Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ A Tale of Two Wallets ❯ Strength and Weakness ( Chapter 118 )
A Tale of Two Wallets
(An Altered Destiny)
Written by Jim Robert Bader
Proofread by Shiva Barnwell
Akane was not the type of person who could normally remain calm in a crisis, but she managed her emotions well enough in most situations, and given that she was boiling over with rage at the old pervert who had effectively wrecked her sister's wedding day, she still intended to carry out her instructions of letting people know that the bride and groom were going to be a bit busy and not available to make an immediate personal appearance.
Of course the more Akane thought about it, the more she realized that Ranma would need help from his closest friends, and that meant letting Ukyo know that her "best friend" was having a little problem due to that strength sapping Moxibustion. Ryoga was another one upon whom it would be logical for her to call upon, for though he did not always get along with his half‑brother, Ryoga's sense of integrity and honor made him the obvious choice to recruit over this matter.
That decided, her next move was obviously to approach Ukyo and Ryoga and quietly bring them back inside the Saotome house, preferably without alerting anyone to the nature of the looming crisis…most especially not her father!
That Ukyo was dancing with Makoto was cause enough for her to be angry, but for once she steeled herself against making a scene and simply stepped up to tap the chef on her shoulder, causing Ukyo to turn around with guilty surprise while Makoto frowned noticeably in her direction.
"Mind if I cut in?" she asked, then-rather than wait for a response-she simply drew Ukyo away from the taller girl and urged him to dance with her, disregarding the fact that Akane herself was only a middling dancer while Ukyo clearly was light and graceful on her feet, the kind who could make any dance partner feel special.
"Um…Akane?" Ukyo asked with considerable nervousness, all too aware that Makoto was giving them both dagger looks.
"We've got a problem," Akane replied, "Ranma's in trouble."
That got Ukyo's attention at once, "Ranchan? What's wrong?"
"Not here," Akane urged, "Go back inside the house and you'll find out. I'm going to talk with Ryoga."
With that statement in mind, Akane reluctantly allowed Ukyo to leave the dance floor while she sought out Ryoga, who seemed to be struggling along with Minako, who was not quite that fine a dancer.
"Ryoga-kun," she said without bothering on formality, "Ranma needs your help."
"What?" Ryoga blinked at her, "Now?"
"Now," Akane said firmly, then offered her apologies to Minako, who did not seem happy about being parted from her new boyfriend, but who took the assurance that it was "personal family business" in good stead.
That task completed, Akane wondered what her next step should be when, over the din of the party guests, she heard something go rattling against the nearby wall of the yard, something in the alley way having disturbed one of the trash cans. Almost immediately she thought about Happosai possibly sneaking back to steal some underwear from the wedding guests, and-filled with the righteous rage of the truly offended-she immediately decided to do something about the matter.
Of course her bridesmaid dress was hardly suitable should it come to a fight, but Akane was too angry to give this much notice as she stalked outside of the yard and immediately came across a figure who was sprawled out in the alleyway, leaning over a toppled trash can and groaning softly.
"Huh?" she asked before she belatedly recognized the outfit that this person was wearing, which automatically transferred her anger from the old man to the newcomer, "You! You're that cross-dressing Kunoichi who tried to jump me and Ukyo the other day!"
Said Kunoichi did not respond to the accusation, other than to moan incoherently as he again tried to regain his bearings.
"Hey you!" Akane grabbed the masked figure with both hands and hauled him up where she could see him at eye-level, "I'm talking to you! What's the big idea of sneaking around my sister's wedding?"
Clearly the fellow was even more out of it than she had first estimated because the word that he softly moaned in reply sounded something like, "Mother?"
Akane blinked, and only then came down from her anger as she took notice of the way the wall had been impacted by a body-shaped impression. She turned her attention back to the Kunoichi and said, "Hey…are you all right? Did you get hurt or something?"
"Gah…" the Kunoichi gasped, "I'm sorry, Stepmother…I've been bad…"
"Oh for the love of the Kami," Akane tore the man's mask away and said, "Look, snap out of…it?"
Akane found herself staring in surprise at the beautiful face that was exposed to full view, so effeminate for all its masculine qualities that it quite literally took one's breath away.
"…Don't ask me to clean the urinals out again…at least give me a brush…" the handsome youth softly moaned in complaint.
"Huh?" Akane blinked, only to sense a presence appear at her side, causing her to glance quickly and defensively at whoever it was who was standing near to her shoulder.
"Do you wish for me to dispose of this trash, Tendo-san?" asked Mon-Mon in a deceptively mild voice.
"Trash?" Akane repeated.
"I'm not too sure of all the details," Mon-Mon explained, "But I believe this…gentleman…was involved in an attempt at ruining your sister's wedding. I was on the roof when I saw one of the guests discover a package hidden inside the wedding cake, but she vanished before I could see what she was going to do with it, and the next thing I knew there was an explosion several houses down the block. I believe the two incidents might be related…but of course I can't be absolutely certain."
Akane turned back to the hapless Ninja in her hands and asked, "Is this true? Did you try to bomb my sister's wedding?"
"Yes," the bishonen fellow responded in semi-lucid candor, "I did just like you asked, Stepmother, I planted your bomb…just like you ordered…"
"The fool's wits are as scrambled as his morals," Mon-Mon sniffed in disapproval, "Either deal with him yourself or turn him over to the authorities before he recovers from the effects of his own folly."
"I wouldn't be too hard on the poor fool if I were the both of you," yet another voice commented wryly as Courtesan and Tendo turned to see Ganglot standing there, the Oni's sudden appearance catching both of them off guard as there had been no warning of her arrival, "He's had a hard life and he really isn't to be blamed for the way he was raised by his brutal stepmother."
"What do you know about it?" Akane asked.
