back on her stick, only shrugged. “I think I might know who they are. But I’ve never met them personally.”
“Shouldn’t you go save your great-granddaughter?” Ranma paused. “Not that I care.” He paused again. “Don’t mistake that for concern or nothin‘.”
“Whatever you say, boy.” Cologne pulled a long pipe out.
Ranma would have gone back to berating Cologne at that point. He might have even used his Comeback Of Doom on her, but he never had a chance. Because that was when another figure bounced over the wall of the Tendo dojo and landed right beside Ranma.
“YOU!” Ranma shouted.
“Oh, uh… hi Ran- yaah! Watch it!” The undead bastard ducked under Ranma’s opening punch. He looked just the same as before. And hey, that’s where he’d seen those two girls before!
“Of course! I knew it all along!” Ranma growled as he backflipped away and settled into a horse stance.
“Of course what?” Chris said mildly. He looked confused. But Ranma wasn’t fooled.
“You know what! I don’t have to spell it out to you!” Ranma grinned. He had been hoping that something like this would happen.
The undead thing quirked his head to the side and stared at Ranma for a second. Then he sighed and threw up his hands in a defeated gesture. “You’re right, Ranma. I should have known I couldn’t fool you.” Ranma smirked. “There’s just no way to hide it, is there?” Ranma nodded and flexed. “I have come here… for one reason. And one reason only, as you know.” Ranma gestured for the undead creep to bring it on. “To NOT, in any way shape or form, get into a fight with you,” Chris said forcefully as he stared right into Ranma’s eyes.
“Huh?” Ranma blinked. “But that’s not how it’s supposed to go!”
“Sorry, Saotome. Other business today. Come on, you got to punch me the other day.”
“That doesn’t count! You weren’t fighting back!”
“Okay, fine. You know, your honour as a martial artist requires that you issue a formal challenge before beating me into a pulp.”
“Oh, right.” Ranma slammed his fist into his palm. “Great. Then I, Ranma Saotome, challenge you, Chris uh… whatever your last name is, to a duel of honour!”
“Sorry. I refuse,” the boy-thing said with a shrug.
Ranma gaped. Ah man. Now what was he supposed to do?
“Friend of yours?” Cologne said as she leaned in front of Ranma.
“Uh… no. Not really. More like bitter lifelong enemy… really. When I think about it.”
“Uhh…” Chris trailed off. Ranma looked over and saw the undead boy’s formerly smug face had fallen into wide-eyed staring at the old ghoul.
“And you…” Cologne spun in place, not even noticing when her hair whipped harshly across Ranma’s cheek. “I can’t help but feel your arrival is uncoincidental with that of those girls.”
“Hey, old hag! Watch where you’re…oof!” Ranma clutched his stomach in pain. He only realized he was spiralling back through the air when he landed in the koi pond.
“Let the adults speak for a moment, Son-in-law,” Ranma heard her say as he emerged.
Chris was rubbing the back of his head and grinning like an idiot.
“Heheh. So... I guess you recognise me? Long time no see.” He bowed respectfully to the hag.
“Suck up,” Ranma muttered as he strode to shore. “OW! Hey, I thought you dropped those chestnuts!”
“One does not encounter many like you. No matter what face they are wearing.”
“Indeed…” the boy replied heavily. “Yes, well… about those two… It’s sort of a long story.”
“I’m sure we’ll find time to talk about it,” Cologne stated ominously.
“THE PAIN, OVER!”
“MY SPLEEN! MY, PRECIOUS, PRECIOUS SPLEEN, OVER!”
“That’s my cue,” Chris said with a nervous chuckle. “Why don’t I explain everything to you on the way in?”
Shampoo twisted the old bald man’s arm behind his back. “I’m NOT marrying your son,” she hissed.
He said something in that damn islander babble. She twisted his arm even further, savouring the sound of Ranma’s kin’s tendons straining. She reached for the words in Japanese. “You… kill… Ranma.” It made perfect sense. Father could atone for the sins of the child, and Shampoo wouldn’t have to marry him.
