End of an Era

To recap:

	Nerima, five years after the end of the manga series.  Ranma Saotome,
now married to Akane Tendo and shortly expecting the birth of their first child,
now faces seemingly impossible challenges from two of his deadliest enemies:
Pantyhose Tarou and Ryuu Kumon.  Immediately prior to the final, harrowing
battle with the vempyre Epsilon, Tarou (now having changed his name to Tom)
struck at Ranma, revealing his festering hatred for the Saotome heir by
betraying him and delivering him up to Epsilon on a silver platter.
	Ranma narrowly escaped permanent death, his soul eaten to fuel the
vempyre's ambitions, and participated in the coalition that destroyed Epsilon
once and for all.  But in the aftermath, Tarou had woven a net of confusion and
lies, coupled with his OWN grievance against Ranma, which left the GRITers
divided against themselves.  Then, into the confusion Ryuu Kumon struck, armed
with a seemingly invincible new style and a deep-seated grudge against the
Saotome clan which he refused to explain.  After nearly killing Ranma in battle,
the mysteriously embittered martial artist kidnaped Nodoka, challenging Ranma to
meet him in three days...or he would kill her to "even the score".
	In this desperate situation, Tarou saw an opportunity to strike, for he
had by chance seen Ryuu's new fighting style, and remembered it as one he had
read about in the large library of his sometime sensei, the absentminded wizard
Ginseng.  Tricking Ranma into meeting him in a private place, the Chinese
warrior revealed that he not only knew about Ryuu's style, but possessed the
counterstyle to it...and thus held both Ranma and his mother's life in his
hands.  Not only that, but he also revealed some other information he had dug up
some time ago with Ginseng's unwitting assistance...Ranma's promise to marry
Ukyou, made five years ago, and various other unsavory actions Ranma had
performed at the time.
	Realizing he had been lured into Tarou's power, Ranma demanded to know
what the older man wanted, and was surprised to know that Tarou was willing to
let him have the scroll with the counterstyle.  All he had to do was fight Tarou
and win...in a match to the death.  Seeing little choice, and eager to take
revenge against the man who had done so much to hurt him and those close to him,
Ranma accepted.  Shortly afterwards, the two met, amid a small crowd of GRITers.
Many had plans to stop the match before either could die, but some, Blade and
Al-X in particular, were determined that it continue.
	The first part of the match was marred by interference (surprisingly,
AGAINST Ranma) by Lisa Calaway, who had unbeknownst to anyone been put under a
geas by the cursed, bitter dragon-turned-human Gaeld for purposes of his own.
However, she was caught and removed, and now the battle between the two hated
enemies seems to be ready to start in earnest...

                        Dramatis Personae

Ranma Saotome: the star of the Ranma 1/2 series, a little older and a little
wiser, is once again thrown into events beyond his control here.  He is now
married to Akane Tendo, who is expecting their first child soon, and feels keen
worry both for her and for his mother, kidnaped by Ryuu Kumon.  While he escaped
death from Tarou's machinations and successfully got most denizens of Nerima at
least nominally on his side in the struggle, the frustration of being unable to
stop or guess Tarou's intentions has had him increasingly frustrated, as has
worry for his mother and anger and fear over Ryuu Kumon and his seemingly
invincible Kageryu-ku style.

Tom Tarou: Having nursed a brooding hatred towards Ranma from their last meeting
in the Rouge affair, Tarou finally felt the time was right to strike back some
months after returning to Nerima and receiving a new name.  Furious after Ranma
escaped death at Epsilon's keep, Tarou nonetheless recovered and kept his
opponents off-balance until he saw the opportunity Ryuu Kumon provided.  Despite
occasional flashes of humanity, Tarou has grown steadily colder and more
ruthless in his drive to attain vengeance.  Even his few former allies have
started to recoil from him, but have found themselves trapped in his intricately
woven web, helpless to do anything but play the roles he has assigned.  Recently
working on a mysterious new technique that has prevented him from getting any
sleep in the week prior to the match.

Blade: Angstful martial artist; in love with Ukyou.  Somewhat euphoric after the
seeming death of his hated enemy Epsilon, Blade quickly took Tarou's side in the
conflict.  Being highly protective of Ukyou and already despising Ranma for the
latter's treatment of her in the events leading up to and after Ranma's marriage
to Akane, he also has the ability to channel hatred and anger into a ki blast or
his ultimate technique; the Ka Ken Tatsushin.  This made him the perfect pawn
for Tarou, who used him unwittingly against Ranma due to his discoveries and
evidence of Ranma's broken promise to Ukyou.  However, after a confrontation
with Ranma and his close friend U-chan, Blade's conviction in the rightness of
his cause has been shaken, and something in Tarou is beginning to disturb him...

Ukyou Kuonji: The same okonomiyaki chef from the series; Ukyou had has a
difficult time adjusting to irrevocably losing her nearly lifelong love, but is
finally starting to emerge from the shattering disappointment.  She has been
both helped and hindered by Blade, with whom she has a somewhat awkward yet
increasingly close relationship.

Al-X: A werewolf and Communication Sciences expert; Al declined to choose a
definite side during the struggle but firmly supports the right of the enemies
to duel as they have agreed, even if it is to the death, due to his notions of
pack warfare.

U-chan: "Born" a mindless clone of Ukyou, U-chan was given sentience by a burst
of knowledge from Al-X.  Blessed with a great empathy for both the natural world
and people, she is one of Blade's few friends and has completely captivated Al's
affections.  After Tarou almost involuntarily saved her and got her to medical
treatment when she got involved in trying to stop an attempted ambush on him,
she thought she saw good in him and tried to befriend him and win his trust.
While she appeared to be making some tentative gains as he let her into his
confidence and she found out the full story behind his grievance with Ranma,
this proved to be merely a front, as Tarou coldly brushed her off when she
attempted to stop him from fighting Ranma.

Konatsu: The cross-dressing kunoichi from the series, Konatsu is still in love
with Ukyou but has come to accept she will never see him as more than a friend.
Surprisingly shook off his usual timidness and came out on Tarou's side early
on, though has not revealed why he knows Tarou in the first place: the
embittered Chinese warrior, months ago, had heard Konatsu's story and,
apparently touched somewhere by the similarities to his own, had given him a
large amount of money.

Ginseng: Sensei of Blade, an absentminded, ancient wizard.  Has provided Tarou,
also a sometime student, with a place to stay and access to his large amount of
scrolls, books and miscellaneous magical items, which Tarou used to good
advantage in getting the countertechniques to Ryuu's style and various other

Gaeld: A dragon who was cursed in the body of a human centuries ago; forever
searching for a way to restore his original form and manipulates the other
denizens of GRIT like chess pieces towards this end, always remaining in the
shadows of his intricate plots.  Has taken an interest in the battle, though for
what purpose only he could say.

Jason "Jo" Heavensrun: A boy, but trapped in his female cursed form
(Akaneniichuan) by a magical spell of rapid hair growth which only effects his
male side.  Had a simmering feud with Tarou, but when the latter tried to meet
and settle their differences peacefully, tempers flared and the two erupted in a
bloody and ugly battle which nearly killed both, and was only stopped from
outright death by Gaeld's interference, again for some plot of the ex-dragon's
own devising.

SKJAM!: A powerful wizard; ostensibly neutral in this affair but who has become
involved to try to reduce the possibility of death.

Jei Heavensrun, Ukkyo, Zephyr, Su Yee, Spice, Lisa Calaway, Scott, Thorn, Steven
Scougall, Jay Kumgong, Dr. Tofu, Wing: Various GRITers and Ranma characters,
drawn into the conflict for various reasons but playing minor roles.

(Scene: The fields of Furinkan, the crowd that has gathered to watch is now one
less thanks to the recent leave-taking of one Lisa Calaway, released at last
from her Order of Servitude and the grim duty of helping Gaeld in his nefarious
schemes that somehow involve Ranma being changed into a girl in this match.
However others have arrived, Su Yee the ghost and Spice the monkey-girl stand
nearby, along with Zephyr. Ginseng is also in attendance, making sure no magical
interference comes in from outside the ring...Tarou and Ranma, the focus of
everyone's attention, stand across from each other, separated by only a few
feet. Tarou looks almost casual in his Mien Ch'uan stance, like he was going on
a Sunday stroll instead of fighting a death match. Ranma is shifting his weight
constantly, looking for some opening in Tarou's defenses.  His face betrays his
emotions: raw determination and hatred directed towards Tarou.)

Tarou: You going to stand there all day, fem-boy?

Ranma: Not on your life! (Ranma charges in at Tarou, launching his sliding
forward amaguriken attack, Tarou falls back, dodging with rapid backward springs
that carry him just out of Ranma's range but still remain tantalizingly close.)
You can't run forever!