"Just the general details that I picked up while doing an Akashic scan earlier," Ganglot replied, "First off, he is a Kunoichi, the best ever raised of this generation, and quite a capable fighter in his own right."
"A Kunoichi?" Akane repeated.
"Yes," Ganglot explained, "That's a female Ninja, like your friend, Kuonji…ah…well, some of the time anyway…"
"But he's a guy!" Akane protested, gesturing at the young Ninja's Adam's Apple.
"Well, you could always check his qualifications down below," the Oni suggested with a leer.
"Ugh, no thanks!" Akane winced in distaste.
"Suit yourself," Ganglot shrugged, "But you can take it from me, he's a very good Kunoichi, and quite a formidable fighter."
"All the more reason to take him down while he is helpless," Mon-Mon replied, "Though, in truth, it would be more honorable to face him in battle, and I wonder just how capable he would be…"
"Very," Ganglot answered, "I know his family…his real father and mother, both died when he was barely young enough to remember, and that those who raised him like a slave were the lowest sort of scum, charming people who exploited his labor and talents for their own dishonorable reasons. The lad hardly even knows that he's a man anymore…they've treated him like a girl for so long that he's even started to think he is one."
"But that's terrible!" Akane reacted, "How can anyone treat another human being this way?"
"You would be surprised, Tendo-san," Mon-Mon said without elaboration.
"Indeed," Ganglot mused, "This world is full of all types and personalities, and I would be remiss if I didn't include the darker elements in that statement. As for this poor fellow, he needs time to recover his sense of identity, now that the family who raised him are scattered to the four winds and no longer an immediate issue."
"Eh…?" the Kunoichi in question came out of his daze right then, "W-What was that…about my family?"
"They're gone," Mon-Mon replied, "I saw them fly away from my perch atop the Saotome house."
"Why, that's terrible!" Akane reacted.
"Not really," Ganglot smiled, "Lots of people travel by air these days."
Mon-Mon gave the Oni a peculiar look and responded, "In different directions?"
"You mean…my stepmother…my stepsisters…the explosion?" the Kunoichi asked.
"I'm so sorry for you," Akane replied, "But…it sounds as if the blast…"
Much to her astonishment the Bishonen guy embraced her with glee and cried, "Oh thank you, I'm so happy! Oh, happy day, I'm free, I'm free!"
"Hah?" Akane asked blankly, totally taken aback by this unexpected reaction.
"Broken up about his loss, I see," Mon-Mon noted dryly.
"Oh yes," the bishonen young man released Akane and clapped his hands together in prayer, "Rest in peace, my step-kin, rest in pieces!"
"You mean…you're glad that they're…?" Akane slowly started to catch on.
"Oh yes," the youth replied, "I mean…don't get me wrong, I didn't do this deliberately, but with them gone my father is at long last avenged, and I'm free to make my own way in the world…I mean, with the restaurant gone, it wasn't as if I had anything left to lose…of course it means I'll probably be sleeping in alleys, but I was already doing that, so…"
"Sleep in alleys?" Akane blinked her eyes, "Are you kidding?"
"No, Mistress," the youth suddenly bowed, "I, Kanzen Konatsu, am now at liberty to make my way in the world. O' happy destiny! Now I can find a proper Master or Mistress who won't neglect their loyal servant and will remember to honor me with at least one meal a day for my services, instead of only feeding me every other day, which stepmother always insisted was more than I was worth…"
Akane turned an appalled look towards Ganglot, "Is he being serious?"
"What do you think?" Ganglot replied, "As I said before, his step-kin weren't exactly nice people."
"If you ask me," Mon Mon noted, "I'd say he lacks the imagination to be an effective liar."
"You mean you don't have anywhere to live?" Akane asked.
"No, but it's not much different than sleeping behind the latrine of our teashop," Konatsu explained, "And this is a very nice neighborhood, I'm sure I'll be able to scrounge up a good meal out of the trash cans I've seen so far…"
"Trash…?" Akane blanched, "When was the last time you've eaten?"
"Um…well…" Konatsu paused, "I did take a few canapés from the hors d'oeuvres table…just a couple, but yesterday I did have a bowl of warm water…"
"Warm water?" Mon Mon wrinkled her nose, "That explains the smell."
"The…smell?" Akane looked ill, "No way!"
"Well, what did you expect?" Ganglot asked, "It's not as if his former stepmother ever paid him an allowance."
Akane grimaced, her resolution taking shape right there and then, and without further thought she grabbed Konatsu by the sleeve and said, "Come with me…you're going to eat and take a bath, and then we'll do something about those clothes you're wearing."
"My…clothes?" Konatsu blinked as he found himself being drawn into the yard of the Saotome house.
Mon-Mon blinked her eyes before turning to the Oni and saying, "Did I just miss something? Is she going to feed and bathe the very man who tried to kill everyone, including her sister?"
"Tendo Akane has very peculiar values," Ganglot replied, "It's part of her charm…one minute she can be angry and wrathful, the next she is inordinately concerned with other peoples' welfare."
"How very strange," Mon-Mon replied, "I would rather see a man strung out on a carpet of nails if he threatened me and mine…Mon-Mon is not so forgiving of her enemies, even if they are fools and little better than slaves to their masters."
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but you were sent here by your prince to learn about different ways and the practices of the world outside your borders, yes?" Ganglot smiled.
"Those…were my Prince's instructions…yes," the bosomy Courtesan reluctantly nodded.
"Well, now is a fine time to start," the Oni replied, "Observe how the youngest of the Tendo sisters deals with her own enemies, then mark what comes of it…as the old saying goes, by the fruit of one's labors are their qualities to be judged."
"I will be mindful of that," Mon-Mon replied, though from her expression it was clear that she was dubious about her prospects in that department.
