Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ A Tale of Two Wallets ❯ A Challenge of Gluttony ( Chapter 117 )
A Tale of Two Wallets
(An Altered Destiny)
Written by Jim Robert Bader
Proofread by Shiva Barnwell
Nabiki's Journal Continues:
You have to give it to Picollet, it takes balls to interrupt a wedding that's being attended by Gods, Mages, Lore Masters, Superheroes and more Martial Artists than you could stock into a hundred Chinese Chop-Sockie flicks, let alone to proclaim that the bride intended-meaning ME-was his by right of conquest. I mean, honestly, not many guys would take their lives in their hands like that…kind of like that time Ryoga lit a match inside a fireworks factory just to find out where he was, and the match he lit just happened to be a flare gun.
To say the least, I wasn't amused in the slightest, especially in light of al the trouble I'd gone through just getting Ranma to the altar, let alone in the mood to say "I do" to our impending marriage. I was about to unleash the fury of hell itself on the poor bastard, and that would have been a kindness compared to my second choice…letting the entire Hibiki Clan have a few choice words with him and their fists. Of course the way the problem wound up being dealt with was an eye-opener in itself, but let me get to that point first by explaining how it happened.
Ranma was the first of us to break the silence by saying, "You WHAT, Jerk?"
"You heard me, Saotome," Chardin smiled in that smug, ingratiating way that rich boys have of looking down at their supposed "betters," "Have you forgotten Paris already? The promise you made of a rematch between us? Your bride will be mine by right of forfeit if you back down now in front of all these witnesses it will proclaim that the Saotomes have no honor and no right to make fit husbands."
"Why you…" Ranma balled his fists but I could see the pride showing in his eyes, that he knew he was cornered and would have to meet this challenge or feel lessened in his own eyes.
It's just one of the things I love about the big lug, but at times like this that pride can be so annoying!
For my part I felt like slapping myself for forgetting about Paris. Sure we had a whirlwind tour of the place and got to take in all the sights when our borrowed balloon (courtesy of Prince Kirin) had stopped in for some repairs, and after the craziness in Pangea I figured we both needed the break. I mean, playing the Jungle Girl route with Ranma as Tarzan and Shampoo as Sheena was all fine and dandy, but after dodging cannibals, dinosaurs and other exotic forms of crazed wildlife, I figured a quiet time perusing the shops of a fashionable European city would be a nice change of pace, and…who should we run into but this blond haired eating machine who represents a school of martial arts that is entirely about EATING!
Up to that moment I didn't think anyone could hold a candle to Ranma in that department, but Picollet and his Chardin school were a whole new chapter in gluttony and avariciousness that has to be seen to be believed (and believe me, I don't relish anyone the pleasure!). Having just so recently discovered myself on the food chain, this was not the sort of change of venue that I was looking for, and when you've just left a whole island full of people and things who want to eat you, my sympathy goes to the cuisine! The shocking thing was…the Chardins had a valid claim upon the House of Tendo, due in no small measure to the mutual stupidity of both of our fathers.
Twenty years ago Daddy and Uncle Genma stumbled into a Chardin house (operating in Japan, of all places) while on their infamous training mission with Happosai. Starving and in need of a meal, they were lured by the temptation of a "Free Lunch" that had only one provision: If you defeat a Chardin, the meal is on the house! Naturally two famished grown men were inclined to assume that they could eat anything on the table, including the table, so fancy their reactions when Picollet's father should show both of them up by making the food disappear even faster than they could.
And then the bill for the goods…far more than either man expected to see in a lifetime.
Need I go on and explain what happened next? As alternative to working off their debt for the remainder of their lives, Daddy promised the senior Chardin that one day a daughter of his would be pledged to marry a son of the Chardin house…and lucky me, Picollet singled me out for consideration, though he could just as easily have victimized either one of my other two sisters (Kachu doesn't count, of course, since she's already married).
I could hear several wedding guests murmuring the question to each other, "Who is this guy and what's his claim upon Nabiki?" Well, Daddy at least had the good graces to look shame-faced for his part in this fiasco, while I could see Shampoo looking confused and indecisive, as if wondering if she should take this guy out for our benefit, and-of course-her two younger sisters seemed more than ready to do the deed for the sake of their big sister.
"Is very brave boy he challenge husband to Big Sister," Ling-Ling murmured to Lung-Lung.
"Handsome boy…and he no married," her twin murmured back, and my two colorful "bridesmaids" gave each other a conspiratorial smirk at one another.