(Tarou simply smirks and chuckles evilly as Ranma continues at him. The crowd
parts as they push off the baseball field and towards the wall ringing the
Furinkan school grounds. Ranma notices that Tarou's dodging will have to end
when they reach that wall and he smirks, confidence flooding through his
expression. Tarou lip merely twitches in reaction.  Finally Ranma and Tarou
reach the wall, and Tarou has nowhere to go...but up. Which he does, springing
back and twisting he plants his feet against the wall and pushes himself over
Ranma in a high dive. Ranma's fists strike the wall dozens of times before he
even realizes that Tarou is no longer in front of him. He spins around from the
cracked and beginning to crumble length of wall to find Tarou standing several
feet away again. The older man has his arms crossed and is standing with feet
away from Ranma but torso and head turned so he can smirk arrogantly. He
chuckles evilly)

Tarou: Care to try again Ranma?

Ranma: (thinks) {Okay... plan B.} (He leaps at Tarou, crossing the distance in a
way he knows is faster than Tarou can retreat. Tarou smirks again and Ranma
spins, tossing a crescent kick at Tarou's head. Tarou merely nods his head to
the side, avoiding the blow except where the foot sends a few hairs flying into
the air. The rest of his body doesn't change position. Ranma lands and tosses a
series of grounded and aerial assaults; Tarou bends and contorts like a reed,
slipping and sliding around the attacks like a snake. When Ranma finally backs
off Tarou stands in the same place, his feet never having left the ground, his
hands having been used to block only four times in the entire exchange. Never
once did he attack back.) What are you waiting for!?

Tarou: If you insist.
(He comes at Ranma, launching a series of foreknuckles, but none even come close
to Ranma, who dodges and sideslips and otherwise evades every incoming strike.
Tarou doesn't seem to mind, then Ranma cries a fierce Kaia as he spots an
opening, dropping to the ground and sending an axe-kick at Tarou's face. Tarou
grins and falls back, the kick runs up his vest, creating a scratch along the
dragonscales, but Tarou himself is never touched. With a snort he snatches
Ranma's foot in mid-air and tosses Ranma away, who twists to land on his feet
and comes at Tarou again.)

Ranma: Damn it, fight me!

Tarou: (cracks knuckles) Alright, fem-boy, I'm ready now.

(This time the exchange is much more furious, even the MADM in the audience have
troubling following the blows as the two finally kick it up to full speed. A
blur dances back and forth across the battlefield, sending great gouts of earth
and sod flying into the air in its path.  The two warriors struggle in a way
that is beautiful in its ferocity, breath-taking in its deadliness, mind-
numbing in its sheer artistry.  There is nothing so simple as a block or a
dodge, no mere punch or kick, every move is part of a long process, one flowing
into the other without hesitation, some moves starting and finishing in the
middle of another, some seemingly out of the blue throwing the balance one way
or the other. To the audience it seems like two forces of nature have been
unleashed and they witness their titanic conflict like peasants, only glad that
none of them have been swept up in the battle. But no blow lands on either,
strikes always miss, usually by less than can be perceived by the naked eye. The
exchange continues for almost a minute, and seems like it might go on forever.
But then suddenly Tarou leaps out, retreating from Ranma's foot thrust. Ranma
blinks, wavers unbalanced...and then Tarou is in again, his hand clenched with
the two middle-fingers extended slightly in a duo-knuckle fist.  Ranma swings to
his feet and attempts a defense...but it is too late.  Tarou is already past his
guard, and the powerful strike homes in on Ranma's face like a guided missile.
Ranma cringes in expectation of the blow...Gaeld begins to concentrate,
summoning his magical power...and the fist stops a bare millimeter from Ranma's
nose.  Ranma blinks, stunned momentarily and Tarou extends his fingers to pinch
Ranma's nasal protrusion contemptuously.)

Tarou: Impressive, fem-boy. (he backs off as Ranma growls and takes a wild swing
at Tarou's face. Tarou sneers and chuckles evilly... again.) [Almost ready fem-
(Meanwhile on the sidelines Scott, Al and Steve watch in consternation.)

Scott: Tarou's playing with Ranma...he can't be -that- much better!

Al: He isn't. Tarou's playing totally defensive most of the time; it's much
easier than doing both. You saw what happened when they both went at it for

Steve: True...but Tarou's -still- holding back, like he wants Ranma to exhaust
himself...but Ranma's just getting angry, and more dangerous.

Scott: Wouldn't Ranma get -less- dangerous the angrier he got?

Steve: He's past the point where how angry he is is impairing judgement
already...but Tarou isn't capitalizing...

Jay: (from near-by, unable to help but overhear) He's not making Ranma angry,
he's crippling Ranma's confidence so he loses half his arsenal.

Scott: Damn, that's right!

Al: Tricky Tarou, very tricky...
(Back on the battlefield the two combatants are circling each other, Tarou's
face is as cool as ever, betraying no emotion...except for his eyes, which seem
to glow with an inner light as his gaze locks with Ranma's. Ranma, meanwhile, is
not disguising his hatred, hatred of this man who holds his mother's life in his
hand, who has hounded him and made his life a living hell. But Ranma moves
wearily, his hatred is mixed with uncertainty. Tarou eyes flash as he realizes
this, then he darts in, launching another series of foreknuckles. This time
Ranma changes tactics from the last time, moving in to meet the attack with one
of his own.  Ranma's kick deflects Tarou's attack and swishes towards his enemy.
Than the back of Ranma's knee comes up against the nape of Tarou's neck.  The
smaller man wraps his leg around so his heel is in front of Tarou's throat.
Crying out, Ranma flips, tossing himself off the ground and pulling Tarou with
him. Tarou growls in frustration and snaps his free arms around to strike Ranma
in the chest. Gaeld grins and concentrates...as he does, a janitor across the
lawn moves woodenly to a water spigot and begins to turn it...but before Tarou
can connect Ranma releases him and Tarou is sent flying across the field. He
lands on his feet, unharmed but nearly a dozen meters from his enemy. Ranma
grins at him. Gaeld growls in frustration.)

SKJAM!: Something wrong?

Gaeld: These two play at games when they should be fulfilling their roles in the
combat. Ignorant monkeys don't even know how to fight with proper honor. I have
other things to do today, I would prefer to leave soon.
(SKJAM! gives him a level look but makes no comment, the janitor has stopped in

Ranma: How about some of your own medicine, Tommy-boy? Like it?

Tarou: (face composed and calm, but eyes burning) You're a fool, fem-boy.  That
won't work on me.

Ranma: We'll see. (he stops, concentrating) [I have to save my mother. I have to
be there for Akane. Akane, mom... my child...] (Ranma tightens his stance and
waits expectantly for Tarou)

Tarou: Alright fem-boy... time to finish this. (he dashes in again, this time
keeping his hands unextended until the last second) [Come on, fem-boy... only
one stage left...]

Ranma: (waiting until Tarou is almost upon him, then ducks and pushes his hand
at the ground as Tarou's fist sails above his head) Love's Hand Revised...
(Suddenly a column of pink colored ki, nearly five stories high and a half-meter
wide, erupts from the ground under Tarou. But Tarou flips himself forward,
spinning up and his feet staying only a micrometer above the rising column of
energy. He finally completes the flip and flies out of the path of the energy.
He lands behind Ranma, who spins to face him, the column melting into
nothingness behind him. Tarou sneers and calmly pushes the off-balance Ranma
back with an extended palm. Ranma stumbles through the last dissipating sparks
of his own unsuccessful ki blast and faces the now laughing Tarou with rage
painted across his face.)

Tarou(sneers): Is that all you have, fem-boy? Love? That's NOTHING! Your pitiful
love will be the end of you. It couldn't defeat Ryuu and it won't defeat me.
Cling to your slut if you want, but it won't help you.

Ranma: (eyes widen at the "slut" comment) You... (he begins to glow) little...
(his glow intensifies) SONOVA BITCH!
(Tarou grunts as Ranma begins to glow and then grits his teeth; taking up a
strange stance he stares forward, everything but Ranma seems to fade from his
vision, then he is staring at nothing, his body held rigidly in front of Ranma)

Ranma: I'll kill you! (rushing forward) I -will- kill you now! KACHUU BISHA
(Tarou then snaps out of his trance...but it is too late for him to react. Ranma
slams into him like a freight train, fists flashing forward to fast for the eye
to follow, each holding a tiny sphere of glowing yellow ki in his cupped palms.
Each one strikes Tarou with full force, picking him up and driving him back.
Ranma roars and slides across the battlefield, his flashing fists carrying
brighter and brighter balls of ki as he carries the limp form of Tarou off the
ground. Finally Ranma stops, breathing hard as Tarou goes flying into the wall,
smashing it apart and bringing an avalanche of rubble down on himself. Everyone
starts to move towards the battlefield, unsure of what just happened.  Ranma
stands in front of Tarou, who lies on the ground with eyes closed and limbs
askew. He begins to smirk...)

Tarou: (evil chuckle)
(Everyone stops dead as Tarou's eyes open and he stands up, seemingly without
any trouble. He places his fists on his hips and stares at Ranma, not even
bruised for all appearances.)

Tarou: Is that the best you can do, fem-boy?

Ranma: (jawdrop) You can't be conscious!

Tarou: Okay fem-boy, now it's MY turn! (he pulls back for a haymaker, Ranma-and
everyone else-is too shocked by Tarou's seeming invincibility to react. Then
Tarou slams his fist into Ranma's jaw, sending the smaller man half-way across
the ballfield before he plows face-first into the dirt, creating a long ditch
with his momentum.) Now we're ready to fight, fem-boy!