"Now then," Ganglot turned away with a mischievous expression, "Where has my granddaughter gotten off to by herself? Ah…children these days are so restless, and that goes especially far when describing a Hibiki…"
"Great-grandma?" Ryomi glanced around, wondering where her elder had gotten off to all of a sudden. With a colorful group like those attending the wedding it was easy for people to get mixed up in the mingle, but she would have thought someone like her Oni forebear would have stood out in any crowd. In fact, she was so busy looking for the golden skinned, pale haired Ganglot that she almost did not see the person standing next to her until she nearly ran into her, at which point she gave a slight gasp in surprise, taking in a total stranger whom she'd swear had not been standing there just seconds beforehand.
"Oh, excuse me!" Ryomi exclaimed, "I didn't see you…"
"No," the stranger, a blonde girl who stood about Ryomi's height and build replied with a friendly smile, "I don't expect you would. My name is Candice…but you can call me Candy…Candy Kane…which is kind of a joke, but that really is my name, honest."
"Candy…Kane?" Ryomi blinked, "Um…are you a guest here…?"
"Actually…I'm kind of a party crasher," the blonde said apologetically, "Don't tell anyone, though. I did get an invitation, but it must have been some kind of mistake because I'm not a friend of the family, or even of the bride and groom. I would like to be your friend though…if you don't mind just hanging around with me for a bit, seeing as we did sorta meet already."
"We did?" Ryomi blinked, running a hand through her hair, "Um…well…I guess it's possible, but…where?"
"Yesterday," Candy said with an odd smile, "We kind of met in the middle of a thing, but I'm not surprised if you don't remember me. I'm told I'm pretty hard to forget in the flesh, but when I wear that costume my mom and dad insist on me wearing…well…some people think I'm a perfect ten, if you know what I'm saying…"
"Wait a minute…yesterday?" Ryomi did a double-take, then looked the other girl up and down in disbelief, "Ten? Is that really you?"
"In the flesh, so to speak," Candy said with a lopsided smile, "So…not cool enough without the makeup and the costume?"
"Huh?" Ryomi blinked again before catching on, "Oh…no, you look great! Wow, didn't know you were so pretty behind that mask you had on! And that outfit you've got on is real cool!"
"Look who's talking," Candy nodded back, "You one of the Bridesmaids here?"
"Uh…yeah," Ryomi stared at the white dress she was wearing and said, "Great-grandma's idea, I feel kind or dorky looking like this…"
"Oh no, you look just fine," Candy reassured, "So…were you serious about hanging out yesterday? I couldn't get away until now, but…if you don't mind chilling out with me…"
"Oh yeah, that'd be cool!" Ryomi brightened, "I mean…not that I'm not happy with my cousins getting hitched and all that, but it's been such a drag around this place with nobody my own age to talk to…"
"I know exactly what you mean, believe me!" Candy rolled her eyes, "With my folks insisting I help out with the family business, I hardly ever get a chance to socialize…in fact, I'm always being dragged around from one part of the world to the other. Sometimes I just wish I could be normal, know what I mean?"
"Yeah, whatever normal is," Ryomi sympathized, "Gosh…you get around too, huh? Yeah, I know what that's like, only in my case it's kind of like a family curse. I mean…before I came here I kept winding up in new places all the time and hardly had any chance to form lasting relations and all that. Now I'm back with my mom, my big brother, my grandfather and my aunts and cousins…well…I don't feel as alone anymore, but…it's still ain't easy being the second youngest one here, right?"
Candy chuckled, "Man, it sounds like we've got a lot more in common than I thought! Um…you don't mind that I was part of that whole mess yesterday, right? I mean…I'm sorry about the way things turned out, blowing up the whole dojo thingie like that and all…"
"Hey, it wasn't your fault," Ryomi insisted, "You didn't plant that thing or set it off, and it could have gotten you too, you know. Well…I mean…even if you were fighting on the wrong side and all, I didn't think that was really what you wanted…"
"I don't really know what right and wrong is," Candy admitted, "I mean…that wasn't exactly high on my education list with my parents, you know? But yeah…if it had been up to me none of that would have happened, but what do I know? Adults hardly ever listen to me anyway…"
"Boy, do I know that!" Ryomi sniffed, then amended, "But Great-grandma's cool…she actually seems to listen to me and takes me seriously like a person."
"You're so lucky to have somebody like that around," Candy assured her, "In our gang the only one who bothers to even talk with me is Jack…and he's a bit of a rake with the ladies. Ace is cool, but he's kind of stiff and keeps a lot to himself, a real tough guy act, and as for my parents…" she rolled her eyes with meaning.
"Sounds like you've got a pretty rough life," Ryomi conceded.
"Well, I'm not exactly little miss poor girl," Candy tried to reassure her, "But aside from having everything that money can't buy from stealing…I really don't feel like I have anything…does that make any sense to you?"
"Not really," Ryomi shrugged, "But I never had much of anything with all the traveling I do…kind of hard to take it with me wherever I go, so I'm used to making do with whatever I can find."
"Really?" Candy looked puzzled, "That's kind of hard to imagine…"
Aki listened to the stranger conversing with her cousin and began to relax slightly, having gone all tense once she realized who the blonde was from her own description. From the sound of things, however, it did not seem as though Ryomi would need any help from her fellow Hibiki, not even against the speed-enhanced Ten, who had run circles around the both of them during their recent battle.
In truth it was pleasing to see her younger cousin getting along with the other girl, who did seem rather nice for someone in a criminal line of work like that. Aki had known many unsavory customers in her time (heck, she worked for one, at least in a nominal sense) but this girl did not seem to fit the usual profile of a sociopath, even granted that most sociopaths could tend to seem like perfectly normal people on the surface. There was less of a raw edge there, not as strong a sense of aversion to self-disclosure, more like an almost painful need to reach out and make a connection to someone who wouldn't judge her for the sins of her parents. In truth she did seem like the type whom Ryomi could identify with, even given their differences in background, and-who knew? From the rootless way in which all Hibikis tended to operate, she might even be a good influence on the other girl, or possibly help steer her from a permanent life of crime in the long run.
