Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ A Tale of Two Wallets ❯ There's A New Guy in Town... ( Chapter 20 )

[ Y - Young Adult: Not suitable for readers under 16 ]

A Tale of Two Wallets

(An Altered Destiny)

Written by Jim Robert Bader

Proofread by Shiva Barnwell

Nabiki's Journal Resumes:

Sometimes I swear that we ought to just sell Uncle Genma to a zoo and be done with it! That old panda's caused more trouble than he's worth in his weight of fish sausages, which come to think of it is another way we could get even…

Ah well, might as well start this entry at the beginning.

Ranma was not happy about being stuck back in female form again, to say the least, and with his "man-to-man" fight against Mousse looming we could all sense a disaster in the making, but Ranma assured us that she would find a way to defeat Mousse while preserving her secret, a scheme that sounded a little cracked when he pitched it to me, but what the hell, we were desperate! I couldn't see how anything could get worse at this point.

Naturally I was wrong, as usual. Things were about to get a lot worse, only from a completely unexpected direction.

The fight had been scheduled for this afternoon a couple of hours after classes, so I had time enough to run a few chores before meeting Ranma at the designated time and place in the park. One of those errands called for me to make a brief stopover at a new restaurant that was setting up shop a few blocks from the Nekohanten. It was dealing with okonomiyaki, not ramen, but I thought I could sell a few boxes to the proprietor from our year-long stock that Ranma had won during the take-out race against Kaori.

I got there a few minutes ahead of the time that I'd called ahead for, but when I was met at the door by the proprietor I thought that there must be some mistake. Instead of some middle-aged guy, like I'd expected, the kid who let me into the place looked to be even younger than I am!

Of course my first reaction on meeting him was to gape in amazement, for here was a handsome boy I had never seen around Furinkan before, and a pretty sharp dresser, all in black with a loose-fitting robe that sported a bandoleer of miniature spatulas. I could not help gaping at his face, which was so good looking you could almost call him pretty.

He explained to me that his name was Kuonji Ukyo, that he's sixteen and "unattached," and that he was setting up his business in the Nerima district as an outlet for his father, who owned a chain of such restaurants. We talked a bit of business and I found this Ukyo character to be a pretty fair business man for his tender years, almost as astute on the subject of business as me, a natural talent that opened up an instant rapport between us. He even flirted with me a little, though I'm sure he wasn't being serious, just polite as a guy like him must be a real popular attraction with the ladies.

I'd noticed that he has a very provincial accent, falsetto toned and salty besides as he referred to me more than once as "Sugar." I smiled back and felt myself warm a couple of times at the flattery, even though I had to eventually let him know that I was engaged to a boy at my high school.

Kuonji seemed to express interest at that point and informed me that he was considering enrolling at Furinkan and wanted to know what kind of a school it was like, and whether it would accept him as a Business Major. I replied as truthfully as I could that our school was…unique, and that we had a kind of reputation among the Tokyo districts as a rough spot due to the number of martial arts students who study in and around our dojo. That, too, seemed to inspire a smile from Kuonji as he expressed an interest in the martial arts himself, then gave me a quick demonstration of his family's unique form of okonomiyaki cooking, whipping me up a Japanese pizza in the space of what seemed like only a few seconds!

I kid you not, when I bit into the thing I thought I'd died and gone to heaven! Even Kasumi doesn't make okonomiyaki that good, so light and crisp around the edges, just tender and juicy enough in the center that it almost melts in your mouth like butter! I knew at once a good thing when I saw it and asked Kuonji if she was interested in having a business partner.

He replied non-committally that he would think about it, and we got along pretty well from that point, right up until he said something flattering about my iinazuke, saying he must be a great guy to have someone like me devoted to him. That was when I let slip the name of my betrothed, and it was as if I had just threatened to bomb the place! Kuonji's attitude changed completely and the spatula in his hand hit the floor like the proverbial pin-drop.

"Saotome Ranma?" he repeated, turning to look at me with an intense scrutiny that was totally unlike the friendly, outgoing boy I thought I'd been bantering around with, "Did you say his name is Saotome Ranma?"

