Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ A Tale of Two Wallets ❯ Recriminations ( Chapter 30 )

[ 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


The eternally lost boy folded over in front of Akane and pounded the ground in frustration, weeping like a child as his powerful frame was shaken by sobs of remorse, guilt and self-loathing. He would not raise himself to look up at her puzzled expression, could do nothing but stay where he was, a pathetic failure as a human being now exposed for a fraud in her eyes. He would sooner have died than to have lived to see this moment.

"Ryoga…" Akane said very slowly, "You were P-chan?"

"All this time," Cologne answered for him, "Cursed by Jusenkyo after he was accidentally knocked into one of the springs by a red-headed girl chasing after a panda."

"A panda?" Akane reacted, her brown eyes wide with sudden realization.

"It happened just shortly after Son-In-Law and his father knocked each other into their respective cursed springs," Cologne revealed, nodding to Ryoga, "He told me the full story just over a week ago, before I offered to help train him. Ranma was upset with his father and was chasing him hither and yon while Ryoga just happened to wander into that part of China and was knocked off a cliff in the haste of a son seeking to pound some sense into his father, or her father as the case might be."

"But…" Akane hesitated to frame her next question, but as it turned out she did not have to.

"He says it was an accident, him coming to you in the night, winding up in your room by mistake and attacking you in his blind rage, seeking vengeance upon Ranma," Cologne snorted, "As if vengeance really solved anything, especially when it comes to Jusenkyo curses. He told me you knocked him to the floor, then mistook him for somebody's lost pet and adopted him as your own. He fell in love with you not long after this and has since lacked the courage to tell you the true story for fear of how you would believe he had deliberately sought to deceive you."

"It's true," Ryoga groaned, his face all but planted in the dirt, "Every bit of it, Akane…I was a fool not to tell you right away but…I couldn't do it…and now you hate me!"

"Huh?" Akane had not yet gotten around to framing an emotional reaction. Her usual response to situations such as this was indeed to go on the offensive, but…somehow she just could not work up the rage to strike the unresisting boy bowing so prostrate before her. Instead she framed the next thought that came into her mind, "You've seen me naked?"

"No!" Ryoga protested, surprising her with the violence of that statement, "I couldn't…I wouldn't do that to you! I care too much about you! I never look, I always closed my eyes…"

"A good thing, too," Cologne snorted, "Or your nose would probably have bled all over the bedsheets. Such a typical male, and yet with a good heart and good intentions. He is telling the truth, he never had the guts to look at you when you were unclothed. I know his kind too well…almost the opposite of some people I could tell you all about…"

Akane looked down at Ryoga and wondered how to handle this. All her life she had reacted to perceived threats or slights against her sexuality by hitting people, or when boys came onto her, but never had she dealt with a boy who was this pathetic, helpless and unyielding. She realized that she could have pounded him into the dirt and he would not even voice a protest, in spite of the fact that he was so much better than her as a fighter. In almost any other situation she would have been tempted, but…

"Ranma did this to you?" Akane asked and saw the boy's head bob in response, and then something else occurred to her, "Ranma knew all along about your curse, didn't he? And he never told me…"

"It is Bushido," Cologne replied, "The Warrior's Code of Budo, to never reveal an opponents weakness to another…."

"Don't give me that!" Akane snapped, "Ranma knew all along, and you've known for over a week! Couldn't you, of all people, have told me?"

"I was pledged to silence as part of my agreement with Ryoga," Cologne replied, "It is none of my affair what sort of a personal life you two may share, or not, so long as it does not impact on your training. I would have told you before, and I certainly respect that you have the right to be angry, but it was Ryoga's choice to remain silent rather than confess his weakness to you. You are the only one who has shown him any real kindness in all his years as a wanderer, the one he looked up to and admired, and I dare say he would gladly throw himself into the path of mortal danger to protect you, but he lacked the simple courage to tell the woman he loves about his curse. Love blinds us in many ways…" Cologne signed, "I of all people should know this."

"And now it's over," Ryoga pushed himself upright and looked away, "You're completely right about me, old woman…I'm a coward! I don't deserve to be in the same presence as either you or Akane…"

"Uh…" Akane's eyes drifted down to what Ryoga had forgotten to cover, "Ryoga?"

"Eeep!" the lost boy promptly placed his hands over his genitals and flushed crimson all over.