"You really think it's a good idea leaving those two alone like that?" Kenou asked, surprising Aki, who had forgotten that her young aunt was standing right beside her, also monitoring the conversation of the younger kids, and with even more uncertainty in her tone and expression.
"Don't see what harm it'll do, just so long as the card girl stays on her best behavior," Aki shrugged, "But I'm keeping an eye on them just the same, if you know what I mean."
"I don't really," Kenou replied, "I mean…this family stuff is still awfully new to me. All my life I've only had to look out for number one, meaning me…but now that I've met the lot of your…I dunno…I guess I must be getting soft or something.'
"Families do tend to grow on you," Aki nodded, "You can choose your enemies or your friends, but the people related to you by blood…that's a different matter. Guess it's partly because all us Hibikis share so much in common, on account of Granddad."
"My…father…" Kenou glanced nervously at the big, handsome man presently looking slightly bewildered as her other niece, Rachael, chatted up a storm with him while sitting on his lap and eating her share of cake and ice-cream.
"Yeah, he does kind of leave a pretty big impression in the old genes and all that," Aki frowned, "It's just…darn it…"
"What's wrong?" Kenou turned her attention back from Razor to Aki, "You looked a little distracted…"
"Maybe because I am," Aki scowled, "I dunno…all day long I've had this really weird feeling…I keep feeling like I've forgotten something important…but what?"
"Who knows," the blonde Hibiki shrugged, "But I'm sure it'll come back to you eventually, if it really is all that important."
"I hope you're right on that," Aki sniffed, "Oh well…I guess it doesn't really matter right now, I just wish I knew why I kept feeling like there was something I was supposed to do, like there were people counting on me for something…like a promise I forgot I…OSHIT!"
"Huh?" Kenou asked, "What's wrong?"
Aki fumbled around in her dress until she found the hidden pouch in which she carried her personal belongings, fished around inside for a moment, then pulled out an object, which same she displayed before Kenou, "Good, I've still got it! I almost forgot I still had this thing with me…Geez, the Captain'll have a fit when I show up late…not that I give two whiskers what the pervert dandy has to say…"
"A key?" Kenou blinked again, "But…what…?"
"Never mind," Aki patted her on the shoulder, "I just forgot that shore leave ended for me a couple of weeks ago. Oh well, I was due for a little vacation time, and it's not like they could go anywhere without me…"
"Who?" Kenou asked, now thoroughly bewildered…
"WHERE IS SHE???" thundered Captain D'amour as he anxiously paced across the deck of his vessel, "It's been nearly THREE WEEKS since she went ashore with that Razor fellow, and in all that time do we hear so much as a peep out of our little miss Navigator? NO! She's probably out having a great time while we're stuck here in port with a ship that won't go anywhere without her!"
"Begging the captain's pardon, Sir," Brunt replied, "But we could send a shore detail ahead to find out where she's gone and gotten off to this time."
"Are you insane, Man?" D'amour rounded on the hulking bruiser, "Do you remember how much trouble it was for us to round up the crew the last time they managed to escape ashore? We can't spare any more manpower as it is, and I won't stand for any more desertions!"
"Um…well, technically, Sir," Frog spoke up, "We couldn't really find all of our old crewmates, so we kind of made available use of anyone we could round up who had even a little ship-board experience. They're coming along fine now that most of them have discovered the traps we set and have given on escaping, at least for this week. After that last mutiny you put down, I don't think we'll have all that much trouble getting underway…assuming Aki returns with the key for the ignition."
"Bloody hell," D'amour muttered, turning towards his chief engineer, "I don't suppose that you've had any success so far circumventing the bloody thing…hot-wiring it maybe so it will start without the key?"
"Uh…sorry to tell you this, Captain," the rotund man tried for the fiftieth time to explain, "I'm not really an engineer, I'm an actor! I just played one on TV and in a few movies…"
"Dammit, Scotty, I can't be bothered with such details," D'amour said dismissively, "Just defy the laws of physics, or something like that. It's not like I'm paying you to stand around and make these excuses."
"You're not even paying me at all!" the man sputtered, "I was here in Japan to attend an anime convention, sign a few autographs! Hell, I'm a Canadian, I've hardly even ever been to Scotland!"
"You'll have to forgive the Captain, Mr. Doohan," the ship's surgeon, a lovely blonde haired woman who was affectionately known by the name of "Bubbles," responded with a sympathetic look, "He has a medical condition we term as cerebrally challenged…"
"You mean his Turbovator doesn't travel to the top deck?" the man replied, "And please, Doc, call me Jimmy."
"More like he's a few OAVs short of a series," Bubbles replied with a dazzling smile, "And by all means…call me Doctor Bubbles."
"No problem for me," the man smiled back in an appreciative manner, "You're sure a whole lot more well-rounded than our last ship's surgeon…"
"I'll take that as a compliment," Bubbles grinned, "By the way, can I get your autograph?"
"Sure thing," the man agreed, "Um…if you'll give me something to sign, that is…"
Doctor Bubbles unbuttoned her shirt and exposed a generous portion of cleavage, one breast in particular being highlighted as she handed him a felt tip pen, still smiling.
"Ock," the Engineer remarked with rounded eyes scoping out the "top-of-the-line" equipment while privately giving a silent thanks that a certain scene-steeling Captain he knew wasn't on hand to try and corner out the action on this set!
"Captain," Bubbles gave a sultry purr as she maintained eye contact with the Engineer, "I believe our Engineer is running a temperature. I'm going to take him down below for a complete physical, after all, we want him to remain healthy while he helps us with our…problems."
"Yes, yes," D'amour waved a hand without looking around to see what he was missing, "Don't bother me with trivialities. I have captainy things to consider, such as how I'm going to make Aki walk the plank when she gets back from being AWOL!"