I answered affirmative, surprised at this change in his attitude as I could almost swear I saw Kuonji surrounded by a battle aura. It did not take too many more clues for me to have a gnawing sense that I was about to experience a repeat of the Ryoga situation.

"Tell me," he said in level heat as if barely controlling his anger, "Does he have a father named Genma? Saotome Genma?"

"Ah…that depends," I replied, "You got a problem with them?"

"You could put it that way, Sugar," he growled, then reached up over the counter and pulled down from the wall a huge iron baker's peel that was displayed there like a family heirloom. He hefted it and slung it over his back then said, "Would you mind very much showing me to your boyfriend and his father? I've got some unfinished business I'd like to settle, if you don't mind."

"As a matter of fact I do mind," I replied, "What's your beef with Ranma? You don't plan on doing anything nasty to him, do you?"

"That all depends," Kuonji said darkly, "I'd like to see him first before I decide one way or another. Ranma and me go way back, and that jackass father of his."

"Oh," I replied, "So you do know Uncle Genma."

He studied me with a peculiar intensity then frowned before saying, "You're his iinazuke, huh? About how far back does this go?"

"I've only known Ranma a couple of months," I replied, "But the engagement was agreed to by our fathers before we were even born. It's a matter of family honor."

"Family…honor?" Kuonji grated out the words, "I'm surprised they even know what the words mean! If you had any idea what kind of hell those two have put me through…"

"Try me," I stated flatly.

He seemed to consider the point for a moment then shook his head, "No deal. I'll only explain my side of the story after I see Ranma. I want to know why he and Genma abandoned me along the road when I was little. You have any idea what that's like to a six year old?"

"Abandoned…you?" I said in total bewilderment, wondering if what he was saying meant that Ranma had a brother that had been given up by Genma! You read about these things all the time, but to meet someone who was living proof of the total irresponsibility of Ranma's father was as shocking as if Kuonji had just slapped me.

"Look," he tried more reasonably, "I give you my word of honor that I won't try anything with your boyfriend until after I've had my say. I'm entitled to some answers for all the things I've suffered over these last ten years! You can't deny me that! If you don't want to help, I'll understand, but one way or another I'm going to find Ranma and his father and have my satisfaction."

I had a sense that Ukyo is a very dangerous customer, and being a devout pacifist at heart I decided not to put on any brave show in standing up to him, so I agreed to at least show him to Ranma's father, sensing that this was where his anger was strongest, and the old man certainly deserved a good bashing!

Kuonji closed up his shop and followed me to the park where we both discovered (to his amazement and my dismay) that Cologne had turned the whole thing into a carnival like atmosphere complete with already assembled arena and a concession stand from which she and Shampoo were hawking bowls of hot Ramen. A part of me was appalled at this exploitation of the fight between Mousse and Ranma, but another part of me-the part that is all business-was secretly admiring them both for having such good business moxie.

Okay, maybe I was also a bit envious that I hadn't gotten my hand into their deal before it happened, but at least Ryonami and my other friends where there working the crowd, placing bets and salting rumors that helped tilt the odds in our favor.

Ryonami-bless her soul-had generated a lot of interest among our fellow students by passing along the word that the stranger had at least connected with a kick and punch to Ranma. That was a lot more than Ryoga or Kuno had ever managed, so there was muted hope among some students that our school's undefeated champion had finally met his match against the newcomer. Even though the odds of an upset were remote I found more than a few students eager to bet against those odds for a chance at seeing Ranma upstaged. It was enlightening to discover that not everyone at our school thought very highly of my iinazuke, and that more than a few found him arrogant and abrasive.

Kuonji seemed to take the whole thing in with surprise before murmuring to me, "Just how well known is Ranma in this district?"

I just smiled and said, "Opinions are divided, you either like him or hate him, but I'm obviously prejudiced in his favor.

"And whose the chick with the weird hair?" he nodded towards Shampoo, who only just then took notice that I was standing alongside a complete stranger.

"Xian-Pu," I made a point to pronounce her name correctly, then made introductions when the Amazon approached us, adding, "Kuonji is setting up his own restaurant a few blocks from the Nekohanten. He's selling okonomiyaki…"

"The best okonomiyaki in Japan," Kuonji himself supplied, "Maybe even the world."