I was fretting mostly because Ranma and I had promised to prepare ourselves for this match, but with all the craziness that had gone on over the past week neither one of us had taken the time to do any training, and now a week had elapsed and the both of us were caught flat-footed. So much for my vaunted powers of precognition!
But then-much to our surprise-someone else stepped forward to confront this French-born dandy, Uncle Saotome himself, large as life and with the fat to prove his qualifications!
"See here, Boy," Genma growled, "I remember you and your father, and so does Soun. We made a bad bargain with your house that day, but who knew then how things would turn out? Better walk away now while you can, because you're not having Nabiki."
"And who is going to stop me, Old Man?" Picollet sneered the word in such a contemptuous tone that even Ranma bristled at the insult.
"If I must," Genma replied, "I've had twenty years to prepare myself for this day…twenty years of having to abide with the pain and humiliation of knowing that I was bested in my favorite of all professions. Both the Saotome and Tendo schools suffered a black day that must be wiped clean from the slate of memory before either Tendo or I can go to our graves in peace."
"You think the horrors beyond the grave will be any worse than the humiliation you will suffer at my hands, Old Fool?" Picollet sneered in a stylish, genteel manner.
"Bring it on," Uncle Genma responded, and from the way the sunlight gleamed off his glasses even I felt a shiver of fear run down my spine, for my instincts told me he was being entirely serious about this matter.
"Pop?" Ranma blinked his eyes, and I could tell from his expression that he was wondering if somebody had just impersonated his father.
"Aiyaa," Shampoo murmured faintly.
"Is he for real?" Ukyo's disbelieving tones were quite understandable under the circumstances.
"Uncle Saotome?" Akane sounded no less disbelieving.
"Dad?" Ryoga sounded just as dumbfounded.
"Saotome…" Daddy gasped in equal amazement at such fierce determination.
"Very well," Picollet snapped his fingers while maintaining his serenely confident expression, eyes locked in battle with his prospective opponent, "Since you will not be talked down from such foolishness, have at you!"
To the amazement of our guests, at the sound of Picollet's signal, a horde of well-manicured and excellently well tailored waiters flooded into the yard bearing trays and a table, which they set about to arrange in good order, and before our astonished eyes in mere seconds a complete banquet was laid out before us. It was the kind of mouth-watering feast that could have sustained a good sized village, which sort of reminded me of how Ranma and his father had wound up in that Amazon mess near the end of their training mission, but if not for that then we would not now have Shampoo in our lives, so…never mind that diversion. The point is that I doubted right then and there that even Uncle Genma's bottomless pit could handle so much food at one time, and we were probably going to have to invest in some seltzer when this was over.
Yet Genma seemed unnaturally calm as he stood his ground without wavering, and the grim expression he wore, the same expression he'd adopted when ordering us to leave the offices of the combat lawyers, just minutes before he leveled the whole building bare handed!
"Gemmi-chan," Atsuko's voice quavered with emotion.
"Husband?" even Nodoka seemed surprised at her husband's fierce determination.
"Genma," I heard Comb faintly murmur, "What are you doing?"
"That's what I would like to know," Silk frowned and glanced sideways at Lotion, "Could you possibly know the answer to that one, Grandmother?"
"Of course," Lotion replied, "I was the one who informed Genma that Picollet was coming."
"YOU WHAT?" I blurted before remembering to tone down my volume, "And do you think you might at least have told me about that?"
"You had enough on your mind already, Child," Lotion replied, "Besides, there was no need…I also informed Genma of how the Chardin school might be countered."
"SAY WHAT?" Ranma blurted before belatedly remembering himself to lower his voice to a near whisper, "You know how to put that fancy-pants in his place? Spill it already!"
"Patience, young War Master," my nominal Elder replied, "This is your father's hour, do not spoil it. Besides, it is not a technique which you could use on an empty stomach."
"Huh?" we both said together, then turned to look as the battle royale was about to get started.
Chardin seemed supremely confident of himself as he assumed his place at the table, and with more chefs waiting on hand to fill the plates of the contenders, he seemed to have every confidence that he would be victorious in another moment. Genma took his place at the opposite end of the table, but there was the gleam of a smile that I thought I sensed from watching his side profile. This was a match of determined fighters, masters of gluttony unparalleled about to exchange forks and chopsticks across a field of honor that was sumptuously laid out in a mouth-watering spectacle that was causing even my stomach to grumble in complaint. At the height of tension an old and stately woman stepped forward, one dressed from the neck down in a long and frilly gown that gave her a matronly appearance, her glasses adding to the sternness of her expression.
