Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ A Tale of Two Wallets ❯ The Breaking Point ( Chapter 29 )

[ 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

Kodachi waited politely at the door until Kasumi arrived to greet her. They exchanged their usual pleasantries, then Kodachi casually asked if Kasumi might like to go shopping with her. In reality she was entertaining more mischievous inclinations.

To her surprise Kasumi said, "I would like that, but perhaps later. We have guests right now and I was preparing breakfast with them. Would you care to come in and join us?"

"Guests?" Kodachi asked, more than slightly surprised to find that the dojo was once again living up to its reputation as a magnet for interesting developments.

"Yes," Kodachi said, "Old friends of my father's. They're Amazons from Shampoo's village, one of them is her mother. Come with me and I'll introduce you."

Kodachi only reluctantly gave in to the older girl's gentle persuasion. There was something about Kasumi that appealed to Kodachi on a maternal level, a sense of her motherliness that touched a void in her soul, and so she found herself agreeing sometimes to the most ridiculous things, yet never regretting an instant that she spent in Kasumi's presence.

So it was that she found herself entering a kitchen that was occupied by two older women, both of whom appeared to be somewhere in their late twenties. The one who wore her purple hair up in a kind of pony tail was clearly Shampoo's mother, a much taller and mature version of the annoying Amazon who was pursuing a relationship with Saotome Ranma. The other was more of a mystery, a polite seeming lady with brown hair worn in a kind of bun that kept it swept out of the way but gave her the appearance of being somewhat older than was implied by her face. The purple haired one was Comb, the brown haired one was Silk, and the two of them seemed very busy in the kitchen, though as far as Kodachi could tell all Comb did was chop vegetables while Silk did the actual cooking in a wok.

Kasumi introduced Kodachi to them, but once her family name was mentioned both older women turned and gaped at her with mutually astonished expressions.

"Kuno Kodachi?" the one named Comb remarked with a peculiar hint of distaste, "As in Kuno Godai? Are you any relation of his?"

"My father," Kodachi replied, surprised to hear her father's name being mentioned by these strangers, "No one has seen him in several years. He went missing during a sabbatical and vanished without a trace."

"Then what of your mother, child?" Silk asked, "Who was the woman who gave you birth?"

"My…mother?" Kodachi slowly repeated, then her expression darkened and she said, "I'd rather not talk about her if it's just the same. She…died some years ago. Loyal servants of my family raised me and my brother."

"You have a brother then?" Comb remarked with raised eyebrows.

"Tatewaki," Kodachi replied, "One year my senior."

"An older brother, then," Silk smiled, "You must be very proud of him…"

"Not really," Kodachi snorted, "My brother is a fool who wastes his time chasing after two women who equally despise him. He has also picked a pointless quarrel with my beloved Saotome Ranma, who is in every way his better. No matter how many times he loses to my Ranma-sama he never learns and always blames his loss on magic…"

"Ranma-sama?" Comb replied archly, "You also have designs on Saotome Ranma?"

"Please," Silk urged her companion, then said, "Let's not go into such things before breakfast. I'm sure Kodachi-san will be happy to tell us all about her experiences with the son of Genma. Isn't it interesting, though, how history seems to be repeating itself in the current generation?"

"Disturbing more like," Comb replied, shaking her head, "I thought Genma was a magnet for these things, but his son apparently exceeds him."

Kodachi was a bit puzzled by these exchanges, but being a clever sort she managed to piece together one significant fact and said, "You knew my father and Saotome Genma when they were younger?"

"Yes, child," Silk replied, "More than twenty years ago we came to Nerima on…a personal quest, and we had encounters with both men, and probably your mother as well. Forgive my mentioning her name, but was she, by any chance, one Gosunkugi Hitome?"

Kodachi's eyes widened, then narrowed with speculation, "So…you did indeed encounter both of my parents. How very…interesting. Tell me more about this…you must have some very interesting stories to share concerning the past of my Ranma-sama's father."

