Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ A Tale of Two Wallets ❯ A Mother's Duty ( Chapter 42 )

[ 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

Shampoo's Diary Resumes:

For as long as I shall live I may never truly understand why I acted the way I did to protect Kuonji Ukyo, I can only attribute my behavior as a matter of pure reflex. I had just seen Mousse accidentally curse Tendo Akane and was appropriately outraged…how dare he do this to one whom I had designated as my chosen student?

I could not allow him to do so to another, and so I tried to shove Ukyo to safety, only I took a passing hit as the water splashed against my backside. I suddenly felt great pain as my curse came into conflict with the cursed water, and then my body began to change, only now the two curses were blending together. I felt a fear unlike anything that I have ever felt before and wondered what would be the result of this, only Great Grandmother and Elder Lotion arrived just then and spirit me away to the Tendo household, which has become my home away from China.

I am aware of soothing words being spoken to heal my fragmented spirit as I feel my mind drift momentarily in a void. Like a dream I see myself as I am being confronted by a duck that is attacking my cat-totem, and the two are starting to writhe around and struggle until my cat catches the duck and begins to devour it…not like an ordinary cat would do but rather more like a snake devouring its prey. A moment later all that remained was the cat, only there is something very different about my Neko form, and all at once the cat cried out in a yowl and its sides split open, a pair of wings appearing on its backside.

And in this dream I am screaming too, only my scream ends abruptly as I land in a body of warm water, which changes me back to my human self. I look up in gratitude to see that I am in the comfortable surroundings of the downstairs Japanese furo belonging to my wife, and there is Great Grandmother looking at me with Lore Master Lotion beside her.

"Shampoo," I see what I think is almost relief in my Great Grandmother's eyes, which she hides a moment later behind the stern mask of an Elder as her tone becomes reprimanding, "What have you to say for yourself, becoming doubly-cursed on behalf of a rival?"

"This one is sorry, Great Grandmother," I reply in Japanese, "This one did not mean to let Mousse curse me."

She waves the point away at once and I can see that she is not really angry, "What's done is done, now you will have to live with the consequences of your actions. I trust that you did not make a mistake, but I did not raise you to make errors. Come, dress yourself and make your hair presentable, there is someone here whom I wish for you to meet."

"At once, Great Grandmother," I replied as I see her present the dress I had been wearing before, along with my slippers, which must have wound up in that table cloth they used to wrap me.

"One moment, child." Lotion said as she glanced at Great Grandmother, "Wait here, I must investigate something for myself. I am sensing a great disturbance in the Wa of this household."

Great Grandmother nodded and Elder Lotion took her leave of us, seeming to step through empty air, though I recognized the mode of travel as "Windwalking," which is one of the many talents of a Lore Master. No doubt she reappeared in another part of the household, because she returned only a few minutes later, by which time I had dressed and made myself presentable once again. I could recognize by the frown in Lotion's expression that there was something of dire significance that needed to be related.

"It is as I feared, Matriarch," Lotion explained, "My granddaughter informs me that Genma made a foolish promise to Nodoka concerning the welfare of her son. It seems the father promised that he would make young Master Ranma into a 'Man among Men,' else he would commit Japanese seppuku, and so would Ranma."

I whirled around from examining myself in the mirror with shock and dread clutching at my breast. I did not then know what Japanese Seppuku meant, I only knew that I did not like the sound of it one bit.

"<What did you say about Ranma?>" I gasp, so startled that I forgot to speak Japanese for a moment.

Great Grandmother did not chide me as I thought she would have but instead sighed and replied, "Somehow I had a feeling it would come to this. This is very grave news indeed, and most unfortunate for my son-in-law should he encounter his mother."

"But why?" I asked, recalling this time to speak in my husband's language, "Ranma is very manly, the most manly this one has ever met!"

"Are you forgetting, child, about the curse of Nyaniichuan?" Great Grandmother asked with the patience of a teaching lesson.