Shampoo was studying Ukyo's face very curiously before turning to me and saying, "Where Ranma at? He late for fight! Mousse already here, and he very angry."

"Mousse?" Kuonji asked and I pointed to the tall boy who was at that moment accosting innocent bystanders demanding to know if any of them were Ranma. When he got up to Kuonji himself the boy didn't hesitate or bat an eyelash, just laid Mousse out with a single punch to the solar plexus. I mentally checked the feat, seeing that Mousse wasn't wearing his glasses over his eyes and so could not have seen the blow coming, but that it was smooth, fast and easily delivered, almost the kind of blow Ranma himself could land without telegraphing the movement.

"Hands off, jackass," Kuonji snorted, "Do I look to you anything like Saotome Ranma?"

Mousse finally adjusted his glasses as he sucked wind back into his sails, then got slowly back to his feet with a very aloof stare directed at Kuonji. In a feral growl he said, "I'll deal with you later," before he turned to me and gave an even darker look before adding, "Your iinazuke is late. How dare he keep me waiting in a man-to-man fight? He is showing very poor manners, to say nothing of his unsportsmanlike…"

"I'm here!" cried Ranma, only I knew at once that it was Ranma-chan, not his male aspect, and looking towards the stage I felt like groaning. Ranma had put on some kind of flowing Chinese robe that was obviously too big for her frame, and wearing dark sunglasses as if to make fun of Mousse, as lame a display of psyching out your opponent as I've ever been forced to witness.

"What are you waiting for?" Ranma asked, "Aren't you interested in a man-to-man challenge?"

Mousse was incensed with rage and vaulted into the arena, but Kuonji just sounded puzzled as he asked, "Who is that? Is that Ranma?"

"That's Ranko," I corrected before I had time to really think about it, "Ranma's cousin. People sometimes get the two of them confused."

"I wonder why?" Kuonji frowned, "Sure doesn't look like the Ranma I knew. For one thing he never had bright red hair like this girl."

I just smiled and winced inwardly then settled down to watch the fight unfold. Ranma opened the match by putting on a display of stage illusion, producing all kinds of objects from his sleeves, which just added to the rage Mousse was building like a battle aura.

"How dare you make a mockery of my Dark Arts?" Mouse shouted, "You will pay for this insolence, as you will also pay for daring to enslave Shampoo to your clutches!"

"Aiyaa," Shampoo remarked from our side, "Mousse really angry. Shampoo never see him this much upset at fight."

"Sounds like this Ranko character is trying to make him reckless," Kuonji noted, "A pretty dangerous strategy, but I've got to admire her tactics."

"A pity son-in-law is underestimating his opponent," Cologne remarked as she was suddenly at our side, balancing on that stick of hers again as she watched the fight intensely, "He cannot defeat Mousse by employing such a strategy."

"He?" Kuonji asked with an arched eyebrow, but we ignored the question as right then Ranma vaulted into the air and caused an explosion to surround her with smoke for several seconds. When she emerged from the smoke to land on the stage again I almost fell over with surprise. Ranma was now dressed up like a Playboy bunny in a really skimpy costume, the kind which I'd never have imagined seeing him wear to a fight, let alone before a crowd full of our fellow students.

To top things off Ranma pretended as if his change of appearance, revealing himself as a girl, were just a part of the "magic act" he was putting on. I thought it was one of the lamest stunts he had ever pulled, but to my dismay I saw that people were actually buying it! There was all kinds of murmuring about how Ranma had managed to make the switch between himself and the redhead.

"What the…?" I heard Kuonji murmur, echoing my thoughts exactly.

"Well now," a familiar voice remarked as I turned to see Lotion standing beside me, "I see we have arrived in time, and your amorata is putting on quite a show for the crowd. A pity Mousse will only grow more focused in his anger."

"I knew I should have gotten here earlier," said another familiar voice as Doctor Tofu was standing on the opposite side of her, as though they both had arrived together, "I need to speak with Ranma before this fight goes any farther."

"Nihao, Tofu-Sensei," Shampoo greeted her former employer, "What you mean you need talk with Airen? Him busy at moment…"

"That's what I need to explain to him," Tofu replied, "He can't win this fight as a girl, he's got to change back to his male form before he gets seriously injured."