"Stories?" Silk smiled, "More like continuous sagas, but Comb would know more of Genma's travails than me. My interests ran somewhat different from her own…"

"<Fry in a deep corner of the Ninth Hell, Silk,>" Comb grumbled in Chinese, sounding close to total exasperation.

Kodachi's smile deepened as she understood the words, having taken Mandarin during a semester at Saint Hebereke. Putting on her most sultry airs she moved up alongside the one named Silk and said, "Tell me more about the past, I would be ever-so-delighted to hear anything you might care to share about the old days…"

Nabiki's Journal Continues:

"Are we clear about what is at stake here?" Cologne asked Ranma and Ryoga as the two boys squared off to face one another in combat, "If Ranma loses, then he will agree to submit to me for training in the Amazon ways. Such training will necessitate you coming back with me to China, boy, but I'll include your iinazuke in the package, so you need not fear for an untimely separation. You will also formally apologize to Ryoga for any and all crimes you may have committed against him."

"And if I win?" Ranma asked.

"Then Ryoga will swear to forgo any and all hostilities against you," Cologne replied, "The rivalry between you will cease and both of you boys will shake on that and part this grove as enemies no more. You may train for a rematch but there will be no more of this incessant hostility and unresolved conflict between you. Agreed?"

Ranma smiled at that, "Sounds fair enough. How about you, Ryoga? Do you agree to all that? I want to hear it from your own mouth."

Ryoga ran his tongue over suddenly dry lips. The old woman had mentioned none of this to him before and the pledge took him somewhat by surprise, but after only a moment hesitation he nodded and said, "Sure, why not? You won't win anyway, and you'll be lucky if I even let you surrender!"

"Your word as a martial artist?" Ranma demanded, "I wouldn't want you thinking you can back out or nothing, 'cause if I win this is it between us. Got that?"

Ryoga looked somewhat more alarmed as he turned to Cologne and said, "What's the idea with the oath? You think I can forgive and forget what he did to me just like that?"

"He needs a reason to fight at his utmost," Cologne replied, "Just as do you. I expect a good match out of this one boy, and as long as he keeps his word then he will come back to China with me and you need never see him again and can live happily with your beloved girlfriend."

"To put an end to my torment," Ryoga said slowly, "To finally avenge myself and see Ranma humiliated! You've got yourself a deal, Saotome! Prepare to die, I'm sending you to Hell by express train!"

I just stood there listening to the old woman coach that stupid boy and almost shook my head in admiration for her clever manipulation of events. Of course I should have suspected Cologne of just such a hidden motive in training Ryoga. She could hardly want Ranma dead, and if Ryoga came near to achieving his goal she could always step in at the last second to spare his life, and meantime I'd get sucked into the package! I could almost have hit Ranma over the head for agreeing in my place to have me come with him to China, but considering that this was the alternative to his death I'd of course have agreed to it as I'd follow him to the gates of the real Hell in a second.

Shampoo, standing nervously at my side with Ukyo, looked as if she wanted to jump into the match on the side of our mutual beloved. I spared her only a glance to confirm that she would act in case the old woman chose to stand back and let Ranma take a pounding. The mere assurance that the Breaking Point did not work on human flesh did not by itself lend much comfort as we knew that Ryoga was intending to demolish his longtime rival and wouldn't stop short of leaving him broken and senseless. Considering the boy's raw physical strength alone I was pretty sure he had the capability to do it, and with Amaguriken speeds it was bound to get messy.

The two boys squared off and prepared for their match while I spared a glance to try and study the expression of my sister. Akane was keeping her gazed fixed upon Ryoga, but she was giving Ranma suspicious glares as if suspecting that he held the missing piece to the puzzle about which she alone was in the dark. I then turned a questioning look towards Lotion but the Amazon Lore Master just gave me a look that was-for lack of a better word, inscrutable.