"Monsieur Saotome," Picollet waved to the old woman, "May I present Madame St. Paul, who shall be the judging official of this batter. She is senior instructor in our school and knows the ways of the Chardin school by heart. If you like she will instruct you in the particulars of our battle."
"Not necessary," Genma replied, "I had a very good instruction at the hands of your father…care to see how much I've learned?"
"Very well," Picollet smiled, "We shall begin when you are ready, Madame."
"You each have equal portions set before you," the stern matron intoned with all the solemnity of a Sumo master, "First one who finishes off his plates wins, the loser will be the one who has food still remaining uneaten."" She raised a hand bearing a knife and fork and then lowered it with a cry of, "BEGIN!"
What happened next is one for the books…the hands of the two opponents becoming a blur as food began to disappear with frightening haste, almost evaporating before our eyes, to be replaced once again by serving waiters who set more food down for consumption, only to see that vanish as well in the space of a few seconds.
But then-to everyone's amazement-Chardin backed away from the table with something stuffed in his mouth that looked like the whole side of a chicken. Genma cleared his plates off and then smiled, dabbing his chin with a napkin before sitting back and saying, "Those chicken bones can be tough for the craw, eh Son? Too bad for you…I win."
Indeed, there were still several uneaten plates of food on Picollet's side, and while he struggled mightily to finish off his portion he had to swallow something a lot thicker than a whole chicken…his pride! His stupefied expression was as nothing compared to the open mouthed astonishment of his mentor (and when I say "Open Mouthed" here, that really means something when referring to a member of the house of the Chardin!).
"IMPOSSIBLE!" she exclaimed, "There is no way that you could have eaten more than Monsieur Picollet!"
"Quite right," Uncle Genma nodded, "But you didn't count on me discovering a long forgotten and forbidden technique of your school called the Parley Du Foie Gras, did you?"
Madame St. Paul's jaw quite literally hit the ground (and if you doubt that's even humanly possible, then you've never seen a Chardin with their mouth hanging open). Even Picollet seemed horrified at the mere mention of those words, giving Genma the sort of distance that one might accord to a leper and looking very much like he was about to toss up everything which he had just swallowed!
"The Parlay Du Foie Gras?!?" he cried in dismay, "Surely no one in their right minds would dare risk such a terrifying technique!"
"I would," Genma replied, "For the sake of my pride, for the sake of my son, for the sake of the future happiness of our schools, I would dare even this to insure that Ranma marries his Nabiki. You can't have her, Boy, she belongs to House Saotome by right of battle. Concede that you lost now, or I will be forced to get very angry."
"Angry?" Madame St. Paul slowly recovered from her shock, "But after using the Parlay Du Foie Gras, you cannot have the strength to even stand, let alone threaten my ward!"
"Don't say never to a Saotome," Genma tried to force himself to stand up from the table, but to our amazement his legs lacked the strength to support him and he instead fell out of his chair, as weak as a kitten, "Okay…maybe I could stand a little rest…"
"GEMMI-CHAN!" Atsuko rushed forward.
"Husband!" Aunt Nodoka managed a more leisurely rate of travel, no doubt partially hindered by her kimono.
"Genma…what did you do?" Comb sounded no less dumbstruck.
"Did that fat fool actually sacrifice himself for somebody else for once?" Yumi asked in amazement.
"Saotome…" Daddy rushed to his best friend's side but then just stood around looking anxious while Atsuko and Nodoka fretted over him.
"Pop," Ranma and I started to move forward, only to have Lotion thrust her staff in our way, blocking our forward movement.
"Calm down," the old woman said, "He'll be all right, he just lacks enough energy to move on his own. That technique takes a lot out of a body, but his reserves of fat will help to sustain him."
"What are you saying?" Ranma demanded, "After all that food Pop ate?"
"He didn't eat any of it, Son-in-law," Cologne spoke up and surprised us, "That gesture with the napkin was for our benefit, but in reality not one morsel of food passed his lips during the whole encounter."
"WHAT?" both Ranma and I again chorused together.
"Aiyaa!" Shampoo exclaimed, no less appalled at this revelation than we were.
"I would never have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes," Siren exclaimed in tones no less shaken, "Saotome Genma gave up a meal in order to shove food into someone else's mouth?"