"Change back to his what…?" Kuonji sounded even more confused than ever.

"What is it, sensei?" I asked my family physician, "Is Ranma in serious trouble?"

In answer to my question I heard an exchange of blows and turned to see at once what Tofu had been saying was true. Ranma was in the air exchanging blows and kicks with Mousse, but none of his blows connected as Mousse's Crane-picks and punches had greater reach and were backed by masculine power.

"Oh," I said, comprehending the problem.

"The boy has greater reach as a male," Cologne replied, "As a girl his arms and legs are shorter, giving Mousse the advantage. I should have warned him of this myself but I thought my son-in-law's skills might compensate for this disadvantage."

I think about that point Kuonji was deciding that the lot of us were escaped mental patients, but we had no time to explain things for his benefit as Doctor Tofu pushed forward, being aided by Cologne in clearing a way towards the arena. At the rate that Ranma was sustaining a pounding, however, it was looking very much like they would not get to her in time.

That is until the timely intervention of Kuno.

"Osage no Onna!" he cried as he glomped onto Ranma without warning, causing Mousse to hesitate in surprise at this interruption, "Fear not! The Blue Thunder of Furinkan High is here to defend you!"

"Lemme go, you jerk!" Ranma cried out, unable to get enough leverage to dislodge Kuno's embrace of her body.

The pause only held Mousse in check for a moment, however, and he launched himself into the air once again, alighting on a nearby telephone pole where he summoned up his power, then vaulted back into the arena, diving with clawed hooks on his feet. Ranma saw the danger barely in time to get out of the way, but she was a bit slow due to the drag weight of Kuno and one of those claws ripped her bodice open. She threw Kuno into Mousse and stepped back to safety, but in doing so was unaware that the upper half of her body was now exposed to full public examination.

The result on our hormone-crazed student body was predictable and boys started to climb into the arena to surround and attempt to grope Ranma. She started to fend them off, but it was plain to me that sheer weight of numbers was telling and we were about to witness an all out gang-bang!

"I've seen enough of this!" cried Kuonji, and before I had time to ask what he was talking about he vaulted over the heads of the crowd, unslung his baker's peel and began to lay out into the students with powerful blows that batted them away like bowling pins, scattering them in all directions.

"Back off, you sleezoids!" he angrily declared, "Don't even try to put your clammy paws on her or you'll answer to me, you got that?"

"Thanks," Ranma gasped as she held her top with both hands, "You're a real life saver, whoever you are."

"Don't mention it, Sugar," Kuonji replied, giving her a sidelong glance before saying, "You're name's Saotome Ranko, right? Maybe you might tell your cousin about me, I'm Kuonji Ukyo, an old friend of his from long ago."

"Kuonji…Ukyo…?" I saw comprehension dawn on the face of an astonished Ranma.

Just then Tofu reached the stage and climbed up on it, telling Ranma to hold still. Ranma looked surprised when Tofu touched a spot on her back, and then Cologne appeared with a kettle of water, which same she poured over Ranma's head, instantly triggering his by-now familiar transformation.

Well, familiar by me. For Kuonji, on the other hand, it was a bit of a surprise seeing the redhead suddenly change into a handsome guy who stood even taller than he was.

"Hey, thanks!" Ranma grinned, flexing his now-masculine bare chest, "It's good to be back!"

"Ranma…?" Kuonji said in a hollow voice that sounded higher pitched than normal.

"Ucchan!" Ranma grinned as he slapped Kuonji on the shoulder, "Man, it's good to see you again! What's it been? Like ten years or something? You sure grew up to be a pretty handsome guy, bet you're a real lady-killer…"

"Guy?" I heard Kuonji say the word even more faintly.

That was when Mousse extricated himself from Kuno and rose to his feet even more incensed than ever, "Saotome Ranma! How dare you make a mockery out of this fight! You will pay for this with your life!'

"Uh, guys?" Ranma motioned Kuonji and Tofu back, "Mind if we pick this up later? I've got a little unfinished business to settle."