The old fat man started blubbering like a baby. Shampoo thrust him away in disgust. Wasn’t there a single Japanese man with a sack? She needed SOMEONE to do the job, since the damn laws – and that twice-damned old woman – kept her from it.
After a few minutes, she gave up on the other old man too. He was, if possible, even more pathetic. What kind of rotten martial arts training hall was this? No wonder she didn’t see any students.
The girl with the long black hair who’d recently arrived shouted something at her, tending to the long-haired old man. Oh right, that was her father, wasn’t it? Shampoo shrugged. “Sorry,” she said.
The girl didn’t seem to be mollified. As if some temporary discomfort to her pathetic father was in any way comparable to the lifetime of hell Shampoo was looking forward to.
The girl was still talking, and gesturing angrily at her. Oh, wait, she was taking a fighting stance. Was she challenging Shampoo? She looked almost competent, too. Shampoo grinned viciously, flowing to her feet. If she couldn’t kill Ranma, she could at least indulge in some satisfying violence. Just what the doctor ordered, that’s what it would be.
At this point, there was a tremendous explosion that literally rocked the dojo, causing dust to fall lazily from the ceiling. An earthquake? Bomb? Great-grandmother doing one of those weird ancient techniques?
The long-haired angry girl looked back towards the source of the explosion, back at Shampoo, then waved her finger at her and shouted something about “waiting” before running off to investigate. How disappointing.
And then, the most wonderful sound came to Shampoo’s ears.
She didn’t know what they were saying (why on earth were they speaking in Japanese, anyway?), but THOSE voices were ones she’d never forget.
Forget the angry girl. There was no more therapeutic violence, when Shampoo was having a bad day, than the violence she could inflict on Pink and Link.
Shampoo settled back down, lacing her hands behind her neck. They’d be here soon enough. Shampoo had trained them well.
Ah, she could hear them coming. They were walking on tip-toe. They were even saying “sneak, sneak, over”. What, did they think they were ninjas? The long-haired girl was yelling at them. They yelled back at her, and then went back to ‘sneaking’. Oh, this was too funny.
They had stopped near the door. Actually they were peeking through, one on each side, staring at her. Shampoo feigned a theatrical yawn, and watched as the two idiots darted through the entrance and hid, one under the table, one behind the cowering fat bald guy. Shampoo continued to pretend she didn’t see them as they darted from stupid hiding place to stupid hiding place, gradually converging on her location.
The long-haired girl was still in the doorway, only now she was staring at Pink and Link. She said something to them, and they both turned and shushed her. Shampoo successfully disguised her laughter as a cough. This was their most ridiculous attempt to take her by surprise since the time they’d ‘disguised’ themselves as wish-granting fairies.
They finally managed to reach their positions, standing triumphantly behind her, one on each side. They were pulling out smoking, poison-covered knives. They were raising them high in the air. They cried out in triumph and plunged the knives downward.
With a single lazy motion, Shampoo disarmed them and grabbed both their throats. “Hello, Pink, Link,” she said pleasantly. “It was nice of you to come all the way to Japan to see me.”
“Oh, Shampoo, that’s you, over!” Pink said with a weak smile. “We thought you were…were…”
“Someone else, over!” Link finished.
“Someone bad, over!” Pink agreed enthusiastically.
“Ah, but Pink, Link, you forget…” Shampoo smiled reassuringly, and pulled them close, in a gesture that might almost have looked like a friendly embrace except for the fact her hands were still firmly gripping the two idiot’s throats. “I AM someone bad. Bad for you.”
Shampoo proceeded to engage in some senseless, rather basic, but highly satisfying violence. She noted idly that for some reason their screams of pain were in Japanese, but ignored that minor quirk.
And then she was flying backward, the wall of the living room cracking as she collided with it. Who? Oh, the long-haired girl. She was pulling her hands back from her palm thrust and shouting something angrily at her again. Shampoo wanted to tell her she didn’t speak her stupid language, but it didn’t really matter anyway. This was really just an opportunity to have twice as much fun.