Something in the gesture firmed Akane's resolve as she looked at Ryoga's face, then her own expression hardened, "Who else has known about this but wasn't telling me? Does…my sister…?"

"She was there when my curse was first revealed to Ranma," Ryoga replied, "She's used that knowledge to make me back down from pursuing my vengeance against Ranma inside your house. I also found that I couldn't bring myself to fight in the only home I've known in ages. But that's over now…you'll want me to leave, I know, and you'll never want to see me again either…"

"Is that what you think?" Akane asked, and something in her voice compelled both lost boy and Elder to turn and look at her very strange expression…

Shampoo's Diary Resumes:

It's one very strange day, even by the standards of this province known as Nerima. We were all sitting around camp mulling over the recently concluded fight between my husband and the pig boy, Ranma heating up some water in the pot so that she could turn back to her male form. Nabiki was looking thoughtful, which is normal for her, while Ukyo was asking us questions about Ryoga, trying to fill in the gaps in her experience so that she would know as much as the rest of us. I could almost sympathize with her as it is never fun to be the only one who doesn't get the punchline to the joke everyone else finds so funny.

Well, nobody really did find it very funny right then, and even I had to admit that the pig was probably in for a lot of pain once Akane got past being surprised over the revelation of his curse. I almost felt sorry for him, as much as he deserved anything she might have done in retaliation. Had an Amazon been betrayed like that it would have been a matter for a Blood Oath vendetta with the boy's blood spilled to atone for the dishonor to our household.

Naturally the Spatula cross-dresser took that weirdly moralistic tone of many Japanese when regarding what we had told her of the situation between Akane and Ryoga. It did not seem to be his Jusenkyo curse that upset her so much as the thought that we had kept silent in front of Akane.

"So let me see if I've got this right," she was saying, "Ranma knocked Ryoga into one of these cursed pools, so now he turns into a pig whenever he gets wet, and you let Akane think he was just a harmless pet pig because you didn't want to betray his secret?"

"It's the Warriors Code," my husband replied, "I couldn't reveal his secret weakness in front of others…"

"Really?" Ukyo replied in a tone that I think implied doubt, "I must have missed that lecture at one of our union meetings. You have to admit that from Akane's point of view this looks very bad, you letting her sleep with a pig and all when it turns out to be the thing she hates most: a boyfriend."

"She doesn't hate Ryoga," my wife replied, then amended, "He's about the only boy who I've ever seen her be nice to. Up until now it's only been Doctor Tofu that seems to have caught her interest, and if it wasn't for him I'd suspect she didn't even like men. That kind of narrows the options down, if you get my drift."

"Oh," Ukyo replied, and then her eyebrows twitched in a funny was as if she were thinking about that.

My husband, kind of heart that he is, showed sympathy for a defeated enemy by saying, "I just hope the doesn't kill him too badly. I feel sorry for the baka, even if he did bring it on himself. When she gets done with him he probably won't be able to stand upright for a week."

"I still don't think it was such a good idea to keep it from her all this time," Ukyo remarked, "Didn't you even try to give her a hint? I mean, you are her sister…"

"That's right," my wife replied, "And believe me, I've thought about it almost every night for the last couple of months. Akane can be thick-witted and clueless at times, but she does deserve to know the truth, and if it were any other boy but Ryoga I would have done it the first night, promise or no promise. Good thing he's like Ranma here and doesn't think fighting with girls is all that manly…"

"Manly," my husband said, looking down at herself with a snort, "Excuse me, but I'm not feeling all that manly at the moment."

"Oh, I don't know," Ukyo smiled at her, "You're a pretty tough cookie when you look like that, Ranchan. If I didn't know any better I'd even make a pass at you…"

"Hey, that's not funny," Ranma said in a nervous kind of way, eyeing Ukyo as if she thought the cross-dressing girl was making obvious he real intentions, "Just because I'm stuck with this curse doesn't mean I really have turned into a girl, you know. I couldn't do it with another guy…that's just too gross! I mean, no offense, you're a great looking guy and all, but you'd be better off going out with Shampoo here, or even Akane."

"Huh?" I believe I said, looking in surprise at my husband to determine whether or not she truly meant that.

Ranma smiled as she looked at me then said, "Well, after all…Ucchan did win that Snowman contest a couple weeks ago, and the first prize was a date with the pretty girl who was supposed to kiss her. It just occurred to me a little while ago that you two never did go on that date, and you never even kissed your prize, old buddy. I'm surprised at you, passing up on a chance like that, and here she is all by herself with you acting like she's just part of the scenery."