The fight began with a charge by Ryoga, immediately lunging forward with one finger extended. As quick as he moved, Ranma was much faster in blocking his thrusts, dodging and avoiding them before twisting his body around and propelling Ryoga with a spinning kick to his backside.

Ryoga recovered almost immediately, performing a one-handed arm spring, then renewed his attack as soon as his feet touched the ground. Once more Ranma's speed proved superior as he avoided this lunge, and being Ranma he naturally had to verbally taunt his opponent before catching the next lunge and using it to throw Ryoga over so that his finger-first hit the ground a couple paces beyond where Ranma had been standing.

And all at once the ground he touched exploded!

I gave an involuntary gasp at the violence of that explosion, and was immediately relieved to see Ranma land well clear of the blast, his hands moving like a blur to catch the tiny fragments of shrapnel-like rock that might have otherwise cut him. He turned to face the crater that had been formed by the blast, but before he could relax his guard a figure rose up from that crater and attacked him…Ryoga!

Again Ranma avoided the blast that resulted when Ryoga's lunge went beyond him to the ground, and once again his hands blurred to catch the rocks that flew in his direction. Once again, however, Ryoga rose like the proverbial Phoenix from the ashes, laughing almost insanely as he came at Ranma again to renew his onslaught.

This time, however, Ranma did more than avoid the blast, he deflected Ryoga's entire arm then went on the counter-offensive, punching and kicking him several times in the space of one second before leaping clear to appraise his handiwork. To his surprise and my amazement Ryoga casually shrugged off the punches and smiled, then lunged forward again. This time Ranma avoided the attack and kicked Ryoga much harder, knocking the boy completely off his feet so that he tumbled into a nearby outcropping of stone with force enough that part of the granite face collapsed in an avalanche and partially buried Ryoga.

"That wasn't so tough," said Ranma as Akane called out the boy's name, but before the words had fully left her mouth there was a sudden trembling in the ground that we could all feel through the soles of our feet. The next thing we see is a large crack opening up in the ground, extending from the rock to where Ranma was standing before exploding upward while Ranma again vaulted to safety.

Once again Ryoga emerged from the ground, looking no worse for the wear while Ranma grabbed a tree branch and clung to it with a look of amazement. It was Ryoga's turn to taunt Ranma, laughing like a man possessed as he cried out, "That didn't hurt at all! In fact it felt like a baby's kick!"

"What did you say?" Ranma said in disbelief, "I kicked you hard enough to bust that stupid head of yours open!"

"How did he do that?" I heard Ukyo gasp, mirroring my own thoughts.

"Aiyaa," Shampoo exclaimed, "Shampoo forget to tell Airen other part of Bakusai Tenketsu technique! Hitting self against boulder cause body to adapt, become much stronger, can even move through rock like it water!"

"Say what?" I gasped, "He can swim through rock?"

"That's a hell of a memory lapse," Ukyo growled, "Don't you think Ranchan could have used that bit of info before he started this fight?"

"Shampoo know," the Amazon said with a sheepish expression, then she cupped her hands and called out, "Shampoo sorry she no tell you, Ranma! You no trade punches with stupid pig-boy, he not feel pain when you hit him!"

"Now you tell me that!" Ranma called back, only to discover that Cologne was now perched in the tree above the branch he clung from, smiling down at him.

"Enough hanging around, Son-In-Law, Ryoga is waiting," and with that she touched the branch with her staff and it shattered, tumbling him down towards the waiting Ryoga.

"Ranma, now you pay!" Ryoga cried as he thrust his finger towards Ranma, who twisted in mid-fall and managed to get his own hand out in time to intercept the thrust, creating a "V" between his fingers that caught that finger squarely.

"Bakusai Tenketsu Block!" Ranma cried out, then when Ryoga thrust his other hand forward he caught it the same way, immobilizing his opponent's fingers and clearing the way to land a solid kick that once more picked Ryoga up and doubled him over.