Seeing Shampoo glide slowly and dangerously to her feet, the long-haired girl assumed her martial arts stance again. Pink and Link, not quite as much idiots as they usually seemed, hid behind her. Shampoo grinned. It wasn’t as if they’d even try to escape, as long as they thought their new friend could fight Shampoo. And by the time they figured out the futility of their hopes, it’d be too late.
Shampoo had just taken a step forward when something silver flashed in the corner of her eye. She jerked back her head involuntarily, but the projectile was clearly not meant to hit her. It flew by a good half-meter in front of her and embedded, quivering, in the wall. Everyone in the room followed the path of the weapon back to its source.
She wasn’t impressed by the boy. Japanese, bowl cut, casual clothes that didn’t look at all suited to fighting, and something about his face that she instantly didn’t like. He was standing in the doorway, and… great-grandmother was there, too? Why had she let him attack her? Or stop the fight, anyway. And also there… Shampoo snarled. Ranma backed a step involuntarily from where he, actually now a she, had been peeking over the new boy’s shoulder.
“Who are you?” Shampoo demanded.
The boy grimaced, and looked at Great-grandmother, who said something in Japanese to him. Great, another ignorant islander who couldn’t speak a proper language. What did he want? And why was Great-grandmother with him?
The boy beckoned Pink and Link over. They paused for a moment, still cowering behind the now-confused black-haired girl. But then they rushed over and hid behind him, instead, pushing Shampoo’s – ugh – husband out of the way. Oh, so that explained it. A protector. How quaint.
The boy spoke to Link briefly, who nodded and peeked her head out at the side. As he spoke, she translated it to Chinese. “Hello, Shampoo. As you’ve probably guessed, I’m a friend of Pink and Link. That being the case, I’m afraid I’m going to have to stop what you’ve been doing to them for the last ten years, over.”
Shampoo was bemused. Another lamb to the slaughter. Where DID they find them? “I see. And how do you plan to do that?”
Link started to say something, but Great-grandmother interrupted and seemed to translate for the new idiot. He nodded, and turned back to face Shampoo. “I’m challenging you. If I win, I want several promises. One, that you will never again raise so much as a finger against Pink or Link unless they attack you first. Two, that in order to atone for the ten years of torture you’ve inflicted on them, that you become their servant for one year, obeying any order they give you that isn’t directly harmful to you, over.”
Shampoo noticed her so-called ‘husband’ had crawled from underneath them and gone over to the long-haired girl. He was whispering in her ear, pointing at Pink and Link’s guardian. The girl looked, in turns, shocked and then concerned. They didn’t seem to be interfering, though. Looking back at the presumptuous boy, Shampoo smiled slowly. “That’s a lot to ask. And what will I get when I win?”
The old woman translated once more. The boy shrugged. “Ask for it. Anything. Anything at all, over,” came Link’s translation of his words. She didn’t seem happy, though. In fact, both her and Pink were staring at the boy. Didn’t they even know their own pathetic plan? What idiots. But it was going to work out well, anyway. For Shampoo.
She whirled and pointed at Ranma. “Fine. If I win, you have to kill him! Or her! Whatever! Kill it!”
Cologne translated. The boy blinked at Shampoo. And Ranma… began to cheer? Shampoo gaped at him. He was jumping up and down and pointing at the newcomer, shouting cheerfully. The long-haired girl seemed about to protest, but Shampoo’s imbecile betrothed clamped a hand over her mouth to prevent her.
The mystery boy was still staring at her. Then his eyes narrowed, and he said something to the long-haired girl. She couldn’t reply due to the idiot covering her mouth, but the selfsame idiot certainly could, waving his finger at Pink and Link’s friend and crowing something joyfully.
The boy turned back to Shampoo, and his words came through Link. “As you wish. If you can defeat me, I swear that I will kill Ranma Saotome, over.”
Shampoo smirked. It wouldn’t be such a bad day after all. She could just help the mystery man a little. Maybe she’d even steal some of Pink’s poisons (the non-lethal kind) to do it, just for fun. She opened her mouth to agree to the duel-
“Child.” The old woman’s voice was deathly serious. “Were I you, I would think long and hard before you accept those terms.”