Kuonji and the others cleared the way as Ranma assumed a fighting crouch and prepared to meet Mousse's renewed onslaught. I looked around at our fellow students and saw considerable confusion and dismay in their expressions, not to mention a good deal of murmuring on "How did he do that?" which meant the student body had seen the change happen but could not make sense of it. More than a few seemed to be concluding that the whole thing was an illusion staged for their benefit which gave me an idea on how we could work some damage control after this was all over.

This time Ranma was prepared for Mousse and sized up his attacks with plenty of time to meet and counter them. The Chinese Boy still had a formidable technique and kept Ranma from pressing his advantage in strength, but the fight was much more even now, until Mousse began producing a series of weapons from concealment. That started to level the playing field again when Cologne suddenly called out for Ranma to use his special technique, the Chestnut Fist. Ranma understood and complied with the suggestion immediately, and within seconds he had laid Mousse out into dreamland, having pummeled him with countless blows that the other boy could neither see nor counter.

"That oughta show you!" Ranma declared haughtily while half the student body cheered him and the other half tore up their betting stubs as if that would spare them from later collection.

"Ranma!" Shampoo cried out enthusiastically as she vaulted from my side, only to get beaten by the punch by Kodachi, who glommed onto Ranma without warning, declaring, "Ranma-sama" had proven himself a superior man before all who might doubt him.

I saw Kuonji frame the words, "What the heck?" before his handsome face darkened and he suddenly brought the baker's peel down on Kodachi's head, knocking her out as she fell at the feet of Ranma.

"Thanks, Ucchan…" Ranma started to say in relief when he suddenly found the edge of the giant spatula thrust up under his chin as Kuonji leaned closer toward him and glared with his hazel eyes before saying, "Don't thank me just yet. I haven't forgotten what you and your father pulled on me all those years ago, you know!"

"What we what?" Ranma blinked, "Ucchan, you're not making sense! What we pulled on you? What are you talking about?"

"Don't you remember?" Kuonji looked surprised and not a little bit hurt, "Ten years ago when we parted ways, or rather when you dumped me along the side of the road and made off with my father's yatai?"

"When we…what…?" I saw Ranma's face go pale, then his eyes lost focus as he blinked and said, "Hey…I do remember something…you running after us, me waving to you…on the top of the yatai…"

The blank look in his eyes persisted several second before becoming a look of utter horror, "I…I don't…what were we doing with your yatai? That doesn't make any sense…"

"Sounds to me like you and your father stole it," I said as I approached this merry little get together.

"Wrong!" I heard Genma cry as he suddenly surfaced from the crowd, "Her father gave it to me! It was a fair exchange…uh…"

"Go on," I said, turning a suspicious look his way, seeing all the tell-tale signs of another Genma scam in motion, "In exchange for what?"

"Uh…nothing…" Genma said, easing back into the crowd, "I just didn't steal it…"

"Pop…" Ranma growled, "What the hell did you do to Ucchan? You left him along the side of the road?"

"Hey, you were there too, Boy," Genma replied as he called over his shoulder, "Don't try to act innocent. You're as much a part of this as I am!"

"I'm what?" Ranma cried in outrage, but before he could chase after his Dad I heard Kuonji speak up again.

"Saotome Genma," he purred, flexing his baker's peel again in both hands, "Do you have any idea how long I've been searching for you, old man? Ten years I've been in training for this day, and now I've finally caught up with you! You know what they say about payback? Well, it goes double for me!"

Genma gave the kind of strangled cry a guilty man gives his accusers before turning tail and running full out. Kuonji was already in the air and sailing over the heads of the other students chasing after him threatening vile retribution. Of course Ranma and Shampoo gave chase, but as I was about to do the same I found a staff restraining me. I looked down to see Lotion smiling my way with a knowing expression.

"He's quite a man, your iinazuke. He attracts followers the way some men attract hornets."

"What the heck is going on here?" I asked, "Why was Kuonji so upset with Ranma? And why did Genma steal that yatai cart then claim it was given to him by his father?"

"His father," Lotion replied, "You already have all the clues that you need to solve this puzzle in that one expression. Think well on it and you will know without needing me to tell you."

"Can't you just for once come out and tell me?" I asked in frustration.