I start to open my mouth, and then I close it. Now I began to understand what was meant here by danger. Ranma turning into a girl would be considered by some to be very "unmanly." In my view, of course, it only improved him by giving him a side that was the noble gender of a proper Amazon, but these Japanese had very strange notions about the relative value of men and women. Kuonji had shown me that by her own peculiar example.

"We cannot let Nodoka know of the curses," Cologne said, "Not until we have had a chance to explain them in such a way that she will not think her own son to be a monster. You must not mention it to her by word, deed or reference, Shampoo."

"This one understands, Great Grandmother," I nodded, "What must this one do to uphold the good name of her husband?"

"Simply be yourself…with that one notable exception," Great Grandmother replied, already heading for the door, "And for pity's sake, stay away from any cold water that might touch you!"

I felt my cheeks burn with shame at that last remark, but as I started to follow Great Grandmother I heard Elder Lotion say, "Courage, young warrior. You must be strong for the sake of your wife and husband."

"This one will be strong, Elder," I vowed with absolute conviction, then I followed Great Grandmother out into the living area, whereupon I encountered a woman who looked very much like a grown up version of Ranma's female half standing next to Kasumi.

"Saotome Nodoka," Great Grandmother said by way of formal introductions, "It give me great pleasure to introduce you to my great granddaughter, who is engaged to your son by the laws of our people. Shampoo, this is your future mother-in-law, Saotome Nodoka."

I see a woman smiling at me with such pleasantness that I almost think she is the true mother of Kasumi, and I remembered to bow back in Japanese fashion when she nodded towards me, and with great care I said, "How do you do. This one greets you humbly, mother of he who is my lawful husband."

"Well," I hear this stranger say with unusual warmth, "You do look like your mother…almost exactly like Comb was when she was your age! My son is so very fortunate to have you for a fiancée…Shampoo, did you say?"

"Xian-Pu," Great Grandmother corrected for my benefit, "It means a young girl of the mountains, or coral, if you prefer to think of it in Japanese."

"Coral," my mother-in-law smiled, "Yes, that would suit you very well. Your hair is like bluish coral, Xian-Pu. You are such a lovely and polite young lady. I just know my son will be happy to have you for a bride."

I feel incredible warmth and happiness fill my bosom just then, and I almost forget Elder Lotion's admonition concerning some possible threat that this woman might represent to my darling husband. After all, she is an Elder, and they are dangerous by nature, so why should I think this one any different from the mother of, say, some boy I met back in my homeland?

But I saw something in Kasumi's expression that startled me, in spite of my feeling gratitude that this woman was welcoming me into her household. Kasumi appeared worried, and that was simply not like the tall Japanese girl of whom I had become so fond and begun to think of as an older sister. Obviously there is a lot more going on here than meets with appearance, and it tells me that I should be on my guard, in spite of finding nothing unsettling about the behavior of this Nodoka.

Then my mother and Lore Master Silk appeared, all pleasant smiles in their greetings, and that's when I definitely know that something is amiss. There is nothing unusual about Silk being friendly, she is like that back home where she is regarded as a favorite teacher of young children, but my mother wearing a smile like that? It looked so false and unlike her that I was truly alarmed and wanted to blurt out my confusion to the others.

Instead Mother and Silk began engaging Nodoka in pleasant conversation while Great Grandmother and Lotion stood to one side and looked inscrutable, like Elders. I see the perfect opportunity to approach Kasumi and ask that she accompany me to the kitchen. Kasumi then apologizes and asks to be excused, making up something so lame that I am totally startled and embarrassed at her awkwardness. Kasumi was attempting to tell a lie? And a very bad one at that? Now more than ever I knew that there had to be something very wrong about this Nodoka!

"Kasumi," I asked once I felt that we were out of hearing of the others, "What means Japanese Seppuku?"