Shampoo gritted her teeth. Always, always interfering! The stupid old bat! This mess was all HER fault to begin with! “Great-grandmother, with all due respect, stay out of my affairs.”
“Are you absolutely certain you do not wish my aid or advice in this matter, Great-granddaughter?” she said formally.
“You’ve ‘aided’ me quite enough, thank you,” Shampoo snapped. “Tell this idiot boy I accept his terms.”
“So be it.”
Akane followed the quiet procession into her family’s dojo. This was just too much. First, Ukyou had gone psycho yesterday on that poor Hayato boy. Then, that same boy disappeared from his room in some sort of explosion, leaving nothing behind but his pet land-octopus. He could be dead, for all Akane knew. And then, worried sick about that, Akane had walked home to discover this.
First, there was the crazy Chinese girl with the purple hair who was supposed to marry Ranma and wanted to kill him. Plus, she had her annoying old grandmother with her, who had spent most of the time Akane had been there intimidating Dad into accepting Shampoo’s betrothal to Ranma. Then the psycho girl had attacked her father, and just when Akane was going to teach her a lesson, these two completely incompetent ninja (?) girls had arrived in their giant rose and tried to kill Shampoo.
Of course, Akane couldn’t stand by and let Shampoo torment them, even if they had initiated the fight. She had already seen one fight go too far. She would be damned before she watched more people get hurt that didn’t need to be.
And now Chris was here. And he was in a new body. Akane’s mind shied away from the implications of that. Of course, Ranma seemed happy at the prospect of having to fight him to the death if Chris lost this duel.
Which about brought her back to the present, and the two figures standing in the middle of her dojo. She stared at the combatants. Who was she supposed to be rooting for? Everything seemed to have been turned upside down lately. Ukyou had seemed so nice… and now she wasn’t. Chris had seemed so much a monster, then he’d been so sad when they’d talked. And he seemed so reasonable now. Ranma had…
Well, okay. Ranma had always been an idiot.
Chris stretched his neck and sat down, kneeling on the wooden floor. Shampoo was standing a few meters away from him, twirling a pair of over-sized, brightly coloured maces in her hands. She seemed amused by his position, and gestured for him to rise.
“I’ll stay like this,” the undead boy said, opening his arms invitingly. “Come whenever you’re ready.”
One of the ninja twins translated this to Chinese. Well, that’s what Akane thought she did. She yelled something at Shampoo, anyway. It seemed to take a considerably longer time and involve a lot more rude gestures than the boy had made.
Akane narrowed her eyes as Shampoo darted forward. The girl moved fast, but not as fast as Ranma did, and Akane could still easily follow her attack. Apparently, so could Chris. A fraction of an instant before Shampoo’s mace would have crushed his head, the boy vanished in a blur. Shampoo’s eyes widened and she stumbled through the space he had occupied a second before, pinwheeling her arms for balance. Akane snapped her eyes to the side as she heard Chris chuckling from the other end of the dojo.
Shampoo steadied herself and spun in place to face her opponent. He was still kneeling on the floor, as if this were some formal dinner and not a fight to the finish. Shampoo grit her teeth and charged again. This time she moved faster, but was still no match for his speed. That time, and three more times thereafter, Shampoo growled and charged, and each time the boy simply faded away before her strike, only to reappear behind her.
“Not bad,” Ranma muttered. She was stroking her chin and examining the fight with a critical eye. “You have to be really fast to move like that.”
“Can you follow him?” Akane whispered back.
“Of course!” Ranma laughed. Akane gave him a sidelong glare before turning her attention back to the important stuff.
Even as Akane watched, Chris vanished before another of Shampoo’s charges. This time his chuckle came not from behind, but from above. Everyone looked up to see him sitting in calm defiance of gravity, upside down on the ceiling.
Shampoo gasped out something, causing her grandmother to chuckle and respond in their language. Growling, she shot something over her shoulder at the old lady and turned back to Chris. This was just in time for Chris to flick his fingers at her negligently. A silver streak passed through the air next to Shampoo and the girl leapt aside. Akane saw the quivering teaspoon… Teaspoon? Oh, never mind. If she could accept spatulas and octopus balls, who cared about teaspoons?