"Think of it as a part of your training," the old woman said as she began to hobble away, only to pause and call back, "The true secret of being a Lore Master is to accept what you know and to allow yourself to know that you know it. I have told you that it is dangerous to be fooled by mere illusions, and appearances are the most deceptive kind of illusion. Think well on the crowd and how easily they were beguiled by the feminine charms of your fiancé. Do you think them totally oblivious to what they have just seen? Yet how many of them will remember things accurately and later tell themselves that something other than what they saw is what in fact happened?"

I had to concede that she was right on that. It's amazing what denial people will mount to preserve their conceptions of what is real and what is false. I've used that trick many times to my advantage, and yet even I'm surprised at how far people like Kuno will go to confuse what they see and hear with what they want to have happen.

"I hate this," I sighed, "Why do you always have to answer every question with a riddle?"

"Why do you question every answer?" she replied, then smiled as she started on her away again, calling back, "One is taught in accordance to one's ability to learn. You are a clever enough girl, you will figure it all out on your own…eventually."

Well, I managed to catch up with Ranma and Shampoo a short time later, finding them standing over Genma, who was laying on his back in a ditch with a look on his face that showed absolute terror. At first I thought maybe Kuonji had done this to him, but Ranma said the old man had collapsed on his own, and the sight of him like that had so disgusted Kuonji that he had turned around and left him like that.

"Very strange boy," Shampoo reflected, "Him very handsome, but he no like Ranma's father."

"I got a sneaking hunch the old man deserves whatever's coming to him," Ranma growled as he gave his father a contemptful sweep with his eyes, "C'mon, Pop, I ain't buying this act! Get up and tell us what you did to make Ucchan so angry!"

He aimed a kick at the old panda, but Genma caught the foot before it connected, then calmly sat up and adjusted his glasses, folding his arms and legs into a position worthy of the Buddha.

"I can't tell you, boy, and it's for your own good."

"What?" Ranma was even more incensed than before.

"Listen, Ranma," he directed his gaze at his son in a way that was almost frighteningly intense, "You have to believe me, I did not steal that yatai. I had my reasons for what I did, but it's a matter of honor that I not reveal them. You future safety and happiness depends upon my silence."

Shampoo made a dismissive noise and said, "Shampoo think old panda no tell truth about Spatula Boy, maybe have something to hide that very bad? Shampoo think maybe bonbori loosen tongue."

"You can threaten me all you want," Genma replied, "But I'm not talking."

"Oh no?" Shampoo made a sly smile and suddenly her maces were in either hand. She held them up in a threatening manner and Genma blanched at once, then got to his feet and started running again. Shampoo gave chase for a block or so, then let him get away before circling back to rejoin us.

"So," I said while Shampoo was off giving the terror of the gods to the old panda, "What do you think of your old friend, Ranma? Think maybe this Ukyo character is going to come after you like Ryoga?"

"I sure hope not," Ranma said with a tired kind of sadness, "We used to be close friends. I'm so tired of everybody always blaming me for stuff, chasing after me and threatening to kill me. I mean, when is it gonna stop already? Why do I always have to pay for my father's crimes when he's the one who made off with the yatai?"

"You don't remember anything else that might be helpful?" I asked him, "I can't believe your friend was this upset over just the theft of a cart."

"Why not?" Ranma asked with a snort, "Ryoga wanted to kill me over bread, that that was even before he got his Jusenkyo curse," he look thoughtful for a moment then said, "All I remember is the games me and Ucchan used to play. I'd come running up to steal okonomiyaki from his cart, and she'd try to prevent me…"

"Steal?" I replied with lifted eyebrows.

"Uh…" he thought about it, then said, "Yeah, I guess it was kinda like stealing, only his old man never seemed to mind much. In fact, the old guy acted like he wanted to encourage us being playmates. He'd give Pop and me free okonomiyaki and the two of them would talk for hours."

"About what?" I asked, not able to imagine Genma as a great conversationalist.

"I dunno," Ranma frowned more intensely, "About martial arts and stuff, I think. Ucchan's dad was really into his family's special system…I think they developed it to fight off bandits or something. I know he was training Ucchan how to fight with spatulas, only much smaller ones than that big thing he was waving about."

"So obviously," I surprised, "There was some kind of an arrangement made between your father and his father, and it involved the exchange of the yatai…" I stopped and looked at Ranma with dismay, "I think I know what it is, Ranma-kun! It makes a kind of sense…your father was supposed to adopt Ukyo and train him like your foster brother!"