Gaeld: (snapping out of it) [Damn...missed one chance...I won't miss the

Scott: Tarou isn't -THAT- powerful!

Al: No... no he isn't...
(Tarou begins to walk across the field towards Ranma, who stands up to face him,
uncertainty and hatred vie for control of his features...)

Tarou: (smirks)  So, fem-boy, do you have anything else besides that little

Ranma: [I must not have been confident enough.  Let him rattle me...well, he
won't do that again.]  You bet I do, jerk!
(Rushing forward, Ranma winds back for a powerful punch.  Tarou, still smiling,
makes no attempt to dodge, and with a cry of triumph smashes his fist into
Tarou's face, sending it snapping to the side...and immediately goes sailing
back again from the force of a powerful backhand.  Tarou, calmly, with no sign
of pain and his smile unchanged, stares at his fallen enemy.  Gaeld bites back a
curse as again Tarou's unexpected tactics-and reactions-have taken him off-
guard.  Ranma, crawling to his knees, stares at Tarou in disbelief.)

Ranma: You ain't human!

Tarou: No, fem-boy, _you_ are sub-human.  There's a difference.  Care to try

Ranma: [I'm an idiot!  He must have some kinda new technique!  Maybe one of
those ones to counter Ryuu!  Why didn't I _think_?  He wouldn't have challenged
me unless he was sure to win...damn it, if I can't beat him, Mom's gonna
die...and Akane...] (shouts almost involuntarily)  SHISHI HOKODAN!
(His palms thrust forward, unleashing a massive ki blast almost blinding in its
intensity.  Tarou does not dodge, does not move, does not flinch.  In fact, he
merely throws back his head and begins to laugh just as it strikes him...and
passes through him harmlessly, not even disturbing a hair.  Ranma's shock causes
the blast to actually intensify, but Tarou simply continues laughing, a
horrible, mocking laugh devoid of humor, kindness, or any humanity
whatsoever...merely contempt, hatred...and triumph.)

Jay: What the heck has he _got_?

Scott: I don't know, but things aren't looking good for Ranma...

Steve:  I think I know.

Wing:  You do?

Steve:  When Ryouga fires his perfect Shishi Hokodan he goes into a trancelike
state that makes him immune to it when it lands.  Tarou must have worked out how
to go into it.

Jei(worried): Ranma hasn't lost yet.

Thorn: "Yet" being the operative word...
(Meanwhile, Ranma allows the useless blast to dissipate, and panting, stares at
his still chuckling opponent.)

Ranma: How did you do that?

Tarou(sneers): Give away my secrets to any lout that comes along?  I'll tell you
this, though...you used the wrong ki blast.  (evil chuckle)  Now it's _my_ turn
to have a little fun!

Jei: What _is_ that trick he's using?

(On the other side of the field...)

Ukyou: (frowns)  [What did Ranchan tell me about the Shishi Hokodan...]
(Tarou rushes in again, prompting everyone to hold their breaths and Gaeld to
narrow his eyes...Ranma, unsure of what to expect and frantically trying to
develop a new strategy, pulls into a defensive position and holds his hands up
for a block...just as Tarou dashes in, swerves, and goes right past him.  Ranma
blinks in confusion, but then gasps in surprise as he feels something draw tight
around his neck.  Tarou, the pantyhose from around his waist now wrapped tightly
in his hands, twists and jerks Ranma backward, slamming a knee into his back.
Gaeld smiles, and the janitor reaches for the wheel again as Tarou forces Ranma
to his knees and plants a foot on his back.  Everyone watches in stunned
fascination as Ranma struggles with the silken garotte which is slowly choking
him.  Leaning down, Tarou hisses at his helpless rival's ear.)

Tarou: You _are_ truly pathetic, fem-boy.  Some excuse for a martial artist.
Perhaps I should finish you here and get it over with.  I don't know why you
bothered.  You couldn't save your mother from a cockroach, let alone Ryuu.
(Ranma sees red.  He clutches at the pantyhose, muscles cording...just then the
janitor completes the turning and the sprinklers start to flow...and then Ranma
leaps, his powerful legs carrying him and Tarou upward, past the initial flow of
water.  Tarou, off-balance from his foot, attempts to extricate his hands from
the garotte as Ranma twists to strike...down below, SKJAM! and Zephyr quickly
deactivate the water.  Gaeld remains cool, though his eyes burn, and the blank-
eyed janitor quickly runs off and disappears in the nearby woods just as Tarou
comes flying down and crashes into the ground from a powerful kick.  Ranma lands
lightly as Tarou stands up, sneering once more and tossing the pantyhose aside.)

Tarou: That was supposed to hurt?  I thought you practiced Anything-Goes Martial
Arts, fem-boy, not wimp-fu.  (taunting)  But then, I suppose your pathetic
performance shouldn't surprise me, should it?  You never were a martial artist,
just a pretender.  You never worked for anything, did you?  No, you only
trained, only practiced, only worked on new moves when you were forced.  Just
like everything else.  You're too lazy to be a real martial artist, fem-
boy...and that's why you still have the curse too, isn't it?  You waited too
long to get it fixed, and then what happened?  Poor baby, got Jyusenkyou
destroyed, going to be a hermaphrodite forever...but that's okay, I guess.  I
mean, Akane being such a tomboy as you always say, that's probably the only
reason she even likes...

Ranma(roars): SHUT UP!!!
(Heedless of his exhaustion and injuries, Ranma hurls himself at Tarou, his leg
hurtling down in a powerful axekick.)

Tarou: [Not yet...]
(Ranma's foot is heading for Tarou's head and face, but Tarou hastily raises his
arm to defend himself...though not dodging, for some reason.  But Ranma alters
his arc in the air, sending his blow past the arm and straight into Tarou's
shoulder.  There is a wet, sickening crunch, clearly audible to everyone on the
field, and Tarou's arm goes limp...but he doesn't even flinch, reaching over
with his left arm to seize Ranma's throat and jerk him easily off the ground.
Ranma struggles, raining blows down on the face and shoulders-including the
obviously broken one-of Tarou, but the Chinese warrior merely laughs.)

Tarou: Haven't you figured it out _yet_?  (he hurls Ranma away; the martial
artist plows face-first into the dirt)  You are NOTHING!  You've never beaten me
and you never will!  You're no martial artist!  You hit like a baby!  You
couldn't beat Ryuu if you had the techniques and practiced for a hundred years!
You couldn't beat me if you practiced for a thousand!  All you've got is your
vaunted 'love', and where has that gotten you?  You're going to die, fem-boy!
Here, now!  (his voice lowers as Ranma picks himself up) And then your bitch
mother is going to die, and your slut will pine away.  Without you your so-
called friends will drift off, and the next time some great menace arrives,
he'll just massacre the lot of them. Why?  Because you failed.  Because you're a
failure.  You're a failure as a martial artist, you're a failure as a man.
You're a nobody.  A freak of nature with delusions of grandeur, but now they've
been revealed for what they really are: nothing.  YOU are nothing.
(Tarou's words slam into Ranma like missiles, and by the end, Ranma stands up,
his face a mask of pure, unbridled hate.)

Ranma: I'm going to rip your lying little tongue out of your head, you
freak...and then I'm going to...
(Back behind Blade, Ukyou suddenly gasps.)

Ukyou: I get it!

Ukkyo: Get what?

Ukyou: Tarou!  He's...
(But Ukyou never finishes her sentence, for at that moment Blade leaps into the
air, his face determined.  His arms reach out, suddenly glowing with a white

Ukkyo:  Huh?  What's he doing?  Ramsori Ha, isn't...

(The people on the other side of the field belatedly look up...just as the sky
begins to rain ki.  Blade, using the speed-enhancing abilities of his Ramsori Ha
technique, lashes out his hands at hundreds of times per second, each thrust
unleashing a Shohoha ki strike to create a virtual hailstorm of the small white
blasts.  Scott, Steve, Jei, Zephyr, Spice, Al and U-chan are caught in his
surprise attack, and as one stagger back, for while the pitifully weak Shohoha's
do very little damage, they are irritating and blinding, and the sizzle of them
striking the ground, objects and people makes for a what Al might call a sensory
overload.  After only a couple of seconds, Blade cuts off the move and screams,
his voice carrying across the field.)

Steve(through gritted teeth):  Bastards...let...me...GO!  Tarou's going to die!


Ginseng: (breaking off a ramble on Upper Slobovian table manners) Eh?  (he
gestures, temporarily freezing the seven GRITers in their tracks) What did you
want me to do that for?
(Blade however, has already twisted in midair and landed to face HIS group.  He
unsheathes his claws, breathing heavily.)

Blade: No...interference...

Ukyou: Blade, I know what Tarou wants.  Don't you see, he's going to...