"Excellent," I heard Lotion murmur, "The boy is a genius at strategy. He improvised that counter on his own. Too bad it's not enough to protect him."

"Huh?" I gasped, then to my amazement Ryoga started to chuckle as he straightened out and smiled.

"You just don't get it, Ranma," he said and suddenly brought his head forward to connect against Ranma's skull, breaking his hold on Ryoga's hands as my iinazuke tumbled backwards, "You can't hurt me!"

"His punches and kicks don't affect that guy," Ukyo murmured, "That's a hell of a technique! No wonder he suffered so much to master it. Poor Ranma."

Ranma got to his feet and squared off with Ryoga once again, and now it was clear to everyone who was at a disadvantage. Ryoga prepared to make another attack when Ranma cried out, "Saotome School Special Technique Final Attack!"

"Son," I heard Genma cry out, "Don't mean to…?"

Before his father could even complete the sentence Ryoga lunged forward again, but this time instead of block or land a blow Ranma twisted his body and went under the attack, then came up from behind Ryoga and kept right on going.

"He ran away," I heard Shampoo gasp as we watched Ranma vanish into the woods and keep right on going.

"An interesting technique," Lotion remarked while the rest of us stood around gaping, including Cologne and Ryoga.

"Yes," Genma folded his arms and nodded solemnly, "The Saotome School Special Technique is founded on three principles: Speed, strategy and separation."

"In other words run away until you can think of something better?" Ukyo asked.

"You got it," he nodded.

Akane stamped her foot and cried, "And you call yourself a martial artist, teaching him to run away like that in the middle of a fight?"

"Hey, it's harder than it looks," Genma replied, "You've got to execute it just right to catch your opponent completely by surprise, like with Ryoga here."

Ryoga straightened out and growled, "He ran away…the coward! He can't escape me that easy, come back here, Saotome Ranma!" and with that he charged off in the direction that Ranma had taken.

"Okay," I said, "So Ranma buys himself a little time to think up a more effective means of countering Ryoga's technique. How long can he keep going before he catches up and finishes him off?"

"Who, Ryoga or Ranma?" Lotion smiled, "This battle is far from over."

"You are mistaken," Cologne replied to her fellow Elder, "This fight is all but done with. There is no way for Ranma to defeat Ryoga at his present level of skill. I saw to it that Ryoga hardened himself to the point where a hundred blows could not deter him."

"True," Lotion replied, "But you are forgetting, Matriarch, that we are dealing with a Nexus. Ranma is not must an average War Master in training, you see, but a special one who learns and adapts quickly to even the most complex offensive styles. I think you will find that it is Ryoga who is at a significant disadvantage."

Cologne frowned, "You did something to tilt the odds in his favor, didn't you? I warned you against interfering in the training of my apprentice."

"What interference, Matriarch?" Lotion smiled, "I only told the boy a little something about military history. Whatever he does next he will figure out on his own. That's what you want him to do, isn't it? Master new levels of skill so that you can go on to train him on a more advanced level."

Cologne's eyes narrowed by a fraction, and then she was suddenly off in pursuit of the two combatants. The rest of us exchanged looks then by mutual consent we hurried after her and soon caught up with the second stage of the battle.

I was, of course, the last one to arrive, being the slowest of our group as I lacked everyone else's considerable stamina and speed. All I caught was the sight of Ryoga staggering backwards as if a single blow had hurt him. As I came to a halt I saw Ryoga straighten up and prepare to come at Ranma again, only this time Ranma held his ground, and when Ryoga attacked he blocked the thrust with one arm and threw a solid punch that actually blurred into what I recognized was the Chestnut fist. This time Ryoga was thrown back all the way up against the bark of a tree where he did not move for the next several seconds.

"Wow!" I heard Ukyo exclaim, "That was some punch!"

"More like five hundred punches delivered in the space of three-point-four seconds," Lotion remarked, "Impressive. He almost rivals your speed at his age, Matriarch."