I saw the terrified look in her eyes as she gasped, "How did you…? Oh, never mind! I'm so sorry, this just has me so terribly upset! I never would have imagined his father would do anything so…not nice! And to poor Ranma…"

"What?" I gripped the girl's arm much harder than I meant to do and saw her slightly pained expression. I let go at once, ashamed that I had handled her so rudely. She is not a warrior, after all, and she is so delicate that my harsh grip was bound to leave bruises.

"This one is very sorry," I apologized, then looking her in the eyes I asked, "What is seppuku?"

"Seppuku…" I saw her lick her lips before she continued, "It's a very old word dating back to Samurai times. It means 'ritual suicide,' usually performed with a short sword that a person uses to slice open their own…" she swallowed and could not continue.

I think I stood there a full minute before I could speak again, and then I cried, "This one must find Ranma and warn him!"

"I agree," Kasumi said with unusual resolve in her voice, "Ranma must not come home until we can make Auntie Nodoka understand that he is manly. If he does and she finds out about the curse…"

I looked away, suddenly remembering something that I had somehow forgotten in the whole rush of affairs. Being cursed by Mousse does that to you, I think, but I make no excuses that it took me so long to recall this.

"Ranma," I said, "My husband believes that his mother is dead…"

"Uncle Genma lied to him about that," Kasumi said, then with a more contrite expression she added, "But I think he was trying to protect Ranma…or maybe himself."

I almost missed the odd way she had spoken those last words, but I reckoned that only Kasumi would feel any sympathy at all for the useless old panda. I was furious beyond words to think that Ranma's father could make such an idiotic agreement. What was the man thinking, if thinking he was at all? As so many times before, as with the curse and Ukyo, his thoughtless behavior had caused complications for my beloved husband!

I decided that I would have to leave at once, and yet where to go to find my wife and husband? If they had remained at the restaurant to finish off Mousse there would be no problem in hunting them down, but Mousse was unlikely to remain in one place. I needed speed to get to them in a hurry, and while I can run like the wind when I have to there is a lot of area to cover in Nerima, and who knew which way Mousse would have taken?

I turned to look at Kasumi, whom I trust absolutely, and then with firm resolve I said, "There is something this one must show you."

"Show me what?" she asked with a look of trust that I had learned to treasure.

"There has been a change in this one's life, brought about by a stupid boy from her village who will not leave her alone and constantly threatens everyone who comes near her," I said the latter part with a growl that conveyed my anger.

"Oh, you mean like Kuno?" she asked me.

I had to pause a moment before I saw the similarity, then nodded, "Yes, exactly." Then I went over to the sink and filled a glass with cold water, remembering to tell her as I did so, "Please heat up some water and have it ready for this one when I return."

"Of course I will," Kasumi replied, then as I tipped the water over my head I could hear her gasp of surprise as my new curse took hold of me and reshaped my body, "Oh my!"

I fought my way out of my dress even as the glass hit the floor and partially cracked. I would have to buy her a new one afterward as I flexed my new shoulder muscles and felt my wings unfold. I can't quite describe how it was that I knew that I would have wings in my new form, or that they would be functional, I only knew that it would be so. Perhaps the magic of Jusenkyo had affected me in other ways, but as I bounded out of the room I intended to test my new abilities and see if they would give me an extra edge in hunting down my wife and husband…

Nabiki's Journal Resumes:

I stared at the cat with wings that was sitting on my chest. Sham-chan had always been a very light burden to me before, but now she felt as light as a feather for all that she seemed to have put on a bit more um…wingspan? She looked down on me with the same kittenish expression that I had gotten so used to, then turned to regard Ranma and gave me a better look at the rest of her striking profile.

"Shampoo?" our iinazuke inquired in surprise.

I saw Shampoo lift her tail, which seemed longer, thicker and flatter than I remember from before, and there was something about her fur back there that seemed softer yet more bristly than was previously the case. Her wings were definitely covered in white features with pink-purple tips, yet when she spread them wide it was for more of a low glide than actual flight as she vaulted off of me and up onto Ranma's shoulders.