Blade(frustrated): I _know_!
(His face is angry, and exhausted by the vast amount of ki he just unleashed,
but in it is also a certain hopelessness, the face of a man who is walking
headlong off a cliff, realizes it, but has no alternative.  And thus, lost in an
inner struggle, he fails to notice one person, a person silent and ignored
throughout this titanic struggle, who begins to move...meanwhile, on the

Ranma(snarls): And I'd rip out your heart, but you don't have one.  Just a lump
of rock, cold, black and dead.  But don't worry...because I'M GOING TO KILL YOU
(With a roar, he charges forward...and Tarou smiles for the last time.)

Tarou(hisses):  Yes, fem-boy...yes you will!
(He, too, rushes forward, his good arm rising for a final blow...)

Blade: (head jerks to the side)  NO!
(He lashes out, but the combination of exhaustion and hasty aiming throws his
blow off, and the razor-edged, enchanted claws slice into...Konatsu's side.  The
kunoichi grimaces, but leaps over Blade and hits the ground running.  Blade
instinctively whirls, arms rising already...)

(The black ki blast hurtles out before Blade can realize and stop himself,
slamming into Konatsu, who lets the momentum carry him forward faster than even
he could ever run...and slamming between Ranma and Tarou, taking the brunt of
both punches and sending Ranma staggering back.  Meanwhile, Ginseng seems to see
Tarou for the first time since his arrival, and squints thoughtfully.)

Ginseng: That's odd...
(Back on the field, Tarou, his calm broken at the sudden interference and his
face twisted into a mask of rage, raises his arm to slam the staggering,
bleeding Konatsu out of the way...but as he is about to begin the swing, his
face drains suddenly of color.  With a choking gurgle/gasp, he collapses,
clutching his chest, and convulses once before lying still.  Ranma, shaking his
head as if waking from a dream, blinks in confusion as he looks at this.)

Ranma: What the...

Konatsu: Ranma-san...I said I couldn't support you, but that...doesn't mean I
could let...
(He starts to collapse, but Ranma catches him.  A brief glance showing him that
the unmoving Tarou is of no threat, he helps Konatsu a few meters away and lays
him down.  The others, now finding they can move, start to come forward to see
what's going on.  Blade, his face in warring emotion, runs over to Tarou.  No
one notices, however, on the side away from Blade, Tarou's arm inching over and
his hand closing in a grip on a broken piece of the wall...)

Ranma: Just what the heck is goin' on here?  Why did Tarou just collapse like

Jei: (shaking off the last effects of the paralysis, casting a dirty look at
Blade)  Well, obviously it was one of the techniques to beat Ryuu...

Ginseng: Umm...well, actually not, young man.  It was something completely
different.  I kind of wondered why he used it actually, when I noticed, because
it really isn't practical in a fight...

Steve: It was the trance Ryouga goes into to become immune to his Perfect Shishi
Hokodan, right?

Ginseng: ...but then again, since...hmm?  It's somewhat similar.  Through a
certain state of meditation, one can transcend the limits of the body, thus
rendering exhaustion and pain virtually nonexistent.  However, terribly
impractical, since the state also reduces reflexes and speed, and without pain
it's hard to tell what's injured, so you could be crippled in a fight even if
you win...

Ukkyo: (eyes narrow)  Isn't that like what Blade used in the tournament?

Blade: Quite, although Blade merely simulated the effect with the pills, and it
really didn't convey the same benefits...as he'll tell you, pain and exhaustion
were still quite affecting him...
(He looks expectantly over at Blade, as does everyone else.  The black-clad
martial artist is still kneeling over Tarou's fallen form.)

Jei: (after a moment)  Wait a minute...there's somethin' wrong with...
(There is a low, evil chuckle, and suddenly the limp form on the ground moves,
tossing Blade aside.  The martial artist, eyes rolled back in his head and a
freshly purpling bruise on his temple, lands like a rag doll as Tarou clambers
to his feet.  The Chinese fighter is a mess.  His face is as pale as death, one
arm hangs limp at his side, and a trickle of blood runs from the corner of his
mouth.  Yet his eyes glow with hatred, and his good hand clutches a broken chunk
of concrete tightly.  He speaks, and his voice is a hoarse, pain-filled rasp,
yet still carrying nothing but contempt and hatred.)

Tarou: You may think you've won, fem-boy, but you're wrong.  (he laughs, but it
comes out as a gurgle; Tarou breaks into a fit of coughing and staggers, but
does not fall.  Spitting out some blood, he continues with a vicious sneer)
There's only one way to win this match, and it's not over yet.  Otherwise, you
and your precious mother are still going to be sliced into ribbons by Ryuu.
(Ranma, his face warring between hatred and...something else...steps forward.
No one else interferes, caught up by the horrible spectacle.)

Ranma: Give up, Tarou.

Tarou: (eyes narrow; rasps) That's what you'd like, wouldn't it?  But if you
don't finish this, I'll recover.  And I'll hunt down your family, your
friends...everyone left that ever gave a damn about you, and I'll kill them all.
Hear me?  Fight, or go to your death knowing you've condemned everyone you care

Ranma: (growls; fists clenched)  Why bother goading me?  You can't fight any

Tarou(hisses): We'll see about that, fem-boy!  DIE!
(With that, Tarou crouches and leaps, hurling his shattered body into the air.
His fingers still locked around the chunk of wall, he swings his arm forward to
crush Ranma's skull.  Ranma pulls back his fist, preparing to smash Tarou away.)

Ukyou: Ranma, this _will_ kill him!

Steve:  Ranma, stop!  He WANTS you to kill him!
(Ranma's expression doesn't change, but in his head, he sees conflicting
images...Akane, defending Tarou...Konatsu and Blade, swearing their loyalty to
him...Tarou stabbing him in the back at Turnip Keep...Tarou, face twisted in
hate and triumph, pronouncing the death of Ranma and his mother if Ranma could
not kill him...Ranma himself, pronouncing that he had changed, that he could put
the past behind him...four years ago, the look on Tarou's face when Ranma had
saved his life...Ranma's face hardens, and he lashes out.  Tarou's blood-flecked
lips draw into a smile... and then Ranma's hand fastens around his wrist.  Ranma
twists, drawing Tarou around with him, shielding most of the impact but pinning
Tarou against the ground.  The Chinese warrior struggles, growling like an
animal, but he is exhausted, his breath choked off, his body too weak for even
the rage that got him up for this final attack to carry him any farther.  In a
moment it is over, and Tarou lies limp beneath Ranma.  His eyes, however, are
still alive, and they focus on his enemy, the burning hatred so intense in that
look that Ranma's soul shrinks away from it.  His mouth moves, and one final
word emerges, choked, covered in blood, yet still recognizable, the hate in it
striking Ranma almost like a physical blow.)

Tarou: Coward...
(And then his eyes roll back, his last struggles cease, and Ranma stands back,
looking down at his unconscious, dying opponent.  There is a moment of silence
as he stares down at him, a moment as the others wait, breathlessly, for Ranma's
decision.  Finally, he speaks.)

Ranma(quietly, flatly): One of you wizards had better help him out if he's going
to make it to Dr. Tofu's.
(U-chan rushes onto the field and kneels beside Tarou and Konatsu; she does what
she can to stop the bleeding, but a look of despair is on her face.  Abruptly
she feels the presence of SKJAM! beside her.  At his nod, she moves away
slightly, but does not leave.)

SKJAM!:  Certainly.  (He places his hands in Tarou's wounds and mutters a word.
An electrical shock passes through the downed fighter's body and revitalizes his
systems, as well as halting the bleeding; quietly) No, Tom Tarou, you don't get
off that easily...but a long rest may do you some good.

U-chan:  Could you do that for Konatsu too?
(SKJAM! nods and does so.)

Ukkyo:  Wouldn't it be faster to heal them up all the way?

SKJAM!:  Certainly.  But instant full healing has certain psychological ill
effects I'd like to avoid.  Ranma?

Ranma:  No thanks.  I can make it on my own power.  Besides, I almost let Tarou
make me like him.  I need the pain for a bit.

SKJAM!:  Well, that wraps things up here...Gaeld, better luck in less
manipulative schemes, and Thorn, I'd like to talk to you at my place if you can
spare the time...
(Meanwhile Al-now back in human form-walks up to U-chan.)

Al-X: Are you OK? (U-chan nods) Bull.

U-chan: (leans on him and lets him envelop her in his arms) He planned it this
way... he didn't want to kill Ranma until he turned him into...

Al-X: I know.

U-chan: I...I can't believe it...that's so...twisted...
(Jei watches the pair converse pensively, then walks over to Blade, who is
getting up.)

Blade: (rubbing his head) Come to lecture me some more?

Jei:  No.  I haven't a clue what's happened here, thanks to your seifu freezing
everybody...Even (glare) those of us who -weren't- doing or planning to do

Blade: (sighs)  I couldn't pick and choose with the technique...I hit U-chan
too, in case you've forgotten.  Anyway, what do you want?

Jei:  I want to know why you made the decisions you made.  This probably isn't
the best time for either of us, though.  I'll ask again later, after things have
settled down more.  (offers a hand to shake.)

Blade: (takes it somewhat hesitantly)  If you wish.