"It doesn't matter," Cologne replied solemnly, "There is no way for Ranma to win this match. Ryoga! He is using his special technique, now you must use the defense, as I have trained you!"

"Don't worry, old woman," Ryoga said as he slowly got to his feet, rubbing his chin with the back of his hand while smiling, "That was a pretty slick move, Ranma, striking me repeatedly in the same place, but it won't happen again. I'm ready for you this time!"

"I get it," I said in sudden revelation, "A single punch won't do the job…"

"But a hundred can chip away even an obstinate boulder like Ryoga," Lotion smiled, "Now watch what happens."

Ryoga came at Ranma again, but this time instead of simply making a single thrust he began to throw rapid thrusts that blurred like the Amaguriken, forcing Ranma to devote his energies to defending against these thrusts while keeping out of range of Ryoga's finger. When he saw an opening Ranma tried to take advantage of it by throwing another series of punches, but Ryoga reacted with matching speed and caught his arm, then tried to thrust with his other hand, forcing Ranma to twist his body out of the way at the last second. Ranma was held fast by Ryoga's superior strength, which made it impossible to break loose without diverting more effort from his defense than could be reasonably afforded.

Then Ranma suddenly moved his body in a certain way that I had trouble following, and just as suddenly he stepped back, breaking Ryoga's hold. As Ryoga started to lunge forward again Ranma suddenly spun upward and lashed out with a kick before flipping over once more and counter-attacking.

Ryoga was not prepared to receive the sudden onslaught of punches and kicks that seemed to slip right by his guard as though he were moving in slow motion. Ranma finished his attack with a solid kick that picked him up and threw him the length of the clearing, and this time when Ryoga struck the first tree to block his path it was much higher up and the impact seemed to definitely affect him.

"What?" Cologne whirled on Lotion and said, "Those are Amazon techniques, not part of the Saotome School! Where could Ranma have learned them?"

"He might have seen Shampoo work out and discovered the techniques on his own," Lotion replied airily, "Is that what you think happened, Shampoo? Did you, by chance, pass these techniques on to your Airen?"

"Aiyaa!" Shampoo cried happily, "That is right! Shampoo show Ranma just other day how Amazons fight while he train with wasps to avoid Bakusai Tenketsu!"

"Gee, I wonder how that could have happened?" Ukyo grinned, "Looks like this fight isn't so one-sided after all, eh Grandma?"

"We'll see," Cologne said with a narrowing of her eyes, giving a sour glance towards Lotion before turning back to see Ryoga get up again, now as mad as a charging rhino.

"You'll pay for that, Ranma!" Ryoga snarled before crying, "Bakusai Tenketsu!" and thrust his finger at the ground before his feet.

The explosion he kicked up this time was larger and more violent than any of the others, and the cloud it kicked up was so huge it obscured everything for several minutes. All that we could do was listen to the sound of punches being blocked at incredible speeds while two boys grunted like sweating hogs trying to wear each other out. All at once a red-shirted body went flying out of the dust to collide with stunning force against another tree. Ranma was just starting to recover from this impact when Ryoga came barreling out after him with blood in his eyes, clearly intending to finish their duel with a single thrust.

Ranma had enough left in him to move out of the way in time, but when Ryoga's fingers connected with the tree nothing happened. Even Ryoga looked surprised by this as Ranma slipped away unnoticed, but Ryoga was not long in recovering from his surprise. He turned to confront Ranma even as the dust began to clear a little on the field of battle.

"I don't get it," Akane murmured, "Why didn't the technique work this time?"

"Tree is living thing," Shampoo replied, "Have different pattern from stone, stronger aura…"

"And an entirely different elemental resonance," Lotion added.

"But the old woman shattered that branch with her staff," Ukyo pointed out.

"Obviously she knows a different variation on the technique," I said, "The Bakusai Tenketsu only works on stone…that's why Ranma was never in any real danger!"