"N-Nani?" Ranma said with just a touch of his usual Neko-phobia, then he reflexively rubbed Shampoo along the side of her neck as she purred up a storm, obviously very happy to see him. I got up and dusted myself off, amused at seeing the two of them getting along this way, but then to our mutual surprise Shampoo hopped off Ranma's shoulders, sliding down to touch the asphalt before turning and looking at us both with an earnest expression.

"Meow!" she cried earnestly, obviously trying to tell us something despite the problems we shared in a lack of a mutual language.

"What is it, girl?" Ranma asked, "What's wrong? Did something happen back at the house?"

"Meow!" Shampoo cried as she shook her head negatory.

"Can you give us a hint?" I asked, then endured a look from Ranma that as much as asked if I were feeling all right, or if I was implying that we play twenty questions.

"I think we'd better hurry up and get back home," Ranma started to take a step forward when Shampoo spread her wings side and interposed herself in his path.

"Meow!" she cried insistently, obviously telling us that was definitely not what she intended.

"You don't want us to go back home?" I asked, and was rewarded by the sight of Shampoo bobbing her head in an affirmative manner, "But why?"

"Meow!" Shampoo replied, clearly as frustrated as we were by an inability to communicate clearly. This was way worse than her Japanese by a very long stretch, because at least she knew enough of our language to get her point across, usually. What we needed at this point was some kind of universal translator.

One came in a form that rather surprised us both as a bucket of water was dumped over Ranma's head, transforming him to his girl-type persona. As my iinazuke sputtered an indignant response I saw Lotion set the bucket down and lean on her staff as she looked at me and said, "Forgive your wife, she means well but did not foresee this limitation of her new body."

"Can you tell us what's going on?" I asked the old woman, "Why doesn't Shampoo want us going back to my place?"

"Not you, dear," Lotion replied, "She meant your husband, at least not in the form of a man, that is. Something very urgent has come up and it is important for the both of you that you do exactly as I say and not ask too many pertinent questions."

"What gives?" Ranma-chan demanded, clearly ignoring the admonition, "Why are you guys acting like this all of a sudden?"

"Young Master," Lotion directed herself towards Ranma, "You are, of course, aware that your father is a dishonest, disreputable, self-centered lout with no more principles than intelligence and prone to making deals that he has no intentions of following through with?"

"Well duh," Ranma-chan snorted, "That's not telling me anything I don't already know, lady."

"Then I want you to be prepared for a revelation that is going to shock you even more than your discovery concerning Kuonji," the old woman told him.

I blinked at that and asked, "How did you know about…"

"It's what we do, child," Lotion replied, "When you advance further in the arts you will discover that very little is beyond our ability to grasp if we set our minds upon discovering the truth."

"The truth?" Ranma-chan repeated, then frowned, "What has the old man done this time?"

"The very worst thing that a father can do to his son short of murder," Lotion replied, "Set the terms to separate a son from his mother, which is why you cannot go back to the Tendo place as yourself. From now on until further notice you are Tendo Ranko, the daughter of Mariko, your Uncle Soun's long-lost missing younger sister."

"Younger sister?" I frowned, "Who's Mariko?"

"Your Aunt," Lotion said, "So try and think of him as your cousin, Ranko, and don't be too obvious about your feelings. You must both be prepared to deal with harsh surprises and revelations that will come to you this night. You must both be strong if you are to have any future together."

"Wait…" Ranma-chan…I mean Ranko…said faintly, "What's this about Pop separating me from…my mother?"

"You will see," Lotion replied, then she glanced down and said, "Keep them out of trouble little one."

With that the old woman held up a teapot that I recognized as being from our kitchen and poured the contents over Shampoo's head. We watched in amazement as Shampoo transformed back to full womanly glory before our eyes, then all at once she threw her arms around a stunned Ranko and cried, "Ranma! Shampoo so worried about you! You no want to go there, is very bad because you father is so stupid!"