"What is the world coming to?" quipped Ganglot, who sounded a lot less surprised than the rest of us put together.
"The rules of the Chardin school require that food be consumed without being seen by the naked eye," Lotion explained for our benefit, "Speed of consumption is important, as is the elegance with which food is dispatched…the problem is that the Chardins are trained almost from birth to distend their mouths and develop cast iron stomachs that makes the rapid consumption of food possible, and against that an ordinary mouth…even Genma's, would be a poor match to compete. Fortunately the rules do not specify whose mouth is used to do the consuming."
"You mean…?" I gasped as I suddenly comprehended the significance of what my mentor was saying.
"Genma cleaned off his plates by rapidly shoving his food into young Picollet's mouth, and with twice as much to eat, Chardin was at a critical disadvantage."
"Whoah…" Ranma almost fainted but for my arm steadying his at the moment, "Pop…gave up food…to win a fight? That's…that's…that can't be!"
"I don't believe it either, Son," Hairbrush remarked, "Your father sacrificed everything for the sake of defeating your rival."
"Saotome…you humble me," Daddy declared, weeping openly for his fallen comrade.
"The poor guy," Akane sympathized.
"Genma, you fool…" Comb whispered in tones that belied her attempt at sounding stern.
"Husband…you truly gave of yourself this time," Nodoka bowed her head, "I am…humbled by your courage."
"Saotome," I heard Kuonji Akira remark, "I almost take back nine tenths of everything I ever said about you…almost."
"Well, what are we waiting around for waiting for him to starve to death, huh?" Atsuko suddenly spoke up, "Gemmi-chan needs food in his stomach! The fight's over, right? Then it's okay for him to eat again!"
"For once I'm with you," Yumi nodded, then spoke up, "SOMEBODY GET THIS MAN SOME FOOD! If not, then I'll whip up a stack of okonomiyaki!"
That broke the tension, and Chardin was forced to concede gracefully, but no sooner was the apology out of his mouth but then Ling-Ling and Lung-Lung pounced on him and wrestled him down to the dirt, proclaiming loudly that they wanted to challenge him to a fight, and they were ready to whip up a meal between them to see that he defeated them in open competition.
"Children?" Comb sounded shocked, "What are you doing?"
"We tired of waiting to find right man, Mother!" Ling-Ling declared flatly.
"No care if this man have funny mouth, he handsome!" Lung-Lung seconded her twin's statement.
"I think we'd better concede at this point, dear," Hairbrush murmured to his wife, "Before our little ones stage their own mini-riot."
"Well, at least he's rich, right?" Siren grinned, "You could do worse for a son-in-law, believe me."
"You guys sure about this?" Aki asked.
"A mouth like that would freak me out," Ryomi murmured with distaste.
"You're freaked?" Kenou grimaced, "It's gonna take me the rest of the day to get my own appetite back!"
"Oh my," Kasumi spoke up right then, "Is this excitement over at last? Maybe now we can get on to finishing up the wedding?"
"And excellent point, Darling," Kodachi nodded, "Wedding first, then Monsieur Chardin can help cater the reception as a courtesy for his rudely interrupting our fun."
"Huh?" Picollet's mouth fell open once again, but this did not seem to affect the twins as much as it would have had it been me in their position (and fat chance of that ever happening, hah!).
"An excellent idea," Ganglot noted, "We have unfinished business here, and unless Saotome is willing to let his father's noble gesture go for nothing…"
"What?" Ranma steadied himself and took my arm very firmly, "Not a chance! Come on, Nabiki…let's do this."
I tightened my own hand in his and smiled with a surge of happy emotions, and then we turned back to say our vows to the priest, who conducted the remainder of the ceremony, and it was a beautiful thing the moment we said "I do" to one another and he put his ring on my finger (which Ukyo was thoughtful enough to provide), and then he lifted my veil as we turned to kiss one another…and like that it was done…we were MARRIED!
Married! Even now that word sounds strange to me, but the very sound of it is music in my ears. We were overwhelmed by a sense of the world around us dissolving for a moment as we sucked on each other's mouths and playfully meshed our tongues together in a virtual wrestling match, right up until the priest politely coughed to remind us that we had witnesses, and some were underaged. We took the hint but smiled together, promising with our eyes that we would be doing a lot more kissing when alone together.