"True," Cologne replied, "But he is far from out of the woods as Ryoga still retains the advantage. Both boys are winded by the blows they have exchanged, but of the two of them Ranma is the nearest to exhaustion."

I knew she was right but something nagged at me as I turned to see Ranma avoid another attack as Ryoga thrust deliberately at the ground to create another explosion. Ranma blocked the fragments, but this time I could see his movements were slowing down, and even worse was that I could tell he obviously knew it."

"Ranma!" I cried, "Stand your ground! You can still beat him!"

"No problem!" Ranma called back as he landed at the edge of the clearing, "I intend to!"

To my horror he did exactly as I told him, giving Ryoga a perfect target for another charge, but rather than block the attack Ranma allowed himself to be carried backward so that he landed with Ryoga crouched over him with a finger poised to strike.

"This is it!" Ryoga cried, "Bakusai Tenketsu!"

At the last second I saw Ranma turn his head aside as the finger thrust at the ground beneath where his head had lain, and the rest was obscured for several seconds by the explosion this kicked up. Shampoo and Ukyo gasped while I held my breath and felt my heart miss a beat, but when the dust cloud cleared Ranma and Ryoga were no longer on the ground. I looked up to see them both in the air, only now Ranma was taking advantage of his superior abilities in airborne defense and had immobilized both of Ryoga's arms with one hand and both legs.

"You were right," Ranma cried, then used his free hand to begin an incredibly flurry of punches all the way down to the earth as Ryoga took their fall on his own back while Ranma kept on hammering his ribs until a final blow brought a significant end to the encounter.

Ranma was breathing hard as Ryoga lay still, poised to renew his assault if his opponent so much as twitched or moved a muscle. For several heartbeats nobody said anything, then Akane cried out, "Ryoga" and impulsively rushed forward to see if the other boy was all right.

I would have told her that I could see that Ryoga was still breathing, but before anyone could say or even move I heard Cologne cry out, "No, child! Stay back! The ground is not stable…!"

Even as she spoke we could see the area around Ranma and Ryoga was starting to fracture and splinter. I belatedly realized just why there were no trees around that end of the clearing and reacted with alarm as Akane tried to reach the side of the two boys, only to get caught up in the tumble as the entire cliff face collapsed underneath them.

"Akane!" I cried out in horror.

Lotion's staff was suddenly in our way as Ukyo, Shampoo and I were about to rush to offer our aid, and her very calm annoyed me before her words penetrated through my sudden panic, "There is no immediate danger, the lake below will break their fall, and we can better serve them by taking the path leading that way."

"Aiyaa!" Shampoo cried, and with no further adieu led the way as we rushed down the trail, arriving a minute later to find Ranma in girl form holding Akane in one hand and Ryoga in the other. My sister looked no worse for wear, other than a little coughing, and I belatedly remembered that Akane could not swim. At the moment it looked like the same was true about Ryoga.

"Ranma!" I cried out, but Ukyo and Shampoo beat me to his side, so instead I checked my sister and said, "You all right, 'Neechan?"

"What-(cough)-happened…?" Akane grasped.

"Ranma won," Lotion answered, turning to Cologne for confirmation, "Would you not agree to that, Matriarch?"

"Hmph," Cologne sniffed, "Perhaps you were right about his cleverness. I never expected him to put up such a formidable defense. It seems that I can still be mistaken sometimes after all."

"And to think that I lived long enough to hear you say that," Lotion sniffed before turning back to level eyes on Ryoga, "Your apprentice was a formidable weapon to use in your designs, but his flaw is that he has not yet learned to deal with his pain more constructively than merely venting it as anger. Once he learns to see beyond himself he will become the warrior he was born to become, but until then he is but a child stumbling in the darkness. I trust you will not abandon him now merely because he has failed you."

"Amazons to not abandon their charges," Cologne replied, "I will see to it that the fool learns never to repeat his error."