"Ah…ah…ah…huh?" Ranko replied with her face pressed down between some interesting cleavage. I'm not sure if it was a trick of the light or what but I could almost swear her pigtail stood on end, for which I could hardly blame her!

"Shampoo," I asked, "What's up?"

"Oh, Nabiki!" Shampoo turned her eyes my way while maintaining her grip on Ranko, "We no let bad thing happen to Ranma, yes? No way we let Ranma commit seppuku?"

"Seppuku?" I couldn't have been more startled if somebody had hit me over the head with a hammer, "Who the hell is talking about seppuku?"

"Obviously Saotome Genma wasn't," Lotion replied, "Until Comb dragged it out of him by threatening bodily mayhem."

"Huh?" I turned to look at my redheaded iinazuke, "Are you following any of this, Ranma?"

"Ranko," Lotion corrected.

"Ranma?" Shampoo glanced down, then pushed her away from her to examine "Ranko" more closely, "Aiyaa…he pass out?"

"Perhaps you'd better put this on," Lotion replied, handing Shampoo the discarded dress from her date.

The dazed expression in Ranko's face showed plainly that she had just suffered sensory overload, for (as I said before) which I could hardly blame her, but this was not the time for her to go comatose. I shook her arm and said, "Snap out of it, something weird is going on here. Why are you two beating around the bush? Why don't you just come out and tell us what the big deal is?"

"You will find out soon enough," Lotion replied as Shampoo finished slipping into her clothing, "In the meantime I suggest you straighten yourself out and try to be presentable. You are about to meet someone very important to the future welfare of both you and your husband."

I glanced down at myself and realized that I was looking pretty rumpled, as if I'd been sleeping in the clothes that Ranma had provided back at the restaurant.

Once Shampoo was properly fitted, and I'd gotten myself looking less like something you'd find in a rummage sale, we headed on back to my house, but before we set foot on the premises Lotion stopped us with the words, "Beyond this point I cannot interfere. You will have to handle this one on your own, my apprentice, but if you have need of someone to talk to later on…"

"Ah…sure," I murmured, "I think."

I was really starting to worry about this point as Shampoo lead the way into our house, being quick to take us both by the arms once we were in the door so as to walk in the middle between us as she took on her usually cheerful outer persona, calling out, "We home!" as if to announce this fact for the sake of me and Ranko.

"Ah, there you are!" said Comb, my prospective mother-in-law, as she appeared to greet us, "Nabiki-san, you're just in time to meet someone very important. Ranko-san, come join your cousin as we make formal introductions."

Another silent exchange of looks between me and "Ranko" followed that comment, but we went along with the gag as we were led into the living room where we found our fathers already present, along with a stranger who looked incredibly a lot like Ranma's female half. I gaped in surprise as the pleasant-seeming woman got up and smiled in my direction, then with more warmth in her tone than I was prepared for she said, "Is this Nabiki? Oh my, how lovely you look…but whatever happened to you and your dress? You look positively frightful."

"Ah…" I started to say, when Daddy got to his feet and assumed his usual hyper-protective self.

"Yes, that is a very good question," he gave a meaningful glance towards "Ranko," "What did happen to you, Nabiki? I thought you and Ranma were out on a date, but that isn't what you were wearing when you left here."

"Now Soun-chan," said Silk pleasantly, "There's no reason to be upset. I'm certain that Ranma was the perfect gentleman with his iinazuke and he would never do anything to dishonor her. He respects her too much to behave in a way that would be anything less than manly."

I saw the panda start to raise his sign, only Uncle Genma gave a sharp glance towards the stranger and thought better of it. I would not learn until a few minutes later just why he was being so coy and pretending a studied disinterest in the whole confusing affair that was unfolding before us.