Jei:  Well, then, another time...(walks over to stand next to Ranma...)
(Blade sits on a broken piece of wall and stares pensively at nothing, his face
dark and troubled...)
Meanwhile, Jo has dropped from her hiding spot and made her way through the
crowd to kneel next to Tarou's unconscious form.)

Ukkyo:  What's on your mind, sugar?

Jo:  Just thinking about what Ranma just did...Stopping at the last second like
that...I wouldn't have.

Ukkyo:  What do you mean?

Jo:  I would have killed the bastard.  He's just declared himself to be a threat
to my family, my loved ones, my friends...I would have put him down and lived
with the guilt.

Ukkyo:  But you would've been-

Jo: (looks down)  I can't pretend to be altruistic anymore...I've already got
enough pain on my conscience.  I almost killed Shiro, and I didn't even hate -

Ukkyo: (kneels next to her)  You know, you can't say for sure.  You tried every
alternative with Shiro.  I've heard the whole story.  You were out of options.
Here, you would have had an option.

Jo:  But even so, I was willing to take a life.  Hell, I killed Epsilon too...I
should have been looking for ways to -save- him, not -destroy- him...It's like
the situation with you and Amy.  No matter what happens, it's a lose-lose
situation.  I hurt -somebody-.  I'm -leading- people into battles, and I can't
even manage my own -personal- life...

Ukkyo:  Jo-honey, you can't doubt yourself because of this.  People follow you
because they respect you, because you've lived up to their expectations
repeatedly in the past.  They follow you because you lead them.  Whether by
intent or by instinct, you lead them.  And sugar, believe me, people don't
believe in just anybody.

Jo: (lost in thought)  Maybe.

Ukkyo:  As for Epsilon, much as I hate to say it, sometimes salvation just isn't
an option...

Jo: (sigh)  I guess the question here and now then is if Tarou is beyond
redemption...This whole fiasco was his suicide note.  I think he wanted to beat
Ranma, but he knew...he -knew- that losing the battle, for Ranma, was just a
failure.  One loss in a mixed batch of ties, victories, and defeats.  Shameful
maybe, something to make Ranma doubt himself, but certainly nothing crushing.
And if he'd killed Ranma?  Well, that's death.  Nothing follows you there, not
even the shame of defeat.  In any case, Tarou would have had a shallow victory.
He wanted to beat Ranma somewhere -far- more sensitive.  He could have killed
Akane and some of Ranma's family, but then, that just gives Ranma someone else
to blame.  He wanted to put a stain on Ranma's conscience.  He wanted Ranma to
not be able to look his kid in the eyes.  He wanted to give Ranma an injury that
time couldn't heal, and that no amount of training could overpower.  But Ranma
beat him.  He won over Tarou's plan, over his own hate, and I don't know if
Tarou will be able to accept that...

Blade: (having drifted over and overheard the last part; smiles tiredly)  You
are a lot wiser than you give yourself credit for, Jason Heavensrun.  (sits
down)  If I'm not interrupting much?

Jo(guardedly): Go ahead.

Blade: You've begun to see the key of the matter, yes.  But it goes even deeper
than that.  (sighs)  In all this time, I never truly realized how far he'd sunk,
how desperate he'd become.  U-chan and Ranma were right...I was blinded by my
own quest, and thus I aimlessly helped Tarou, not realizing what he'd become.

Jo: So what gave you a clue?

Blade: U-chan opened my eyes...I wouldn't bother detailing how, but she did.
And then, I arrived at the field, and I saw him as he landed.  I saw how he
looked at Ranma, I remembered everything he'd said, everything he'd done.  But
even then, I wasn't sure...not until later.  The Shishi Hokodan, don't you see?
(he receives a blank look from the two)  Perhaps not, it is a rather obscure
function.  What people forgot about that, though, is that Tarou _wasn't_
defending himself.  He simply couldn't feel anything. But then, why didn't the
Shishi Hokodan affect him at all?

Jo:  I noticed that, but I wasn't sure why...

Blade: (pauses, looks pensively down at Tarou) Because there is one perfect
defense against any Shishi Hokodan.  When someone has lost their will to live,
their ki is so nonexistent it passes right through them.  Then I knew what he
was.  He had been eaten up from inside, become so paranoid, that he WANTED to
die.  He had no reason, no will to live anymore...all he wanted was to drag
Ranma down with him.  And to do it in a way that would use all of us against
him. (looks at Jo)  Imagine, for a moment, Konatsu not interfering.  Tarou was
going to die in that last charge...pain or no pain, Ranma would have smashed a
hole in his lungs and it would be over as Tarou simply staggered back and then
dropped dead.  And then what?  At first, maybe life goes on as normal.  But in
the future...could you, Jo, ever be fully sure around him again?  Could you,
Ukkyo, respect him again?

Ukkyo: Of course I...

Blade: (interrupts; intense) He would be a murderer.  And not only a murderer,
but one who had killed in anger, become so blinded in his rage that he had
missed the obvious signs.  He would have sunk to Tarou's level, as you said.
But not only that, does it not cast doubt on his claims that he never attempted
to kill Tarou before?  I've seen what happened...it's unclear.  Now, there is
that tiny sliver of doubt, of revulsion, or horror.  No one here would ever
forget this, and they would tell others...and some would draw away from him.
You _know_ some would.  And, of course, I was intended to be among the first to
lead the counterattack, reminding everyone of what I just said.  Ranma would see
what was happening, get angry, allow me to provoke him into a fight, which would
only reinforce suspicions.  (glances at Tarou again)  Oh yes, he planned very
well.  It's a ever-deepening circle, you see?  Ranma's friends have doubts,
Ranma gets angry, their doubts are reinforced.  Eventually, over time, his
friends leave him.  By now, Ranma would have figured out the crux of Tarou's
plan just as you did.  Angry, bitter, wracked by guilt and self-doubt, he grows
more and more dangerous under the stress.  Finally even Akane must leave him,
taking the children with her, because he is unsafe to be around.  And then
Tarou's revenge would have been complete...for he not only would have made Ranma
like him, he would have made Ranma INTO him.  He would have cursed Ranma, not
with death, but with life...his own life.  Ranma would have spent the rest of
his days alone, feared and hated by all, helpless to reverse the tide, raging
against his tormenter but unable to do anything.

Ukkyo: It...it wouldn't work.  Ranchan's got friends who wouldn't just...

Blade: Perhaps not.  But I wouldn't be so sure.  It wouldn't happen quickly,
but... (he shakes his head)  It's not worth arguing over now.  We have to worry
about what to do.

Jo: And what's that?

Blade: Ranma didn't win that match, Jo.  Tarou will live, and as long as he
does, he still holds Nodoka's life, and Ranma's as well, in his hands.  His
revenge is now hopeless, but there are other methods to gain a measure of final
victory. (stands)  All I can do is hope this may shock him enough to open HIS
eyes as well.

Ukkyo(caustically): Good luck.

Blade: You'd do well to hope so, Ukkyo.

Jo:  Blade...I...

Blade:  Yes?

Jo: (closes her eyes and swallows.  Hard.)  I...When I faced off against Tarou
not too long ago...(cough)  God, this is hard...I handled it all wrong.  I don't
think I really understood where he -was-, emotionally, and I think that might
have contributed to this whole thing...If I'd been a little more attentive, I
might have been able to circumvent this whole thing...

Ukkyo:  If you're thinking of blaming yourself...

Jo:  No, no...It's not that...I guess I realize that I can't hold myself
accountable for everything, but...(turns back to Blade)  When...-if- he calms
down, and you get the chance...I'd appreciate it if you'd tell him...(looks down
at her feet) that I'm sorry...

Blade: ... (nods) I will.  Sometime.
(Scene: a lonely street; a few barks break the silence, and a couple walks
quietly along, with her nested in his arms.)

Al-X: OK; what's wrong?

U-chan: ...nothing...

Al-X: (sigh) You can't lie to me; I know you too well.

U-chan: I...I don't...I mean...

Al-X: It's about Tarou, right?

U-chan: Yes, but it's not only that... He was taken to Tofu's, right?

Al-X: Wanna go check on him?

U-chan: <nod> I need to... I need to know he wasn't consumed by his
hatred...that he has a life ahead...

Al-X: (looks down at her, says nothing; just nods)
(Scene: Dr Tofu's clinic.  Ukyou, Konatsu and Ginseng sit inside a waiting room.
The kunoichi is bandaged, and listening attentively, albeit with a slightly
pained expression, to Ginseng rambling on about the cultural impact of Roman
earplugs on early Japanese civilization.  Ukyou, meanwhile, sits staring
pensively into space, the steady thrum of Ginseng's voice providing a background
that allows her mind to drift...and creates a perfect opportunity for a
flashback to several months ago...)

(Flashback: Ucchan's, late one night.  A shadowy figure walks up the street, and
as he comes into the light we see it is Tarou.  He walks to the door of the
shop, which bears a "closed" sign, but notes the door is ajar and enters...)

Tarou: Hello?

(The restaurant is dimly lit, the shades of the windows closed, only allowing
but little light through. He hears a whistling and, reacting on pure instinct,
claps his hands in front of his face. He holds the cold steel of a throwing

Ukyou: (from the darkness of a corner) Oh, it's you.  Better wash your hands
quick; the poison doesn't react to skin contact, but you better be sure.