"He what?" Ranma blinked, "Why that…do you know how much I've always wanted somebody to talk to and play with when I was a kid? You know what I would have given to have a brother!? That…I'll kill him with my own two hands when I get home!"

"At least we know why Ukyo's so upset about being abandoned," I surmised, "Think what it must have been like for him to be left at the side of the road at the age of six while your father made off with the family business."

I saw Ranma's anger deflate into depression as he growled, "How could he? Me'n Ucchan could have been brothers growing up and helping each other train in the art! Why would he do such a thing?"

"Because he's an amoral, self-centered, egotistical opportunist who thinks only of his stomach and would sell his only son for a bowl of rice and a fish wafer?" I posed my statement as gently as I could and tried to arch it to sound more humorous, but it sounded lame even in my hearing. Ranma looked at me and smiled without really smiling, but I could see in his eyes how much this was hurting him.

When Shampoo came back she saw the same look too but was quick to take Ranma's mind off the problem of his father's irresponsible behavior, complimenting him on his devastating victory over Mousse. Ranma did perk up a little under her cheerful praise, but we both knew the problem with Ukyo was far from over and we'd no doubt be hearing from him again. If there's one thing I know about Ranma, he always tries to do what he believes is right, and somehow he has to find Kuonji and make peace between them.

Now that I'm sitting here in my room reflecting on the events of the day I'm forced to wonder if maybe my conclusion about Kuonji was entirely accurate. Granted I'd made a deduction based on the available data that was at hand, but some nagging sense tells me that I've missed something pretty significant, and that always bothers me. If there's one thing I pride myself on it's the thoroughness of my research.

I'm going to get on the Net after I'm done here and do a search into the personal history of one Kuonji Ukyo. I know there are laws against invading someone's privacy, but there are ways around that, just like there are loopholes with everything in the legal books. Too bad Amazon rules don't have these kinds of legal loopholes, but then again I guess the one that allows me and Ranma to both be considered potential mates by Shampoo counts as a kind of a loophole. I'm not complaining that she wants to be a lot closer to the both of us…in total honesty that's one loophole that I can live with.

I'm not going to let myself be distracted by another aimless ramble about Shampoo. That issue still has me tied up in knots as I want to do the right thing by her, only what she's proposing for us…well…in a way it kind of scares me. A one-on-one marriage with Ranma is difficult enough to contemplate, but all this business with the Amazons, and that Lotion who keeps referring to me as a Lore Master…

Lotion. What did she mean that I already had all the clues I needed? What clues do I really have that could make me arrive at any other conclusion than that Genma sold out on Kuonji by reneging on a pact he made with his father…

His father. There was something about that which Lotion thought was significant. Something to do with what she was saying about illusions and the way people perceive reality, not seeing things accurately but making stuff up in their minds based on prior preconceptions. What preconceptions do I have about Kuonji? I only just met him today! Sure, he's a cute boy, and if I weren't totally committed to Ranma I'd be tempted to flirt with him in earnest. He's sharp, has good business sense, clearly knows what he wants in life and has a practical edge to his manners that makes me believe he'll go far. In many respects he's a more desirable prospect than Ranma, who still hasn't committed himself to anything besides perfecting his martial arts and teaching students in my father's dojo.

Kuonji Ukyo…a pretty strange name for a guy. Bet he got teased a lot growing up! "Right of the Eternal Temple of Kyoto." No wonder he's such a superb martial artist…

He's a martial artist. He. It just occurred to me, scrolling back over what I've just written, when Genma was first protesting that he had not stolen the yatai…that HER father gave it to him. HER, not Him! At first I thought it was a typo, but now…now that I think about it…

Nabiki looked up from her console with a blank-faced astonishment that held her rooted in her chair for several minutes, then she looked out the window, knowing Ranma was perched outside, and debated whether or not she should tell him of her suspicions. The more she thought on it the more right she felt in her suspicions, and that feeling grew strong until it was almost a certainty. It all added up, all the little hints and clues that she had been ignoring throughout her whole time around Kuonji Ukyo. Her first conclusion had indeed been in error, and now she was faced with an even greater problem than before, and how was she going to explain this to Ranma?