"Ranma…ah…" I saw my sister wince and correct herself, "I mean Ranko…did you follow Nabiki and Ranma on their date again? I thought you knew better than to interfere in their personal business."

"Huh?" my fiancé asked with understandable incomprehension.

"Ranko-san," Comb announced, "I want you and Nabiki to say hello to your Uncle Genma's wife, Saotome Nodoka, the mother to Shampoo's future husband."

"Mo-!" Ranko started to blurt out when Shampoo clamped a hand over her mouth, still smiling in her usual cheerful way as she murmured in her ear, "Shampoo explain later."

"S-S-Saotome Nodoka?" I gasped, looking at the pleasantly smiling woman and understanding now why she so much resembled "Ranko."

"How do you do?" she said to me again, still looking me over, "Oh my…you were on a date with my son? Did he do this to you?"

"No!" Silk spoke up a little too hastily, "I'm sure that isn't it. Ranma would never attack you in such an unmanly manner, correct?"

"Ah…" I was starting to feel like I had just walked in the door to the wrong house when I found Nodoka standing directly in front of me, and then all at once she threw her arms around me and hugged me with more affection that I was prepared for.

"Oh, my son is so manly!" she declared as she did this, "He wanted to have his way with you, didn't he, and who could blame him? You're so much like your mother…"

"M-M-My…?" I gasped.

I saw the dumbstruck expressions of everyone else in the room, including a wide-eyed panda, who did not appear to have expected this strange woman to make that weird pronouncement.

"You no mind if Ranma be much forward with Nabiki?" Shampoo asked in a mirror of my own dismay and confusion, and I can only guess what Ranma was thinking as I saw her eyes bulge out, though Shampoo maintained her grasp over our iinazuke's mouth, preventing her from saying or doing anything that would betray her.

"Goodness, no," Nodoka smiled as she released me, "My son should be a man among men if he is to carry on the family traditions. Being a man means that he should be willing to assert himself with the woman he loves…or women as may be the case," she turned to me and her smile grew in fondness, "Tell me, child, do you love my son?"

"Uh…huh?" I blinked my eyes, "Do I…?" I swallowed.

"Of course you do, Nabiki," Kasumi came to my rescue, turning to Nodoka to add, "She's just shy about admitting it. You really do care about your iinazuke, don't you Imoutochan?"

"Ah…sure," I replied, feeling my head spin over the way Kasumi was acting, "Ranma's the best, no doubt about that…"

"I'm so glad to hear you say that," Saotome Nodoka smiled, pressing her hands against my palm in an almost possessive manner, "You've made me so happy this night. Now I know my son has grown to become a man among men. Where is he, by the way?"

I started to open my mouth when Comb jumped in again and replied, "I'm sure he'll be around eventually. My son-in-law is a very active sort, so hard to nail down, just ask Shampoo here."

"Aiyaa!" Shampoo at once chimed in, "Him take off after Mousse, stupid boy from village, very annoying. Him bother Shampoo and attack Akane, so Ranma chase him off and save Shampoo from bother."

"Akane?" Daddy was suddenly all nerves again, "What happened to my little girl? Is she all right?"

"Akane have…problem," Shampoo replied, "She forget to duck, but stupid pig-boy Ryoga with her, so Shampoo think she all right."

Under any other circumstances I would have groaned at hearing the pun Shampoo had just cracked here at the expense of my little sister, but by this point I was starting to catch on to the fact that everyone was deliberately making an effort not to refer to Ranma as anything other than "Ranko." It suddenly occurred to me that they were trying to keep his mother from finding out about the curse he was under. I was naturally curious to know why, but as even the Amazons were joining in it seemed important enough that I would have to play along with the deception.

A good thing I made this connection when I did because Ranko fought free of Shampoo's hold just then and angrily cried out, "Waitaminute! What's going on here? Are you really my…?"