A clatter brought Akane’s attention back to Shampoo. The purple-haired girl was staring at the shaft of one of her maces, from which the head had fallen off.
“Ah, I see,” Ranma said with a smirk. “He’s using his toes!”
“To decapitate Shampoo’s weapon?”
“No, stupid. To cling to the ceiling. It’s how he’s moving without walking, too.”
Akane resisted the urge to elbow Ranma in the gut.
“Getting worried yet?” Chris called down in amusement. One of the twins shouted something rude-sounding in Chinese to follow him up.
Shampoo merely shrugged and snapped her arm up, releasing her shaft like a javelin at the undead boy. He vanished once again, and an instant later Shampoo gasped as suddenly her feet flew out from underneath her. Chris was sitting behind her now, holding a rigid napkin out in one hand. Shampoo flopped forward and rolled away from him before springing to her feet.
“Translate this one accurately, Link.” Chris said over his shoulder in an unconcerned tone. “It’s not very much fun fighting an opponent you have no chance of defeating, is it?”
Shampoo didn’t wait for Link’s translation to finish before she was rushing forward again. This time she leapt up, snapping out a perfect thrust kick at Chris’ head. There was a crack as her foot collided with a ceremonial teapot that appeared in his hands. Shampoo bounced away from him and landed in a crouch only a meter away. She didn’t pause, immediately swinging out her leg in a sweep.
Chris skittered backwards, his hands flashing as streaks of silver leapt from his fingertips. Shampoo gasped as her leg suddenly stopped, pinned to the ground by a series of teaspoons through her pantleg.
“Stop playing around and beat the hell out of her, over!” the smiling girl screamed at Chris. The undead boy glanced at Cologne, whose expression was unreadable. He turned back as a loud ripping sound rang through the dojo. Shampoo had escaped in the most expedient way possible, by simply removing her pant leg.
She rushed in again. Akane frowned. Didn’t she see that tactic wasn’t working? Shampoo seemed to have a lot of speed and power, but not much in the way of experience of fighting someone with more of either. As if to prove her point, instead of dodging this time, Chris tripped her with a tea ceremony ladle. Shampoo had thrown everything into her rush, and wasn’t able to recover before her face slammed into the wood and she skidded a half-meter down it. Akane winced in sympathy.
Chris paused and looked at Akane. His unreadable dead eyes met her for a moment. He deliberately stood up as Shampoo did the same. The girl’s beautiful face was covered in smudges and her red eyes were blazing with hate. She began to yell at the boy in Chinese, gesturing angrily with her remaining weapon.
“It’s over,” Ranma declared. He leaned back and crossed his arms. “Heh. Looks like I’ll need another excuse to drag him into a fight.”
Chris was standing with an unconcerned casualness, looking down his nose at Shampoo. “You may, if you wish, surrender.”
Cologne translated that before either of the twins could. She even glared them into silence when they tried to follow up.
Shampoo frowned and walked over to Chris. She paused within arm’s reach of him and opened her mouth… then spit into his face. Chris raised an eyebrow and, all bemused, wiped it off with the back of one hand.
Shampoo waited only a moment, obviously hoping for more of a response. She shouted something unkind-sounding in Chinese at Chris and swept her mace up at his stomach in a vicious backhand. Her attack didn’t even get close before the boy’s hand snapped firmly around her wrist. She blinked, then gasped as he yanked her forward and cut her legs out from under her.
As Shampoo plummeted he slid to the side, almost ghostlike, and extended his free hand. A familiar black ribbon unfurled between his fingertips. With a quick motion the ribbon had spiralled firmly around the falling girl’s ankles. Shampoo shot her hands down, trying to brace herself for the impact. Chris only chuckled and then twisted his ribbon between his fingers again. Somehow he shot forth the free end and twirled it around her wrists as well.
Shampoo’s breath burst from her lungs as she smashed into the floor. Akane watched as Chris flipped elegantly over her, spinning the ribbon in place and wrenching Shampoo’s wrists and ankles towards each other. Before the Chinese martial artist could recover her wits, she found herself lying face down on the floor, hogtied.