"Hah?" Ukyo blinked while I just sat there feeling stunned, while Nabiki was eyeing us both like an owl sitting in a tree.

"Ranma?" I asked, hoping against hope that she was-as the Japanese say-pulling my leg with that line, otherwise I think I might have felt compelled to express myself on the subject.

"Uh…but Ranchan," I heard Ukyo nervously point out, "Isn't Shampoo, like, your wife? You really wouldn't want to make her go out with another guy…would you?"

"Not just anybody," Ranma smirked at us both before fixing her attention on the cross-dressing tomboy, "But I'm sure I can trust you around her, right old buddy? It's not like you'd want to take advantage of her or try nothing, because I know Shampoo'd deck you, but since all you'd be doing is going on a date and maybe exchanging one kiss there's really no harm in that…is there, Ucchan?"

"Ah…" I heard Ukyo gulp, "Right…no problem…"

A soft chuckling noise drew our attention towards Elder Lotion, who said, "You young people with your ways. You two do remind me a lot of my first boyfriend…what a catch he would have been, if only I had been able to convince my elder."

"You keep talking about him," Ranma said, "But I'm starting to think he's some kind of myth or something."

"Oh, he was very real," Elder Lotion replied, "Bigger than life might be more accurate, and more than just the sum of his parts, no matter what other kinds of stories you might have heard about him."

"Hung like a horse?" Nabiki asked with a smile that was more than just a little suggestive.

Elder Lotion looked thoughtful before she replied, "As a matter of fact, I think they might have used one, but what matters is that it worked miraculously well…better than advertised," and she gave us a grin that hinted at what kind of woman she might have been in much younger days.

"It's not the size, it's what you do with it that counts, huh?" asked Ukyo, who alone seemed unaffected by that suggestion.

"Exactly," Elder Lotion nodded, then suddenly glanced back towards the trail and said, "And speaking of not judging things by their relative sizes, here comes someone now who it would not do well to underestimate."

"Akane?" my wife gasped as her angry sister came storming up the trail, making more noise than a charging herd of pregnant yak, which had warned me of her coming long before her stormy arrival.

"I thought I'd find you all gathered here," she glowered at us, "Had a good laugh at my expense? I hope you're all satisfied, because I'm never going to forgive you!"

"What are you so mad at us for?" my husband asked, "You're the one who wanted to sleep with the pig."

"And you never told me who he was!" Akane all but exploded, "How could you? I'd expect something like that from you, Ranma, or even Shampoo here, but you, Nabiki? How could you?"

"Akane," my wife gasped, "It wasn't because we wanted to deceive you about Ryoga…"

"Yeah," Ranma said, "We just thought you were gonna kill him when you found out…and where is Ryoga? You send him into orbit?"

"Ryoga's just fine," Akane snorted, "I told him to get dressed and wait for me to get back to him so I can spell a few things out. I just wanted to have the chance to confront the lot of you for letting me go on believing he was P-chan, which is all your fault by the way, which is something else I'm not forgiving!"

"Huh?" Ranma reacted to that with surprise, "You mean you're not angry at him at all?"

"That isn't what I said!" Akane snarled as she reached out and grabbed my husband by her shirt. I was on my feet at once but she glared at me and said, "Stay out of this, Shampoo, this is between me and your baka boyfriend!"

"Um…excuse me?" Ukyo asked, "I'm not involved in this, but isn't it possible that Ranma already feels sorry about what happened to Ryoga and that's the real reason he didn't tell you anything about his curse?"

"What if he does feel guilty?" Akane said, giving Ranma a good shake, "The fact is that Ryoga's cursed for life because of you, and you of all people should know what it feels like to turn into something you hate! I'm mad at him for deceiving me, but I'm not turning him away. The poor boy has NOTHING, and if I sent him packing he'd be totally lost and alone out there without anyone to look after him. No matter what else you think of me I could never do something like that to someone who needs me!"

"Gee," Ranma said in what even I could see was a tactless statement, "You really must have it bad for the pig. I'd never have guessed."

I should have covered my ears as I could see what was coming, but as it was I was almost blown over by force of her swing as Akane yelled, "RANMA NO BAKA!" and sent my husband flying.