"How about with a Marine division to give her a push?" Brunt suggested.
"That'd really be something, Cap'n," Frog replied, "Considering we don't even own a gang plank."
"I told you not to bother me with trifles," D'amour said in a testy voice, while Doctor Bubbles dragged away her unresisting "patient," "I just want to know where Aki is and what she's doing with my key! Blast whatever foul Muse inspired me to have the bloody ignition installed in the first place! This is the longest that the good TWPOS has ever in port in any one place, and I'm half afraid that if we hang around here any longer we might run into someone unpleasant…"
"What," Brunt pointed off to the side, "You mean like that rolling fog bank pulling out from the harbor?"
"Eh?" that got D'amour's attention, "What rolling fog bank?"
"The one that made off with all our women during that bar fight you started a couple days back," Frog replied, "You know…the lady who's part tiger…?"
"WHAT???" D'amour whirled around as he saw a moving cloud roll past the point where his ship was tethered to the dockside, "LAO-YOU THIEVING POACHER! GET BACK HERE!"
"Actually," Brunt pointed off in a different direction, "I meant that rolling fog bank…the one you're shouting at, Cap'n, is the barge with all that toxic waste coming in from Okinawa."
"Oh," D'amour blinked, "I knew that…it's just hard to tell the difference between a toxic barge and her ship sometimes, that's all."
A distant voice hailed out to them from the fogbank presently rolling out from the harbor, "YOUR MOTHER'S TATTOOS LOOK BETTER THAN YOUR FACE, CAPTAIN DIMWIT!"
"HOW WOULD YOU KNOW, HARLOT?" D'amour demanded.
"BECAUSE I JUST POACHED HER…AND YOUR SISTER TOO!"
"My sister?" D'amour blinked, "I didn't think there was anyone brave enough who would try to do that…HEY, WAIT A MINUTE! GET BACK HERE, YOU THIEVING WHOREMONGER!"
"STICKS AND STONES, CAPTAIN DONUT!" came the merry reply of the vanishing Pirate Queen-slash-slaver.
"Damn," D'amour fumed, "I really hate it when she one-ups me in the insult department. Well, what are you fools waiting around for? Let's get after that wretch and sink her!"
"Sink her?" Frog replied, "But…Cap'n…we don't even have any weapons!"
"Unless you count those leftovers that Aki deposited in the freezer after her last attempt at cooking," Brunt noted, "Frozen solid, they ought to have a pretty wicked heft."
"Besides, we can't even pull out of port without the key to the ignition," Frog further elaborated.
"Dammit, men, this is no time to be squeamish!" D'amour declared, "Break out the lifeboats and have them tie ropes to the ship…we'll drag the ship after them…"
"Um…excuse me?" Frog looked puzzled.
"Cap'n," Brunt remarked, "No disrespect intended…" he firmly kept two fingers crossed behind his back, "…But TWPOS is big…at least twenty or thirty thousand metric tons displacement easy, and a rowboat…well sir…those Aluminum kinds that you picked up dirt cheap only weigh about thirty-two kilos…"
"So?" D'amour twitched an eyebrow, "What's your point?"
"They also leak something awful," Frog explained, "Last time we tried to use one…well…we never did find all the bodies…"
"Dammit, Men, I can't think of everything!" D'amour growled, "If you're saying that you don't have the guts to go after Madam Lout, then I'll just have to do it myself! Break out one of the lifeboats and I'll row it after her vessel!"
Brunt and Frog exchanged bland looks before the latter arched an eyebrow and said, "Really?"
"In that case, Sir," Brunt grinned, "We'll be happy to follow orders."
"You see, that wasn't hard," D'amour struck a jaunty pose, "Now get to it!"
"No problem, Sir," Frog replied as she removed a belaying pin from its rack near the main mast and passed it along to the bruiser, who was fingering a pair of brass knuckles hidden in his shirt pocket, both men deciding to engage in their favorite sport of "Conking the Captain," hoping that this time around their latest mutiny attempt might prove more successful than the hundreds of others which proceeded it, and maybe with him out of the way, they reasoned, they might be able to free themselves of the curse of living on this ship forever…or at least get some from any woman not yet poached on the shoreline, depending on how fast they acted…
Shampoo's Diary Resumes:
It was enormously frustrating for me to have to postpone the official ceremony of marriage between my Airen and myself. By Amazon law we are already married, of course, since a simple declaration is all that is required, but I know how important even a largely symbolic ceremony is to both of wife and my husband, so the act of going through the challenge of the "Marriage Gauntlet" would be a demonstration of their deep commitment to me, accepting me as their wife, which would have been the perfect ritual consummation to our three-way group marriage.
Of course I also regret that the condition of my husband rendered him too weak to satisfy our needs sexually, but I must reluctantly accede to the will of my elders on this matter.
I could tell how disappointed Nabiki was that Ranma could not perform the ritual of "carrying her across the threshold," which does sound very nice, but which was totally beyond the ability of our husband to perform while suffering under this "strength-sapping Moxibustion." We both prayed that the special technique, which Great Grandmother promised to impart to Ranma, would help him to effectively defeat the old man who had inflicted this upon him. Failing that, I hoped that Nabiki herself would discover the counterpoint and be able to restore our virile husband to full potency through her own formidable methods.
Either way, I naturally stood firm as a proud Amazon who was willing to do her part to help my husband become strong again. Though I may have my reasons to resent and distrust my great‑grandmother, Cologne is the senior War Master and Elder of our tribe, the guardian of Lore that dates back to our earliest history, and I was confident that she would know of a way to bring the old pervert to heel so we could force him to undo what he had done to my Ranma.