Shampoo was so overcome with happiness that she impulsively hugged us both with rib-crunching enthusiasm. Her time would come in another few hours, but by mutual agreement this hour belonged to both Ranma and me. She was so delighted at seeing her airen united together that I felt certain that she was going to kiss me on the spot, but she managed to control her impulses for the sake of our dignity, even as I smiled at her and silently promised that I would be just as enthusiastic when our Amazon rites would be performed in secret together, with just close family members of those born Amazons in attendance.
With the ceremony successfully concluded, our guests felt free to retire to the banquet table (which had been prepared in advance by the combined energies of some of the best female chefs in Nerima), now bolstered by a side helping of French cuisine care of a certain Chardin.
What happened next was a blur in my mind with people coming up to congratulate us, the boys to offer me a hug, the women wanting to kiss the groom (with my stern approval, of course, especially when it came to his cousin Usagi and her beautiful cohorts). Genma was busy having food shoved down his throat by his ladies, with even Yumi making sure he ate his fill and Comb finally conceding enough concern to insure he got his equal share of Ramen. Ukyo's father, Kuonji Akira, wished us both a fine honeymoon and then said a few grudging words of respect to Genma before wheeling himself off into a corner. The guests all broke up into separate groups and began chattering away as though we were all one great big extended family, old and new friends exchanging pleasantries with new acquaintances and well wishers. In fact, everyone seemed to be having such a great time of it that no attention or particular significance was paid to a certain young man who came crawling into the yard, looking fairly exhausted.
It took a moment, of course, before even Cologne noticed his presence, and then I thought I detected a note of concern in her voice as she said, "What happened to you, Happy? You missed the entire wedding."
"Couldn't help it…" the exhausted youth that was Happosai's cursed form wheezed out, "She wouldn't let me out of the house…she was like a tiger…I never knew women could be so damned insatiable…whee…"
"Yo, check out the old Freak," Ranma said as he started to notice the plight of Happosai, "Hey, Gramps! You feeling all right over there? You want some cake or something?"
"Huh…a lot a pup like you knows about feelings," Grandfather Happosai complained, "You think you got it rough with two honeys hot for your bod? Try spending an afternoon with Hinako, I double dare you!"
"She must have drained him dry to sustain that much energy," I noted in passing, "No wonder he's too pooped to pop."
"Good point," Ukyo conceded, "I doubt she'd have done it with him in her child form."
"Hah, serves him right, if you ask me," Ryoga scoffed, "The old fool got himself into this, now he can suffer the consequences just like anyone else would."
"Why you…" Happosai started to push himself up, then collapsed again as if this effort taxed his reserves, "If I wasn't so tired I'd show you a thing or two…"
"Oh yeah, like we're so scared of the big-bad master," Ranma scoffed, "Give it up, Gramps…in your cursed form you're too weak to give either of us a good workout."
"And as an old man you're even twice as pathetic," Ryoga joined in with equal derision.
"Oh yeah?" Happosai bridled, this time managing to accomplish by anger what he had been unable to do on reserve power, which was force himself up into a sitting position, "A lot you know! Why, you young punks don't know how easy you have it with your naturally good looks, which all the ladies swear by…"
"Looks ain't everything," Ranma said, "You need a personality to go with it, and, Gramps…you ain't got nothing on us there either."
"That's it!" Happosai turned and saw one of the French waiters passing by with a tray full of hot food and beverages and without hesitation jumped to his feet and snatched up a tea-pot, which same he then doused over his own head, reverting at once to his shrunken gnome form. Once back in his natural (well, sort of) shape he declared, "You punks are gonna regret saying that to me! It's time you learned some manners from your elders!"
"Sorry," Ranma said, "Can't play with you now, Gramps. I promised Nabiki I wouldn't mess up this tux, it's a rental."
"And it's against my dignity to pick fights with the elderly," Ryoga scoffed with equal bravado.
"Uh…guys?" I said, not liking the way that Happosai's battle aura was flaring.
"Ah, ignore him, Nabiki," my new husband said to me as he made a point of turning his back on the ancient Master, "He's just sore because he missed out on the best part of our wedding…"
I started to call out a warning as I saw Happosai cup his hands together, then all at once I saw him hurl something at Ranma's backside, which I tried to intercept with my powers, but its chi-field was too strong and it all but ignored me!
The next thing I know is Ranma is yelping in pain and crying out, "HOT--HOT-HOT-HOT-HOT-!" as he jumped into my arms, forcing me to bear his weight for several critical seconds.