"And in the meantime?" Lotion asked.

"I have given my word," Cologne replied, "And so has he. I will see to it we both honor our pledge, but if the boy should choose to train himself against Ranma, it will be in accordance to traditions."

"What?" Akane asked as she finally stopped coughing, "Ryoga? Where is…?"

"Why don't you ask him?" Ranma said in disgust as she tossed the pig into my sister's lap, "You both deserve each other, have a nice life together."

"Huh?" Akane gasped, "P-chan? But…?"

"Where is Ryoga?" Ukyo said as she glanced around, only to receive a light rap from Shampoo's elbow before she nodded to the little black pig with the tiger striped bandana, "Huh…you mean?"

Akane held the pig up in her hands and stared blankly into his face while Ranma got to her feet in disgust and said, "I'm not done with you, old woman! What's the big idea about teaching somebody as unstable as Ryoga a dangerous technique like that?"

"Ranma," I said, "It's all right, it doesn't work on people, just stone."

"Or other inanimate objects," Cologne corrected, "Anything that generates a living aura tends to confuse the technique. You don't think I'd teach Ryoga the more advanced method at his level of understanding?'

"It doesn't matter if it's harmless or not!" Ranma growled, pointing at the pig, "Ryoga thought it was effective enough that he tried to kill me with it! You set him up just so you could make me train harder to defeat him, and he sure did give it his best shot! What if it had been effective on me? He would have been a murderer, not that I'd ever give him a prayer of beating me like that!"

"Your confidence is commendable," Cologne replied, "But the boy's intentions towards you were his even before I agreed to assist in his training. He had to prove himself against you because you made him look small in the eyes of someone who cares a great deal about him. Did you ever think of his feelings when you taunted him in front of Akane?"

"Hey, he was trying to kill me!" Ranma defended, "What do you expect me to do? Cheer him on for his persistence?"

"She's right, boy," Genma said, "You're as much to blame for provoking him as he is to come after you to prove his worth as a fighter."

"Shut up, old man!" Ranma snapped, "Why are you on his side all of a sudden?"

"Yes," Lotion mused, "Why is that? Do you have any special interest in the other boy that you might like to share with your son?"

"Uh…" Genma blinked, "No, I mean…it isn't that at all! I just mean the boy went a little too far. A martial artist should always be concerned with justice…"

"And mercy for the weak," Lotion replied, turning to look at Akane and her "pet" before adding, "You both did that to him, you and Jusenkyo. It may be so that the boy pursued a blind path towards vengeance and put himself in a place for which he had not a clue, but he was following the trail of two who were just as clueless and misdirected. Jusenkyo brings out something deep inside you that causes you to become the thing you hide from others. His shame is deep, but his guilt is lessened by his innocence. If others put him up to his endless quest for vengeance, it was because of unresolved matters still kept hidden from the light of day. Think well on that, Saotome-san, before you or your son hold him accountable for his actions."

"Pop," Ranma turned a suspicious eye towards his father, "You got any idea what she's talking about?"

"Why, uh, no son," the man said defensively, "Why should I?"

"Because," Ranma reached out and seized him by his gi, then fell back and threw him over into the lake before concluding, "You're always to blame for everything that happens to me one way or another!"

"Sins of the fathers," Lotion sighed, "And sometimes of the mothers as well…"

"So," I said as I folded my arms and gave the old woman a studied gaze, "What is the connection? Are you telling us that Uncle Genma is somehow responsible for the rivalry between him and Ranma?"

"Wouldn't surprise me a bit," Ukyo huffed, "Stupid old man. He probably did something to cause it and poor Ryoga probably doesn't even know what it is. If he did then he'd be after Genma."

"That is good reasoning," Lotion replied, then gestured with her staff as the panda resurfaced from the water, "One day you will make a proper accounting for your actions, Saotome Genma. For now wallow in your guilt and think well on how it reflects upon you as a parent."