Tarou: Poison? (walking over the sink) Since when do you poison your spatulas?

Ukyou: Since I realized how wimpy my martial technique is; with all these crazy
gaijin and supernatural creatures running about, it's better to be prepared.

Tarou: I see.

(Tarou walks to the table she's sitting at as Ukyou lights a table lamp; a
sickly light shines on a pile of papers she was working at.)

Ukyou: I was going over the Ucchan's accounting; all that's happened in the last
months have almost driven me broke.  I'm afraid I'll have to close or sell the

Tarou: I came to talk to you.

Ukyou: No shit.

Tarou: (growing more uncomfortable by the minute) It's about Blade.

Ukyou: That jackass?  He's dead; or at least he wants to be, but he's inside my
head you see; and that demon thing too.  I've gotta thank the werewolf; I don't
feel lonely anymore with this crowd in my mind.

Tarou: (resolved to get this over with) I made a promise to Blade; that I would
use the wish to make you happy.

Ukyou: He... wanted that? (her mask of bitterness cracks a little, but it's
replaced by a very disquieting evil sneer) No, thanks; I'm happy already; I have
lots of friends; I even prepared special okonomiyaki for them (signals the
counter, where a row of okonomiyaki lie, in wait of a customer).  They have
their names on them.

Tarou: (suspecting, walks and picks up one of the round dishes, dips a finger
and tastes it) Arsenic. (reads) "For Trina". (smells another) U-chan will
probably sense the hemlock in hers... but I think the cyanide will effectively
murder Christine and Ukkyo.  If I may ask; why do you want to kill your sisters?

Ukyou: Sisters!!!  Ha!  They are copies!  And they are happier than me!  They
don't deserve it! (grabs Tarou by the front of his gi) _I'm_ the One True

Tarou: (his mask of calmness never breaking) And after you kill them, what?

Ukyou: (begins pacing around the room, chattering with a manic look; picture
Helena Bonham Carter as Ophelia in 'Hamlet') Then... then I get everyone who has
hurt Ranma; he's my best friend, you know?  He, ha!  First the Chinese bimbo;
both of them!  And Kodachi, let her taste her own medicine!  I'll get Mr.
Saotome, that bastard!  Then...then I will kill Kunou, I never liked him
anyway...and then, then I kill Akane, I had the right idea back then, but the
wrong motives; you see, Ranma will never love me; his heart was Akane's, but she
always beat him up and hurt him; and Nabiki!!!  She kept abusing him too!!  And
Mr. Tendou, who pushed Ranma and made him fight his battles...then I get the
ones who've hurt _me_; like Tsubasa...and Konatsu...then there's Jason and his
brothers, and the rest of them for ruining my life (sob)...then I go after that
demon thing; we are linked, you see? (sniff) I can use that; he hurt Blade, he
and Epsilon; that thing replaced that baka, who at least was good company, but
then, then I'd kill Blade, but I'd kill him anyway after he died on me and now
that he doesn't want to come back (sob) and who does he think he is trying to
make you make me happy? (sob; suddenly giggles)  Then I'd have to kill Ranma
too; he hurt me with his cowardice; he never admitted that we (sob) we were only
friends and...

Tarou: Are you finished?

Ukyou: NO!  I'll kill you too!  And Dr. Tofu!
AndMikadoSanzeninandAsuzaandRyougaand AkariandthenI'llkill Mrs.Saotome
andthenKasumiandthenI'lltraveltoChinaanddestroythatawful amazonvillage <SLAP!>
(Ukyou crashes into the wall due to the force of Tarou's slap; he's still stone
faced as ever.)

Tarou: Forgive me; I had to do it.

Ukyou: Oh, my god...what's happening to me?  I don't want to kill anyone; I...I
like Trina and U-chan and Christine and...and even Ukkyo; I'm not alone anymore,
I have a family now! I (sob) I wish this would stop!  You have the wish!  Use it
and make it stop, please!  It's driving me crazy!

Tarou: As he was dying, the wish Blade asked me to make was that you'd never met
Ranma, so that you'd be happy.

Ukyou: Happy?  By never meeting Ranma? (Laughs, hard, with tears flowing freely)
That jerk! Even in his deathbed he's stubborn and shortsighted! (sniff) If I'd
never met Ranma, I wouldn't have the friends I have now; nor my new sisters; I'd
have spent my life as the rejected tomboy I was as a child; I'd never have the
friends I have now!

Tarou: And you'd never have met Blade.

Ukyou: Never have met him... (sob) No.  I don't want that, Tarou; I wasted part
of my life living a lie, but I have a lot ahead of me.  I don't want the chance
to throw my life away again.

Tarou: Good.  Then I know what to do with the wish now.  Goodbye. (turns to

Ukyou: Tarou!

Tarou: Yes?

Ukyou: Please, destroy those okonomiyaki.

Tarou: Of course. (picks the poisoned okonomiyaki) Goodbye.

Ukyou: Tarou!

Tarou: What now?

Ukyou: Where is everybody? I'm...I'm afraid of being alone now; I can go insane
with the demon pulling the link...

Tarou: They are debating the demon's challenge.  Come; I'll take you to them.

Ukyou: Thank you.
(Return to the present, as Ukyou ponders the memory.  Interspersing it with a
much more recent one, of Tarou, his body battered and broken, clinging to life
only by the power of his hatred, spitting out through lips covered in blood that
Ranma's family would die if he would not fight... and her face hardens
resolutely.  She stands, but just then she hears the sound of a shout...)


Blade: You _WHAT_!?
(In another, smaller room, Blade faces down Ranma.  Ranma has a determined, if
somewhat shamed, look on his face, while Blade's fists are clenched and his aura
is seething with black tendrils.)

Blade(hisses):  You..._promised_ her...and then you not only broke your word,

Ranma: Yeah.  Yeah, I did.  And Tarou found out...stole some of her diaries and
checked it out with some spell.  He used it to make sure I'd fight him,
threatening to tell you.

Blade: I'll KILL you, you little...

Ranma: Maybe you will.  I sure as heck can't stop you when you're like this.
But listen up, first.  I didn't _have_ to tell you, Blade.  I could've killed
Tarou, and even if I didn't, he's so obsessed with hurting me in any way that
everyone'd believe it was a forgery now and stop you.  I told you because...
(hesitates, then swallows) I was wrong.  Me keeping that from you because I
was... afraid how you'd react is no better than doing it in the first place, and
no better than anything you'd do in return.  You were saying I had to accept
responsibility for my actions, right?  (throws his arms wide, exposing his
chest)  Then you've got me, Blade.  Do what you want; beat me up, scream until I
go deaf, even kill me.  I won't stop you.

Blade: So be it.
(He brings his fists up, the familiar black aura beginning to swirl and
expand...and then suddenly, it disappears.  Blade grits his teeth for a moment,
but then the anger drains out of his face, leaving only weariness.  His arms
drop to his side.)

Blade: Yes, so be it.  U-chan and you taught me something, Ranma.  Something I
maybe should have seen months ago.  And Tarou, in a way, drove it home.  Revenge
is useless.  I could beat you up, I could kill you, and what would it solve?
Akane bereaved, me probably hunted down by everyone, and I'd destroy any chance
I have with Ukyou, and for what?  A few moments of pain for you.  I can't change
the past.  (he turns away)  You know what you did, Ranma.  You have to live with
it.  That is the only true revenge I can take, isn't it?  (sighs)  I hate you,
Ranma.  I hate you for what you've done to Ukyou, and even for what you helped
do to Tarou.  We'll never be friends.  But I have a life to lead, and so do you.
Nobody wins in a pointless feud over the past.

Ranma: A truce, then?

Blade: No, an armistice.  A truce is an interruption.  This is the end.

Voice: Will wonders never cease.
(Both martial arts look over with startled exclamations, to see Ukyou leaning in
the doorway.)

Both: Ucchan, I...

Ukyou: (smiles) Don't bother, boys.  I didn't hear what horrible evil was
perpetuated on me this time, and I'd just as well not.  Just remember what you
two said here.  (walking up, she pats them both on the head)  After all, I'm
happy with you two right now, and I don't want that to change.

Blade(bitterly): Bah.  I should have figured it out months ago...

Ukyou(seriously): Maybe so, but you've done it now, and that's the important
thing.  When you don't flog the dead horses in Ranchan's past, Blade, make sure
it isn't because you've switched to your own.

Blade: ... (looks away)

Ukyou: I mean it.  (waggles her finger at him)  I catch you moping around about
your failures and you get to handle ALL the cleanup that night!

Blade: (looking back angrily) Hey!
(Blade and Ukyou lock gazes for a moment, and then Blade suddenly chuckles and
relaxes somewhat.)

Blade: Alright, you made your point.

Ukyou: Had to pound it in with a sledgehammer, but that's par for the course
around here, sugar.  Anyway, now it's my turn.

Ranma: Huh?

Ukyou(serious again): Let me handle Tarou.