"Bad Man!" Shampoo leaped to our defense, producing one of her Bonbori from the folds of her bridesmaid's dress and smashing down at where the old freak had been standing, but Gramps had already leaped away and was chortling merrily to himself as he cried out to us in warning.
"Ranma-now you'll know what it's like to taunt the weak and take advantage of their misfortune! Have a happy honeymoon with your cutie, and I'll be seeing you again when you're ready to apologize for your disrespectful behavior!"
"Why that miserable, good for nothing…" Ryoga balled his fists in outrage, "How dare he do that, and on your wedding day no less!"
"Yeah," Ukyo agreed," That old geezer has a lot of nerve talking about disrespectful behavior."
"He'll never change," Cologne said sadly before turning back to us and asking, "Son-in-law…are you all right?"
"Yeah," Ranma said as he got back on his own feet, not that I minded holding him (for all that we both looked ridiculous with this reversal of positions), "The old freak just caught me by surprise, that's all."
"I don't think it's that simple, not at all," Siren said with surprising seriousness in her tone and expression, "If you ask me, Happy was up to something, and I don't think he meant to wish you well by that last comment."
"Huh," Ranma snorted, "Let him try and start something, that pervert will just have to get used to the idea that he ain't the top dog of this school anymore, I am."
"Do not be so overconfident," Lotion spoke harshly, "War Master that you are, you are still a young man who lacks even a tenth as many seasons as my Uncle. He is as crafty as they come, and he combines the talents of both War Master and Lore Master…never forget this."
"Aw, let's just forget about it," Ranma snorted, "I'm in too good a mood to let a freak of nature like him spoil my day."
"That's telling them, Ranchan," Ukyo grinned as she patted him affectionately on the shoulder…only to gasp in amazement as Ranma staggered forward, "Huh?"
"Yo, Ucchan," Makoto said as she strolled up to join her amorata, "Don't dislocate the guy's spine or nothing…he's going to need his strength in the bed chamber, especially with a private wedding coming."
"Besides," Minako said as she appeared at Ryoga's arm like magic, "You were promising me a dance, Ryo-chan, remember?"
"I did?" Ryoga gasped, only to stagger away as the sultry blonde all but dragged him towards the area which had been reserved for dancing.
"That's my cue as well," Makoto firmly latched herself to Ukyo's arm and urged the chef along with gentle insistence.
"But…but I didn't hit him that hard," Ukyo protested as she was led away to a private assignation.
"Whoah, what's up with Ranma?" Akane asked as she came up to join us, her eyes flicking towards Makoto with evident annoyance.
"I…don't know," I answered, "Ranchan?"
"I'm all right," Ranma flexed his shoulders, "But what the heck did she hit me with, her spatula? That actually hurt!"
"Eh?" Shampoo blinked her eyes, and then she moved forward and ran her hand across Ranma's backside, uncovering a small hole that had been burned through the fabric, roughly the width of a finger, "Aiyaa…"
"Huh?" I moved forward to examine this, then I growled, "That miserable dwarf! He ruined the jacket!"
"What?" Ranma declared in outrage, "But it isn't even paid for! That freak is gonna owe me the bill for this one!"
"I think the results may be somewhat worse than that, Son-in-law," Cologne said ominously, "Are you certain that you are feeling entirely well?"
"What are you talking about?" Ranma flexed an arm, "I feel as fit as a fiddle and ready to go ten rounds with that withered old prune!"
"Heads up!" a familiar voice cried from somewhere off in the distance, and-like lightning striking twice in the same lifetime--a Frisbee hit Ranma square in the face before the baka even had a thought about dodging…but when he fell over it was a lot more readily than the last time.
"Is that a fact?" Cologne asked matter-of-factly.
"Oops!" Usagi called out, "Sorry about that, Cousin!"
"What are they doing?" Akane asked, "Tossing Frisbees at a time like this?"
"No doubt they are practicing for when Nabiki here throws the bridal bouquet," Lotion explained, "It is a quaint but honored custom in Western societies to believe that the one who catches the bouquet will be the next one who gets married."
"Oh really?" Siren brightened up as she gazed not-too-nonchalantly at the bundled flowers in my hand, "How interesting…I'll have to investigate this in more detail."
For quite understandable reasons Cologne began to look nervous.
"No time for that now," Lotion said, "Shampoo, help your husband inside, we must remove his shirt and examine what my uncle may have done with that sneak Chi attack."
"Gnuh…I'll be just fine…" Ranma tried to reassure us.