"Aunt?" I hastily interjected, "That's right, Ranko, this must be our Auntie Nodoka…only that seems very strange as I wasn't ware that you were in Nerima, Auntie. In fact, the last I heard Uncle Genma mention you I was given to understand that you weren't feeling all that well."

"Oh?" Nodoka looked at me with a curious expression, "Why, however would he have gotten that impression? I haven't seen my husband in over ten long years. Oh, I do hope he is taking care of himself. I haven't heard from him at all in such a long while, and it's been so long since I've held my son in my arms…" she suddenly looked disconsolate, and I noticed Uncle Genma was eyeing her with what almost looked like a contrite panda expression.

"But I'm…" Ranma started to say, but before he could get any farther I saw Cologne appear as she addressed us all with a grave and serious expression.

"Why don't we all sit down and become better acquainted," she suggested with a hint in her regard towards us that it was more like a commandment, "We are all very surprised to find you are doing so well, Nodoka-san. Tell us more about this promise your husband made before he took his son with him for that ten year training mission?"

That caused Ranma to hesitate for a few seconds before she replied, "Promise? What promise?"

"The one which your Uncle Genma swore that he would make his son a Man among Men," Silk replied, "Or else he and his son would commit seppuku."

I don't think I need to elaborate on what sort of silence fell over us as we digested that word, then as one Ranko and me said, "Seppuku?"

Okay, flash forward about five minutes later as we sit together beside Shampoo listening to Aunt Nodoka detail the ten years of misery she had endured while waiting alone for some word that her husband would be returning with their son, as promised. She explained the terms of the agreement they had made, how Ranma was to become a "Man among Men" or else Genma and he would be forced to commit ritual suicide in the traditional Samurai manner. I don't think either one of us was capable of saying aloud the kinds of thoughts we were sharing about that moment, but leave it to good old Oneechan that she was able to frame the question that neither one of us could voice on this occasion.

"But Auntie," Kasumi asked, "Why is it so important that your son be manly? Isn't it a little extreme to ask that he commit…suicide?"

Nodoka just smiled a sad little smile and replied, "You're still young, child. To you the world must seem a wonderful place full of all sorts of potential, but where I come from there are strict traditions to be maintained, and men of the Saotome clan have always been expected to act in a way that epitomizes the perfect warrior and gentleman. I may only be Saotome by marriage, but I have always respected my husband's filial obligations to his family traditions.

"Oh yeah?" Ranko glanced towards the not-so-innocent panda, who looked away in a significant manner, "First time I ever heard about that…"

"But," Kasumi persisted, "Why would you expect them to kill themselves if Ranma doesn't turn out to be all that manly?"

In response to this I saw Aunt Nodoka unwrap the silk-wrapped object that she had laid out on the table, exposing a samurai sword that appeared to be very old, possibly from the actual Samurai era.

"This sword," she began, "Embodies the honor and tradition of the Saotome clan. It has been in my husband's family for countless generations. It was given to me after our marriage, and I hope one day to give it to the woman who will become my son's wife. I have carried it with me for so many years that it is now almost a part of me, and I have trained myself in its use to prepare for the day when I may one day be forced to use it to ensure the family honor is maintained. It is my sad obligation to fulfill this duty, regardless of what I may say or feel about the matter. If my son is not as manly as I deem proper…then I will do what must be done to insure that the name of Saotome does not become dishonored."

"Dishonored?" Ranko asked, and I felt a chill at the way she said that.

"If a Saotome male behaves in a way that would bring shame and disgrace upon his ancestors," continued the crazy woman who was Ranko's mother, "Then it is the duty of the Saotome women to redeem this shame in the way of Bushido. To do otherwise could bring great harm upon our Clan and to all who are bound to us by obligation and commitment. The Saotome's have great power to affect the lives of others, and that power must never be abused or the consequences could bring disaster."