My ears were still ringing when I straightened out, balled my fists and said, "You do not have the right to take such action with this one's husband, Akane…"

"Stay out of it, kitty cat," she snarled as her hand whipped to her side and pulled out her canteen, which she doused in my face before I had time to react. The next thing I know I'm suffering that all-too-familiar shrinking sensation. My clothes billow around me as I struggle to get free when I feel myself being picked up and hurled into the air with Akane yelling, "You two deserve each other!"

At times like these I really regret that I adopted the entire Tendo family into my House when I chose to take Nabiki for my wife. I also regret that I have such a strong aversion to killing an enemy, because in that girl's case I am sometimes strongly tempted to make an exception.

Needless to say I felt my small body impact on something that was hard but slightly yielding, then I began to sag into my clothes, feeling the pull of gravity as I sought to free myself by finding the nearest opening. Little did I guess that the floor would suddenly fall out from underneath me, leaving me to claw the nearest fabric as my hind legs dangled over empty space. My clothes had become tangled in the branches of one of the tall trees and I was in a precarious situation, forced to fight with all my strength as I sought a means for getting down that would not prove to be unusually painful.

It is good that my cursed body retains the lithe qualities of the animal I resemble because swinging from silken robes by my front paws is not as easy as it sounds. My joints are very different from my human form, so climbing up proved a more difficult option. Instead I tried and succeeded in flipped myself over to catch the bark of the tree, and from there I proceeded to work my way down until I heard a low groan and turned to see Ranma.

She was dangling from a lower branch than the one I had occupied and was only semi-lucid. I decided to risk going out on that limb in order to determine if she was all right, and in my great concern that she might fall I momentarily forgot all about the Nekoken. That was why I pawed up to her face and said, "Are you all right Ranma," which only sounded like "Mew" to normal human hearing.

Of course her beautiful blue eyes flew open and she saw me at once. I suddenly recalled my error and held my breath for fear that the Nekoken was about to take her. Ranma's mouth opened to shape the word "Neko" on her lips, but she started breathing in and down through her nostrils, taking deep lungfulls of breath as if to steady her nerves, then I heard her murmur, "Not it, not cat, only Shampoo, only Shampoo…"

I backed away and uttered an apologetic sound, which only made her breath more heavily as she fought for control, then squeezed her eyes shut and said, "Onlyshampooonlyshampooonlylyshampoo…"

I felt like such an idiot right then, forcing myself upon her, even knowing how she would react to the very sight of me, but it made me feel sad beyond words, so I started to turn away to ease back from the branch to the main tree trunk when I heard her grunt harshly, "Where do you think you're going? We gotta get down from here, don't we?"

I turned and made an inquiring sound, which caused Ranma to shudder though she kept her eyes tightly shut and replied, "Just follow my lead, okay? And…don't try and say nothing. Let's take this one step at a time and we can get through this together, okay Sham-chan?"

I was about to say a heartfelt "Aiyaa" in Cat but stopped myself in time to remember. Instead I nodded my head, even knowing that she could not see the gesture, and carefully climbed over to find a purchase on her shoulder, even more carefully sinking my claws into her shirt without touching the skin underneath. Ranma shuddered again and managed to bravely control her fear as she began climbing down, her eyes looking at the branches and not at me with a good distance down to the ground, all the while I could not keep myself from purring…

Ukyo blinked her eyes at the rapid exchange that had just taken place with Ranma and Shampoo both being sent airborne by an enraged Akane, who then rounded on Nabiki and said, "And you…I'm not done with you yet, Nee-san! Ryoga told me you coerced him into doing whatever you said, that you threatened to reveal his secret to me if he didn't go along with your schemes. What other things did you force him to do that he hasn't told me about?"

"Nothing!" Nabiki protested, "I wasn't trying to turn him into my personal slave, Akane. You've got to believe me…"

"Believe you?" Akane got very close to Nabiki's face, "Why should I believe you? You've lied to me before, you've used and manipulated me to get whatever you want, first with Kuno and now with Ryoga. Why should I believe you? I know I sure can't trust you any farther than I could throw you, which is pretty far as you'll find out if you ever try something like this on me again!"