"No argue, Ranma," Shampoo said as she, Akane and I reached down and helped our husband to his feet (yeah, I still get a funny feeling just writing that word) and helped him into his mother's house, whereupon we took what pleasure we could in stripping him down to the waist then exposing his backside to full view, at which point we discovered a small burn mark that bore a suspicious resemblance to a couple of symbols in Kanji.
The words spelled out, "Moxibustion," or something of that nature.
"Just as I feared," my Mentor noted gravely, "Happosai has used a forbidden technique not known for many generations…that Chi burst was actually a spell combined with a precisely focused Shiatsu-style attack aimed at disrupting the flow of your husband's Chi centers, specifically the ones dealing with muscular tension and muscle coordination…"
"Huh?" Ranma asked, "How's that again?"
"The technique has rendered you weak, young War Master," Lotion explained, "It is a strength-sapping spell designed to heave an opponent helpless. You still have the power to muster Chi for limited uses, but so long as this mark is in place you will be as weak as the proverbial kitten."
"SAY WHAT?" Ranma, Akane, Shampoo and myself all cried together upon hearing that stunning revelation.
"The Moxibustion," Cologne all but shivered, "Such a terrible technique, and here I had believed that it was no more than a legend."
"More than a legend if Happosai knows about it," Siren frowned, "But how did he learn it? That's one trick even the Amazons have never claimed among our treasures."
"You mean I'm weak?" Ranma stammered, "No way!"
"And not just in terms of physical strength either," Cologne said gravely, "No doubt he intended to render you unable to perform your manly services with your wives in the bedchamber-URK!"
Shampoo was suddenly holding her great-grandmother by the collar and picking the other girl up off her heels as she shook the now-young Cologne like a leaf while declaring, "YOU NO JOKE ABOUT THING LIKE THAT! WHAT YOU MEAN RANMA NO PERFORM LIKE HUSBAND IN BEDCHAMBER???"
"Um…Shampoo?" Akane hesitantly asked, "You're choking her, she can't exactly answer you."
"Oops," Shampoo said as she released her elder, who staggered back into Siren's arms, rubbing her neck where Shampoo had bruised it, "S-Sorry, Great Grandmother…Shampoo no mean to do that…"
"Understandable…under the circumstances," Cologne coughed a bit as she tried to regain some dignity, "But save your anger for the true cause of your husband's misfortune."
"That right!" Shampoo balled her fists and shook with fury, "Old Pervert no have right to do this to husband of Amazon! When Shampoo see, SHE KILL!"
And this time I was fairly certain that she meant it.
"Elder," I turned to Lotion, "Surely you know now to counter this attack, right?"
Lotion stared for a moment at Ranma then said, "Yes…and no. I know that it can be done, but I don't think that I am the one who will be able to do it."
"WHAT???" I asked, "But why not?"
"Because it was a Lore Master who cast the spell," Siren answered in her place, "And even half-trained as he is, Happosai is clever enough to seal it against even the powers of his formidable niece to unlock, is that not right?"
"I would have to know precisely where to strike in order to counter this attack," Lotion grimly nodded, glancing at me, "You might be able to do it…sense the place where the Chi-centers have been disrupted, but without the full knowledge of the Moxibustion technique you could wind up doing him more harm than good. No, for better or worse, we need Happosai's help for this."
"Then what are we waiting for?" Ranma declared, "I'll hunt that old freak down and make him tell me how to undo this!"
"With what?" Cologne pointed out, reaching out with her staff to but lightly tap Ranma on the forehead, at which point he staggered into the wall as though struck with a hammer, "You see? Happy would only laugh at you and any weak attempt you might mount against him."
"Well, that doesn't go for the rest of us!" Akane declared, "We can hunt him down for you, Ranma. I won't have Nabiki get stood up on her own honeymoon."
"To say nothing about being unable to fulfill his part in the Amazon ceremony that we were going to hold in a few more hours," Siren noted.
"AIYAAA!!!" Shampoo cried in dismay, "Is worse than death Shampoo will punish him! Old man go too-too far, this time he pay for what he do to Amazons, and what he do to Husband, Shampoo and Nabiki!"