“Tricky,” Ranma muttered. “It would’ve been kinder to knock her out…” Akane glanced at her. Her voice sounded… more thoughtful than it normally did. The boy in girl’s flesh stood up and walked from the room. Akane felt like saying something to her, but found her attention drawn back to Shampoo.
The girl was thrashing and screaming to wake the dead as she struggled to escape her bonds. Chris was standing over her, his arms crossed and his expression oddly neutral.
Akane blinked. For a moment, just a moment, he looked remarkably like Ukyou.
The boy glanced over inquiringly at Shampoo’s grandmother. Cologne raised an eyebrow at him. Something seemed to pass between them, then Cologne sighed and shook her head in resignation. Slowly she made her way over to Shampoo. The old lady took her time sitting down in front of her granddaughter. She tapped her staff on the ground to get the thrashing girl’s attention. Then spoke in Chinese for a second.
Shampoo snapped something angry back. Cologne shrugged, then pointed at Chris and said something. Akane tensed up, expecting another violent outburst.
But it never came. Shampoo’s entire body shuddered for a moment, as if she had just swallowed something repellent. Then she slumped, no longer struggling against her bonds. “You… win…” Shampoo’s accented voice was taut.
Chris looked as if he was about to say something, but he was interrupted by a raucous cheer. Akane stared as the twins began to swing each other around by the hands, singing (offkey) as loud as they could.
“DING-DONG! THE BITCH IS DEAD, OVER!”
“Not so much,” Cologne said, appearing between them. With twin gasps they released each other and fell promptly onto their behinds. “This is still my great-granddaughter. And I mean to hold you both to the exact terms of the agreement.” Akane’s eyes widened as the dojo grew dim, even as Cologne began to radiate a quiet but ominous blue aura.
“Umm… yes ma’am, over,” the girls gulped out in unison.
And then the lights returned to normal and Cologne was suddenly smiling at them. “Good, good. I think this will be quite a learning experience for everyone, then.” She chuckled and hopped over to Shampoo. Chris had swept out one of his teaspoons, neatly severing Shampoo’s bonds.
The defeated Chinese girl rose slowly to her feet. She was looking down at the ground, her back to Akane and everyone else in the room. The twin ninja girls danced over to her and began babbling back and forth between each other.
“She’s going to carry my bags back to the condo, over!”
“No, she’s going to carry MY bags, over!”
“Wait… we don’t HAVE any bags, over!”
“Then we’ll have to borrow some, over!”
“Hey you, over.” Akane pointed at herself in response. “Yes. Can we borrow those big rocks in your backyard, over?”
The two latched onto Shampoo’s wrist and began to drag her out of the dojo, babbling at her in Chinese. Akane wasn’t sure who to feel sorry for anymore.
“Hmmm? Do you want to stay with us too?” Chris asked the old lady.
“It would seem the wisest decision,” Cologne replied as she started towards the door. “After all, I said this would be a learning experience. For everyone involved.”
“Fair enough,” Chris said, tapping his cheek. “I’ll catch up with you guys in a little while, okay?”
“Hmmm?” Cologne paused and looked at Akane meaningfully. “I see.” Without another word, the Chinese grandmother bounded from the dojo after her kin.
Then Akane suddenly realised she was alone with Chris. She backed up a step involuntarily and turned to look at him.
The boy’s expression became sad. Everywhere except his eyes.
“I’m sorry, I won’t bother you for long. I just wanted to know if you were all right.”
“I’m fine,” Akane said, unable to keep the confusion out of her voice.
“Are you sure? I heard what happened with Ukyou.”
“I’m… I’m fine. Really,” Akane insisted. She looked down suddenly. Hayato’s pet octopus had reappeared again. Apparently after Shampoo had scared him off, he hadn’t run away, just hid until she was gone. The little creature was staring up at Akane with wide, forlorn eyes. She crouched down and scooped him up into her arms again. “Poor guy…” she said soothingly.
“That’s… Hayato’s pet, isn’t it?”
“Yes. His name is Patoratsyu.” Akane paused. “I’m… taking care of him for a while, I guess.”