"Calm down, Akane!" Nabiki tried to placate her, "You have a right to be upset, but aren't you taking things a little too far here? It wasn't my idea to keep the facts about Ryoga from you…"

SLAP! Nabiki recoiled from the impact of Akane's hand against her cheek, and with no further adieu her younger sister pivoted on one foot and stormed away in a furious rage. Ukyo was still trying to make sense of everything that she had seen when she saw Nabiki straighten herself and feel along the side of her face, and she could only imagine how badly the middle Tendo daughter's head was ringing from that blow.

"You all right?" Ukyo asked her tentatively, only to hear a heartfelt sigh from her companion.

"No, I'm not all right," Nabiki replied, "I had that coming, I deceived my little sister. I failed her when she needed me, and now she'll probably never be able to forgive me for it."

"Perhaps," Lotion remarked, breaking her own silence, "Or perhaps she is just as angry with herself as with you and chose to deal with her emotions in the only manner she truly understands. Give her time, child, and she may find it in herself to overlook your slight transgression."

"Slight?" Nabiki asked in clear disbelief, "You call letting her think the guy she cares about is too shy and noble to pull something like he did as P-chan is just a slight transgression? The only thing I don't get here was I was sure she was going to grind him into pork sausage."

"You underestimate the power of love, child," Lotion replied, "It can make even the hardened heart of a young girl determined to live alone feel the pull to life in all its rich boundaries. I thought you might understand this if you but take a moment to truly think about it."

"Yeah, whatever," groaned a figure over their heads as they looked up to see Ranma clinging from a branch with Shampoo perched upon her shoulders. Swinging down to a one-point dismount, Ranma straightened out again and said, "I still say the two of them deserve each other, the bakas."

"Wow," Ukyo remarked, "Don't tell me you've gotten over your cat-phobia already, Ranchan?"

"She's not a cat!" Ranma said insistently, "That's Shampoo, okay? As long as I think of her like that I think I can beat the Neko…otherwise…"

"It's still a breakthrough," Nabiki said quietly, then smiled, "I really am glad to see the two of you getting along together."

"Me-!" Shampoo began to say before her eyes widened and she covered her mouth with a paw, looking sheepishly at a shuddering Ranma.

"Just Shampoo, justshampoojustshampoojustshampoo…" Ranma murmured to herself like a mantra, and after another moment she managed to get herself calmed down to where she was almost breathing easy.

"Good work, son," Genma finally spoke up, "I knew one day you'd become a real man and get over your weakness…"

"Shut up, Old Man!" chorused Ranma, Ukyo and Nabiki while Shampoo just glared at the source of a great many of her husband's problems.

"Uh," the elder Saotome said somewhat sheepishly, "I was just going to say that it's time we got everything packed and returned home. Now that this training mission has worked out as planned…"

"You think so?" Lotion remarked, "Then you are either a greater fool or a more devious one than I ever imagined…and I prefer to think the former rather than the latter."

"I'm just saying that everyone seems to have learned something valuable from this trip," Genma sounded almost hurt, "Why is everyone so mad at me for?"

"Gee, I wonder?" Ranma's voice dripped sarcasm, then she added, "You better use the hot water first, Sham-chan. I'll go next and we'll…"

"Ah, Ranma?" Nabiki asked, pointing up at something she saw dangling from the tall trees up above.

Ranma looked up to where Shampoo's silken pink Chinese clothes were waving down at them like a flag flying at half-mast. Ranma sighed, "Okay, so I'll go first, then I'll climb up there and fetch your clothes down for you. That sound like a deal, Sham-chan?"

The cat nodded vigorously, this time remembering in time to avoid speaking.

"Ukyo," Nabiki said to Ukyo, "Akane's not mad at you so would you go find Akane and tell her we're leaving. She doesn't have to travel with us if she doesn't want to…"

"Right," Ukyo nodded, "No problem. I found my way here, so I'll have no problem escorting them back into town. I'll see if I can calm her down a little by playing the objective, disinterested observer."

"You do that, Ucchan," Ranma said tiredly, "Of course I guess I really don't blame her for being so mad at us. I can understand what it's like feeling betrayed by someone you trust. I really hate it when people aren't open and honest with me or try to pretend to be something that they're not."

No one said anything to that for at that precise moment everyone seemed to find something else that attracted their interest: the forest, trees, rocks and wildlife. It really was amazing what one could notice when trying to look everywhere but into the face of the person they were standing next to…

Ryoga had finished dressing and was staring at the dying embers of the campfire. He felt as if his life had been shattered, yet in some way it was a clean and liberating feeling. A great weight had been lifted from his shoulders and yet he was sad that this chapter of his tormented life was finally over. He had betrayed the woman that he loved, and yet at least now she knew the truth and could either accept or reject him for being what he was, not some impossible standard of virtue to which he could never truly aspire.