"Kuso…" she very faintly whispered.

Outside in the night Ranma was himself undergoing a kind of torment as he thought about the events of the day, and how badly it reflected on both him and his father. In spite of everything, Ranma had always deep down believed that his father was a basically good man, and they both adhered to the Warriors code which upheld that a martial artist should always use their skills in defense of the weak. Yet here his father had betrayed the code, betrayed himself and betrayed Ranma, and-worst of all-betrayed Ucchan, his only childhood friend from long ago, now a bitter enemy who no doubt hated his guts with a passion.

"Ucchan," he sighed, feeling the depression settle in as he wondered what Nabiki was thinking about him at the moment. How could she stand to look at him, knowing how he and his father had abandoned someone who could have been like a brother growing up? The more he thought about it, the more he felt like jumping into the koi pond and not emerging until he had purged himself-or herself-of all sins.


Ranma tensed, every muscle locking into a rigid frame as that sound invaded his thoughts and drove all thoughts of Ukyo away. Without turning his head to look he sensed something small, warm and furry approach him, sniffing his hand and making an inquiring noise as if asking a question.

"G-G-gah…" Ranma managed to stutter, "Get outta here, Shampoo! G'wan, beat it!"

"Meow?" the feline voice inquired, sounding bot hurt and defensive.

"You heard me?" Ranma fought down the edge of panic in his voice, "Scat! Haven't you already caused enough problems?"

"Meow," this time the cat-voice sounded sad, depressed and very isolated.

"Wait!" Ranma called out, sensing that the animal was about to withdraw, "I didn't mean that, Shampoo! I mean…you're not at fault here…I'm sorry I yelled at you, I mean…I…oh hell…"

"Meow?" the tone was soft, low and gently inquiring.

Ranma could not repress a feverish shiver that traveled up and down the length of his body as he fought to remain where we was, fought against the cloying panic that gnawed around the edges of his mind, threatening to burst out, to turn him into the Neko, to drive him beyond the threshold of sanity to drive him into full-blown madness.

He could smell the fish sausages, hear the hungry growls in the dark of the pit, could almost smell the overpowering scent of their bodies pressed together all around him…

Stop it! he told himself fiercely as he shut his eyes tightly. You have to get over this! It's just Shampoo, it's not a real cat at all, it's just her and nothing else…


Shampoo-Neko's face appeared before his eyes when he screwed them up to look at her, the face of a cat with odd ornaments in its fur, looking at him with Shampoo's eyes…her reddish brown eyes, still faintly discernable as human in spite of the curse that locked her body up in a shape that he found terrifying.

"Sh-Shampoo?" he asked, forcing himself to reach out with a hand that she gently sniffed before licking. He started to smile very slightly, then reached out to pet her…

"Ranma-sama! There you are! At last I have found you!"

"GAAAAAHHHHH!!!" Ranma cried as he bolted erect and started moving before his mind had formed a coherent thought. Kodachi took off after him, laughing her trademark laugh as the chase was on while Shampoo remained where she was, looking enormously puzzled.


"You and me both," she heard a voice say and turned to look up at Nabiki, who was staring out at her from her window.


"I know, Sham-chan," Nabiki replied, finding it easy to address the Amazon this way while she was in her cursed form, "Men…can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em."

"Mew," Shampoo lowered her gaze. How well she knew this!

"We have to talk," Nabiki said, and when the cat looked inquiringly up at her she waved a finger and said, "But if I let you in, do you promise to behave yourself and not cause any trouble? I'm still not sure if I forgive you for deceiving me earlier."

"Meow!" Shampoo raised her right paw as if making a salutation or a promise.

"All right," Nabiki sighed, "Then come on in and let's get you a hot bath, then we need to talk about Kuonji Ukyo. There's a little something that I need to tell you about her…"

"MEOW???" the cat exclaimed as she was halfway through the window.

"That's right, I said her," Nabiki nodded, "Your Japanese must be improving, either that or I'm learning to speak Cat. Either way, we have a serious problem."

"Meow," Shampoo murmured faintly, considering that an understatement…


Comments/Criticism/Cat-Lingo for Japanese Tourists: Shadowmane@msn.com