"Unfortunately, even combined, your efforts won't be enough to root that fool down," Sire said sadly, "Our tribe did their level best to recapture him when he stole our priceless treasures, and even today we haven't been able to uncover the location of where he hid them…"
"Then we need someone to help us find him and his ill gotten gains," Cologne said grimly, "Someone intimate with his habits, who knows how Happosai thinks and is more than a match for him when it comes to a confrontation…"
"Hello?" asked a pleasant voice as Ganglot appeared in the room, "You people okay in here? When you wandered off inside I thought something important had happened, but obviously you lovebirds didn't elope and…why are you all looking at me that way?"
Siren just smiled and said, "I think we have our candidate. Akane-chan, do go outside and tell the others that we'll be a bit busy dealing with a private, personal matter."
"And don't tell anyone what happened," I cautioned, "We don't want any of our guests to get too worried."
Besides which I was worried about how Ranma might take a sudden loss of face before half the people of Nerima, but Akane seemed to understand, for once, and left without argument, for once not even making a personal dig at Ranma's sudden weakness.
"Now then," Siren turned to Ganglot, "About your troublesome ward and what he's done over the centuries to the women of the world, and by that I don't just mean China."
"Oh?" Ganglot replied, "What has Happy done this time that I see you want to lynch him?"
"Oh, nothing too much," I growled, giving the Oni my most withering look, "Just turned my husband into a weakling."
Ganglot stared at Ranma, and then I swear her eyes all but glowed, along with those tattoo marks on her face, and comprehension at once softened her expression, "Oh…he did that, did he? I see…no wonder he's just gone to the top of your hit list."
"He won't be the only one if you don't tell us how to find him…" Cologne started to say when Ganglot waved a hand to halt her tirade.
"No need for threats, I am with you on this, Sister-in-law," Ganglot replied, "Happosai has gone too far even by my admittedly libertine standards, and all because his new mistress is more woman than he knows how to handle. Of course I can tell you what you need to know in order to reverse this condition…"
"Great!" Ranma cried, "Then let's get started!"
"…Unfortunately," Ganglot continued, "It won't be that simple. I'm constrained by rules which you cannot imagine when it comes to helping out mortals, and while I've never hesitated to meddle and tinker in the lives of others, when I think it is to their benefit, in this one case…there is a complicating factor."
"Complication?" I growled, "What complication?"
"The fact that she has a contract with Happosai," Siren answered in place of the Oni, "And it constitutes a rule violation if she acts contrary to the interests of any party with whom she has made a bargain. This, of course, does not cover the natural side-effects that come with your gifts, which often have very distinct negative consequences for the parties with whom you bargain."
"I can see you've done your homework, Archmage," Ganglot nodded sadly, "In order to free Ranma from his condition, he must first defeat Happosai in battle, and only then will I be obliged to reverse the Moxibustion. If I simply undid it now…well…the Ultimate Force Program of the Great Computer would find some other way of messing up your life, most probably worse than simply rendering you helpless."
"Worse?" Ranma gasped, "What could be worse than being a weakling!"
For once Ganglot's expression turned deadly serious and in graven tones she replied, "You don't want to know, Saotome…BELIEVE ME, you do not want to know."
I felt another chill run down my spine at that declaration, but I forced my fears down in order to voice the obvious question, "But…how can Ranma possibly hope to stand against Happosai in his present condition?"
"Aiyaa…" Shampoo exclaimed, her own mind obviously as rattled as mine at the prospect.
"There is a way," Ganglot turned to Cologne, "You know how…show him."
"Show me?" Ranma blinked.
Cologne seemed to consider the point very slowly before saying, "She's right…I do know of a technique that may be helpful…but it will be a hard thing to master, Son-in-law, and the perils to your health will be great. Do you still wish to try it?"
"Are you kidding?" Ranma declared, "I'll do anything to get my strength back! Ah…anything, I mean…except marry somebody else besides Shampoo and Nabiki."
"It won't involve anything that stressful, I assure you," the young-seeming elder half-smiled, "But there is a danger…I just thought you should be informed of that before we started training."
"Training?" I repeated.
"Life is training," Lotion replied, "You should remember that if you want to survive this marriage to your husband."
Somehow that did not exactly reassure me, but of course I had no choice but to agree to accompany my husband into the mountains, and with Shampoo along it was naturally assumed that we were getting an early start on our honeymoon, though why we included our parents in the trip would not be revealed until sometime later.
Of course the real surprise in all this was what happened with Akane, but who (aside from Ganglot and Lotion) would have expected her to snag another boyfriend? Life is funny that way, then…then again, so is training…
Comments/Criticisms/Moxibustion Points: Shadowmane@msn.com