Returning to a wilderness area beyond the borders of town, one which we had used before during earlier training missions, my Elder selected a fairly level spot of ground at the center of a clearing and designated it as the place for our training battle. My husband, my wife, her sister, his brother and best friend were there with us to attend War Master Cologne's lecture. Waiting with us on the periphery were Elder Lotion and Siren (we had considered bringing the parents along, but after watching the two of them drink themselves into a stupor after my wife's wedding, we decided to leave the parents alone to handle the aftermath of the party). There was also one other presence with us, who drew more than a few eyebrows, the strange man-girl named Kanzen Konatsu, who insisted on staying with Akane, even though my disciple seemed herself quite dubious about the matter.
And what was this stranger doing in the midst of an Amazon training exercise? You might well ask this, as I did, but do not expect a reasonably straight answer, other than Elder Lotion's cryptic assurance that no harm would come from having Kanzen around, that he might even prove "useful." (I was not to learn exactly what she meant by that remark until sometime later.)
My great-grandmother began her lecture by describing this form as the "Hiryu Shoten Ha," or "Ascending Dragon Punch," and then to give us a taste of what this power was like she instructed us to attack her in a group, telling Nabiki to stand back while Ranma, Ryoga, Ukyo, Akane and myself attacked her en mass, the five of us being directed to go all out and unleash all that we had in an attempt to overwhelm and defeat my young-seeming Elder.
To say the least, this was not a hard request for us as nearly all of us have some reason to want to try our hand at defeating my great-grandmother.
However…as we darted in and tried to press our combined forces towards the end of putting Elder Cologne in her place, my great-grandmother frustrated us by dodging back and avoiding us, working us into a line as he tried to catch up with her, and all the while I became aware that she was drawing us into a spiral. I did not, however, fathom what the significance of this would be until the end when she made a dramatic gesture that kicked up a powerful wind, resulting in a vortex which picked all of us up and scattered us about the landscape.
I recovered almost at once, though I will admit to feeling somewhat dizzy and disoriented with a firm grasp of what it felt like to be a leaf, but with the assistance of a passing tree I was able to break my fall and return to Earth without harm. I was gratified to see that the others had made a similar recovery, but some had a rougher time of it than others, and none suffered more upon landing than my husband. Ranma was literally like a doll filled with rags as he dangled upside down from a branch that had caught him, but-to my amazement-when I helped him to get down he seemed more elated than injured, even ecstatic upon discovering the effective force behind the Hiryu Shoten Ha.
We returned to the clearing, while the others limped back on their own power, and then Ranma eagerly confronted my great-grandmother and demanded that she show him how to perform this maneuver, to which Cologne then challenged him to explain to her how he thought it had been accomplished.
To our amazement Ranma borrowed the Elder's staff and drew a spiral in the ground that wound its way in to where the elder herself was standing. Cologne smiled in approval and said, "Very good, Son-in-law, you figured that out after a single demonstration."
So had I, of course, and I am pretty confident that the same held true for Nabiki.
"Heh," our husband replied with a bit of his old cockiness, "I may have lost my strength but my speed and memory are as good as always. I figure you drew us all in to attack you then led us into the spiral so you'd get us to focus all of our Chi in one place, and then you countered it with an oppositely charged punch that set the whole thing off like a firecracker."
"Oppositely charged?" Ukyo asked in relative confusion.
"I get it," our wife deduced, "The secret to the Hiryu Shoten Ha is in the Chi both sides use against one another."
"Exactly," Cologne replied with a raised finger, "And the key to that secret is an exchange of temperatures…of hot and cold winds colliding, creating an updraft, much as in an actual cyclone…"
"An exchange of temperatures?" Ryoga repeated for the rest of us.
"I think I get it," Akane said, "We learned it in science class…when there's heat on the ground and a cold wind blows over it, the hot air wants to rise…"
"And the cold air takes its place on the ground," Nabiki finished for her sister, "And when I watched you guys fight it was amazing…you were generating hot battle auras while Cologne here was like an iceberg…"
"Exactly," my Elder noted, "And that is the key to victory here…to remain calm with a Soul of Ice in the face of your enemies, to let their heat and aggression defeat them by turning the force of their Chi into a weapon."
"Incredible," Ranma exclaimed, "But…a soul of ice? How do you do that?"
"That will be the key to your training," Cologne revealed, "You must learn to set aside your emotions, your anger, hate and fear, to let your Chi remain as calm as the eye of a hurricane no matter what amount of anger and aggravation is thrown against you. Once you master this you will have what you need to defeat Happosai by turning his own strength against him."
"Then I gotta learn it and fast!" Ranma balled his fists, "I'll do whatever it takes to get my strength back!"
"Aiyaa!" I declared, sharing my husband's excitement, "Then Ranma will be able to marry this one and consummate our love with Nabiki in a proper honeymoon in spite of the Old Man's spell of impotence!"
"Ah…Sham-chan," my wife said pointedly as we both took note of the way Ranma cringed at hearing my declaration, "The idea here is not to advertise that part, remember?"
"Ooops," I sheepishly responded, "This one will try and remember that, Husband."
"Heh, no problem," Ranma smiled a bit weakly, "No pressure either…heh…"
"Just make sure you can get it up at the right time," Akane promptly sniped, "My sister is counting on you not to wimp out on her…"
"Akane!" Nabiki promptly reprimanded, but I could see by the smile my apprentice ware that she was not particularly sorry at needling my husband. Ukyo and Ryoga, however, both seemed properly ashamed of her taking advantage of his momentary inadequacy, and I privately resolved to intensify her personal training.
"Mistress Akane," Konatsu spoke up unexpectedly at that moment, "I believe the idea here is not to diminish Saotome-san's confidence but rather to work upon his ability to remain stoical in the face of a challenge."