I saw Genma sit there in the pond looking owlishly at us like a deer caught in the headlights.

I noticed that Akane had not moved from the spot where she sat, still looking at her precious "P-chan" with the same stunned reaction. Ryoga, for his part, looked even smaller and more miserable than ever as if the weight of her silence were crushing him. I almost felt pity for the boy, feeling confident that in another minute we were going to see the manifestation of the old saying about pigs flying. I would have laid good odds that Akane would punt him to the moon once she had fully recovered.

"The poor guy," Ukyo said, "Lost without a clue or a friend."

"It worse than you think," Shampoo said, touching her arm before adding, "Maybe you know what it like when friend pretend to be something other than is. Maybe you both have something in common?"

"Huh?" Ukyo blinked, "What are you…?"

"Ryoga?" Akane's voice surprised us all as it was soft, not harsh, and as questioning as her expression.

"Yes, dear child," Lotion replied, "The time for deception is at an end. Let him stand revealed before your eyes and the truth shall heal you."

So saying she pointed her staff again, but this time at the water instead of Genma. With a slight motion she caused a jet of water to fly upwards, arcing towards her as she caught it in one outstretched hand, holding it like a fishbowl without the glass, then with another wave of her staff she caused the water to be surrounded in a brief glow like fire, then gently lobbed it at the pig and triggered the transformation to a wet-but-naked Ryoga.

I saw Ukyo divert her eyes while Shampoo sniffed indifferently and I just shook my head as Akane stared in amazement at the boy hunched down in front of her. Ryoga covered his privates and flushed crimson, then reacted in mild surprise as Lotion tossed dry clothing at him. She turned about and began limping away without another word, and by mutual consent the rest of us followed her example. Ranma looked hesitant about leaving those two alone, but I touched her arm and motioned that she should come with us so that he could have his bruises tended to. Even Genma got the hint about leaving them alone, though Cologne seemed willing to remain and play chaperone. I fully expected to hear Akane's outraged cry at any second as we made our way back to our base camp.

How on earth was I supposed to expect what was shortly to happen..?

Devil Hunter Kachu Tenshin Amaguriken stared down from the clock tower that she had chosen for her refuge. The city below her was noisy and huge, full of many times more people than she was used to associating with, and with a state of technology unlike the simple village life that she had known throughout her youth.

A strange land, this Japan, with even stranger people, nominally Asians but having unique qualities very different from Chinese or Koreans. Their language was a babble that she barely understood, being spoken more fluidly than those simple lessons she had enjoyed many years ago while still living with her mother. A strange people, yes, and with customs that she found altogether quite confusing.

Well enough, she decided. She would learn what she needed to know by communing with the spirits of the land and opening herself to their wisdom. Though Shinto was the dominant faith here, it had deep roots in Buddhism as well, which she understood enough to find a resonance that would serve as the causeway. The Tao would guide her steps and she would soon know enough to seek out the Doppelganger who haunted her visions and tormented her mind like a dark mirror image.

She was dimly aware that a familiar presence was also quite nearby and was surprised to discover that it matched the resonance of her mother. What was she doing in this place, this…Nerima? Like so many other mysteries it did not lend itself to easy resolution.

She sat down upon the floor in the tower and folded her legs into the Lotus posture, having already drawn the protective magic circle about herself that would safeguard her body and reinforce the shields that secured the integrity of her soul. She would sit like this for the next several days, if need be, until she had absorbed all the knowledge that she would require, and only after consulting with the spirits of the land would she emerge again to pursue the quest that had drawn her.

She was a Hunter of the Dark, and a darkness was consuming her vision. She would find that darkness and make resolution of her conflict, and only when this was done would she feel whole once again. She performed the rituals, chanted the prayers and felt herself slipping into the meditative state that she required, already knowing the pull of the lei lines surrounding her as she opened herself to the cosmos and began her search, waiting and knowing that soon she would have all that she required…


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