"So what will you do?" asked Cologne as she regarded her erstwhile pupil.

"I don't really know," he replied, "I guess I'll take up wandering again. I have to keep training to get better. This fight showed me that I'm not as good as I thought I was or Ranma would never have beaten me like that."

"You have the heart of a true warrior, boy," Cologne appraised, "Don't get yourself killed over nothing. You promised to abide by a truce if Ranma won, now you must hold yourself to that promise, as hard as it will be."

"I know," Ranma sighed, "But I'll keep my word. I won't come after Ranma for revenge again. It tears me up to admit it, but he's better than I thought he was, and I'm…I'm just a failure who can't even look Akane in the eye and tell her how truly sorry I am…for everything…"

All of a sudden he was hit in the face by his own backpack. Ryoga staggered a little then looked up to find Akane glaring at him with arms akimbo at her side. He flinched from the heat of her gaze and bent down in miserable resignation, picking up his pack as he slid it into place over his shoulders.

"I understand," he replied as he started to turn around, "And I don't blame you. For what I did I deserve to be whipped. I can't even find it in myself to beg for your forgiveness…"

"What are you doing?" Akane asked, the level tone of her question catching him off guard and forcing Ryoga to half amid steps.

"I'm going away," he replied, half-turning to regard her, feeling her beauty seer his soul with the image of her proud, fierce countenance, "Isn't that what you want me to do? I thought…"

"That would be a surprise," Akane snorted, "You thinking. Stop trying to guess my intentions, Ryoga, and look at me! Look me in the face when you address me, you got that?"

Ryoga turned around and stared in utter confusion, and suddenly Akane marched right up to him, grabbed him by his shirt and pulled him in to plant a kiss on his mouth, which sent a shockwave all throughout his body. She released him again and he almost lost his balance, his expression now full of unvoiceable amazement.

"You are not going away again, you got me?" she said fiercely, "I am not letting you get lost on one of your stupid wandering quests where I won't know if I'll even see you again in a week, a month or whenever! You owe me for your deception, mister, but you won't be able to pay me back by getting yourself lost in the hindlands."

"You…you're not mad a me?" Ryoga faintly whispered.

"Mad at you?" Akane snorted, "I'm furious! How could you lie to me by keeping silent about your problem? Don't you care for me at all or trust me enough to share your problems with me like a real friend should?"

"Friend?" Ryoga asked in a tiny whisper, then he gasped, "Of course I care about you! I'd do anything to win your approval, Akane. I know I…I failed you badly, but…"

"Exactly," Akane said, "You're on probation with me, mister, but I'm not taking it out of your hide. I've already given a piece of my mind to Nabiki and the others, now I'm telling you about the ground rules. If we're going to share anything between us in the future, then I want your promise that you'll never lie or deceive me again. No more hiding secrets from me, you got that? From now on you have a problem, you come to me and you tell me all about it!"

Ryoga swallowed in spite of a dry mouth, then nodded his head and whispered tightly, "I promise."

"Good," she replied, "Because I'm holding you to it from now on…and what do you want-oh!"

"Uh, sorry," said Ukyo as she stood at the edge of their camp, "Didn't mean to interrupt you. I just came here because…um, your sister wanted me to tell you that they're pulling up camp and returning to Nerima."

"Thanks," Akane smiled, "Didn't mean to shout at you back there, I was just so mad…"

"I could tell," Ukyo replied, "And don't worry, I'm not passing any judgements. I can see how things looked from your side, and after Nab-chan explained to me about Ryoga's problem…"

"Too bad she never felt like doing that with me," Akane snorted.

"Uh, yeah," Ukyo replied, "Whatever."

"It would seem that everyone has decided that they have had enough of training for the present," mused Cologne, "It would be a very good idea for us to return home as well, seeing how there is no longer any reason for us to remain here."

"You're right," Ryoga sighed, "All that hard work for nothing…"

"Oh…I would hardly say that," Cologne noted with a crafty smile, "The Bakusai Tenketsu is far from the only trick I have to teach you young people. We Amazons have over 4000 years of advanced discipline in the Martial Arts, and there are literally hundreds of more complex maneuvers that I have personally mastered and would be glad to show to my chosen apprentices. You, in turn, can teach them to Ranma…the hard way."