Akane clearly did not look comfortable with the deferential declaration behind her new admirer's tone of address, but she did manage to say with some composure, "Then he can learn how to handle himself right now. After all, if he hadn't taunted Grandfather Happosai into getting angry at him in the first place…"
Yes, my apprentice does have a curious way of looking at the world, but her point was well taken about Ranma learning to remain calm and confident against a challenge. The problem is that his entire early training in War Craft consisted of learning to bait and react to verbal insults that he and his father would exchange at one another, purposefully learning to make an enemy so angry that they would become careless in a battle…an effective strategy which I have seen demonstrated many a time in both battle and practice sparring. In point of fact, I have made use of this potent technique myself on numerous occasions.
Fortunately Elder Lotion stepped forward at this point and said, "I believe that I can offer a suggestion on this matter. I have had many a conversation with Ranma's father and have made observations which I believe can contribute greatly to the young Master's training in remaining calm in the face of battle."
"Oh yeah?" Nabiki eyed her mentor with interest, "What have you got?"
"As you all know," Lotion resumed, "Ranma's father trained him to react to verbal attacks with snappy comebacks and a full fledged fighting spirit. Anger was the key to his early development, the means by which he learned to draw upon his innermost resources, to disregard pain and exhaustion, to be shamed and humiliated into fighting back with the full force of his ego. What you are proposing, Matriarch, runs contrary to his earliest memories in battle…however…it also provides a great opportunity to learn to counter-program his own reflexes. Therefore Siren and I have devised a strategy to help train the lad into mastering the Soul of Ice technique."
"Oh?" I noticed that great grandmother had a more wary regard of the Archmage, but Siren is one whom even the Elders of the Joketsuzoku must defer, and Elder Cologne more than any as I am given to understand that there are issues between them dating back to their early childhood together. Considering the grief great-grandmother gave me during my own brief childhood affair, I wish her every happiness and give my blessings to their long and happy union.
Assuming, of course, that Siren succeeds in her declared intention of winning the heart of my great-grandmother.
"Actually," the blonde haired Enchantress began, "We had considered bringing the drunken sot up here so that he could antagonize his son the way he's been doing for over a decade, but that would have involved having to sober him up, then explain everything to him in detail, then go through several minutes of his bemoaning his son for becoming a weakling, beating his breast like an aggrieved father, that sort of thing, but in the end it really isn't necessary. A simple spell should suffice in creating a useable facsimile who can serve our needs most adequately."
And as is her usual wont, the Archmage made a gesture with both hands with complicated finger motions and a few murmured words of a spell before pointing at the ground before her and unleashing a discharge that caused a shape to form in the air…a human outline that grew in dimensions until it resolved itself in the form of my father-in-law, Saotome Genma.
"Pop?" Ranma blinked upon seeing Siren's creation.
"Not quite," Siren replied, "But a reasonable likeness, if I do say so myself."
"Indeed," Lotion nodded as she studied the motionless man-form in question, "Though he lacks the life-aura of the real Saotome Genma, this Shadow Puppet will look and act the same and has the same memories, resources and reflections. Think of this as a temporary clone of the real Saotome Genma, who even now is reclined in a near-stupor with my apprentice's father, having between them consumed enough bottles of sake that their respective women will be hard pressed to get a rise out of them for the remainder of the evening."
"Like we needed to be reminded of that?" my wife asked archly.
"Just so," Cologne frowned, "A Shadow Puppet strikes too near to the dark side of magic for my liking. Can this…creation of yours truly be trusted to behave himself around Ranma?"
"Hey, I don't do dark magic, you should know that about me, Cologne-chan," Siren sniffed, "And trust me, this guy will do exactly what the real Genma would do in this situation, right Boyo?"
"That's right," the shadow-Genma replied, "I will do exactly what is needed to make my son strong again."
"Whoah," Ukyo responded, "He even sounds like the real Genma!"
"No fooling!" Akane responded, "Creepy!"
"He looks and sounds like…my father," Ryoga frowned, "But can he fight like the real thing?"
"Try him out for yourself," Siren replied with a wave of her hand, "You won't be disappointed."
"Okay," Ryoga squared himself into a fighting crouch, then came rushing forward with a fist aimed at the Shadow Puppet, only to see Genma step to one side and stick his leg out, tripping the Lost Boy up and causing him to stumble into a nearby thicket of bushes.
"Whoah," Ranma said, "He even fights like Pop, that was sneaky!"
"Boy," the Shadow-Genma squared his shoulders and frowned, "You need a lesson in respecting your elders. Just because you're a married man now is no reason to think you're too good for your Old Man to take down a peg or two…"
"That is not the aim of this exercise," Cologne said harshly, "Ranma must learn to restrain his impulse to anger and emotion. You must not think of him as a proud son, you must rather focus on bringing out his wrath by provocation. He must learn to ignore your taunts and remain calm in the center of a storm…in other words, you must become an Ogre and drive Ranma as the real Genma has never driven him before."
"I must become an Ogre?" the shadow Genma blinked, then his eyes resolved firmly and he nodded, "All right then, then I'll become an Ogre. Come here, Boy…time you found out what it takes to be a real man."
"Huh, what are you gonna do?" Ranma sniffed, "Give me a heart-to-heart talk?"
"No, Boy," Genma said ominously, reaching into his gi and pulling out several pictures, "Instead I'm going to show you…this!"
With that declaration he held out one of those square pictures in front of Ranma's face, then turned and showed it to the rest of us, revealing an image of Ranma as a small boy jumping out of one of those rubber pool things that I've seen in the yards of small children…a naked Ranma who was crying over some appropriately childish manner.
What can I say about this but that the sight caused me and the others to bubble up with spontaneous laughter, for though I dearly love my husband and would not wish to compromise his dignity, the sight of that one picture was enormously funny!
"Oh my Kami!" Ukyo burst out.
"How kawaii!" Akane also found it amusing.
"I can't believe that's you, Ranma!" Ryoga did not even bother to conceal his own amusement.
"Neither can I!" Nabiki also chuckled, "Ranchan…you were sooo CCCUUUUTE!"