“What happened to Hayato? Is he in a coma or something?” Chris didn’t sound so much concerned as confused.
“He… vanished. This afternoon, in the hospital. There was some sort of explosion…” Akane sighed and sat down, stroking the amazingly dry skin of the land octopus. She wasn’t sure she really wanted to start thinking about that again.
“It’s… well. You know about as much as me. He was alone in his room, and when I went in to find him, his entire room had been destroyed and only Patoratsyu here was left.”
Chris let out a long breath. “Do you think it was Ukyou?”
“NO!” Akane snapped her eyes back to him. “How can you even suggest that?”
He grimaced sardonically. “Well, Akane… mmm… I know you like her. But she’s snapped his spine in cold blood. And she’s the only enemy he has. Who else could it have been?”
Akane opened her mouth to protest. Then she forced it closed. She had to remember that Chris didn’t see Ukyou the same way she did. To him, that was a perfectly reasonable assumption. To anyone else, it might have been a perfectly reasonable assumption.
“Akane,” Chris began, dragging her out of her reverie. “Look. I’m concerned about you. Ukyou… I don’t know what’s going on in her head. It seems obvious she’s…” He sighed. “Well, to put it bluntly, she’s not what you think she is.”
Akane shook her head slowly. But now, what he was saying made sense in a bizarre sort of way. Not that Akane believed him. She could just see where he was coming from.
“Ukyou is still my friend,” Akane told him. “She believed in me. What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t do the same?”
Chris twitched as if he’d been struck. “What kind of friend…” he trailed off ominously. Akane quirked her head to the side. The octopus in her lap had noticed Chris now, and seemed to be curious about him. She restrained it gently. “Akane, you’re a great friend. I have no doubts about that. But…” Chris crouched down next to her. “Ukyou is not the friend you think she is, and she never has been,” he declared with solemn finality.
“Chris…” Akane sighed. “I know you believe that. But you and Ukyou, you don’t exactly have any reason to believe in each other, do you?”
“It’s not that, Akane!” he snapped in frustration. “I know what she’s done!”
“Done?” Akane blinked. “I do too. And while I think it’s wrong, I think even Ukyou knows that and that-“
“No, no, you don’t know,” Chris cut her off insistently. “Because – damn it, I didn’t want to say this. Ukyou’s been using you since the moment she met you. Don’t you get it? SHE KNOWS THE FUTURE!” Chris let that hang in the air for a second. Akane recoiled a bit. That… that was exactly what Akane had thought to herself many times.
“Do you think it was a coincidence that she met you?” Chris asked. Akane started to respond, but paused. Chris took that as a cue to continue. “No, it wasn’t. Remember, I told you. Ukyou loves Ranma. You can see that now, right?”
Akane nodded slowly. She had known it for a while now. Everything Ukyou did seemed to be about Ranma somehow. Only the time she spent with Akane wasn’t related to him in some way. Except when it was.
“That’s right. And Ranma came here to be engaged to a Tendo daughter. And I know. I KNOW, without even knowing exactly what happened, that Ukyou did something. When you first met, Ukyou did something to make sure that you wouldn’t be the one engaged to Ranma. Right?”
“Actually, she did that to help me out with the boys at school,” Akane pointed out weakly. Then she started. “Wait. Why would she want to make sure Ranma and I never got engaged?”
“Because, Akane, in the future that Ukyou and I know, you got engaged to Ranma. And your engagement made you two fall in love. Now I know that seems strange to you. I know you can’t believe you could ever love Ranma, but just think about it. Whatever happened to stop you from getting engaged – that was her idea, wasn’t it? She came up with it. She came here, and deliberately met you, and then did this before he arrived so he couldn’t be engaged to you. Because it doesn’t matter if YOU believe it, Akane. UKYOU believed it. And she was willing to take away your love so that she would have a chance at her own.”
Akane stared at him, aghast. That was… “No.” Ukyou was her friend. She had said as much. They had trained together and laughed together, fought together and cried… no. Ukyou had never cried together with Akane. Ukyou had never cried at all. But that was just Ukyou. Ukyou ‘The Machine’ Kuonji was what they called her at school. Because her expression was always cold, flat and watching. And most of the time, when she did laugh or smile or get angry… it was so sudden. It was like Ukyou was just turning on a switch inside, without going to any of the emotions between. “That can’t be right…” Akane murmured.