Ryoga blinked, "But…I thought you said I wasn't supposed to go after him anymore…"

"For vengeance, no," Cologne replied, "But recall that I did stipulate that training was still a valid reason for continuing your rivalry. You can call it training instead of revenge…the point is that I still expect you to keep Son-In-Law on his toes so that he doesn't become complacent. A good warrior needs sparring partners after all, and so long as you do not kill him or render a permanent injury…anything else is solely at your own discretion."

For the first time since the fight ended Ryoga smiled in obvious anticipation, "Training, huh? Yeah…I can go along with that," he smacked one fist to palm and growled, "All right, Ranma, get ready for some serious training!"

Cologne turned to Akane and said, "And may I trust that you will similarly train to keep my great granddaughter in shape? Shampoo needs someone of your talents who can motivate her to continue her own training."

"Motivate her?" Akane arched her eyebrows.

"Shampoo is basically as lazy as her namesake cursed form," Cologne replied, "She does what I tell her, but in order to achieve her full potential she must have adversaries who can test her to her limits. You are improving at a speed that gives me hope that you may one day offer her a real challenge, so…what do you say to that offer, Daughter?"

Akane grinned, "You've got yourself a deal! I'll do anything it takes to knock that smug expression of superiority off Shampoo's face!"

"I was counting on that," Cologne replied, "Now, why don't you two get our things in order so that we may be off? Time is money, and I do have a restaurant that needs tending."

"No problem, Grandmother," Ryoga said with more respect than was usual in his tone, and with Akane's help he began to pack everything together.

Cologne leaned on her staff and murmured at a volume to where only Ukyo could hear her, "Mark me well, Kuonji-san, those two will make formidable Amazons, even if it kills them in the process."

"Kills them?" Ukyo raised an eyebrow, "Don't you mean if it kills you first?"

"What do you take me for, suicidal?" the old woman snorted, and then resumed an inscrutable expression before adding, "Akane seems to have developed something of a partial interest in you. I must say that you do have a way of attracting the attention of the ladies."

"Ah…" Ukyo winced before saying, "About that…I'm really…"

"I know," Cologne replied, "And it really is none of my concern, but you do realize that you cannot keep my son-in-law in the dark about your nature forever? When do you plan to reveal to him that you are secretly his other iinazuke?"

"Soon," Ukyo said nervously, "Just as soon as I find the right moment…"

"Good," Cologne remarked, "Because you have already seen what prolonged deception can do to a friendship. I trust you will keep that in mind when it comes time to do the right thing. Son-In-Law needs friends as understanding as you far more than he needs another woman to chase him."

Ukyo swallowed at that and silently nodded. The time was approaching soon when she would have to share the truth with Ranma…

Kachu sneezed, breaking her meditative state with a suddenness that was jarring. She had managed to learn as much as she needed to know from the land, but there were still a lot of areas she had yet to cover. Her premature emergence from her trance of Geomancy yet left many questions unresolved, and such blank areas in her knowledge base was always an annoyance.

Nevermind, she told herself, she had seen and heard enough to know what she must do to restore herself to a state of balance. Her Doppelganger was out there, a shadow in her mind, mocking her by its very existence. The feeling was strong now, very strong, and she felt certain that she could find the one she sought and rid herself of this wellspring of her confusion.

Rising up fluidly to her feet she left the circle of protection, speaking a few soft words in a low chant while making the appropriate ward-signs. She thrust one hand forward with thumb and pinky extended in the sign of the Moon crescent, and then she reached out to grasp the shaft of her sacred weapon.

It was called a C'hi chi, a form of Chinese Naginata, sacred and blessed by the gods for the purpose of combating evil spirits. She held this magical weapon up in a form of salute then cried out in Japanese, "Beware foul spirit, you who wears my face and hides behind a mask of pleasant demeanor! I know you for what you are, Demon, and I vow to rid myself of you, and you of this world, for am I not known as the Devil Hunter Kachu, sworn enemy of all that is evil!"

Her pro-forma declaration made, Kachu Tenshin Amaguriken Tendo vaulted off from the clock tower and swooped down upon Nerima like a bird of pray, or an angry angel of vengeance…


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