"Oh really?" Silk mused aloud, eyeing a certain panda in a significant manner, "That could explain a great deal…"

All at once a certain diminutive figure came bounding into the room with a large sack slung over one shoulder, crying out, "Tadaima! I'm back everyone! Did you miss me?"

Quicker than I could have believed possible, Nodoka snatched her sword off of the table and with one fluid motion sliced the air just as the old pervert, Happosai, came within her reach. I saw the old man alight on the table with a very astonished expression, and then I saw the panties he had pulled over his head split in half, even as the sack he no longer carried landed with a thump in one corner. Nodoka was poised in a posture that looked as if it had come from a Samurai textbook, then with deceptive calm she sheathed her sword, stood erect and smiled as she turned to regard the lecherous old Hentai.

"Master Happosai," she smiled and bowed slightly, "It has been a while, has it not?"

Happosai looked at his now-empty hands, screwed his eyes up to where he was no longer wearing his mask, then calmly straightened himself up and with great dignity pulled his pipe out from his vest.

"Nodoka," he said matter-of-factly, "When did you get into town?"

"Just today," she replied, "I am so glad to see you are doing well. My husband said you weren't feeling very well when I last saw him."

"Do tell?" Happosai mused as he started to light his pipe, only to have half it fall to the floor as it broke off around the stem, causing him to look down with a conspicuously blank expression.

I saw Aunt Nodoka's smile deepen, then she sat back down again as if nothing unusual had just transpired in the past few seconds.

"Now then," she said with perfect pleasantness, "How soon do you think it will be before Ranma gets back home? I want so very much to see my son and discover for myself how manly he's become."

I can't describe what I must have looked like about that point, but I think my eyes were about double their normal size, because that would best describe the looks I saw on the other faces around that table.

"Ah…" I heard Kasumi say, breaking the mood as she looked up and said, "Does anyone need anything? I can get more tea if you would like…"

"Ah…yes, that might be a good idea," Daddy remarked rather humbly, "Tea is good…tea is safe…on second thought, make mine sake."

"I'll have a double," read the sign that was now in the hand of the panda, but when Aunt Nodoka noticed we were all looking his way and turned around that sign disappeared as if it had never been there in the first place…

"Quack!" complained Akane in frustration.

"Okay, okay!" Ryoga winced, "So maybe I did go the wrong way. I'm sorry, but I'm doing the best I know how, Akane…"

"Quack!" the duck turned her head to stare pleadingly at the heavens.

"I'll get you home," Ryoga said, "You have my word. I'll get you back to your old self and then you can do whatever you like to me, hit me, punch me, call me names, anything if it will make you feel better."

"Quack?" Akane inquired in a softer tone, then lowered her head dejectedly, appearing as depressed as a duck could get under the circumstances.

"Don't be like that," Ryoga said, "I'm sure we're getting closer and…what in the world?"

"Quack?" Akane lifted her head in a soft note of inquiry.

"Who the hell put this wall here?" Ryoga demanded, facing against a red brick surface that had appeared at the end of the alley they were somehow now lost within, "Well, I don't have time to go back around, so just leave everything to me. Bakusai Tenketsu!"

"QUACK!" Akane called out too late as the exploding point technique caused the barricade before them to shatter like glass, creating a sizeable passage that Ryoga began to step through.

"Just hold on a little while, Akane, and I'll make everything right again," Ryoga promised, when he suddenly halted.

The room that they had just so blithely walked into was full of strange men, some in three-piece business suits, some bare-chested with large tattoos all over their upper body. Four men were gathered around a table with cards in their hands, all turning to look towards the boy and with the duck as some of their goons began drawing a variety of lethal-looking weaponry.

"Ah…" Ryoga said, "Hi…did I come at a bad time?"

Several handguns and a pair of katanas flashed in response to this. Akane was sufficiently alarmed that she was already beginning to feel like someone's dinner plate special.

"Um…okay," Ryoga said, noticing the hostile glares before he assumed a sheepish smile and said, "You people need another player…?"


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