“It is, Akane. It is.” Chris paused. “If you doubt it, go up to her and ask her. Look into her eyes when she responds. You’ll see it. Ukyou knew what she was doing. She did it to trick you out of the competition without you even knowing it. She did it because she knew that Ranma could never fall in love with your sisters.”
“If that’s true…” Akane said reluctantly. “Then why hasn’t she done anything about it? She still dresses like a guy. She refuses to even try to attract Ranma to her. Heck, she gets sick when she even thinks about it.”
“Is that true, Akane? Is that really true? Or is that just what she’s told you? Have you been there whenever she and Ranma are alone? How often has she gone somewhere with him and found an excuse to leave you behind?”
Too many times.
“But Ranma… he’s so… he doesn’t act like he likes Ukyou that way, or that Ukyou is trying anything…”
“Does he strike you as perceptive enough to notice?” Chris smiled. “Here’s the thing. He likes Ukyou, doesn’t he? She’s his best buddy. And isn’t that what Ranma would like? A girl that could keep up with him, that could challenge him? That he could hang around with, just like one of the guys?” Chris tapped the bridge of his nose. “Sounds like someone trying to get in good with him, doesn’t it?”
Akane stood up, nearly leaping to her feet. This was too much. She had to get out of here. “I’m sorry… I can’t… It can’t be true.” Akane began to spin on her heel, but stopped at the sound of Chris’s voice.
“Akane, when we first met I tried to tell you the truth. But Ukyou, you found out, was lying to you from day one. Have I ever failed to tell you the truth, Akane? And can you say the same for Ukyou?”
“No…” Akane said, not sure which question she was responding to. Or if she was responding to any. She wanted to believe in Ukyou. No. She wanted to believe that Ukyou believed in HER. “Please… I’ve been awake all night…”
Chris sighed. “I’m sorry, Akane. I didn’t want to hurt you… But I didn’t want to see anyone else hurt you either. Just… I don’t know…”
Akane searched for something to say. There had to be something. A magic phrase that would make everything better again. That was the way it worked, wasn’t it?
“Go get some sleep.” Chris stepped back. “Just… please think about it, alright?”
“I will…” Akane whispered too low for anyone to hear and walked from the dojo.
End Hybrid Theory Book 1: High On Emotion
Have I ever thought of this before? Did I have a look behind the door? Have I ever tried to understand? Did I listen to the other hand?
Have I ever tried to see? Points of view that are not part of me? Did I ever really wanna know? Or am I just drifting with the flow?
(chorus) Lead me to the angle of your eye Let me see from there Lead me to the angle and I try To see your world from there
Why is it that I’m so full of hate? Why am I so dumb and so afraid? Have I ever tried to understand? Did I listen to the other hand?
Why am I so dumb? Why am I so blind and narrow-minded? Why am I so dumb?
(repeat chorus x2)
Lead me to the angle Lead me to the angle Lead me to the angle and I try To see your world from there…
-“The Angle”, by Core
Before Link could come up with another excuse, he walked over to the door, kicking away a few of the more aggressive plants as they attempted to devour/poison/fertilise him. As he made his way into the hallway, he listened carefully, but surprisingly didn’t hear much in the way of brutal violence. Maybe Pink hadn’t sprung her trap yet.
It didn’t take him long to find Pink. He immediately looked around, and felt vastly relieved to see Shampoo sitting near the corner of the living room, looking kind of pissed off but otherwise seemingly not harmed or threatened in any way. In fact, Pink looked almost benign, sitting studiously reading a book. The only thing that was odd was the strange monocle-like thing she was reading through.
Though, wait a sec, that book looked familiar. He took a step into the room, opening his mouth to ask what was going on, but at that moment Pink looked up and saw him. She smiled.
“This Rumiko Takahashi bitch is a complete hack, over.”
Hybrid Theory Chapter 11: Papercut