Ranma: Ucchan, he's dangerous...

Blade(simultaneously): But you don't even know...

Ukyou: (holds up a hand to forestall further objections)  You're both right, but
I'm still going to do it.  Why?  Because I think I understand him, and you two
don't.  (cuts off their protests)  Trust me on this one, okay?  Besides, the
first thing he's going to do if you're there is try to turn you on each other,
and if that doesn't work, he'll not listen to a word you say.

Blade: (opens his mouth; then sighs)  It's been a disturbing day.  Alright, you

Ranma: Just be careful.

Ukyou(mutters): Oh, like YOU'RE one to talk...
(Scene: later, in a patient's room at the clinic.  Dr. Tofu, after binding
Tarou's still-weak ribs and stabilizing his energy levels somewhat, has left to
see what he can do for the other patients.  Ukyou is the only one sharing the
room-as per her request-sitting in a chair close to the bed where Tarou lies.
The Chinese martial artist is close to wakefulness, for he turns and twists,
muttering words under his breath.  Most are unrecognizable or unpleasant-"kill",
"death", "fem-boy", "you're finished" et al-but once he whispers, almost too
softly to be heard, "mother".  Ukyou watches with a stony face-though she
twitches at the last-mentally preparing herself for the confrontation to come.
Finally, after a growl as if he was beating off unconsciousness in yet another
vicious battle, Tarou's eyes slide open and he coughs.  Looking over, his
exhausted eyes, the hate reduced to smouldering embers, focus slowly on Ukyou,
and widen slightly in surprise.)

Tarou(softly): You...what are you doing here?  (sits up)  Where _is_ here?

Ukyou: Doctor Tofu's clinic.

Tarou: (eyes narrow)  I shouldn't have lived that long.

Ukyou: SKJAM! healed you, partially.
(Tarou looks over in surprise, then laughs, bitterly, mockingly.)

Tarou: (gasps)  The wizard...healed _me_?  He's more of a fool than I thought.
(Ukyou hesitates but then decides against mentioning who requested it; Tarou
turns to her again)  And why are you here?  Surely you aren't so deluded as to
think you can talk me out of my plans.

Ukyou: Your plans are finished, Tarou.

Tarou: Girl, you have no comprehension of what I plan.  They've merely been

Ukyou: They've failed.  Ranma already told Blade about what happened.  And he
decided not to bother about it.
(Tarou stares at her, his face first contemptuous, then disbelieving, but her
words have the simple ring of truth, and Tarou knows it.  A crack appears in his
iron facade, jealousy and bitterness play across his features for the briefest
instant...but then disappear as his lip curls.)

Tarou: So.  I should have expected that.

Ukyou:  He didn't betray you, Tarou.  He grew up.  Happens to most of us.
(Tarou's expression doesn't outwardly change, but in his eyes, a bit of the
anger drains away, replaced by something akin to grudging approval...)

Tarou: An inopportune time.

Ukyou: For you at least.  And Ranma's going to fight Ryuu with or without your
techniques, you know.

Tarou: (shrugs; smiles)  Then he'll die.

Ukyou: And who was it that said death is an empty revenge?

Tarou: (scowls) As will his family.

Ukyou: An empty threat.  They've been warned now, Tarou...they'll be on the
lookout.  You may get one or even two, but you'll be brought down, and at any
rate, Ranma won't be around to see it.
(Angrily Tarou swings his legs around and starts to get up, but Ukyou easily
shoves him back down.)

Ukyou: Oh no, you don't walk away from this.

Tarou(sneers): A captive audience, am I?  (he lays back)  Do your worst, girl.

Ukyou: Why bother?  You won't listen.  I could tell you there's good inside you,
I could tell you that revenge helps noone.  You'll laugh and ignore me, just
like U-chan.  But... (she leans forward) ...we may look a bit alike, but I'm NOT
U-chan.  She didn't understand you.  I do.  (Tarou smirks, and opens his mouth,
but Ukyou cuts him off)  Your world is about to come crashing down, Tarou.  In
fact, it already has, although I'm sure you're trying not to think about it.

Tarou: Oh really.  And how is that?

Ukyou: Because you're wrong, Tarou.  Konatsu saved your life back in that fight.

Tarou: Pah.  To save fem-boy...

Ukyou: He didn't know what you truly planned.  None of us did, except maybe
Blade.  He just knew you were going to die, and he saved you.

Tarou: (shrugs)  Repaying the favor then.  Honourable, but hardly...

Ukyou: (laughs)  Repaying a DEBT?  Live in the real world, Tom Tarou!  Ranma
helped save Konatsu from a lifetime of slavery.  He told me what you did...you
gave him a lousy 5000 or so yen.  Do you think that even _compares_ to what
Ranma did?  News for you, sugar: he supported you because he felt sorry for you.
And he tried to save you because he cared.  (Tarou is silent, stone-faced)
You've been down in that pit of darkness, bitterness and hatred so long, Tarou,
that you think there's nothing else.  You've lost your hope for anything good,
haven't you?  You're not really a bad person, but you've locked everything good
inside you, away, where it can't weaken you, so you won't be vulnerable to us,
the vultures, the ones that are awaiting your fall.  Well you fell, Tarou.  You
fell for the last time...and Konatsu caught you.  And there's no way you can
explain away what he did in bad terms, or anything else.  He's a good person,
Tarou...and if he is, that means there's more of us.  People who won't stab you
in the back, people who won't betray you.  Oh yes, Tom Tarou, I understand you.
U-chan thought that somewhere, deep inside, you were calling for help, and that
if she extended her hand, you would take it.  But I know better.  You don't
think there is anything good, so you see the extended hand as a lie, a trick,
and try to drag us down with you.  The only way to help you is to grab you by
the scruff of the neck and haul you out of that pit.  Konatsu started it, and
I'm going to finish it.

Tarou: A pretty fairy tale.  What did fem-boy offer you to tell it?  Ah, I
suppose there could only be one th...
(Tarou's head cracks to the side from the force of Ukyou's slap.  After a moment
of stunned disbelief, he snarls and lunges at her, but again she shoves him to
the bed.  This time, however, he reaches out with his good arm and catches her
wrist, jerking her forward in an iron grip.  His pupils are dilated with rage,
the crimson handprint on his cheek almost invisible against the anger coloring
his face, but Ukyou-slightly pale from the pain of his grasp-continues talking,
and something stays Tarou's hand...)

Ukyou: You want to know why I know that?  Because of you, Tarou, you and Blade.
I saw what you were, back at the field.  You've outdone Blade again.  Why?
Because you, not him, are the real Angel of Vengeance.  Your hate has consumed
you, eaten you up so that you're only a shell...and unlike Blade, you were able
to lock away everything good about you, all your mercy, kindness and pity, and
devote yourself fully to destroying your enemy.  And I know what it's like,
because when I was connected to it, it almost happened to me.  But who saved me,
who knew how to bring me back to my senses?  You.  Because you understood me,
too.  You understood that in order to bring me back, you couldn't extend your
hand, you couldn't mouth platitudes about how I was hiding my goodness or about
my friends.  You had to be a wall, a wall against which all my anger could dash
itself, breaking apart, and only then could you shock me out of it.  Now I'm
going to return the favor, Tarou.  Because I owe it to you, and because you owe
it to yourself.  You are NOT the only good person, Tarou.  Everyone does NOT
want to hurt you.  You know it's true, Tarou.  You know it.  Are you going to
give up a second chance, a new life, for the sake of a revenge you can't take
anymore?  Or are you going to try one last time?
(Tarou, spellbound, struggling within himself, finally lets go, his arm dropping
limply to the bed.  Ukyou stands and steps forward, sitting down besides him.
She reaches out, and he flinches back involuntarily, but she seizes him with a
gentle yet somehow unbreakable grip.  She draws his head forward, staring at
him, at the cracked and crumbling mask that has obscured him so long, and past
it, to the lonely, embittered soul within.  Her voice is soft, yet intent.)

Ukyou: There _is_ more to life besides that pit, Tarou.  Blade knew it, when he
was with Tonya, and that gave him the strength to make the climb out.  Ranma's
made it, Konatsu has made it, U-chan and Al have made it.  I've made it.  And I
want you to join us.  Nobody should have to go through what you've gone through,
but now you have a chance to end it.  Take it, Tarou.  Come out.  You don't have
to be alone any more.
(Tarou, for a moment, can only stare.  Then, finally, the last vestiges of
haughty pride fall away, the last defenses crumble.  His eyes closing, Tarou
slumps forward, his head coming to rest in the circle of Ukyou's arms.  A
shudder ripples through his body, and Ukyou frees one hand to pat him awkwardly
on the back.)

Ukyou: Don't hold it in, Tarou.  It's hard to have your life torn apart like
this.  I know...
(A sob emerges, torn away from his throat despite all efforts to defend it.  He
tries to pull himself away, but Ukyou draws him back again, whispering something
meaningless yet soothing, remembering even as she does so how this man had done
almost the same thing for her on the way back to the meeting, months
ago...another sob emerges, and another, and then Tarou
gives up, his total mental and physical exhaustion leaving him defenseless;
great wracking sobs making his body shudder uncontrollably as Ukyou supports
him, quiet now.  Finally, with a great effort, he pulls himself nominally under
control, yet he still shudders, and makes no effort to draw away.)