"It is very funny!" I agreed with their consensus.
"HEEEYYY!!!" Ranma himself burst out and immediately dove for the offending picture, only to have the Shadow Genma dart away and snatch it out of his reach, replacing it almost immediately with another.
"And here is a more recent picture that even Nabiki-chan doesn't have in her collection," Genma showed yet another picture of Ranma in the nude, only now he was full grown and his usually incredibly manly self, which did nothing to calm down my frantic husband, who tried in vain to lay hand on the picture, even while Nabiki begged that Genma move his thumb so she could view Ranma in all his glorious detail.
All at once great-grandmother brought the blunt end of her staff down on top of Ranma's head and flattened him.
"Soul of Ice, Boy!" she snapped, "What did I tell you before about controlling your emotions?"
"Ow!" Ranma rubbed his head as he forced himself back to his feet, "What did you do that for? I was trying!"
"You do not 'try' to keep your emotions in restraint," Cologne reprimanded him hardly, "You learn to cultivate a state of mind in which emotions such as embarrassment and anger become like drops of rain that wash off a duck's back! You ignore your own humiliation, disregard your ego and remain clear and focused on staying calm while you work your way in a spiral to the center!"
"All right, all right, I get the point, I'll do it again," Ranma growled, "This is training, right? And I never fail when it comes to learning a new technique. Do your worst, Old Man, this time I can take it."
"Is that a fact?" the Shadow Genma replied, pulling out a hand-held microphone from seeming no where, the kind you see in karaoke bars, and without warning he spoke with amplified volume, "AND NOW FOR THE SECRET THAT RANMA HAS WHISPERED IN HIS SLEEP ON THOSE NIGHTS WHEN HE WAS NOT WITH HIS FIANCEES…NABIKI, MAKE ME YOUR LOVE SLAVE! SHAMPOO, BE MINE FOREVER!"
"Aiyaa!" I exclaimed in delight, hearing my fondest wishes being affirmed by this Shadow Puppet.
"Why Ranchan," Nabiki smiled sweetly, "I never knew you were such a sweet talker."
"HEY!" Ranma dove at the man again, "CUT IT OUT, THAT'S NOT FUNNY!"
"OH YES, SHAMPOO…DO ME LONG AND HARD!" the Shadow Genma continued while staying out of reach of our ever more desperate husband.
"Why, you sly dog," I heard Akane quip.
"Who would have thought you were such a Sex Pervert, Ranma," Ryoga added with equal humor.
"Nabchan, you're a lucky girl," Ukyo quipped, "And Sham-chan…how naughty!"
"Have you no shame, Saotome?" even Konatsu joined in, though his observations seemed to be entirely sober.
"CUT IT OUT!" Ranma pleaded, and so the training went with great-grandmother reprimanding him every time he got out of control with his emotions.
After quite some time had passed, and just as evening light fell upon us, and great-grandmother pronounced that it was sufficient training for one day. Ranma had learned at long last to disregard the taunts and teasing of the Shadow Genma, and Archmage Siren banished her creation away so that we could retire to share an evening meal without having to watch the imitation Genma try to seal our food before our very eyes. My Elder even seemed quite satisfied with the progress my husband had made as Ukyo and I cooked up his dinner, but then she surprised us with a declaration that effectively banned all of us from taking part in the next day of training.
"What?" was our automatic response, with Nabiki having the presence of mind to ask, "But why?"
"It is true that Ranma has come close to mastering the Soul of Ice maneuver," my Elder replied, "But to go the distance at the next stage, Ranma must be willing to use the Hiryu Shoten Ha upon a single opponent, one who can generate the heat of anger and strike at him in his weakened state without holding back. Now, who among you has it within them to come at the boy with the intent of doing him serious harm?"
We exchanged looks between us…Nabiki, Ukyo, Ryoga and I, even Akane seeming dubious about using that level of force against a greatly weakened Ranma.
"Elder Siren?" I asked, turning to the Archmage in the hope that she might again provide the answer.
"Sorry," she replied, "I can make lifelike Shadow Puppets, but they don't actually have life auras, and what you need is somebody whose Chi can manifest real anger, lethal force and even deadly intentions. And by the way, Shampoo dear…don't call me an Elder. The less I have to do with those over-the-hill biddies the better I like it."
"Indeed," Lotion replied, "There can be no shortcuts on this matter…we must find a likely candidate who will go all out against Ranma, someone strong enough to defeat him and who is willing to risk injuring the young Master."
"More to the point," Cologne resumed, turning her focus towards Ranma, "Can you honestly say, Boy, that you want to use such a powerful technique against these girls, or even your own brother? Would you strike at Shampoo, Nabiki, Ukyo, even Akane…let alone Ryoga?"
"Uh…well…" Ranma winced, glancing at us then lowering his eyes in tacit admission.
"But…" Ryoga began, "Without an opponent who's willing to fight him all out…"
"…Then Ranchan will stay a weakling forever," Ukyo concluded for her.
"Eep!" my husband gasped, "No way!"
"But there must be something we can do," Akane declared, "I can't believe you put him through all that training without figuring out a way around this!"
"Oh, we have someone else in mind who should do the task quite well," Lotion replied with a mildly elusive smile, "But why don't you young people get some sleep for now, we'll tell you what we have planned in the morning."
"Indeed," Cologne replied, "We are all quiet tired and could use the rest. It is better to retire early so that we can begin anew fresh and early in the morning."
"What a wonderful idea," Siren beamed as she smiled at my elder, "Would you like to roll up into bed with me? I can keep you warm at night and regale you with memories of the old days."
"I would sooner cozy up with a bull python," Cologne's tone was acid.
"Hey, whatever position you like, I'm game for it," Siren quipped back, to which my great‑grandmother's response is best not recorded for posterity as even my ears were left burning…
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