Tarou(brokenly): Wasted....my whole life...

Ukyou: (softly)  No, it hasn't been.  You're still young, Tarou.  Your life is
just beginning, and you have the strength, the skills, the experiences you've
gained in the past to help you through it.
(Tarou chuckles; not his usual evil-sounding, mocking chuckle, but a tired,
good-natured one.  He pulls back, blinking his eyes clear, and the corner of his
mouth turns up slightly.)

Tarou: Well...I suppose it's a good thing you managed to keep Blade out of this.

Ukyou: (smiles back a bit hesitantly, her own heart touched by the experiences
and memories brought painfully back to life by the last few minutes) I guess so.
(she gets up)  Do you want to rest now?

Tarou: (shakes his head)  No, I don't think so.  (as Ukyou gets up, he swings
his legs over and rises, steadily if not nearly as smoothly as usual)  Hmph.
Well, I'll survive.  Is fe... (hesitates) Saotome here?

Ukyou: Yes...

Tarou: (his calm returning, if not his former coldness)  Excellent.  In that
case, let us go.
(Tarou and Ukyou walk out of the room, back into the waiting room where Ginseng,
Konatsu, Blade and Ranma await.  Blade, who had been pacing back and forth,
starts as he sees them, Ranma's eyes narrow, Konatsu looks relieved but worried,
and Ginseng doesn't notice and simply keeps rambling.)

Tarou: Hmm...quite the crowd.  (he looks at Konatsu)  It appears I owe you my
life, Konatsu Kenzan.  (he nods his head)  I won't forget that I am in your

Konatsu: Umm...it was nothing, Tarou-san...

Tarou: (smirks) Yes, well, I find my life seems more important to me recently,
so don't make me backslide by saying it's worthless, 'kay?  Oh, and speaking of

Ginseng: ...and as you can clearly see...eh?  Oh, Tarou!  (frowns)  Aren't you

Tarou(dryly): Wrong student.  Blade had that affliction for awhile, but he
appears to have recovered.

Ginseng: Oh yes...so what can I do for you?

Tarou: You have the scroll with the Shadow Dragon counters, I believe?

Ginseng: Why yes, I think so...
(Digging around in his pouches for a moment, he fishes out a velour scroll,
which Tarou deftly plucks from his fingers.  After looking at it for a moment,
he tosses it to Ranma.)

Tarou: You didn't win the fight, Saotome, but keep it anyway.  (evil chuckle)
You're going to need it.  (he turns to Blade)  Sorry about the headache, Blade.
And for pity's sake, stop gaping at me.  You look like a dead fish.

Blade: (stops goggling somewhat) Umm..err...

Tarou: Couldn't have said it better myself.  (he walks to the door)  I'm afraid
I'll be leaving for awhile, which will no doubt send everyone into paroxysms of
sorrow.  Do try to comfort them.  (opening the door, he looks back for a moment)
Oh, and Blade?

Blade(intelligently): Huh?

Tarou: Make sure you marry your girl there soon, or I might come back and steal
her.  (to Ukyou; stage whisper)  _That'll_ make him get guts.

Ukyou: (flat look) Aren't we humourous all of a sudden.

Tarou: It's been an unusual week.

Blade: More than usual, you mean?

Tarou: Exactly.  Well, I must be off.
(Tarou walks through the door, a faint "I'd get practicing if I were you, fem-
man" calling back.  Then there is a splash, a muted roar...and Tom Tarou is
gone.  At least, for now...


(The door to the clinic opens, allowing passage for GRIT's resident immortal
martial artist.)

Tsurugi: I guess that Tarou has recovered well enough already?

Ukyou: He, well...it could be said that he's better than he's been in a long

Tsu: I'm glad.  I like Tarou, regardless of what he thinks of me.  Though I seem
to have a tendency to like nearly everyone. ^_^;;  Now, Ranma, about your
mother, since you didn't kill Tarou, which is a good thing, you didn't get the
techs, which is a bad thing, so-

Ranma(holding up the scroll): He gave me this, it has the techniques that I'll

Tsu: He gave it to you?  I guess the good in him has finally broken
through...Well, I've got to go.  Ranma, should you need aid with the techniques
you know where to find me; Al-X and U-chan as well.  (Ranma nods) *sigh*  I
guess Tarou won't be around for a while, it seems the martial artisty thing to
do.  If you should by chance see him though, give him my regards.  Ja ne.
(Tsurugi bows and teleports out, just in time to miss the werewolves' entrance;
U-chan looks a little bereaved.)

U-chan: We heard rockets blasting; was Tarou...?

Ukyou: Yep; after Tofu's care he was ready to go.

U-chan: (looks at Ranma, then at Blade) How was he? I mean, in what terms did he

Ranma: It was weird; he gave me the counter techniques (shows the scroll); and
was actually in a good mood.

U-chan: Thank the Goddess...Ukyou...can I talk to you for a minute, alone?

Ukyou: (puzzled) Of course, let's go to that room... (eyes Al-X, who just

Blade: (once the Kuonjis are out of hearing range) What's wrong with her?

Al-X: I'm not sure; she wouldn't tell me, but I could read her clearly; she's
scared of something.

Ranma: Scared?  What of?

Al-X: Beats me; telepathy's still a little out of my league.

Blade: I wonder...

Ranma: 'Still'?

Al-X: Heh ^_^ |/
(Inside one of the rooms at the clinic...)

Ukyou: So, what's up?  (Without warning, U-chan explodes into tears and hugs
Ukyou)  Wha..? What's wrong?

U-chan: (wracking sob)

Ukyou: Hey, I can't help you if you don't tell me.

U-chan: I feel so... (sob) powerless...

Ukyou: Huh? sister, you're the one who turns into a seven-foot tall killing
machine and has earth and plants at her command.

U-chan: It's not (sniff) like that... (sob) Tarou... (sniff) I couldn't even
imagine he could (sob) could be hiding something so (snif) so -evil-.

Ukyou: Well...you knew he was being consumed by his own hatred, didn't you?

U-chan: But not so (sob) in such a twisted way... I couldn't reach him... (sob)
No matter how I tried (sniff) I had lost from the beginning...

Ukyou: You can't put that on yourself, U-chan; you had the right idea; maybe not
the right approach, but I'm sure Tarou had you on his mind as... (hesitates at
revealing Tarou's moment of weakness...) as he realized how empty his life was.

U-chan: Then...then he's not lost...

Ukyou: I wouldn't say he is. But that's not all of it, is it?

U-chan: (a little calmer, sits on the bed) I'm afraid.

Ukyou: I'd believe it from anyone but you, sister.

U-chan: I...I thought I was strong; that I could be someone by being there for

Ukyou: Hey, you've _been_; you don't know how much you've helped that
knucklehead Blade.

U-chan: But how can I trust anyone now? I never even imagined that hatred could
drag someone so...low. When I was possessed by that demon...I thought I knew
evil, but it was just mindless violence; never...never that insidious worm that
nested in Tarou's heart...

Ukyou: [Damn, I can't believe this; I forgot she's still a little over a year
old; I guess that despite whatever Al did to give her sentience, she was still
innocent in a fashion...] It may sound harsh, but...welcome to the real world.

U-chan: (seemingly not having listened) I think I've lost my faith in

Ukyou: Now, don't start that way; c'mon, you have Al; he's a pretty decent guy.

U-chan: He's half wolf.

Ukyou: What about Ranchan?

U-chan: His egocentrism played a part in this fiasco.

Ukyou: [Great, just great.] There's always Kasumi.

U-chan: Have you seen her recently? She's turned very selfish for no apparent

Ukyou: Alright; forget sterling examples of virtue; there aren't any; but you
have to deal with the bad as well as with the good; you only realized now how
_bad_ it can be. Look, you're on your period, right? Why don't you go to sleep
and have Al fix _you_ dinner for a change? I'm sure you'll feel better in the

U-chan: I don't know. I'll try. Thanks. I'm sorry for the bother. (leaves)

Ukyou: Hell...

Al-X: (as she returns) Feeling better?

U-chan: Sort of. Let's go home.

Al-X: Ooookay... (looks inquisitively at Ukyou; she just nods). Bye, guys; you
know where to find us when it's time to deal with Ryuu. (they both leave)

Blade: (getting closer to Ukyou) She didn't look too well to me.

Ukyou: (sigh) That baka Tarou hurt one he didn't intend to; and I guess it's our
fault too.

Blade: -Ours-?

Ukyou: We never noticed that all her straightforwardness and caring was born
from a certain innocence and not precisely strength of character; after all, she
hasn't been alive for more than a year and some months. Tarou just shattered
that innocence. I hope Al catches on; he can be a little dense sometimes.

Blade: I suppose you're right.  (pause) Well, like U-chan, we can't solve all
the world's problems.  At least, not in one day.  (looks down at her) Shall we
go home?  It's been a tiring day.
(Ukyou nods, and the two head out the door...)
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